Putting The “Fun” In Funeral by Gill Hoffs

As a depressed teenager, I spent a considerable amount of time scrawling my funeral set-list in the back of my school folders (along with biro drawings of gravestones and dangling bodies, but I digress) instead of learning about tenses in Latin and French and how to do something hideously complicated with sin, tan, and log (still no idea). Cheery choons such as the Manics’ “From Despair to Where” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFewXLjXTSU and their version of “Suicide is Painless” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y11f8Oc25AI were on there along with Radiohead’s “Creep” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyRh1EOyKOM . I’m now happy and healthy – phew! – but along with setting out actual practical preferences for disposing of my meatsack when I do finally pop my clogs (sky burial or body farm just FYI as I’m a bit worried I’ll be buried/burnt alive and this is safest in case I wake up) I figured it might be fun to get some possibilities on the internet where everything is forever, unlike me.

So in no particular order:

The Final Taxi – Wreckless Eric (thanks to The Workshy Fop for this recommendation!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHBwBfqYhIM

Who Wants To Live Forever? – Queen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Jtpf8N5IDE

Born To Die – Lana Del Rey http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bag1gUxuU0g

Lump – Presidents of the United States of America http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-aPyvRL9n4

Live Forever – Oasis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_2mWhfOhGU

I Know You’re Out There Somewhere – Moody Blues http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjImFYf2Vzc

Don’t Fear The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClQcUyhoxTg

Do You Realize? – The Flaming Lips http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPXWt2ESxVY

Waltz #2 (XO) – Elliott Smith http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2sfwky4RqQ

Street Spirit (Fade Out) – Radiohead http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrTB-iiecqk it’s also one of the coolest videos ever.

Goodbye Stranger – Supertramp http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ld6ombnGnA

Play Dead – Bjork http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHiHZ35TPfM

If I die of the plague or something similarly foul and catching and thus require cremation, the Bangles’ classic “Eternal Flame” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoOFn3wQV4 is also a must, and if it’s windy then of course “Smoke gets in your eyes” by The Platters http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u3l001-zSA4 . But if I’m not left out on a mountain for carrion crows or fenced off somewhere for experiments with maggots (my body’s so full of chocolate and Nutella they’ll likely look like fat wriggly vermicelli), or burnt into a dusty grey sneeze-hazard, then clearly Faith No More’s “Digging the Grave” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Grx08ehxXMM should be blasting out followed by The Cranberries’ “Zombie” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ejga4kJUts .

If my fleshbag is disposed of on a Sunday (I’m atheist so maybe this would be a good day since most people I know are free) then clearly The Associates’ version of “Gloomy Sunday” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBmjfFlq0cA would be fun, especially since it includes the cop-out but beautiful verse about it all being just a dream.

If I started to believe in reincarnation, I’d hope to be present at the big send-off somehow (preferably not as the oft imagined fly-on-the-wall) while Grizzly Bear’s “Yet Again” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuG9i5cwGW0 was playing. And while I’m wishing for specifics, let nobody who comes bring cut flowers or snottery tears but petfood for shelters and Nutella for foodbanks instead. And let them recollect the most cringe-making things I’ve ever done loud and proud (but only once I’m dead).

The Telegraph published a list last year which had Sinatra’s “My Way” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePs6bHsQx6A as the top funeral tune, followed by Brightman and Bocelli’s “Time to say goodbye” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWQbuJ24Wzg . It’s probably fair to
say that if anything in good taste or that might be accused of being spiritually uplifting is played I’ll be rolling like the cartoon cherries in a fruit machine, and the only reason I’d want something like “Jar of hearts” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVFgfuiyBHw (the Glee version, naturally) played is if my body’s healthy enough to be used for organ donation. Fingers crossed it will.

I should probably note at this point that when my husband read this through his exact words were, “Hen, if you go first, I’m playing “Tramp The Dirt Down” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9t4-zDem1Sk . That’s an appalling list of songs. I hope I die first.” Any more of that and he won’t need a magic lamp and a genie to grant his wish. Anyway…

While “She’s Not Dead” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6s9rbLeBlE is a very tempting final choice (ahem), I think really the closing number should be “The Next Life” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur5qz2X1vAE by the utterly shaggable Suede, though it might be more fun to opt for “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIgZ7gMze7A by Wham!. My list seems awfully short compared to the dozens of indie tracks I used to detail behind my schoolwork, so do feel free to add suggestions below.

 

hoffsGill Hoffs lives with her family and Coraline Cat in a horribly messy house in Warrington. Find her on facebook or as @gillhoffs on twitter, email her a dirty joke at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk, or leave a clean comment at http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/ ‘Wild: a collection’, her word-mixture of sea creatures, regret, and murder, is out now from Pure Slush. Get it here.
Gill’s often-sad sometimes-grisly nonfiction book ‘The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic” is out now from Pen & Sword. Get it in bookshops or http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Sinking-of-RMS-Tayleur-Hardback/p/6053. Feel free to send her chocolate.

