Sunday, April 25, 2010

The going down of the sun...


The sun also sets by Pants


This is not going to be a post about Anzac Day. Did that a few weeks ago. Also I remembered to buy milk and bread yesterday so I'm feeling pretty smug curled up all cosy in bed with Spongebob Squarepants - strictly for research purposes you understand. I am grateful for the small miracle of toast and that the neighbours with the flagpole corrupting my view have had the decency to leave it naked for once. What are neighbours for anyway?

Today I will be dealing with death. Not my own I'm happy to report. Death as the primary focus for our grief, as an inconvenient truth, as the subject of a magazine. Eh? What's that you say Pants? Yes, there is a new magazine about to be launched in Britain in June dealing exclusively with death. Eulogy Magazine will cover terminal illness, will writing, assisted dying and many more uplifting topics.

You have to hand it to the British. When the nation is at its lowest emotional ebb for a generation, someone is optimistic enough to believe that people are going to hand over £3.50 for a magazine that bones you up on the latest in cremation techniques and assesses the merits of various versions of Vaughan Williams's A Lark Ascending on the off-chance that you might find a use for such knowledge sooner than you wish. That's the spirit. Nobody does maudlin better than the British.

I'm wondering about what seem to me to be obvious buyer resistance factors like people's natural superstition when it comes to all things reaper. Surely if you're interested enough in death to spend £3.50 on it, then death is likely to think 'game on' and return your interest with, er, interest. Then there's the problem of being seen buying such a magazine. What are the chances that Darren from IT will be standing behind you in the supermarket queue when you have Eulogy Magazine in your shopping basket next to the boxed set of Six Feet Under which just happened to be irresistibly marked down and will tell everyone at work that you're a necromaniac? Quite high I should think, given Darren's predilection for cut-price bulk packs of lager and family bags of Doritos. Let's hope the marketing people have taken these things into account.

Although death may be a big subject, it isn't exactly diverse. There may be many ways to accomplish it, but there are not all that many ways to manage the aftermath. It's not like planning a wedding where you get a month or even years to choose the clothes, the music, the flowers, the food and draft the speeches. Imagine a magazine where the fashion page is the most sombre. An Emo-only music section and poetry page confined to the work of WH Auden and Joyce Grenfell? You'd start hallucinating that Proust is a Daily Mail columnist. Pity the poor people in those religions where they have to get the body in the ground within twenty-four hours. With the clock ticking away, I doubt the chief mourner is going to appreciate your helpfully offering to slip down to the newsagent for a copy of the latest Eulogy Magazine.

I found out about this magazine through an article by Emma Freud in one's beloved Guardian. Her account of the death of her father Clement Freud is the cover story of the inaugural issue. She talks about how awkward the whole business of funerals is. The mechanical responses, the empty offers of assistance, the palpable desire to be elsewhere, the ghostly silence of the non-ringing phone. Well, yes. This is because to confront death would require you to believe in it. No one seriously wants to go there. There is always the possibility that it might be contagious. This is why we wear clothes we would not normally wear and say things we would not normally say. We do not want death to recognise us. If we are especially blessed in joie de vivre or have a sink full of unwashed dishes, we will also wear dark glasses, and a very big hat and travel to a funeral via a circuitous route using several different forms of public transport.

It seems to me that a magazine about funerals will be less welcome than one about headlice. There is no right or wrong way to do a funeral. People expect you to stumble through it as best as you can. If you appeared to know what you were doing, someone might suspect foul play. Unless you are a funeral director or your name is Harold or Maude, you are unlikely to develop a ponderous fascination for the last rite when you could have Hello! instead and read about people you thought were dead but aren't. And if you were to be caught with a copy of this magazine, how long would it be before some member of your family insisted you be put on suicide watch?

I hope you've received your cheque Emma. I might start composing my eulogy for Eulogy Magazine now.