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That’s all, Folks

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There’s something very difficult about having to accept a senseless death. The last few days have been a blur of activity – informing friends, cancelling bank accounts, organising the funeral and coping with the waves of grief that still flood through when reality comes knocking.

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Flowers have continued to arrive at the accident site, and on our many visits we bumped into several people who knew and liked him, wanting to show their respects. The reports in the local papers were surprisingly surreal. The clearing out of his bedroom is a severe hardship – especially as we’ve discovered he’s a very fine hoarder of everything he could get his hands on. Scanning through his digital camera pictures showed his sense of humour and sociable life, with no expectation of it ending so soon. I think many people are still expecting Paul to poke his head around the door and explain that it was his most elaborate practical joke ever – or at the very least spend a few minutes explaining why it happened and say goodbye.
But slowly the realisation sinks in that he will never come, a fact that hit home yesterday afternoon when the funeral took place.

Paul Cooke
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We all tried to keep busy in the morning, but by two o’clock events were becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. By three o’clock we arrived at his house with the rest of the family, and at four o’clock reality dawned. The black parade of hearses arrived outside, and the most difficult of hours had arrived. We travelled behind the black cars, negotiating the frustratingly uncaring cars through to pull away in front and in the middle of us all the way to Guildford Crematorium. On arrival, the sheer amount of people that had turned up stunned us. Over 300 mourners had arrived, and within a few minutes would be trying to squeeze into a room designed for no more than 150. We joined the front of the queue, and at that moment Matthew, Michelle’s brother, decided that he wanted to carry the coffin. We rallied round in support, and so it was that in the midst of all the emotion of the packed room, Matthew, Glyn, Oliver and I paced slowly down the aisle, a wooden coffin baring down on our shoulders and dusting our suits.
For the rest of the service I stared mostly at the floor, trying to ignore the vicar’s words. After twenty long minutes, we wandered out to view the flowers that had been sent – and then,

Paul Cooke
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not wanting to prolong the anguish, we headed for the wake, which was taking place at his local pub. It was probably the best night the pub had ever had – a full pub, enormous rounds of beer and sandwiches being consumed and speeches and stories of Paul, including a rendition of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life which summed him up to a tee. The celebrations died down as the pub started to close its doors – but there was no doubt Paul would have approved. Even the taxi driver knew Paul, remembering the many times he took him from the pub to the local nighlife. “He was full of life, top banana. He’ll be missed.” And don’t we know it.
All this, and I’m not even a member of the family. The things I see, feel and decribe are only a tenth of what his immediate family are going through. So what now for them? Tying up of loose ends,

Paul Cooke
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then getting on with life, I suppose. Now the hustle and bustle of morbid planning is done, maybe the reality will hit in the coming days and weeks. On the other hand, maybe now things are more or less over it will be easier to move on. The most useful part of the whole experience seems to be that it brings life’s troubles into perspective, reminding us to make the most of things while we can. The worst part, for me at any rate, is that he never knew how much his family (and specifically his children) loved him. In fact, *they* never knew how much they loved him. So make sure you appreciate and show your appreciation for your nearest and dearest – before its too late.
(A small photo gallery is available here. If you have any photos to contribute, let me know)

Will’s Wedding

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Ring ring.
“Morning Jac.”
“Whhhh?”
“It’s 7.30 in the morning.”
“Nggggh.”
“Is your smoke alarm beeping?”
“Whhhh…. no.”
“Right. Bye.”
“Bye.”
And so ended our stay in Fawlty Towers. It had begun so well. Michelle, Jac and I had been invited to Will‘s wedding in Raunds, Northamptonshire. It was an unusual invitation, as out of the three of us, I was the only one to have met him, and even then only twice. Still, we did manage to get the bride and groom together through the [email protected] internet dating website. Jac and I had each developed a spoof profile of ourselves, and I invited Will along for the ride. He, though, decided to do a real one (here it is), and promptly met his wife-to-be. We sensed a good time was in the offing, and accepted the invitation.

