You wouldn’t want that, would you?

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

My name’s Jake, and I’m here to make your life more secure,

For which I’ll take some of your money.

Any trouble with a domestic appliance

At ‘Great Big Insurance’ we’ll see you’re all right.

Imagine your Hoover packing up,

And the dust and grime getting thicker and thicker,

And the bugs in the grime make you sicker and sicker

Till you’re too ill to cope; it’s a slippery slope.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

Well for only seven ninety-nine, payable monthly for each appliance,

A total amount of a hundred and four,

The pleasure is mine. Can I take it that’s fine?

 

Yes please.

 

I’ll retail your details to friends in the business.

They’ll soon be in touch to see how you’re doing,

Make sure you’re not rueing a miserable life

With a faulty spin drier or a bulb that’s gone on the living room fire.

 

Thank you.

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

My name’s Davey-Boy; Jake retailed your details.

How are you today? Good, good – you can’t get away

From the need to insure anything that may go wrong when you least expect it.

Say, if you detected a leaking tap or an iron that wouldn’t press things flat.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

You need to know where you’re at, keep things safe,

And that’s where we at ‘Phenomenal Premiums’

Can help you out. Let’s have a chat.

A hundred a month is all you’ll pay to hold domestic risks at bay.

What do you say?

 

Yes please.

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

My name’s Mikey from ‘Crikey Full Cover’.

Are you insured for each household appliance?

They often go wrong, you must be prepared; it’s not rocket science.

Imagine a faulty fridge thermostat stops keeping your cheese at the proper degree.

The rotting camembert starts to waft up through the house and into the loft,

A volatile mix building up to the point where the roof blows off.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

If you’re happy to pay ten pounds a day, the risk of explosion will soon go away.

What do you say?

 

Yes please.

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

It’s Terry here, but call me Tel. Jake said to call; I trust you’re well?

But it might not always be like that.

Can you imagine a faulty TV,

Nothing to watch, sitting alone with a cup of tea, a silent room and a stale old scone.

No stimulation, nobody calling, life becoming quite appalling

Till you wonder if it’s worth carrying on.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

Through ‘Warranty Wonders’ you overcome this.

We’ll make sure you don’t miss the TV programmes that keep you alive,

For a monthly nineteen ninety-five you’d have total reliance on every appliance.

I could sign you up now.

 

Yes please.

 

And to show that we mean it, you’ll receive in the post

A dustpan and brush, a gift from us to a customer we trust.

 

Thank you.

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

It’s Tel here again.

Regarding the gift of a dustpan and brush,

I forgot to mention at ‘Warranty Wonders’ we recognise

The risk of bending to gather up crumbs can put undue pressure on people’s thumbs,

Causing poor circulation, enhanced vegetation and everyday problems with inhalation.

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

 

No.

 

So shall we say fifty-nine ninety-nine payable monthly, to help you feel fine

And lower the risk of thumb amputation and perhaps suffocation?

 

Yes please.

 

On and on drove the hundreds, round and round they passed her name.

Railroading, frightening, charming, bamboozling,

Ducking and diving and dodging morality, skirting close to gross illegality.

The frail old lady was not respected, in spite of the comfort of feeling protected.

 

Until, until,

 

Hell-o, hell-o – Mrs Costello?

 

Who’s calling? Are you one of those appalling people who blighted the lady every day?

Well she died last night, possibly of fright,

I wonder you can sleep at night after what you made her pay.

 

Ah, condolences, condolences, most sincere.

(Thinks)

But while you’re here –

Did you realise the phone to your ear might cause radiation, degradation,

Even lead to your last exhalation?

You wouldn’t want that, would you?

Hell-o, hell-o,

Hell-o, hell-o,

Hell-o, hell-o,

Oh.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello  April 2017

http://www.paulcostello.me

YB Poster Main Proof5 030417

 

 

Above The Call

A waiter slops asparagus soup over my mum’s posh top, spits on my steak tartare and asks my dad if that’s a wig he’s wearing – which it isn’t. He now presents the bill for around £80 and asks dad if everything has been to his liking.

‘Splendid, thank you,’ says dad, making out a cheque for £90.

I witnessed this scenario hundreds of times during dad’s life. A routine addition of about ten per cent, rounded up, regardless of the experience.

‘It’s for the service,’ he would explain.

