FALLEN FRUIT

Music by Jeremy Avis and OG

with 300 local singers, The Shout and an army of percussionists, led by Giles Perring

Directed by Strange Cargo

 

A plea for the apple in all its 2000-odd varieties.

 

The sculptor Andrew Baldwin created a sinister apple crusher which churned through tonnes of slightly misshapen fruit. The smell was unbelievable.

 

Possible:

 

O     O

O Nodhead O

O Loop Wealthy O

O Withington Fillbasket O

O Black Mickey O Black Mac O

O Hog’s Snout O Lawyer Nutmeg O

O Lady’s Finger of Hereford O Flame O

O Gilliflower of Gloucester O Jennifer Wastie O

O Allington Pippin O Hagloe Crab O Bloody Turk O

O Acklam Russet O Alnarp Favourite O  Stark Earliblaze O

O Handsome Norman O Ramping Taurus O Slack-My-Girdle O

O Bastard Foxwhelp O Upright Redstreak O  Faversham Creek O

O Bascombe Mystery O Maidstone Favourite O Gascoyne’s Scarlet O

O Beauty of Kent O Greasy Pippin O Pig’s Nose Pippin O Bottlestopper O

O Bloody Butcher O Sussex Mother O Conkle Jonathan O Rival O Climax O

O Hoary Morning O Gascoyne’s Scarlet O Fred Webb O Sunset O South Park O

O Tydeman’s Early O Golden Knob O Mabbott’s Pearmain O Wanstall Pippin O 

O Lobo Arkansas O Minnehaha Kandilé O Reinette du Pluvignac O Murasaki O

O Fenouillet de la Chine O Kapai Red Jonathan O Dubele du Belle Fleur O

O Mela Carla Korobovka O  Violetta Zhigulevsko O

Gene Pitney

Crimson Cox

Peggy’s Pride

Polly Prosser

Scotch Bridget

Eggleton Styre

Tinsley Quince

Yellow Redstreak

Eisdener Klumpke

Bastard Rough Coat

Chenango Strawberry

 

Probable:

 

Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Royal Gala Royal Gala Royal Gala Royal Gala

Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Royal Gala Royal Gala Royal Gala Royal Gala

Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Royal Gala Royal Gala Royal Gala Royal Gala

Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Jazz Royal Gala Royal Gala Royal Gala Royal Gala

 

Braeburn Braeburn Braeburn Braeburn Golden Delicious Golden Delicious

Braeburn Braeburn Braeburn Braeburn Golden Delicious Golden Delicious

Braeburn Braeburn Braeburn Braeburn Golden Delicious Golden Delicious

Braeburn Braeburn Braeburn Braeburn Golden Delicious Golden Delicious

 

Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink

Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink

Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink Lady Pink

BLACKBIRD

Commissioned in bizarre circumstances for a choir created on the Blackbird Leys estate outside Oxford for a Channel 5 reality TV programme The Singing Estate. The series revelled in the tension between members of the choir and its arrogant upper middle-class music director. I was very cynical about the set-up, and I probably should have said no to the job. I visited the choir for the first time on a dismal November evening. Out of the 40-odd choristers who had appeared on TV, 12 were in the room. The rest of them, and the music director, had absconded with the cameras.

 

But to my amazement the choir regrouped with an excellent new music director Andrew Stewart, and made a very good job of the rather challenging piece I wrote them.

 

Download the score here

 

WE TURNED ON THE LIGHT

Two performances on one day at the Proms.

In the afternoon The Shout, a glorious rabble of amateur singers from London and Glasgow, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, the BBC Scottish Symphony, conducted by Martyn Brabbins

In the evening, The Shout, the rabble, The Huddersfield Choral Society, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson.

 

Lincoln Abbotts, Mr. Outreach for the Proms and the BBCSO, rings me: There’s a pair of choral proms planned for 29 July. The idea is to assemble a large rabble of amateur singers and make an intervention in each Prom. Am I interested in writing a piece for them? And why not let’s add a pair of posh amateur choirs, an orchestra and The Shout? I say yes of course fab wonderful what a privilege and am immediately overwhelmed with terror.

