Gallows humour

Tyburn Tree

You know you’re getting old when even the Dirty Old Men look young. You know you’re getting old when scrolling to your year of birth on drop-down menus brings on an attack of Vibration White Finger. You know you’re getting old when your contemporaries are dying…of natural causes.

(Those lines work best if read aloud doing a Dennis Norden impersonation while holding a clipboard and wearing thick-framed glasses)

I’ve been to so many funerals lately my suit hangs downstairs in the hall rather than upstairs in the wardrobe, the better for quick access, and now smells of Febreze™ (Cranberry Cheer™) rather than moth-balls. I’ve been to so many funerals lately I’ve gouged deep ruts up Thornhill all the way to the Crematorium. I’ve been to so many funerals lately I know off by heart the lyrics of both Psalm 23 and Angels by Robbie Williams. I’ve been to so many funerals lately I’ve developed a Black Forest Gateau dependency. I’ve been to so many funerals lately I’ve opened an account with Interflora™. I’ve been to so many funerals lately I’ve become allergic to freesia and pittosporum. I’ve been to so many funerals lately I’m starting to sound like the Anglican liturgy.

A Catholic Requiem Mass is the most demanding: it lasts an eternity, demands a bladder of iron, and you stand up and sit down so often you do the equivalent of a squat-thrust workout and end up with splinters in the buttocks. There are consolations: the organ, the incense, the violet vestments, the holy water, the hanging chasuble…and that was just in the rectory beforehand!

Humanist funerals are a doddle: just sit through a Christina Rosetti (1830-1894) sonnet and you’ll be at the wake downing free booze, I mean celebrating the life of oojamaflip, before you can say “Deepest Sympathy”. Likewise, Green burials, so in vogue these days, are a picnic. Literally. Last time, when I had to troop through Wentwood in my wellies to witness whatsisname’s wicker wave-off, I took a hard-boiled egg (binding) and a Wispa™ (mid-morning sugar dips). Which reminds me of the old joke about a woman waiting in the queue to get into a Bingo Hall. As a funeral procession slowly passed  by she took off her hat and bowed her head. “That’s very touching and respectful,” said her friend. “Well, we were married for 35 years,” replied the woman.

Mind you, nothing beats a graveside Welsh Nonconformist funeral up the valleys, preferably accompanied by a choir singing something by William Williams Pantycelyn (1717-1791) in torrential rain so that a cwtching carapace of black umbrellas weeps on the mountainside as the plangent strains of Dros Y Brinian Tywyl Niwliog float away on the wind.

Equally atmospheric is a burial at sea – but very few take that option, under the mistaken impression only former sailors and Navy personnel are allowed a watery grave. More should do it; but there are just three designated sea areas where it’s permitted in all of the UK waters – and they’re off the coast of England. This is outrageous! A Welshman doesn’t have the right to return to the fishes unless he’s willing to be washed up off Ventnor, Hastings or Tynemouth! Sort it out Carwyn or I’ll get up a petition!

An apt spot in Cardiff to shuffle off this mortal coil would be up at the Gallows Fields, the ancient place of executions where impoverished labourers were swinging from the gibbet for stealing a chicken as recently as the 1790s. However Cae Pwdr (Putrid Field) and Pwll Halog (Defiled Pool) are now covered by the Crwys Road/Albany Road/City Road/Richmond Road junction, and ending one’s days outside NatWest and Wetherspoon branches hardly carries the same cachet. To show my contempt for human self-importance I’d rather like to be put out with the garbage on a Thursday, with one arm that couldn’t quite be squeezed in flopping out of the green recycling bag as it sits on the pavement all day before being eventually hurled into the munching metal maw of the Council truck by the bin-men. As the masher mulches me, bouncing over the traffic humps on the short trundle to Lamby Way, the decomposing hand would seem to wave farewell to folk queuing at the Tremorfa foodbank. I’m sentimental like that.

Incidentally, readers shouldn’t worry about my mental health because I’m writing about death a lot recently. It’s not morbid obsession; it’s merely congruity.

Since there’s nothing so vulgar as “success” (in a society based on hierarchies, success invariably entails grovelling at the feet of power and tugging at the hem of patronage), I am aiming for posthumous rather than real-time fame. Well, it worked for Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and Franz Kafka (1883-1924). To accomplish this ambition there are just a couple of small technicalities to sort out: write as well as they did, and then die. Therefore, effectively, this means Mortimer’s immortal.

Picture: UK National Archive