Everyone capable of speech has last words, of course for many of us we just don’t know that’s what they are when we say them – “Slow down Grandad!” or “He looks tame!” being good examples, but let’s ignore those utterances that meet the criteria only through their proximity to abrupt demise and talk instead about those delivered with the conscious recognition of their own morbid significance. Y’know, “proper” last words.
Whether it’s suicide, disease, old age or Death Row, one of the admittedly few benefits of an expected death is that you might get the chance to choose and deliver some “proper” last words – to have them documented and remembered: a legacy of sorts. You might express love or regret, fear or courage, it might be amusing or sad – the point is, if only for a little while, these words will outlive you. So what’s worth saying?
There are famous last words that we might be familiar with, such as Voltaire who, when asked on his deathbed to renounce Satan, said to the priest “My good man, this is hardly the time to be making enemies” or Kurt Cobain’s hijacking of “It’s better to burn out than just fade away” (A forgotten Neil Young lyric). I can’t help but think that while Jack Daniel’s “One last drink please” was playing to the crowd, Churchill’s “I’m so bored of it all” was cocking a final snook at expectation.
But it’s not just the famous and infamous whose last words we care about, nor just our families and friends, it goes beyond that – because with the possible exception of Bruce Forsyth (whose forays on television increasingly remind me of “Weekend at Bernie’s”), death will come to us all, fuelling our macabre interest in the terminal attitude of others: its universal relevance – our own inevitable demise. Last words are our glimpse of that mindset, our window on how we might choose to face the last great mystery when our own time comes. We learn about ourselves by learning about others.
A recent article in the Guardian listed the most popular deathbed regrets as recorded by a nurse who’d heard her fair share; quietus confessions with little contrition but awash with missed opportunities and experiences.
I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish I’d let myself be happier.
I should’ve gone with him.
I didn’t write that book.
I never told her I loved her.
I wish I’d paid better attention to the best before date on that ready meal.
Okay I made that last one up – but clearly part of the intrigue surrounding last words is that we might learn from the near-passed while we still have some sand left in our own hourglass, because intentionally or not, they are bequeathing real wisdom and from an unrivalled perspective, offering us a chance to avoid repeating their own eternal laments.
Now if I’ve got you thinking anxiously about your own last words, then let me give you this comfort: it’s true that most of us will lack the wit and the eloquence for memorable last words. After all, the distillation of a lifetime’s experience condensed down into the last few shaped breaths is a lot to ask. But try to not to worry: the context of your delivery should imbue even the most bombastic deathbed rhetoric with enough profundity to temporarily transcend the content and by the time people realise that your last words were, in fact, the verbal equivalent of a bowel movement, you’ll be blissfully unaware.
My last words on this belonged to my wife’s grandfather, a Lincolnshire boy, who died a great-grandfather, holding the hand of his wife of over sixty years. I like to think that within his succinct summation lay the words of a man whose life was well lived.
All he said was:
“Well……. I wouldn’ta missed it”
Superstition is a funny thing isn’t it? Not the Stevie Wonder classic, which is an attack on superstition and only funny if, like me, you think that a blind man singing about graffiti is amusing. No I’m talking about the weird little things we still say and do even when, in the main, we don’t consider ourselves superstitious anymore. But we are aren’t we? Deep down in the places you don’t like to talk about at parties you still think that agency can be superimposed upon non-human and inanimate objects – go on admit it! For all our supposed sophistications we still act as if good luck and bad luck can be attracted to us through seemingly unrelated actions. How did that happen and why does it still happen?
