Posted by Thersites on  UTC 2016-06-19 06:54

Whispers from the tube

Some years ago I succumbed for a few weeks to the cheerful hobby of collecting 'last words'. That phase didn't last long: the really interesting, perceptive or amusing last words are at best scarcely verifiable, but more usually quite obviously made up to fit the moment.

The game 'Last Breath Whispers' also leaves much scope for mishearing and misunderstanding, all gurgles and croaks resolved and improved in the mind of the hearer. Steve Jobs is supposed to have said 'Wow! Wow! Wow!' as he shuffled off his coil. Many fanbois think this utterance remarkably deep, indicating an immediate entry into Heaven that deservedly bypassed the purgatorial formalities that others have to suffer. However, we Windows users suspect – hope – it was 'Ow! Ow! Ow!'.

Modern medicine cares little for last words, preferring to have the corpse-to-be well out of it – on a 'pathway' the doctors call it; downhill and over a cliff in the patient's experience – leaving no time for grumbling, bothering busy staff and upsetting fellow patients.

If you wait until this point to express your last words you will be disappointed. You will have tubes in every orifice and your dentures will have found their way into the bag marked 'Patient's Belongings' weeks before. Since your carers have been denying you fluids for days your tongue will be scraping noiselessly against the sandpaper of your palate and will be useless for communication. No dentals, no sibilants, no labials, the odd fricative and otherwise just grunts and wheezes.

Christopher Hitchens said he would stay off the terminal meds so that he could experience dying directly. There is so much wrong with this idea that I'm not going to discuss it further, except to say that whatever last words he managed were probably the same as those of Steve Jobs.

Be prepared, you never know

Although friends, relatives, loved ones and medical professionals are bad enough at mangling your last words, I certainly don't want to leave the task of recording my last words to the first traffic policeman on the scene:

  • The driver of the Fiat 500 stated that 'I wish I had followed the Highway Code and observed the three step rule (mirror, indicator, mirror) before pulling out into the fast lane'.
  • No I will bloody well not blow into your bloody tube!
  • That bastard in the red Audi that showed him! I hope he's dead!

So give some thought to your last words. You really should not leave them in the hands of fate, the medical profession or passing helpers. Take no chances, I say, and write them down. Written takes precedence over oral, leaving you free to express yourself more freely at the hour of departure, when your spirit is 'pluming for flight'.

Be prepared: in order to ensure accuracy of expression at that critical point in life, death, I now carry a 'last words card' in my wallet.

In case of death, these are my last words:

The words themselves change from time to time as my mood changes. Currently I have:

I am an atheist. May the Pope, the Lord High Moderater of the Kirk of Scotland and that thicko wimp Justin Welby all rot in Hell!

Don't forget to sign it. Oh, and always make sure that there is only one card in existence at any one time. Statements from long ago that are still kicking around could also lead to misunderstandings: 'I hope I'll meet that Jimmy Savile', 'I did not have sex with that woman'.

Profanities are best avoided. They have their place in some situations but death is not one of them: polite gatherings will never get to hear your last words. Teasers in a trembling hand are risky: 'Madeleine McCann was...' may lead to defaced headstones and repeated exhumations.

Last words matter

The brutal murder of the Member of Parliament for the Batley and Spen constituency, Jo Cox, showed us once again how important last words are to those left behind. The MP had been stabbed, shot and kicked multiple times. Her assistant, Fazila Aswat, was trying to get her to stand up (that must be in the same First Aid manual that advises aiders to slap the patient's face and tell them to keep awake).

We are told that her last words as heard by her assistant and retailed to the press by her father, Ghulam Maniyar, were: 'My pain is too much'.

Leaving all consideration of his lack of idiomatic language skills to one side, I'm not too sure that Ghulam is a terribly reliable conduit for last words, despite being very quick off the mark to offer himself as the spokesman for his daughter – which is in itself rather odd behaviour.

Most news outlets, realising that no English speaker would say that, reworked it into something more idiomatic, which shows their lack of reporting integrity.

Given Ghulam's shadybackground in the Muslim burial business we would prefer a more reliable witness. We shall have to wait until Fazila is able (=allowed) to tell us what was really said.

Offensive? Absolutely!

Is all this posthumous humour involving Batley's recently dead MP tasteless, even offensive?

Probably, but nowhere near as tasteless as ignoring the rank odour that rises from the political sewer that runs through the town of Batley. Nowhere near as offensive to the senses as the town's new viral video celebrity, who, we learn, never bothered to keep records of who was shoved into which overflowing hole in his 'cemetery', or even to follow such infidel practices as keeping accounts.

Consequences? So far, none. And after this latest grandstanding over the dead MP's last words, he is probably even more untouchable.

So when you are weeping over the pathos of Ghulam's interview, remember to keep a tight hold on your nose. You're in Batley now.

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