 

For comfort, I ring Caryl Churchill and ask her to write the lyrics. We have collaborated on several projects including a chamber opera Hotel for the dance company Second Stride. We talk about a poem we both like, a mysterious (medieval?) lyric that begins ‘There was a man of double deed / Who sowed his garden full of seed…’ and ends ‘…and when my heart began to bleed / ‘Twas death and death and death indeed.’ (I’ve deployed it in Sleeping With Audrey, for Ashley Page and the Royal Ballet.) So: catastrophic consequences from apparently innocent actions.

 

And Caryl comes back very rapidly with a lyric about climate change. It’s a whole lot more interesting than Al Gore on the same subject.

 

A further conversation with Caryl leads to the idea for the structure:

Part 1 – all the good news.

Refrain – ‘My granddaughter’s granddaughter….’ (an idea that first appears in Caryl’s extraordinary play The Skriker).

Part 2 – the good news + the bad news.

Refrain – ‘My granddaughter’s granddaughter….’

Part 3 – all the bad news, ending with a kind of typhoon of bad news.

Coda – the wonderfully sinister and ambivalent ‘The flowers are growing higher up the mountain.’

 

Three groups of singers: the posh amateur choirs, the rabbles, The Shout. Different parts, reflecting the character of each group. A relentlessly urgent piece, 160 beats per minute, no let-up.

A few hours after I finish writing the piece, I’m up in Glasgow doing a workshop with our immensely frisky Glasgow rabble, and beginning to teach them their part. Breathless.

 

We turned on the light

And flooded the city

 

We drove the car faster

And saw the dust blowing

 

We bought a new tee shirt

And turned the grass yellow

 

We ate cherries in winter

And heard the gale howling

 

We wrapped food in plastic

And saw the bears starving

 

We chopped down a forest

And heard a child choking

 

We doubled our output

And killed to get water

 

We flew to the sunshine

And saw the ice falling

 

My granddaughter’s granddaughter says to my ghost: I hate you.

My ghost says: Sorry, I’m sorry now.

My granddaughter’s granddaughter says to my ghost: Didn’t you love me?

My ghost says: Not enough. It’s hard to love people far away in time.

 

The flowers are growing higher up the mountain.

 

*

 

Score available on request

 

THE DEATH OF BUDDY HOLLY

Commissioned by David Temple for the Crouch End Festival Chorus

 

I’m very iffy about choral arrangements of pop music. You tend to forfeit everything that was good about the original. This was a reckless attempt to defy the rule  – a version of Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. It was written in commemoration of his death in an air crash on February 3rd  1959.

 

Download the score here

 

OPEN PORT

The closing event of Stavanger2008.

 

The choral invasion, directed by Roland Bréand, begins Saturday afternoon December 6th 2008 at 2pm. For the next three and a half hours, singing spreads through the city like a rumour.

 

There is a network of indoor choral performances throughout the city by all the thirty-five choirs involved, local and national. Each choir includes in its performance something it's never done before, something radical, unexpected, surprising.

 

Twenty messengers carry recorded choral music through the city, using boom boxes, customized luggage trolleys, speakers hidden in supermarket trolleys, speakers hidden in rucksacks, small speakers hidden in jackets…….travelling if necessary by car, bus, ferry, bicycle, skateboard, stopping in a café, on a bench, in a house, in a museum, in a shopping centre, making a journey which is perhaps very direct, perhaps very devious and playful. One messenger travels via the airport, leaving the boom box on the luggage carousel. One infiltrates a shop by bringing in a speaker hidden in a shopping basket. Dude messengers cruise the city in fancy cars, a mixture of choral music and hiphop pouring out of the car stereo. The aim of each messenger is to reach the harbour by 5.45pm.

 

Recorded choral music replaces musak in shopping centres and supermarkets and cafés, comes between the announcements at the train station.

 

A song is sent to hundreds of people by mobile phone.

 

Every hour, twenty singers with megaphones sing a call lasting about a minute. Every singer has the same material but they sing independently. They're like muezzins. They start spread out round the outskirts of the city and move gradually to the centre.

 

Waitresses sing. Bus drivers sing. Policemen sing. City cleaners sing. Cab drivers sing. Butchers sing. The absurd invades everyday life.

 

Gradually the singing builds in the city, moves towards the harbour.

At 5.30pm the messengers and the megaphone singers arrive at the harbour. There is a glorious cacophony of choral sound. The choirs have arrived and take their places on the stands.

