Blog Archives: November 2013

Apocalypse? What apocalypse?

Thursday, 28 November 2013



There’s a wide and growing measure of agreement that the next big scandal to hit the funeral industry is going to centre on pre-need funeral plans.

On the one hand, there is intensifying anxiety concerning the robustness of trust funds. There are dark and disturbing rumours flying around about plans coming in underfunded.

On the other hand, there are rising fears of greedy or desperate small funeral directors pocketing money paid to them by clients for funeral plans. In America, scarcely a week goes by without some wretched undertaker or other being dragged off to court to answer a charge of embezzlement. 

With the Ponzi word being murmured ever more loudly, it’s no surprise to see one funeral plan provider seeking to gain a competitive advantage among undertakers by playing on fear: 

With increasing focus on the financial security of pre-payment funds, you may feel that now is the time to find out more about how your current provider operates. For example, do you know what guarantees are in place … you may be aware that the Actuarial Profession has set up a Working Party to review the prudential regulation of funeral trusts…

For consumers, a funeral plan’s attractions obscure its inadequacies. It gift-wraps money in a way no other financial product can. It’s an easy sell — which is why Age UK can get away with flogging pricey Dignity plans to its less well-off clients. 

It’d be interesting to know how many financial advisers have bought a funeral plan. And yes, how many of you undertakers and celebrants out there have bought one, eh? Come on, hands up. 

In the present climate Golden Charter has been dissed more than most. The perception is that it has grown increasingly aggressive in its selling methods to both undertakers and the public; that it is overheating and riding for a fall. There are some who mutter that Golden Charter is a hubristic bubble business. 

Unverifiable smears and rumours, exacerbated by industry factionalism, muddy the waters. They create fear and despondency; they are unfair. But they also serve their purpose. They intensify scrutiny; they compel plan providers to exert themselves to demonstrate their viability. They stimulate openness. 

So it is valuable to be able to publish the following communiqué from Golden Charter to its member funeral directors: 

As we are all aware, the funeral planning industry is founded on trust and confidence. We need the public to have total faith in the certainty that the money which they have laid down is secure and will provide the benefits that they have been promised when the time comes. 

Equally important in this equation is for the funeral director to know that the money secured in an insurance policy or Trust will be there when required and will produce a meaningfully relevant sum which will enable their services to be carried out profitably and in full. 

In recent years, inflationary growth has been low and has been considerably outstripped by funeral cost inflation. The wider economic picture is no different where wage growth has struggled to match inflation. This issue is one of the reasons why Golden Charter has grown a legal services business, providing a way of generating profits which can be added to the maturity values of our contributing funeral director’s plans. We will be making a further annual distribution of this surplus very shortly and, while this helps to address potential shortfalls, it is only useful if the underlying funding arrangements remain completely secure.

The ramifications of the banking crisis continue to rumble on and the financial regulators remain the recipients of much criticism, currently over the appointment of the former Chairman of Co-operative Bank. As a result, public confidence in finance companies remains fragile. With the media screaming about a multi-billion pound black hole in the Co-op Group’s balance sheet, it would be surprising if some plan holders weren’t concerned and that anxiety may also spread to holders of other plans. 

To avoid any possible doubts arising in the minds of our plan holders and your customers, Golden Charter will make a series of announcements about the strength of the Golden Charter Trust. The details will emerge following next week’s SAIFCharter EGM as it is only proper that we inform our owners first. We can, however, announce today that the Trust currently holds more assets than it requires to fully meet all of its forecast liabilities and, furthermore, it is in its strongest position ever. That calm progress through the financial storm has been achieved by following a cautious investment policy and adding prudent levels of growth on plans. Reassuringly, the Trust remains a firm foundation for all of your plan holders. 

More detailed figures will be released around the end of this month and any plan holders seeking more information about the Golden Charter Trust can be guided to the Trust’s website at


Richard Mark Sage

Wednesday, 27 November 2013



Richard Mark Sage, also known as Mark Kerbey, until recently the owner of the Mary Mayer Funeral Home, Southend-on-Sea, is due back in Blackfriars Crown Court to answer a charge of fraud by misrepresentation on 2 December. He is presently on bail. 

Anyone seeking redress against this man should contact the police now. 

If you have any information about the case, please tell us.

An anxiety has to be the fate of the money Sage has taken for funeral plans. 




Let’s get physical

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Once upon a time photos were physical things that you gathered together and painstakingly stuck into an album. Nowadays, our photos are virtual — digital — and we merrily scatter them across our social media. Photos used to accumulate. Not any more, they don’t. The result is that the memories they evoke become fragmented among many people and easily evaporate. 

The selfsame technology that encourages this willy-nilly scattering also enables a community of people linked together on a social network like Facebook to act collaboratively to bring their photos, with their memories, together in a compilation that can be shared as a pdf or  a physical book. 

