So we’ve come to the final instalment of this emotional and tumultuous journey. If you’ve just arrived back from holiday in Grimsby you need to read part one and two first. Don’t ask why, just do it. Trust me, it’s for the best. You won’t get the full benefit of the uplifting feeling at the end otherwise. Ok, so as I said last time, this is a parallel trilogy to Star Wars. We begin part three where we left part two, the sad passing of Phil. There are no Emperors, Ewoks and easily beatable Stormtroopers here. What I can promise however are tales of useless tailoring, a spinning vampire bat, a recovering heroin addict and Phil’s massive 32 incher.
Phil’s funeral was on a Monday. There’s no need to state that really, other than to have a very tenuous link to Forrest Gump and his mum’s death. It’s at 1 min 39 here. You know me and tenuous links, I love them. We really didn’t know how many people would come but were overwhelmed as there were well over 100. This included people we would never have expected to make the effort. We thanked them and their reply was invariably, “Don’t be silly, I’m here to give you and the family support.” Thinking about it I guess that would be the reason. I wouldn’t imagine many would have replied with, “I’m just here as I just love seeing people cry,” or “I heard funerals were good places to meet someone and I’m desperate.”
Included in the list of unexpected people were members of St Albans United Synagogue which we found so touching. Phil and Shirley hadn’t had a chance to join the synagogue yet but here were it’s members showing their support. Rabbi Sturgess (who visited Phil in hospital) took the service and as far as funerals go it was lovely. It felt personal which was important to us and again, having so many people there showing their support helped a great deal.
I’d written a few words about Phil which was compiled from memories of Shirley, Rachel and a few other close family members. As I walked up to the podium I suddenly felt calm, centred, almost as if time was slowing right down around me. I wanted to do Phil proud and get through this without cracking or crying in a high pitched voice a la Ian Beale from EastEnders. I felt an energy inside me which I’d like to believe was Phil looking down on us. Well, it was that or the 7 cans of Red Bull I’d drunk that day. Either way, I gave the speech and it went down very well. I say very well, it was a funeral with some decorum. There wasn’t any “woop woops,” cheering and arm waving going on. Just some polite nodding, gentle smiles and some thumbs up. Just as a taster this was how it started:
“This is the moment when you’re going to hear all about Phil. Normally, you’d learn where he was born, what his parents did for a living, where he went to school and his various jobs before he became the world’s only colour blind tailor. But this is Phil. He celebrated and lived his life and I’m sure he’d want you to hear about that instead.”
People were coming up to me afterwards and saying how amazing, funny and moving it was. This included the usher who was pushing the cart with the coffin on. He was congratulating me and talking about it AS he was pushing the cart to the grave. At one point the cart started veering away from the path and Phil was almost buried on top of someone called Sadie Wagglebottom. I just thought it was a few words about him and nothing bigger than that. One of his friends however summed it up perfectly. He was waxing lyrical about it in a (slightly OTT) HUGE way but the gist of it was that it sounded like Phil talking and it captured his essence perfectly. That was good enough for me.
After the funeral it was back to our house for the Jewish equivalent of a wake. Basically, we ate beigels, bridge rolls, danishes, crisps, cake and any other food we could lay our hands on. If it had been an actual wake with alcohol we all would have been wasted after 5 mins, moaning about how hungry we were. We also talked about Phil of course and his love of totally inappropriate jokes. What followed was three days of “Shiva.” For those of you that don’t know, visitors come and pay their respects to the mourners (Shirley and Rachel) during the day and at night we have prayers. The mourners have to spend the whole time sitting on rock hard, tiny wooden chairs that are fit for 4 year olds. I’m not kidding, they really are miniscule. I looked up the reason and it’s primarily so the mourners are helped to express their suffering whilst being close to the earth.
Whilst I’m not a religious person I do respect the religion and it’s customs. However, it might be helpful to suggest some alternative ways to help mourners express their suffering at this sad time.
2. Read the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy with it’s sub-standard use of the English language.
3. Watch a You Tube video of someone watching someone else, watching someone else, watching someone else, watching someone else play Fortnite.
4. Listen to Anita Dobson singing the greatest hits of Michael Jackson for three hours.
5. Play Monopoly with a teething 2 year old, your drunk and gropey Auntie Babs, a homesick chimpanzee and a trainee seamstress called Carol who just screams.
I’m not being funny, they’ve just lost a loved one, surely it would be better to have them sit on nice bean bags or a chez lounge they can stretch out on. You’d still be near the ground and with less chance of being permanently crooked by the time they eventually stand up. Now as the mourners aren’t supposed to do anything it’s tradition for guests to bring food for them. We were inundated but I wasn’t interested in the quiche (although it was lovely), shepherds pie and the like. I was just waiting for the chocolate. My brother was kind enough to bring them and Jade and Katie’s eyes lit up when they saw them. I explained that they were for the guests and mourners and they could only have one each.
They were then hidden away and over the next 24 hours I ate the lot. When the girls got back from school to see the two sad, empty tubs they were devastated. “I’m so sorry girls,” I said sadly, “We had so many visitors this afternoon and they just loved them”. Now before you judge me, please understand that I’m a very emotional eater. In being strong for Shirley and Rachel I had a compulsive need to eat mini swiss rolls and other chocolate based goods. It was a noble sacrifice but I was prepared to do it for them. You’re welcome.