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Miles vs Hoffs

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Ok… erm… um… Actually I’m just gonna come out and ask it. Why have you written a book about a ship that sank 160 years ago?

Because the book I wanted to read about it hadn’t been written yet.  I was haunted by the story when I first came across mention of it in Warrington Museum, and the more I found out about the people involved, the more I had to know.  I don’t like writing about something that’s been chronicled a million times over, and the beauty of the Tayleur story for me as an author was that although it’s pretty much unknown these days (though I should point out that there are two excellent books also available, by H.F. Starkey and Edward Bourke, which provide great detail about the technical specifications of the ship), at the time it was MASSIVE news and the survivor accounts were well documented.  I have a terrible memory so give me a year and the book will be an exciting new read.  I hope.

 

I am a fiction writer and I do zero research into my stories so I have no idea how you would go about starting something like this. Could you take us through the process briefly?

Google was my friend.  I did the vast majority of the research sat on my arse at home – it would have been impossible to do otherwise as my little boy was only at pre-school for a couple of hours a day when I started work on it.  A lot of the information was available online, and when the curator at Warrington Museum who first told me about the wreck advised me to look up the survivor accounts, they basically destroyed me: I struggled to sleep and just kept visualising the deaths of the babies on board, over a dozen of them.  I refused to read any more about it, but the story kept niggling at me and in the end I just had to immerse myself in it and get googling.  I joined Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.co.uk/) and the British Newspaper Archive (http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) and that was it, I was off.

Having followed your labours on the infernal Facebook over the past eighteen months or so, I’ve noticed that you’ve been able to meet descendants of people who were involved and others that were concerned in various ways. Was there a moment when you got a call or e-mail or letter and you thought “I’ve cracked it here?”

Yes, there were maybe 700 or so people on board (impossible to be accurate this long after) and one family, an ex-convict who made his fortune in the Australian Gold Rush and returned to Stamford to collect his sweetheart and son, were proving impossible to trace.  It turned out that the name was wrong – the accounts I was going from had him as ‘Carley’ instead of ‘Carby’.  I typed the place name of the Assizes he was tried at (for the crime of sheep-slaughtering) into an Australian search engine to do with convict ships and suddenly all these details popped up – his physical description, court details, the lot – and I was bouncing about the room cheering and swearing with joy!  Once I had that and some other details from Ancestry, I started searching individual addresses online in case anything else was associated with them (for example, one chap had grown up next door to the Bronte sisters’ school just a short while after they’d attended class there, which I found pretty cool) and I found an ancient post on an old forum from somebody looking for information about their great-grandfather, who’d lived in one of the houses I’d looked up.  I searched them out and it turned out he was the ex-convict’s son – and they’d had NO idea their family had ever been out of England, let alone making fortunes in Australia.

Did researching such an upsetting story affect you in a personal way at all?

Oh totally.  I was a snottery, blubbering, stress-eating mess.  Spending several years examining and reliving these poor sods’ last moments, their hopes and dreams and reasons for emigrating, made them feel like close friends or family, and sometimes I wouldn’t know for sure whether they lived or died on the wreck until I came across a witness account or traced them in a later census record.   The suspense was awful!  Some of them went on to live long and hopefully happy lives, but a few died miserable, painful deaths shortly after and that seemed terribly unfair after they’d already been through so much.  I was pretty much obsessed with the Tayleur and even when I was doing pleasant things, like watching a film with my family, my mind was with the travellers or the wreck.

What was the saddest thing you found out?

That’s like making me choose my most missed childhood pudding (on a grander, shittier scale, obviously).  Every death was horrendous to read about.  The accounts of children dying on or shortly after the wreck had me in pieces.  I don’t drink but my recycling bin soon clinked with the many Nutella empties I racked up.  For example, there was a boy, maybe about ten years old, struggling in the water by the ship after watching his mother drown.  A young man from Wakefield, Yorkshire, tried to rescue him while he too was in the water.  He attempted to help the boy to the rocks, soothing him when he sobbed and told the man to leave him be as he knew he was done for.  The man was battered by wreckage and the action of the waves, injured from guarding the child from items crashing into them, but persevered and they almost made it – I’m welling up typing this – and then a bastard great wooden spar smashed the kid’s head in, just as they reached the rock.  The young man was clearly horrified, and no wonder.  Then there was the tale about how when the cries of land were heard below decks, the younger children were SOOO excited because – despite being only two days into the voyage – they thought they’d already reached Australia.  I can imagine my son thinking the same thing.  Minutes later, all but three of the seventy children aboard drowned or were dashed against the rocks.  Grim, awful, shattering stuff.

