Monday morning, 7.30 am: shower, shave, make coffee, check emails… write your obituary.
I’m sitting at my desk, two floors up, smoking a cigarette and staring out the window at a plump pigeon perched where it’s always perched, wondering why my father sold his guns rather than let me inherit them. Three shotguns: two twelve-bore, one four-ten – beautiful instruments of death – made in Birmingham. I could have had them decommissioned and displayed on the wall. I could have sat here, high on my perch, shooting flying rats.
It’s too early to be thinking about death, even if it might result in pigeon pie, so I turn on my computer, check my list of articles pending, and realise that I’m way past the deadline on a piece about obituaries. [Editor’s Note: This is absolute twaddle; I didn’t give him a deadline.]
We all want to be remembered after we die – if only for the crimes we’ve committed. Time was, posthumous recollections from friends and family aside, the best we could hope for was an ill-fitting eulogy, a headstone, or, if we really made the grade, a blue plaque on the wall of a public toilet. But that was then and this is now, and thanks to social media, where anyone with piss and vinegar in their veins can publish their life story, more and more people are pre-empting post-mortem analysis by writing their own obituaries.
And where there’s a will, there’s a website: from the ghouls who brought us funeral plans and free pens and TV adverts featuring smiling “dead inside” actors staring at the precipice, we can now – for a small fee, of course – have a professional writing service pull together the frayed strands of our misspent lives and write our obits for us.
Why? Isn’t it enough that we can now publish every vainglorious detail, every digital inch of our discrepant lives, without worrying what people will say about us after the joke’s been told?
Apparently not, but if you ask me, writing our final biography is nothing more than an attempt to prove, despite the weight of evidence, that we lived “intentionally” – that our life had meaning, that the propulsive undercurrent which dragged us from birth to death was somehow always under our control. Surely, that kind of thinking must be unhealthy?
Not so, says Psychology Today, because writing your own obit as a self actualising exercise can help transform your life. “One of the best tools for living a good life can be the announcement of its termination: the obituary,” says counsellor and mediator David Evans. “It can give you clarity, direction, understanding and a great sense of purpose. Every one of your thoughts and actions is moving your life in some direction. Even inaction is moving you along somewhere. Is it the direction you truly want your life to go? Keep constant watch and redirect yourself whenever you need to. This is one of the great advantages of writing our own obituary now, while we’re still in mid-life, or even late-life. We have time to re-direct our course, and veer away from the shoals of future regret. Think of your obituary as an aspirational guide for the rest of your life”
Well, that all seems morbidly clear – so here goes:
Leon Horton: A Life in Words
Leon Horton was born in Middlesbrough, which was why he moved to Manchester. From an early age he wanted to be a writer, or some such shit, and so shortly after his eighteenth birthday he signed on the dole and started drinking. Convinced he was destined to become a great writer and hang around in bars, Leon spent the next [insert number] years hanging around in bars.
After dropping out of college, where he jumped courses faster than a fat bloke at an all-you-can-eat restaurant, he moved to Manchester in 1989 and started wearing paisley shirts. It was a bad move. Paisley was on the way out.
In 1990, despite his due diligence and commitment, Leon was forced to quit the dole when he accidently landed a scriptwriting job with Humour Publications Limited. Working on an adult comic called Zit, which was by no means a blatant rip-off of Viz, Leon created such literary classics as The Ales of Beer Tits Potter, Hector Rectum’s Rectal Petrol Station and The Elephant Manager.
Unfortunately, under the Trades Descriptions Act, Humour Publications Limited had to remove the word ‘humour’ from their company name; and Zit Comic, which was in no way a pile of shit, was left languishing under the damp mattresses of many a teenage boy. Well, if you haven’t got a tissue…
But Leon was nothing if not… well, nothing. For he’d set his sights on the screaming tyres of Salford University. Unfortunately, he got in, and spent the next two years listening to lecturers who’d never worked in the real world, so that was three thousand quid well spent. Luckily for Leon, he had no intention of paying the money back – no, sir, not one fucking penny.
Passing out meant he sometimes didn’t go to lectures, so it was a bit of a miracle that he left with a degree – which is also called passing out if you didn’t know. Armed with an MA in scriptwriting, which could never be regarded as a pointless-made-up-money-spinner-of-a-course, Leon went on to experience his first taste of the film industry… when he broke his ankle trying to watch a gay porn movie. The film was called Black Sweat and isn’t as good as he remembered it to be when he last checked it out online.
Leon spent the next two years writing a radio play that nobody wanted to read, while chasing his real ambition of turning down a job on a soap opera. At a dinner party one time, he met an executive TV producer from Hollyoaks who thought Sherlock Holmes was real. Leon saw the irony in this. After all, there are people out there who think soap operas are real – and they’re not!
Having failed in his attempts to turn down a job on a soap opera, Leon went on to spend the next – oh, who cares, four years? – going from one dead-end job to another, loitering in public toilets, and getting ripped to the tits on heroin and gin.
In 2006, Leon found himself at Manchester Crown Court – but not in the dock, no sir, for Leon had landed a job as a court reporter. For what felt an eternity, Leon wore a thin suit, an even thinner smile and a hole in his trouser pocket.
It was during this period that, thinking it was a prank phone call, he told the American Embassy (and by proxy President George W. Bush junior) to fuck off – an incident he described as “the finest moment of my working life.”
Quitting the law courts, things looked pretty bad for Leon, but he never gave up on his ambition to hang around in bars. Then in 2011, suddenly and irrevocably, his life changed when the media finally showed an interest in him. But he pleaded not guilty, somehow got away with it and went on to discover that he was quite good at pretending to be a feature writer.
For the next [insert number] years, Leon wrote tens of articles for such prestigious publications as Lumbago Today, The Dirty Observer, Vera Lyn’s Eskimo Gazette (and its colour food supplement Whale Meat Again) and numerous other highbrow publications. At least, that’s what he told people.
Towards the end of his life, Leon became quite a good feature writer when he realized he just had to be slightly better than the torrent of drivel that passes for writing on the internet. As a wit, a bon viveur and a genial host, he was utterly useless… so he spent his time being an out and out twat.
Leon Horton (1968-[insert year]) died from [insert misfortune] on [insert day and month]. His last words were “Freeze me, freeze me, freeze me.” His best friend [insert name] asked to remain anonymous but described Leon as “neither heroic nor popular” and added that he didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Leon leaves no wife, no children and a bad taste in the mouth.
OK, so the magazine titles are made up – as far as I know, there is no such thing as Lumbago Today; though some mornings I wish there was. And if Vera Lyn’s Eskimo Gazette existed, I’d be an eager subscriber. But you know what? Despite my initial doubts about the merits of writing your own obituary, even in good humour, there is indeed a healthy sense of catharsis in mapping the twisting roads and dead-ends of your past.
I guess writing your own obituary isn’t just the egocentric revisionism I presumed it to be. And yes, I can see the irony in that given the nature of this piece. But hey, it’s my bloody life.
Oh, by the way. When I finally do dance away with the reaper, please note: I don’t want to be buried, I don’t want to be cremated… I want to be frozen, cryogenically preserved, to be pawed and drooled over by future cretins, like the savage in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going back to bed to rethink my life.