Take an example. Lots of people go to a wedding. They blaze away with their smartphones and cameras, then post the best on Facebook. All very fragmented and transient. Photosharing software enables one of these people to ‘author’ an album of the wedding by asking everyone to contribute their best photo/s together with a few words of text. The compilation album can then be shared digitally or fed through to a printer and made physical. 

There’s a growing number of photosharing outfits out there. I’ve been talking to one of them, PastBook, about compiling an photo and tribute album when someone dies, enabling the dead person’s scattered and fragmented social media community to contribute a photo and a few words about them to a photo album which tells their story — and which can then be browsed on the web, downloaded as a pdf or printed as a book. 

PastBook has now developed an In Memoriam app and trialled it at the Salon Funéraire (the big French deathcare expo) where, founder Stefano Cutello tells me in an email, “We got picked up as the most innovative company of the entire fair!” Read Stephano’s blog post here

Anyone can use the PastBook app to create an album. It’s all free — but you pay for the physical book. That’s clearly where they make their money back. Prices are reasonable, starting at under a tenner for a hardback book containing 24 photos. 

PastBook has rolled out a white-label version for celebrants and funeral companies so that they can provide the service under their own brand and domain.

It’s not at all easy for us addle-brained oldies at the GFG to get our heads around this sort of stuff, but we do our best for you, all in the cause of duty. We’re not in any sort of commercial relationship with PastBook, obviously; we don’t do commercial. But if you think the concept is one which is likely to take off, you’ll probably want to check it out. The video at the top sums it up. (We had to watch it a couple of times before we got it.)


Bang to rights

Tuesday, 26 November 2013









Richard Sage is up before the beak in Blackfriars Crown Court today. We can’t find what the charge is.  Updates to follow, and all info welcome. 




It is high time funeral people got behind statutory bereavement leave

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


David Cameron took 2 weeks off when Ivan died

A survey just out shows that 70 per cent of people support statutory paid bereavement leave.

The record shows that churches, celebrant organisations and undertakers’ trade associations aren’t remotely interested in offering any leadership in the matter whatever. Are you aware of anything any of them has said on the matter? 

This is curious. The vocational focus of people who work with the bereaved might be supposed to be the promotion of their emotional health. What else? 

Presently, a bereaved person has no legal right to take time off after a bereavement beyond time off to make funeral arrangements and time off to attend the funeral. More detail here. In the words of Acas: “Employees cannot expect to be granted leave automatically. When leave isn’t granted, they may have to use their holiday allowance.”

Did you sign the e-petition got up by Lucy Herd? If you didn’t, it’s too late now; it’s closed. 

What value can an employee offer when forced back into the workplace after a traumatic bereavement? Very little, you might think. But when presenting his private members Bill to the commons, Labour MP Tom Harris offered these examples: 

“In one case that was recently televised on an episode of Channel 4’s “Undercover Boss”, a driver for the waste disposal company Biffa was forced back to work just a day after the loss of his daughter. In another tragic case a father, a builder, was expected back to work five days after he lost his daughter to sudden infant death syndrome. Despite feeling unready to return to work, having barely slept, the man was told to resume work or lose his job. On yet another occasion, a parent was given just three days off after the death of his four-year-old son. The funeral was arranged on the fourth day, leading to the man having to use up his paid holiday leave to attend.”

Harris’ Bill is awaiting its second reading in the Commons on 24 January 2014. There’s time yet for celebrants and undertakers to get their acts together. 

Lobbying Parliament for an increase in the Social Fund Funeral Payment is all well and good. The campaign for statutory bereavement leave is the clear priority. 




Have Cambridgeshire’s badgers moved the goalposts?

Monday, 25 November 2013








If you want to be buried in Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, you’ll find the fees attractive but the rules, perhaps, restrictive. The parish council has placed a ban on coffins made from wicker, cardboard, bamboo or cotton. See the full document here

Why so? It has been suggested to us that badgers may be at the bottom of this: that the parish council wants to disincentivise them from digging up the dead. We have not been able to verify this so, to be absolutely fair, we have to declare that we have no idea why certain coffins are preferred and others deterred. 

If it turns out that badgers are the culprits responsible for this bureaucratic interference with the rights of Brits to bury their dead in anything they darn well please (so long as it doesn’t outrage public decency), where is the evidence that they dig up the dead? 

The answer to that is that the there are numerous reported incidences of badgers disrespecting our dormitories of the dead. You can check out a selection by clicking here, here, here, here and here

The diet of yer average badger comprises mostly earthworms and leatherjackets. But they are also known to predate on hedgehogs, lambs and rabbits.

They are also known to take carrion. 

Including the flesh of dead humans? Well, not to our knowledge, and we’ve done a fair amount of digging over the years to get to the bottom of this myth. Even those burial grounds that commendably bury shallow report no incursions by foxes and badgers. Simply, the theory goes, nature’s larder affords them tastier fare. Where badgers have dug up dead people in burial grounds this has been in the course of ‘clumsy’ pursuit of their normal diet. Their disturbance of the dead has been inadvertent — they have merely shouldered them aside. 

