Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Man Who Lives in the Woods

The man who lives in the woods knocked on the door yesterday. He is of a type that's becoming rare in Kent now; born and bred in the countryside, with a grizzled face, an ancient cap and a head-down demeanour, as if he doesn't have much self-esteem. He wouldn't be too proud to use bailer twine to hold his trousers up (but then, nor would I).

He had lost his cat again, and wondered if we'd seen it. Last winter when it went missing we managed to catch it and carried it back to him and his wife through the woods in the rain, in a recycling box.

In the course of the conversation he mentioned - diffidently, as though it might be of passing interest - that his wife had died last month. They had been married for 51 years. She hadn't been feeling all that well, but neither of them thought she was all that ill either. Then, one morning at breakfast, she said, "Hold my hand." And he took her hand, and she died.

Then he said something that rather took me aback. "I've buried her in the garden," he said. "My son is there too. That way I can tend them easy."

"That's nice," I said.

After we'd promised to keep an eye out for the cat and he had gone, I went online, and sure enough you are allowed to be buried in a garden. Or almost anywhere for that matter, as long as the hole is deep enough, and you don't affect a water course, and you have the landowner's permission, and the neighbours don't object. You don't even require a coffin, although you do have to keep a register saying which of your friends and relatives are buried, and where. But apparently having relatives buried in the garden may reduce the value of your property by up to 20%, and could put buyers off. Some people are so picky.

You can also be disposed of at sea, although only a dozen or so people in the UK choose this option every year, because there are Rules, and just tipping your loved ones off the side of the Dover-Calais ferry won't do. (I've never been comfortable with the phrase, 'burial at sea'. It conjures up an image of sailors with spades, vigorously shovelling seawater.)

The Social Secretary rather cares for a garden inhumation, although her suggestion that we put her on the bonfire first and then collect up the ashes is not such a great idea. Half the time I can't even get the hedge-clippings to burn, and if we had to relight her over a period of time I'd have to keep checking for hedgehogs.

I admire the funeral arrangements that Meg's friend made for her pet.


  1. I am planning on driving The Stud into the pool in his Jag when he goes toes up. Probably not allowed but I figure by the time the Council catch on, retrieval will be too late! Glug glug glug....

  2. I found that story quite touching... until you started with the funny stuff. My dad uses bailing band in his belt.

    I want my ashes scattering on Deer Hill. There are no deer there, so they won't choke on me.

  3. Archer - That sounds very rock and roll. But won't it give you a shallow end in the middle?

    Rol - I found it so too. I imagine the funny stuff is a displacement activity. Deer Hill sounds a good place to wind up.

  4. Are you sure he isn't Ted from the Fast Show? I've told Mr Fishwife to cremate me and carry my ashes around in the car ashtray, to remind him of me. Possibly with an old Gauloise butt for verisimilitude.

  5. Lucy, you're all class. In the (very) unlikely event that I'm around, may I smoke the Disque Bleu in your honour?

  6. He could declare his garden the local 'green cemetary' and start charging others to be buried there. Nice little earner.

    Seriously though - what a sad story - presumably he doesn't have much in his life apart from his late wife and missing cat...?

    What killed the son though? And surely you have to have death certificates signed etc for legal burials, even in the garden - else it is classed as illegal concealment/disposal of a body is it not?

  7. Famous for my classiness, me. As Mr fishwife is fond of saying, I scrub up lovely for a posh bird. Chuck us another bottle of Vouvray while you're up, just to spare me corns, there's a good lad.

  8. Laura - I think the garden is quite small. I'm guessing his life is pretty quiet, although there is another cat, and he has a surviving son. His son died of natural causes (I'm beginning to feel I'm invading his privacy a bit). And yes, you're right, you do need to register the death, which requires a certificate.

    Lucy - Catch..

  9. I've always had a hankering to have my body (preferably once it has died from natural causes at a ripe old age) laid on top of a pyre on a viking long boat, set alight by flaming arrows and set adrift down the River Avon to the theme music from The Vikings. Once I'm out of sight I want someone (Brian Blessed if possible) to cry "Odin!" at the top of his voice. Then canapes and cocktail sausages all round for the assembled throng.

  10. Because of "Ripe Old Age” (reminds of ripe cheese & mites) one ought to take a generous measure of "de-worming", preferably before hitting any neck of the woods or allocated compost heaps...

    The ashtray theory doesn’t appeal – might happen that one’s ashes finds themselves traveling cramped amongst other wives ashes joining en route...

  11. Foofy - That's some strong weed you've got hold of there!

  12. Steve - Now that would be a send off! Although the Co-op's 'Full Viking with Flaming Pyre' costs even more than the 'Suttee with Elephant' option.