Blog Archives: October 2013

While you’re at it, why not lob another ancestor cult into the pot?

Thursday, 31 October 2013


Decorated Natufian skull – note the cowrie shell eyes

As you don your sad-rags, zombie gear, horror clobber, skeleton onesie or whatever it is that floats your boat at this season which sees the ungainly coupling of All Hallows Day, Samhain and the Mexican Dia de los Muertos enhanced/corrupted by commercialism and rendered incoherent by cheap thrills and facepainting, the team here at the GFG-Batesville Shard, though no enemies of larks, has given in to a disinclination to muck in and get carried away, though our spirit of absenteeism has not dissuaded us from wiring up the doorknocker in order to electrocute trick or treaters.  

Since ours is a society that loves to plagiarise the practices of other cultures in order the fill the void where our own should be, it is surprising to see us turn up the chance to incorporate funerary rituals of the Natufians. 

The Natufians, 13,000 to 9,800 BC, a middle-eastern hunter-gatherer people who were the first to generate agricultural surpluses and form settled communities, eg Jericho, cherished and preserved their dead within the foundations of their homes. After death, their bodies would be buried by their families who would later dig up chosen notables and remove their skulls, returning the rest of the corpse to the earth. The fallen flesh was replaced with modelled clay in order to reproduce the original appearance of the dead person. Cowrie shells were used to imitate eyes. The effect was remarkably lifelike.

 Team GFG takes no responsibility for what you now do with this information. 


Decorated skulls found at Tell Aswad, near Damascus



The scandal waiting to happen — again and again

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Andrew Baker – drummed out


Some of you will not be surprised that the following story involves Andrew Baker.

It doesn’t end with him, guilty or not. When it comes to the mis-selling of pre-need funeral products, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

From the Gloucestershire Echo

Andrew Baker, aged 50, who lives in Pebworth near Honeybourne in Worcestershire was arrested this week by West Mercia police on suspicion of fraud. 

A spokesman for the force which serves Herefordshire and Worcestershire said: “A number of clients have recently contacted West Mercia Police to report they have been victims of fraud. Among these is the allegation clients paid thousands of pounds to either Honeybourne Funeral Services or Cotswold Funeral Services for funeral plan to be arranged only to find none of the services had been put in place.”

Detective Inspector Andy Price of South Worcestershire CID said: “We have taken the unusual step of naming Mr Baker and his companies at the point he has been arrested to reduce the chance of a family of a recently deceased person suffering further distress because of any criminality that may have taken place.

“We advise anyone who has taken out a funeral plan with Mr Baker, Cotswold Funeral Services or Honeybourne Funeral Services, to check that everything is as it should be.

Carpe diem

Tuesday, 29 October 2013



Posted by Richard Rawlinson

Some of us enjoy our jobs; the social and creative buzz, and the income. Some of us also look forward to retirement; liberation from work routine, and time to pursue other interests, be it camper van touring or attempting a novel. But anecdotes about retirees reveal pros and cons.

Retire too early and the planned escape from stress can be replaced by loss of identity and boredom. For some, alcoholism ensues resulting in mental and physical sickness leading to early death.

Retire too late and limitations of natural ageing, from weakened immune system to impaired memory and diminished bladder control, can mar enjoyment of leisure time.

These potential setbacks can also be joined by any number of external forces derailing dreams of riding off into the horizon of the golf course in a buggy. The spouse might need extensive care following a stroke, for example.

Good advice seems to be to retire ‘slowly’ by working part-time in some form, or taking a hobby job such a volunteering for a charity. It also seems sensible to not put off doing things until retirement, assuming that only then will you have more time for family and friends, travel, exercise, oil painting and learning Spanish.

This random musing is triggered by noting how many British Prime Ministers died soon after leaving office: Sir Robert Peel and William Gladstone (four years); Ramsay McDonald (two years); Lord Salisbury (one year), Andrew Bonar Law and Neville Chamberlain (six months). Others, such as William Pitt the Younger and Lord Palmerston died while in office.

Then again, several lived 10 to 30-plus years after retiring: Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas Hume, Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher.

Meanwhile, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are still alive.  

More PM deaths here.  

