Blog Archives: 2014

An Irish Funeral in Birmingham

Wednesday, 31 December 2014




Posted by David Hall

With Vintage Lorry Funerals website displaying David Hall’s contact details, some Families seek to book the 1950 Leyland Beaver directly to avoid the margin that some Funeral Directors seek to impose.

David’s mobile is always switched on, apart from when he is involved with a funeral, when the silent mode is set up. However, some Families ring David in the evening knowing that he will take a call in contrast to most Funeral Directors who transfer their calls to a night service after 1630 hours. On Boxing Day 2011 David was at home with his family when his mobile rang. Initially he thought that it was his Sister wishing him Greetings of the Season, but it was a Birmingham Family whose Dad had just passed away.

When the funeral details were confirmed by the Funeral Arranger, she was surprised that David had asked for the contact details for the Florists and refused to provide this information. David spoke with the Family, got the contact details and quickly had an idea for a layout once he knew the description of the Floral Tributes. Cognisant that the Family were originally from Ireland, David saw a way of including a Tricolour Flag within the display and the Contact Person in the Family thought this concept was amazing and asked David to keep this development secret from the rest of the Family.

On the morning of the funeral David arrived early at the Funeral Directors affording him plenty of time to load the flowers which included three ‘Name Tributes’. When David was in the middle of assembling the display the Funeral Arranger apologised for not being on the same wavelength regarding information on the flowers. She obviously had expected that the flowers would be of low priority and positioned on the deck around the coffin as if they were in a hearse. She explained that she never had anticipated a multilevel display and couldn’t have imagined the amount of work involved building the support structure. Normally David sketches out his ideas on a layout and emails this drawing to all interested parties, however, the secret regarding the use of the Tricolour meant that this procedure could not be followed on this occasion.

In addition to the ‘Name Tributes’ there was a ‘Gates of Heaven’ which David placed near the Head of the coffin to create the image as if the Deceased had passed through the Gates of Heaven and this meant a lot to the Family.


There were a number of  smaller wreaths and a posy which included two Meerkat statues to depict the TV advert featuring these animals which was a favourite of the Deceased.   


The off-loading and re-loading at the Church went according to plan. However, as the vintage lorry approached the graveside at the far end of the cemetery it was evident that something was badly wrong. As David was starting to remove the ratchet straps, he was advised to stop as apparently the wrong grave had been dug. Tragically the Mourners had to wait until a new grave was prepared in a distant location near the entrance. As David had driven into the cemetery a host of cars had followed the lorry and the drivers had deposited the cars hurriedly either side of the cemetery road near to graves. Consequently the way back to the entrance would very difficult with obstacles on either side to be avoided. The Contact Person in the Family accompanied David as he surveyed the route and got some of the cars removed. There was plenty of time to do this as the delay was over 90 minutes.

Having started at 0400 hours and never eaten since leave home, David’s blood sugar levels were getting low at 1400 hours. David needed to eat his sandwiches. However, he felt that it would be inappropriate to eat in front of the mourners, who would also be hungry. David called the Head Mourner across to his lorry and quietly explained his predicament. David offered him his Toffee Crisp but the Head Mourner politely declined David’s kindness, telling him he could eat what he wanted.

Although it wasn’t appropriate to share his thoughts with the Family he couldn’t help relating the events happening before his eyes in the cemetery, with the 1971 Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show, which featured the Andre Previn sketch. In front of David one man was working frantically and a number of people were wondering how this could have happened, telling him that he had dug the wrong grave. David felt the Grave Digger should have responded with, ‘I’ve dug the right grave, but not necessarily in the right part of the cemetery.’


It’s a wrap

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


pic source


The private ambulance is on its way, porters are bringing up the mortuary trolley and the nurses in the ICU are disconnecting tracheostomy tubes, dialysis lines, catheter and ventilator. Soon the Old Year will be flatlining. Farewell 2014 ur a legend RIP. 

Here in the GFG-Batesville Tower, where our annual Christmas party is presently in full wrecking-ball swing, the entire, massed team wishes you a very happy Christmas and an immense New Year. 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for blogging — if you did. If you didn’t, well, there’s a new year resolution for you. We’d love to hear from you. The GFG is for everybody.

Our tongue is stilled. But we’ll be back on 1 Jan 2015* with… David Hall’s latest lorry hearse adventure, of course. 

