Putting The Fun Into Funerals

Putting The Fun Into Funerals
FUNERAL: James McDonald (left) would be performing at Nigel’s send-off.

Putting The Fun Into Funerals

WHEN I landed a job in Fleet Street it quickly became apparent that, were I to continue a career in the epicentre of British journalism in the seventies, I’d soon go the way of other hacks who fell off their perches long before they reached retirement.

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It was the lifestyle that did them in: three-hour lunch breaks in the nearest boozer or wine bar, plus around 50 fags a day. I was expected to go with the flow – and I did. But one day I declared enough was enough, and I asked to be put on permanent night-shift when all pubs in the vicinity were shut.

I made the decision after I attended the funeral of a colleague who stumbled out of a pub and dropped dead aged 45. His funeral – the first I’d ever attended – was a ghastly affair. The vicar, who’d clearly necked far too much of the hard stuff, slurred his way through lengthy passages of the Bible, led the congregation in singing hymns they didn’t know the words to, and wound up an hour later by briefly thanking family and friends for smoothing Harry Bridges’ path to heaven.

I groaned, as did many others, for the man in the coffin Barry Smythe. And he was an atheist.

I was livid, and swore I would never, ever attend a religious funeral again. I even drew up a document stipulating that my funeral was to be strictly secular and upbeat – and listed the songs to be played. I added Highway to Hell by AC/DC when it was released in 1979.

My resolve held steady, even though, over the years, a number of close friends have died. I would have attended their funerals but, as in far too many instances, the arrangements were left to religious family members, and there was no way I would set foot in a church or crematorium where prayers were chanted, psalms read and hymns sung.

But when I learned that a non-religious funeral was be held on September 24 for Nigel Constable, owner of Benidorm’s Company Bar, I made a point of attending, for I knew it would be a cheerful occasion, especially as James McDonald, a leading Benidorm drag star, would be performing at Nigel’s send-off.

Nigel, 72, settled in Benidorm around five years ago. Before that, he ran a gift shop in Brighton. Among his many interests when he lived in the UK were greyhound racing (he actually owned one of these dogs) and buying and selling rare stamps.

Although I lived in Brighton for eight years, I only got to know him after he came to Spain and took over Company. We became firm friends.

He never ceased to amaze me with his breadth of knowledge about history, politics, literature and even cordon bleu cooking – and he often came up with great ideas for my weekly Euro Weekly News columns, of which he was an avid reader.

But I learned very early in my dealings with Nigel never to get him onto the subject of Spanish bureaucracy and the unfathomable regulations governing local bars’ outdoor tables and chairs. His rants on these topics could induce migraines and cause one’s ears to bleed.

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