Short Story: The Prank

My uncle had always been that uncomfortable combination of meticulous planner and prankster, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that his funeral arrangements had already been set in motion and paid for years ago, but that we weren’t allowed to know what those arrangements were.

Well that wasn’t entirely true. The time and place for the final service were related by the professionally calm representatives of the funeral home. The number of cortege cars for family were also announced and where the pickup would be from.

For all the frustration and annoyance he’d caused in life, we couldn’t have hoped for an easier passage in a difficult time, even if we did wonder how his sense of humour was going to be expressed in all this.

As the day arrived and relatives gathered in their somber attire, more than one conversation turned to his love of pranks. Old favourite stories of elaborate or raucously spontaneous tricks were dusted off, bringing more happiness than annoyance in retrospect. It certainly served to help lighten the mood, and I like to think he’d have approved of the celebratory nature of the stories.

Soon enough though it was time for the final farewell. We dutifully got into the cars provided, while others prepared to follow along. There was some debate as to whether his final prank might be to change the advertised venue, and so the family cars were closely followed so as not to lose them.

In that, we were disappointed. The venue was as advertised: the local crematorium – with the only slight variation to previous similar occasions being that he had asked for a humanist ceremony, and that he’d actually bought out the two surrounding time slots as well so no one would feel rushed.

The service was short and celebrated his humour, even as it acknowledged the sadness of the day and the darkness of some of his jokes. Perhaps that reminder was there to prepare us for what has just happened.

You see, normally as the service ends, we’re used to curtains coming across to hide the coffin from view while a music track plays. Instead the coffin has stayed in plain view and they’ve started playing a very short tune, over and over. It took me a moment to remember the lyrics:

Half a pound of tuppeny rice
Half a pound of treacle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel

It’s playing over and over, like the old wind-up jack in the box he used to keep in his study. It always used to terrify me with how suddenly the grotesque clown inside would pop out just when you weren’t expecting it.

Half a pound of tuppeny rice
Half a pound of treacle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel

It’s playing over and over, and more of us have remembered that jack in the box, and now as the tune cycles round and round, that coffin is somehow looming more and more ominously as we quietly watch with mounting horror.

Half a pound of tuppeny rice
Half a pound of treacle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop goes the weasel.

A Eulogy For Eddie

We’re finally home again after burying Lady M’s father. It has been exhausting, and we’re still on a rollercoaster as we try to sort out his estate. I was asked to speak for the family at the funeral – to give his eulogy – and with their permission, I’m posting it here this evening.

The first time I met Eddie, he looked me up and down, furrowed those mighty eyebrows, and said: “Who are you?” It wasn’t meant rudely, but it certainly made a lasting impression. At the time I’d just moved in to a flat-share with his daughter: Joanne. We weren’t dating, but a father’s protective instincts are never far away.

The second time I met Eddie, it was to ask for Joanne’s hand in marriage. I once again got the long look. Then there was a little nod, and possibly the driest commendation I’ve ever heard came my way:

“Just remember – she’s not just for Christmas right? You can’t bring her back if she starts running rings round you.”

These two short encounters illustrate so much of what made Eddie so unforgettable. His dry humour and love for his family were rivalled only by his ability to make friends wherever he went, and by his huge generosity of spirit. Everyone knew Eddie, and he usually left a trail of smiles in his wake.

He was never slow to help the people around him. Trying to track him down for a conversation often started with my being told he’d “just popped over to see so-and-so”, or that he was ” fixing something for someone”. As you can imagine, this was sometimes more than a little frustrating for his family, especially if they were trying to get something of their own fixed, or something sorted out.

It will probably come as no surprise then to hear that as we’ve met people over the last few weeks, the universal reaction to the news of his passing has been shock and genuine dismay – particularly among the ladies of the town: his ready wit and silver tongue seem to have left a trail of flirtation and teasing wherever he went.

We can only imagine that Barbara is feeling his ear right now and giving him a round telling off.

The last time I met Eddie, he was finally at peace. The pain and loss that had marked him in his last years were finally lifted. His relaxed features looked proud, and in the raising of his two amazing daughters – Jo and Suzanne – he has every right to be.

However we remember him – with love, affection, annoyance, or gentle smiles – his greatest achievements are here in this place with us now, and for that we are all truly grateful.

So, goodbye Eddie.

Rest easy.

You’ve done well.

New Week, More Of The Same


I’d love for this not to be a depressing blog, but it’s been a crap month – January having almost become the Monday of Months (to paraphrase one of the baristas at the local coffee house).

After a brief battle with my GP this morning, we’re back North today to carry on sorting out my father in law’s estate (or lack thereof), and all the attendant paperwork to go with that process. As we’ve already been financially snookered by the costs of hotels, fuel, and food over the last two weeks, we’re going to stay in his bungalow while we clear it out and clean it. I’m expecting this week therefore to only increase the trauma and headaches before it is done.

Oh, and I’ve been asked to write and give the eulogy at his funeral. As of the current, admittedly angry, mental draft it has a lot in common with a stand up routine, but will no doubt mellow as I actually commit words to paper.

Right, time to get this show on the road.

Home for the Weekend

We’re still sorting things out, but between prior commitments and exhaustion we’ve taken the weekend for ourselves so that we can recharge our batteries a little.

There’s not a lot else to say really – just thank you to everyone who has sent condolences and offered assistance/encouragement over the last couple of weeks. You’re awesome and even if you’ve been on the other side of the country, or world for that matter, it has made a huge difference to know that we’ve got people who have our backs.


A Few Cost Comparisons

Now things are becoming clearer, we’re starting to try and make travel arrangements for the funeral – and I’ve spent most of this afternoon costing up different modes of travel between London and Middlesborough. The candidates so far are; flight, train and car.

My first surprise was that there are no London-based flights to Middlesborough/Durham/Teeside. I could get a connecting flight via Amsterdam that would make the travel times about four hours though… Or I could drive to Southampton and get a flight from there to Teeside for around £400. Ouch.

Or I could get the train – total time about four hours, with 3 changes at Waterloo, King’s Cross and Darlington – for around £200

Or I can drive – about four hours – for the cost of a tank or two of petrol, so let’s say around £100.

Let’s see what travelling by coach costs… I’m not expecting a miracle here… oh, well that seems to be better – £25-£30 – what’s that? a six or seven hour journey – each way?