THE TIPPLING POINT | A Scot's Funeral is Merrier Than an English Wedding. Here's Why
Scottish funeral turns a wee bit merrier than the English wedding in the long run.
Photo for representation
Captain Colquhoun apologised profusely to the gravedigger Ault Taum for being late. He was swaying a bit on his feet. And was quite upset. “That is aw very well. But where is the body?” barked Taum, putting away his spade.
Colquhoun turned and looked at the crowd which had closely been following him. Most of them were Miss Jessy’s students. “Where is Jessy?” The question echoed and reechoed among the people who looked at one another stupidly. They tried hard to remember when they saw her last.
How could Miss Jessy be late for her funeral!
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There’s a popular saying — ‘A Scot’s funeral is merrier than an English wedding.’ Attend a Scottish funeral to understand what it means to be merrier. Whiskey permeates everything Scottish for many centuries. Including death? O yes, including death indeed.
The Scots believe that when a man dies, the immediate world around him gets a bit warped, tainted, poisonous. Especially food. So to prevent death from contaminating it, they would drop a nail or a pin into oatmeal, butter, cheese, or meat (so please don’t raise the roof the next time you get a nail in a biryani from a local eatery. They could be helping the biryani improve).
Whisky at the point of someone’s death would also change; it turns milky and yucky. Another Scottish belief.
So what should be done with something that turns stale at such homes? Dispense it away among the mourners in glasses as early as possible. Now you know how Scottish funeral turns a wee bit merrier than the English wedding in the long run.
The Scots would dutifully set up tables with food, pipes and tobacco for the mourners to indulge. Don’t mill around pointlessly. The whisky you look for is kept under the table. Do it discretely now as others do. After the prayers it rolls out aplenty from the cupboards. Toddy would be made in bowls for people who want their drinks warm.
Once everybody has a drink in hand they raise a toast to the memory of the departed. Then a second toast is made for the consolation of the family. Then a third is made for the bereaving friends. Then a fourth… hey, where are the neighbours? Rush them in!
Men, who were once hard drinkers, might have given specific instructions to their relatives on the point of death, to throw a fitting party at their funerals. Such wishes must be materialised or it will bring disgrace to the dead. The guests should depart only after they are well- replenished with whisky.
(Let me digress here a bit. We also have a ritual in some parts of Kerala, called vanmuri. On the 16th day after the cremation, relatives join together and offer full-fledged meals, chicken curry and alcohol to the departed. As the dead won’t come back to wet their whistles, the living, half-heartedly knock back the spirit. Relatives who wouldn’t have attended the funeral make it a point that they won’t miss the vanmuri for reasons obvious).
The funeral march to the church is another interesting Scottish ritual. The body is carried to the churchyard usually by hefty men of six in turns. If the churchyard is far away, the task is done in shifts.
One such funeral was that of Miss Jessy Colquhoun, a teacher of Angus. Her brother, Captain Colquhon decided to bid farewell to his abstemious sister in the most fitting manner. Whisky rolled out in mugs and barrels. So at noon, when it was time to take the body to the churchyard which was miles away, almost everyone at the house was swaying on their legs.
Six burly men soon took the body of Miss Jessy on their shoulders. The funeral procession began.
In Scotland, there are flat-topped roadside stones called Lecker Stanes where pall bearers place their coffins on their long way to the church. They could then recharge their batteries from wayside inns where they serve good whisky.
Three such inns dotted the way between Jessy’s house and the churchyard. Finally after four hours, Ault Taum, the gravedigger, who was waiting in the churchyard saw the funeral procession coming on unsteady legs.
Taum was at his wit’s end; he could get his first drink only after the burial.
So when the captain, the primary mourner got to the graveside, he was greeted by an edgy Taum. He wanted to plant the body of the teacher as early as possible. It was only when he asked him where Jessy was, the captain realised something was amiss. The poor lady was not with them. After some commotion, somebody said he last saw her lying on a Lecker Stane outside the inn they visited.
Six strong men were immediately sent to claim Miss Jessy back.
Jessy was properly buried and our language was enriched by the phrase, ‘being late for one’s funeral’.
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
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