You’ve written for this site a few times and I’m always struck by the natural humour in your articles. Was it a departure for you to write about such a sombre subject?

For me, humour and darkness are fingers on the same hand.  The more awful the subject matter, the more likely I am to make a joke of it, and generally a tasteless one at that.  It’s not from a lack of respect or humanity, it’s a coping mechanism, I suppose, and a useful one.  Humans need to cry sometimes but they also need to laugh.  A lot of my short stories are quite sombre or bleak (though the horror pieces tend to be graphic, gruesome, disgusting, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) and my novel, currently out on submission, is certainly the dark side of a nightmare.  This means I’m more likely to take the piss out of myself online and in interviews in order to maintain my equilibrium/sanity.  I know from experience that without making time and opportunities for laughter when immersing myself in truly horrific and depressing knowledge, I’ll be ruined mentally, and I have no urge to destroy myself like that.  That said, I don’t enjoy or have the appetite for 100% happy endings.  I want realistic satisfaction, and that often involves shit happening, and lots of it.  But when writing nonfiction, and especially nonfiction about people who suffered horrific trauma, I felt it would be disrespectful to introduce even a sniff of humour within the book’s text.  I even agonized over the author photo for the jacket – and trust me, I don’t give a shit about looking pretty – in case I looked light-hearted or smirk-y.

This book I would imagine would appeal to a very select audience. Was that something you had in mind when you wrote it?

I wrote it to appeal to me, to be honest, though I knew from browsing in bookshops nearby that there would be a market for it.  It has broader appeal than you might initially think: “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher” by Kate Summerscale made historical nonfiction seem more of an option to readers of other subjects and genres, and “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’” isn’t just about a shipwreck, it’s about love stories, bravery, tragedy, Victoriana, and a massive cover-up the like of which I hadn’t previously seen.  Heroism and villainy is a theme as ancient as humanity yet somehow it never grows old.

Have you been pleased with how it’s been received?

Bloody ecstatic!  I’m so pleased with the reviews it’s receiving, the feedback it’s getting, and the awareness it’s raised for the poor sods involved with this wreck and many others.  They shouldn’t have been forgotten – indeed, Charles Dickens’ magazine ‘Household Words’ urged the world to remember Dr Robert Hannay Cunningham, the ship’s surgeon, for his bravery and selfless devotion to others forever more.  This book attempts to rectify this sad situation and has already led to several descendants getting in touch who had previously known nothing of what their ancestors had been through.

Do you write anything other than non-fiction? And where can we find your other stuff?

Oh, I write pretty much anything and everything, whatever comes into my head, though I’ve been focussing on this shipwreck book and related articles almost exclusively of late.  My back catalogue, so to speak, is listed with links where appropriate at http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/ or if you want to know about something in particular then feel free to email me at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk or contact me (@GillHoffs) on twitter.  My first book, “Wild: a collection”, which is a mixture of short fiction and nonfiction including a piece about one of the Tayleur survivors (an anonymous orphan known as the ‘Ocean Child’) is out now from Pure Slush.  I work with them a lot and I’m currently writing a story a month about a Mancunian sex worker for Pure Slush’s “2014: a year in stories” (http://pureslush.webs.com/2014.htm).  I also have a nonfiction piece about the generosity of the Irish towards the Tayleur survivors up at Literary Orphans (http://www.literaryorphans.org/playdb/) sometime around Easter, which of course I’ll be celebrating with chocolate. 

Well, thanks for the interview Hoffs. And… just one more thing… I know it’s probably a stupid question but I’ve got to ask. That surely isn’t your natural hair colour is it?

I wish it was – nope, this is from a bottle of foul-smelling chemicals.  I was blonde till my teens then my natural colour started turning more mousey.  I think there’s some grey coming in now though I only really know about it from my roots.  I’ve dyed it every colour I could get my hands on.  Purple, green (earned me shouts of “Grotbags!” from cheeky schoolkids), black … all sorts.  I particularly relished turning up at school (it was for ‘Young Ladies’, apparently) with very long blue hair.  I was (and perhaps still am) quite an obnoxious little sod.

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur is available from Amazon through the following link http://tinyurl.com/gillhoffsrmstayleur

 

hoffsGill Hoffs lives with her family and Coraline Cat in a horribly messy house in Warrington. Find her on facebook or as @gillhoffs on twitter, email her a dirty joke at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk, or leave a clean comment at http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/ ‘Wild: a collection’, her word-mixture of sea creatures, regret, and murder, is out now from Pure Slush. Get it here.