 

At 6pm the event in the harbour begins. The Shout on two scissor lifts, the thirty-five choirs, the Stavanger Brass Band, conducted by Ragnar Rasmussen. Music by Jeremy Avis and OG. Amazing visuals by Phase 7, directed by Sven Beyer.

Watch a short film

 

Score available on request

Aerial shot of Open Port, the closing event of Stavanger2008
 

ICE

Performed by the Hertfordshire Chorus and Mike Henry

Conducted by David Temple

 

After making many forays into the Arctic, Captain Robert Peary finally reached the North Pole in 1909. On his final push to the Pole from Cape Columbia, he was accompanied by a black man Matthew Henson, four Esquimos - Ootah, Ooqueah, Egingwah and Seegloo – and thirty-eight dogs.

 

Peary wrote in his diary of his arrival at the Pole: ‘I have today hoisted the national ensign of the USA at this place, which my observations indicate to be the North Pole axis of the Earth, and have formally taken possession of the entire region, and adjacent, for and in the name of the President of the USA.’

 

The ownership of the Arctic region has recently become a matter of ferocious diplomacy. The ice is melting, and it seems possible that in the near future the Northwest Passage will open up to year-round shipping and that the oil and gas beneath the polar seabed will become available. Russia has already planted a flag, housed in a titanium tube, on the seabed directly beneath the Pole. Canada has assigned a post code to the Pole: H0H 0H0.

 

The lyrics of Ice are taken from Henson’s book The Conquest of the North Pole. Henson wrote of his time in the Arctic ‘I have been to all intents and purposes an Esquimo.’ This remark was the inspiration for this piece, which is little more than an elaboration of a traditional Esquimo (Inuit) style of singing, katajjak. Katajjak is a two-person conversational game in which extraordinary, sometimes dog-like sounds are exchanged with increasing intensity and speed until one person gives up.

 

The song Hold On was sung by Negro slaves escaping to Canada via the ‘Underground Railroad’ in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Score available on request 

 

RAKETENSYMPHONIE

A love affair between voices and fireworks.

 

For a large amateur chorus and The Shout, with fireworks by Steyrfire.

Music by Mike Henry and OG.

Directed by Tom Ryser

 

The relationship between the voices and the fireworks is much more varied and playful than usual – the voices lead, the fireworks lead, they flirt, they dance, they ignore each other, the fireworks terrify the voices, declare war on them, cheer them up……

 

Performed to a vast, drunken, benevolent crowd on the banks of the River Danube in Linz, at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2008-9.

 

Watch a short film

Scores available on request

 

DEAD HEAD

An oratorio about death

MC, vocal soloists, children’s chorus, community chorus, wind and brass band

 

with Rebecca Askew, Keel Watson

Conducted by John Hancorn

 

1 Before

 

MC: So. Death. Let’s start at the beginning.

Can you remember the moment when you first realised you were mortal?

Imagine. You’re seven years old. You’re eating an ice cream.

An elf comes to you.

He says There’s going to come a moment when you don’t exist.

And you say Come off it.

And he says Yes really. But I am in a position to make you an offer. I will give you eternal life in return for the rest of your ice cream.

And you say No way. I’ve only just started it. Don’t be ridiculous.

And you take another bite.

 

Seven

 

I’m only seven

Sweet sweet seven

I have no thoughts

Of hell or heaven

 

Grown-ups say

I’m in cuckoo-land

But I say

I’m like Peter Pan

 

I’m gonna live for ever

Here’s my never-never

Don’t mean to be clever-clever

But I’m gonna live for ever

 

Grandma died today

I’m sorry about that

(John Agard)

 

(The sound of a ghetto-blaster in the foyer, getting louder. It’s Terry by Twinkle. There is someone singing along, badly.)

MC: You’re twenty-one. The elf comes to you………

(noticing the sound from the foyer) Hang on, I just need to deal with this.

(to the rogue singer) Can I help you?

RS: What?

MC: There’s a concert going on there.

RS: There’s a concert going on out here.

MC: Well can you take your concert somewhere else? Thank you.

RS leaves.

MC: Sorry about that……

Anyway, the elf comes to you, and the elf says, what in the world do you want most?

A motor bike.

