Blog Archives: November 2010

Pot, kettle…

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Here is a hubristic report from the Co-operative College in Manchester on a fact-finding mission from South Africa. The mission came hard on the heels of helpful research by our own, dear Co-op into the ‘exorbitant’ cost of funerals in South African townships.

A much needed reduction in expensive funeral costs could be on the cards for residents in South African townships following a visit to the UK by a team from South Africa. After a week studying co-operative funeral provision in the UK, they are planning to set up co-operatives in Johannesburg to provide an affordable alternative to existing undertakers.

Said Stirling Smith, International Programmes Manager at the Co-operative College (SA): “it was great that our South African visitors could see for themselves how a co-operative business can be commercially successful and ethical. I must also thank Funeralcare for the arrangements. Nothing was too much trouble for them and they were very generous with their time and resources.”

Good luck to them. A funeral in Soweto costs the better part of a year’s wages.

Over here, in the light of the recent Ipsos MORI price comparison survey, we find that there’s still plenty of room for an ‘affordable alternative’.

Read the Co-op announcement here. Who do they think they are kidding?

Quakers get down to earth

Monday, 29 November 2010

A couple of months ago I was contacted by Quaker Social Action and invited to a planning group whose remit was the support of people in London on low incomes needing to arrange a funeral. I wasn’t able to go, to my ire. Sue Gill and John Fox* were speaking. I’ve never met them.

The project is now up an running. It’ll be good to hear reports of how it’s doing.

Here’s the press release:

Down to Earth is an innovative new project which supports people on low incomes during one of the most difficult time of their lives: planning a funeral. Down to Earth gently navigates recently bereaved people through the funeral process and empowers them to arrange a meaningful, yet affordable .    Down to Earth can offer direct support from a team of trained volunteer funeral mentors. We can also offer advice and information over the phone, or through providing a free funeral resource pack, a simple and practical guide to creating a meaningful, but affordable send off. The mentors will support recently bereaved service users throughout the funeral process as needed. Service users will be allocated a mentor and can access and re-access the service at any point throughout the funeral process and beyond. A mentor will offer support with all aspects of arranging a funeral, providing unbiased, practical guidance so people can make the best possible decisions at this extremely difficult time.   

From Monday November 29th 2010, QSA will accept referrals from anyone who may come into contact with recently bereaved people on low incomes e.g. bereavement services, GPs, older people’s services, hospices, community centres and faith and community organisations. We can also accept self-referrals or referrals from friends or family members.

To find out more or apply to be a volunteer mentor: Contact Shaun Powell, 020 8983 5056, or go to

* Sue Gill and John Fox wrote the acclaimed Dead Good Funerals Book

She’s on 29

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Have you been following Gail Rubin’s 30 funerals in 30 days? I hope so. If you haven’t,  you can easily catch up. Go over to her site as soon as you’ve read this and take up where you left off.

The cultural differences are intriguing. The preaching at religious funerals in the US is hotter. More friends and family stand up and talk. Photo and video montages are much, much more common — as are tables with photos and memorabilia. And I like the custom of giving people rubber wristbands — over there they’re the new armbands. My overall impression so far is that Americans do it better. Not that we do it well, of course, we’ve got a long way to go.

Today Gail attended the funeral of a young man — he was 24. Among the songs played at his funeral was When I Get Where I’m Going by Brad Paisley. Here’s one for you celebrants (a good day, this, for celebrants). Another was If Die Young by the Band Perry, which even I’ve heard so I guess everyone has. Again, a good one for a funeral like this.

Listen to Brad (I can’t embed him, I’m not allowed). Then go straight over to Gail.

It’s rum up north

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A couple of months ago I was tipped off that the oft-disgraced Richard Sage was alive, well and practising in Burnley, Lancashire in the guise of J Kendal at this address:

40 Briercliffe Road, Burnley BB10 1XB

I followed this up and discovered it to be so.

Don’t know who Richard Sage is? Google him.

At the same time, I was looking into the activities of Nationwide Funerals. I posted a piece on the blog drawing attention to the similarity of their offer to that of Richard Sage’s other operation, Direct Funeral Services,  and the perils generally of being an internet undertaker in the wake of Sage. I wrote and asked for Nationwide’s comments. I received a very cross email saying, among other things:

‘you will understand our dissapointment in your post and the damaging non substantiated comments about a Mr Sage who we have researched since your posting. We are disgusted that this name is even on the same page as our company.’

I took the blog post down in a spirit of friendly dialogue while I tried to find out more about a company which can do you a funeral for £970 plus disbursements. I was disappointed in my attempts to get Nationwide to talk to me. I got this:

‘I apologies for your dissapointment, however please understand a new company dealing with many customers needs to concentrate on its services it is providing and cannot prioritise trade and bloggers enquiries. Your request should be actioned when we have the time.’

I rang and rang, then let it go. I posted a warning on my website.

I had been told by a person claiming to have been employed by Mr Sage that the owner of Nationwide, Aidan Cabrera Moreno, was living at Mr Sage’s address. (This same person, who alleged that he had been a victim of Mr Sage, also told me he reckons Mr Moreno to be a nice guy.) Today I received another tip-off from someone who has been investigating Nationwide Funerals at Companies House. It was the missing link. It turns out that Nationwide Funerals is registered at this address:

40 Briercliffe Road, Burnley, BB10 1XB

Funeral directors who read this blog will be wondering who the funeral director is in the handsome video on the Nationwide website. You can find him here.

What are the industry’s trade bodies, NAFD and SAIF doing about this, I wonder. I shall write and ask them.

I am aware of no malpractice on the part of Nationwide Funerals who have now expanded to the London area.