Firstly, hats off to the guy or gal who, when told that a seagull had just taken a big liquid crap on them, thought on their feet and in a ballsy voice said
“Nah you’ve got it all wrong – THAT’S LUCKY THAT IS”
“Is it? It doesn’t appear to be very lucky, you have liquid white shit in your hair”
“I’m telling you – someone is smiling down on me today. Wow I feel so blessed”
Seriously 10 out of 10 for that person – that’s probably where the word gullible comes from. I applaud you, whoever you are – but I don’t believe you. I believe in the inherent malice of seagulls. Presumably they then trod in dogshit the following week and thought “Can I get away with this twice?” and to their credit they did. My mum once worked in a care home and one day an old man threw a poo at her. I can assure you she didn’t feel particularly lucky that day. She didn’t rush out and buy a scratch card. She rushed home and sat in a bath of hot bleach for an hour.
Horseshoes, rabbit’s feet, birdshit, crossing your fingers, the right number of magpies and mutant clover are all good. Black cats, the wrong number of magpies, crossing on the stairs, ladybirds, the number 13, ladyboys, going to Dover and walking under ladders are all considered bad luck (I made the one up about Dover, but seriously have you been there recently?). Planes miss out the 13th row, skyscrapers skip the 13th floor; clearly they’re still there but the airlines and builders think that they can outsmart the powers of fortune with the old “different label” trick – in your face destiny, we’ve circumvented your unguessable designs!
The truth is we can’t really deal with the random nature of the universe so we have to create “rules” which we can then mould our perception of reality around. Karma is a perfect example; I am not denying that the by-product of such a precept is beneficial to mankind but it struggles to explain itself more often than not and we tend to ignore the inconsistencies, the things that don’t fall in line with our beliefs. Witness the Sri Lankan fisherman who, on a whim, went out early and missed the Boxing Day Tsunami – this he might attribute to Karma or to supernatural powers or his lucky fishing rod. He will congratulate himself on being lucky never wondering what the 12,000 drowned children did that morning to deserve their fate.
Because of these inconsistencies I am not superstitious and I believe in no higher powers, so I cock a ribald snook at capricious fortune. You should too – there’s no-one watching.
If that’s too sobering a thought, don’t panic guys, we’re not alone in the universe – there are seven billion of us, each one a marvel of contradictions – it’s what will keep life interesting. Fingers crossed.
‘No offence, but…’ is a phrase which is slowly but surely sweeping the globe. An increasingly common method of insult which allows an individual to guise deeply personal criticisms as casual observation, ‘no offence, but…’ is used to create humour at the expense of a typically unsuspecting and undeserving victim, for the benefit of a non committal audience.
This expression is basically a self served license to insult someone by stating something typically personal and often irrelevant to the ebb and flow of the current conversation. The phrase is used as a flag, a method through which one captures an audience’s attention; say ‘no offence…’ in any social setting and everyone within earshot will pause to hear the outrageous and insulting quip you are about to discharge. The beauty of the term is that as well as removing any possible guilt or remorse from the mind of the insulter, the very wording of the phrase simultaneously forbids the subject from becoming openly offended. Since no offence was allegedly intended, the victim is expected to take it on the chin, to the point that any serious response or reaction on the subject’s behalf will immediately appear both unwarranted and uncool in the eyes of bystanders. After all, can’t you take a joke?
As a high school teacher, I have been gifted a rare insight into the dynamics of the adolescent social clique, and I am pained to witness on a daily basis the many cruel ways that children treat one another. Girls, I am ashamed to say, are the most vicious. I have seen boys literally knocking each other flat as a result of a ‘ya mum’ joke that went too far, but a hard and fast smack in the eardrum does a lot less damage to an individual when compared to the drip, drip, dripping of malicious insults, tapping slowly and tortuously onto the forehead of another. Of course, the issue on which I am basing this rant is by no means confined to young people; there are countless adults who can be as callous, if not more so, than the children for whom we are supposed to be setting an example.
So how should we respond when this septic term is uttered, whether as the victim or a member of the audience? At the outset, it needs to be noted that anyone who uses the phrase is a spineless tool, and for two good reasons. Firstly, if the person in question wants to say something insulting to someone, they should be brave enough to own their comment, rather than hiding behind a pathetic preamble. Secondly, if the individual feels the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good, they are probably neither nice or interesting.