Longevity may not be all bad after all

Monday, 28 October 2013



An article in the New York Times reviews a new memoir about caring for an elderly relative in this age of protracted dying. It is“The Fifth Season: A Daughter-in-Law’s Memoir of Caregiving,” by Lisa Ohlen Harris. It’s about “the pressures of having Jeanne, the active mother-in-law who moved in to help with the kids and the mortgage, suddenly get sick and then sicker.”

The reviewer, Paula Span, writes: The Fifth Season” shows how doctors’ evasiveness, patients’ hopefulness and their families’ hesitance to discourage them combine to keep very frail people undergoing futile treatments, and then more of them. Year after year, Jeanne gets weaker and sicker. Yet it still comes as a shock when Ms. Harris sees the doctor’s notes that say how poor Jeanne’s prognosis is.

“I finally realized that the experts, all these specialists, the ones who are supposed to be the educators of their patients, have been looking at Jeanne and seeing a dying woman … But they kept sending us … on wild goose chases, despite the mass of physical ailments signaling that Jeanne is at the end of her life. Why the hell didn’t anybody speak up?”

Span observes: These are the stories my fellow baby boomers feel compelled to tell one another. In the wrong hands, the stories can become maudlin or simply tiresome, but Ms. Harris’s are the right hands. “The Fifth Season” is brief, potent and gutsy.

[These stories] are cautionary tales, full of anger and love — and warning. They are bulletins from the front, meant to guide those following behind.

An article in the Sunday Times notes: At present, an average of three months is being added to life expectancy each year. It is estimated there may be 1 million centenarians in the world by 2030.

The Ministry of Defence centre of development, concepts and doctrine is worried about this, and about the likelihood of the discovery of a means of preventing the effects of getting old. It predicts a terrifying dystopia: a potential “strategic shock” that would put huge pressure on the supply of food, pensions, healthcare and jobs.

Such a discovery, it adds, could fuel tensions within countries because access to a cure would be “highly unequal” and restricted to the wealthiest people in the richest nations. “The whole fabric of society would be challenged and new norms and expectations would rapidly develop in response to the change.”

But it may not be half as bad as they dread.

Richard Faragher, a professor of biogerontology and chairman of the British Society for Research on Ageing, said it was “reasonably plausible” to expect a treatment for ageing by 2040.

Scientists have already been able to slow the ageing process in animals. A drug called rapamycin was found to extend the life of female mice by 14% and male mice by 9%.

“It’s straightforward technology and possibly one of the bigger kept secrets,” Faragher said. However, he challenged the view that such a medical breakthrough would bring chaos.

“Interventions in the ageing process reduce the incidence and/or severity of multiple age-associated diseases and problems,” he said. “Thus you would end up with healthier, happier old people for less money. You will not end up with immortal people.”


A price worth paying for good value

Friday, 25 October 2013



How many shops do you know where the goods aren’t priced on the grounds that if you need to know the cost you can’t afford it? Outside a posh, celeb-prowled zone or two in London, my guess would be none.

Would you use a shop that didn’t display price tickets? Or a restaurant that didn’t have a menu in the window?

Or an undertaker who didn’t post their prices on their website?

That last question is a joke, of course. It would take an especially scullionly, vulgar little cut-price upstart to betray the dignity of a noble profession by doing any such thing. A Director of Funerals lives to serve the living by caring for their dead. He (or, okay, maybe she) is a member of a secular priesthood untainted by unworthy worldly concerns.

Enough satire, you protest. Cut it out. All right.

A great many good, decent, likeable undertakers agonise over whether to post prices on their website. They do this out of deference to the notion that to post prices would be to betray the decorum of their calling. Something like that. Nothing to do with upselling, of course. Truly. Good, businesslike undertakers despise upselling and build their margin into their professional fee, so they don’t need to.  

But failure to equip a potential client with what they need to know before they step into the premises places that client at a disadvantage that can only breed insecurity, cynicism and resentment. It looks like lack of openness. It is. It looks puzzling. It is. In an age in which shoppers do their price research on the internet before buying so much as a washing-up bowl, their inability to access this vital information in advance of the negotiation is a matter of angry frustration.

No wonder so many feel expertly ripped off.

The reason why so many good undertakers agonise over whether or not to post their price online is because they are torn between meeting the expectations of the market and deferring to the retrograde opinions of their fellow undertakers. Here’s a dilemma in which there can only be one winner. If you truly place the interests of your clients first, get em up there. Join the real world.