Farewell, Tana

Thursday, 25 November 2010

I have just learned from Tony Piper, a man of much heart and inellect, the news that Tana Wollen is stepping down from head of ceremonies at the British Humanist Association. Tana, too, is a person of much heart and intellect and she’s been a good friend of the GFG. We’re going to miss her. We wish her every success and happiness in whatever’s next.

Her job is advertised on the BHA website. Find it here.

Parta Quies

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Oldie readers of this blog will know who I mean by Katharine Whitehorn. Journalist (Observer, mostly). Irreverent, no-nonsense, funny, nice. She’s now Saga magazine’s agony aunt.

I’ve just stumbled on the poem she wants to be read at her funeral. It’s by AE Housman and it’s called Parta Quies. I’d not come across it before.

Good-night; ensured release,

Imperishable peace,

Have these for yours,

While sea abides, and land,

And earth’s foundations stand,

And heaven endures.

When earth’s foundations flee,

Nor sky nor land nor sea

At all is found,

Content you, let them burn:

It is not your concern;

Sleep on, sleep sound.

What’s that shuckleuckle sound I hear? Ah, countless celebrants typing it into their funeral poem anthologies.

What music does Katharine Whitehorn want? I don’t know. But this is what she chose when she was on Desert Island Discs. (Note to US readers: this is the highest accolade that can be conferred upon a Brit. Forget lordships and sirdoms and damehoods, an invitation to appear on Desert Island Discs is the one that cuts the mustard.)

Follow Me – John Denver

Chopin’s grand waltz  – Brillante in A flat major, op.34 – Chopin

Je tire ma Révérence – Jean Sablon with Wal-Berg’s Orchestra. Composer Bastia

Part of Sibelius Finlandia

Every Time We Say Goodbye – Ella Fitzgerald

Slow movement of Bach’s Double Violin  Concerto

Slow movement of Mozart’s 3rd Violin Concerto

Impromptu No 4 in F Minor – Schubert

Her favourite: Bach’s Double Violin Concerto

The sacred and the propane

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

It was a deepseated thing, this duty we felt we owed our dead. A sacred duty – literally. It goes back to the beginning of time. Throughout human history the dead body has always been treated in accordance with sacred diktat, its valedictory hullabaloos performed by shaman or sorcerer, soothsayer or priest. For the full extent of human memory the bodies of the dead have been disposed of in places held sacred – demarcated patches of ground, rivers.

We’re getting much too evolved for all that rannygazoo and mystery-making juju now. Too sensible, too pragmatic. Oh yes, we can see a dead body for what it is. A dead body. A waste disposal matter after it’s had its corneas and other useful stuff taken out. The growth of cremation may well have hastened this thinking. Brutal. Rapid. Get your head around that and you’ll get your head around anything.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. It’s the way of unemployed librarian and blogger Amy Campbell in the US.

It set me thinking. We don’t yet dispose of our dead by direct cremation as they increasingly do in the States. But what of our secular rituals, the ones performed by those possessed of no shamanic attributes – everyday unsanctified civvies like our own dear Gloriamundi? Are these ceremonies mere sentimental vestiges ripe for replacement by less formal, body-free celebrations of memory in restaurants, at tea parties, on picnics, over a couple of beers?

I wonder where we’re going. Take away the sacred and… Does that make all the difference?

Hard graft

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The alternative to government regulation of the funeral industry is not self-regulation (too flabby) but implacable consumer scrutiny. That’s the libertarian way of looking at it, it’s a case I like to argue, and I concede that it may be ineffectually idealistic.

If only consumers knew. If only they knew what goes on behind the scenes they’d be on to it. Yes? Appalling things go on in funeral directors’ mortuaries. So let’s tell em. If you want to be reminded of how some dead people are treated, have a look at this version of a removal.

If only consumers knew about the dark arts of deathtrade marketing they wouldn’t be fooled when a helpful care home staff member recommends a lovely local funeral director. Because they’d suspect that the staff member had been bought by a smarmy bastard.

What goes on is not fair on consumers and it’s not fair on the good guys in the funeral trade. Here’s an email I have just received from a funeral director I admire very much:

I’ve been really tormented recently about how various funeral directors are so corrupt, bribing nursing homes, care homes etc.  I was sent an email the other day about an anti-bribing law coming in next April, and this brought everything to the surface once again, as there is no way it would affect the funeral industry.

The area where I work has numerous nursing / care homes and many of the friends of a member of my staff work in them. They all use one funeral director who supplies them with large flat screen T.V.s etc. We have spoken with the carers and they all admit that they are told to use this certain funeral director but they are frightened to approach the persons in charge to ask them why this funeral director is contacted every time someone dies. It’s a case of ‘more than their job’s worth’.

I’m such an honest person that this kind of dishonesty always enrages me and my hands are tied. I’m aware that this world is a very corrupt one and it’s a case of ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ but I refuse to be part of it and one day want to announce that we are proud of the fact that we have never had to lower ourselves to bribing care homes for our existence.

I don’t know nearly enough about the codes of practice that govern care homes and nursing homes. A code I believe to be widely observed is that of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which prescribes the following:

Be impartial

  • You must not abuse your privileged position for your own ends
  • You must ensure that your professional judgment is not influenced by any commercial considerations

I guess Trading Standards will have an opinion on this. Easy enough to establish a pattern when most dead residents go to the same funeral director. But what’s philanthropy and what’s a bung?

I’d be very interested to hear what you think about this. If you’re a funeral director and do not want to comment publicly, why not send me an email? Mark it confidential and, as many will testify, it’ll go no further. Find me here:

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