Blog Archives: November 2012

Window dressing

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Linda Blakelock, of the recently-opened Divine Departures in Gateshead, has decorated the shop windows for Remembrance Day. 

Do, please, send in photos of a funeral director near you who has done the same. 


Crowdsourcing a Space-Age Distribution Strategy

Wednesday, 7 November 2012



Tom Walkinshaw,right, with Dick Gordon, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 12  Pic ©Walk with Destiny


Posted by Tom Walkinshaw

Ed’s note: Tom is an enterprising fellow who has a plan to launch ashes into Space – Space burial, he calls it. He needs your help and expertise to get it off the ground, which is why he crowdsourcing on the blog this morning at our invitation. 

Alba Orbital are now a few steps down the start-up path. We have done a lot of research both online and out in the real world with only one more presentation to go. The journey has been exciting and rewarding (last week I had dinner with Apollo 12 Command module pilot Dick Gordon) but we have reached a crossroads. How do we distribute our service to the masses?

We want to take ashes where not many ashes have before… Space. For the record I do know it sounds crazy and people often wonder why I think it makes sense to do something so left of field. My opinion is that it is being done successfully currently in the USA, so why can’t the UK do it? It is up to people’s personal choice, but it is a choice we must all make. Cremation is now being chosen by 75% of Brits with that number on the rise year-on-year. We want to offer a solution to the Ashes Dilemma.

Things have gone well and we are in talks with a few Universities around collaborating on our first satellite. We have been supported by the Princes Trust who aim to help young people start-up in Business (I am still only 22). We have done well in a National Spin-out competition the ‘Converge Challenge’ and are the first company to incorporate ourselves.

So the challenge we now face is how do we reach our customers? How do we bring an innovative product to a traditional marketplace? We don’t have the answers. We have ideas and that is why we are putting it out to the Good Funeral Guide readership for their opinions on the matter. 420,000 people get cremated each year and none of them know we even exist.

We think a pre-planning option makes a lot sense, staggering the costs and is less of a knee jerk buying decision. For point of use do we partner with Funeral Directors? Would they take us seriously? We would love to know your thoughts. Online is a key tool for all business, but should we invest in allowing our service to be purchased on the web?

There are no dates in our diary for launching our pricing option, we want to do it right rather than do it fast. Any opinion positive/negative is always welcome. Thank you for reading.

Tom Walkinshaw
MD, Alba Orbital

Website: Twitter: @albaorbital Email:

Dying for a pee

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


When the inhabitants of Milla Milla, Australia,were told by the council that they couldn’t have toilets in their cemetery because they’d cost too much, they took matters into their own hands. 

Citizen Pat Reynolds built the toilet you see pictured above in his garage in his spare time. He’s done a proper job, mind, inbuilt septic tank and all. 



Double standards?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

 Photo: the Sun 

There’s a very characteristic Daily Mail story in, of all places, today’s Daily Mail.

It describes outrage in the environs of Wisbech concerning the ‘floral tributes’ which adorned the funeral of a notably industrious armed robber, Thomas Curtis. One of the tributes, above, took the form of an ATM machine of the sort that Mr Curtis was wont to rip untimely from all sorts of premises. The screen is from one of his spoils. 

It’s worth surveying the other tributes here and in the Sun here

Perhaps it’s a matter of relative status, but Mr Curtis’s flowery accolades have not been accorded the dispassionate treatment accorded to those which adorned the funeral of Charlie Richardson. One of them, you recall, commemorated the the black, handle-driven World War Two army generator with which Charlie electrocuted his victims, below:



The British way of death

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


“You don’t mind if I go, do you?”

“No, Granny, it’s been nice having you.”

Libby Purves’ daughter to her grandmother on her last day. 

Introducing the Artisan coffin

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Greg Holdsworth makes coffins in New Zealand.  He says:

We offer a wide range of real and hand-finished options made from sustainable wood, some with native timbers. Our designs are environmentally considered – if there’s a better way to do it we’re probably already doing so – and our appropriately priced caskets meet the highest performance requirements due to the functional construction techniques we apply. Environmental considerations include material choice, assembly options (fixings), handles, finishes and, of course, just using less material to make the caskets.

A great advantage of this coffin is that ‘mourners can sit with the deceased without having to stand and peer down into a box.’

I emailed Greg and asked him if I could use images of his Artisan coffin (above) on this blog. I also voiced a regret that no one in the UK is making them under licence. Greg says, “Return To Sender has the Artisan manufactured under licence in Australia and North America and would be keen to do the same in the UK if they find a suitable partner.” 

The words ‘suitable partner’ say it all. If you feel you are one, get in touch with him.

Find Greg’s website here

Compassion fatigue

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


I vividly remember the first day my medical school classmates and I met our cadavers in the anatomy lab. Large body bags lay on metal tables that had been bolted to the floor. I remember the sheer size of the bags best. No doubt existed in my mind that dead human bodies indeed lay within them. And yet part of me couldn’t quite grasp that I was actually going to soon be unzipping them and cutting into flesh through which blood had once flowed as freely as it now did in mine.

Thus recalls Dr Alex Lickerman. He goes on: 

I vividly remember also a classmate of mine—one who’d struck me as being particularly sensitive to others—leaning against the wall at one point, looking pale and shaky. I remember worrying that she was going to faint. 

But she didn’t. And like the rest of us, soon she was cutting into her cadaver with focused precision. Within only one week we all had habituated to the notion that we were dissecting dead people as if they were only mannequins.

My classmate eventually went on to become my colleague, one with whom I’ve since shared many patients. And though technically she was always excellent, again and again it would get back to me from patients to whom I’d send her that she had a poor bedside manner. And whenever I’d hear this, I’d wonder: had she always been only peripherally interested in the suffering of others (as more than one of my patients judged her to be) or did she begin as empathetic and compassionate as I’d first judged her and simply have those characteristics pounded out of her by her training and subsequent years in practice?

As I read that, I wondered about the people we saw on that ITV programme about Gillman’s. Dr Lickerman continues:

Perhaps the most insidious force that gnaws away at our ability to feel compassion is habituation. We have an amazing ability to get used to things—meaning that if repeated again and again something which at first stimulates great emotion (positive or negative) progressively stimulates that emotion less and less. This is why, I think, over time my colleague’s bedside manner deteriorated: she simply got so used to the suffering she saw day in and day out that it ceased to trigger her compassion.

It all makes pretty good sense, doesn’t it? If we’re honest, we can see how people working in mortuaries could, first, lose their sense of dead people as people and then graduate to hating them. 

It put me in mind of a case which a number of people have drawn to my attention but which I did not write about because it seemed to me sad and, because unrepresentative, not all that informative. I may have been wrong. The case involved a funeral service operative (FSO) Grahame Lawler, who stole a purse from a dead woman he’d gone to collect. You can gauge why he did it when you consider what he said when he was arrested: “‘For six-and-a-half years I have been in this job and have seen some very vile nasty and horrible things. Decomposed bodies, people that have been run over, things like that. I saw the purse, I did take it and I thought it was the way out. I have never done anything like this before and I’m sorry.”

It also put me in mind of the funeral director I chatted to last week. The ethos of his business is mortuary-centred. “It all starts there and works its way thorough to everything else. Get it right in the mortuary and everyone else knows exactly what standard is expected and exactly how to conduct themselves to everyone else. It pervades the funeral home.”

Read the full Lickerman article here




Wounded knee

Monday, 5 November 2012



Shrapnel retrieved after the cremation of World War 2 vet Ronald Brown. He stepped on a landmine in 1944 and had been carrying it around in one leg ever since. All 6oz of it. 

Full story here



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