"They sent our John through the post! Can you believe it?"
This is how Auntie Bertha greeted us when we turned up at Great Uncle John's 'funeral'.
A bit of background: It was 1983 and my Grandpa's brother lived alone in London. He sadly passed away - I believe through lung cancer but it was never really spoken about until my dad caught me smoking when I was thirteen - and my grandpa went to the Big Smoke to make immediate arrangements and to clear his flat. A cremation was conducted during those few days, however The Ashes had to be sent somewhere... somehow... and the Great British postal service seemed to be the best answer.
It was a small family gathering - just eight of us - me, my parents, my sister, my mums aunt and uncle, my Grandpa and Auntie Bertha (who, at the time, was probably around 80 years old and carrying The Ashes). There was to be no service; just an evening burial of The Ashes in the family grave. We arrived at the church and knocked on the Vicarage door. No answer. We heard a noise in the background so all eight of us perambulated round the side of the house... We saw (what we thought was) a gardener, digging away at the flower bed.
My dad took charge (as usual) and explained to the gardener that we were looking for the vicar for a pre-arranged appointment. The man dug his spade into the soil, checked his watch, did a double-take and started apologising profusely. It appeared that he was the vicar and that time had ran away with itself. He excused himself to wash his hands and get changed, then reappeared,
suited and booted frocked and socked and led us towards the grave.
The vicar had a vague idea of where the grave in question was so he wandered around the graveyard reading each stone, the rest of us playing 'Follow My Leader', with Auntie Bertha taking up the rear with The Ashes.
The procession eventually found the family grave - the very overgrown family grave - the very overgrown family grave that hadn't been visited in at least ten years... and it was obvious that there had been no preparations made; no hole had been dug for The Ashes!
No problem! The vicar remembered the spade he had abandoned in the garden of the Vicarage and ran to retrieve it. He returned... but also brandishing a petrol lawnmower! He explained that the grave looked slightly overgrown so thought that a quick "tidy up" would be in order. It took a couple of attempts to start up the machine but the grave was quickly tidied up once it was running. The vicar then suggested that, whilst the mower was running, it wouldn't do any harm to whiz up and down the other graves to give them a quick shape-up! Uncle Rod, my Grandpa and my dad looked at each other in bewilderment, paused for a few minutes whilst watching the vicar running up and down the graves with the mower, his frock billowing behind him, rolled their sleeves up and took it in turn to dig.
Auntie Bertha was beside herself by this time, crying with laughter, saying how 'our John' would have loved this.
Once the hole had been dug and the mower turned off, the 'service' took place - Uncle John was interred with a few holy words and then we all walked away from the grave, the adults helplessly and silently shaking with laughter... and my sister and I looking on in bewilderment.