Inappropriate One-upmanship

Some monumentally bad planning from Channel 5 saw a recent documentary on Whitney Houston cut from a distraught looking Aretha Franklin to an advert for Wonga.com where an elderly puppet uttered the immortal words ‘She looks better in a body bag.’

Here’s why gaffs like this are essential for holding together the fabric of space and time…

On Christmas Day 2001 my father and I were standing at his mother’s grave having just laid a wreath. Dad was an intensely private person and, in the five years since her death, had never openly discussed his feelings about her. Now however the moment demanded that something be said. It was just the two of us. It was cold and silent. A statement of considerable poignancy was required, but nothing was forthcoming. I decided that he should be the one to voice it and resolved to wait him out. A minute passed, then five, then ten. Finally he spoke. These are the words that he chose:

‘You know, when I pop my clogs I want you to bury me in a luminous pink cardboard box. If pink isn’t available get me something equally garish, whatever you think will make the mourners feel most awkward.’

The intention was clear: this is too vast for either of us to fathom, so let’s go to the other extreme.

‘I can’t have people thinking we’re too stingy to buy a proper coffin,’ I replied in kind, ‘perhaps we could go for a halfway house and just paint you pink.’

‘Oh I wouldn’t worry about that. I only have two wishes in life – one is to spend your inheritance, and the other is to die leaving you all in debt.’

I decided to up the ante. ‘When I go I’d like to be liquidized and drank at the reception. I could ask my kids to mix in some Imodium so that I am literally a pain in everyone’s arse.’

Dad mulled over what I’d just said and a wry smile spread across his face.  ‘Actually scratch that. Load my cadaver into a catapult and fire it into the air. Wherever it lands I’d like to be left to rot.’

‘Or we could fit your body with animatronics and have someone remote control you to rise from the grave screaming ‘Rrrrrrraaaaaahhhhhhh.’

The conversation went through several more, increasingly inappropriate rounds of one-upmanship, after which we apologised to Grandma, bowed and left.

We lost my mother to cancer last year. This isn’t a cue for cyber-sympathy and I wouldn’t use a blog as a forum for sorrow. All I will say is this. My dad didn’t think he’d be up to doing the eulogy so, without really thinking it through, I offered to take his place. On the day of the funeral I breathed deeply, stood up and faced the large crowd that had come to pay their respects. The eulogy had been put together by the whole family. There were fond memories, achievements, extracts from letters and even some humour. After a shaky start I found a rhythm, and actually started to enjoy sharing all the wonderful stories, but midway through a profound sadness washed over me. As I was trying to compose myself a woman in the front row rose to her feet, set up a tripod and started taking photographs. As I looked at her in disbelief she mouthed the word ‘smile.’

Nothing so perfectly illustrates the hilarious absurdity of death (or life for that matter). Afterwards the same woman engaged me in a conversation that was more like top-trump-grief. ‘No one could ever be sadder about this than me,’ she informed. Over her shoulder I saw an old school friend making the international symbol for fancy a pint? (which in my opinion is the only genuinely helpful thing a person can say to someone when they’ve lost a loved one). ‘Congratulations,’ I replied, ‘you’re the winner!’ She seemed pleased with her triumph, so that’s good. A few days later she emailed me some photos of the coffin with the subject header ‘Hope these help.’ There was a great cathersises in pressing delete so, in a way, they did. Dad told me that I should have replied with ‘Not well at the mo – here’s a picture of my poo.’ Maybe it was an opportunity wasted, but it didn’t seem suitable at the time, and I’m sure her heart was in the right place. Anyway, we dined out on it for weeks.

So, I’m sad to see Whitney go, but Channel 5 have made me feel that life’s gonna tick on just fine, and I thank them for that.

And finally…

I once had the misfortune of working with a highly unpleasant misogynist called ‘Scoffer’ – a combination of his surname ‘Scoffield’ and the eating habits that had resulted in him becoming almost perfectly spherical. When in his late forties he suffered an epic fatal heart-attack (which presumably was the objective of eating six meals a day) a number of the psychologically abused women spread a rumour round the office that a vending machine had fallen on him.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Inappropriate One-upmanship

  1. My favourite ever line in Peep Show:
    Mark: “You’re freeloading on my trauma. You’re a grief thief.”

  2. Rarely do I feel like I’m simply not talented enough to write for a living. Then I read a blog entry like this one and it all comes flooding forth.

    Thanks for ruining my dreams.

    Great writing. 🙂

  3. Martin Cororan

    Gor bless ya…

  4. Wow…this made me smile and I’m at a loss for words!

  5. Great post Martin. Love your style of writing.

  6. I rarely let myself laugh out loud. Apparently, your blog is the chink in my deadpan armor.

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