‘But what if that’s not very good?’ I’d say, trying to fathom it out. ‘And isn’t cooking the food and bringing it to the table what you’re already paying for?’

waiterThere seemed a touch of master-servant about the whole thing, a leftover from Victorian times – doffing the hat and placing a penny in the palm.

Dad’s benevolence especially showed at Christmas. People you never normally saw would knock at the door. The dustman (as he was then affectionately known) touched his forelock and dad handed him a small brown envelope; the milkman would find something similar in an empty milk bottle; and it was the only time the postman actually took an envelope away with him.

Tipping in taxis was also de rigueur. Failure to do so might mean the driver retracing his route a mile before letting dad out. Ten per cent to the hairdresser prevented an unwanted bald patch. And generosity towards chambermaids and bar staff during a hotel stay guaranteed clean beds and proper whisky measures.

While all this was going on, the doctor’s receptionist, sales assistant, bus conductor, deck chair attendant, train driver, signalman, street sweeper, telesales operator, left luggage handler, airline pilot, local government officer, hospital porter, travelling salesman, car mechanic, farmer, footballer, formula one driver, lifeguard, gardener, soldier, gravedigger and balloonist, and many, many others simply had to get by on basic wages, since their services were clearly of less importance.

Class distinctions are increasingly blurred. Christmas door-knocking is no longer fashionable. But tipping in the traditional trades continues, more under the guise of mock friendship than master-servant, but with scant regard for what it really means. Clearly, it’s not in the interest of those sectors to disavow people of the custom.

When I was younger I found myself following dad’s ‘easy route’, expressing gratitude and adding percentages regardless of the circumstances – a comfortable way out, making me feel kind of important and stupid at the same time. Annual Christmas cards from the Indian Restaurant (address written at their request on an Excel sheet during a November visit) reassured me that a lasting friendship had indeed been forged.

But as social rebellion kicked in I steeled myself to experiment with paying the asking price only. I was terrified that abandoning tips would mean losing these friendships. I expected the chef to come running from the kitchen with a machete, or the manager to ban me from his establishment. I waited for the taxi man to warn other drivers by radio. I feared a Sweeney Todd incident at the barbers.

barber Instead I was offered a loyalty card by the barber, placed on the priority list by the taxi firm and welcomed back to the curry house with open arms. I realised it was my continuing custom and that of my entourage they wanted, not the small change in my pocket. We remained friends.So, although tipping is still widely practised, in my world the random and pointless custom ended years ago. But I still feel bad about all those who remain tipless while the same old people cream off the ten-percentages. And I’m trying to do something about it.

At Greggs yesterday a woman passed me my 85p sausage roll, asking if I wanted anything else and wishing me a nice rest of the day.

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘I must say this is the most exquisitely wrapped sausage roll I’ve ever had. You presented it with utter professionalism and a beautiful smile – more than I could possibly have asked for. Here’s a pound, and I want you to keep the change.’

As I left the bakers, trying not to catch the eye of the homeless people blocking my exit, it was ample reward hearing the woman enthusiastically recount our conversation to the girl on doughnuts.

Back at home, concluding a telephone conversation with the MakerMint Water Company, I said to the assistant, Trudy:

‘Frankly, I’ve never known someone handle a direct debit application with such grace and aplomb, offering me all the information I could possibly want, and making the experience so enjoyable. Trudy, you have performed over and above the call of duty. Please give me your BACS details immediately and I shall place £5 in your bank account.’

And on the London train today, when I’d felt compelled to mention the state of the toilet to the train manager, and he’d apologised profusely before single-handedly restoring the cubicle to its pristine condition, I said as he called me to inspect his work:

‘Young man. I know you didn’t make this mess yourself, but you stepped up to the bowl and took full responsibility. Watching you don those Marigolds and plunge wholeheartedly into the matter of the moment has restored my faith in young people and in the entire railway industry. I paid £29 for this journey. Here – take this additional £2.90 to spend as you wish.’

So far, so good. And three new friends already!

Next week: Part 2. Fly Tipping – What To Give Bluebottles.

Copyright © Paul Costello January 2017

http://www.paulcostello.me

Free as an Old Bird

Perched on the plinth of the Captain Matthew Flinders bronze at Euston Station, he of fame for circumnavigating Australia and now offering a resting place for travellers’ bums and Burger King bags, I make light work of my Upper Crust ham baguette. I’ve picked one art installation from which to observe another – hundreds of upturned faces, all ages, colours and destinies, frozen, waiting for their platform numbers to appear on the electronic board above.

