Famous last words
The best of parting shots can be funny, poignant or plain despairing.
A TIRELESS and redoubtable campaigner to the end, Claire Rayner made sure her last words were going to have some impact. “Tell David Cameron [the prime minister],” she reportedly told relatives before she died on Monday (Oct 11), “that if he screws up my beloved NHS [health service] I’ll come back and bloody haunt him.”
Going at a goodish age and after a prolonged illness – as Rayner did at the age of 79 – does give one the chance to think of those punchy final words.
The writer Miles Kington had the best idea. In a series of letters – collected in his final book – written to his agent Gill Coleridge as his illness took hold, he said: “I propose that we should all be able to register our final words in advance of our death ... we should get over the difficulties of actually making it the last thing we physically say by setting up a simple, binding legal procedure to safeguard our final words, by ring-fencing them well in advance.”
That way, perhaps we could all come up with some final words as good as these: Voltaire (1694-1778) “This is no time for making new enemies.” On being asked to renounce the devil, on his deathbed. (Attributed)
Isadora Duncan (1878-1927)
“Farewell, my friends. I go to glory.”
Gertrude Steiner (1874-1946)
Just before she died she asked, “What is the answer?” On getting no reply she laughed and asked, “In that case, what is the question?” George V (1865-1936) “Bugger Bognor.” On being told by a courtier that he would soon be in the seaside town. Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) “Thank God, I have done my duty. Kiss me, Hardy.”