Smiling damned villains

Charles Cowling

Did you read about that undertaker in Middlesbrough? The one who stole the keys from a rival undertaker’s hearse as it sat obedient and empty outside the Salvation Army citadel? It had to be hotwired to get it to the cemetery. It had to be seen to be believed.

The story has been reported around the world. Read it here.

Disgraceful, you mutter. But since when did you believe what you read in newspapers? They exist to sensationalise or sentimentalise. They are never less than superficial. Come on!

In rural areas most funeral directors coexist in peace and harmony. They help each other out, lend each other a hearse or a bearer, greet each other as friends. They’re not in competition, that’s why.

But in urban areas it’s different. There are too many undertakers. Kindly, ethical undertakers have to compete with smarmy predators. In almost every town in Britain there’s a very nasty turf war going on. It’s not a war that manifests itself in drive-by shootings, broken legs, blazing mortuaries. Oh no, it’s much more a thing of insidiousness, backhanders and backstabbery. The public face is smarm, oodles of smarm. It rarely breaks the surface as it did in Middlesbrough.

Can you always tell the difference between the nice guy and the smarmy bastard? Have you never been had? As Shakespeare’s King Duncan so aptly had it, and I’m sure you agree, “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” Or as his Hamlet had it, “one may smile and smile and be a villain.”

This is just one reason why I want to list best funeral directors in the Good Funeral Guide. To save people from sharks. To save the kindly, ethical undertakers from the smarmy bastards.

I bet there’s a lot more to this story in Middlesbrough than meets the eye. And I’m prepared to take a punt on this. Instinct sides me with the undertaker who pinched the keys (though not with what he did, obviously). What goaded him?

If I can get to the bottom of it I’ll let you know. Of course, I could be wrong. But, dammit, I doubt it.

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