No problem. Big or small?

Huge.

No problem. This is a Norton Commando.

It’s a beast.

Hop on. By the way, you’ll need some insurance. Now, you’re twenty-one, graduate, unemployed of course……..er, it’ll be about £15K a year, you can get it slightly cheaper on the internet…….

But you’ve already ridden away…..

 

My Generation

 

I hope I die before I get old

 

Children shouting:

ena mena mora vitch

kissa nara vora vitch

eggs butter cheese bread

stick stock stone dead

 

MC: You’re forty-two years old. You’re not so sure if you know what’s what. 

The elf comes to you.

He says You know, it’s going to be tough getting older. But you don’t have to. For just £36 a month, basic tariff, you can stay being forty-two till you die. I think you’ll agree it’s not a bad age to be…… and you’re in pretty good shape.

And you think, £36 a month, that’s really not bad….

And then you think Oh no, how about when my partner’s 90, and looking it, and there I’ll be looking forty-two. That’s sick.

And you say to the elf, Thanks but no, I can’t take it.

And the elf says, Good decision, moral decision, generous decision. I saw your partner the other day actually, looking very good, not a day older…….

 

Internal Wrinkling

 

I drunk

of the springs

of immortality

I ate

of the fruit

of longevity

 

Longevity longevity

Just my kind of remedy

O what can be better

Than living for ever and ever

 

I sat

in a bubble

of eternal youth

Determined

never to be

an old wrinklie

 

The clock’s

ticking. So what?

Here’s to Botox.

Death’s a place

I don’t intend

to show my face

 

But what’s the good

of smooth skin

and eyes that twinkle

when you’re a hundred and fifty-eight

if inside your head

your dreams have passed their sell-by date?

 

You should have read

the fine print carefully.

What were you thinking?

No spring no fruit no bubble

can be held responsible

for internal wrinkling

(John Agard)

 

MC: You’re sixty-three years old. Your parents are dead, your friends are getting nasty diseases, and you haven’t been feeling that great yourself. It’s like being under sniper fire.

You’re in hospital. No one seems to be quite sure what the problem is.

The elf comes to visit, bringing magazines, Men’s Health….

And you’re pleased to see him, optimistic.

And you say Please get me out of here.

And he says Of course. I’ll try. But you know how it is…the cuts…..

 

No More Flowers

 

Here in this hospital ward

Taking things easy’s kinda hard

So much toing and froing

Who can say where who’s going?

 

Always someone groaning

‘Nurse! Nurse!

Always someone moaning

‘Life’s a curse!’

 

You feel you want to flip

But you can’t flip when you’re on a drip

Please please no more flowers

What you want’s your fading powers

 

Don’t mean to sound fiddly

But trust they got the right kidney

Please please not grapes again

It’s raining grapes and you’re in pain

 

Here everybody’s so busy

The pace of life is a hospital trolley

And you’re under no delusion

This could be your last transfusion

 

Who invited that priest I wonder

I’m not yet done, I’m not six foot under

But mustn’t complain, mustn’t complain

Good God, not grapes again!

(John Agard)

 

Children, whispering:

ena mena mora vitch

kissa nara vora vitch

eggs butter cheese bread

stick stock stone dead

 

MC: You’re eighty four.

You say to the elf Could I take advantage of one of your rejuvenating offers?

And the elf says Sorry, too late. I can offer you a lift to Switzerland………

And you say Hey, hang on.

And the elf says Come on, let’s talk about dying.

And you say Do we have to?

 

Pushing Daisies

 

Pushing daisies when I pass on

Pushing daisies from Beyond

Trust me, I’ll not cease from toil

When I shove off this mortal coil

I’ll be pushing daisies to the sky

Pushing daisies grandpa’s style

What’s that, did you say die?

 

I’ll pop me clogs

I’ll croak with the frogs

I’ll kick the bucket

Yes, I’ll snuff it.

 

I’ll cash in me chips

I’ll cross the River Styx

I’ll go Boothill, if I must,

Yes, I’ll bite the dust.

 

I’ll sing me a swan song

I’ll ring the curtain down

I’ll meet me Reaper

Yes, I’ll meet me Maker.

(John Agard)

 

(Sometime around here, the rogue singer barges in to the auditorium, apologises, and goes out again.)

