‘I would love to go to my own funeral,’ John said at the reception afterwards.  ‘It would be wonderful to meet up with all my old friends again and listen to all the nice things they would have to say about me.’ 

 

We just about managed just that it with Wallace, my father, who had a wonderful 90th birthday party just months before he died. But I don’t how much of the celebration he was able to understand.  ‘Lots of people there tonight.  Easy!  Did I know them?’   

 

 

Mick would have hated that kind of fuss.  It wasn’t that he avoided company.  He never wished to be the centre of attention.  He just preferred to get on with things in a quiet though resourceful manner.  He had left instructions that he didn’t want a funeral.  I rather think Mick would have liked to be placed in an open boat with the sails set and allowed to drift with the winds and currents until he sank. 

 

But funerals are not for the dead.  They are to help those who remain cope with the separation, to allow friends and family to reflect on the life of the departed and to console the bereaved.     

 

It was Mick’s resourcefulness, his gruff independence that probably hastened his demise.  He was determined not to be handicapped by the loss of his arm.  Years of  pressure on the opposite hip, up ladders, on and off boats, lifting heavy loads, destroyed the joint.  It had to be fused.  He couldn’t use a crutch and the wheelchair was difficult with one arm.  He became depressed, and drank and smoked himself to oblivion.  He died of a massive heart attack in the first few hours of the new year, after sending Sheila out for more whisky and cigarettes. 

 

After 30 years, Suzy could not take the depression and drinking any more.  She left and for the last few years of his life, he was looked after by Sheila, who was his trainee nurse when he first went into practice nearly 40 years ago.  She was traumatised by an episode  that had happened to her the previous year and it was Mick, she said, who restored the  meaning in her life.  She never forgot him and, many years on, she seized upon the chance to repay him.    

 

Mick could inspire great affection.  He never sought it out.  Quite the reverse; he affected  the  grizzled appearance of cantankerous gruffness, but people and, I like to think, animals detected a concealed compassion that drew them in. 

 

So there, lined up in the front row facing the coffin, were the three women who had lived with Mick, who shared his life and who, in their own ways, still loved him. 

 

John and I collected wife number 1 from Newton Abbot station.  Her name was Francis.  Her mop of bright red hair shone like a beacon in the January gloom. We went to the hotel, high on the promontory overlooking Torbay, for lunch. 

 

That’s where Maurice joined us.  He looked rough.  His mourning suit was supplemented  by an ancient flying coat, torn in many places with the fleece coming out, and rubberised grey deck shoes.  His grey hair was tousled and unwashed.  He wore a large black bow tie and there was a dangerous look in his eyes. He had been stumbling around at the foot of the cliff with a bottle of brandy, communing with Mick. ‘Mick loved his sea,’  he announced as he entered the bar. 

 

He was drunk.  There could be trouble.    

 

 

He sat down heavily and glared at Francis.  ‘Who the hell are you?’ 

 

‘Maurice, you must remember me, I’m Francis.’

 

‘Francis? Francis? Oh that Francis!  Yes!  Yes! I remember you.  Well how long did it take you to get fed up with Micky?’

 

There was a pause as the shock wave passed.  Then Francis looked him in the eye and quietly replied, ‘I didn’t.  I would be married to him now if he hadn’t told me to go’

 

‘Oh, you’re so upset, aren’t you?’      

 

 

Good old Maurice.  He should have been a psychotherapist. 

 

 

But that was positively polite compared to the way he greeted wife number 2. 

 

‘Suzy!  Come here.  Let me feel your bum!’, he shouted, grabbing her around the beam.

 

 

Wife number 3 hid.    

 

 

The funeral took place in the undertakers’ chapel of rest.  Peter, who officiated wore a blazer with silver buttons and badges.  His face was gaunt and his wavy grey hair was stained with nicotine.  And he smiled all the time; unnerving, like Malvolio, a mixture of obsequiousness and forced sincerity.  And when he spoke, his unctuous vowels dripped from his lips and coagulated on every surface, leaving a slippery residue. 

 

The opening hymn, a school favourite, ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ broke down half way through.  The undertakers assistant, a stocky young lady, dressed in a Victorian riding habit with top hat and flowing crepe, said sorry and started it again.

 

Lynne then gave a very intimate address on behalf of wife number 3.  This was followed by a romantic ballad, How do I tell you, sung by Cat Stevens.  Then John, his red scarf and red spotted socks a colourful contrast to his black suit, reminded us of Mick’s great affection for animals and his love of wild places.  Peter oozed a little more and then while we quietly gathered bags and thoughts, buttoned coats and tucked handkerchiefs into pockets, we were roused out of our reveries by the thumping base and strident chorus of ‘Fat Bottomed Girls Make The Rocking World Go Round’, performed by Queen.

 

Malvolio smiled with indulgence.  A few nodded their heads to the rhythm. Others edged head down towards the exit.  Was Mick beating time inside his coffin?  Perhaps!  He was never one for sentimentality.  He would have wanted us to have fun.

 

Maurice was perhaps the only one to get into the spirit of the occasion.  He prowled around the reception, like Coleridge’s ancient mariner, accosting anybody who made eye contact with lurid tales, shouting with laughter, trying to put his head on Suzy’s ample lap.  

 

I needed to catch a train, so I left him to it, but he staggered up to me as the taxi drew up. 

 

‘Remember Bastille Day.  I’m having a party in my house in St Malo.  You’re invited.  You must come!  Now fuck off!’

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