Unfortunately we live in a world, and markedly so in the west, where whenever someone who either justifiably so or more often than not hasn’t fittingly done so but all the same has lived in the spotlight of the public’s eye inevitably as is the fate of us all shuffles off his or her mortal coils there are always elements within our respective societies that instinctively and massively go into overdrive with their demonstrably questionable hyperboles of veneration in relation to these individuals that have passed away. And whenever this occurs and my ears are repetitively and jarringly bombarded with these invariably disingenuous but thoroughly seemingly must be said posthumous and orally-specified glorifications pertaining to those who have died it rather intuitively and vividly reminds me of a humorous but pertinent conversation I interestingly had with a white Barbadian friend of mine – yes we do have a long and very well established white population on our island – former teaching colleague and the then Deputy Headmistress – she would subsequently become the Head when the white Caucasian English Headmistress retired and subsequently returned to West Sussex in England where she originated from – of a Barbadian state girls’ grammar school we obviously taught at in Barbados.
This particular conversation took place at a mutual friend’s funeral which we both attended in Barbados during which my teacher colleague and friend privately remarked to me in the church during the eulogy to our mutual and departed friend that she personally was always somewhat wary of attending funerals, not out of any lack of respect for the deceased, but chiefly because as she sat in her pew on such occasions and enforcedly in many cases had to listen to the very detailed and posthumous oration or eulogy given on behalf of the individual who’d passed on and that frequently she had known extremely well and generally for several years, she couldn’t help wondering at times if those who were acclaiming that person in the way they were doing were actually talking about the same individual that she knew, or if perhaps absent-mindedly or by mistake she had attended the wrong funeral, since her recollections of that person and those of the persons lauding that individually were often diametrically opposed to each other.
Very much like me my dear teaching friend who preferred to be spoken of as we both really were warts and all and one of the principal reasons why from the very outset of our first ever meeting at that grammar school in Barbados where we jointly worked we literally got on like a house on fire with each other and subsequently maintained a close personal bond of friendship that was rock-solid and unshakeable, my friend adamantly declared to me that on her death she wanted no eulogies and would give specific instructions to her Anglican priest - we were both High Church, Church of England adherents – that there was absolutely to be none performed at her funeral irrespective of whenever in the future that occurred.
Sadly this truly amazing, charmingly outstanding and inimitable Bajan lady is no longer alive; and as she requested of me many years after that aforementioned church conversation we had that I would be present at her funeral no matter where in the world I was when she died as she knew then she was dying of cancer, humorously indicating but with a serious edge to it that she wanted me to be present to personally intervene and forestall any planned eulogies or whatever else of the kind that others might misguidedly have in mind, her words, on the occasion of her passing. I laughed but seriously gave her my word that I would do as she asked even if it meant my being excommunicated as a communicant. They wouldn’t dare do that to you she playfully responded.
Returning to England where I customarily lived and worked my friend and I continued to keep regularly in touch with each other through letters and phone calls. However as fate would have it I was visiting Barbados on a habitual vacation and to see relatives and friends there when my friend positively answered that final celestial trumpet call from the angels summoning her to her Heavenly home and permanent residence with her Lord, Creator and Master.
On the day that I arrived back in Barbados I immediately went to see her at her home having previously informed her from England that I would be back on the island and also acquainting her with the date and the time of my arrival. At her house and thoroughly pleased to see and be with each other again we had a whale of a time chatting about all sorts and reminiscing as well about our teaching days together and much more. Eventually I left her home late that evening and contemplatively drove the five miles distance to my own in the adjoining northern parish of Barbados where hers was located; and on getting there I gave her a call as she insisted I did to let her know I’d got home safely. We ended that phone call wishing each other a congenial goodnight and my promising to see her again soon and her responding: “God willing!”
That was the very last I saw of or heard from her alive as she died peacefully that night in her sleep. On good terms with her parish priest as I was and had been for years I reminded him of our friend’s wish not to have a eulogy or any posthumous oration at her funeral. His immediate response was to burst into spontaneous laughter then quickly explaining himself said that she had made her wishes explicitly clear to him and had even warned him that if he was to disobey them she would come back and regularly haunt him. He laughed again obviously in very fond remembrance of her exact words to him.
“You knew her as well as I did,” he remarked shortly afterwards, “so you will know that she always kept her promises!” We both laughed in fond recollection of this peerless lady whom we both knew, deeply loved, greatly admired and comprehensively respected and always shall. Naturally at her massively attended funeral there were no eulogies or posthumous orations for our departed friend with the packed church and those outside attentively listening to the relay of the funeral service over the loudspeaker system because there was physically no room for them inside the church bursting out into natural and unconstrained laughter which was quickly followed by spontaneous and very sustained applause when the priest explained to this large congregation why there would be none.
I don’t know what your specific instructions regarding your funeral are Ronnie Corbett but I’ll take my chances of being haunted by you and fittingly eulogize you and your achievements in this poem and article that I’ve written in rapt commemoration of you. And to those of you who ask why it was that Ronnie Corbett wasn’t knighted long ago my response to that is simply this: “Why haven’t these totally divisive, nepotistically ingrained and noticeably spuriously driven, rarely ever awarded on any sort of merit or deserving cause and demonstrably corrupt to the core of their existence, so-called honours not been abolished long ago? And frankly as far as I’m concerned Ronnie you didn’t miss out on anything there!”