Thursday, 26 February 2009


The rest is a little flattish and faded.  During Stalin's speeches to the Praesidium, the first delegate to stop clapping was routinely dragged out to be shot through the head, but at my father's wake family expectation kept everyone applauding indefinitely.  There were speeches upon eulogies upon valedictions, each one as overwrought as the last.  I spoke without notes, although with someone holding me up, for 15 minutes.   A Beverley Sister thanked everyone for coming and my cousin referenced Sartre, saying he had no moral imagination, but no-one knew why. My mother sang Zeh Mikvah, and all my aunts and uncles joined in.  None of the women weigh over 8 stone, and they all wear fur.  Most of the men cleaned up in Ladies' Ready-to-Wear in the 70s and look like Bernie Delfont.  They all speak, as I do, in the Hendon rasp.  The maddest aunt swam into my orbit, saying: Where is Herve Alphand?
Not here, Aunt Passie. He died a decade ago.
And where is your father?
This is his funeral, Aunt.
My father's. Herve Alphand isn't here.
Herve Alphand died years ago, Clarissa!
Yes, I know. This is my father's funeral.
Is Herve Alphand here?

And then I overheard an ugly Walloon say "Tu savais que Clarisse etait communiste - moi pas!"

People drink far too much at funerals. Booze stands indicted as a bad thing, and I stand charged with aiding and abetting. Is it a victimless crime?  Well, no. I was completely pissed on Tanqueray and tonic by 4.00 pm, and a wretched sight to behold.  The trouble is I drink as if there is not only no tomorrow, but hardly anything left of today.  Also, I am one of the truly great smokers of my generation.  Sitting weeping on a faux velvet banquette, I was joined by an ennobled culture pundit, ertswhile neighbour of my father and a hard man to like.  You will know him from the television. He often starts sentences with "And yet we must ask ...". This time he started his sentence with "You are a fucking disgrace".

It is very difficult not to hit someone when they roundly abuse you like that.  But he said "you are a fucking disgrace because you traduce your poor father's memory.  And you are hurting yourself".  Physically, he is a big man.  Some years ago, actually many years ago, I worked with him on a production of Oedipus Tyrannus, you know, by Sophocles, that one.  It was a small budget gig, strictly limited season and in the provinces.  He said "do you remember the beds and tables you made for Oedipus?" and I did.  And I was terribly excited to be reminded because I had forgotten how clever I was. 

"Do you remember the beds and tables?" Yes, I do because I still have one. A table. My children used it for dolls' tea parties when they were little. And I made it from a sheet of three-quarter inch birch plywood, four carriage bolts, 12 flat washers, 8 lock washers and hex nuts, 8 butt hinges, four rubber leg tips, some wood filler and polyurethane varnish. I used a sabre saw and a power sander, and I borrowed a drill press from the man next door. I sanded it down, and filled in  all irregularities and covered it with a clear varnish.  And that is the story of my life.



  1. That table metaphor explains why you are so sturdy and pleasing to the beholder. The perfect union of form and function.

    Many of the wakevolk appear to have been stock extras from a Woody Allen movie. I remember getting plastered at my Father's post crematorial function. Everyone did.

    Your line regarding the time-is-of-the-essence school of inebriation, "I drink as if there is not only no tomorrow, but hardly anything left of today", is a thing of beauty, unbridled clarity, and one that I fully embraced. Fortunately for my liver and loved ones, these days I don't do it very often. Perhaps this newfound restraint explains my current state of nagging optimism that clouds my general view of mankind and "Life" in general.

    xx oo

  2. What an oaf that man. But at least he reminded you of something wonderful you actually made yourself. How great to be brilliant and creative and practical to boot. You are blessed and I'm sure your father was proud of you. He should be.
    We all have to cope with wakes in our own way.
    Great writing Mrs P.

  3. I'd have decked him one... but on reflection poss not such a good idea. Tsk! You have more restraint than me.

  4. If there was only one sack of shite left on this planet, your man 'Mr Nasty' would be both of them.

    Good for you missus.

  5. PI is right, you write so well that it took me a minute to imagine the bitterness of being smeared with ordure at a time like that.

    For a remake of Oedipus, see
    (link via Arlington Hynes at bogol).