* Terms and conditions apply


TERMS AND CONDITIONS – In accordance with the terms of the Mortality (Sudden and Arbitrary) Act the Directors of the Good Funeral Guide CIC offer no assurance or guarantee conditional or otherwise, implicit or explicit, that either they or you will be extant in 2015 wherefore the statement “We’ll be back” may be construed as amounting to no more than an expression of conventional seasonal courtesy signifying no other than an aspiration or desideratum and not a binding undertaking. 

Womb to tomb

Monday, 22 December 2014



Posted by John Porter

This is the most exploitative time of our year. Everyone gladly leaps onto the bandwagon and we cheer each other into debt. The orgy of gift opening on the day is extraordinary. Children rip open expensive toys that leave almost nothing to their imaginations. Within minutes they start to play with the boxes and wrapping paper – to really play. I smile. I think the problem is that our early winter festival is described as a religious festival – to celebrate the birth of Christ. Churches of all descriptions have got it wrong, thanks to Pope Gregory. It was he who sanctioned the inclusion of fertility cults and practices – if you can’t beat them, join us! Ever since we have been left with a Christmess. Jesus was probably born around late September/early October during the Feast of Tabernacles. The three “kings” were most likely Jewish princes of some kind. He was laid in a manger but was not born in a stable with ox and ass around. It is much more likely to have happened in a central courtyard of a large stone inn. Mary’s extended family would not give her any of their rooms as they were convinced she had had sex with Joseph. They were shocked by his denial yet amazed by his ongoing commitment to Mary.

The Twelve Days of Christmas song actually relates to a fertility cult tradition where a leader of a village, for twelve days, could have sex with any woman he wanted – thanks to Pope Gregory’s gracious welcome into the Roman Church! No, I’m not a Roman Catholic! Santa Claus is another twisted tale of a Turkish monk who helped the poor. The red suit and white beard may have been a Coca Cola invention?!

What has this to do with funerals? The clue is in the title of this piece. A public lowly birth. A most public mock-King death. A funeral that never really happened, despite the women being ready to follow the customary rituals after the Sabbath. If the conception of Christ was indeed parthenogenetic then a quick look into Mary’s womb is in order. Let’s imagine that the Biblical record is true. What we have is Mary’s human egg. It had to be otherwise tons of Old Testament prophesies would come a cropper. The bloodline had to be from King David. That’s why it is careless to skip over the genealogies in Matthew and Luke – non Jews just don’t seem to get them. Then the Holy Spirit creates a male sperm and it successfully fertilises Mary’s fully human egg. God and man. If this was the X Files we have an “alien”/human hybrid! Let’s say we accept the virgin birth as a fact – there have been at least six recorded human virgin births – all female. Apart from angels, visions and other amazing things Jesus’ birth was totally normal. The carol line “… no crying he makes” may bring a lump to a parent’s throat as they watch, wet-eyed, their four year-old croaking away under the church Christmas tree, but this is sentimental nonsense. Jesus cried, he produced wee and poo. He needed cleaning, feeding, clothing, cuddling and worrying about.

Anyway let’s go back to Mary’s womb, this time with an eye on the stone-sealed tomb. I doubt that the following verse will be read in churches across the world in the next few weeks: “When Herod realised he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethelhem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” This does not make for a good nativity script! I have been to Bethelhem and cried as I imagined the soldiers coming and wrenching babies and toddlers away from parents. The cries must have haunted families for years after. No funerals. Zoom forward to when Jesus was a boy, his parents having escaped Herod’s death edict and fled with him to Egypt are now back living in Nazareth on a trip to Jerusalem. They marvelled at the words spoken by Simeon, a holy man, about their special boy; and then this devastating line is said by Simeon: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too,” referring to the spear into the side of the dead Christ and Mary’s pain at seeing her boy murdered on the cross – sanctioned by a Roman procurator whose wife had told him “Have nothing to do with this innocent man.

The cross, not a star, hovers over the manger where a human/divine baby cries.

No wonder that families, who say to a funeral director, “We want a non-religious service” often say a little later “…but we want a bit of God in it!” The story of this baby’s start in life is compelling.

Have a great time during this late December festival.

PS – I have a New Year’s resolution in mind that I would like to do it with a friend. I’ll ask her about it next week – it involves reading an entire library of books!

