John Helmer: Lolling at the Feast

October 2, 2017


On the whole I prefer funerals to weddings. The dress code is easier to fall in with and people behave better. Jolliness is mandated at weddings, with the result that they end up generating boredom, resentment and usually a punch-up – in Essex, where I come from, anyway. At funerals, where
you’re supposed to be solemn and grave, an atmosphere of bubbling mirth often hovers beyond the circle of the directly bereaved. Sometimes they’re a proper laugh: a comedian friend of mine who popped his clogs some years ago arranged
for the curtains at the crematorium to close to the strains of the Countdown theme.

Funerals are easier on the pocket, too. Nobody is tempted into a pair of £3,000 Christian Louboutins with six-inch spike heels that they can’t walk in and will never wear again by the prospect of an upcoming family funeral. Nobody decides to hold their funeral on a beach in a distant country they saw once on a travel programme and gets all their friends to shell out thousands of sovs on airfares to follow them. And nobody contemplating their last
rites makes a list of crockery and toasters and vases for you to buy in the wrong colour and style so
they get hidden in a cupboard and only brought out when you come round to visit. No, give me a good
funeral any day: that’s my attitude.

Which is why it comes as such a surprise to find myself here, in a large and beautiful garden hidden away behind flint-knapped walls on the fringes of Whitehawk watching a young bride and groom pass their one-year-old back and forth during their joint speech as the infant points in gurgling delight at
the flowers, at the marquee, at a red-faced drunken relative, and greets each with the same lusty yell of, ‘THERE!’… ‘THERE!’... ‘THERE!’… and feeling an odd lifting of the spirits.

The weather is miraculous, the booze swims in ice in the back of a vintage pick-up truck, and the flowers – well I couldn’t diss the flowers because they were done by my wife, despite her fractured shoulder. Everything is beautiful, even the band is beautiful, and none of it is pretentious or forced. Later, with shadows lengthening along the lawn, Stevie Wonder tempts those who earlier said they would definitely under no circumstances be dancing that evening onto the floor, wine glasses in hand.
‘This is where you get your moves from,’ I tell my son. Dustpan and brush is passed over the heads of
the crowd for the broken glass.

And just when I feel a perfect day couldn’t get any more perfect, I bump into the best man, drunk to
a point where motor functions are shutting down. ‘Would you like a Fab?’ he says. Leading me into
the kitchen, he opens a cool-bag of lollies. ‘Have one. Have two.’

Could life be any better?


Illustration by Chris Riddell


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