Magazine article The Spectator

Farewell, Ray

Magazine article The Spectator

Farewell, Ray

Article excerpt

When Ray's wife died a couple of years ago, Ray lost the will to live. So at 56 he made a conscious decision to drink and smoke himself to death. You could go in the King Bill at any time between opening and closing time and there would be Ray, ragged, nicotine-stained beard, leather jacket, cowboy boots, occupying his own special slow suicide's stool beside the pillar.

Well, last week Ray finally achieved his ambition and went to join 'the missus', as he always referred to her, after suffering a fatal heart attack in bed. And for the best part of an hour last Friday morning the clientele of the King Bill assembled in the unlikely surroundings of the parish church 'to celebrate Ray's life'.

The King Bill is a druggies' pub, so it was more like a zoo, frankly, than a congregation. A good four fifths of the mourners were stoned. The rest - the usual suspects - had no money, and were anxiously scanning the other mourners for a soft touch from whom they could bum a smoke after the show. The church rang with coughing - in particular, that profound, bubbly, epileptic coughing that afflicts cannabis smokers, especially in November. The design of the pews made it impossible to lounge or sag, and it was odd to see so many stoned people sitting bolt upright in rows.

I sat beside Sharon, who was coughing with the best of them. (As she coughs, Sharon pokes her tongue out as far as it'll go and points the tip.) There'd been something nasty in the speed at the all-night party we'd left only an hour before. Whatever it was, it had given us both banging headaches and, in my case, a strong impression of being in hell. 'Ray would have been proud of us, turning up in this state,' said Sharon.

Ray's coffin was wheeled in, followed by a collection of Ray's relations, some of whom looked quite upset. There followed the type of funeral service the Church of England generously makes available, on request, to the relatives of those who live and die without giving a hoot about what comes next. We sang 'All Things Bright And Beautiful' to kick off, then we heard a highly romanticised account of Ray's life from the lady vicar. If only half of what she said was true, Ray could be the first person ever admitted to heaven on personal merit alone.

Next we sang another platitudinous paean to Nature, 'Morning Has Broken', then we had to listen to a crackly old tape-recording of Bob Dylan 'Knock Knock Knocking On Heaven's Door' that set the babies off crying again. …

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