When friend and fellow Cómpeta dweller Eileen Bush invited my wife and I to her wake we were somewhat taken aback but not really surprised. She went on to explain that her 80th birthday was approaching, but rather than celebrating it she was going to hold and attend her own wake.
Eileen had been making her will and funeral arrangements when the idea came to her. We laughed, put the date in our diary and looked forward to it. Eileen is one of those people who laughs in the face of adversity and can often be seen walking to her villa on the edge of the town slowly but steadily, walking-stick in hand despite being in pain from her knees, back, in fact it would probably be quicker to list the problems she does not have! Eileen would be the first to admit that she has seen the interior of hospitals far more then she would have liked.
The first that I was aware that the local press had latched onto the story was when I saw Eileen's husband Michael and his Daughter Judy on the day of the party. They told me that they were on their way to buy some Spanish newspapers as Eileen was on the cover. I asked which and they said Malaga Hoy and Sur. Sure enough I looked on the Malaga Hoy website and there was Eileen smiling as usual.
I read the article and was somewhat taken aback to learn that amongst other jobs and owning a boutique Eileen had worked at the Hard Rock Café. Somehow I could not see her wearing a t-shirt and cap but I thought, you can't judge a book by it's cover.
That evening we entered the location of the wake, the Hotel Balcon, unusually for us we were early. The Balcon is one of Eileen's favourite places in the town and, like many of us, where she and Michael stayed when they first came to Cómpeta.
We walked down the steps to the ballroom to be greeted by a bevy of reporters and photographers. One, clutching a microphone asked if we would not mind re-entering the ballroom once there were a few more people so that we could be filmed. We approached a board displaying a seating plan. The tables were all named after significant places in which Eileen had lived such as Brighton, Liskeard, Dunstable and of course Cómpeta where Eileen had placed herself (later explaining that her present place of residence is where she has been happiest). So after our cue to walk back in again we did so saying “rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb” and trying hard not to laugh as we walked towards the camera following strict instructions not to look at it.
After a drink at the bar we all sat down at our tables; Eileen was nowhere to be seen. A humanist minister then called us to order and asked that the reporters and cameras move towards the back of the hall and then gave a eulogy about Eileen detailing her life and achievements one of which was a much enjoyed career working at Harrods, not as Malaga Hoy had reported the Hard Rock Café. I should have known something was amiss when the same article stated that the entertainment that night was to be provided by Darry Marx. I knew this was wrong as Eileen had chosen neighbour and local crooner Barry Marx to sing at the wake.
At the end of the eulogy we were asked to stand to toast Eileen; as we stood a curtain was thrown aside and there was Eileen standing in front of an open coffin proclaiming “I'm not dead!” before thanking her friends and family for coming.
The evening proceeded with the meal; it was very disconcerting eating my tropical fruit cocktail with a TV camera pointing at me. This is what it must be like being famous I pondered, before pondering some more about the cash and glamorous lifestyle and deciding that, sod it I would happily be filmed eating my dinner in return for that.
An early request from Eileen was Sinatra's 'My Way' and Barry (Darry) gave a fine rendition. A few of decided that 'Come on Eileen' by Dexy's Midnight Runners would be a good and somewhat appropriate party song, so I connected to the hotel's WIFI with my phone and found the song on Spotify. We plugged into Barry's sound system and soon Eileen and many guests were on the dance floor singing and dancing to the 80s classic song.
By the time the main courses were being served the press had drifted away their story secure and ready to be published. Eileen confessed she had been surprised by all the media attention and had found it all a bit overwhelming. It was a fun night and not in the slightest bit morbid, so thanks to Eileen and her family for making it so.
A video on the El Mundo web site is just one of many reports of the party on the internet. http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2013/02/10/andalucia_malaga/1360489939.html
I can be seen with my wife and a friend looking at the seating plan near the beginning of the video. No we were not acting and if it looks like I have a bald patch on the back of my head I can assure you it is just a trick of the light.
Latter news of the story has spread to the UK with an item in the Daily Mirror newspaper and an exclusive in a magazine. I am just pleased to say that I knew the famous Eileen before her wake!