The Man Who Put A Million On Black

Jan 8, 2014
The Man Who Put A Million On Black man who put a million on blackFunny time... Christmas, I mean. It’s over so quickly that I actually prefer the build-up more than the time itself. Then comes New Year’s Eve – something I’ve always had very ambivalent feelings about. For a start, there’s an element of looking back at everything that’s happened during the past year and feeling rather dispirited at the prospect of having to set the meter to zero and start doing it all over again!

But I also get a little reflective when I think of all the deaths I’ve encountered during the year and how, at the stroke of the midnight chimes, the planetary calendar re-sets itself and all those people will somehow have passed into history. For their families the immediacy of their loss will now be replaced by an annual cycle of painful landmarks and anniversaries: the first birthday without them, the anniversary of the death, and so it goes on.

What with getting maudlin and often being on-call anyway, I rarely “celebrate” New Year. Instead I usually feel more inclined to use the time to reflect on what is passing, rather than what is to come. As soon as I hear the distant crack & bang of fireworks or the odd cheer & shout as they echo round the valleys of my home town, or watch the chimes from Big Ben on the television, I immediately spare a thought for all the families I’ve met during the year. Maybe I’m just trying to keep my “good karma” account in credit, but after those people have come to me for help during the year, entrusting me with both the body of their loved one as well as themselves, I kind of feel I owe them all a closing thought before the slate has to be wiped and a New Year brings a fresh harvest of bereavement and sometimes tragedy.

English essayist Charles Lamb captured it well: “Of all sounds of all bells, the most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year.”

And what might 2014 bring for me? Well, it’s not all bad – not by a long shot. Building work on our new branch office begins this month after we finally received planning permission (Not In My Back Yard, August 2013) and with it hopefully the beginnings of major expansion for the firm.

Meanwhile, our newest employee, a young chap of 21, will complete his first year with us. He’s already come a long way in nine months. Under our mentoring he’s making the well-trodden transition from ham-fisted awkwardness and diffidence towards the dead, to a point now where he’s just beginning to regard the more physical aspects of our work more with a healthy sigh of resignation rather than wobbly-kneed, pale-faced dread!

I finally get to change my personal car this year too. Changes to the company fleet in recent years mean I’ll finally be freed from the yolk of needing my old estate car as a back-up measure and I’m itching to downsize. Public car parks are anathema to considerate, ruler-straight parallel parkers like me, so I’ve always had an ambition towards something smaller: a VW Golf. Remember the TV advert? “This is the man who put a million on black – and it came up red. This is the man who married a sex kitten just as she turned into a cat…” But none of that mattered to him because that was the man who just bought a VW Golf. Quite right. Volkswagen – the thinking man’s Mercedes. (Have that, Dad!)

But before any of that, I’ve got far more important matters to attend to. I’ve got a meeting later this week with a young couple who spent part of New Year’s Eve in a Register Office, registering the stillbirth of their first child. It’s a cruel anomaly of law that requires them, in effect, to simultaneously register both a birth and a death. The little funeral we’ll be arranging together will also have a unique purpose at its heart – not commemorating a life; nor simply saying goodbye; but more about acknowledging that a little life actually existed in the first place.

Happy New Year. I hope 2014 is kind to you.

James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.

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