Death is one of my favourite characters in the Terry Pratchett books. He’s made many a plane journey bearable. I love the way He speaks in capital letters – and his macabre sense of humour. The wonderful description of him whirling Miss Flitworth off past her death while dancing has stayed with me since I read Reaper Man many years ago. I thought it was a great way to go (see the extract below). I love the idea of Death riding a motorbike too. I’ve always fancied going off to my funeral in the glass sidecar of the motorbike hearse they use around here for biker funerals. That probably has something to do with my mother banning my getting on a bike, warning me when I was a teenager that motorbikes would be the death of me… But nevertheless that’s what I want, along with Elvis Presley singing ‘Hey Jude’ and Colin Blunstone’s ‘Old and Wise’. Oh yes, and something from Neil Diamond’s Jonathon Livingstone Seagull album. And I won’t need the benefit of clergy. As you’ll see, I’ve got it all planned… death doesn’t frighten me I’d had too many near death experiences for that. I’m rather hoping Death himself will be there to meet me and take me for a spin.
So, when I stopped to post a letter and heard what I thought was a tank coming down the hill and it turned out to be an ancient land rover with a life size skull stuck on the bonnet, I could only laugh. The ponytailed driver waved gaily to me. I couldn’t quite see who was beside him but caught a glimpse of fluffy white hair.
When I got into my car ‘Old and Wise’ floated out of the speakers. And a lone magpie flew across the road. Crows were cawing all around. I couldn’t help but shiver. Omens of death.
It was no surprise, therefore, when I got home an hour or two later to find a message on my answerphone telling me that my 92 year old neighbour, who had been in hospital, had passed over that morning. Marge was the first – indeed the only – one to welcome me to this village when I arrived. I’d love to think Marge was in that land rover taking a last spin through the village she’d lived in since she was 4. She’d have loved that. Her idea of fun even at her advanced age was to go careering after the local hunt (something on which we agreed to differ! I’m with Oscar Wilde on this one, which doesn’t endear me to the folks around these parts.). I fancied Marge had been on her way to follow the Wild Hunt, riding like the Valkyrie she was.
Marge’s mother, who was blind, was the village mid- and death-wife, lived in my house and is still here, helping out with the healing from time to time. Marge liked that when I told her – she was a stalwart of the village church but hadn’t lost her belief in departed spirits keeping an eye on those who were left behind. It’ll be interesting to see whether Mum stays now her daughter is no longer next door. I do hope so, she’s been a comfort to many.
I’d say rest in peace Marge but I don’t think that’s very likely, she’d be terrible bored. Marge as a Valkyrie, or Marge on Death’s motorbike? Either is so much more exciting than being stuck in a grave in the churchyard awaiting the Last Trump. Wherever you are Marge, enjoy!
‘Death recognised the slow, insistent beat. It made him think of wooden figures, whirling through Time until the spring unwound.’
I’m surprised more artists haven’t taken up that image. Clarecraft Pottery did – the founders of that defunct but still wonderful institution now run the Ankh Morpork consulate in Wincanton. Such a bizarre juxtaposition of unlikely place and incredible content. I made an unforgettable visit there with Karma Kitty and had the pleasure of meeting the Librarian and Gerry, who made the Discworld figures, and the wonderful witches and wizards that preceded them. I still have a one of his Green Man figures that I bought at the pottery in Essex over 30 years ago. So it was a surprise to find him up the road as it were. Funny how the world turns in circles.
I found this extract on the internet. Enjoy!
I DON’T KNOW THAT ONE.
“It’s the last waltz.”
I SUSPECT THERE’S NO SUCH THING.
“You know,” said Miss Flitworth, “I’ve been wondering all evening how it’s going to happen. How you’re going to do it. I mean, people have to die of something, don’t they? I thought maybe it was going to be of exhaustion, but I’ve never felt better. I’ve had the time of my life and I’m not even out of breath. In fact it’s been a real tonic, Bill Door. And I -”
“I’m not breathing, am I.” It wasn’t a question. She held a hand in front of her face and huffed on it.
“I see. I’ve never enjoyed myself so much in all my life… ha! So… when -?”
YOU KNOW WHEN YOU SAID THAT SEEING ME GAVE YOU QUITE A START?
I GAVE YOU QUITE A STOP.
Miss Flitworth didn’t appear to hear him. She kept turning her hand backwards and forwards, as if she’d never seen it before.
“I see you made a few changes, Bill Door,” she said.
NO. IT IS LIFE THAT MAKES MANY CHANGES.
“I mean that I appear to be younger.”
THAT’S WHAT I MEANT ALSO.
He snapped his fingers. Binky stopped his grazing by the hedge and trotted over.
“You know,” said Miss Flitworth, “I’ve often thought… I often thought that everyone has their, you know, natural age. You see children of ten who act as though they’re thirty-five. Some people are born middle-aged, even. It’d be nice to think I’ve been… ” she looked down at herself, “oh, let’s say eighteen… all my life. Inside.”
Death said nothing. He helped her up on to the horse.
“When I see what life does to people, you know, you don’t seem so bad. ” she said nervously.
Death made a clicking noise with his teeth. Binky walked forward.
“You’ve never met Life, have you?”
I CAN SAY IN ALL HONESTY THAT I HAVE NOT.
“Probably some great white crackling thing. Like an electric storm in trousers,” said Miss Flitworth.
I THINK NOT.
Binky rose up into the morning sky.
“Anyway… death to all tyrants,” said Miss FIitworth.
“Where are we going?”
Binky was galloping, but the landscape did not move.
“That’s a pretty good horse you’ve got there,” said Miss Flitworth, her voice shaking.
“But what is he doing?”
GETTING UP SPEED.
“But we’re not going anywhere -”
The landscape was snow and green ice on broken mountains. These weren’t old mountains, worn down by time and weather and full of gentle ski slopes, but young, sulky, adolescent mountains.They held secret ravines and merciless crevices. One yodel out of place would attract, not the jolly echo of a lonely goat herd, but fifty tons of express-delivery snow.
The horse landed on a snowbank that should not, by rights, have been able to support it.
Death dismounted and helped Miss Flitworth down.
They walked over the snow to a frozen muddy track that hugged the mountain side.
“Why are we here?” said the spirit of Miss Flitworth.
I DO NOT SPECULATE ON COSMIC MATTERS.
“I mean here on this mountain. Here on this geography,” said Miss Flitworth patiently.
THAT IS NOT GEOGRAPHY.
“What is it, then?”
They rounded a bend in the track. There was a pony there, eating a bush, with a pack on its back. The track ended in a wall of suspiciously clean snow.
Death removed a lifetimer from the recesses of his robe.
Now, he said, and stepped into the snow.
She watched it for a moment, wondering if she could have done that too. Solidity was an awfully hard habit to give up.
And then she didn’t have to.
Someone came out.
Death adjusted Binky’s bridle, and mounted up. He paused for a moment to watch the two figures by the avalanche.
They had faded almost to invisibility, their voices no more than textured air.
“All he said was “WHEREVER YOU GO, YOU GO TOGETHER. ” I said where? He said he didn’t know. What’s happened?”
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