THe Old Grumpies: Mournful expressions keep us cheerful...

Christopher Beeny and Thora Hird in In Loving Memory, which was filmed in the Calder Valley
Christopher Beeny and Thora Hird in In Loving Memory, which was filmed in the Calder Valley

Grumbles this week soon had us considering our mortality.

These began with the weather (bring on global warming), political correctness (someone reprimanded for calling his friend Richard by his more familiar name), traffic hold ups in Todmorden (one mile tailback on one side - no cars the other way), parking (camper vans on the corner just past Hebden Bridge Station), lawyers (surely you can blame someone for something) and then we got on to the subject of the obtrusive ringing of mobile phones.

This led us to the topic that took up most of the morning’s cogitations - funerals. Inappropriate activation of mobile phones at funerals had been reported where the ring tone rang out to “If you’re happy and you know it” or worse still, The Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive”.

We are well aware the moment when we shuffle off our mortal coil is getting nearer and we pondered on what we would like people to say at our funeral. One member said he hoped someone would say, “Look...he’s still breathing” but most of us sympathised with the poor minister who would have to do his best and find something nice to say about us and hopefully recommend us to a higher authority.

We wondered if we would get the benefit of the doubt and our failures of commission and omission would be overlooked and we would be nominated for a position in the higher echelons of eternity. As somebody said: “God knows where we will be going.”

Some modern funerals appear to be more Humanistic than Christian and some services include special musical requests from family mourners and indeed the deceased. “I Did it My Way” and “Return to Sender” are popular but it can go wrong. A widow asked the funeral director to play a track, any track, from “South Pacific” which had always been a favourite with the couple and had romantic memories. The random track played was “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair.” Memories of funerals many years ago were recalled and you always knew if it was a posh one. There would be a choir (one member earned five bob a time as an altar boy) and the sandwiches at the reception would have boiled ham sticking out over the edges of the bread. We reminisced about the TV programme In Loving Memory, featuring Thora Hird and filmed in Luddenden. An uncle of one of our members was present during some filming and asked Thora if they needed any extras. She looked him up and down and said “thank you, but we are alright for corpses.”

Knowing how to behave and dress at funerals can be a problem. One deceased friend had requested that everyone wore the tie that they had been given as a Christmas present but had never been brave enough to wear. Research indicates there are three main elements of behaviour among mourners: Those who remember the deceased with praise and console their loved ones; those who reflect upon the transience of earthly life; and those who tell unfortunate and inappropriate jokes.

At our meeting there were ample of the latter. Most would not get past our editor. Perhaps this quote from Mark Twain might. After receiving an invitation to a funeral he said: “I refused to attend, but I wrote a very nice letter explaining that I approved of it.” And perhaps the sign outside a funeral director’s office which read “Drive carefully. We can wait.” It could be the Irish have the best idea for the funerals of the elderly. Mourn a little and celebrate a lot.

In the meantime we will continue to read the obituaries in the paper just for the satisfaction of not seeing our name there but we are aware that shortly after our demise there is a very good chance that our loved one, after booking herself a round-the-world cruise, will utter those well known all-purpose words: “It’s what he would have wanted.”