Unfortunately, as a victim of the pandemic there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I would suggest falling back on your humility with the consolation that everyone present who possesses half a brain realises the speaker is a cretin making a cheap shot at your expense. As the audience however, you have a bit more power in this scenario (no one has instructed you not to take offence, after all). What I have found works particularly well is aiming a ‘no offence, but…’ back at the speaker. In doing this, you must be very careful to ensure that your retaliation has both more bite than the antagonists, and that it references their ridiculousness (so that those people within the circle of conversation who have a even a hint of intelligence can witness your outstanding wit and superior sarcasm).
So next time you hear a fool making a shallow and unreasonable statement in order to boost their own ego, close them down. Because if we can’t get rid of idiots, we can at least shut them up.
Footnote: ‘Nothing personal…’ is the evil twin of the above phrase. Ironically, this term is only uttered as a preface for something profoundly personal. Unfortunately, the irony is typically lost on the speaker, who isn’t trying to be clever, just mean.
He looks disdainfully at the cases of bitter.
He audibly tuts at the wines.
His countenance darkens at the alcopop selection (and I have to say I’m with him on that, alcopops are a disgrace to drink and a symptom of What’s Wrong With This Country. I’d ban them instantly).
Eventually he points at the stack of Carlsberg 18-packs, which bear the enlightening, informative yet succinct slogan, “CARLSBERG – 18 PACK – £10.99”.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you?
“How much is an 18-pack of Carlsberg?”
Keep calm. You need the job. There’s a Global Economic Crisis on, and no matter how much fun it’d be to paint the words “TEN NINETY-NINE YOU COCK” onto a shovel and smack him in the face with it repeatedly, trying to explain it at interviews would be, at the very least, somewhat of a drag. Eight, nine, ten…
“They’re £10.99.” The days of calling them “sir” have long passed, but at least I didn’t swear or spit at him.
“Oh.” Pause, two, three, four… “They’re £9.99 in Asda.”
“But…” I stammer, “we…I…OH MY GOD! A thousand apologies, sir, I realise this must be a distressing time for you. I am but a minion here, but please accept my humblest and abject apologies. I will pass this higher up, to someone who has the power, if not to set things right – what could be right, after THIS disgrace? – then at least to make some gesture in the direction of recompense, to mitigate our shame! General! GENERAL!”
A deep, bass voice rumbles from the back room. “What is it?”
“General, I think you should come and witness it yourself…”
The door flies open, and there he stands – The General. A legend in the low-margin, high-volume retail booze world. Unlike me, he does not wear the 100% polyester polo shirt – he wears a hand-made 100% polyester dress uniform. The light of the lager fridge reflects from the gold braiding on his epaulettes, glistens on his cap badge, coruscates on the row of medals adorning his left mantit – the Croix du Vin, received for valour in the field of sub-£5 Merlot; the Grand Cross of the Knights Of Trampfuel, pinned on him even as he stood, bloodstained and unbowed after a 16-hour shift, by the Duce Giacomo Lambrini himself; the Order of Cider, First Class, awarded after single-handedly shifting 278 crates of tainted Frosty Jack (some apples had inexplicably been involved in its manufacture).
“What is it, boy?” He growls, fingering his swagger-stick and chewing his cigar.
“Sir, I…I’m not sure how to put this, but…”
“Directly, and immediately, is how to put it!” His face darkens. He does not like to be dragged to The Front – he has served his time there, and these days gets, if not pleasure, a grim satisfaction from sitting at his desk, a martyr to gout and dyspepsia, plotting exactly how we will, this quarter, finally put an end to bastard kids nicking the seasonal confectionery.
I swallow nervously. “Well, s…s…sir, this gentleman has told me that…”
“OUT WITH IT!”
“We’ve been undercut by an out-of-town superstore, sir.” I feel a palpable, physical sense of relief at having said the words. What worse can follow? And before my eyes, I see the proud, Grand Old Man falter for perhaps the first time in his long career.
