Ashes to Ashes

On 16th April 1990 the unthinkable happened, my mum passed away in the early hours of the morning. The reality should have been that I was prepared for what was the obvious eventuality of lung cancer but you don’t expect your mum to die do you, not at such a young age – she was 53. My Dad was with her when she died and he took me and my brother down to see her later that day. He also arranged for the funeral director to call that afternoon, even though it was Easter Monday and things were quite understandably quite raw. During the discussion it became obvious that my Dad wanted my Mum to be cremated – this came as quite a shock…..

If we rewind back a few years to when my first wife’s Gran died and my mum came to the funeral with me. I remember her crying and telling me that at funerals she often shed tears for her father who had died when I was only a very young child. She told me that she had been upset that her Dad had been cremated and how she would have liked to be able to go and sit next to his grave and talk to him when she needed comfort. She said that when she died she wanted to be buried, somewhere that just simply said that she had been here.

So on that fateful day I related all of this to my Dad and the Funeral Director but was talked down – I was told how graves get forgotten about as time goes on. In order to pacify me my dad said that once things had returned to normal we would all go somewhere as a family and scatter my mums ashes. Reluctantly I agreed but I wasn’t happy and even went to visit my mum in the chapel of rest, against my father’s wishes, to see her and apologise for what had been decided. The funeral was on the Friday and was a lovely event but I still wasn’t happy about the cremation. As we stood talking in the garden of remembrance after the ceremony there was suddenly a plume of smoke from the chimney which seemed to swirl around us as we got into the cars – it felt as though my Mum was expressing her anger.

Over the next few months I waited for my Dad to get in touch regarding the scattering of her ashes but what happened was that he formed a new relationship with the woman who became his second wife. It all happened very quickly and I began to feel that my mum’s ashes had been forgotten about. As time went on it became more difficult to raise the issue as I felt that he didn’t like my mum to be mentioned in case it upset his new wife. Slowly months passed into years and it got harder and harder to deal with and more difficult to ask the question that I needed to know the answer to.

As both my wives would probably testify the issue caused me much distress over the years. I contemplated asking the question many times, going over and over it in my head but whenever I was there in front of him or talking to him on the phone it just wouldn’t come out. The fact I had no idea what happened to my Mum’s remains was probably a contributing factor to repeated bouts of depression. In 2009 with the 20th anniversary of her death looming I sought counseling and it was one of the issues that I needed to talk about. At the end of the sessions though I was only a little bit closer to asking the question and then something happened.

Just as I was getting up the courage to ask my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and as his illness proceeded it seemed wrong to ask the question. As he approached death I had almost reconciled myself to never knowing what had happened to the ashes. One day in my Dad’s final week I was looking through the notes about his funeral on his computer and I found a document relating to what he wanted to happen to his ashes after his death. This made me quite angry as the issue of Mum’s ashes suddenly came crashing back.

He died on Friday 25th February and two days later I sat with my brother in the Hospice where he died waiting for the death certificate. It was at this point that I decided to ask him if he knew the answer to the question that had been troubling me for so long. He confessed that he didn’t but said he was happy to try and find out. So true to his word during the next week he made some time and eventually tracked them down to the funeral directors where they had sat in a cupboard for almost 21 years.

In the days between my dad’s death and his funeral I ruminated on what had happened and the instructions he had left for his ashes. He wanted them to be scatted in 4 places by 4 different groups of people. He wanted one lot to be scattered on Penshaw monument by members of a walking group he had been part of which was made up of ex Policemen. The second lot he wanted scattering on the Bents at Whitburn by his school chums. The third lot he wanted to be burried on the grave of the parents of one of my mum’s friends in Corbridge and he said he hoped that his second wife’s ashes would one day join him there. The final set he wanted to go to the home of his step-daughter in Spain.

There were two things that annoyed me about the arrangements. The first was that none of the scatterings were for his family – we were off handedly invited to the Penshaw monument scattering and obviously the one in Spain would include one of his Step -children but it didn’t include his actual offspring. the second thing was that he asked for his ashes to be scatter on the grave of one of my Mum’s friend’s parents (her friends ashes were also scattered there) and he wanted his second wife’s ashes to be scattered there. This hurt – what about my Mum’s ashes why didn’t he want to be scattered with them.It was like she’d been forgotten.

