Wednesday, 5 January 2011

No good deed goes unpunished

Here's another picture taken at Painswick church. I miss these depictions of skulls and skelly-bones in English graveyards. If you tried to include any hint of death in a modern memorial these days, the parish council would forbid you - they don't even allow nick-names to be included in the inscription. After the film 'The Exorcist' came out, there was a famous and idiotic vicar who refused to baptise a child 'Damien'!

Being a general stone-carver, I have made many tomb stones in the past, but now I refuse to. They involve every sort of grief that it is possible to experience. When Cro knew me at college, I was young and cocky (now I am old and cocky), and went around proudly telling everyone that I carried out all my own motor mechanics. The result of this boasting meant that whenever someone's car, motorcycle or scooter broke down, they came to me to have it fixed - for free.

A friend of mine's 3 year old daughter tragically died some years ago, and he came to me to ask for a stone memorial, which - of course - I agreed to make. He asked how much it would cost, because he didn't have much money, but wanted as good a job done for his daughter as he could afford. I told him not to worry about money, as I would make it for no charge. How could I charge him?

The next thing I knew, his wife (who I had never met before) came round to discuss ideas for her child's memorial stone. The first requirement was that it should be made in pure white marble. I inwardly sighed, because I didn't have much money either, but said that this was no problem.

The next thing was that it should be in the form of an open book, with the details cut into the pages, and the book was to be set on a large, rough-hewn rock - also to be made of white marble. Apart from the quantity of white marble at around £300 per cubic foot, to depict 'rough-hewn' artificially involves - as you would expect - quite a lot of 'artifice'. You have to carve-in a 'rock of ages' appearance - you cannot just bash it about a bit.

So I bought the marble, made the rock and the book, and I carved the name and dates for the child in it, plus a short poem. Then they came to my workshop to have a look at it before I set it at the churchyard (also free of charge).

It was lovely, they said, but a bit plain. Now they wanted a full sized angel in the form of a child, made in white marble, leaning over the book and pointing at the name with an outstretched finger. Oh, and they wanted it as soon as possible, because the child's grave was looking forlornly bare.

I inwardly swallowed, but - foolishly - did not tell them to piss off and buy one machine-cut from Italy.

As you can imagine, I mentally shelved the idea of making a white angel for the time being, as I had to do a few month's other work in order to be able to afford to make it at all. After about a month, the phone rang, and the furious voice of the mother was on the other end, shouting at me for not having completed the job. The last thing she said to me was, "I am having a hard enough job dealing with the death of my daughter as it is, and now having to pressure you into finishing the stone is making things even worse. You are NOT helping with my grieving process!"

Well, that was when I suggested that I install the marble book up at the graveyard, so that at least they had something to visit and lay flowers against, and we would come to the angel in good time. I guessed that - after a period of time - they would come to realise how unreasonable they had been, once the grief had subsided somewhat. He eventually thanked me for the work, but she never did. As far as I know, she is still blaming me for all the grief she experienced after her daughter's death.

So now, if anyone asks me to make a memorial stone, I say "I can't, but I know someone who can".


  1. Oh dear.... I used to have the same thing with "Could you do a portrait of our little Jimmy" etc etc... Difficult to say no.

  2. I would like to think that it was her grief that made her an ungrateful cow Tom. I can see why you gave up making them, a never ending demand when people are at their worst...not a great time to negotiate, and leaves you feeling obliged to do the honours for nothing.

  3. What a delicate situation. Good lesson learnt at least.

  4. it's during situations like these Tom, that I long to have my husband's quiet nerve. He has no issue just looking people in the eye and saying "No", leaving them to figure it all out.

  5. Ouch. But I like Jacqueline's hubby's style.

  6. I also liked Frieda Khalo's style. When a grieving mother of Frieda's childhood friend (she'd thrown herself out of a skyscraper) asked her to paint a memorial portrait of her daughter, Frieda painted her friend flying, her hair trailing through the wind, out of the fifty seventh floor.

  7. I could never imagine what the pain must be like to lose a child...
    all I can add is...take nothing's not about you.
    You were true to your said to them 'don't worry about money'.
    This was a wonderful and truly beautiful gift you gave them Tom.
    Thank you.

  8. Well, out of the whole situation I think it stands to say what a nice thing it was for you to carve the stone, out of white marble no less. That mother will probably blame you for her whole life's unhappiness, but you were very sweet to do what you did.

  9. Saying 'no' definitely gets easier as you get older. Eventually you just get fed up with people taking advantage. In fact these days I find it difficult to say 'yes'. A sad story though.

  10. I have had to practice saying the word "NO".. When you have talent like you have people will take advantage of you.. My oldest son was killed in a car accident and you know grieving is part of losing someone ~ but you never get over the loss..BUT you get on with living your life..
    THis lady was what I call greedy, very self-centered. Goodness to be,,Hopefully someday she will come to her senses and realize what a gift you gave her. She obviously knows nothing about how much something like this would cost.
    ta ta for now from Iowa USA

  11. Yes, I can say no to almost anyone these days - sometimes in advance. I loved the Frieda Khalo story, Sarah T - not sure about her eyebrows, though.