Opposite my house, next door to the grocers, there’s a firm of cheerful undertakers.John Taylors-oct15 I see them every-day, chat: ‘ How’s your dog ? ‘Doing OK for his age thanks’. ‘Good crop of beans on my allotment this year.’ ‘ Is that one of your hobbies?’ They wear smart morning suits – the striped grey trousers, green waistcoats, black jackets. Brown overalls are for jobs, like washing and polishing the limos, or sluicing the cool cavern of the garage. And for those nameless tasks with embalming fluid, behind closed doors.
In gaps between funerals, they smoke roll ups, banter, catch up on personal phone calls leaning against the alley wall, chat to passers-by like me. At a signal it’s time for the funeral protocol. They move into their dignified duty without pause. Assembling in their assigned hearse seats, coffin in place, floral wreath MUM. On request, the thin undertaker walks for 50 paces ahead of the hearse, his top hat held in front of him. Yesterday, I strolled past their place as two undertakers were unloading new, shrink-wrapped coffins from their silver ‘Private Ambulance’ van. Watched by Mr S the grocer sitting in the sunshine on the front step of his shop and a worried man.
Man : There’s a body in that box..
Mr S : No
Man : Yes there is, where is the body ? It’s in the box
Mr S : No body in the box, they’re new – see they are wrapped up
Man : There’s a body in that box…
I move on. Guess this conversation will run and run. Superstition around coffins, hearses, undertakers. One day an undertaker happened to be walking behind me. He said cheerfully ‘ ooh I’m walking right behind you, do you mind ? Some people think it’s bad luck. I don’t mind. Suppose it’s some kind of magical thinking, that you can bring on bad luck by simply associating with undertakers. I respect their way of being both down to earth and proper executives of your last journey.