So, farewell, then, Keith Floyd. Others have celebrated your cooking and your maverick and disastrous lifestyle. It is the custom of dull people to envy tortured souls who hit the heights and plumb the depths. In truth, it was only sometimes fun being you. You taught us much, though, about what a marvellous thing the human spirit can be when unhitched from judiciousness.
While others celebrate the life, it behoves the Good Funeral Guide to celebrate the death, for here, too, Keith Floyd has much to teach us. He made it look easy. Enviable. We’d all like to go like that, with a bellyful of oysters and partridge washed down with a selection of fine wines. In the words of Rabbie Burns, “If there’s another world he lives in bliss; / If there is not, he made the best of this.”
He was only 65, his life shortened, perhaps, by reckless boozing and far too many fags. We can hear the lifestyle police, the virtue-riddled rectitudinous pleasure-poopers, tsk-tsk-ing as they do when almost anyone dies these days, as if death were a self-inflicted alternative to immortality, despite the fact that even the virtuous, some of them, die young for no good reason, as if death ever did reason.
We’ve never lived longer and we’re supposed to feel very pleased about this. The government takes great, self-congratulatory pride in it. But at what cost? If we follow the puritanical precepts of the lifestyle police there’s now every chance that our virtuous, pulse-nourished bodies will outlive our blameless, dementia-raddled brains by years and years and years and years of incontinent bewilderment. Are we living longer or merely lingering longer?
There’s a lot of talk these days about the good death. Why? Because dying has become so protracted and horrible. Because it’s never before taken so long to succumb to the illness that’ll do us in. As a result there have probably never been so many alive who earnestly desire to depart in peace, or whose death is earnestly desired by those who love them. Never before has there been so much talk about assisted dying. Never before has death been so feared—and for good reason.
Yes, we understand all too bleakly that our end will likely be a difficult rearguard action protracted by the helpful, often urgent intervention of brilliant medics. If you have spent time by the bed of a dying person, you know that keenly.
Keith Floyd’s life teaches us that the more fully we live, the better we die; that rather than eke out our days on a diet of self-denial we should use them up with gusto, in a spirit of recklessness born of an understanding that Reaper G is as likely to cull the good as spare the wicked; that we know not the day nor the hour. It’s death, dammit, that makes life precious.
Keith Floyd was felled by a heart attack at the end of a bloody good day. Among his last words were: “I haven’t felt this well for ages.”
For all that, the paramedics still spent a fruitless and possibly brutal 45 minutes trying to revive him.