Magazine article The Spectator

Farewell, Uncle Jack

Magazine article The Spectator

Farewell, Uncle Jack

Article excerpt

We buried Uncle Jack in the family plot in the City of London cemetery, Manor Park, east London. He joined his parents, William and Constance, and his grandmother, Rachael, who died in 1916 aged 78. There wasn't much of a turnout to see the old bachelor off, I'm afraid. Congregated on the Astroturf around the hole were me (£10,000), my boy (£500), my mother (£15,000), two of Uncle Jack's nephews (£30,000 apiece), and an elderly female neighbour who used to take him in a hot lunch now and then (nothing at all). The vicar, who must have been frozen with only his billowing cassock between him and the Arctic wind, kept it short. The speed at which he dispensed with the committal and then the Lord's Prayer raised the interesting possibility that in a previous life he was a horse-racing commentator. The lack of a respectful pause between his final 'Amen' and the first mourner legging it unceremoniously for the car, however, was not his fault.

Afterwards we gathered around two tables in a nearby pub. One of Uncle Jack's nephews was Uncle Frank, whom none of us had seen since he'd been ostracised by the family for reading the Daily Mirror at his mother's deathbed. Neither had anyone yet met the young woman Uncle Frank had bought on the Internet recently. We'd heard rumours, but disbelieved them. 'None of you have met Tanya, my Russian wife, have you?' he said, indicating the stunningly beautiful young woman standing beside him. That someone as young and attractive and apparently sane should leave Mother Russia to go to live with an aged reptile like Uncle Frank in a flat in Ilford was surprising. We goggled openly at her, while she looked humbly down at her glass. Even Uncle Frank looked at her as if he couldn't believe his luck. Someone had to say something, so my mother said, 'Do you like England, Tanya?' 'She likes my money, don't you, dear?' said Uncle Frank, patting the back of her head.

Although Uncle Frank has been excommunicated, it still behoved us to welcome his new young wife into the family, and to offer her our sympathy should she be aware of the enormity of her mistake. It wasn't yet clear, however, whether she could understand or speak English. …

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