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. i raise my glass to you, darling! xoxo

  8. Well, in my Hampstead Garden Suburb twang, a belated long life Mrs P - and also the Catholic equivalent.

    It must have been a difficult day but you make it sound like something from a Bunuel film.

  9. Beds and curtains in the next post, promise!

  10. Sounds like a model funeral, Mrs P. The Boyo equivalent had banshees from the Rhondda walking out of the house with entire suites of furniture - "She would have wanted me to have it" - and an Irishmen in the corners threatening to belt "The Tans" he kept seeing everywhere. We've no idea who he was. Everyone got so drunk that by six we'd forgetten it was a funeral and decided someone must have got married. So we had a "disco".


  11. That was an odious, cruel bludge of a man, and above all, aside from maybe knowing a thing or two, he knows exactly nothing. He fails outright in being a human, no other exams necessary to confirm his failure.

    I'm truly very sorry you had to put up with that.

    This writing is powerful and true. If you weren't a missus, missus, it might make me fall in love with you. Beautiful.

  12. Sorry for the delay in responding to these kind words. I have been completely pissed for most of the week. I must be careful. Anyhoo, Mr Coppens - the typecast extras you refer to are my nearest 'n dearest. The British equivalent would be walk-ons in a Jack Rosenthal play set in the South East. As ever, your words are uplifting and edifying. I am sending you a chaste kiss across the ether.

    Savannah, and I raise mine right backatcha. I have become very fond of White Russians this week. Healthsome. Outre.

    Hampstead Garden Suburb Twang, Frenchie? I'm not familiar. The Hendon Rasp is known to most thus: all the men sound like Lew Grade; the educated ladies sound like Tom Stoppard at 45rpm; the lower-marque women (self included) speak like Miriam Carlin. The girls shriek like A. Winehouse and the boys try to be S. Amstel. Sylvia Young and Haberdashers schools specialise in this type of elocution. It is a sign of the times.

    Inky, a very handsome remark. Thank you.
    What do you want?

    Pat, crikey, thank you! I really don't deserve this largesse. People will think you're in my pay.

    Scarletina dearest, fighting at funerals is declasse in my milieu. And as for restraint! You have seen me at my worst, and know the truth. Cx

    Jimmy, not only do you find le mot juste, but your grace shines through. The Thames Valley salutes you.

  13. Kevverby, of course you shall have them, for verily I am the Wolfe and Hollander of the etherworld.

    Boyo, it's hallucinatory. I can truly picture the scene. An unsuccessful funeral director of my acquaintance had the trade slogan "It's What He Might Have Wanted". He finally went to the wall introducing canoe funerals after buying a job lot from a bankrupt kayak club.

    Sam, feel free. You can fall in love with me if you want. Everyone else has, and I completely understand why.

  14. Farrish, Asir Todah, Baal Nefesh, Hakol beseder?
    You are the Kilburn Colossus, and no mistake. When the Arabs conquered Rhodes, they carted off the remains of the colossus and sold it as scrap metal. 900 camels were mentioned in dispatches.
    Kind regards to everyone at Hendon Reform; I believe I have been forgiven?
    B'Ahavah, Clarissa

  15. Asirat todah, Clarissa.
    As always, an inspiration.
    B'Ahavah, Farrish.

  16. Merci bien. Any chance of a bung for Maroon? Claims to be on the bone of his arse again. Would any of his old friends consider extending his line of credit? Worth a try.

  17. I'd say the Hendon brogue is more of a twang than a rasp. And don't get me started on Jonathan Miller.

  18. Talking of funeral arrangements, I've asked to be set adrift in a burning kayak on the Grand Union canal. Wearing my mother's wedding gown.

  19. Ellis, Hello. Yes, well, it's always a shock to hear ones voice - on a voicemail or similar. F'rinstance, I may THINK I speak like M. Carlin when, in reality, I sound like Meier Tzelniker. (And have you worked with JM? Do I know you?)

    Gadjo, that's old hattery schmattery. The truly chic funeral now involves a re-enactment society, a wheeled xylophone and lashings of saltpetre. Do keep up. Doesn't anyone around here read Morgues and Morticians anymore?