Blog Archives: April 2009

Something to celebrate

Monday, 27 April 2009

A while back I blogged about celebrants. The essence of my argument was that people do not get to choose their celebrant from the range available locally because funeral directors, who like to hold all service providers in their thrall, do not offer them a selection.

Very soon they’ll have no choice. There’s now an excellent website which enables people to type in their postcode and instantly survey all the celebrants in their area.

Funeral directors: sit up and take notice, please! And hospices and bereavement officers!

Celebrants: register!

If you are looking for a celebrant, have a look. The website also describes the various organisations which train celebrants.


Friday, 24 April 2009

There are very few funeral directors in the UK with a web presence. Many of those who do fail to understand that the job of a website is twofold: first, to offer a relationship of warmth and trust; second, to proclaim capability and professionalism.

A good many undertakerly websites simply advertise ineptitude. Clumsy prose, wonky spelling and inaccurate punctuation reflect disastrously on a funeral director’s competence. It is a job which requires, above all, obsessive attention to detail.

Here is some text from the website of the hapless Samuel James and Sons of Birmingham. A roomful of chimps on typewriters could have done better than this.

Much of the work that the Funeral Director does is discreet and is not always readily apparent what duties care carried out. These include :- Service The Funeral Arrangements themselves can be mode of anytime just by contacting us. We can call and see you

The Arrangement and Payment of Fees and Disbursements relating to the funeral include; Crematorium and Cemetery Fees, Parochial Fees, Press Announcements, Floral Tributes, Hymn Sheets, Attendance Cords, Catering arrangements either at home, our Funeral Home or on external venue, plus any other detail requested by the relatives of the deceased. Where necessary a grove will be purchased and tees paid.

Thank you, Samuel, for Attendance Cords. They will keep us chuckling all weekend.

Sex and death

Friday, 24 April 2009

Today’s papers have enjoyed this story—the ones you’d expect, the funloving Sun and the _____________ (supply your own adjective) Daily Mail.

It’s a story which emanates, so it seems, from the Wales News Service, whose website offers this enticement: “Have you been betrayed by your man? Or did you get revenge on your love rat? Maybe something bizarre or funny has happened to you? Have you overcome tragedy or found love when you least expected it?”

It’s that sort of a news agency.

It’s a story which makes me pulsate with ambivalence. I guess she’s actually a very nice lass who also happens to be young and pretty. I fear she’s being exploited. I want to think the best.

But the image takes us to some pretty dark places. As does the caption in the Sun: Serious business … babe Louise at work

Space oddity

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

In November I blogged about EternalSpace, a “meaningful online destination that creates a personal connection with a loved one.” Back then it was at an early stage of development.

It’s up and running. You can now see examples of virtual monuments in what its developers call an “immersive, multidimensional landscape where well-wishers may sign the guestbook or use the journal to record experiences, thoughts, poems, and stories … Personal memorials at are peaceful, serene online environments for sharing thoughts or uploading photos and videos that celebrate a life for the days, months and years to come.”

You can choose your own tranquil landscape “that can be customized to reflect and honor an individual’s life and legacy”. You can buy “virtual tribute gifts, selecting from a diverse range of items including flowers, trees, candles, hobby and sports memorabilia, and other unique gifts that reflect the personality, interests and life of each individual … EternalSpace memorials enable family and friends, near and far, to have 24/7 access to a central place to share and preserve memories about the deceased from anywhere in the world, and to keep those memories accessible to others in the days, months, years and even generations after the funeral.”

Is it tasteful? Well, we don’t discuss things like that on this blog. Is it going to make a lot of dough for US funeral directors? We’ll see. Play with it here. It’s a delight.

EternalSpace is going to provide a bit of hot competition for MuchLoved. Or will it? On reflection, probably not. MuchLoved is free, ethical, technically wonderful and, simply, the best online memorial site in known cyberspace, to which no other memorial site can hold a candle. If you don’t know it, check it out. If you are a funeral director, tell your families about it – as the estimable Mr Armstrong does.

Bad taste is better than no taste at all

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Funerals are looking for a new aesthetic.

