I was on a weekend away in the Cotswolds with old school friends recently. A medieval sarcophagus was standing outside the porch entrance to an ancient abbey, lid off invitingly in the late afternoon sun. Normally I would exercise solemn respect and walk on by. But on that day none of us were on our best behaviours and egged on by friends, I climbed in.
I stretched out at the base of the coffin in my best entombed knight pose, wrists crossed over my chest and closed my eyes. It was remarkably comfortable, the cold granite shaped supportively for the head and neck. I have been through a dozen pillows to relieve a stiff neck in the mornings, from IKEA’s best to John Lewis’s finest filled with Siberian snow goose down, and none came close. Their product teams could learn a thing or to from the medieval stone masons. Our ancestors were a smaller race, but it was not a squeeze in there. A bit tight on the shoulder width but almost made to measure. There was no sign of the previous occupant of course but I did have a feeling that I was not completely alone.
I was given a book recommendation recently by a Goodreads member who enjoys crime fiction and murder mysteries – Dead Simple by Peter James. In the story, a lad on his stag night is incarcerated in a coffin buried under ground in the Sussex woods. A prank or something more sinister? A great read but quite disturbing. For a more uplifting and touching story of a good send-off, it is difficult to beat the film of What We Did on Our Holidays where three children float off the body of their grandfather Gordie on a flaming raft, respecting his wishes to be cremated Viking style.
And as my old grandpa used to say, “It wasn’t the cough that carried him off, ’twas the coffin they carried him off in”.