Sunday, 26 October 2014

Funerals? God, no!

In recent years, I've lost two close relatives.  My Grandmother died not that long ago (see here for her story - it's worth a read) and back in 2010 my Dad died (see here for a rather different take on the aftermath of a close family death).

When my Grandfather died, over ten years ago, the thing to do was to get a vicar to do the service.  Neither my Granny nor Grandfather actually believed in God (strangely, my Granny's logic was that no God would've allowed the things that happened to her family to happen, and that's when she lost her faith) but it was just the thing to do.

A few years later, and my Dad was ill.  He'd been ill for years and he knew the end was coming.  He had managed years at home thanks to getting on the internet, home grocery deliveries and Amazon for DVDs.  Although he didn't get out of the house much, the computer kept him connected to the outside world.

But in 2010, it was obvious that the ten years of living with COPD were about to change.  His trips into hospital became more and more frequent, and several times the doctors called me up to he hospital to have "that talk".  He knew exactly what was going on.  He wasn't scared of death, but wasn't particularly looking forward to it either.  Amongst the things he did in his last few months was give me instructions for his funeral.  It was a little odd to have him say "do you mind popping along to the funeral directors this afternoon to book my funeral.  Book all the details, just don't set the date yet" he said with a grin.

He was very clear what he wanted.  He wanted a few specific pieces of music, but didn't want religion to play a part.  He wasn't "anti-religious" but his lack of belief in an afterlife meant that he didn't want people at the funeral to be talking about his eternal life and that we would all see him again. He wanted the funeral to be a full stop.

And that was my first experience of a non-religious funeral.  The lady who did the funeral met me and my Dad's sister before the service. We provided some details of my Dad's life and I decided that I'd speak at the funeral too.  The whole service was structured around my Dad's life, and celebrating that life, without any talk of there being a way to see him again.  "He's gone.  And we are all very sad about that.  But let's celebrate the things we remember whilst he was still here" was the honest and - to my mind anyway - positive message of the day.

After the service, many people told me how moving they found the service.  Even relatives who profess a belief in God thought the service fitted my Dad's life perfectly.  There was no explicit anti-religious content in the service, there was just no mention of God or afterlife or seeing my Dad again.  As an atheist, I believe that he is gone.  I won't ever see him again.  I wish that weren't the case, but my belief is that it's over.    The service wasn't upsetting. It was uplifting. It was funny.  Even if I do say so myself, I got a few proper laughs with my speech (which was about swimming giraffes - really).  Everyone was smiling.  My Dad's life was a good one, and we remembered that.

Over the years following that my Granny - on my Mum's side - my Dad's mother died years before I was born - started to say that when she went, she wanted a non-religious funeral.  And that's exactly what she got.  The funeral was tailored to her.  It was more emotional than my Dad's - but that was fitting. I spoke again.  The celebrant spoke of my Granny's life - well an abridged version, it was quite a life - and everyone cried, everyone laughed and everyone remembered my Granny with fondness.  No talk of her being "back with my Grandad".  No talk of her "being back with the family she lost many years before".  She didn't believe either of those things, whilst not denying the right of anyone to believe those things if that's their belief system, it would've seemed wrong to make it explicit as part of the funeral service.

The thing I've noticed since both of these funerals is just how many people have said to me that they don't plan to have a religious funeral.  A few years ago, it seemed that having a vicar do the ceremony was seen as "the thing to do" even if you didn't really believe in God.  For those who believe in God, having a religious funeral seems the appropriate thing to do.  But for those who don't, it feels more honest and more fitting to have a funeral service which reflects their own belief system.  But just because you remove God from the service, you don't remove any of the emotion nor any of the meaning.


I had a dream last night. I dream often, although last night's dream was particularly vivid.

I was on a plane next to man who I took to be Canadian.  I may have presumed he was Canadian because he was wearing a red checked shirt.  Anyway, he appeared halfway through the flight.  He told me that he had suffered from the "Broadport Slip".  Broadport was the town where it first happened to him.  From time to time, he found himself slipping forward in time.  He would walk through a doorway, or wake up, and find that years had passed by, and the world had become alien to him.

He was eternally sad and detached, for every time he got close to someone, he'd find that at some point - it could be tomorrow, it could be next week - he'd suddenly find years had slipped by.  Those he loved would be old.  They would have moved onto new friends, new families.  Or worse, they would have died, having spent the last twenty years of their lifes wondering where he was after the day he suddenly disappeard from their lives.