People are looking for new ways of memorialising their dead. Brooding Victorian monumental gloom is out. So too is the regimented eezi-mow municipal cemetery with its ranks of polished anonymous headstones. In rejection of these, people are presently opting for one of two diametrically different alternatives. Either they go with the eezi-mow cemetery but heap the grave possessively with all manner of garish grieving gew-gaws (to the ire of the mower and some other grievers), or they take flight and seek solace amidst the meadowsweet of a minimalist natural burial ground, where nothing, or almost nothing, marks the spot. The one is highly personalised, the other depersonalised.

People are looking for new ways of saying goodbye to their dead. The one-rite-fits-all approach of organised religions does not suit secular folk, and to them falls the necessity to reinvent the wheel and cook up a unique rite of their own, often in a very short time. Here, almost everybody favours a high degree of personalisation. Common elements include celebration, humour, informality, pop music, participation and a nice coffin. It’s interesting to note that the iconography of religion is now frequently substituted by the insignia of a football team. What existential statement does that make?

Funeral directors, most of them, cling to the Victorian aesthetic. They look increasingly anachronistic. As do their carbon-belching hearses and Russian mafia limousines. Time to move on, chaps?

Where things will go next is anyone’s guess. Observable at this stage is an intriguing yawning of class divides which, in recent years, seemed to have closed. Generally it’s middle class folk who choose to slumber amidst the meadowsweet and larksong, and it’s working class folk who, to the disdain of many of the former, journey through eternity beneath a burden of faded plastic flowers, soggy teddies and the tingle-wingle of a wind chime.

There’s no taming taste. Perhaps what we’re seeing here is not a class divide in the old sense but, rather, the victory of the will of the people over those who reckon they know better, those who would regulate them. The highbrows are at last finding the tide of democracy to be insuperable.

Take Richard Stone, for example. He is editor of the exquisitely posh Burlington Magazine, an arty glossy for those who know best. His beef is with the celebrity statues appearing in our towns and cities. “Every town has now got to have the local celebrity,” he says. “Fine. We used to do it with blue plaques. But now you’ve got to have a bloody great bronze. They’re not artistic – occasionally competent is about all you can say.”

Retorts Eric Woods, head of the fan club responsible for statues of Laurel and Hardy in Ulverston: “If you don’t like it, fine. If you don’t like Laurel and Hardy, fine. If you don’t like statues in public places, fine. Don’t look at it.”

Somewhere in between these two voices is the incomparably exquisite but benignly accommodating Brian Sewell. He says: “They don’t do much harm, except get up our aesthetic noses.”

Surely there are no value judgements to be made here, as in the matter of funerals. Is it not our democratic duty to be indulgent? Diversity is all. Let’s enjoy one another.

The Grim Reaper requests the pleasure…

Sunday, 12 April 2009

This blog is going for a few days’ holiday by the sea on its island home somewhere in the English Channel.

For the duration its thoughts will, unwontedly, be with the living (ie, those who have not yet died). But it undertakes to return in dead earnest.

Mortified? Then while away some of the time calculating when you are going to snuff it.

Find the Death Clock here, then ink in the date on your invitation from Reaper G.

See it and shudder!


Friday, 10 April 2009

It’s time to get rid of this professional fee

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

I’m off to buy a telly. I’ve done my comparison shopping on the internet (it’s what we do, isn’t it?) and (since you ask) tracked the cheapest to Makro. Good deals on just now. Get down there.

Would that I could do the same if I were shopping for a funeral—with some honourable exceptions. AW Lymn is one (their brochure is simply outstanding). Allcock’s is another.

It is useful here to compare the situation in the UK with that in the US. Over there, where funeral directors are far more rapacious than ours, they have, since 1984, been regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Funeral Rule. They must give you a General Price List (GPL) with itemised prices for goods and services. You can pick and choose.

It’s a good thing—up to a point. But there is one charge which is non-declinable: the basic services fee. This covers those funeral directors’ professional services which are common to most arrangements. It includes looking after the body, arranging the funeral, doing the paperwork, and it bundles a charge for overheads – heat, light, maintenance of premises, etc.

The Funeral Rule has made it possible for people in the US to comparison shop and decline goods and services they don’t want. Americans can buy a bargain price casket at Costco and evade the funeral director’s markup. You can’t do that in the UK.

