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Odd Poems

A world in verse.
            Voices from Methil.

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The Innerleven Boolin Club – 4


The Funeral

Now, I’m sure that you can all see what’s coming. It’s a bit like starting a war, then sitting back and watching it all happen! Once the fleet sets sail, it’s hard to haul them back.

“Ina! Mak shair that taxi driver disnae sneak awa! Jeannie, you start makin ready fur the tea!”“Ina! Make sure that the taxi driver does not sneak away! Jeannie, you start preparing the tea!”
“Ay-uh. You want me to make the tea?”“Excuse me! You want me to make the tea?””
“Naw, no you, Jeannette. Ah mean her across there. Jeannie Cook. She can mak the tea, an – jist haud on a minute. Aggie! You mak the tea. Jeannie, jist mak yersel yaisefy. Get yersel aff tae the butchers. Get the biled ham. Get the bread f’ Stuarts. Lightbodys’ll be sellt oot b’no. Nae stale stuff, mind.”“No! Not you Jeannette. I mean that lady across there. Jeannie Cook. She can make the tea – on second thoughts. Agnes! You make the tea. Jeannie, just make yourself useful. Go to the butcher’s shop. Get the boiled ham. Get the bread from Stuart’s Bakery – Lightbody’s Bakery will be sold out by now. Don’t get any stale bread!”

Jeannette just stood there. It was like watching a prize turkey organise Christmas. Orders were flying out in all directions. One word in twenty was about all she grasped. But the rest of the wee turkeys were streaming out the yard in all directions. You could tell who was the big bird at the table.
Big Mary was ‘oarganisin’!

The taxi driver did try to sneak away, but Ina’s foot was in the way. (Thirty years later, when they invented speed bumps, sleeping policemen, traffic calming – call it what you will – I always had a minding of Ina Wilson’s foot)

“Ye’ll be stayin fur a bit, then.” said Ina. “An ye’ll be keepin yer haund aff that clock!”“You’ll be staying a while, then.” said Ina. “And you’ll be keeping your hand off the taximeter!”
The driver just nodded, and sweated.
“Noo that awboddy kens whit tae dae, it’s time tae get respectable. Ina! Whit time did the Yank say fur the funeral?”“Now that everyone knows what to do, it’s time to get respectable. Ina! What time did the ‘Yank’ say for the funeral?”
Jeannette got that bit.
“Listen you. I’m from the United States. From Maine. It’s Yankee!”
“That’s whit she sayed, Jeanette. ‘Yank’ She jist misses oot the excitin noises.”“That is what she said, Jeanette. ‘Yankee’ She tends to omit the interesting noises.”
She turned.
“It wis 3 0’clock, Mary.”“It was 3 o’clock, Mary.”

Looking at the thermally-insulated American, Mary reckoned there wasn’t any way to get her changed in time for the funeral.
“Ye’ll jist have tae go as ye are! At least, y’ve got a hat.”“You’ll just have to go, dressed as you are! At least, you have a hat.”
The hat in question looked like an advert for Grouse whisky – all feathers and curly bits.
“Ina! You an me’ll get changed intae oor best funeral claes. Ah’ve been deein tae wear that black suit fur ages. Tell her tae watch the taxi man.”“Ina! You and I will go and get changed into our best funeral clothes. I have been dying to wear that black suit, for ages. Tell her to watch the taxi driver.”
She explained to Jeannette.
“Me an Mary’s gaun tae get ready fur the funeral. Ye ca’ go in boolin claes. Watch the taxi fur us. We’ll need it tae go tae the Crem.”“Mary and I are going to get dressed for the funeral. You can’t go in bowling clothes. Watch the taxi for us. We will need it to go to the Crematorium.”

The guard changed over, but the prisoner remained the same. One last spark of resistance was extinguished when Jeannette took away his Rizla machine.
“I am telling you, Mister man. There’ll be no smoking in my taxi!”“Listen to me, Mister! There will be no smoking in my taxi!”
“An there wis me thinkin it wis mine. Winder if the mill’s takin on workers. Ca’ be onny worse than this!”“And there was I believing that the taxi was mine. I wonder if the Spinning Mill is taking on workers. It can’t be any worse than this!”

Jeannette was starting to worry. The hour for her grandmother’s funeral was fast approaching. The two people who were either organising or translating, had vanished. The Bowling Club was a turmoil of tablecloths and dusters. Women kept appearing with ‘message bags’ (whatever they were!). And the only person she could recognise from the moment of her arrival was Mrs Jeffrey. Not good!