Adopt a grave

Friday, 19 December 2014



Your average grave is visited for an average of around 15 years. After that, neglect can leave it looking unloved and anonymous, creating exactly the opposite effect to the one intended. There are those who see a cemetery as a monument to the vanity of human wishes. I’m one of them. Remembrance all too quickly passes into amnesia. Forever in our hearts? Who did you say you were exactly?

An exception to this rule is a military cemetery. Military folk maintain a hold on the hearts of the living longer than everyday heroes who die in civvies. Make what you want of that.

In Europe a number of American war cemeteries have an adopt-a-grave scheme. Local citizens, hundreds of them, adopt the grave of a dead soldier. They bring flowers and keep it looking tended. There are even waiting lists. More here.

Some 65 years ago Mrs Arpots (91) adopted the grave of British soldier Leonard Raymond Allison at the British War Cemetery in Brunssum. Still she is in good contact with the soldier’s family in the UK. “The mother of the soldier in particular was very grateful that we maintained the grave of her son. For us it was the least we could do after having been liberated.”

Just like Mrs. Arpots people from Brunssum have adopted a grave immediately following the liberation. They not only looked after the graves but also continued staying in touch with the family of the deceased soldier. Mrs. Arpots: “The family found it consoling and assuring that we maintained those graves for them. Leonard was their beloved son or brother. We have seen them frequently, and then they stayed with us or we stayed with them. We also received baby clothes and toys from them. We always had a very special relationship. I really enjoyed looking after the grave and maintain our relationship with the family.”

In the UK, Darwen has an adopt-a-grave scheme for its war dead, each grave marked by its Portland stone headstone. At Sutton Veny Primary School near Warminster, Wiltshire, pupils tend the graves of New Zealand and Australian soldiers in the local churchyard.

In Buxton, Derbyshire, an adopt-a-grave initiative was launched in 2011:

Mrs Luton said: “We had an open day and had to approach people with this odd idea of tending the grave of a stranger. “Eighteen people said yes on the day and more have joined since. We let them walk through the churchyard and choose a grave which appealed to them. “I don’t know how they chose but nobody wanted the same grave, it was incredible. “Many have wonderful details on the stones and there are a lot of children, and a lot of people have chosen children’s graves.”

In the same civvy spirit, James Norris of DeadSocial has just launched an Adopt a Grave initiative at Brompton cemetery. The idea is to enable Londoners to commune with death and nature at the same time as tidying up a bit:

Many of us do not visit green spaces on a regular basis due to a not owning a property with a garden and the environmental conditions in which we live. Due to the nature of urban cities we rarely get to ‘work on the land’ or immerse ourselves in an area of natural beauty. By granting participants permission to tend a currently untended, historic grave we hope that the natural relationship between participants, nature and death is addressed and somewhat rekindled.  We encourage those who adopt a grave to find out the story about the person whose grave they are tending. 

Love it.

An offer they can’t refuse

Thursday, 18 December 2014



A number of independent funeral directors have sent us a copy of a letter they have received from Golden Charter:

Dear _________

The latest Funeral Planning Authority statistics confirmed that Golden Charter is now the leading seller of funeral plans. As a non-seller, your existing plans currently do not attract our seller’s additional premium, payable when the plan matures. To date, Golden Charter has held this seller’s premium in the Trust in the hope that your company would, one day, become a seller of Golden Charter plans. 

However you, along with other non-selling independents, have declined several invitations to become sellers, and it appears unlikely that you will join us in the future. This means we are now holding money in the Trust which is unlikely to be required and much of that contingency can be released for redistribution to our shareholders and exclusive sellers in the years ahead. 

In November the board unanimously agreed that those funeral directors who do not actively sell Golden Charter funeral plans after 31 December 2015 will no longer be eligible for this historic premium on existing plans, even if they should become an active seller at a later date. 

It is not too late … I would urge you to reconsider …

Of course, this is not the only attraction. Sellers of Golden Charter plans also receive allocations of future funerals. We allocate far more plans or legal charges than all the other companies combined and the volume is growing rapidly. Gaining your share of that future market must make becoming a seller worthy of consideration. 


In closing, it is my hope that you will take this opportunity to join with Golden Charter, and become part of the success story owned by and run entirely for the benefit of independent funeral directors.

The letter is signed by Michael Corish, Managing Director.

We rise again!

Monday, 15 December 2014



Sorry if you missed us. Something to do with hostile action by corporate enemies of the GFG the server. A huge thank you to Ian ‘Harry’ Harris at Carronmedia for his delicate touch with a big spanner and cold chisel. There was an uncomfortable period when we thought there might be no way back. 