“I…I…Oh sweet Jesus.” Before my eyes, his posture sags. The old man has been through hell in his time – they say early on, as a greenhorn assistant manager in Kilburn, he stared down 200 navvies annoyed about the suspension of the Stormont Parliament, using only three bottles of Jamesons and a Watneys Party Seven – but now, he suddenly looks his age. He turns to the customer, clears his throat, and tries to regain his dignity, but the fire has gone out in his eyes. “I’m sorry, sir,” he croaks, “I never dreamed it would come to this. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen,” his eyes mist over, “whole towns under the sway of MD 20/20…the Vodkat debacle…a tramp who’d shit himself, setting his beard on fire outside a pub called ‘The Shoulder Of Orion’…but I never, NEVER thought I’d see the day when a small, franchised off-licence in a shit end of Preston would be undercut by the world’s largest retail conglomerate. Sometimes, it just seems like it was all a waste of time…” He gazes into the middle distance.
The customer and I bow our heads, knowing, but not wanting to acknowledge what we both know must come next.
The General snaps back to attention. I salute, tears welling in my eyes.
“Stand easy, soldier,” he hoarsely whispers, his hand on the hilt of his sword. “It comes to us all. We never die in bed. Tell Rosie I loved her.” With that, he climbs atop the Bitter cans stack, and, left foot on Caffreys and right on McEwan’s Export, raises his sword high, before plunging it into his stomach. I move forward to support him, but he motions me back with his free hand as the other forces the blade sideways, all of nature’s hideous internal, visceral intricacy spilling over his cummerbund. After a few seconds that feel like a lifetime, his enormous bulk crashes atop the stack; the blood pours, then drips, then pools at the base of the Tetley Smoothflow; his drained white face, the eyes staring and empty, takes on a sudden peace as I reach across and close them; and, unable to help myself, I kiss his forehead and whisper, “goodnight, sweet prince”.
I turn to The Customer.
“You don’t have a brother who knows how much everything used to be, do you?”
We never did find out who Rosie was.
So, we got busted by Trading Standards/The Filth. And just to get serious for a minute, how the bloody hell is this legal? If an undercover copper approaches you and asks you for drugs or sex, it’s called entrapment and gets thrown out of court, but if they send an undercover 17.8 year old in to buy a bottle of Kopparberg, that’s us in the shit. They went about it sneakily as well:
Yeah, I know, blah blah antisocial behaviour blah blah public nuisance blah blah corporate responsibility, you know as well as I do that’s horseshit. Everyone who works in the shop lives within 3 streets of it, we KNOW who the little trouble-making shites are and don’t serve them. Not that it makes a blind bit of difference, as their white-trash parents just come in to buy chemicider, WKD and own-brand vodka-type substance for them anyway. But it’s one more result for the crime statistics, so we get hit.
End result of which is: one of my comrades loses his job, gets an £80 fine and a caution on his record. Which, when you’re a year away from graduating and competing for jobs, is a bit of a kick in the nuts. Also, we now have to operate “Challenge 25” – anyone who looks below that age gets asked for ID. And the local 5-oh were very clear on this point; The only forms of acceptable ID are a photo driving license, a valid passport, or a PASS card. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Cut to two nights later.
“Next please!” He puts 8 Stella on the counter. I scrutinise his face. Could be 26. Could be 22. Could be some freak with a gladular problem specifically picked out by the Babylon just to get me in trouble. Play it safe. “Do you have any ID please sir?”
“ID?” He looks baffled. His girlfriend giggles slightly.
“Passport, driving license…?”
“Uh…no. I’ve got this though,” he says, and pulls out…
A Lancashire Constabulary warrant card.
“I’m sorry sir, this doesn’t have your date of birth on it.”