“Ah’ve goat a cousin in Florida cawed Irene. Ye’ll maybe ken her”“I’ve got a cousin in Florida, called Irene. You’ll probably know her.”
“Your cousin in Florida keeps goats?”“Your cousin in Florida keeps goats?”
“She mairried a Yank durin the war. Of coorse, she never telt her first man, but then, he wis runnin around wi yon Wilma on the buses. Goad, could that woman no grow a moustache!”“She married an American during the War. Of course, she never told her first man, but then, he was running around with a bus conductress called Wilma. Heavens! That woman actually had a moustache!”

Jeanette was starting to realise that having a conversation with Mrs Jeffrey was like playing a fruit machine. Lots of lemons spinning around, but no jackpot!
To pass the time, she would give the taxi a quick nudge … like whenever the driver reached for the door handle.

Just as she was about to make one last, desperate attempt to communicate with Mrs Jeffrey, Big Mary and Ina came whirring around the corner, like two black pierries. Big on top, black and with a suspicion of a whisper of overstrained cables. Dressed to kill, and ready for a funeral.

“Richt” said Mary, “Awboddy in th taxi. Awthings oarganised, an if that driver c’n get himsel started, we can mak it tae the Crem.”“Right!” said Mary. “Everybody get into the taxi. Everything is organised, and if the driver can motivate himself, we can make it to the Crematorium on time.”
Mary and Ina struggled into the back, and Jeanette tried to get in with the driver.
“Fur heaven’s sake, Missus. The ither side! The ither side! This is no America! Ah’m the driver!”“For heaven’s sake, woman! The other side! The other side! This isn’t America! I am the driver!”
Two seconds later, he wasn’t!

“Ay-uh. Will somebody give me directions along this toteroad, jest sos ah kin get to this Crem.”“Will someone give me directions along this road? That way, I can get to the Crematorium.”
At that, the taxi was fired up, crunched into first gear, and screeching up the road.
“What do I do now?”
“Seein as y’re daein fifty, try pittin it intae top gear.”“As you seem to be doing 50 miles per hour, you could try selecting top gear.”
By now, the (ex)driver had given up on driving, working or caring about anything but breathing. He was considering asking for a sick note from the local doctor, in order to get time off work, when he remembered that this was his car, and he was self-employed.
“Left! Left! Ya daft besom. We drive on the left!”“Left! Left! You stupid woman. We drive on the left side of the road!”
If he lived long enough, he could always retire. Who wants to be a taxi driver in this town anyway?

As the taxi rocketed up the High Street, past the Wonder Store, Big Mary tried to get back into the driver’s seat (metaphorically speaking, as Jeannette was in the actual seat and the driver wasn’t, if you catch my meaning).
“Ah’ve oarganised Willmax’s wee bus fur the rest o the mourners. If ye see it, let it catch ye!”“I have hired Willmax’s little coach for the rest of the mourners. If you see it, let it catch up with you!”

Perhaps I should explain. Willmax was a garage business, and they owned a wee bus for hire. And I do mean ‘wee’! Half the length of one of Alexander’s Bluebird coaches, and available for hire at reasonable rates. All done in pastel pink and green, it featured lots of chrome and fins on the backside, and the inside had acres of that awful plastic wood. Ina described it tae Jeannette.
“Ay-uh. Sounds real cunnin. Is that it a ways down the road at the back of us? If so, how do you slow this foah bangah beetah down?”“Yes. Sounds impressive. Is that it that I see, down the road, at the back of us? If so, could you tell me how to decelerate in this decrepit, underpowered vehicle?”

Isn’t it wonderful how one, unthinking answer can provide treasured memories for years. The taxi was screaming (or perhaps it was just the driver) by Methil Primary School at the time …

“Jist turn richt! Roond b’ Fisher Street an back the wey we come.”“Just turn right! Go round by Fisher Street, and back the way we came.”
Jeannette stuck her head out of the window, and yelled …
“Can’t find the directional. Hanging a right!”“I can’t locate the indicator switch. Turning right!”
The schoolchildren had just been let out for their afternoon break. The tyre squealing and the shouting had them climbing up the railings. Round the school went the taxi, right back on to the High Street, and straight out in front of the wee Willmax bus.
“I think there are more cars tryin to catch us!”
“Well, tak the car roond again.”“Well, take this car around, again.”
“Hangin a right!”“Turning right!”

This time, it was a taxi, followed by a wee chrome and pastel bus that spun around the school, tyres blowing out blue smoke, and the occupants rattling around inside. All the children had seen Ben Hur at the cinema the week before, but this was much, much better. More cars joined in as the taxi went around for another turn.
I can tell you! Just ask any child who was at Methil Primary that day, and they will tell you that Charlton Heston drove around Methil Primary School with a chicken stuck on his head!

At last, having collected the district nurse in a Morris Minor, Jimmy the Fishman, and two Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Standard 10, the cortege (fancy word, eh!) continued at full steam up Fisher Street to Bayview.

