Being an undertaker is the final nail in my coffin

3rd June 2016 at 00:00

Mrs Sorter solves problems. When a family is in crisis, she is the one who will manage and resolve the situation. When new playground equipment is required, it is generally Mrs Sorter who sources it, secures funding and makes all the necessary arrangements for its installation. Experience tells me there is nothing she can’t acquire, sort out or fix. Even my unusual request for a child-sized coffin doesn’t faze her.

Corpses come in various sizes so it’s important that we measure Logan carefully. His dimensions are 154cm long by 42cm wide. I relay this information to Mrs Sorter, who relays it to her contact at our local secondary school, who asks her to hold the line while she goes to find a tape measure. A few minutes later Mrs Sorter raises her thumb. “It’s ours for free, so long as we go and fetch it,” she says.

Having been a primary teacher for over 30 years, it’s fair to say that I have served the needs of the learning community with courage and dignity. I have abseiled off a building, had wet sponges hurled at me and stroked a tarantula. I have even paraded along Scarborough beach dressed as a pirate shouting, “Thar be gold hidden in that thar sand.”

But this is the first time I’ve marched down the corridors of a school carrying a coffin.

It’s a prop for our summer production, but it looks realistic, which makes it quite surprising that we attract so little interest.

A boy outside his classroom fumes about injustice but pays us no attention. A girl holds a door open for us but declines to comment. A third child – loitering between somewhere and somewhere else – can barely be arsed to raise a disdainful eyebrow. As we pass through the busy foyer, my humming of Chopin’s The Funeral March is met with indifference.

In the car park, I cry in desperation, “A hearse! A hearse! My kingdom for a hearse.” Not because it is the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, but because, after several infuriating attempts, I still can’t find a way to get five-and-a-half feet of coffin plus two adults into one small hatchback.

If Mrs Sorter agreed to travel inside the casket, the problem would be solved, but unfortunately a fear of confined spaces gets in the way of her reputation and she refuses point-blank.

Instead, she leaves me reconfiguring the seating for the umpteenth time and goes off to commandeer “a man who can”.

With the assistance of a passing caretaker, we eventually tie the coffin to the roof. A piece of old carpeting is placed underneath to avoid damaging my car’s paintwork. After several safety checks (and on the strict understanding that we’ll proceed very slowly indeed) we are allowed to go.

Our journey back takes us past a local authority care home that is under threat of closure. I imagine some rheumy eyes behind net curtains peering out at us as we drive by at 5mph.

“I bet those poor sods are worried that we’re low-cost undertakers,” I say.

Mrs Sorter doesn’t reply. She’s too busy thinking of a business plan.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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