Blowing up granny
Some people like to go out with a bang but one man's conundrum about how to dispose of his recently departed grandmother unravels in spectacular fashion...
They are going to blow up granny today at precisely 3.25pm.
It seems like a harsh end for someone as innocuous as my Grandmother; Tilly to her friends – although there aren’t many of them around anymore. Most of them are already dead – gone to the great reward – that blue-rinse holiday park of forever. In fact even those she called friends never seemed that close anyway. Her main companion was Mr Tibbs, her cat. Exactly how old he is was a matter of some debate.
Granny, Nana to me, had sworn to me that he was born sometime around 1963 and at the time I had fervently believed her. Some 57 years later, with Mr Tibbs still trotting around the neighbourhood, I was somewhat prone to the belief that the dear, sweet old lady was an out and out inveterate liar. But even this outlandish attempt at deceiving young impressionable minds did not deserve a high explosive. Nevertheless, that is what is going to happen to Nana at about teatime today. That dear sweet old lady was going to be sat in a chair in the middle of a field and then someone is going to fire a 155mm high explosive shell and retire to a safe distance. In the 30 seconds or so whilst a white trail carries the explosive overhead, I wonder what Nana will think?
Will it be about having had a good life? Will she think about all those times she invited me round for tea and then made me clean her toilet in exchange for a cuppa and two stale wholemeal biscuits? Or will she have a good chuckle about having convinced her grandson that her cat was the oldest living feline in the galaxy? Well, actually, she won’t think any of those things because she will already be dead. I don’t mean in a philosophical sense about her impeding and rapidly approaching doom, I mean she will already be dead dead. I know this for a fact because she is already... dead.
She passed away three days ago. It was mum who found her, sat bolt upright in her moody looking armchair, the one I always thought would try and eat me if I sat in it, sherry glass still in one hand, although nearly empty, and a hungry looking sexagenarian cat attempting to open a cat-food tin with his teeth. She brought Mr Tibbs home of course where he promptly took over the house, ate a plateful of brown goo that only a cat can love and fell asleep in front of the fire for 23 hours a day. For some reason, Nana was taken to the hospital, possibly in the hope that a rigid corpse could be given a bit of TLC and a cup of tea and all would be well.
Mum seemed relieved to be rid of the problem of what to do with the old lady and I must admit that I had no idea what one normally does with members of your family that suddenly pass away. I wondered about that too. I heard the term ‘passed away’ several times during my phone discussions with the hospital staff when I tried to find out instructions for disposing of a loved-one, and it seemed a bit of a misnomer, like saying that the guy who was just buried under a crumbling skyscraper was ‘indisposed’. If Nana was ‘passed away’ where the heck was she going? It wasn’t like she was coming back ( now that for some reason gave me the shivers, and I had a couple of disturbed nights where my dreams were filled with visions of her in some kind of floaty, swirling nightgown, sat in her evil armchair that followed me around the house and screamed orders to clean the toilets)!
No, she was definitely, totally and utterly deceased.
So why, you say, is she somehow due today to be eviscerated by a missile? Is it some kind of post-death wish written into her will? A strange but life-long desire to find out how many pieces the human body can be exploded into? An interesting but unusual way of getting YouTube subscribers? Her way of going out with a bang?
No and no. She is being recruited, you see.
You will have heard the slogan ‘The Army wants you’; well they do. This is because the British Army is a dedicated band of professionals and always on the lookout for individuals who can lead, innovate or just generally maim people without thinking about it too hard. Nana, of course, does not fulfil any of those traits, at least not the first two and especially given her current state which could at best be described as ‘inactive lifelessness’.
Actually, it is exactly that state that interests the Army. A living and breathing old Nana is about as useful to a fighting corps as a chocolate machine-gun As good as a hand grenade made from currant buns. As useful for fighting off errant hordes of terrorists hiding in mountains as sending in the ‘Famous Five’ armed with a couple of bottles of ginger pop and a map. I see you understand where I am going with this analogy.
A lovely old lady with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, a love of sherry and, crucially, a pulse, is about as useless to our armed forces as anything that isn’t going kill people - and these generally have to be ugly, make a lot of noise and render people into very tiny pieces.
