Thursday, July 31, 2008

Death has them parted

Warning. This post contains dialogue spoken by my family members. To put it another way it contains lots of swearing.

Yesterday my family came together to say goodbye to my Auntie Mary, wife to my Uncle Bill and mother to my cousins Bill junior and Linda who died last week aged 77. She had been very poorly for a long time and when she died they say she looked thirty years younger. This is a comfort.

I struggle to describe my Uncle Bill. He is my only blood uncle and I love him dearly, but the words obnoxious, cantankerous, offensive and others in like vein spring instantly to mind when trying to provide a pen portrait of him. Johnny Speight must have encountered him some time in the early 60’s. I well remember various horrific moments in my past when I have had to introduce assorted boyfriends to my Uncle Bill - always accompanied by whispered pleas from me not to take any notice of a single word he said.

Uncle Bill was firmly of the opinion a woman’s place was in the home, except in the case of the only other woman he ever loved – Margaret Thatcher. He was always the archetypal Working Class Tory although I suspect he only became a Tory to annoy his dad (my granddad) – a life long Socialist. He never allowed Mary out of his sight. Not once since they married has she ever had a night out without him. We discovered at the funeral yesterday to our collective horror that Mary had met Bill when she was 14. SIXTY THREE YEARS WITH MY UNCLE BILL. Never have the words ‘After much suffering’ been so appropriate in an obituary.

Coming now to Bill junior (aged 50). At some point in the past fifteen years he went mad. He returned to live with his parents (evidence of madness if any was needed) and that was when battle really commenced. To all outward appearances, he and his dad loath each other and always have done. They were, and indeed still are, unable to agree on a single thing. Either would swear black was white if the other took the opposite view. Poor, poor Mary, a door mat if ever there was one, put up with this state of affairs till the day she died. Her daughter Linda – so incensed by the way her brother made her mother’s life even more of a misery - stopped speaking to him over ten years ago. Bill junior in his madness then became a recluse. He was last spotted in public at our previous family funeral five years ago.

Speculation was quite fevered in the family following Mary’s merciful release from this misery. Would Bill junior be at the funeral? (Answer: Yes) Would Bill and Linda be reconciled? (Answer: No) And would Bill senior behave with any decorum at the funeral? (Answer: No, no and no again.)

The service itself, conducted by a priest who did his best considering that he had never met Mary in his life, passed by without incident; or at least they did once the seating arrangements in the front row were sorted out to allow sufficient space between Bill junior and Linda. (Although that did cause some noticeable delay.)

Little digression here but I was reminded of the book I have just read; ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ by Kate Atkinson which makes one think of the many things we do not know about the lives and emotions of our older relations. Yesterday I discovered Mary loved opera. One would never have imagined that Mary loved opera but she did. Quite poignant somehow.

The wake was held at the home of a friend of Linda’s who none of us knew. Linda’s house was too small, Bill’s was out of the question, and the friend very kindly offered before either my mum or her two sisters had a chance to volunteer. Uncle Bill and his warring offspring left the crematorium in the car to return to the funeral parlour where their cars were parked. We were all in the garden of this total stranger for a good while before they arrived, drinking PG Tips and nibbling at dry roasted peanuts. I seemed to have acquired the task of chaperoning an elderly (very) distant relation. (Widower of my mum’s Auntie Win if I got that bit right.) Anyway, I had never met him before but he was quite charming, and even managed not to be boring when telling me about his new hearing aid. (Reidski would say I should have listened very close attention to what he had to say on that subject.)

The genteel chattering was disrupted by the words “For fuck’s sake father!” which heralded the arrival of The Bills senior and junior. My uncle came across to the table where I was standing and started emptying the contents of a plastic carrier bag on to the grass by my feet. The contents included an entire change of clothes including socks and brown underpants. The pants sat on top of the pile and much as I was aware they were making the place look untidy I didn’t quite like to pick them up so they stayed where they were until some time later a horrified Linda scooped them up and away. Uncle Bill was looking for his fags. He declared “I am not fucking staying here if I can’t find my bleeding fags.” One of my aunties attempted to calm him down with the words “I’m sure there will be someone else who smokes here. (One only had to look around to see we were indeed surrounded by other smokers) I am sure they will let you have a smoke.” “They’re not bleeding smokers!” Bill senior declared “They just play at fucking smoking!” Uncle Bill you see is the last man still alive who chain smokes Players non tipped cigarettes and obviously considers all other smokers to be pussies.