 

MC: First celebrity death of the evening. 400BC. Athens. The philosopher Socrates has been on trial for sedition and corrupting the city’s youth - and sentenced to death by the poison hemlock. He is on his deathbed. And he says:

 

The Death of Socrates

 

Now it is time we were going, I to die and you to live.

Which of us has the happier prospect is not known.

(Socrates)

 

Competitive Haiku

 

Skylark

sings all day,

but all day not long enough

(Basho)

 

 

Moon in a barrel:

you never know just when

the bottom will fall out.

(Mabutsu)

 

Life is scary

death is scarier:

sing wei-a-la wei-a-la

sing

 

Cock Robin

 

Who killed Cock Robin?

I, said the sparrow, with my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin.

Who saw him die?

I, said the fly, with my little eye, I saw him die.

Who’ll make the shroud?

I, said the beetle, with my thread and needle, I’ll make the shroud.

Who’ll dig his grave?

I, said the owl, with my pick and shovel, I’ll dig his grave.

 

All the birds of the air

Fell a-sighing and a-sobbing

When they heard of the death

Of poor Cock Robin

 

Who’ll be the clerk?

I, said the lark, if it’s not in the dark, I’ll be the clerk.

Who’ll be the chief mourner?

I, said the dove, I mourn for my love, I’ll be chief mourner.

Who’ll carry the coffin?

I, said the kite, if it’s not through the night, I’ll carry the coffin.

Who’ll toll the bell?

I, said the bull, because I can pull, I’ll toll the bell.

 

All the birds of the air

Fell a-sighing and a-sobbing

When they heard the bell toll

For poor Cock Robin.

 

2 Mourning

 

MC: Second celebrity death of the evening. It’s 1959. February 3rd. The day the music died. The singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper have been killed in an air crash. We imagine the Buddy Holly fan club gathering for a vigil round the great man’s coffin. And singing this version of his final hit song It Doesn’t Matter Any More.

 

The Death of Buddy Holly

 

There you go and baby here am I

Oh well you left me here so I could sit and cry

Well golly gee what have you done to me?

Well I guess it doesn’t matter any more

 

Do you remember baby last September

How you held me tight each and every night

Well oops-a-daisy how you drove me crazy

But I guess it doesn’t matter any more

 

There’s no use in me a-crying

I’ve done everything and now I’m sick of trying

I’ve thrown away my nights

And wasted all my days over you

 

Well you go your way and I’ll go mine

Now and forever till the end of time

I’ll find somebody new and baby we’ll say we’re through

And you won’t matter any more

(Paul Anka)

 

(The end of the song is interrupted by the rogue singer singing along to Nice To Be Dead by Iggy Pop. O goes to remonstrate.)

MC: Please turn this off!

RS turns off the music.

RS: Thank you. What was that by the way?

Jo: Iggy Pop and the Stooges. It’s off Preliminaries. The bass player was….etc etc.

Yes, ok. Thank you.

To audience: Sorry.

Now.

Coffins.

Oak, mahogany, willow, or cardboard?

(Rhythmic ditty, which provides backing for the first part of the Undertakers’ Song)

 

The Undertakers’ Song

 

We prepare you to meet your Maker

You might be Atheist or Quaker

But we’re Your Friendly Undertaker

Our website’s open to everyone

Your Friendly Undertaker. Com

 

Give us a call before it’s too late

Why wait until you disintegrate?

You’ll be in hands that you can trust.

We value your ashes and your dust.

Our guarantee is for eternity

And it’s Buy One Casket Get One Free

Two’s company for a long journey

 

Our demeanour may be sober

But when old rigor mortis takes over

Give us a shout, we’ll do a makeover

We care for fading flesh as much as bone

We promise to restore your natural skin tone

 

We lay you out for your final rest

We ensure that you look your best

Well-preserved, well-groomed, well-dressed

Yes, final departures are big business

Someone’s got to do it, that’s how it is.

(John Agard)

 

MC: So, you’re dead, lying in your coffin. And the elf comes to see you.

He says Good news. I can offer you a very nice Viking funeral. Fantastic wooden longboat, really beautiful. You’re on it, in your coffin, nice and snug. We set fire to it, flames twenty metres high, and we float you out to sea. What a way to go eh? Glamorous or what?

