Charles Cowling

Just once in a while things, if they are little enough and come in a cluster, can subvert the sunny disposition for which I am justly famous.

This morning I was at Sutton Coldfield crematorium, my first time. I had already got the measure of the place. A telephone enquiry yesterday about whether there was a funeral immediately after ‘mine’ yielded the most remorseless lecture I have ever had from a public servant about the vital importance of keeping within my appointed limits: 20 minutes. Twenty minutes! Once there, I went to strike up an acquaintance with the organist-CD chap. The service before ‘mine’ was over and the mourners were departing to the strains of—you guessed it. “Good heavens,” I said to him, “My Way. What a most unusual song to play at a funeral.” He looked at me with weary earnestness and said it was the song he played most. I was in an irony-free zone. I got ‘my’ funeral off at the stroke of twelve noon. It was always going to be a close run thing, cramming a goodbye to a tremendously nice and loved man into twenty minutes. In the event, we had to do without the interlude for silent reflection, hurry the farewell a little, wrap it up just in time. Only when it was over did I discover that the next funeral was a ‘committal only’—the dead chap had already had his funeral in church and had just come to be burnt. His lot were in and out in five minutes. We could have had five/ten mins of their half hour, no problem, they never would have minded. But when the needs of the institution are greater than those of its users, give and take go out of the window. Still, at least the funeral director was nice to me. “Thank you so much for taking this for us,” she said. I didn’t have the energy to point out that the relicts had phoned and booked me direct, that I was working for them, not her. I just left.

And came home to an article in the Guardian of such pusillanimity that it actually got under my skin. It’s by a creep called Phil Hall, who describes himself as a “socialist, a college/university lecturer and teacher trainer based in west London. He’s African by birth, English by culture and in love with all things Mexican.” In other words, a man who’s completely up himself. This is what he says:

There are many contrasting approaches to the arrangement of funerals, from the religious to the secular. But after five deaths and four funerals over the last two years, it seems to me that the humanist way of death is the most salutary.

Wonder what happened to the fifth funeral.

This is because it accepts one simple truth. Human life is constructed like a story. It has a beginning, high points, low points and then ends – definitively.

The humanist way of death recognises the fact that you will die and that when you do, that will be the story of you. From the viewpoint of our human, third person narrative, isn’t the idea of heaven a little irritating? A life, like a good book, should never end in: ” … to be continued.” Life only really makes sense as biography.

In contrast, religious funerals, where a stranger usually officiates and witters on about heaven, often fail to commemorate a life well lived properly. Religious funerals can be a whimpering anti-climax.

You can see where this is going. It’s just lazy, beastly dawkinism. But an existential event as a narrative event? I hadn’t thought of that. Now that’s really stupid. He goes on (can you take it?):

When Uncle Heini died this month at the age of 99 there was a lot to celebrate about his life. He survived two world wars honourably. Heini was flamboyant and kind. In his 80s he was still travelling from Machu Picchu to China. He even went climbing in the Himalayas at the age of 85. Heini was a well-known actor and a famous clown in the Munich theatre.

But his funeral was completely out of keeping with this, and I blame religion and its obsession with the afterlife for that. It put a damper on an occasion that should have been far more representative of who he really was. The crematorium orchestra played Albinoni and Bach, an actress read out a poem, the theatre administrator gave a thoughtful speech, and then a Lutheran pastor stood up with a wan smile and gave her homily. It was full of religious platitudes. In half an hour Heini’s divine reispass was stamped, his celestial ticket clipped. And that was it; curtains.

Phil, you pillock, if you don’t want a Lutheran pastor or any other kind of pastor to talk resurrection at your funeral, DON’T BLOODY INVITE ONE. (Love the crem orchestra, though. In your dreams.)

A little bit of believe and let believe would go a long way from our atheist brothers and sisters. The Zero Militant is becoming tiresome.

Not for the first time (this is unrelated) I wonder why it is that atheists bring their dead people to a funeral. Come on, chaps, think it through: it’s nobbut carcass!

Read Phil’s drivel here.

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