Sunday, 7 June 2009

What's your epitaph...

My wife is in tidying up mode this morning and despite me trying to read a book and relax on this Sunday morning on the settee, I've admitted defeat and retire to the room in which my computer and books sit, comfortably if a little untidily - but at least I know where everything is.

"Housework is what a woman does that nobody notices unless she hasn't done it."
Evan Esar

With a fresh cup of tea and the prose of Bill Bryson from his interesting and witty 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' wandering through my head, being in a reflective mood, I thought I would concentrate on another favourite subject, epitaphs. According to Wikipedia, the definition of an epitaph is "a short text honouring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial."

Almost certainly as I am not to be buried, where would I write an epitaph? The witty ones and those about the famous are captured in books for the likes of me and you to marvel at and have a giggle where it's appropriate and dignified to do so (where no-one is looking and can ask the awkward question.) Many councils don't allow anything witty or controversial on headstones, so there's nothing too interesting to read on headstones in the ancient and vast graveyards - or cemeteries to be polite - around Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Spike Milligan, genius and madman had the foresight to have a laugh at his own impending death by writing the inscription for his headstone, in Gaelic, "I told you I was ill." That must take some courage, to write your own words, trying to sum up in a few words what your life has meant, how it's been lived, opportunities lost or missed as well your attitude to a thousand subjects and influences. The lighthearted joke in Milligan's case shows perhaps the depth of what he was, a natural humourist - something he knew a lot about using the laconic wry observation even in the depths of his oft experienced despair.

If you had the freedom to have one sentence, created by you written on your gravestone, what would you put; would you be funny, reflective, critical or philosophic?

Here are one or two epitaphs, some well known, some not so, some funny, some worthy of reflection, but all memorable:

Sacred To The Memory Of
Captain Maurice James Butler,
Royal Irish Rifles
Accidentally Shot Dead By His
Batman On The Fourth Day Of
April, 1882
'Well Done, Thou Good And
Faithful Servant

Rupert Brookes: "If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England." Written on his grave in Lemnos in the Aegean.

Cecil John Rhodes: "So little done; so much to do." On his grave in his beloved 'Rhodesia.'

Dean Martin's gravestone: "Everybody loves somebody sometime."

John Starkwether in Wisconsin had this epitaph inscribed presumably not by a good friend:
"Here is where friend Starkwether lies,
Nobody laughs, nobody cries,
Where he goes, how he fares,
Nobody knows, nobody cares."

Mel Blanc, the voice of many cartoon characters including Porky Pig had this on his headstone: "That's all folk's"

John Laird McCaffery, buried in Montreal in 1995 had this acrostic poem style epitaph inscribed, according to the engraver at the behest of his friends, mistress and ex-wife. Hmmm.

Free your body and soul
Unfold your powerful wings
Climb up the highest mountains
Kick your feet up in the air
You may now live forever
Or return to this earth
Unless you feel good where you are!
---Missed by your friends"

And finally, some fictitious and unsourced epitaphs:

Edmund Blackadder: "Here lies Edmund Blackadder; and he's bloody annoyed." (You can just imagine him saying that!)

From Tasmania, Australia:
"Stop ye travellers as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, soon you shall be -
Prepare yourself to follow me."
Some wag wrote the following graffiti underneath:
"To follow you I am not content --
How do I know which way you went?"

Chat Soon


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