Minnie had chosen well in Potcap. Everything went according to plan. Aloysius Batlip supplied a tiny cadet named Vig, who scurried among the mourners with the funeral schedule, ticking off the names, logging the times, counting the animals, and ensuring that Minnie’s wishes were met to the letter.
As she had expected, the Reverend Chew’s sermon was the centrepiece of the funeral. His ovation lasted for thirteen and three quarter minutes. He stood poised in the pulpit of the Gravelflap auditorium, and as the rustle of applause finally died, he peered over his sinister spectacles at the twenty-six mourners, cleared his throat, and began to speak.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in memory of Lars Talc. How can I, in my treacly voice, do justice to the memory of such a man? I could tell you the story of his life, but he was ninety-four, and it would take days, even weeks, to recount even the merest essentials. Were I to pick only selected, epiphanic incidents – the reinvention of bleach, the ascent of the mountain at Hoon, a fist-fight with a bus conductor, the creation of the postage stamp zoo – I would be imposing on the memory of his life a partial, fragmentary view which would be irreconcilable with the mighty genius he was. It will not do. What, then? It has been suggested to me that I could sing all one hundred and fourteen works from his magisterial songbook. But how could my puny, fluting tones equal the bliss of hearing Talc perform them himself? And, thanks to Minnie, we have the tape recordings. No, a recital by me would be quite, quite unendurable. How to get the measure of the man? Take you on a tour through his wardrobe? Read snatches from his books? Tell childhood anecdotes? Bluster? Gabble? Gibber? Hold up his example as a paragon of what it means to be a Finn? To be human? None of these will suffice.
“So let me say this. He owed me a great deal of money. He was covered in dust. He couldn’t tell the difference between a heron & a moorhen. He never learned the rules of ice hockey. He was often plagued by mysterious boils. He had a scar on his left shin. He confused the different metallic elements. His hair was often unkempt. He set fire to a Bible. His pigs were neglected. Adept at ping pong, he weighted his bat. He once suffered from scrofula. His tent had many holes. He never wore a hat. His gas bills drove him crackers. He spoke umpteen languages. His mother told me he was terrified of swans. Geology was beyond him. He hankered for doilies. He counted toads. His bath was made of tin. His first marriage was disastrous. He could not ride a bicycle. He spat out mayonnaise. He avoided paying for hotel rooms by clambering down fire escapes. Once he built his own bridge. He burned himself in effigy. He loved to eat turnips. He often drooled. His thumbs were deformed. Rust and rime engaged his attention. He was much travelled. He designed his own pen-nibs. He kept a photograph of Ricardo Montalban in his bureau. His eyesight was atrocious. Candles have been lit for him. His credentials were spotless. He punched a fishmonger. He gutted huts. Linctus slithered down his throat. He owned dozens of fret-saws. He thought the moon was his lover. In Didcot he wept. He fed flamingos with cream crackers. In certain circles his name was mud. He kept his gutta-percha in a gunny sack. The sight of geese made him anxious. He smoked cheroots. He re-counted toads. He held aloft a blubber-lantern on the banks of a duckpond. His saliva was bitter. Taxes were levied upon him. He had a zest for crumpled things. In parks he pondered. He bit his fingernails. He chewed spinach. At a pinch he would talk for hours on the subject of straw. He wiped his bottom with leaves. He wrote a book about gnats. He mumbled through a tube. Things dangled from the ceiling of his boudoir. He lost on the horses. He wrapped a tortoise in blankets. As a youth he survived on crusts. His father painted difficult maps. Often he behaved like a madman. Twigs and branches fell unremarked in his garden. Rowing held no allure for him. He dabbed at his brow with ointments. He was fond of cormorants. He coaxed mice from their nooks. He was knocked down by a runaway bus. Clods of earth surrounded him. He could be petulant. He strained things in a muslin net. He pulverised a diving board with his bare hands. Morse code baffled him. He nearly became a marine. He moved his arms towards the lake. Under a cow tower he looked at planks. He overcame his stutter. His sheep had worms. He crossed himself. He played at bagatelle. He spied a crocus. He fainted. He snored. He panted. He sprayed. His stomach. His hearing aid. His cuffs. His gristle. His sponge. His batteries. His hardship. His chutney. His paths. His windows. His calcium. His rudders. His vinegar. His seeds. His nettles. His sores. His stool. His plastic. His incandescence. Autumn. Shipwreck. Curtains. Exile. Frost. Balconies. Pandaemonium. Hedgerows. Banisters. Carpets. Hinges. Remembrance. Hair. Custard. Dribble. Fanfares. Dampness. Bauxite. Trousers. Canals. Boskage. Lasciviousness. Tunics. Spigots. Iron. Lint. Cranks. Floozies. Doppelgangers. Tin. Bales. Agony. Loss. Lust. Love. Crack. Bang. Crunlop. Lars Talc is dead.”