On the other hand a dead Nana is quite useful. A Nana who doesn’t breathe has value, especially if she isn’t, you know, too manky from lying in a pool of bodily fluid for the last two months. And this is because the army is comprised of professionals who design weapons, and being ultra professional, they really want to test their equipment for efficiency, cost versus killing power and effectiveness in dismembering large numbers of people.
Of course, in the old days ‘testing’ was done in the field. It was quite simple really: you just start a small war somewhere, or if that is not feasible you wait until someone else starts a small war then you sell them your equipment and then ask them for detailed customer feedback.
“Thank you for your recent purchase! We hope your new addition to your family of killing machines is giving you peace of mind. We value your input; please tell us how effective your Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System has been in ridding your country of lesser-equipped opponents, from 0 (Not effective at all – we are very disappointed) to 10 (Wow – great weapon!)”
Anyway, not to put too fine a point on it, Nana was no more; except that she wasn’t. Being deprived of live doesn’t make you disappear into thin air, unless, of course, you are on the receiving end of a nuclear weapon or other big-ish missile - which will. She was still with us, cluttering up the morgue and taking up useful drawer space that could be used for more deserving recently deceased. In short, she needed to go. The question was where?
“How much?” I asked the funeral director who sat serenely behind a lavish desk at Mssrs Vince and Price – ‘Meaningful funerals arranged with dignity and respect’ – and, it appeared, a large transfer of cash. The gentleman coughed delicately into a large black handkerchief; I had no idea if he was Mr Vince or Mr Price, but judging by the large sprawl of numbers he had handed to me on a heavily embossed piece of paper, I took a guess he was the latter, and aptly named.
“My dear Sir,” he told me, steepling his hands...
This is not a good sign in anyone involved in money, because no matter who they are, whether accountant, taxman, or funeral director, it usually prefaces something expensive.
“My dear Sir,” he said again, emphasising my role as a purveyor of funeral plans of quality and style whilst at the same time selling the whole sorry business as a good and necessary thing for the repose of one’s loved-ones.
“One undoubtedly feels at these times that the financial arrangements that must be made can put a slight strain on one’s purse-strings, but please let me assure you that here at Vince and Price we have been arranging funerals of taste and distinction for one hundred and twenty-two years and it is without a doubt that every single one of our clients have not only been satisfied with the services we offer but have gone away with peace in their heart, knowing that they had done the very best for their departed.” He sat back and smiled a smile that somehow managed to combine sorrow, understanding, sympathy and sales pitch and regarded me through the little archway of his long fingers.
The emphasised words rang in my ears – Assurance, satisfied, best...peace. It would, I conceded to myself, at least be the right thing to do. Provide a fitting tribute to Nana; put everyone’s mind at rest...
I shook myself out of the torpor of emphatic statements. Yes it would do all of these things, plus strip me of a goodly portion of my savings account – I mean, we were talking about the price of a car here! How expensive could it be to dig a big hole and pop her in it? And we were not even looking at top-of-the-range here. This was about as basic as it got – single hearse, plain coffin, short ceremony...No extras included. It was ridiculous to expect the price of a small hatchback for a ceremony that was going to last about an hour.
But what were the alternatives? Not many, and that was a fact. The old lady had died without a will, not that it mattered very much ‘cos she had nothing to put in it except an elderly cat and some horrific pieces of furniture. Somehow she had managed to spend all the money she had inherited from outliving all her family over the many decades, leaving a small pool of cash in her bank that was barely enough to feed Mr Tibbs for a year.
“Typical of her,” complained Mum when I told her about my hopeful visit to the funeral director and significantly less hopeful visit to Nana’s bank. “What are we going to do?”
I tried the local council who were somewhat less than enthusiastic about helping.
“We can arrange cremations in very limited circumstances,” the woman on the other end of the ‘phone told me, “but I am afraid you do not qualify.”
“And why is that, pray?” I replied heavily.
“It’s council policy to only help with funeral costs if the deceased has less than £500 pounds in the bank...”
“Check,” I replied.
“...has died intestate...”
“...is over 90 years old...”
