Friday, 6 November 2015

Our Annie's Funeral: The Spurr Family And Wath-on-Dearne Remembered


A monologue wherein biographer David Bret  recalls his grandmother’s  funeral  on  4  February  1972,  as  seen  through the eyes of his much-loved  Aunty Kate, who had a peculiar way of looking at the world. It was one of the saddest  days  of  his  life,  yet  upon  reflection  and  when recalled by Kate, so unintentionally hilarious.

David Bret recalls:
I was very  young when  my  maternal grandparents died, along with  William,  my paternal grandfather, so I never really  knew  them.  Annie  Phillips—O.B.'s  mother—I adored. Grandmother Spurr affected  the most wonderful impression of the  music-hall comedian Nat Jackley, but because she  was  inordinately  kind  to  Mother  and  me, O.B.  hated  her.  He  even  tried  to  stop me  going  to  her funeral.  That's  how  he  got  his  nickname,  O.B. —Old Bastard. Uncle Bill said he should have been called O.C. I only worked out what he had me ant by that much later. Sunday  afternoons  at  Grandmother’s  house  were events  in  themselves.  Her  living-room  connected  to the dining-room  via  two  large  double  doors,  which  were flung  open  so  that  her  table  could  be  extended—at fifteen  feet,  the  biggest  I  had  ever  seen.  No  one  was excused from attending, only O.B.—nobody wanted him there.  All  the  aunties  and  uncles  and  their  spouses  and offspring  turned  up  religiously,  armed  with  baskets  and dishes.  That  table  creaked  under  the  strain  of  holding every goody you could possibly imagine! Afterwards, we all spilled out into the garden, or on to the green just up the  road—or  if  the  weather  was  inclement,  which  it never seemed to be, there were be parlour games, and not a television in sight. Every  now  and  then,  Grandmother  invited  the  entire family for Sunday lunch and one day she sent me to the Co-operative butchers, opposite her home, to pick up her weekend order. “You’d  better  ask  him  to throw  in  four  pounds  of cat-muck sausages,” she said. She  meant  chipolatas,  one  of  the  words  the  family considered ridiculous—in as much as drivers were  never called  chauffeurs  and  vol-au-vents  were  regarded  as Yorkshire puddings with tops on. And there was  no  way that  I  would  be  making  such  a  request  of  the  Co -op butcher! I asked for four pounds of sausages.
“What  kind  do  you  want?”  he  barked.  “Thick ones—or cat-muck?”

Grandmother  Spurr's  funeral  was  unintentionally  the most hilarious event of her life—or should I say death. It took  place  on  4  February  1972,  not  a  good  day  for this would  have  been Mother's  birthday,  and  I  was  still getting over the shock of losing her, the year before. The whole clan was there, with Uncle Bill ruling the roost as he  usually  did  on  such  occasions—sitting  in  the  front room, his wheelchair parked between the coffin and the front  door,  which  meant  that  anyone  who  entered  the house had to be vetted by  him. He had  insisted that the
lid  be  left  off  the  coffin—mindless  of  the  fact  that Grandmother did not look good—whoever had prepared her body for burial had done a rushed job, for her mouth had been left lopsided, and one eye was still wide open. My  three  aunts—Joan,  Doreen  and  Margery—were terrified of going near her. No problem for Bill, who got two  of  his  brothers  to  manhandle  them  into  the  room, one  at  a  time,  and  force  them  to  lean  inside  the  coffin and kiss their mother goodbye, causing Joan and Doreento  flake  out.  There  then  followed  an  argument over  the service. Grandmother  had  wanted  a  Salvation  Army  woman called  Ada  Rogers  to  sing  "The  Old  Rugged  Cross"  at the  church.  Ada  had  performed  this  at  the  Old  Folks' Christmas Party, therefore Joan had suggested she do so again—until  overruled  by  Bill,  who  argued  that   there was  no  point  in  wasting  a  tenner  on  Ada  when Grandmother  wouldn't  be  able  to  hear  her,  and  when nobody  else  wanted  to.  They  were  rowing  about  this when  the  hearse  pulled  up  in  front  of  the  house.  Two minutes later, two undertakers’ assistants screwed down the lid of Grandmother's coffin, and they had actually got her  into  the  hearse  when  Freda—Bill's  wife—made  the shock announcement that she had found a set of dentures in a glass on the kitchen window-sill. I had never heard Bill swear before, but he  let rip now as they were trying to get his wheelchair down the steps and into the street. "I don't care what anybody says. I'm the eldest in this family, and what I say goes. I am  not  having my mother going to her grave without her fucking teeth!" To  say  that  pandemonium  ensued  may  be  putting  it mildly. Everyone piled back into the house, including the undertaker’s  assistants,  who were instructed to place the coffin on the floor, remove the lid and, while  the females were sobbing,  find out if my grandmother really had anyteeth  in—or  if  the  ones  Freda  had  found  in  the  kitchen were  just  a  spare  set.  Attempts  were  made  to  prise  her mouth  open,  but  failed.  Doreen  fainted  again.  Then Aunty  Kate  came  to  the  rescue,  fetching a  large  metal spoon  from  the  kitchen  drawer,  the  one  which Grandmother  had  used  when  making  her  Yorkshire puddings. Using the handle, and not without breaking her jaw, they managed to get her mouth open, and one of the sweetest old  ladies I had ever known and who certainly deserved  more respect than  her  family afforded her that day, was discovered to still be in possession of her teeth. The ones in the kitchen had indeed been a spare set she had kept “for emergencies”!

Many years after this event, I wrote a monologue, Our Annie’s Funeral, which recalled the occasion through the eyes  of  Kate.  I’m  sure  that  Grandmother  would  have seen the funny side!

[From  My  Own  Story:  The  Uncensored  Memoirs  of  the
Celebrity Biographer, DbBooks ©2015, David Bret]

David Bret is currently preparing a second monologue: The Stepmother.

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