more obituaries

July 25, 2006

As an avid reader of obituaries (preferably other people’s) I noted these highlights from today’s crop.

– John Macsween, who died on July 12 aged 66, was an entrepreneurial Scot who made a considerable mark on the haggis market. He invented yhe world’s first meat-free haggis, using lentils, mushrooms and carrots instead of the usual lamb, beef and ox-intestine casing. This slightly risky venture – some thought the product a contradiction in terms – paid off; it now accounts for up to 25 per cent of the Macsween turnover.

– Reuben Falber liaised with KGB officials from the Soviet Embassy in Kensington, who would rendezvous with him at Hampstead Heath or Barons Court Tube station, where they would hand him bundles of used sterling notes in shopping bags. The cash, sums ranging from £10,000 to £50,000, would be stashed in the loft of Falber’s bungalow in Golders Green.

– ES Turner was a prolific writer whose books included What the Butler Saw (1962), which surveys 250 years of the servant problem and prompted P. G. Wodehouse to say that it was “a book which goes on a special shelf in my library”. Here one learns, for example, of the desirability — evinced in one contemporary manual — that a wet nurse’s “full, round and elastic” breasts should have “erectile and firm” nipples (what’s more, such lactic sustenance was to be generated by varieties of beer at set times from 11 in the morning until 10 at night); A History of Courting (1964), which notes that Eisenhower telephoned his future wife 15 times the day after he met her and cites George Jean Nathan’s remark of his choice of bride that he had now found a brand of beer he liked and so was going to work in the brewery. As for one London hotel, it was said that a plaque should be put up to the women who had fallen there during the Great War.

– When the Cambodian Government launched a strong attack on the Khmer forces, Ta Mok fled into the jungle, taking Pol Pot with him. The circumstances of the Khmer leader’s death in April 1998 have remained something of a mystery. After his body was unceremoniously burnt, Ta Mok exulted over the remains of his old chief, declaring him to be “nothing more than cow dung”, and adding gratuitously: “Actually cow dung is more useful because it can be used as fertiliser.”


Steadily, however, photographer Harry Shunk became more and more reclusive, disdaining to respond to publishers’ letters and refusing large offers of money for shots from his archive. He had a fierce temper, was often curmudgeonly and enjoyed breaking friendships.

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