“…I’d like loads of fuss: anguished wailing, gnashing of teeth; the whole nine yards…” It was a typical mid-session conversation at The Circle, this time sparked by Frankie’s passing mention of having ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ as his funeral song and Phil, as usual, was having his say, although what was coming out of his mouth bore little relation to what was going on in his head. “Can you still get those horses with big white plumes on their heads? I’d like those. White horses, of course. Nothing tacky…”
“Well,” interjected Deidre, the venom in her voice just about concealed by the syrup in her smile, “I’m sure we all look await the occasion with bated breath.”
“What is bated breath?” asked Elizabeth. “I mean, why is it ‘bated’?”
“I think,” said Billy, “it’s ‘abated’ shortened, so kind of postponed. Your man Shakespeare again, I think.”
“Right, so if we all bate our breath whilst waiting for Phil’s funeral, it’s very likely that we’ll all get there before him.”
“I used to work for a man who loved funerals,” volunteered Louise. “He used to go from church to church, sitting at the back, singing hymns. He loved to sing.”
“I hate funerals,” ventured Penny.
“They certainly don’t have much to recommend them,” said Terry.
Penny stared at him hard. “Some might,” she whispered.
“My grandad was the same,” offered Frankie, picking up the stitch that Louise had dropped. “He loved a good funeral did my grandad – although he did, at least, restrict himself to people he knew. Broke his heart when he couldn’t go to my grandma’s funeral.”
“Why couldn’t he go?” asked Deidre.
“Because she wouldn’t die.”
“Ta-da!” said Phil who, unlike Deidre, had seen it coming.
“It’s weird though, isn’t it,” started Elizabeth as the laughter subsided, conscious that Deidre was about to say something that would almost certainly dampen the mood, ‘how all that tension in the church dissipates the second the first sherry is served.”
“And why sherry?” asked Jane. “Does anybody drink sherry other than at funerals?”
“Great aunts on Christmas Eve” suggested Vanessa.
“Well, that’s a given,” said Jane.
“I had a great aunt who drank nothing but Milk Stout,” Said Billy. “It killed her in the end.”
“Don’t tell me,” laughed Frankie. “She was knocked over by the delivery truck.”
“No,” said Billy. “She had cirrhosis. As I said, she drank nothing but Milk Stout.”
“Always one of the first signs that Christmas was on its way,” said Terry “the adverts for British Sherry.”
“I prefer mine dry,” said Penny, which brought a smile to Terry’s lips.
“When I was a kid, my mum used to send me to the local offy with a pound and an empty milk bottle for a pint of draught sherry.”
“Didn’t it make your tea taste funny, Bill?” quipped Frankie, who never learned.
“It was always snowballs in our house at Christmas,” said Deidre. “Instead of sherry, I mean. A snowball. Although we never had lime in it, or a cherry come to that. Just advocaat and lemonade. Oh, what was it called?”
“Warninks,” answered Billy. “‘Eveninks and morninks, we all drink Warninks…’”
“I think we had Bols.”
“I bet that took some swallowing.” Frankie was in his element.
“Yes, thank you very much for that, Francis.” Deidre was not.
“I never knew my mum or dad to visit the pub,” Terry said. “When my dad died – I was very young – but I remember mum put a fiver behind the bar to buy all the drinks. The landlord ended up footing the bill, because he didn’t like to tell her it was nothing like enough. As we left, she told him to keep any change there was. I really didn’t like the way she winked at me…”
“I wonder why we make the association between funerals and Christmas?” asked Vanessa.
“And alcohol,” added Phil.
Vanessa nodded. “And alcohol… Forced bonhomie and conversations with people with whom we would rather not spend our time…”
“Family gatherings,” said Billy. “Like carbuncles: hard to endure, but when they’ve gone, the relief is immense.”
“So what’s you funeral song then Bill?” asked Phil.
“I don’t think I’ve got one,” he answered, just a beat too quickly.
“You have,” said Phil. “I know you have. You must have. Everybody has.”
“Well, my dad had ‘My Way’ and my uncle Derek had ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’…”
“A bit clichéd, don’t you think?”
“Exactly my point,” said Billy. You either go for something ridiculously clichéd or totally bonkers.”
“I like a song by Judie Tzuke called ‘Joan of Arc’,” said Penny. “I think I’d have that.”
“I’ll make a note,” said Frankie.
“You’ll be gone long before me,” Penny laughed, despite herself.
“Mm,” Frankie stroked his chin, “I suppose I am probably the eldest here,” he chuckled. “Together with Deidre, of course.”
Deidre groaned, as if shot, but not wanting to ‘protest too much’, she smiled wanly.
“Would any of you come to my funeral, I wonder?” asked Terry. “Other than Penny of course, who can’t wait to dance on my grave.”
“Well, not ‘dance’ exactly,” said Penny.
“Shame,” said Terry, “because I was thinking of having ‘I’m in the Mood for Dancing’ by The Nolans.”
“I hate that song,” said Penny.
“Me too,” laughed Terry, “but fortunately I won’t have to hear it.”
“I’d have ‘Magnificent’ by Elbow,” said Jane.
“That’s a great song.”
“I know, I’ll be sad to miss it.”
Sitting at the end of the bar, just on the fringes of the group, cradling his half-pint, Tom Bagshot listened intently, but did not interject: it was, after all, his first meeting and, truth be told, although it was far less intimidating than he had feared, he would be pleased if he could make it through without having to provide any input. He nodded from time to time, laughed when everybody else laughed and quietly attempted to assemble in his mind a map of where everybody fitted in. And then, fleetingly, he caught Frankie’s eye…
“What about you, er?…”
“What about you, Tom, sherry or snowball?”
“Sherry, I think, but dry like…”
“And what about your funeral song?” asked Phil.
“Maybe ‘One World’ by John Martyn, although I do think ‘Magnificent’ is a great shout.” He smiled at Jane and Deidre glanced at her watch. “Well everyone,” she said, “as hard as it will be to drag ourselves away from ‘The Joy of Funerals’ I think it is time that we went back upstairs to hear what Penelope has got for us this week.” Tom, along with the rest of the group, rose to his feet and Deidre smiled at Penny. “Is it about birds again, dear?” she asked…
If you enjoyed this week’s Writer’s Circle meeting, it all started here with ‘Penny’s Poem‘.
Last week’s Writer’s Circle, ‘Charlie’s Diary’ is here.
Episode 15 ‘The Mud, the Blood and the Beer’ is here.