Young travellers and business people predominate. I wonder where the young people are off to, who they’re meeting and what life holds for them. I think: does their energy and fashion mean they’re having a better time than me? Do their smiles as they text and talk mean they have richer relationships? Are they totally worry-free as I must surely have been at their age?

Wouldn’t these young people and I have something in common? They’re probably itching to invite me into their social circles. Wouldn’t they be anxious to draw on my life to affirm their own – hear about the myriad experiences they’ll have before earning their entitlement to a gammy hip? I could even trade some of my warfarin tablets for whatever they were passing around.

My thoughts dwindle as Platform 14 flashes and the installation sparks to life in a full battle charge towards the Virgin train for Birmingham. We know we’ll all get a seat yet we all want to front the attack.

From B 48 I can see the full length of the carriage as its likely occupants tumble aboard. Unlike train companies whose ancient rolling stock uses printed cards for reservations, these Pendolinos have tiny electronic booking tabs above each pair of seats. You need a fine pair of eyes and a magnifier, which means a lot of bumping, grumping and general mayhem as people try to find their reserved seat, or anything available. Having spearheaded the platform assault I’m in situ to witness this volatile behaviour.

A pair of tight-pin-striped, middle-aged businessmen in shiny slip-ons sit opposite. Already on their phones as they bump themselves and their polyester computer cases along the aisle, they devote the first thirty minutes of the journey to reporting back to bosses, secretaries and wives.

With bosses it’s assertive and purposeful – distribution networks, pallet-loads and call frequencies. Serious stuff – laptops and iPads whirring, successful meetings, no weaknesses at all, apparently. With secretaries – Amanda and Amy respectively – it’s appointments and mild flirtation. With wives it’s luv, vets, kids and supper, softly tuned. With all of them it’s sorry for ‘just going through a tunnel’.

Symphonies in three movements, performed with panache and aplomb. Daily. Do they really like doing this, I wonder?

They unwittingly reaffirm my retirement – in which I don’t have to learn alien languages and follow grey paths, but indulge my time for intrinsic not monetary reward. I don’t gloat, except perhaps when lying in bed listening to icy windscreens being scraped and engines revved for work. Nor does the vibrancy of younger people make me feel the passing of time. I’m well aware that life for them too can often be hard, emotionally and materially.

I am simply keen to enjoy the time I’ve earned, and grateful for having the choice. For as long as my hip holds up, my heart keeps pumping and the resident weasel at 11 Downing Street leaves me enough cash, I’ll carry on soaking up life’s bright side. And hopefully my contentment will spill over to those around me – young or old, at work or retired.

Hm – I wonder if my pin-striped passengers will be talking so fondly of sales forecasts twenty years from now …

Copyright © Paul Costello January 2016

www.paulcostello.me 

Ferrero Rocher

For a number of years I’ve sung with a group called Sounds Familiar. About twelve of us regularly sing at residential care homes and day centres, aiming to bring greater enjoyment to the lives of those perhaps less fortunate than ourselves. As the name suggests our songs, from the 30s to the 60s, hopefully sound familiar and people can easily join in if they wish. We love singing and it’s great seeing our passion shared by the people we sing for, either by singing along or just tapping their feet.

We’ve never charged to sing, but any donations we’re offered go to the local Alzheimer’s Association – so far we’ve raised about £3,000.

Occasionally I adapt the lyrics of a well-known song to offer a more entertaining performance both for audiences and ourselves. For the month of December we switch to our Christmas repertoire of traditional songs and carols, and for Christmas 2015 I adapted the words of We Wish You a Merry Christmas to depict what a typical Christmas Day might be like! Entitled Ferrero Rocher, the following lyrics were well received, though because of its mildly rude connotation we only included the ‘Aunty’ verse in settings where we knew it would be appreciated!

You are welcome to use these lyrics in your own performances, in which case it would be nice please if you’d mention my name and website.