And stop spending so much time trying to impress each other.

This blog is no enemy of the principle of consolidation. A well-conducted corporate operator could bring great benefits to funeral shoppers. It was consumers who bankrupted the high street, remember, not Tesco, who simply offered the alternative of fresher, better, cheaper.

But the corporates operating in Funeralworld aren’t Tescos.  They’re not idiots, either. Their business model thrives because they know that bereaved people shop blind. It crumbles as soon as they start shopping with their eyes open.

If you can offer a handbuilt Morgan for the price of a mass-produced Fiesta, if you can offer a top-notch funeral for £500, £1000 less than Dignity and co, why on earth wouldn’t you tell the world about that? 

The price-savvy consumer is the good undertaker’s best friend. Get em up. 

WE ESPECIALLY LIKE Paul Sullivan, Kingfisher Funerals and Evelyn’s Funerals. Is there anyone we’ve missed? 

You’ve been ad

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Coop ad


How good to see three local family undertakers in Devon club together to advertise themselves. Really nice, professional piece of work — proper job as they say down there. (Click it to make it bigger.) 

(First one of you wins a cigar)

What to say when someone’s history?

Thursday, 24 October 2013



The job of the life-centred funeral is clear enough. It serves two purposes: first, to meditate on the now-complete life lived; second, to spell out all that has not been lost. While the dead person will no longer be an active presence in the mourners’ lives, their example will continue to be influential, and memories of them will continue to give pleasure — after a period of grieving when those memories are likely to give more pain than pleasure.

At the heart of a life-centred funeral lies, therefore, the treatment of the life lived. The composition of this treatment calls for extraordinary craft skills by the eulogist, who must judiciously select what goes in and what doesn’t  The audience hasn’t got all day. They know what they want to hear. They don’t want to hear all the stuff the person did, they want to hear about what made the person tick. This is best expressed through expertly crafted anecdotes which encapsulate ‘what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed’. A good eulogist articulates and illuminates the essence of the dead person — brings them alive — and accomplishes all that in around 7 unhurried minutes. It’s one of the most difficult writing briefs in the known universe.

Not surprising, therefore, that it’s oft done so badly. The lazy or inept eulogist opts for the cop-out of a flat-lining chronological narrative — a story which can only end unhappily. Up and down the land today crematoria will sullenly resound with the bathetic words “Henry James Barnett was born on…”

For a celebrant too busy to think (there are far too many of these), this makes a funeral script easy enough to write on autopilot. They would defend themselves by saying that this is what the family told him or her. Not good enough, pal.

The size and quality of a person’s character is not necessarily in direct proportion to amount of stuff they did. For example, the lives of many people are not defined by the jobs they do. But in the case of a family for whom the funeral eulogy is the first draft of the official biography, the agreed (likely enough retouched) life story, what is the eulogist to do with all the stuff the family wants in, but which simply either won’t fit or won’t hold an audience?

The answer lies in the document produced at some expense but all-too-soon dropped in the bin as of no lasting value, namely, the service sheet or booklet. This is the place for the timeline, the start-to-finish life story with all the house moves and career shifts and professional achievements — the CV stuff.

Such a narrative would complement the words of the eulogy — and might even repeat some of them. There’d be no time to read it at the funeral, of course, so people would take it home and peruse it at leisure. It’d be of lasting value, so they’d be far less likely to guiltily slip it with the recycling. All at once the service booklet would start earning its keep. 

Can marriage between a creative and a control freak be a happy one?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Project manager


The relationship between architects and project managers in the construction industry is always icky. The architect is the creative visionary; the project manager is the person tasked with co-ordinating suppliers and service providers so as to bring the vision in on time, in budget, to the client’s satisfaction. Architects tend to want more than they can have. “No, we can’t use those bricks,” a project manager will say, “they’re too expensive.” Architects reckon they are in charge; project managers know they are. Architects often feel that the tail is wagging the dog.

Not unlike the relationship between a celebrant and an undertaker, perhaps?

An analysis by Gerrit Muller of Buskerud University College highlights the differences between celebrants and undertak… I mean, architects (A) and project managers (PM). In a comparison of caricature characteristics of both parties, Muller suggests that:

A = independent, PM = conformist; A = critical, PM = demanding; A = curious, PM = control minded.

