Tag Archives: Pink

You are fragile and temporary…

2015-02-09 15.35.23 copyEnding One: The Thorn Tree was a pub in Wakefield, infamous for being an excessively violent place in which to drink. My friend had taken me there specifically to prove this point and was duly rewarded. Within an hour a fight broke out between two women. Some karaoke was hastily cobbled together. The mood calmed somewhat.

I believe (if memory serves – it was a long time ago) that I was in the process of being light-heartedly chastised for something when my friend stopped mid-sentence and glanced over my shoulder.

‘I think the man behind you is dead.’

‘What?’

He repeated himself. I turned to look.

‘No, don’t look. It’d be rude!’

‘How am I supposed to verify if…?’

For a few awkward moments we debated what to do – finding it semi funny / semi disturbing, and pretty certain that it would all turn out to be a misunderstanding.

‘No, I think he really is dead.’

We both stood up and took a few short paces over to the man’s table. He was sitting bolt upright, his face composed, eyes wide.

‘Evening,’ my friend said.

‘Excuse me?’ I added.

‘No blinking – He’s not there.’

An old gent, out on his own, a half finished pint, a silent slipping away. It was real.

Whilst my thoughts drifted towards the realms of ‘Is it sad that he died alone or good that he died in pub?‘ my friend had far more practical considerations in mind. Eager to preserve the man’s dignity he calmly made his way over to the bar and informed the landlady. Her reaction was the complete opposite of what had been hoped or intended. Rather than quietly dealing with the matter she flew into a fluster and started making it all about her. A very public call to the emergency services alerted the entire room to what had transpired, and we watched in bemused horror as she draped a bright yellow tea-towel over the man’s face in order to hide the fact that he was dead.

‘What on earth do you think you’re doing?’ I asked.

‘Well I can’t hardly use a sheet can I? He’d look like a ghost. ANYONE KNOW WHO HE IS?’

‘I can’t tell,’ one of the punters replied. ‘He’s got a bright yellow tea-towel over his face.’

Some in the room found it tragic; others hilarious. A few (me included) found it both.

This blog is read by a few hundred people. Statistically therefore one of you (us) is going to die a comedy death at some point, and all the things you’d like to be remembered for – being a great man, woman, lover, philanthropist – will take second billing to having chocked on a dildo during a hen-do gone horribly wrong, or decapitated by a shard of frozen urine being expelled from a plane (‘You remember Pete?’ ‘What, Pissy-Pete?’ Or ‘Hey, how about Phil?’ ‘Oh yeah, the tea-towel guy?’ etc)…

Think on…

 

Ending Two: Mike, 59, ex-marine, ex-North Sea oil rig diver, IT developer, salt-of-the-earth, two weeks from getting married for the second time, December 2005 – my leaving do. Mike’s a naturally scruffy person (a man after my own heart), but under his fiancée’s instructions he’s gone out and bought an incredibly expensive suit – Armani, voluminously huge – the kind Al Capone would’ve worn. He spends the evening taking it out of a travel bag to show people, uttering a single, well rehearsed line of dialogue and replacing it in its bag. The line:

‘I’m only going to wear this twice. Once when I get married and one when they bury me in it.’

At 10pm he leaves – last train to the south coast. We shake hands. It has truly been a pleasure. We’ll see each other tomorrow for my final day.

The next morning a phone call diverts me from the office towards a coffee shop. ‘Leaving presentation’ my all-about-me brain suggests. I push through the front door and someone is whispering in my ear that Mike died in his sleep from a brain aneurism. There then follows a fog of floating into the office, gathering up my traumatised team and taking them somewhere they can breathe. We are joined by our project sponsor, a very senior manager who laments ‘It’s a shame the pubs aren’t open. If ever there were a need for a stiff drink…’

The phone rings – my boss – Where are you? – In a coffee shop – Your team? – With me – Have you forgotten that you need to get a software build out my lunchtime? – Mike… – Yeah, I heard – Then you’ll know that the software build will need to wait a little while – I know you’re in shock, but that’s no excuse for being unprofessional – There are grown men here crying, you need to dismiss the idea from your mind – Listen Martin I will not…

The senior manager can hear what is happening. He makes a gesture to me that I should hand over the phone. ‘Hang on, Rob want’s a word.’