Rocher_Ferrero

Ferrero Rocher  

(To the tune of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’)

 Your poor tree has started flopping

The needles already dropping

The light lead is in a tangle

And a bulb doesn’t work

 

(Chorus)    Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

A scarf knitted by your grandma

A book that you never asked for

Some socks that you’ll never wear, and

The gloves are too tight

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

Cheap crackers that won’t ignite, pa-per

Hats always very tight, cor-ny

Jokes only make you sigh, and

A small plastic frog

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

The table is fully loaded

You eat till you’ve all exploded

There’s no money in the pudding

And you have to wash up

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

The Queen’s message now of course is

Just before Only Fools and Horses

And a fire starting in East Enders

Brings festive good cheer

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

Your aunty is soon departing

Spent hours on the sofa far … (tiny pause)

Too much food, and it won’t be long till

You can all go to bed

 

Enjoy Christmas Day

Wave troubles away

Eat mince pies, After Eight Mints

And Ferrero Rocher

 

(Chorus

 tune)         And wherever you are

Both near and afar

We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year

 

Merry_Christmas

Copyright © Paul Costello November 2015

www.paulcostello.me

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Costello – Writer       Website: www.paulcostello.me       Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Bad Boy

I sometimes get asked whether there’s anything I’d change about my life if I could live it again.This is hard. Apart from the problem of analysing five decades of adult life on the spur of the moment, my response would depend on who’s asking the question and why.

The last person to ask (between mouthfuls of home-made steak and kidney pie, and completely out of the blue) was my 94 year old mum. Earlier I’d asked how often she thought of dad who’d died eight years before. She’d replied, ‘Every day,’ and seemed glad to talk about him for a while. Perhaps, buoyed by this, she’d felt confident to ask me something equally personal. Or maybe she’d realised that even though I’m still ‘her boy’, at 67 I too have a life story to tap into. Anyway, feeling as unprepared as ever and not wishing to offend someone so key to my upbringing, I bumbled a suitable response.

She then gave her own answer to the question by hinting at my behaviour as an angry late-teen fifty years earlier. Perhaps this had been nagging her ever since – one of life’s blemishes she wanted to clear up. To prevent the steak and kidney pie from getting cold, I found it easiest to (rather belatedly) acknowledge any former wrongdoing whilst insisting that my happiness today was the sum total of all experiences, good and bad, throughout life.

There really is very little I would change. In each phase I’ve risen (or fallen) to the opportunities presented, and not looked back. I wasn’t disappointed at being expelled from school (and nearly from home), and I liked my early jobs in bars and bakeries, farms and fisheries. For the first time I had money, new friends and a sense of independence – just what I needed at the time. And later, when I decided to go to university, I wasn’t worried about getting a particular grade or not knowing what I wanted to do afterwards or why I’d chosen economics in the first place. More than anything I was, and still am, stimulated by travel – building a picture of what’s ‘out there’ and revelling in the unpredictable situations travel gives rise to. When at one stage I felt the need to ‘belong’ to an organisation, I happily drifted into paper-pushing in high-rise blocks. And at 40 I did the best thing of all – setting up and running a successful Bed and Breakfast in Shropshire, greeting and pleasing hundreds of lovely visitors and becoming my own boss.

Other than to work for myself, I had no career goals or vocation. I certainly wasn’t cunning or conforming enough to be a corporate success and would ultimately have hated myself for becoming like some of the people I shunned. A steadier path would no doubt have pleased my parents, whose perceived straightness I vehemently rejected in my youth. I’m now accepting of this as having come from a military-minded father himself raised in Victorian ways, and at least it created a secure environment from which I could express myself and prepare for the independence I craved. We each find our own way, and I’m happy with the route I chose.

Nor would I have changed much about my personal life. Two marriages and a number of other serious relationships, interspersed with extended periods alone, were all good in their time. Even my unhappiest live-in relationship served to convince me that I preferred living by myself – for as long as I can remember I’ve been content in my own company. And I feel privileged, following an early adulthood during which I professed a desire for anything but a family, to have landed up with such a lovely daughter.

I’ve often wished that, as a younger adult discovering sex and sexuality and finding my place in life, I’d already had the knowledge and self-assurance that only came later. I might have offered greater respect to certain people and sought fairer treatment from others. But it’s chicken and egg. Without the maturing effect of exploration, learning from each success and failure – each delightful do and disappointing don’t – I might not feel so at ease with life now.

Bad Boy 1966

Bad Boy 1966

But if only I could eradicate some specific incidents from that fraught period of 16 to 18 …

Bad things I did – which really don’t matter now except that they’re a blot, like a tiny chip on a valuable old vase. Mum had alluded only to my general teenage behaviour, but these other ‘things’ are for me alone to know – and be haunted by.

Of course, if someone plied me with copious amounts of alcohol, fine cuisine and other favours, I might spill.

Or am I being bad suggesting this?