I contemplated how to raise these issues with my brother but in the end I didn’t have to because I think he felt the same way. This came up when we discussed my mum’s ashes and what to do with them. The logical thing would have been on the grave of her friend’s parents along with the remains of her friend and my Dad but that didn’t seem right – if he’d wanted that he would have said so. I suggested that we find somewhere near there and the place that sprang to mind was a pub called the Rat where we’d often gone on Boxing Day with Mum, Dad and her friend Maureen and husband Charlie. Then however it didn’t seem right scattering her ashes there without my Dad’s – this was getting complicated! My thought was that we should split my Dad’s ashes into 5 rather than 4 but who to raise that with…..In the end I didn’t have to as my brother had obviously been thinking along the same lines.

Then one day I was re-reading his instructions and his opening lines suddenly jumped out at me. He’d written

After my cremation I wish that my ashes be scattered in specified places. I do not want my ashes stored in some funeral parlour or buried in a plot in a crematorium where I will become one of the forgotten. My wishes are to have my ashes scattered where people will look and say to them selves that’s where Macs ashes lie and hopefully remember the good times


I suddenly thought was this a dig at us, had he also been waiting for all that time for us to ask about her ashes? I have resolved not to think about this too much otherwise it could be another 21 years of wondering and that is the last thing I need.

So last weekend I went with my family and my brother and his family to the Rat in Nortumberland where after lunch we walked down a footpath, through a wood and into a field where we scattered their ashes together on a beautiful sunny day high on a hill overlooking the Tyne Valley. So much time had passed that Garry and I were the only people there who actually knew my mum. We had both been married at the time of her death but had both since divorced and remarried. Beth, who would have been her eldest grandchild was only barely in existence at the time of mum’s death – we discovered the pregnancy the night before her funeral!

The whole process almost didn’t happen because when we arrived in the field Garry got the box containing Mum’s ashes out and when he looked at it we discovered that we needed a screwdriver to get it open! However I hadn’t come so far to fall at the last hurdle and after searching our pockets Garry found a key which fitted the screw heads and I sat and slowly unscrewed the six screws fastening the box. Then we looked at each other, wondering what so say, my Dad was always the one who found the right words to say and he was no longer there. In the end there were no words to be said…..

So we all took handfuls of the ashes and without pomp or ceremony scattered them in the field. I think she would have loved the idea of all of her grandchildren participating and laughing and joking as we scattered the ashes. She would have loved them all so much and it’s such a shame that she never lived to see any of them. Even the youngest participated – although Noah was a little too enthusiastic and ended up being covered in ashes when he got too close as Garry tipped the last of the ashes out of the box.

So that was the moment I had waited for 21 years for, not what she wanted and to be honest anything would have come up short. I would have liked her ashes to be scattered somewhere I would be able to go to on a regular basis but if I’d done that it wouldn’t have been somewhere that meant anything to her so this was the best compromise. I’m just glad for the closure that it has given me – the fact I’ve been able to write this shows how far I have come in the past two months.

Another rant about E-On

A few weeks ago we got a letter from E-On saying that they needed to carry out a safety inspection on our gas meter and that as they had tried to contact us and we hadn’t got back to them they had made an appointment and if we didn’t change or keep it they would be forced to take legal action against us which could result in costs of over £200. Sarah rang them back and made an appointment for this morning as we were going to be away on holiday on the day they originally suggested. The appointment was for between 8am and 10am this morning. The problem we have is that the gas and electric meters are in the cupboard under the stairs and although it only needs to have a few things moved to reach the electric meter getting to the gas meter means emptying the whole cupboard. I keep telling E-On that’s it’s not my fault that when the gas meter was installed back in 1957 it was installed at the back of the cupboard, anyway I digress.

So this morning I had to empty the cupboard which was the last thing I needed on not only a Monday morning but the first day back after my holiday. I started to take out all of the things that were in there  and was quite surprised to find that there was an old CRT computer monitor in there – I thought we’d got rid of them all – so I put it in the shed and stuck it on Freecycle to try and get rid of it. I pondered whether or not to move the wine rack as it was possible to get to the meter without moving it but, I reasoned to myself, what if they needed to get the test equipment in there, so I moved it. Having done all this I set off to work but only got as far as the car when the E-On man turned up. I let him in and showed him the cupboard and he preceded to read the electric meter. I asked him about the safety test but he said all that he had been asked to do was read the electric meter.

