May. 12th, 2017
Chris died a month ago, a little short of a year on from a terminal brain cancer diagnosis, but the funeral was delayed until Tuesday this week, apparently due to availability issues at the crematorium. There was a quick service at the crem which I didn't attend, then the main service in Rochester. In fact at a church at the end of the street where he grew up. I used to live on the same street, but as St Margaret's is C of E I'd never actually been inside before.
I arrived early, and ran into a friend as I did. Her face was a picture, the church bells started pealing just as we saw each other, and she squeaked she was supposed to be one of the people ringing them! So we didn't really get a chance to talk. I took advantage of being early and the good weather to head to the far side of the churchyard and look out over the Medway, and Back Fields, the open bank between the church and the river. A couple of other early arrivals joined me, and pointed out the bench on Back Fields that's going to be dedicated in Chris's memory. It's the bench the kids considered 'theirs' growing up, so particularly appropriate. Apparently his old school will also be adding a prize for inclusion in his name.
St Margaret's is a reasonably big church, but it's just as well I bring my own seat nowadays as we filled it, and could have done with half as many seats over again. Being Catholic I'm used to full requiem masses, but this was more of a frame for remembrance, by both the family and his friends. Chris was a stand-up, so are many of his friends, and the audience were crying before they had finished, but crying with laughter. One line that sticks: "If the BFG and Mother Theresa had a lovechild, that'd be Chris" (he was 6' 6"). His mum was my first creative writing tutor, and the opening line of the poem she'd written sent a shiver down my spine "Chris did not go gentle into that good night, he fought." His dad took a different line, saying he's been finding solace in quantum theory. It may be the first time Many Worlds Theory has been cited in a funeral service, but the idea that there are many, many worlds in which Chris survives, or never became ill is a fascinating one.
The framing device for the service was music. Oh my. There were a couple of good everyone-join-in hymns, 'Here I Am, Lord,' (a favourite of mine) and 'Amazing Grace', but one of Chris's cousins is a professional chorister at St George's Chapel, in Windsor Castle - ie good enough his day job is to sing for the Queen at state events, and he'd brought three friends. I'd never really appreciated how appropriate the Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows' is for a funeral, but they also sang Orlando Gibbons 'Almighty and Everlasting God'*, which was simply stunning. It looks like we probably had two thirds of 'The Queen''s Six' performing. But the service opened and closed with recordings of Chris's own music, first his Pass You By performed by friends**, and then finally one of his comedy pieces, which had all his friends grinning and saying 'Dance to Win!' as soon as they heard the opening chords. Not a bad legacy.
And then everyone went to the pub.That's a proper funeral!
*They were better than this, including one of them singing the soprano part - extraordinary range for an adult male.
** Yes, we opened a church service with a song about spliffing up.