As with the funeral we had many unexpected visitors during the days and nights of the shiva. This included the Rabbi’s wife, more members of the synagogue congregation and members of the Bricket Wood Jewish Social Circle. All there to give support and welcome Shirley into the community. This meant so much again as it was showing her that there are possibilities of a new life for her now. She isn’t on her own. During the three shiva days we had a lot of time to reflect. If Phil had recovered from the infections chances are he wasn’t going home again. In reality he would have to have gone into a home which is something he and Shirley never wanted to happen. We all felt he had had enough and was ready to go.
So that was it, the official period of the shiva was over. We’re still in a state of mourning obviously but also looking forward. We want to celebrate Phil and his mental (immature) age of 9. Below are extracts from the speech I gave at the funeral and shiva. There are also some of my memories of Phil that to me, completely sum him up.
Exerts From Phil’s Funeral Speech
“Phil loved and enjoyed lots of things in his life. These included playing golf, (although he could never see where his ball went), telling dirty and inappropriate jokes, (especially Jewish ones, sorry Rabbi), drinking whiskey, going to Lodge and learning his Masonic rituals 24/7. One of his favourite stories was when he was a member of the Sutton Operatic Society. He spent the night getting drunk with them and ended up driving his car onto his neighbour’s lawn. No-one ever said he was perfect! He also adored Aston Villa and over the years was good friends with Ron Atkinson, Graham Tailor and Doug Ellis.
We also need to talk about the shop. As I said earlier, Phil must have been the world’s only colour blind tailor. Not just that but also slightly dodgy eyesight. What else can explain a customer picking up an altered suit jacket with one arm 6 inches shorter than the other one. This wasn’t a one off by the way, it happened far too often. Or how about the many occasions customers went nuts about having the wrong colour thread on their trousers?
Everyone went in to see Phil in the shop. “Hedley James” could easily have been a sitcom. He had shoplifters come in to have extra pockets put inside jackets, strippers needing zips for their outfits, he made morning suits for the Masonic lodges and much more. It was often the focal and meeting point for the various dodgy characters on the Dudley Road including the sellers of knock off DVDs. Thanks Phil, I really enjoyed watching Avatar from the back of someone’s coughing head.
He never missed a simcha in Israel, be it family or friends and always spoke with great pride about seeing his nephew’s army passing out parade. This was Phil, he absolutely adored his family and they were his world. Shirley meant absolutely everything to him, although over the last couple of years in his confused state he often thought there were two Shirleys and one of them was getting married to someone else. Whenever Rachel, Paul and the girls came to visit he said it was the best day ever for him. When Rachel rang him in the shop he told her it made his day to hear her voice.
He was so generous and giving and even though he found it difficult to show or voice affection he demonstrated it in many different ways. He had a tenant in the flat above his shop. She was a recovering heroin addict who couldn’t pay the rent. Instead of getting her evicted he just let her off paying. To be fair, this might be due to the fact that he was always asking her what colour thread he was using and he had no clue.”
Memories of Phil
When Katie was born, Rachel rang Phil and Shirley to tell them the good news and give them her full name, Katie Honey Albert. Phil wasn’t impressed and went on a bit of a rant about what a ridiculous name it was and who on earth would call their child Honey. Next thing I had Rachel on the phone in tears. I call Phil and he launches into another anti Honey rant. “What kind of idiot would give someone a middle name of Maurice?” I asked. “That’s my middle name and I was named after my grandfather,” he replied indignantly. “And Honey is named after Grandpa Harry.”
I said goodbye and once he’d had time to reflect he called to apologise. Stubbornly I ignored his calls. Finally, he left a message that melted my heart and I gave in. “Paul, I’m really sorry if I upset you. I don’t want to argue and fall out with my son.”
The first time I met Phil I was understandably nervous. There I was, outside the house in Moseley waiting to meet my potential future father-in-law. He opened the door and as I went to speak he grabbed my hand, said, “Come with me,” and literally dragged me into the lounge. He proudly pointed at the tv and asked, “What do you think? I just got it, it’s 32 inches.” “Sorry Phil, mine’s a 36 incher,” I replied smugly. I almost felt sorry and took pity on his sad face. If you’re thinking that drag into the house sounds familiar this is why. It was EXACTLY like that!
Phil always made out (jokingly) his mother-in-law was an old bat. To further illustrate this point he actually went out and bought a spinning bat. He’d tie it to the light fitting, get it going then shout out, “Shirley, look, it’s your mum.” I’ve never seen someone laugh so much and it was the same every one of the 379 times I saw him do it. He was exactly the same with the singing Billy Bass on the board. He’d play it continuously until the children were eventually fed up with it. Bearing in mind they were 3 and 6 at the time so could watch programmes on repeat forever. That’s how often he played it.
So that’s it, that’s Phil. A child in a man’s body with absolutely no filter and a big heart. He loved his family, his friends and the cats. In return we all loved him back. Rest in peace and enjoy the whiskey, card games and golf wherever you are. We miss you. x
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