“Your colleagues were very insistent on this point sir. I’m afraid I cannot accept it.” I hand back the card and put his beers behind the counter. “If you’d care to return with a passport, driving license or PASS card showing your date of birth and the PASS hologram we’d be delighted to serve you. Please close the door on your way out.” He looks as if he’s about to kick off, but thinks better of it, just gives me the Standard Issue Copper Hard Stare and walks off. At least two people in the queue behind him are openly laughing as he leaves.
Petty regulations? We can play that game too, you bastards.
She looks approximately 18.
HER: Hiya, you OK? Just this please [hands me a bottle of Jacques]
ME: OK…sorry, it’s policy, do you have any ID?
HER: I haven’t. Sorry.
ME: I can’t serve you then. Sorry.
HER: [Breezily] Oh, that’s ok. See ya!
Must have been the test purchaser. No swearing? Civil? Not pointlessly abusive to people with a job?
It has to be some kind of elaborate trap.
Well, thank Yahweh we didn’t serve them, eh? We’ll just get on with our legally mandated business of serving enormous amounts of poison to people who should, but never will, know better, and by stopping some poor sod from having a couple of pear ciders after their GCSEs have finished, we’ll pretend we’re saving the cocking planet.
Really, I’ve spent the best part of two years at the front line of selling booze to idiots, and I feel I have some expertise on the subject – THE PROBLEM IS NOT 16-YEAR OLDS. It’s not even 18-year olds. The problem is grown-ups.
When I got this job, I thought I drank a lot. I don’t. I may drink more than the guidelines say you should, but compared to many, MANY people, I’m abstemious. And the scariest thing is that many of these VERY heavy drinkers are your friends, your neighbours, the guy in the next cubicle/classroom/office…the white trash, with their 3-litre cider bottles and knowing winks and cheap roll-your-own baccy, worried me, but not half as much as the ones who came in dressed respectably, the ones with a copy of the Guardian or Telegraph under their arm, the ones carrying 30 exercise books all ready for marking, looking frazzled, and asked for two litres of QC and a half of the cheap vodka, and while you’re at it 20 Regal…
I’m not having a go at these people, by the way. I’m sure their life would make me drink. Just pointing out that chemical dependency is not something the poor have a monopoly on.
“Have you got any of these chilled?”
“Yes sir, indeed we do. None are in the fridge – that fridge, right there, the one IN THE SHOP – but many are in our special walk-in fridge out the back, where we stock every single brand of beer in the world, chilled by specially-calibrated thermostats, including what I notice is your drink of choice, McNasty’s Super-Strength Bus-Shelter Fuel. But beware, that fridge is available only to the most select brethren of the crappy off-licence; those who have been initiated into it’s mysteries. For behind the facade of just the one fridge, of a shop surrounded by low-ratable value multiple-occupancy housing, charity shops, one extremely off-brand boutique and a well-known local brothel, behind and beneath lies a sordidly glamorous hellfire club of chilled beer, hot gypsies, and the spirit of Bacchus.”
I lowered my voice.
“But they take it too far, sir. You must have noticed, you’re in here every day, that we’ve lost two serving-wenches already this month? It isn’t right what they do in there. A gent like you shouldn’t get involved with them animals, sir. You’d be best advised to just drink the same thing you drink warm every other day of the year without complaint, and stop asking stupid fucking questions of poor bloody offy drones who are stuck inside earning a godamned living on the hottest day of the bloody year, while you, due to your reluctance to pay the £1 premium for big-name brands, are drinking 7% of regrettably warm lager with your unemployable mates and your fucking pitbull, on that patch of grass between the Spar and the Community Centre. If you ask me.”
Of course I fucking didn’t. But a man can dream.
So, here we have the tale of a perfectly satisfactory humour novella turned into global Hollywood hype non-conformist style, thanks to the genius (or is that genii?) of Aardman Animation – the animated whizzkids behind the Mel Gibson vehicle ‘Chicken Run’ and the much admired Lancashire one man and his dog. (Which shall not be referred to again, as it is pretty much given that everyone understands it is ‘Wallace and Gromit’ not ‘Turner and Hooch’ – which is about the only other option available.)