Have funerals got cheaper in the US as a result? No, they have climbed steadily. How so? Because funeral directors have upped their basic services fee (cue: Doh!)

This penalises those people who care for their own after death and are their own funeral director. Whatever minimal services they may require from a funeral director, they must pay the full basic services fee. You may like to read this post by the excellent Holly Stevens on the matter.

Here in the UK funeral directors charge what they call a professional fee for providing essentially the same services covered by the US basic services fee. As in the US, it is fixed. If, therefore, you want to arrange a complex funeral which will involve the funeral director in hours of extra work, the likelihood is that he or she has no means of charging you for those extra hours. You will pay a not a penny more than the undemanding client who makes all their funeral arrangements in twenty minutes and isn’t seen again until the day of the funeral.

Just in case that sounds like good value, consider this: your funeral director has no financial incentive whatever to give you any extra time you need.

And let’s not overlook the fact that the undemanding client who takes up very little time inevitably subsidises those who take up lots. That client could be you.

Most funeral directors ‘bury’ some of their professional fee in the goods and services they sell you—hence the absurd mark-ups on coffins. Most of them, therefore, cannot afford not to charge you for any services you don’t want. If you want to reduce your costs and, say, tell your funeral director that you will not need his or her bearers to carry the coffin , and ask how much that will be off the bill, the likely reply will be that bearers are not charged separately, they are included in the professional fee.

In the days when all funerals were pretty much the same, a fixed professional fee was regarded as unobjectionable. What’s more, our UK funeral directors have not bigged themselves up into a secular priesthood as they have in the US, neither are they as greedy or objectionable.

But on the one hand the increasing personalisation of funerals is causing the funeral director’s role as event organiser to grow—as is the role of professional funeral event organisers like Sentiment. On the other hand, the growth of the home funeral movement is causing the funeral director’s role, both as event organiser and custodian of the body, to shrink. The one-size-fits-all professional fee is incapable of covering the demands of such a wide variety of funeral clients. As funerals evolve, the professional fee looks increasingly inexact and lacking in transparency. It certainly discriminates against those who would, for whatever reason, unpick the funeral director’s job description and carry out some of those tasks themselves. 

Greater flexibility is called for. It’s time to do away with the professional fee.

How do funeral directors achieve this and still remain profitable? If they’re any good they deserve to be. And let us never make the silly mistake of equating low cost with good value. So, what on earth can they possibly put in its place?

The solution is, actually, perfectly simple. Funeral directors must do what everybody else does, from jobbing gardeners to swanky lawyers.

Charge an hourly rate. 

Laptops Direct: a statement

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Good Funeral Guide has an ethical way with would-be advertisers. They besiege our central London penthouse office suite daily, you know. No, we say, gently but menacingly, we will not take your money and promote your product. Yes, yes, we fully understand that you find it almost impossible to persuade undertakers to offer your product to clients and, when they do, they slap a gasp-inducing margin on it. But no. Sorry. No. We are an independent Guide, a consumer-focussed Guide. We must therefore stand above you, apart from you. Cease your clamour. Trouser your lucre. Begone.

We’ve been tugged by temptation, of course we have. We could by now be near neighbours of Sir Fred Goodwin, supping fine wine, breakfasting on canapés, dandling dolly birds on our knees (or whatever it is rich people do). We have been tested, and that has only reinforced our rectitude.

We do not, therefore, hold any opinion of Laptops Direct. That Laptops Direct offers products and services which, by universal acclaim, are greatly superior to those of their competitors is not a matter we are prepared to comment on. That Laptops Direct laptops reputedly exceed their technical specifications often by a factor of 600-700 per cent is not something we wish to explore publicly. When people observe that Laptops Direct customer service is unrivalled, as is their kindness to animals, we remain tight-lipped.

To the allegation that this Guide has been involved in a highly lucrative consultancy arrangement with Laptops Direct on the back of our blog post From rags to riches, we offer no comment. All we will say is that we nod our approval of the commitment of Laptops Direct to corporate social responsibility, and in particular their astonishingly generous support of indigent families with nobbut one clog between them who face the nightmare of having to arrange a funeral they can’t afford.

In our customarily detached and objective way, we simply draw your attention to this. Off the record, of course. Without prejudice. On our Laptops Direct laptop. What other?

Page 1 of 212