Have Cambridgeshire’s badgers moved the goalposts? We have invited Fowlmere Parish Council to account for its ban on certain coffins, and you can, too. The name of the clerk to the council is Mrs Jackie Wright and her email address is

The parish council will next meet on 17 December, and Mrs Wright has undertaken to draw the attention of the councillors to an email I sent on 21 November asking to know why they have banned ‘eco’ coffins. You may wish to do the same. 


The GFG blog represents all points of view. If you’ve got something to say and an urge to say it, we’d be pleased to publish it here. We reach close to 2000 people every day, so this is a good place to get your message out. Send your words to


The new man fighting for ethics at the bank

Sunday, 24 November 2013



Posted by Richard Rawlinson

It’s a financial institution that should symbolise business and social integrity: mutual co-operation for the benefit of customers, employees and just causes. Instead, it’s scarred by dodgy financial transactions, cronyism and scandal.  

But despair not. There’s one man who may yet sort out the mess, a leader already showing remarkable ROI (return on investment) since taking charge of the wider organisation to which the bank belongs.

Not for him senior ranking officials lining the pockets of criminal drug barons and pimps. Neither hypocritical champagne socialist nor unbridled hedge fund capitalist, he’s bringing decency and common sense to the table. What’s more, he has plenty of experience of the funeral business and of distributing food to the needy.   

I’m referring to Pope Francis, who has brought in outside experts to the Vatican Bank to raise standards of transparency and probity, and investigate rumours of links to Mafia money laundering.

The Pope’s empathy with the downtrodden is resulting in an increase in church attendance around the world. He’s even replacing Obama as the pin-up of the secular left [see here ]

But he might not be so popular with everyone when he’s wearing his CEO hat to counter corruption and excessive bureaucracy within the Vatican itself. Some reports even claim the Mafia is already plotting to kill him.

I hope I’m right to be skeptical about such rumours. Italian mobsters are strangely pious: they do things like kiss their rosary before shooting an enemy’s brains out. They also rarely act before carrying out a cost-benefit analysis, and hitting the head of the Catholic Church would surely be a catastrophic own goal.

The GFG blog represents all points of view. If you’ve got something to say and an urge to say it, we’d be pleased to publish it here. We reach close to 2000 people every day, so this is a good place to get your message out. Send your words

The only way is Ethics?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Screenshot 2013-11-23 at 17

The Co-operative — What Makes Us Different


“I sometimes wonder if the greatest institutional problem of our time is not plain, unvarnished evil, but this obsession with Ethics as an outward form, with compliance rather than conscience. The whole idea of an Ethical business, as distinct from a normal one which behaves ethically, is flawed. Today, business after business, organisation after organisation, babbles about corporate responsibility, transparency, openness, saving the planet etc. Like executive versions of the Pharisees, they proclaim, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are.” Later, expensively, we discover that they are as other men are, or even a bit worse; and for some reason we are surprised.”

Charles Moore here

It’s legal to care for your own

Friday, 22 November 2013



Kimberlyrenee Gamboa’s son Kyle committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in September, three weeks into his senior year in high school. A seemingly happy 18-year-old with lots of friends and into competitive lasertag, Kyle’s death was such a shock, his mother said, she doesn’t know how she’d have managed it through a typical funeral. Instead, with help from her church and and home death guide, Heidi Boucher, Kyle’s body was returned to the family home one day after his death. Boucher washed Kyle and helped arrange the body on dry ice changed every 24 hours; she gathered information to fill out Kyle’s death certificate and managed all coordination with the mortuary. For three full days, Kyle’s body lay in the family living room in an open casket, not embalmed. During that time, day and night, surrounded by pictures and candles and flowers, all of his friends and family could say good-bye and remember his short life. For Kyle’s mother, that time was critical to her healing.


Carry the coffin, it’ll help you carry on

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Coffinmaker from Dan McComb on Vimeo.

“I think one of the most important aspects of the coffin is that it can be carried. And I think we’re meant to carry each other, and I think carrying someone you love, committing them, is very important for us that we deal with death; we want to know that we have played our part and that we have shouldered our burden. So, if we make it too convenient, then we’re depriving ourselves of a chance to get stronger so that we can carry on.”

“It changes the funeral from something you watch to something you do … All the coffins we use have working handles, six of them. This means that anyone can carry it without worrying about dropping it or not being the same height … If you want to be involved in a funeral, really involved, carry the coffin … Feel the uncompromising weight, the handles biting into your hand. Let your body form a physical memory of this moment … Feel what’s happening … You have honoured them with effort; you can do no more.” Rupert Callender. Listen to his Pause for Thought on BBC Radio Devon here. 

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