Copyright © Paul Costello October 2015

Paul Costello – Writer       Website: www.paulcostello.me       Twitter: @PaulCostello8

CLICK.COM – REVIEW

Internet dating laid bare in this unflinching comedy-drama
click mouse heart
Exposing matching sites in such an entertaining way makes them far less embarrassing to own up to, says Olla Poltescu
From the off CLICK.COM gallops into the world of internet dating with Paul Smith’s  side-splitting portrayals of farmer Geoff and outrageous medallion man Donald – ‘don’t call me Donny or I’ll mimic The Osmonds’.
Recently divorced Hannah bats aside the attention of these suitors only to leave a void for other suspect characters, Vivienne Evans’ accomplished performance exposing the dilemma of a jilted woman intent on getting a life.
Janet, Deirdre and the cloying Betty, through dates with Harvey (a solid performance by promising Giles Lantos), show that problems finding a suitable partner are felt equally by both genders; I sensed a clear ‘there but for the grace of God’ murmur filtering around a crowded Bosbury Parish Hall.
With online matching sites firmly in the dating mainstream, I’d wondered what I could learn from this preview of aspiring local playwright Paul Costello’s new comedy-drama. Any doubts evaporated when, no spring chicken myself, I found it addressing the particular plight of women of a certain age; knowing nods across the room told me I was not alone. Hannah’s experiences place the sensitivity of ‘mature’ people in stark perspective. Not for them the ‘find-follow-and possibly forget’ formula that young generations arguably see as the norm; more one of a longing driven by hope eternal.
Despite its priceless humour, CLICK.COM never becomes a gratuitous exposé of dodgy dating and people behaving badly. When things aren’t going quite as they should a clever counterplot develops which, with the play’s reassuring romantic undertone, keeps the audience feeling as optimistic as feisty Hannah.
The notion of being supported by trusted others is particularly helpful. Hannah’s daughter Ellie, expertly played byHettie Guilding, (‘just chill, mum’) will be recognised by mothers across the land. The tough role of Sarah, Hannah’s fragile friend and confidante, is superbly delivered by Hilary Benoit, and even Hannah’s taxi driver (Dave Pollard) offers sound moral support.
As the plot unravels through a beautifully-worked, Ayckbournish piece of farce, it becomes clear that no-one can guarantee true love running smooth and has no absolute right that it should. Director Bob Maynard’s refreshingly funny production of this true-to-life drama undoubtedly gets that message across.
CLICK .COM is showing at Bosbury Parish Hall, near Ledbury                                     
Friday 24th/Saturday 25th July at 7.30pm    (£10)                                                           
Online: www.ticketsource.co.uk/ruraltheatreplayers  In Person: Ledbury Books and Maps, 20 High Street, Ledbury 

Moving On

I once called at my mother’s house to find her on hands and knees deep into the small cupboard under the stairs.

‘Hello Mum! What are you doing under there?’ I called.

Wriggling her rump out of the dingy den, she said,

‘I’m making sure there’s enough drink for my wake.’

That was seven years ago. Aware of her age and still grieving after Dad’s death a year earlier, she probably felt it timely to check the wine and whisky. She’s now 94, and her inner strength has been a great source of inspiration for all of us. No doubt she still checks the booze stock and, more than once, has taken me through her formal documents, explaining meticulously what I’d need to do.

The only phrase missing in her explanation was ‘When I die.’ Okay, in the circumstances it wasn’t essential since it was obvious what she was referring to. But isn’t it also because talking to someone about death, yours or other people’s, is very hard?

It’s particularly so across generations. The younger you are, the further you are from dying and the more distractions you have. Death is not on the agenda. In The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a 72 year old lighthouse keeper tells his grandson how growing old and dying is perceived during three broad periods of life.

“During the first it doesn’t even occur to us that one day we will grow old. We don’t think that time passes or that from the day we are born we’re all walking towards a common end. After the first years of youth comes the second period, in which a person becomes aware of the fragility of life and what begins like a simple niggling doubt rises inside you like a flood of uncertainties that will stay with you for the rest of your days. Finally, towards the end of life, we reach the period of acceptance and, consequently, of resignation. A time of waiting.

This is where readers in their ‘first period’ might choose to skip the rest of my article – fair enough! Indeed, the lighthouse keeper’s story would probably have been lost on his grandson.

Yet dying is the only certain thing about life. Something we can all be confident will happen. All right, there’s the famous quotation,

“ … in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

In fact, celebrities and large corporations have proved that taxation is far from certain. I prefer my ex-father-in-law’s assertion that the only two certain things in life are 1) Death and 2) If you take your scissors to be sharpened by a scissor grinder they’ll always come back blunter than before.