Now of course one needs to show a certain amount of sympathy to the recently bereaved, except his temper tantrum was not caused by grief alone, but more as we subsequently learnt because back at the funeral directors he had reversed his car into their wall and demolished it. The car is probably a write off. We suspect Mary may be getting her own back from beyond the grave.

Bill junior asked in a caring manner “Are you sure they’re not in your bleeding jacket pocket you stupid bastard?” “Course they’re not in my fucking jacket pocket!” replies Bill senior. Course they were in his fucking jacket pocket and peace was restored. Bill senior then undid all his shirt buttons, rolled up his trouser legs and kicked off his shoes. He cut a charming picture.

Faced with the prospect of another few hours of this we looked around for the alcohol. There wasn’t any. On reflection, and given the volatile nature of family relationships, this was probably very wise, but at the moment we realised we were trapped at a teetotal affair it seemed like the world had just ended. It was therefore a relief when Bill junior announce “I’m off for a fucking pint”, and me and some of my other cousins rapidly agreed it wouldn’t be fair to let him drink on his own and we went too, at speed with my dad bringing up the rear – although dad makes out he can not hear a thing, he very clearly caught the word ‘Pub’. And so the majority of the older generation were left behind to ask (according to my mum) “Is Young Bill on drugs?” (Answer: No – but he should be.)


Polgara said...

The joys of a family funeral, you know reading that i think we may be related.
At my grandads funeral my dads girlfriend answered her mobile phone at the graveside and proceeded to say in a very loud voice "i cant talk im at a funeral, im actually at the graveside"
Who says its the younger generations who have no respect.....
Pol x

Jay said...

"Bill senior then undid all his shirt buttons, rolled up his trouser legs and kicked off his shoes. He cut a charming picture."

I don't have to click the linky to know that you're thinking Alf Garnett! I'm only surprised that he didn't knot a handkerchief for his head! LOL!

Gosh it sounds like a real trial.. funerals are not fun occasions at the best of time, but sheesh. You only need an Uncle Bill for the misery to be complete.

Most unusual one I was at was my step-father's. He had a lot of friends around the world who were too elderly to attend, and my Mum asked if people could take some pictures of the funeral ceremony to send to them. Now, this isn't actually too unusual a request (my brother in law by marriage is a vicar and says they do this all the time, even vids) but partway through the proceedings the vicar at my step-father's funeral, interrupted himself to march down the aisle like an avenging angel and confiscate cameras! We had thought it was all cleared, but apparently not. Wires got crossed somewhere! ROFL!

Gill said...

does your uncle Bill work on the scriptwriting team for Shameless?

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Well told! I can almost visualise all of this as a dark TV comedy... Gill above seems to share this idea. To me it sounds like the Bills need to spend a fortnight in a Swiss finishing school - learn some decorum.

Karen said...

It sounds like an episode of a sit com! I have only ever been to one funeral and it was a very sedate affair.

Reidski said...

Funerals are weird anyway, as you get to meet the extended family and you are so pleased to see them. Only sad thing is, there is always someone missing, if you know what I mean!

Bollinger Byrd said...

At my grandad's funeral my cousin then around 23 and living in Boston came over only to be told by her father that next day at her beloved granpa's funeral she would meet two 40 year old plus sisters, who up until that moment she knew nothing of.
Funeral was spent by my sister and I trying to keep them the three sisters apart as 23 year old was in such a state.

J.J said...

Polgara - that is a truly dreadful story!

And Jay - your tale is equally embarrassing!

Gill, my uncle Bill taught Frank Gallagher everything he knows about how to behave...which isn't much.

YP - I wouldn't fancy their chances of getting past pasport control in Zurich without getting nicked for being too offensive for Switzerland to handle.

Karen - sadly you will eventually have the opportunity to experience many more - and they won't all be sedate that is for sure.

Reidski - you are right. My mum came away from Mary's saying 'Mary would have loved that'. (Probably most especially the part where Bill crashed his car..though not the pants on ground part.)

B.B - oh dear, oh dear. As my work sometimes involves breaking similar news to individuals I can just imagine how badly that went down.