I've no idea where my mind gets these things from. I'm going to say that watching Doctor Who is responsible for the whole "time travel" bit.  In the hands of a decent storyteller, I'm sure the story above could become a decent story.  Unfortunately, I'm not a great storyteller.  Still, it's fun to have an interesting dream for once.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Doctor Who Cares?

I used to love Doctor Who as a kid.  It appealed to my sense of fantasy, my sense of escapist adventure .  I remember going to the exhibitions in the early eighties.  Tom Baker was the first Doctor I remember in any real detail.  Boy, does that date me.

Anyway, when it came back a few years ago, it was fun.  The first series, with Christopher Ecclestone, was a bit clunky as it found itself, but at least we had a Doctor.  He was a character.  Not quite human, not quite alien.  He doesn't quite understand people, but he empathises with them enormously.  He cares, but not to the point of syrupy nonsense.  I liked it.  A shame he only last one series.

And then there was David Tennant.  At first he didn't have the gravitas of Ecclestone, but it came. It came by the bucketload.  He did "dark", he did "playful" he did "lingering looks at the camera".  And then he started to fall in love with Rose Tyler, and it all started to go wrong.

For me, the thing about the Doctor is that he's not human. He looks it, but the fact that's he's not quite human is part of the character.  He doesn't fall in love with humans, he just cares for them and protects them.

And then all that silly nonsense about the hand turning into a second Doctor and running off into another universe with Rose Tyler.  What was that all about?

And then there was Catherine Tate.  Twitter hated her. I don't quite understand why.  I didn't find Donna particularly annoying at all.  Certainly no more annoying that the latter days of Rose Tyler.

But then David Tennant left.  Well when I say he left, he did take some time about it.  We knew it was coming but then he found the need to potter around time and space saying goodbye to random people he'd met along the way.  Strangely not all of them.  I guess just the ones for which the actors were happy to put in a final appearance.  But anyway, in a very over-dramatic way he sauntered off into the distance and regenerated into an annoying fool.

I'm sure Matt Smith is a very nice person.  Whenever I've seen him talking out of character he certainly comes across that way.  But in character, he didn't nothing other than annoy me.  I just didn't believe that was the Doctor.  Over his tenure in the Tardis I felt myself drifting away from the series.  There wasn't one particular thing which put me off.  There wasn't a single moment of revulsion.  It was more a sense of growing boredom as the years went by.  There was Amy. And Rory. Then Clara.  We'd seen it all before and I just couldn't connect with it.

And then Peter Capaldi was announced. That was a good thing.  I quite liked him in The Thick of It.  But between finding out that Malcom Tucker as The Doctor was coming, we had the Anniversay Episode.  Well several actually.  Paul McGann was back - briefly.  That was cool.  And then there was John Hurt.  And David Tennant was back.  And Billie Piper was back.  And she was good. Very good.

All looked good again.  I actually really enjoyed the 50th anniversary episode.  I went to see it at the cinema. Very rare for me.  But I actually went to the cinema to see it.

And then we had one final flourish from Matt Smith.  If we thought David Tennant had trouble saying goodbye, it had to dragged out to millennia when Matt Smith came to say goodbye.  But then eventually he shuffled off and came Capaldi.

I went to the cinema again to see the first of the Capaldi years.  And I quite liked it.  The robots were lovely and the scene with Clara having to hold her breath was great.  I loved the fact that this series seemed to be a series of fun romps.  Nothing too serious. Nothing too pretentious.  Just running around chasing aliens and having some sarcastic laughs on the way.  All good fun.

Then it went wrong.  What on earth happened with the "Kill The Moon" episode?  Clara went all moody.  The plot was a little thin.  Riddled with holes.  Unclear what was happening.  And then it turned out that actually not very much at all was happening.  All the good of drawing me back in was pretty much undone with that one episode.

And so I find myself bored with it again.  All this stuff about dead people going to a place run by a lady called Missy - and for some reason Chris Addison is also there - could've been an interesting hook into the finale.  But I find myself not really caring what it's all about.

Peter Capaldi is great.  Jenna Coleman is great.  Even the writing is pretty good.  I just really don't like the overall way the series is going.  I am not one of those fans who walks away indignantly if the showrunner doesn't stick exactly to my desired formula. I'm just bored.