Thursday, May 20, 2004

we march towards death in onomastic cohorts

40 today. A quick glance at the obituaries in the Manchester Evening News seems in order. I’ve been doing this for a number of years now out of curiosity, trying to scope out the circumstances behind the trade jargon of death. “Died in the arms of holy mother church” – one of ours, a fellow left footer. “After a long illness, bravely born” – swigging the Brompton’s mixture.“Taken from us suddenly” – Manchester style, head kicked in outside a nightclub.

And so on, and so forth. But it’s the names that make the most impression. When I started reading obits for pleasure, it was Freds, Berts and other names redolent of allotments, pipes and British war movies that were busy departing.

They seem to have gone now, though their wives – the Ivys , the Annies and the Bettys were making appearances for a good few years afterwards, confirming what we’re told about comparative lifespans.

Then came the R-generation – Reg, Ray, Ron, products of the thirties and the early meritocratic period. Orwell once described children in the new towns who knew nothing of the bible, but had an intimate knowledge of magnetos. There they are, dying before my eyes. And following on, their lady wives: farewell, Pam and Shirley. Your taste in wallpaper will not be missed.

There’s also a sense of history books closing. There go Tadeusz and Iwan, fetched up in Manchester after evading the Nazis or the Communists in Poland or the Ukraine. And here, names strongly suggestive of the Windrush generation. All integrated now in Southern Cemetery.

Onwards to the world of the welfare state, the firstborn of the family with its first mortgage and first family car. Derek, Colin, Chris – there were such hopes for you, and you did become an industrial chemist. But now you’re gone, or going.

This is where it starts to get disturbing. There was a Derek in my class at school. When you’re good and distant , there’s something almost reassuring about the way naming fashions identify cohorts which march together through life towards their endings. But I’m a bit too far up the conveyor belt to be smug right now. Martin Amis said after the late thirties, people stop saying hi and start saying bye. Well there’s a Martin right here in the paper – suddenly, at home (at home=not murdered) – so what do you think of that Mr smartarse?

Hopefully I’ll be able to step out of line for a few years. At least, for long enough to read the paper and say to myself: there goes Darren and I’m still dodging my coffin. Meanwhile, there is something to be said for a cheerful outlook and a sturdy sense of humour. So here’s a re-enactment of "the Shining" by cartoon rabbits.