When Mum calmly declared she was preparing for her wake, perhaps she was hinting at a wish to talk about it. But the discussion was one-way. Because I’m a generation behind and leading a busy life, my instinctive reaction was to close the conversation down.

‘Oh, you’ll be with us a long time yet, mum!’

Whilst it might have been harsh to have said, ‘Good idea – won’t be long now, will it?’ or ‘Don’t worry – leave some cash handy and I’ll pop down the offy if we run short,’ my actual response was little better in the sense that it only left me feeling more comfortable. It wasn’t particularly helpful to her. With hindsight I could have asked how she felt and helped count the bottles. But I didn’t. And even now I feel a tinge of guilt writing about the episode – despite the fact that dying is normal, natural, certain, and a common end for all of us.

What is it about the word ‘die’? In spite of its certainty it somehow poses a threat – as if saying the word will hasten the event. Instead we choose euphemistic terms like passed away, no longer with us or demise. Softer in tone, these words seem to help us cope.

Sometimes humour replaces euphemism. Popping your clogs or meeting your maker are harmless terms if used generically. I particularly liked a recent comment by Peter McParland, scorer of the two goals that gave Aston Villa their last FA Cup Final win in 1957. In a recent TV interview about this year’s final between Arsenal and Aston Villa, the sprightly 81year old said,

‘It’d be great to see them do it again before I move on.’

Move on! Sweet!

I accept that in our culture some topics are filed in the drawer labelled ‘unmentionables’. Many prefer to hold their counsel on matters of income, religion and which Party they vote for. Sadly, some also find conversations about cancer or mental health too awkward to handle.

But why death when it’s so inescapable? To me, dying is as important as being born in the sense that respect for life should not have diminished. With the exception of sudden unexpected death, and say dementia or severe illness where people might not be best placed to articulate thoughts, the emotional impact could be softened by more open discussion between those in their last years and those to be left behind. A kind of ‘living’ celebration rather than a funereal one.

I’ve just read a wonderful book by Caitlin Doughty called Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. A qualified US mortician, she offers a compassionate, respectful, yet hilarious account of her thirteen years experience with dead people and their loved ones. Her well-considered views help me realise that I too am well into the third period – the ‘period of acceptance’. For some time I’ve held no fear of death; only a niggling concern for those I leave behind. I keep my Will in order, and from time to time, when a natural opportunity arises, I try to be open about my feelings with relatives or close friends. Some are happy to join in, others treat death as an ‘unmentionable’, pausing diplomatically before saying,

‘Er, did I tell you we were going to Corfu this year?’

Yes, I try. But I don’t always get my timing right. I recently met up with my other half after being away a few days. We had plenty of catching up to do, but so taken was I by the mortician’s story I’d been reading on the train that my opening gambit was,

‘I must tell you! I’ve bought a great new book!’

‘Oh yes. What’s it about?’

‘Death,’ I said.

‘Thanks for that,’ she said. ‘Please can we start this conversation again?’

 

Copyright © Paul Costello May 2015

 

Addendum  August 2015

Since writing this article I’ve read another book based on crematorium work, this time a funny, sad, yet ultimately optimistic novel called “A Trick I Learned from Dead Men” by Kitty Aldridge. I felt this section had the same tone as my piece. The main character, Lee Hart, is reflecting on the earlier, premature loss of his mother and the more recent sudden demise of his stepfather Lester:

“I sit in the room. I’m supposed to be hoovering, but. Here she died. Here Lester lay. Facts unfit for airing in the presence of prospective house buyers, under the rug they must be brushed, pronto.

Framed photographs. Us when we were young. I stare at us. Me and Ned with freckles, gaps in our teeth. Mum and Les leaning, laughing up at the camera, surprised, sun-kissed. We seem alive, more than we are now. Who are these people and what are they doing? And where have they gone? I lie on the bed.

I wonder if I lie here long enough whether I might slope off too. I close my eyes. I don’t mind, make a change. Buenos noches. Adios. Not that it’s easy of course. It isn’t. Death: the most natural thing in the world is unnaturally tough to do if you’re trying too hard. And certainly not if you are clocking it before it’s had a chance to clock you. A watched pot, etcetera. Stare death in the face and watch it paralyse. Death would rather take you by surprise, creep up sideways and bosh.”