Dec 22, 2014
Think of events that dominate the social calendar: The Buckingham Palace Garden Party, Royal Ascot, Henley Regatta. But travel to Gloucestershire – more specifically out into the boondocks between Gloucester & Tewkesbury, and you’ll find the village of Norton.
Comprising of little more than three houses, a cat and a dog (although I believe the dog may since have died), there was a tiny little restaurant there that hosted a social event of almost legendary status: the Gloucester Crematorium Christmas Party – aka the “Crem Roast.”
It amounted to a Bilderberg Group of their ‘regular’ funeral directors, along with a smattering of favoured clergy (usually the ones who kept their services to schedule and never exceeded their time slot) and of course the crematorium staff themselves. As an attendee during those sainted years, I can state unequivocally that it was a largely temperate affair with no-one ever disgracing themselves…much.
Talking of people disgracing themselves, I’ve just received eye-witness reports of the Christmas party attended by staff from the funeral firm my chum ‘Rick’ (as he’s referred to in my book) works for. Apparently the venue’s staff were surly & inefficient and the food was abysmal. The evening, advertised as a ‘Christmas Ball’, drew attendees from different companies all turned out in their finery - apart from one company, whose staff arrived drunk and dressed far too casually.
Once the meal was over everyone hit the dance floor. But one of the drunken group started upsetting the ladies with his laddish behaviour, so his colleagues pulled him away to the bar, where he promptly started what became a four-man brawl before collapsing with chest pains. Apparently they were still waiting for the ambulance to arrive when Rick & his own group were leaving. There’s a pleasing sense of natural justice in imagining the ambulance was probably delayed because it was already scraping up another drunken idiot elsewhere.
That disastrous evening stands in stark contrast to my own company’s inaugural (I’ve left it 14 years before organising anything) Christmas soiree. (Not ‘party’ you note. Oh no. They might have parties in Gloucester, but in the county’s more upmarket conurbations like Nailsworth, we have ‘soirees’).
I must give Egypt Mill in Nailsworth a special mention here. Quite apart from providing a beautifully decorated and well-appointed venue, their staff managed to serve over a hundred, piping hot meals with a speed and efficiency that would make Claridges seethe with jealousy. Even in-between-times when someone wanted a fresh drink or the plates needed clearing away, the staff responded with military efficiency and always with a friendly smile.
With all that in mind, I’m inclined to overlook the sorry incident involving two of my staff who’ve been daggers–drawn with each other for the last few months. One of them, in the spirit of the evening, decided to offer the hand of peace and suggested burying the hatchet. The other one said “yes – if I can bury it in your head…” What’s really stupid is they’re both in their sixties. You’d think they would’ve grown out of it by now. Clearly not….
Then there was the dance floor drama. A certain female on my staff, a lady of mature years, is blessed with the kind of youthful looks and effortless elegance that other women probably hate her for. This has a downside it seems, as she was very (and I mean VERY) explicitly propositioned by a young man on the dance floor who clearly thought he’d found himself a ‘cougar’ (look it up on Google). His efforts provoked a furious reaction from my lady staff-member, leaving the lad to skulk away with his tail between his legs, wondering if he’d actually been chatting up the Beast Of Exmoor. That taught him to keep his roving hands and salacious remarks to himself in future!
I had dilemmas of my own to contend with. My parents were there, but with me being probably the only 44 year-old in the country who hasn’t been brave enough to tell his parents he smokes (albeit a minor habit), I spent quite a bit of the evening “going to the toilets” before quietly sneaking out to the smoking area undetected by the parental radar.
James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.