What is an undertaker for, really?

Friday, 12 December 2014



“Most people in the funeral industry are servants by nature, but it’s time that we took that servant nature and put it to better use by aiding you in the process of caring for your dead. Instead of doing it ourselves, we now need to be teachers, and not just directors; we need to be mentors and not just morticians. We need to reintroduce you to the value of caring for your dead.”

US 6th generation undertaker Caleb Wilde in a TED talk here

“… caring for the dead is not neurosurgery requiring esoteric knowledge and the skills of experts. People have the social savvy and wisdom to do these things themselves, and centuries of our forebears managed to accomplish them without benefit of clergy or mortician.

When funeral directors and clergy realise that people can perform these actions quite adequately without us, ironically a window of understanding opens through which we can see what our proper roles might be and how it can be that people can do this better with us. And what is this proper role? To put it succinctly, the task of both funeral professionals and clergy is to help people do this very human thing more humanely.

That is why, when it comes to funeral professionals, the old title of “undertaker” is so apt. People do not need to have their funerals “directed,” any more than they need their lovemaking, birthing, bathing, eating, laboring and going about the trials and obligations of everyday living directed. Women in labor don’t need a birth director, they need a midwife. In the same way, people caring for and burying their dead don’t need a funeral “director”; they need people who will undertake to help them accomplish these tasks well.”

Thomas Long, theologian, in The Good Funeral

Wilde is reckoned to be on the progressive wing of the funerals business and Long is considered a reactionary. 

ED’S NOTE – Yes, the pic at the top is John Bates, the valet in Downton Abbey.

Intellectual poverty

Wednesday, 10 December 2014



“People are also turning to alternatives to the traditional funeral. Some are holding do-it-yourself funerals, and even having to bury relatives in their back garden. A number of companies are offering cut-price funerals, including “direct” cremations that have no formal service attached to them.”

That was Emma Lewell-Buck MP presenting the Funeral Services Bill in the House of Commons yesterday and somehow managing to name-check Royal London three times in the first 4 paragraphs.  

You’ve read about this because it’s everywhere — the lurid claim that disadvantaged people are burying their dead in their back gardens. I expect you felt, as we did at the GFG, that Ms Lewell-Buck under-egged her argument. For she must know as well as us that poor people are routinely and in sharply rising numbers also disposing of their dead in wood-chippers, acid baths, on garden barbecues and in country lay-bys. 

 What’s odd/interesting/remarkable is that no one seems to have queried her claim. Anybody in possession of a right mind would, you think, have smelled an XL rat and called her bluff. 

 Nope.  The readiness of the great British public, including the great British press pack, to suspend their incredulity when presented with ocean-going baloney about funerals is amazing.

 So, well done Ms L-B, you seem to have got away with it. Well done for stigmatising DIY funerals and direct cremation while you were about it. Well done for branding a public health funeral a pauper’s funeral. And well done for distracting people from serious discussion of the issues. 

 We are sorry to hear that your Bill will lapse due to lack of parliamentary time.


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Pic of a poor person digging a grave in his garden in today’s Metro 


Should he or shouldn’t he?

Monday, 8 December 2014




Jon Underwood at Death Café wants to open a permanent, community owned, not for profit Death Café in London. He says:

“Until now, all of our Death Cafes have been pop-up events in local homes or venues. This project is to set up ‘Death Cafe London’, a coffee shop in central London offering people the opportunity to engage with death, however briefly.”

Jon went to see Bernard Crettaz, the originator of the Death café format, in Switzerland to talk the idea over with him. Bernard counselled caution:

“I am scared of creating a new space that becomes a new specialist or a ghetto of death.”

Jon says:

“Though I am personally very keen to progress this, it does not make sense unless there is widespread support from those connected with Death Café — I think the project will be beneficial for society and a chance for a lot of learning and discussion. I have confidence that it will be enjoyable. I think the time is right for this and by offering a place where people can come and engage with death we’ll be doing something we’ll be proud of.   But I can’t proceed unless I know that there are at least a significant number of you with me.”

If you’d like to consider this in more detail and contribute to the discussion, you can do so by going here.

I know Jon would be extremely grateful. I think we all know how much we owe him.


Jon Underwood with Bernard Crettaz

The product that has turned every sadness into a sales-op and every funeral into a retail event?