“Bangin a left”“Making a hard turn to the left!”
There are a lot of people still alive today, who owe it to the fact that Wellesley Road was a fine, wide road in those days. The situation would be very different nowadays.
The taxi swung round to the left, closely followed by the Willmax bus. Swinging wide, the district nurse was about to overtake the bus, when suddenly, the bus driver cut across, and nearly put her through the door of the Wizard Cleaners. Meanwhile, the two Witnesses slipped by on the inside, singing hymns, so some folk say. Jimmy the Fishman trailed behind in a dismal, but safe, last place. With the taxi still in the lead, Jeanette now confidently in fourth gear, and Big Mary giving directions, it was …
“Crem! Here we come!”

As they passed the White Swan Hotel, Jimmy the Fishman tried to chicken out. Unfortunately, the Swan Brae runs the wrong way, and as he tried to take Denbeath Brig on the railway side, all he managed to do was land on top of a coal wagon on its way to the washers at the Wellesley Colliery.

Neck and neck, along the road past the Wellesley. An ambulance, pulling out of the Randolph Wemyss Memorial Hospital, stripped its gearbox in a desperate effort to pull back off the road. Having survived the experience, both ambulancemen agreed that, even if they had to pay for the gearbox, it had still
been worth it.

Collecting a van from Stuarts, the Bakers, and anyone else who was visiting Buckhaven that day, the ever-lengthening procession gathered speed. They briefly swept up a terrified ‘auld boy’, heading for Buckhynd Braes on his ‘bing bike’. It didn’t have any tyres, but it was doing a respectable speed as he disappeared into a hedge at Muiredge.

“What way, now?”
“Tak the next richt, an we’ll go along the Staunin Stane Road.”“Take the next right, and we will go along the Standing Stone road.”
“Bangin a right.”“Making a hard turn to the right.”
“Hey!” said Mary. “You’re understaunin evry word ah’m sayin!”“Hey!” said Mary. You are understanding every word I say!
“Well, if you shout it loud enough, and often enough, even us Yankees can pick up what you are saying.”
“C’n ah butt in a minute?”“May I interrupt for a moment?”
Ina prodded Jeanette’s shoulder.
“Are they level-crossin gates no shut?”“Can you see those level-crossing gates? Are they not closed?”
As Jeanette stuck her head out of the window, the chicken hat started to take flight.
“Could be. Could be.”
“An is that no wan o thae Wemyss Railway pugs comin along the line?”“And, is that not one of those steam locomotives from the Wemyss Private Railway?”
Ina was starting to sound just a bit strained.
“Ay-uh. Could be. Could be.”
Big Mary would put up with no backsliding.
“Pit yer fit doon, woman! They’ll open the gates fur us!”“Put your foot down on the accelerator, woman! They will open the gates for us!”
She pointed to the train of conscripted mourners behind them.

The gatekeeper had arrived at the same conclusion. One steam locomotive was nothing compared to the horde rushing up the road towards the crossing. One of them had a chicken tied to her head, and the wings were still flapping.
He rapidly spun the big operating wheel. Up went the big white pole, and not a second too soon. The steam locomotive driver was blowing his whistle and setting the throttle into reverse, as a taxi, a pink and green bus, the district nurse and two boys in a Standard 10, singing hymns, all shot across in front of the locomotive. The baker’s van swerved into the vertical gatepost with an almighty bang, and two hundred cream and fancy cakes exploded across the inside of the windscreen. The locomotive continued on its way untouched, and the rest of the procession poured over the track behind him.

“Whit wis that aw aboot?”“What was that all about?” the driver thought, then noticed two rhubarb tarts sitting on the coal at the back of the locomotive. Ten minutes later, when he got to the Wellesley, he was good enough to share them with Jimmy the Fishman. And tactful enough not to ask why Jimmy’s van was sitting on top of a coal wagon.

Once on the Staunin Stane Road, things eased off a bit. Ina had spotted the hearse up ahead, and Jeanette was experienced enough by now, to slip smoothly in behind it, and slow down to a more dignified pace. Funerals must always be dignified. The bus slowed down too. So did everybody else. As they rolled along the road (with great respect and dignity, because you never overtake a hearse. Ever!), the passengers took the chance to set themselves to right. Hats were straightened. Teeth re-inserted. Corsets re-adjusted. Shoes were swapped around, until everyone was wearing the correct pair. They were going to get to the Crematorium in time. No bother!

A funeral procession is a grand thing. It gives people time to ponder, to reflect on the life of the deceased. To try and remember what they looked like. And if the ceremony is over quickly, there might be the opportunity to nip down to Kirkcaldy for a bit of shopping. Or a pint.

Nobody had much to say as they arrived at the Crematorium. One last chance to get your stays comfortable before you had to sit quietly. Scratching and squirming was a definite ‘no-no’. Not dignified.
The taxi driver, he’d seen enough of dignity. First chance he got, he would be off. Sell the taxi. Emigrate. Anything!