‘Hi Andy, it’s Rob. Yeah listen, show some compassion and f@$* off!’ He ends the call and hands the phone back with a wry smile.

I write to Mike’s fiancée (whom I’ve never met). She asks me to read the letter out at his funeral. The whole team are there, and the senior manager, and his manager, but not my (now ex) boss. All throughout the service I am feeling sorry for him and thinking that he has failed to grasp one of life’s fundamental lessons – that life does not go on, and that all things stop for death.

Mike’s fiancée comes up to me afterwards and says: ‘He rolled over in the middle of the night and whispered, ‘Great to be in bed with the one I love.’ That was the last of him.’

In moments such as these you can only go with your gut. A phrase like that doesn’t need my sympathy. It needs admiration:

‘My word,’ I reply. ‘That’s how I want to go out!’

 

Ending Three:

On Christmas day 2001 I went with my father to lay a wreathe on his mother’s grave. It was cold and had snowed recently. It was a sombre moment and there was a pregnant pause that needed to be filled with some poignant words.

But I wasn’t the one to fill it. Feeling somewhat belligerent I decided that my father (a man private about his feelings) was going to be the one to speak and not me. A considerable amount of time passed in silence. It became awkward, oppressive, slightly funny, then awkward again. Eventually, when he realised that I wasn’t letting him off the hook my father turned to me and said:

‘You know, when I pop my clogs, I’d like to be buried in a snazzy cardboard box – a pink one – something garish that offends the mourners.’

This is how we’re dealing with bereavement is it? I thought. OK, I can run with it…

‘When I die,’ I responded, ‘I’d like to be liquidised and surreptitiously added to the reception punch. I could then literally be a pain in everyone’s arse.’

Father upped the ante: ‘I’d like to be loaded into a catapult, fired into the air and, wherever by body lands, be left to rot…no, not a catapult – a trebuchet – I’d go further.’

I brought it home: ‘When you go I’m going to have you fitted with animatronics so that I can remote control you to rise from the grave going RRRRAAAHHHH!’

‘And that’ll help you cope will it?’

‘I imagine so yes.’

‘Oh good.’

 

Epilogue: Why have I written about death? It’s not because I’m building up to a personal revelation. It’s simply this.

I was meeting an old friend for lunch on Friday, but she cancelled due to fears about getting on a train to London. The killings in Paris had her on edge. I was socialising with a client a few days beforehand when we heard that a couple in San Bernardino had killed fourteen people over a work dispute. They themselves were later shot dead by police. On Thursday a man in London arbitrarily pushed a complete stranger off an underground platform into the path of an oncoming tube. The blogosphere is currently alight with debates over gun control and whether or not to invade Syria, blaming God, David Cameron and the American senate to name but a few. A company I’m working with offers terrorism insurance. I’m led to believe it’s now a fairly standard practice. I have a strong opinion on all of these things, but in some respects that’s also part of the problem – Everyone shouting into an abyss. Never before in human history have people been spoon fed death, terror, death, terror by ubiquitous media morning, noon and night. Never before have they had to be so sophisticated in compartmentalising certain horrors and placing others into context so as not to go insane, so well done you!

That’s probably the only point I was trying to make – Well done you. That I’ve chosen silly slants on the stories is part defiance and part irreverence. I once saw someone I love die and there was nothing warm or graceful about it. Afterwards I carried the mantra around in my heart: You are fragile and temporary. It would help all of us I think to know our place in the grand scheme of things…

…But statistically the world is becoming a far safer place – more parts of it enjoy more liberties then ever before, there is more diversity, less racism, greater rights for women. If we can work out how not to use everything up we might just get where we’re going.

For example: In the dim and distance past if I’d taken a shine to another man’s wife (or his cave) I’d have had to bash his head in with a rock and move in. Now alI I have to do is stalk her on Facebook, take her out to an obscenely priced restaurant, get criticised for not knowing which fork goes with which course, have her post my faux-pas on Twitter and subsequently struggle to gain the acceptance from all of her judgmental friends.

Simpler, happier times…

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Books

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized