The previous post, Port Sunlight, received a modicum of criticism, not that I care about the opinions of the misguided ones, for its perceived emphasis on factual comment. Not your usual mucking about stuff was one comment from a regular reader.
As you can tell all sorts read this blog, they’re not all of an intellectual bent or seekers after enlightenment! Even so, I vow to please everybody so here’s a blog entry containing more than a little frivolity.
I must be looking even rougher than usual this morning as the chatty couple we met in passing last night have only one topic of conversation. Hard to ignore them while retaining my legendary courtesy (!) so I grin and bear it.
Last evening they were celebrating their 25 years of marriage with a renewal of vows shindig in the hotel we’re staying in. Lots of overdressed revellers, dozens of discarded stiletto heeled shoes abandoned on the lawn outside by their foot blistered owners and assorted children ignoring the wedding buffet to feed pound coins into the machine dispensing crisps and chocolate.
We arrived as it was all winding down and the happy couple interrupted their blazing argument to come over and sit next to us.
‘Don’t let him start talking,’ the ‘wife’ cautioned, ‘he never shuts up.’
Her spouse appeared to have imbibed freely at the bar and also managed to reveal the nature of most of the buffet items by decorating his suit jacket in food stains.
‘Twenty five years of this,’ he said, jerking his thumb in the direction of his beloved. I waited for the inevitable next sentence, oh here it came… ‘Twenty five years, you don’t get that for murder.’
Laugh? Well, we made a token effort at acknowledging his massively unoriginal remark. It wasn’t even much of a token effort.
The centrepiece couple weren’t the only ones engaged in relationship trauma. Just about all their guests seemed to have been invited solely for their fissiparous tendencies.
Everywhere we looked there was a squabble.
We made the wise decision to take our matrimonial harmony demonstration off to our own room as it was so obviously alien to the ambience of the downstairs lounge.
This morning the dining room was deserted as we arrived to do battle with the breakfast buffet. No sooner had I demonstrated my mastery of the culinary skills: adding hot water to an instant pot of porridge - Marigold is hard to impress - than we heard the uneven clatter of high heels on the floor tiles and recognised this presaged the imminent arrival of a woman with severe foot blisters but no spare footwear.
‘Hello, you two,’ the woman bellowed, no longer wearing the evening’s wedding dress made for a much smaller person, but instead mostly but not entirely confined in a Lycra outfit that revealed most of the areas it was supposed to cover.
Her husband had similarly abandoned his food stained wedding suit for a pair of flared jeans the like of which I last saw being worn by a member of Slade and a tee shirt bearing the legend ‘Size Matters.’
Keeping a man from his morning porridge is pretty bad form, but today’s infraction was even worse than imagined. Ignoring the buffet the couple wanted to talk about dying.
Do I look like a person with one foot in the grave, I muttered to Marigold. Her lack of a response was a tad worrying.
‘The Silver Wedding done and dusted,’ Mister Fashion Catwalk 1973 announced, ‘now we’ve got to sort out a piggin’ funeral. The wife’s brother, he’s on his last legs.’
‘Oh, right.’ ‘Yeah,’ the Lycra goddess said, ‘as if we haven’t had enough to do with organising our wedding vows thingie.’
Marigold looked as concerned as it is possible to do while stifling hysterical laughter.
‘Percy,’ the woman continued, prompting the arrival of a red rash on Marigold’s neck, ‘my brother, he’s been set to croak for years and now it looks like he’s gonna do it.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ I said, ‘you’re obviously upset.’
‘Well, yeah, but it’s not a surprise, you know? Muggins here got lumbered with making the arrangements.’
Her husband stood up abruptly and said, ‘my belly thinks my throats been cut’ and set off at a rapid waddle for the breakfast buffet.
His wife looked up and sighed. ‘No use at all, him. Like everything else this funeral will be all left to me. Either of you ever planned a funeral?’
We shook our heads.
‘Not really,’ Marigold said, vaguely.
‘ I just don’t know where to start and Percy may still be alive but he’s useless. He’s not religious, don’t want no hymns, but he said he won’t mind what we do as long as everybody gets a good drink down ‘em.’
The husband returned with a tray containing a selection of every item on the buffet table and sat at a table about twenty feet away.
‘I thought a song or two, perhaps a poem, but no hymns. Will that be okay do you think?’
I was tempted to say, ‘do what you like, it’s your funeral, but of course, strictly speaking, it was the still breathing Percy’s send off she was planning.
‘There’s that one about breaking the clocks from Four Weddings and a Funeral, do you know it?’
I nodded and glanced at Marigold who appeared to have been suddenly struck dumb.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘The Funeral Blues by W H Auden.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum,
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
and so on.’
The chief funeral planner looked astonished.
‘Wow, you must have watched the Four Weddings DVD a hundred times.’
‘I just remember the poem,’ I offered. WH Auden was part of my A level syllabus and even what seems like 100 years later that poem obviously stuck in my memory. I even remember WH Auden’s full name, Wystan Hugh Auden, but thought it wiser not to mention it.
Even though I frequently can’t remember what I had for dinner last night dredging up poems learnt at school could be termed showing off.
In fairness, Auden wrote about four hundred poems yet The Funeral Blues is probably the only one I can recall with any clarity.
Romantic Comedies notwithstanding, it’s a common enough choice as an alternative to the more austere threnodies of a traditional funeral.
The woman, we never bothered with actual introductions, was looking more cheerful.
‘Yes, that one and I thought of having something by Leonard Cohen as well.’
‘Leonard Cohen? Perfect,’ Marigold said, brightly. I agreed Well, he didn’t write anything upbeat or cheerful, ever.
Our companion smiled. ‘The roving one, that’s the one I was thinking of.’
I looked at Marigold, she looked as perplexed as me.
‘I don’t know that one,’ I said.
‘Oh? It’s very good. Anyway, I must get back to Malcolm. He’s diabetic and has to be watched.’
She lowered her voice and spoke to us from behind her hand. ‘He’s a right greedy so and so, I can’t relax for a minute, have to watch him 24/7.’
We all looked at Malcolm, busily tucking in to a vast Full English with buttered toast and jam on hand ready for the next course.
‘Yes,’ Marigold said, ‘you can’t be too careful.’
We returned to our own meagre fare, my porridge long since congealed to the consistency of cement, and tried to avoid listening to the raised voices from the distant table as Malcolm received both health advice and censure at maximum volume.
That evening Marigold announced ‘found it,’ holding her iPad aloft.
‘Oh good,’ I replied having absolutely no idea to what she was referring.
‘The Leonard Cohen song. The roving one is actually ‘So we’ll go no more a -roving’ and it’s on the Dear Heather album. I think we’ve got that, or used to have it anyway.’
We did once own that album and I remember the ‘song’ – actually a poem – spoken but not sung, although with Leonard Cohen the difference is minuscule.
I remembered the provenance of the actual poem as well; one dashed off by Lord Byron during his many perambulations around Europe. I looked it up and the second verse caught my attention.
‘For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And Love itself have rest.’
In a letter to Thomas Moore, the poem is preceded by Byron’s account of its genesis.
‘At present, I am on the invalid regimen myself. The Carnival - that is, the latter part of it, and sitting up late o' nights - had knocked me up a little. But it is over - and it is now Lent, with all its abstinence and sacred music... Though I did not dissipate much upon the whole, yet I find 'the sword wearing out the scabbard,' though I have but just turned the corner of twenty nine.’
Good grief, if he felt like that at the age of 29 no wonder he died when he was 36.