Jeannette, Ina, and Big Mary surrounded the man ‘in charge’ (for want of a better word).
“You’ll be the faimly o the deceased, ah take it? Ah wis not expecting quite so many. None at all, in fact. I thought the deceased wis …”“I presume that you are the next-of-kin to the deceased. I was not expecting quite as many people. None at all, in fact. I thought that the deceased was …”
Big Mary cut him off short. Didn’t fancy him at all. A bit shifty. A bit of a sweetie wife.
“Whit d’ye mean! You sayin we w’dnae be here fur the ceremony?”“What do you mean? Are you saying that we would not turn up for the ceremony?”
Wilting under the glare of the female trinity, he fell back on to that old male ploy, used in all such circumstances – abject surrender!
“No. No. Ah take it that one of you ladies will be sayin a few words?”“No. No. I take it that one of you ladies will be saying a few words?”
“Try tae stoap us!” went Mary.“Just try to stop us!” went Mary.
“Ah think it should be Jeanette”“I believe that Jeannette should be the one.” Ina put in, before the poor man was roasted alive.
“Ye’ll want tae say somethin, hen.”“You will be saying something, will you not, my dear?”
I think that Ina had suddenly, really noticed the chicken hat for the first time, or it could have been simply an unfortunate choice of words.

“Richt” cried Mary. “Awboddy tak yer places. Jeanette’s gaun say a few words.”“Everybody take your places. Jeanette will say a few words.”
Jeanette stood up, and looked at the audience.
“I’d like to thank everybody that’s here today. So many have come. My gramma must have been very popular.”
The two men from the hearse looked at each other.
“Whit did she say?”“What did she say?”
“Wheesht!” ordered Mary.“Be quiet!” ordered Mary
“I would just like to say my gramma’s favourite poem.”
The man in charge looked at the two men from the hearse.
“Gramma always loved a bit of verse, an she taught mah mutha who taught it to me.”Grandmother was fond of poetry, and she taught my mother, who taught me.”
“But …”
“Will you lot no shut up, an show a bit o respect!”“Will you lot stop talking, and show some respect!” hissed Mary.
“Aye, let the lassie speak!”“Yes, let the lady speak!” Ina joined in.
The three men let their heads slump down into their shoulders.
“You cairry on hen.”“Please carry on, my dear.” urged Ina.

“Gramma’s poem”.“Grandmother’s Poem.”

You cannot choose the rose of life
No matter how you’re born
For some will touch the dew crossed bud
While others catch the thorn
You have no right to sacrifice
Another for the flower
To take it all is purest greed
And evil in its power
And yet you have a duty, plain
If come before, to warn
And fore the hand of innocence
Place yours across the thorn.

“Gramma. Ah surely miss you.”“Grandmother. I surely miss you.”

Ina knuckled away a tear.
“That wis awfy guid, lass”“That was very good, my dear.”
Mary put on her hard face, but you could tell that she was moved.
“That wis a braw poem. Ye must’ve learnt English special, jist fur that.”“That was an excellent poem. You must have learned English, just to be able to say it.”

Everybody moved in closer to share the moment.
“That wis jist hoo ah remember it. Ye h’d th words jist richt.”“That was just how I remember it. You were word perfect.”
“You’re no supposed tae be here!” shot in Mary. “You’re supposed tae be daed!”“You are not supposed to be here!” exclaimed Mary. “You are supposed to be dead!”
“Dinnae be daft. Ah’m no daed! Ah’ve jist come here fur mah weekly funeral.”“Don’t be silly. I am not dead! I have just travelled here for my weekly funeral.”
Nettie looked round at everybody else as if they were daft.
“Weekly funeral?” Ina looked baffled.
“Aye. Ah like tae come along tae a funeral. Jist the wans that disnae hae a lot o faimly. Bit o’ company fur the send off.”“Of course. I like to come along to a funeral. Only for those that don’t have many next-of-kin. A bit of company for the send off.”
Jeanette looked down at Nettie.
“But this is your funeral?”
“Oh, dae be daft. Do ah look dead?”“Don’t be silly! Do I look dead?”
Big Mary started casting around. No man was going to make a fool of her. But the two men with the hearse were doing 100 miles per hour, back along the Staunin Stane road. The man in charge had run out of ‘charge’ and had gone ‘out’.
“Whit’ll we do now?”“What shall we do, now?” asked Mary.
“C’n we still sing the hymn?” returned Nettie. “Ah ayeways liked the hymns.”Can we still sing the hymn?” returned Nettie. “I always liked the hymns.”
So they did.

Many years later, we all sang that same hymn at Nettie’s funeral. Her second, and as far as we know, her last one.

Everybody was in agreement, though. Nettie’s first was the best!

Coming next … Roman in the Gloamin

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