Monday, 26 October 2015

Not not not the screw top.

Cremation people: I am sure you are good and thoughtful and kind to children and animals, but who had the meeting where it was decided that the default urn would have a screw top? No human should end up with a screw top.

And logistics people: who invented the form which asks Did the Deceased die from violence?

What the buggery bollocks were you all thinking?

I’m in the irrational anger stage. You may be able to tell.

I loathe the horrid questions and decisions and things to be done. My mother has gone. Her mortal remains mean nothing to me. She is locked now in my heart, and, in time, I shall commit her to the mountains, to Glen Muick, which is my cathedral. I’ll give her back to the earth and the land and the hills and the sky. That is my own private memorial. We shall also have a little family ceremony. But the forms, the questions, the decisions and indecisions mean nothing to me.

The poor undertaker came today, and had to try and understand when I said something of this to him. He had no language in which to reply. I could see his ordered brain searching around for an answer and coming up with: No Correct Response. He is trained in the ways of formality. There can be no you or me, only yourself and myself. I had stumped in from the horses in filthy muddy gumboots and taken them off at the door. He was immaculately dressed. I sat in front of him in odd socks, with my most battered hat on because I was having a rotten hair day.

Even my sister was slightly surprised by this. ‘What is with the hat?’ she said, before she could help herself.

‘I’m having a bad hair day,’ I said. ‘Even a bad hat is better than bad hair.’

The poor, poor undertaker. I don’t think they trained him, at undertaker school, to deal with a crazy woman in no shoes and a bonkers hat who does not care what it says on the nameplate of the coffin.

Then I went and watched a Marine work a thoroughbred, and sanity returned. The Marines really, really know about death. Especially when they have been blown up twice in Afghan. He had all the language I needed, the directness, the authenticity, the keen emotional intelligence, the absolute lack of fear in the face of mortality. For half an hour, I was soothed. I could speak words that made sense, and know I was not frightening anyone. It takes more than a distracted woman in a lunatic hat to strike fear into the heart of a hoofing Royal.

I made my sister Irish stew and we spoke of life and death and love and pain.

More kind words flew in, from all corners of the internet – email messages from old friends, lovely comments on the blog, sweet flutters of generosity on the Facebook.

On my Twitter feed, there is a young boy who recently did a charity walk for the Injured Jockeys’ Fund. I’d found him on my timeline and sent him many messages of congratulation and encouragement because I found what he was doing so inspiring. It was one of those rather touching, fleeting meetings of strangers, in the ether. This young man took the time to send words of kindness and condolence. I think he is ten. He may be eleven. Imagine doing that, at such an age.

The irrational anger will come. It’s a bit of a bastard, but death makes me cross. I have to let that one roll through me, until it is out the other side. To counter it, and balance it, I must pay attention to all the good things, however small. The stalwart friend who held my horse for the farrier this morning because I was late and had to dash off; that fine Marine; that dear young stranger on Twitter; the good companions, the ones who have been with me for over thirty years, who write to make sure I know they are thinking of me. The people who say: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do that.’ (Almost the sweetest words in the English language at times like this.)

Put in the plus column the cooking gene, so that my kitchen is now filled with soup – beetroot soup, and cauliflower soup, and my own mysterious green soup. All the people who really get it. The people who are not scared of death and strong emotion, and can be easy with those hard masters. The good Scottish weather, forecast to be dour and cloudy, which changed its mind and sent me some gentle sun. The lovely mares, in their secret field. The thoughtful neighbour, who took the time to drop in a card. All the good things. There are so many good things.

I can’t quite forgive the screw top. I expect I shall learn to let it go. I don’t care about the name plate on the coffin, but I shall do some ravishing flowers, because I do funeral flowers like nobody’s business. The flowers should not really matter either, but they do. I’ll send the old lady off with the best damn arrangement. She shall not be insulted with maidenhair fern. I find a furious consolation in that thought.


Today’s pictures:

Are of the simple, beautiful things to which I cling:

26 Oct 1 3456x5184

26 Oct 2 5184x3456

26 Oct 3 5184x3456

26 Oct 5 5184x3456

26 Oct 6 5184x3456


  1. I've just seen the labels above for this post sits and I think those words sum up death and loss and screw tops perfectly. You always get the words right and I hope they help you now too. Along with your wonderful family of humans, horses and Stanley.

    Sending you much love from over here. I'm keeping you in my thoughts. xxx

  2. Furious consolation in proper flowers and green soup sounds better than the utility of the undertaker. My great aunt was cremated earlier this year. I fumed as the wicker coffin was hefted in to the crem. There was nothing of her really but the thing creaked like a cat basket. Down with cat baskets and screw tops.

  3. I'm noone you know, just someone who reads your blog to extract vitamins for my soul and often stealing your landscape photographs for my private viewing only as a desktop picture. I just wanted to say that I am devastated for your loss, I loved your mother so much, just from what I had gleaned from the few glimpses here and there in your stories and especially the quotes of her wonderful wry commentary on life. But what you have done here is wonderful paean to life and death, thank you. Sending you burning admiration from the good (not) old (not) U.S. of A.


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