How could this film, which is clearly not aimed at youngsters, have caused controversy prior to public release? Or, cynically, how could this clearly not aimed at youngsters film (but still an animation) have highlighted itself during the dour dull days of January? Let me explain the premise of the film in a nutshell. Partly by digressing and explaining the point of the book.
Gideon Defoe, talented scamp that he is, wrote The Pirates! in an adventure with Scientists to impress a girl. Simple.. If I was that girl, I would be impressed. (Maybe I am easily impressed, but a book has to make a dedication, and the dedication in that book made me go ‘aww’).
The Pirate Captain, played in the film by the devilishly foppish quintessential Englishman Hugh Grant. (I saw him filming the fight scene with Colin Firth in Hyde Park. Which was nice.) needs adventure and recognition for his services to Maritime sailing. There’s the Elephant Man, Charles Darwin, an exciting duel or two, some religious Bishop-ry. It’s all in there. And all good. Even a very short meeting with lepers.
What?! Lepers! Are they, the Gods of film, mocking the afflicted for the sake of cheap entertaining thrills (although clearly not taking science, sailing and deformed dead people seriously, leaving aside the casual religious mockery that has been thrown in)? Lepra Health in Action suggest so.
The fuss lies in the connotation of leprosy as, well, all about arms and legs dropping off, and of being contagious. Shun worthy in fact. Let’s face it, leper boats existed. So in terms of historical accuracy, Defoe is dead on. In terms of contagion, it is. Though treatable, so don’t panic.
Surely Lepra Health in Action should welcome the fact that leprosy, long thought of as a disease of the past, has been brought to the forefront of our armchair viewing opinion?
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter. The book is funny, the film should be funny. Leprosy, horrible disease that it is, has massive comic potential which has been exploited time and again, with only a modicum of complaint.
Not to sound like a Daily Mail reader (which I do read but only to cut my teeth on and sharpen my claws) it really does seem like political correctness gone mad. Arms do not just fall off. They are not made of plasticine and Hugh Grant does not look like a thin Brian Blessed, as portrayed in the film.
Use your common sense, if you have been affected by the issue of leprosy there is probably a helpline to ring in confidence. And as the prevalence of leprosy has globally decreased, isolated to underdeveloped countries with poor standards of sanitation who will probably not be watching at the Imax in 3D a low budget brightly written and scripted comic caper, then I think cutting a whole chapter of the book was a little bit of overkill, but brilliantly stage managed to correspond with box office opening, especially as it’s a small cult classic.
Cynical, moi? Not really, just realistic, and looking forward to watching the film.
1. “Do you have some ID?”
“22nd September 1990.”
“22nd September 1990.”
“No, you see, I asked if you have some ID. That’s not showing me some ID, that’s just you saying a date. If it was that simple, I wouldn’t be working here, would I? I’d just go down the social, say ‘4th June 1917’ and spend the Winter Fuel Allowance on beer and pies.”
“So you’re not serving me then?”
2. “10 L&B.”
“Any ID on you?”
“Can’t serve you then.”
“Come on you tight cunt!”
“Oh go on then, seeing as you called me a cunt.”
Honestly, what sort of shop does this guy normally go to, where calling the staff cunts makes them more likely to look upon you kindly?
3. “Do you have some ID please?”
[Shrieks] “I’M 21!”
“That’s as maybe, we check anyone who looks under 25.”
“Well I haven’t got any on me.”
“I can’t serve you then.”
“Fuck’s sake. That’s it, I’m not coming in here again.”
“Gutted. Without you coming in to buy a £2.99 bottle of wine-style fluid and the cheapest rolling baccy we’ve got, we’ll all be on the fucking dole in a week. Shut the door on your way out and leave me to my bitter, desperate tears, you rancid harridan.”
There’s others, but they’re all pretty much variations on those themes.