I explained the situation and Sarah came down and found the letter. I left for work and she phone E-On to find out what was going on. It turned out that he was meant to do a safety check and also read the gas meter but apparently the way the system works he was sent two work orders from E-On one for the gas and one for the electric but at first glance only one of these showed up on his system. He told Sarah that this often happens and sure enough when he looked it was there (obviously he didn’t actually try to look when originally asked but managed to find it only after we’d called E-On). So he set about carrying out the safety inspection. This apparently consisted of him looking at the meter and saying yeah that looks fine! A visual inspection was all the safety check consisted of!

So we now know the following

1. Our meter is very old – but we knew that already after all it has got the date on it!

2. It has lead pipes going in and out of it.

3. It is likely that E-On will want to change it.

4. It is also likely that when the people come to change it they will refuse to do so because of the lead pipes.

5. It looks as if it’s ok!

So another thing to add to my list of moans about E-On – but while we’re on the subject I also found out something else about this annoying utility company. A few months ago it was suggested that we change tariff which we did but what they didn’t tell us was that the tariff we went onto didn’t qualify for Tesco Clubcard points – this was nowhere to be seen when we looked at the differences between the two – I only found out when my Tesco Clubcard statement came in the other day and there were no points from E-On. I went online thinking that maybe I had to re-register after changing Tariff but when I tried I found that the tariff I’m on doesn’t qualify for points. Another example of how this company treats it’s customers.

I’m beginning to think that this and the recent example of the Water company putting up our prices way above the rate of inflation in order to fund the installation of water meters in our area (presumably so they can charge us more in the long run) is another reason why we should be seriously considering the re-nationalisation of the utilities in this country – utilities are important for the day to day wellbeing of everyone and not for some finance people to cream off the profits. The idea of privatisation and competition may have been a good one but when making a few people money has become more important that investing in what is needed then maybe it’s time to say enough is enough.

3 ½ Hours

6:00 Alarm goes off

Shower & clean teeth

Empty rubbish bins from bedroom and bathroom

Sort out recycling from above

Make cups of tea

Lay table for student’s breakfast

Make 6 packed lunches

Put paper to be recycled into carrier bag

Put out rubbish and recycling

Get dressed

Walk down to Co-op to buy butter

Make Ben’s Breakfast

Finish packed lunches

Hang out washing on line

Catch Pasta (the wussy cat) and bring her back inside

Wash Sarah’s back

Try and convince Lissi to see what Students want for breakfast

Make more tea/coffee

Make toast for (my) breakfast

Clear away Student’s Breakfast stuff

Talk to them in French!!

Eat Breakfast and drink coffee

Get Ben’s clothes

Get him dressed

Give students packed lunches

Speak to them in French again

Find Ben’s shoes and put them on

Go to Loo

Get everyone in car

Drive to Rochester via Strood to drop off  Students

Drop Sarah and Ben at Work/School

Put petrol in car

One hour drive to work

Arrive on time at 9:30

Is it just me?

Is it just me that these things happen to?

My car had broken down so I had to get a train to work. Yesterday on the way home I arrived at Bromley South at 6:15 and there were two trains listed – one at 6:30 to Rochester and then another at 6:45 to Gillingham. I phoned Sarah to see if there was any benefit to getting the Rochester train and there wasn’t  – bascially I would get off it and wait 2 minutes and get on the 6:45 train for the rest of the journey.

However, as the Rochester train arrived, I decided that waiting in the chilly evening air for 2 minutes on the platform at Rochester was preferable to waiting for 15 minutes at Bromley and as the train almost emptied of passengers I hopped on it. The train set off and shortly stopped at St Mary’s Cray.

The next stop was Swanley but the train stopped outside the station and after a minute or two the driver announced that there would be a short delay as a passenger had been taken ill on the train that was stopped at the station ahead and they were waiting for an ambulance. This ambulance obviously took it’s time as we were there for around 40 minutes and while we sat there the 8:45 train went past on the other line – as did several others that I could have got. The train we were on was too close to the station for it to change onto the other tracks but all the trains behind it were diverted around the obstruction!

Eventually at about 7:15 the train started to move only for the driver to announce that the train was now terminating at Swanley so we would all have to get off and wait for the next train to Gillingham which was about 10 minutes behind us. So we all filed off the train and stood on the very cold platform until the train arrived at 7:30 (with of course the annoyance of yet another fast train to Gillingham zipping through the station while we waited). The train that arrived was a short one so there was a mad scrmble for seats as we all tried to get onto it.

I eventually got home at 8:10 cold and tired – I would of complained but by that time all of the station staff had gone home!