Sounds good, you say.

Unfortunately health and safety are going to be all over us– improper disposal of a corpse, fire regs, hygiene, pollution, littering…… What we’ll do is to make a big deal of the fact that we’re recreating a longboat for a cultural history project, I think we might even get some heritage lottery money. Actually we could go for some Arts Council money too, put in a bit of Viking music, whatever that may be, do as part of the Brighton Early Music Festival.

Then I think we can take a leaf out of the Noble Brothers book, we’ll claim there was an accident, the boat sort of set itself on fire…….

And you say, Well, I don’t really like making Arts Council applications. I think I’ll just go for a simple New Orleans funeral if you don’t mind.

 

As Befits A Man

 

I don’t mind dying –

But I’d hate to die all alone!

I want a dozen pretty women

To holler, cry and moan.

 

I don’t mind dying

But I want my funeral to be fine:

A row of long tall mamas

Fainting, fanning and crying.

 

I want a fish-tail hearse

And sixteen fish-tail cars,

A big brass band

And a whole truck load of flowers.

 

When they let me down,

Down into the clay,

I want the women to holler:

Please don’t take him away!

        Ow-ooo-oo-o!

Don’t take daddy away!

(Langston Hughes)

 

MC: Third celebrity death of the evening. It’s 1997. A Labour government has just been swept to power on a wave of misplaced optimism.Lady Diana Spencer has been through a disastrous liaison with Prince Charles with whom she has had a son William, a disastrous liaison with James Hewitt with whom…… and a disastrous liaison with Dodi Fayed which has ended in a totally unnecessary car accident in a tunnel in Paris. The nation is in shock. Tony Blair, the new prime minister, is asked for his reaction to the news. And he says:

 

The Death of Princess Diana

 

Tony Blair: I feel, like everyone else in this country today, utterly devastated. Our thoughts and prayers are with Princess Diana’s family – in particular her two sons, her two boys – our hearts go out to them. We are today a nation in a state of shock.

Her own life was often sadly touched by tragedy. She touched the lives of so many others in Britain and throughout the world with joy and comfort. How many times shall we remember her in how many different ways, with the sick, the dying, with children, with the needy? With just a look or a gesture that spoke so much more than words, she would reveal to all of us the depth of her compassion and her humanity.

People everywhere, not just here in Britain, kept faith with Princess Diana. They liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people. She was – the People’s Princess and that is how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and our memories for ever.

 

(The singers gradually start to join in. When he reaches the words The People’s Princess, they take it up as a refrain, repeating it in an increasing agitated and finally demented way.)

 

MC: Now, another way of mourning.

1570. Perthshire, Scotland. The widow of Gregor MacGregor, beheaded by the Campbells, his head on a pole, laments his death.

 

Grioghal Cridhe

(in Gaelic)

 

Many’s the night, wet or dry

And in the fiercest storms

Gregor would find a nook for me

Where I could take shelter

 

I would rather be with my darling Gregor

Herding cattle down the glen

Than with the Great Laird of Dalach

And white silk about my head

 

When the young women of the village

Are sleeping soundly tonight

I will be at the edge of your grave

Beating my palms in sorrow

 

Obhan iri

Great is my sorrow

 

Jenny Jones

 

gp1: We’ve come to seek for Jenny Jones

Is Jenny Jones at home?

gp2: Jenny Jones is washing clothes

You can’t see her now

 

drying / ironing / folding

 

ill / worse / dying / dead

 

Jenny Jones is dead, is dead…….

 

gp1 What shall we dress her in?

Dress her in red?

gp2 Red is what the soldiers wear

And that won’t do.

 

Blue? / sailors

Pink? / babies

Black? / mourners

 

What shall we dress her in?

Dress her in white?

White is what the dead wear

And that will do.

 

MC: The elf’s reporting back from your funeral.

It’s been really great. Gorgeous ceremony….touching….dignified. Very moving speeches. People were really nice about you. No one mentioned how manipulative you were, how aggressive you were at table football, etc

There’s a great spread, gallons of drink, terrific live band. And now we’re dancing, everyone’s having a really good time. It’s cathartic, it’s celebratory, it’s somehow life-affirming.

And you say: Stop! Stop having fun! Turn the music off! Now!