Thursday, 4 December 2014



“The ‘buy now, die later’ brand of package deal has meant a lost connection between the sale of funerals and the delivery of them, and with it the loss of face-to-face accountability between buyer and seller that used to provide reliable consumer protection. Now the recipient of the services (the bereaved) and the provider of same (the funeral director) are both perilously out of the loop of the original transaction: a deal often brokered years before, between a commissioned salesperson and the now newly deceased. In such an environment there can be little real accountability.”Thomas Lynch

Over at the Oldie magazine agony aunt Mary Kenny is talking about funeral plans: JR from South Wales warns that, even when pre-paid, there can be a hefty bill – “she was appalled by the undertaker’s charges after her husband’s recent death.”

Here at the GFG we were invited a couple of days ago by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries IFoA) to contribute to a consultation which will “address concerns regarding actuaries’ involvement with pre-paid funeral plan trusts” and “help them develop a mandatory Actuarial Profession Standard leading to members playing a stronger role in “assessing the financial viability of such trusts and in helping trustees and plan providers ensure that they can continue to provide the funerals they are contracted to provide to planholders.”

Down in Bristol, according to the Daily Mail, “Barbara Graham, 72, was left in tears after salesmen from Golden Charter funeral planners asked her if she wanted to pre-plan her own burial. Despite telling them she was currently battling cancer, the firm called back again a few days later to try and sell her the same service. 

We’ve had quite a lot of angry reaction to this, so we asked Golden Charter to respond. This is what they said:

Golden Charter do not cold call. Any agency from whom we receive leads complies fully with all relevant legislation and codes of conduct. Despite what you may have read we did not contact her after being told she had cancer. We did not call her twice in a week. We contacted her on the 20th October. Erroneously we left that lead in the list that could be called, as she informed us that she had arrangements in place. On the 6th November we called her again at which stage she informed us of her health issues. Our representative apologised and removed her from our list.

It seems Mrs Graham took part in a third-party survey and indicated that she was interested in funeral planning. A third-party survey is a survey done by a third party research company sometimes by phone, sometimes online, sometimes on the high  street or in retail shopping centres where people are asked if they are interested in a specific range of products. If they indicate they are, and the person consents to being contacted, then these companies offer those details for a consideration to organisations who sell those services.”

It goes without saying that Golden Charter deplore the Mail’s failure to get in touch and check facts.

What do we think? We think that funeral planning is inherently a vexed business. There are people passionately for and people passionately against.

Over in the US, Thomas Lynch is passionately against:

“The aggressive pre-selling of funeral wares is a late-twentieth-century invention, driven entirely by vendor interests and the cash hunger of consolidators”

Boomers “love these things. Planned parenthood, prenuptials, prearranged funerals – always this hopeful notion that we might pre-feel the feelings … the sense that these unpredictable existential events might be turned into manageable retail experiences.”

’You don’t want to be a burden to your children, do you?’ Why shouldn’t I be a burden to my children? My children have been a burden to me. Lovely burdens, every one of them … And they will be paying for [my funeral] emotionally, financially, actually. Since they have to live with the decisions, why shouldn’t they make them? … If the burden of my death, borne honourably, makes them feel as capable as bearing the sweet burden of their births has made me feel, I can do them the favour of leaving well enough alone.”

“The pie of funeral expenses and revenues, formerly distributed among providers of goods and services, rarely provided more than single digit profits. Now the slices were many more and accordingly narrower – a commission for the contract seller, a piece for the referral and finder’s fees, something for the marketing and management of the pre-need account and, of course, a profit for the financier … These transactional expenses, which paid for neither mortuary services or merchandise, came out before the funeral director and the clergy, the florist and newspapers, the soloist and cemetery, stood in line for theirs. It was money spent on the shuffling of paper.”

“The junk-mailed, telemarketed, bargain-in-the-briefcase brand of pre-sold funeral service that has turned every sadness into a sales-op and every funeral into a retail event has not been good for the funeral, the funeral consumer or the funeral director. Nor has it been good for their [professional] associations.

“… there ought to be no profit in in pre-need transactions … the buyer, not the seller, should initiate the transaction.”

Finally, Lynch quotes Howard C Raether: “If funeral directors insist on soliciting preneed funerals, they are in fact prearranging the funeral of their profession.”

Do feel free to sound off. Passionately.

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