Slab city

2010-01-30 00:00

WELL I told y’all about me dear old dad who was that sort of person known in Scotland as a canny mon, which is to say he never took chances, and how whenever yet another lovely British war loomed up his troublesome heart would start troubling him again and he’d hobble about with his right hand clutched to his left pectoral muscle so he wouldn’t get stuck in somebody’s army and suddenly be taken dead, maybe. Also how when he hit 96 his brain suddenly blew and he dropped down in a tangled heap of old bones and broeks with braces and shirt and shoelaces and stuff, and when the paramedics came to scoop him up they didn’t quite know what to do with him because when they put a stethoscope to this tangled heap they could hear something quietly thumping in there, reflexively, like a lizard’s detached tail. However, it wasn’t that which prevented the disposal of the corpus delicti for four months. Sometimes it seems the truth of this life is to be believed only by madpersons, but you’d better believe what follows because it’s TRUE. I swear it with my right hand on Alice in Wonderland.

They put the old man in the deep freeze while waiting for the District Surgeon to declare him deceased, but he couldn’t do that because a death certificate requires an ID document to be cancelled and the old lad never had one, he didn’t believe in them, they didn’t have them in Scotland because all sorts of crooks could unlawfully gain information about your affairs at a criminal glance. Ja okay, said the D/S, just apply to Pretoria for a sort of post-mortal ID and we’ll cancel it right away. Piece of cake. Never to worry, said Pretoria, just send us a birth certificate and we’ll post the ID off quickquick so you can get your dear old dad out of slab city and lay him to rest in a nice grave with flowers. But there was no birth certificate, we looked everywhere, even inder the lino. We tell Pretoria the birth certificate is in Scotland. Never to worry, says Pretoria, just send us a copy of his immigration papers, that’ll do. So we look under the lino again, and behind the wardrobe mirror and everywhere else, but there’s no immigration paper at all anywhere. So what does Pretoria say this time, then? Never to worry, says Pretoria, just apply to the Department of Immigration and Whatsitsname, they will dig up your dad’s papers from their archives, toot sweet. Well, dear reader, you know what’s coming, don’t you? The Dept of I and W says Dear Sir, sorry, but after the Anglo-Boer War there was a flood of British men to work on the Natal Government Railways and they didn’t bother much about the paperwork and sorry, we have no record on him in our archives. N to W, says Pretoria, just apply to Edinburgh, the Department of Births, Deaths, Marriages, Adultery and Divorces, and get a birth certificate from them. Dead easy. The clock ticks. TICK, TOCK. We move on to month three. Dear Sir or Madman, says Edinburgh, the registration of births was not obligatory in 1878. We regret to inform you, therefore, that at we have no record of your father’s birth. We suggest you try Dundee since your father was born there. So we try Dundee. Dear Mr Mayor. Sir. But Dundee says sorry, try Edinburgh.

Whithertofore now? Maybe we could just leave him frozen, says my sister Beth, I mean we’re starting month four you know. But hold! Wait! A sharp young fellow name of Wally MacKnee in the mayor’s office remembers seeing on his hiking holiday a wee village name of Strachan, just up the way, and he hikes there again on Sunday and in a wee tiny kirk finds an unco great Bible, and on the fly-leaf a parish registry of births and...wait for it....yes...me auld faether’s birth date! He makes a photocopy and gets it certified at the cop shop and puts it aboard an aeroplane and three days later it’s in Durbs! So we get the corpse properly born with a certificate from Edinburgh, and we get the corpse immigrated, and obtain for the corpse an Identity Document, and when the District Surgeon has written his certificate this ID is stamped BANG! Deceased.

I put on a tie and sit with Beth in the funeral chapel where me faether is going to get cremated. Just the two of us. There’s a nice re-varnished coffin with a bunch of lilies and a hatch in the wall with discreet curtains. Also a sinless sort of wrinkled Presbyterian minister who mumbles a whole lot of platitudinous crap about the old bok whom he’s never ever seen, dead or alive. He’s been paid for a tear, which he now wipes from the corner of his eye. Unctuously he murmurs Would you like to say a few words? Requiescat in pace, says Beth. Sorry, says he, I don’t speak Afrikaans.

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