 

Dancing and Wailing

 

(The rogue singer has come in to the auditorium with the ghetto blaster.)

Jo: Listen to this.

(It’s the end of Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Guns n Roses. The conductor and the MC are, despite themselves, impressed. They gradually join in, encourage the audience to do so too……The song finishes.)

MC: Yes, well, thank you.

(Ushers RS out.)

So, the funeral’s over. Tricky time.

And the elf’s back.

Good news. I think I’ve managed to get you interviews for heaven and hell. The heaven one should be fine. Very informal, workshop day – singing, harp playing, adoration……. The hell one is tough. You have to eat slugs and stuff….If you could just write a personal statement…… But don’t big up your good deeds, or your bad deeds for that matter, you’ll be rumbled, they’re really hot on that kind of thing…..

 

3 After

 

Coffee in Heaven

 

You’ll be greeted

by a nice cup of coffee

when you get to heaven

and strains of angelic harmony.

But wouldn’t you be devastated

if they only serve decaffeinated

while from the percolators of hell

your soul was assaulted

by Satan’s fresh espresso smell?

(John Agard)

 

Die Pussy Die (swinging game)

 

(Bolivia, All Souls’ Day:

‘They erect high swings, and old and young swing all day long, in the hope that while they swing they may approach the spirits of their departed friends as they fly from purgatory to paradise’ or

‘They swing as high as they can so as to reach the topmost branches of the trees, and whenever they are thereby able to pull off a branch they release a soul from purgatory’)

 

(Trying to touch a beam or high branch with the feet)

One to earth and one to heaven

And this to carry my soul to heaven

 

I went down the garden

And there I found a farthing

I gave it to my mother

To buy a little brother

The brother was so cross

I sat him on a horse

The horse was so brandy

I gave him a glass of brandy

The brandy was so strong

I set him on the pond

The pond was so deep

I sent him off to sleep

The sleep was so sound

I set him on the ground

The ground was so flat

I set him on the cat

The cat ran away

With the boy on his back

And a good bounce

Over the high gate wall

 

Die pussy die

Shut your little eye

When you wake

Find a cake

Die pussy die

 

Wingy wongy

Days are longy

Cuckoo and the sparrow

Little dog has lost his tail

And he shall be hung tomorrow

 

MC: So you’ve been lying there, underground, for a few days, or a thousand years, or something, and the elf appears. And he says: How’s it going? Did you get into heaven?

And you say: I don’t know really. It’s hard to tell. There’s not a lot going on here. I gave in my personal statement. I had a medical. They took my blood pressure, it was really low. In fact it was nought…….

 

What If

 

What if the afterlife

Is fiction, not fact?

You pass on and that’s that.

No Over Yonder.

No Afterlife to ponder.

Only six feet Under.

No soul to be weighed

Against the feather of  truth.

No Judgment Day.

 

But what if there is an Elysium

Yes, what if those Greeks got it right?

Elysium -  where the asphodels blossom

As you dance in eternal light?

 

But what if there is an Avalon

Yes, what if those Celts were spot on?

Avalon- where the paths are apple-blessed

And enchantment is all around?

 

But what if death is the end?

No eternity to spend?

No fire and brimstone.

No heavenly throne.

Only mortal flesh

Saying goodbye to bone.

 

But what if there is a Valhalla?

Yes, what if those Norse were on song?

Valhalla – where the roasting boars sizzle

And the mead keeps on flowing and flowing.

 

But what if there is a Rohutu

Yes, what if those Polynesians knew?

Rohutu - where the air is clothed in perfume

As you row your divine canoe?

 

Rohutu..Valhalla…Avalaon…Elysium…Happy Hunting Ground…Ancestral Sky-Place…Promised Land….

Fiction…fiction…fiction….

 

Paradise, Paradise, do you exist?

Paradise, Paradise, where do you hide your bliss?

Hell, Hell, can you show us a sign?

Hell, Hell, are you fire or ice?

And so we walk the thin line

Between virtue and vice

Balancing the risks

Between what if and what if.

(John Agard)

 

MC: And the elf, whose name by the way is Donald, the elf says:

 

The Unknown Knowns

As we know, there are the known knowns. There are things we know we know.

We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. That is to say, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

(Donald Rumsfeld)

 

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