Leadership values.  A = based on knowledge and vision; PM = based on key performance indicators – title creates expectations – task-driven. 

Goal.  A = best possible solution; PM = highest hierarchical level. 

Design. A = elegant; PM = if it works it’s okay. 

Application.  A = perfect fit; PM = no complaints. 

Changes.  A = fact of life; PM = avoid changes. 

In order to get the best from the relationship, Muller proposes:



Leadership instead of task-driven management

Process orientation instead of hierarchical organizations


Mutual Respect

Recognition of diversity and nonconformity

Reverse Appraisal

Stimulating open communication


Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…

Tuesday, 22 October 2013



An average 68 per cent of Canadians favour the legalisation of assisted suicide, but the Court of Appeal in British Columbia has just rejected it. Read more here

The arguments for and against assisted dying, assisted suicide, dying with dignity, call it want you will, will be with us for some time to come, but the outcome is already perfectly evident: in the end we’ll buy it. The debate we’re in now is very close in kind to the debate older readers remember from their youth about abortion. The big difference is that, aesthetically, letting old and very ill people depart in peace is much more ‘acceptable’ than aborting foetuses. 

In response to the recent setback, the Canadian National Post published letters for, against and don’t know. They illuminate the arguments well. Here’s a selection:


* There is no difference between refusing to give pain-killing drugs to patients dying in agony and refusing to assist them in ending their lives when these drugs are no longer effective. Both are unconscionable acts of prolonging torture. Our fellow citizens have no authority to decide when we give birth, nor when we die. Our lives are our own, and when or how we decide to die is up to us.

* Sane citizens must be given the right to die controlled and dignified deaths. If religious people wish to prolong the suffering of their loved ones in some perverted acknowledgement of the “gift of life,” fine, but do not impose that tenet on the rest of us. 

* The average life expectancy in 1908 was 48 years old. So the idea of living beyond our best-before date is a relatively new dilemma for the human race. I use the word “dilemma” because except for the fortunate few who will one day fall asleep and never wake up, most of us will experience a long, painful, debilitating, demoralizing, humiliating drawn-out demise. It’s time to rethink the end of one’s life.


* From legally assisted suicide, there is one short step to legal murder demanded by survivors who are not up to caring or even tolerating having to deal emotionally with death and dying.

* Yes, we all die, and the wages of sin is death. We do not want to suffer much while we are dying. But are not our doctors efficiently trained to control pain? God teaches us what dying with dignity means and it does not mean to kill oneself. It means to trust His promises and to lean on His Son for the forgiveness of our sins and in Him die in peace. That’s dying with dignity.

* We cannot just accept someone’s death wish and agree that their lives are no longer worth living. Instead, we must ease their suffering, provide comfort, and restore their sense of dignity and value.

* I am wary of any law that makes it easier for somebody to kill another person.

* It is time for the dying or suffering to accept the final burden of their own demise and not open the Pandora’s Box of state-assisted suicide. How long would the choice be theirs and not someone else’s?


* I can imagine that if I were in excruciating pain from illness and the prognosis was dire, I’d want the right to be able to end my life — and quickly. However, that is not my situation and so it’s disingenuous of me to presume that I’d actually know what I’d want. This debate should only take place between people who are facing an imminent end to their lives, as well as their loved ones who are watching them suffer. Armchair philosophers should take their wise thoughts elsewhere.

Kingfisher Funerals get behind home funeralists

Monday, 21 October 2013



Kingfisher Funerals of St Neots have bought a Flexmort body-cooling system for people who want to care for their dead at home. Andrew Hickson, who founded the business in 2010, tells us: 

“We have seen a marked increase in requests from the family of someone who has died, who do not want the person removed from home to a funeral director’s office.

“We are dedicated to providing our clients with exactly the service they want, not the one we want them to have. We have watched families who have kept a body at home using ice packs, and the emotional value of the experience for them has been incredible. Ice packs can only provide a certain level of cooling however, and need to be changed frequently, especially immediately after death. The Flexmort system can be placed on someone as soon as death has been certified, and left in place until the funeral, with no need for maintenance at all. 

“We are happy to allow bereaved families to borrow the system free of charge when we are appointed as funeral directors acting on their behalf. If clients wish to adopt a more DIY approach to arranging a funeral, we would make a charge to cover the loan and delivery of the unit.”


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