|My dad and I at my graduation, Emmanuel College, Cambridge 1985.|
Since my dad died last Friday there has been a lot of tears but there has also been, quite surprisingly, many laughs. We have known for a long time that Dad’s life would be shortened by Motor Neurone Disease and, indeed, when he was first diagnosed 18 years ago, we thought he might only live a year or two more. However he had the slowly progressing form of the disease so we had him with us for so much longer than we’d anticipated: he has seen his treasured granddaughter, Jessica, grow up and was there for Rory being born in 1996 and has seen him develop into a young man of whom he was immensely proud.
In all those years, he never lost his sense of humour. My Dad’s humour was always different to my mum’s. Dad was born in Ely, Cambridgeshire in 1934, his father an accountant, all very nice and middle-class. He studied architecture at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where I also studied in the 1980s (he was delighted I followed in his footsteps). His laughs were found in The Goons, ITMA, Jacques Tati. He met my mum in Newcastle. She was a singer, from a working-class background and, sexy and feisty woman that she was, swept him off his feet. She could never understand why he laughed like a drain at Monty Python or spoke in silly voices pretending to be Neddy Seagoon. But their marriage worked, they were a dazzling pair and as a family there was always fun and laughter in the house.
When Dad died I expected that, knowing his condition was terminal, there would have been some plans for the funeral arrangements. No. Bugger all!
“So, did Dad want to be cremated or buried?”, I asked Mum.
“Well”, she said, “he wanted to be buried but I told him that if he thought I was going in that hole with him later on, he could think again. So he changed his mind.”
Bless him, that was Dad. Keeping the peace, let’s not make a fuss, your mother’s probably right!
“What about hymns or songs? Did you talk about that?”
“No”, Mum replied, “I asked him now and again but he couldn’t decide. Your dad loved his classical music, so we’ll have some Mozart at the Crem, but his favourite song was a Country and Western song, Blanket on the Ground!”
“Bloody Hell, Mother, we can’t have a song about a couple getting jiggy in the bushes for his final trip down the aisle!”
Why not, she said, I went to a funeral recently where they had Elvis singing Return to Sender!
Blanket on the Ground is now on the CD list for the wake, after the church service and the Crematorium, together with an eclectic mix of classical pieces and a few George Formby songs!
I think the best laugh we had all week was when the Funeral Director came to visit Mum and me to discuss arrangements. Terry and his father Charlie before him, have been our family undertakers for many years so he and Mum were straight away discussing people they knew from Wallsend where Mum and her huge family grew up. Terry was a breath of fresh air, a broad Geordie, with a wicked smile and bizarre laugh, gently helping us with the decisions but mainly keeping us amused with some fabulous stories of leaking ash, coffins in lifts and drunken priests.
On Thursday I decided I had better sort out what I’m going to wear for the funeral. I have a very smart grey wool dress but couldn’t decide on a coat. I came across a perfect one, a black brocade-type coat, from the Spanish company Desigual. It had some splashes of colour on it but overall looked just right. And it was half-price in the sale. I bought it and then came across some smart boots which were also crying out to be purchased. I tried the coat on when I got home so Dougie could see it. He looked at me and then said, “Have you looked at the back of it?” I took it off and had a look. An embroidered design over the back, with flowers, the name Desigual and, in bright yellow letters, the word “Happy!!”. Definitely not appropriate for the funeral what with me having to be at the front of the Church. I tried unpicking it but gave up after one of the exclamation marks as I was making too much of a mess.
The boots were no better. Dougie declared that although they were very nice, the fold-over bit at the top was reminiscent of a pantomime principal boy and he felt they were more bedroom attire. So my happy coat and kinky boots have been banished to the wardrobe.
Many years ago Dad started to write his memoirs and I started to type them up. I felt sad and guilty because I had let it slip and for years had just looked at his book and not typed a thing. I picked up the book and found solace in the stories he told. The words in his own handwriting were far more meaningful than the pages I had clinically typed. I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded. He stopped writing them when he reached the time that he and Mum got married. When I asked Mum why, she laughed and said he had been getting all his facts wrong. My mum, who has the memory of an elephant, had been correcting him, saying, “No you didn’t do that”, and “No, that was so and so” so in the end I suspect he said, “Oh sod it, woman, you bloody write it”.
To top it all, Dougie, Rory and I went out last night. We had booked tickets months ago to see the comedian Micky Flanagan, at The Cresset, in Peterborough. It felt a little inappropriate to be going out to see a stand-up comic a couple of days before my dad’s funeral, but we had all been looking forward to it so we decided to go. Best decision we could have made. Fabulous gentle humour from a very talented man was just the tonic I needed. I laughed from beginning to end. Dad would have loved him.
We have the funeral on Tuesday. I know there will be sadness and tears and the weeks ahead may be a struggle, but just for now I have a smile on my face and my heart is light.