 

Things That Rip My Knitting by Gill Hoffs

I’m going to try to avoid the usual suspects here of vaguebookers and homophobes, bigots and “I’m no (euphemism for arsehole), but…” spouters. Instead, here are some really quite specific annoyances.
*Please note, I did say ‘try’.*

Spitefully inaccurate headlines of the medical variety

You’ll have seen this kind of headline.
“Woman defies doctors to have miracle baby”
“Man defies doctors to survive terminal cancer”
“Boy defies doctors to walk again”
Headline writers and journalists casting doctors as nasty bastards who’re hoping, no, rooting for their patients to lead miserable lives then die, preferably horribly. It’s bollocks, of course. Doctors like that, the Harold Shipmans of the world, are few and far between. The people whose stories are highlighted in this kind of piece have usually been given advice on the usual course of their illness, the statistics relevant to their situation, and the common events other patients with a similar diagnosis have encountered. Do the women who have these miracle babies, the people who recover from supposedly terminal cancer or at least outlast their initially predicted death-date, or the kids who walk/talk/swim/sing unaided against the odds and their doctors’ reasonable expectations honestly think the healthcare professionals involved in their cases are trying to keep them down? That they’re spitting feathers at the news that their patient has had a baby or any kind of happy event, screwing the paper or primary-coloured-magazine into a ball and shouting obscenities at the poor sod who has had the fucking audacity to defy their order to remain barren or wheelchair-bound or die? Really?
If that’s what anyone thinks of their doctor, my advice would be to do one, pronto.

Double-decker prams

Or, as I think of them, dogbite buggies.
Not that I’ve ever seen a kid get bitten, in one of these awful buggies or anywhere else (thank goodness). But I reckon they’re an accident waiting to happen, one hungry puppy away from a newspaper campaign and tasteless jokes by shock jocks and scumedians.
I can see the attraction for parents and caregivers. A buggy that carries two kids, baby and toddler (or toddler and toddler), but with the width of just one grownup. Easier for public transport, doorways, and ramming your way through crowds, and – another huge annoyance – tipping the buggy onto an escalator so as to risk the kids’ wellbeing instead of waiting for the lift. Easier for parking in Starbucks between tiny tables while parents pretend things are almost the same as before, if not better (mm-hmm).
But the basic design of having one kid stacked above the other with the lower child just skimming over sweetcorn-speckled turds and glowing fag ends, its view of the world restricted by its sibling’s probably fragrant arse, makes me worry about it being at bite-height. Especially if it’s waggling toys or nibbling fistfuls of food.
I fully expect comments from people who have this kind of buggy and have never had a single problem, to which I say Good! I’m glad to hear it! But my loathing of this model remains.

The ‘only a joke’ ‘luv ya realy hun, u no dat, aw now i feel bad, soz’ fb posters

People who say THE most horrific or annoying or passive-aggressive things to people online BUT because they end with ‘xxxxx’ or the more individual ‘xoxoxo’ or my least favourite ‘lol’ (or for emphasis ‘LOL’) seem to think any anger or resentment will be cancelled out. My arse it is. Lol xx

Dolphins

Little-known fact: Jaws was originally going to be about dolphins. It would've been called "Snout."

Little-known fact: Jaws was originally going to be about dolphins. It would’ve been called “Snout.”

Dolphins give me the fucking creeps.
This confession may mean I’m forced to check my ovaries in at reception next time I go for any kind of woman-medicine, what with dolphins being some kind of totem animal for all bearers of wombs, but fuck it. They really, seriously, give me the fucking creeps.
Now, I should probably state for the record that I’m an animal lover who minces round ants on pavements and messes about with paper and woodlice in an effort to get the mini-armadillos out my house at night, and I’m in no way advocating the death of dolphins or the banning of them from TVs, films, and tattoo flash. But I do think instead of the assumption that I will love them because a) I have breasts, and B) they are smiley, friendly, shark-crushers with huge IQs and a decent line in acrobatics, people should catch a fucking grip.
These newly designated non-human persons can crush a fucking shark! How is that not creepy? Instead of rock-paper-scissors they play cartilage-bone-FUUUUUU! Don’t get me wrong – if I’m about to be eaten by a shark and a dolphin just happens to ram it with a bony snout then manoeuvre me to shore I’m not going to say “Hell no!” and swim off to a toothsome death. But equally, what is this odd love affair we as a species seem to have with something that smiles yet has no eyebrows and chitters like we’re the joke? Why not narwhals, the unicorns of the sea? (Not that I get the whole unicorn thing, either.) Or cuttlefish? Have you seen a baby cuttlefish? They’re fucking adorable!

I wouldn’t mind one of them for Christmas.

hoffsGill Hoffs lives with her family and Coraline Cat in a horribly messy house in Warrington. Find her on facebook or as @gillhoffs on twitter, email her a dirty joke at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk, or leave a clean comment at http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/ ‘Wild: a collection’, her word-mixture of sea creatures, regret, and murder, is out now from Pure Slush. Get it here.
Gill’s often-sad sometimes-grisly nonfiction book about the Victorian Titanic will be published in January 2014 by Pen & Sword. Feel free to send her chocolate.