Iconoclasm of Modern Funeral Vignettes by Steven Earnshaw

Only one of us had been to the funeral and felt stories from his relatives burrow deep, Sinclair’s stubbornness, Sinclair who knew his own mind. A boy, an early worker in the plastics factory, on holiday with his wife and children, and they brought with these photographs the knowledge that his life had been his very character. Around the bar when I lifted my head were night owls arranged in small groups, frequently pairs of people not yet in their cups. A relation wanted to be privately drunk. I kiss.

“Although I did not know Sinclair,” she celebrated, “he lives on in your memories of him. Close your eyes and picture some moment, some special moment. Each of you remembers Sinclair in your own way, each of you had a unique relationship with him. This is the service he wanted and this is the music he chose.” He did not choose God or hymns.

One of his relatives is the ugliest person in the world. I tell Yarl it’s not possible to separate the idea of Sinclair from his connection with the ugliest person in the world. As soon as he speaks he is ugly for I remember he hates me, and I wish him dead.

At the service we listen to the oddity of Sinclair’s musical indifference a pound to a penny we all plan the music for our own funerals listening to a popular song.

In the bar two couples have met, one is glamorous and young, the other is ten years older, enamoured of the distance. Just before we leave, the glamorous couple leaves, leaving us all.

A tall, well-built woman with soft features and mannish hair with a short self-confident man: as I wait my turn at the bar I catch the end of the argument with the sandy barman – “you give me the money first” he says and they do give him some money, collect the drinks and walk off unimpressed to sit at the table next to the enamoured couples. The altercation hasn’t dampened their vitality. You have to give money, it’s so obvious, there never could have been an argument.

Yarl tells me to look behind me at the ugliest shoes in the world. “Don’t worry, you can turn round, she’s not looking.” The shoes are made of plastic and metal clamps and I’m caught looking.

There was an undisputed bluntness to Sinclair, he traded on it throughout his life. He would tell you what for and things had to be just so. And if they weren’t any of these things there would be rifts, many rifts, a life filled with falling out. At his old house as a teenager there was a welcome for me I couldn’t find at home, and then I moved.

We make our way to the Chapel of Rest. A louche couple, normally holidaying extensively in the Caribbean, waits in the bar. Her composure goes at the sight of Sinclair, divested of gross appetites.

The plan was for all the young ones to get their heads right out of it, meet up at one bar, and after that another, and then another, meeting up in as many bars as it took to get their heads away from Sinclair.

Here are two men, late twenties, one fattish, the other nondescript, complaining about the beer, happy that they’ve made a complaint and a statement of intent. After the pint is changed there is nothing to say, the complaint was all there was holding them together. Sandy barman sponges complaints.

The Chapel of Rest, a vomitorium, a toilet, a come-down space. Here lies the mask of Sinclair.

In the days with no money Sinclair was self-sufficient, they all were. That was a supporting wall he destroyed. He got a man drunk who knew about bricks to help repair the damage.

When I felt within the archaic opprobrium of ugliness my bile burned.

She did not say we are cast adrift, she did not celebrate her love for Sinclair – “I did not know Sinclair as you knew him” – his blunt character lives on. Some in the crowd thought her celebration cold, unconvincing, without authority or sincerity.

In the Chapel of Rest a lovely day was ruined. Outside, the banks of green and little crosses and flowers spelling out personal names and parental roles in white. The ushers of death that day adopted the posture of universal sympathy. Thank you. Kiss.

Yarl is bored when I say “I can’t stop thinking about the people at the funeral.” “Down,” she says, inferring the difference in our ages. Everything is more attractive than being here with me now. She wants to go to a club. “I want to dance,” she says, “forget about the funeral and thingy and stuff” she orders me. “You promised you’d take me.”

“Thingy? Thingy? Sinclair.” I tell her to get in the taxi and give her the money and I go back to the bar. I give sandy barman his money. She is right about Sinclair. My Yarl is stunning and the evening ends sadly with a flourishing inner ugliness.

With the images of Sinclair conjured the trick allows her to press a button without the others noticing. Dark heavy blue curtains move mechanically to form a semi-circle in front of the coffin. There are red eyes to my right, shoulders that weep. People I don’t know, who puzzle me, sit on the other side of the small hall with people like aunts, uncles, cousins I recognise. When we exit I see lodged on the plinth a metal contraption with large buttons for music and curtains, balanced on notes of Sinclair from the family for the celebrant. “She can’t know everybody” who dies.

I leave a message for Yarl: “Sinclair fell out with everyone except his wife.”