I love inappropriate humour. To me there are few greater pleasures than having to stifle giggles at a time when decorous, ‘adult’ behaviour is demanded. The aftermath of real instances of accidental slapstick, especially the glorious way people attempt to regain their composure immediately after having fallen over (the best instance of which I saw being a pinstriped office-worker slipping in a spilled delivery of strawberry ice cream outside a branch of Baskin-Robbins in Marylebone: I defy anyone not to have roared as he floundered and cursed in a mountain of pink goo on the pavement), young children innocently swearing, or the simple joy of a good, old-fashioned, unseemly remark (e.g. Dr. Graham Chapman’s at Dachau): all are guaranteed to make me laugh.
But it’s very seldom that you find yourself reduced to gales of laughter in a cemetery. In North Sheen (aka Fulham New) Cemetery in SW London there is the most bizarre 20th Century epitaph I’ve seen, one which caused a fit of teary bemusement when I read it. Here it is:
Joan Winifred Keats
21.10.28 – 23.6.74
“For cystitis I was treated wrong
For more than three months too long;
Until cancer developed beyond control,
When euthanasia took its toll.”
The verse itself is bad, there’s no doubt of that – the last line in iambic tetrameter even recalls Butler’s famed Hudibras, the model of bad verse – but it’s the content that continues to baffle me. That this poor woman seems to have suffered horribly from a misdiagnosed cancer before consenting to a mercy-killing at the age of forty-five is of course no cause for merriment, but what on earth could have possessed her family to have erected this as a monument? It’s just weird. Did she write it herself and demand it be chiselled in to her headstone, an early version of Spike Milligan’s “I told you I was ill”? Is it even jocular? Am I being horribly insensitive in finding any amusement in this at all? Why else, though, would cystitis and euthanasia be mentioned? And such a bad poem being attributed to someone called ‘Keats’ is surely too much of a coincidence, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
Someone please tell me more. There’s a story here and I really want to know it.
Regrettably I didn’t have a camera with me at the time of my visit and I can’t remember exactly where the grave is – I think sections 1c 2c 3c are a good place to start but be warned my memory is a little hazy. I’m sure it was around there somewhere.