This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.
This rubric and the weird picture, above, is what faces you when you start your first post.
What should I write about? My first effort was a rather whimsical piece about growing old, and I how I found hair growing from my eyebrows (like Dennis Healey and that slab-faced fellow Leonid Brezhnev – by the way, what has happened to the hairy-eyebrowed people?), nose (both out of it, and out of my nostrils), ears, and bum hole. Such are the perils of growing old.
After a bit of composition, I decided that this effort was not worth putting before an expectant public, which is, so far, composed of two contributors to the Anna Raccoon blog. If people want whimsy, they can watch Russell-bloody-Brand. Instead, I have decided to write about my trip, last week, to Scotland.
It was a melancholy business; a wonderful cousin had died, quite unexpectedly of – of all things – an ear infection which she had simply ignored, but which had spread, first to the inner ear, and then to the brain’s meninges. Found collapsed on the floor, she was transferred to hospital in Glasgow. The protocol in such cases is to put patients on life support for 24 hours, and then withdraw ‘pain relief’, see what happens, and then the life support itself.
The wider family was gathered to Acharacle in Ardnamurchan – rural Scotland – in a plain, whitewashed church with no colours in the windows. I had come up on the sleeper from Euston, a trip I last made in the early 1980s, and the rolling stock was exactly the same – the unpleasant teal and purple colour combo, now slightly threadbare and tacky to the touch. This thing crashed and juddered through the night, but I managed to snatch some occasional dozes. Arriving at Fort William station, I left a pair of trousers on the train (which, despite my requests, have not been returned). Billy, the hire car operative, was waiting for me outside with an adequate Citroen; a small detour to pick up my wreath, then an hour and a half’s drive.
The church was packed. There were those in kilts, tweeds, morning coat (that was me), suits, a solitary donkey jacket, and open-necked shirts. Our vicaress – we were in the Church of Scotland, rather than the Free Church – rocked a peculiar floor-length purple dress, cassock-y thing, which was not a good look, and we went through the familiar litany, hymns, and bible readings. The Crimond, (which ought to be sung to Brother James’ Air, rather than the dirge-like modern tune), Eternal Father Strong to Save, and I Vow To Thee My Country. A mistake the last one, I feel; you want to end the service on a good rabble rouser to stop people snivelling. A man called Iain Thorber delivered an excellent eulogy. The coffin left to the strains of Edith Piaf gargling her way through Je ne regrete rien.
At the graveside outside, the piper droned and wheezed his way through Flowers of the Forest and – there must always be some amusement amongst the sadness – was much tormented by midges under his kilt. ‘He’s dancing a jig,’ murmured my cousin to me.
The thoughts at a funeral are also familiar. The most obvious ones – we’ll never see this person again; one day I’ll have the starring role – are melancholy at best. How much we rely on the soothing, familiar litany. When my own father died, some three years ago, I laboriously copied out the Book of Common Prayer’s funeral service to the order of service so that the vicar would have less opportunity to go off piste and add his own banal contributions. It worked at the funeral, but he got his own back at the short service at the crematorium where he droned on, making up those stupid ‘stream of consciousness’ prayers that modern churchmen are so fond of, and reducing my mother – who had borne up well, up to that point – to tears and a state of nervous collapse. I suppose that I should have told him to shut up but, being English, allowed him to wreck his mischief. If I were a Muslim, I expect that I would have shot him.
After the burial, off to the village hall – erected by our mutual grandmother – for tea. Scot Plod is notoriously ferocious on the subject of speeding and drink driving (it’s a lower limit than England; a wine gum will put you over the limit), so only the locals were tucking into the vin de pays. I hung about a bit, chatting my way through the throng, then took my rented Citroen back to Fort William, as I was booked on the return sleeper.
There I had one other interesting encounter. In the buffet car, where I was tucking into the Glenmorangie that I had self-denied at the wake, I came across two retired coppers, who had been walking the West Highland Way and were relaxing by allowing the train to take care of the return journey while they demolished a bottle of merlot. I am always suspicious of ex-coppers: they retire far too early, on a grossly excessive pension – which is why you always bump into them on cruises – but I find the proper ones – ie. the actual detectives, rather than the lot who hand out speeding fines – quite interesting. They are usually ‘not unintelligent’, pleasant, and have something to say. Mine was an ex-detective, and we got chatting.
‘We always used to laugh at your Scottish politicians, but now we English are having to eat our words,’ I observed.
After a few moments, another thought struck me.
‘There’s only one decent Scottish politician, and he’s called Donald.’