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For our homework on 27th April we were asked to write a story about excuses. So I took one of the oldest excuses in the world and tried to breathe new life into it. Well actually, I used two of the oldest excuses in the world but the second one doesn't become important until the very end. I'm rather fond of the eccentric family I used to make my story work, though I have no idea where they came from and granny's behaviour is downright weird! But when did that ever stop me?

I'm rather fond of this story, though I think it might be the strangest one I've ever written.

That’s No Excuse!

"I’m bored," said my grandmother. "I think it’s time I had another funeral."

"What, again?" said my mum in horror. "It’s only been six months since your last funeral."

"Mum’s right," I said. "You’ll never get Uncle Alucard to come back from Whitby so soon after the last time. You know how he hates to travel."

Mum shuddered. "Perhaps that’s just as well," she said. "He gives me the creeps with those sharp, pointed fangs and that slicked back hair. If I actually had any blood in my veins, I’m sure he’d suck it all away given half a chance."

"Nonsense," said gran firmly. "He’s perfectly harmless. Anyway, he’s got a very sweet tooth and he only feasts on the blood of diabetics. Everyone in the family is perfectly safe, even the ones who do have blood inside them."

"I still think you ought to wait a little bit longer before you do it again," said mum. "Can’t you leave it until after Christmas? It would be a really good way to see in the New Year."

"No!" said gran firmly. "I’m having another funeral now and that’s final."

Mum says that gran got her taste for funerals in the 14th century when she got burned at the stake as a witch a few times. That’s quite ironic really because gran isn’t a witch at all. She couldn’t cast a glamour if her life depended on it. Mum has always done all the witching business in our family – though lately I’ve been helping her out a bit. I seem to have inherited the talent and I’m starting to get quite good at it.  I’ll never be as good as mum though. She’s had three hundred years more practice at it than I have so I don’t think I’ll ever catch up.

Mum has always been rather shy and self effacing, not a bit like gran at all, so nobody in the 14th century ever really noticed her when she was busy doing witchy stuff in the back room. And of course mum is very pretty, and gran is as ugly as a cow’s bottom. Back then everyone knew that witches had to be ugly. It was a rule. In the 14th century nobody really stood out as a deep or subtle thinker, so it wasn’t very surprising that it was always gran who got burned every time mum cast a glamour. After a while gran started to really enjoy it. Everybody’s got to have a hobby I suppose...

Gran had a wonderful time a couple of centuries later, when Mary Tudor started burning Protestants. Every time gran felt the urge come over her, she just nailed a copy of Martin Luther’s theses to her front door and then simply waited for the officials to come and collect her. Apparently it worked like a charm, every time. She could have had a funeral every day if she’d wanted to, but she didn’t believe in over indulgence in those days. She’s changed her mind about that in the last few years.

Once Mary was safely dead and her half-sister Elizabeth started burning Catholics in revenge, gran changed her habits and took to walking round the town telling her rosary beads and saying hail marys in a very loud voice. She seldom got more than half way down the street before they came to cart her away. Happy days!

But she doesn’t have to depend on such elaborate stratagems any more. If you want to arrange a nice burning funeral now, all it takes is a phone call. Gran is particularly fond of the council crematorium on Hesketh Avenue. "They do such a lovely fire there," she says, and she should know.

Gran is the matriarch of our family so of course we all have to do just what she tells us to do. If we disobey her she looks at us and none of us wants that to happen. I tried to put a glamour on gran once when I was too young to know any better, and she looked at me really, really hard. I didn’t enjoy that experience at all, so I’ve never done it again.

Nobody is quite sure how old gran is. She’s been in charge of the family for ever. When I was a little boy she used to tell me bed time stories about huddling in a cave while sabre-tooth tigers roared outside. You wouldn’t believe the nightmares those stories gave me.

Gran’s really good at knapping flint, so I’m pretty sure that her stories must have been based on personal experience. I’ve got a brilliant little flint knife that she made for me once as a birthday present. It’s the best thing I’ve ever found for sharpening my pencils. But knapping flints is a skill there isn’t much demand for these days. Great uncle Arthur says that gran has been moaning about that little annoyance ever since the Bronze Age. And if great uncle Arthur tells you something then you just know that it’s true. He’s completely trustworthy. After all, he used to be a king, though it all ended badly. "Country’s going to the dogs," gran says if you ask her about it, which nobody ever does because once she gets a good moan going it usually lasts for at least a week.

She got her way with the funeral of course. She always does. I quickly arranged it to her specifications. I sent out the invitations and we all assembled in the crematorium.  Uncle Alucard didn’t come, much to mum’s relief.  He sent me an email explaining that he had an appointment to get some urgent dental work done on the day of the funeral. All that sugary blood had given him cavities.

Gran looked resplendent in her coffin. It was made out of polished oak with shiny brass handles and it was padded inside with silk cushions. "What a waste of such a pretty box," said mum sadly.

"This is great," gran said in satisfied tones. "I do so enjoy having a funeral. It’s wonderful being the centre of attention. Are you all having a good time?"

Glen Miller played In The Mood through the crematorium speakers. Gran always likes a nice bouncy tune at her funerals and this was one of her favourites. She sat up and waved enthusiastically to us all as the coffin slid out of sight through the little doors and she banged her head on the lintel just like she always does. She never remembers that the doors into the furnace are designed on the assumption that the main participant will be lying down, which gran never is of course.

After she vanished from view, we all went back to gran’s house for a party. Senile cousin Maggie had brought a case of her home made elderberry wine. She used to be the Prime Minister, and she thinks she still is, so conversations with her tend to be monologues rather than dialogues as she tells you how she’s going to put the world to rights again. We only tolerate her because of her elderberry wine. She got a degree in chemistry before she entered politics and she still has all her practical laboratory skills. Her elderberry wine is guaranteed to knock your head into the middle of next week and stain your teeth bright pink. That’s why you never see Mad Maggie smiling in any of her Prime Ministerial photographs. Pink teeth are not a good look when you are truly blue.

Once all the food had been eaten and all the drink had been drunk, the party started to wind down. Everybody made sure to kiss gran on the cheek before they departed so that she wouldn’t look at them as they left. "Thank you for a lovely funeral," they all said as if they meant it.

"See you next time," said gran cheerfully.

The day after the funeral I went back to work. I’m a teacher at a very posh school. "I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday," I said to the class, "but I had to go to my grandmother’s funeral." I never lie to my pupils, that wouldn’t be a good thing to do, so I always tell them every time I go to gran’s funeral. However I have put a glamour on them so that when they think about my grandmother’s funeral they can’t count to any number greater than one. That way they don’t get suspicious about the number of grandmother funerals I attend, and they don’t ask awkward questions.

I’m beginning to wonder about young Stubbins though. When I told the class that I’d been to my grandmother’s funeral he winked at me and said, "Yes sir, of course sir. And the dog ate the homework plan you had for us, isn’t that right sir?" And then he winked again.

I’m going to have to keep a sharp eye on Stubbins...

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