“..and has lived continuously in the borough since birth.”
Bugger. Because I knew for a fact that Nana had only moved to the area in 1951.
I explained all of this to the tall and cadaverous gentleman who oversaw the morgue. His office, which smelled faintly of disinfectant, was adjacent to the chilling room where the ex-living awaited a short trip to the next world – a bit like Gatwick airport but quieter and with fewer food outlets.
He regarded me solemnly as though sizing me up for a coffin and some embalming fluid and his voice, when he spoke, sounded like the closing of a crypt.
“Most unfortunate,” he replied. “However, there may be an alternative.”
I pricked up my ears.
“Have you considered,” he cleared his throat gently, “donating her remains?”
I wondered where this was going...Donating Nana? I couldn’t think that my local charity shop was going to jump for joy if I turned up with her mortal remains (“No, that’s fine – I don’t want the bag back...”
I put the question of who else wants an elderly and very dead person cluttering up their premises to the gentleman.
“Research...institutions,” he replied.
He suddenly seemed galvanised and went on quickly.
“Oh, yes indeed. Medical research is being carried out all over the country and they very often use donations from families who have lost loved-ones. In fact, there is a representative who is meeting me later today who may well be interested.”
It all sounded a bit like Burke and Hare to me. I had no idea that bodies were gifted for medical research but he assured me that it was quite normal and legal and not at all a bit weird. Apparently, after the ‘research’ had concluded, the remains would be cremated and returned in a small pot to the nearest living relative.
“In fact,” he went on, “all you have to do is sign a consent form and I will take care of the formalities.” He gently pushed a sheet of paper across the table to me. I looked at it carefully; in seemed all above board; it had the hospital logo on it and was in suitably unintelligible legalese, you know, the kind of document that you click on every time you download something, but never actually read.
I didn’t think about it for too long, though. An offer like this could just as easily be withdrawn. I could either walk out of the office with a result or I could walk out of there carrying a corpse. I signed, feeling oddly light-headed but with a weight fallen from my shoulders.
I didn’t tell Mum, though. I just made it known that the local authorities would make the arrangements.
“Well, I suppose it will be for the best, “she said pensively later the next day. “But of course I am sure they will tell us where she is laid to rest so we can visit from time to time?”
I paused with the cup of coffee halfway to my mouth.
Shit, I hadn’t thought of that. There wasn’t going to be a plot, was there? Just a small vase... I supposed we could scatter the ashes somewhere she used to like visiting a lot? I hastily scrapped that idea because the only place she really seemed to like was the off-licence.
“Of course, Mum,” I replied, wondering how she would react when a courier turned up at the door with a package and she opened the parcel...
I made my excuses and hurriedly returned to the morgue office. Mr Cadaver (I never did learn his real name) smiled on the assumption that I had returned to check if Nana was appropriately taken away and seemed a trifle put out when I told him why I was there.
“You want her back?” He asked me incredulously as if I had just told him I was a penguin.
“Yes, please,” I replied. “It’s my mother, you see; she was expecting a plot and I really hate the idea of just getting a small pot of ashes. So if you could bear with me while I organise something...”
He held up his hand to silence me.
“I am very sorry, but your grandmother’s body was collected earlier today. I am not in a position to return her to you at this time.”
“Well, tell me which medical research centre took her then, please.”
Mr Cadaver was silent for a long moment.
“Er, it was the Royal Artillery,” he replied.
Artillery, I asked? Did he mean someone who researches arteries and suchlike?
No, he replied; ‘artillery’ as in big guns and ‘Royal’ as in Army.
“Look,” he said to my horrified face, “the army does a lot of research on the damage caused by various weapons – after all if they cause it they need to know what these weapons do to the human body. So they use donated ones like your grandmother’s.”
I was almost speechless. “Are you telling me they shoot at dead people?” I asked.
“Essentially, yes. Of course it is not widely advertised, but it is quite normal practice.” I returned to being speechless.
'Normal practice' was obviously in the mind of the beholder...
©Nick MacIneskar 2020
In part two of the story, our hero finds himself at an unusual tea party with a very annoyed cat, thin cucumber sandwiches and an approaching high explosive shell...