Will’s Wedding – Part 1, “The Build Up”
We set off from Jac’s house in Watford at 1.30 on Saturday afternoon, arriving at 3.15 in Rushden, well in time for the 4.30pm wedding. In our haste, we had discarded the idea of working out where the Rilton Hotel was, deciding that the area was probably only a small village and it would be easy enough to find.
Half an hour later, and with Jac’s expletives getting ever more forceful, we decided to stop at a local newsagents and ask directions. It turned out we had passed it twice in our search through the surprisingly large town. It was an impressive building, and as we swung into the car park, we noted the large sign outside – “Warm Welcome”, “Licensed Bar” and “Restaurant”. Jac, pleased at the reference to a bar, sped up the ramp.
The car park must have had over 70 spaces. Sadly, not one of them contained a car. “Ah.” muttered Jac, as it sunk in that the hotel may not be as popular as it claimed. After parking the car pointlessly neatly in the second space Jac chose, we wandered in to get the formalities done.
“Hello?” My voice echoed down the corridor. There seemed to be no-one around, and wrought-iron shutters blocked the entrance to the spirits bar and restaurant. We ventured down to the end of the corridor, where there appeared to be a reception area. That also had the shutters down. I went upstairs – not a soul. Michelle studied the reception board, and noted that there was a Bridal Suite. Jac’s eyes brightened. “Oh, thats kind,” he said, “I wonder what flavour?” His face slowly slumped as he revealed, “Oh, I thought you meant some kind of complimentary confectionary…” In an effort to redeem himself, he found a phone number taped to the reception area. He rang it. It turned out that the receptionist was at home, and asked if we could hang around for a couple of hours. We pointed out that the wedding was less than an hour away. “I’m on call, you see,” the receptionist said. We bartered. Finally, the best she could manage was 20 minutes. She turned up half an hour later.
In 10 minutes, we had changed into our finest clothes and were in the car, speeding down the motorway to the church.

Will’s Wedding – Part 2, “The Main Event”
The people of Northamptonshire are possibly the slowest drivers in the world. And Will’s wedding day was not the the best time to find that out. Constant cursing and more than a little swerving ensued for the next 15 minutes, before we somehow managed to find the designated car park, with 4 minutes to spare. As we parked up, I reached the last sentence on the sheet of directions: “This car park is approximately 5-10 minutes walk from the church.” More swearing. We ran to the church, and found the service already underway. Another curse passed Jac’s lips. As I opened the huge church door, the entire congregation turned round and stared at the naughty latecomers. I grinned inanely.
The wedding went smoothly, including the obigatory fainting of one of the bridesmaids. The hymns were well chosen, and Jac and I felt confident enough to barely glance at the words, recalling the full verses from our childhood church visits. On one hymn, we confidently finished the last verse on the page, put the songsheet down and looked around to see what would happen next. Much to our shock, the entire church carried on singing, and it took half a verse for Jac and I to find our place again.
After an hour, we wondered down to the reception. We had originally planned to make a dash for it after the ceremony, get changed, and be back in time for Will’s speech, which he promised would include a comical reference to Jac and I, at which point we would stand and curtsey. However, true to form, we completely missed that too. Our dash back to the hotel was at times a slow chug as Jac negotiated the infernally slow local drivers. Back at the reception, my initial huge disappointment was more than countered by 3 large bottles of pink champagne and two double Jack Daniels and cokes, which I was to rue the following day. Contrary to the previous events so far, the evening bash went very well, with Tom, the church usher and friend of 7 long years, providing much needed sordid information on the rest of the congregation. Jac made passing conversation with a rather well-endowed lady next to him. Half way through a particularly enlightening speech from him, the lady suddenly noticed the wedding cake being cut, and pieces being passed round. She yelled, “There’s cake!”. Sadly, Jac completely misheard, and started yelling for a person named Kate at the top of his voice. After we had stopped laughing at him, Jac made his excuses and left.
He finally found a particularly friendly girl towards the end of the night, who looked rather like Sinead O’Connor’s love child, but he fended her off. I managed to glean a taxi number off a Welsh lady at our table, and Michelle, being the only one still capable of speech (Jac: “Ah, a breash of freth air. Try saying THAT after five pints”), rang up. It turned out that it was a little old lady, who moonlighted as a taxi driver to make ends meet. During the whole of the first phonecall, she completely forgot to ask where we were going. When she phoned back and heard we were planning on going around 5 miles away, she took a deep breath and explained that it was further than she was willing to travel. I was frankly relieved. We finally managed to book a taxi, which we made Jac pay for while he was half asleep.

What we have learnt

  • Never assume that every town north of London is bound to be sparsely populated.
  • Always add 30 minutes to your driving time if you are due to be behind any driver from Northamptonshire.
  • When booking a hotel, always go with what you know. A Travelodge would in retrospect have been luxury, compared with the “warm welcome” we received at The Rilton.
  • Watford is the cheapest in the country for unleaded petrol.
  • Rilton Hotel sounds similar to the Hilton Hotel. That, however, is where the similarity ends.
  • There is nothing more annoying than an out-of-reach smoke alarm emitting a low battery warning every 30 seconds at 7.30 in the morning.
  • Drinking 3 bottles of pink champagne renders the drinker very ill for at least half of the following day.
  • There is something to be said for planning ahead.
  • Jac is incomprehensible before 8am.
  • Our snobbish theory that nothing works north of London turns out, in fact, to be correct.
  • There are more rivers named River Ouse in the United Kingdom that any other name.
  • Have I mentioned how slow they drive?

Finally, I’d like to thank Will, and congratulate him on his marriage. Even if we did miss the key moments…