Blog Archives: January 2014

And the coffin was made by… Greenfield

Friday, 31 January 2014

Garden (2)


You saw it here first. Yeah, well okay, you first saw it here. Hayley’s coffin was, we can now reveal, made by Will Hunneybel and his team at Greenfield Creations.

As I write, (9.08) you could boil an egg on Will’s servers and the GFG coffins page is going bananas.

A good day for the empowered funeral shopper.


Then as now

Friday, 31 January 2014



A minimalist funeral reported in the Leinster Express, 1914:

The funeral of the Rev. T. Pym Williamson, for 45 years vicar of Thelwell, near Warrington, was conducted in accordance with his desire that it should be marked by the utmost simplicity.

He wished for nothing more than what would be accorded to any of his parishioners, he said, and added: “Perhaps a hearse may be found a convenience, but a handcart covered by a pall is better to my way of thinking.”

The body was conveyed to the church on a handcart, followed by his six sons. The funeral ceremony was of the simplest character.

Being A Man

Friday, 31 January 2014


Posted by MC

I am not a new man, according to my wife. To qualify as someone who is even slightly in touch with his feminine side, I would have to empty the kitchen bin. Without being asked.

It’s not an especially good time to be a man. I knew we were in trouble when I saw the latest Southbank event being advertised. It’s called, BEING A MAN.

On a recent news item, someone said that on average two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. Statistics on male violence in the UK and around the world make distressing reading. After watching Ross Kemp’s TV programme Extreme World about Papua New Guinea earlier this week, I fervently wished that I could have un-watched it. Men did not come out of it well. Even more tragically, nor did the women.

But in the UK, you’re far more likely to die from causes other than diseases (like suicide and road traffic accidents) if you’re a man. Chances are, if you’re attending the funeral of your spouse, you’re a woman.

According to my wife, this means that (yet again) she’s going to be left with all the organising to do. Even though I’ve told her countless times to put me out with the rubbish.

Which is why I’m disappointed with the Coronation Street writers. Not because I’m a funeral celebrant (although Suzie the scary humanist did make me cringe) but because I’m a man.

Now Roy strikes me as a good male role model: hard-working, loyal and kind. Not that I’ve ever watched this programme until recently, or any soap for that matter. I’m watching for professional reasons only. And I’m hoping that Roy is going to get a grip and do us proud.

C’mon Roy! Hayley’s given you a list of instructions. What more do you want?

Undertaker’s windows: the Individual Funeral Company

Friday, 31 January 2014


The Individual Funeral Company is a young business in Oxford run by Lucy Jane. At one time she rode motorbike hearses for Paul Sinclair.

Lucy recently took on a new member of staff, ‘paw-bearer’ Joplin. Joplin is a French bulldog and has made a great hit with passers-by, many of who have hurtled through the door to say hello without realising they were entering an undertaker’s.

More photos of great windows welcome. Send em in!


Undertakers’ windows: Heaven On Earth

Friday, 31 January 2014



Believe it or not, this beautiful undertaker’s window is full of the iconography of death. Heaven on Earth is in the city of Bristol and is run by Paula Rainey-Crofts and Simon Durgan. It is one of the pioneer ‘alternative’ undertakers. (There has to be a better term than ‘alternative’, what is it?)

Urbi et orbi = ‘to the city and to the world’. Nice touch, revealing, perhaps, a Catholic influence and an elegant sense of humour. These words customarily preface the Pope’s Easter and Christmas blessings to the massed faithful in St Peter’s Square.

Londoner wins national photo competition £1000 prize

Thursday, 30 January 2014


What follows is a press release from MAB which, of course, we’re delighted to publish. 

Dead Art? Then & Now.

 Earlier this month Fulham resident Robin Bath won the £1000 prize for a national photo competition designed to capture the beauty of stone memorials. 

The Memorial Awareness Board (MAB) runs the annual competition that challenges the public to take two photos, one representing the ‘then’ and one representing the ‘now’. It’s an opportunity to showcase memorials ‘unsung beauty’. 

The competition was a huge success and with such a high standard of entries choosing the ten shortlisted proved a challenging task! Then ten were then published on the website and put to a public vote.

Winner Robin Bath from Fulham was delighted with the £1000 prize. Robin said “Thank you so much to MAB for the great opportunity. I am a keen photographer and found the subject matter of stone memorials most fascinating. Visiting cemeteries is a beautiful and peaceful pass time. Organisation’s like MAB are vitally important”. Robin also received a Gold award certificate signed by the MAB chairman.

Competition sponsor Chris Lodge, (Managing Director of Lodge Brothers) presented Robin with the cheque by the Thames at Tower Bridge.

Congratulations to runner up Peter Heaton from York who won a digital camera. Peter is most inspired by photography and visiting cemeteries. He says “I was delighted to hear that I had won the Silver Award in the MAB photographic competition, I came across the competition online a couple of years ago and thought then that its subject would suit my style of work and interests. I began to look at the fascinating variety of memorials in my local cemetery. It is reassuring to know that there is a body such as the MAB which contributes to the continuing interest and development of our country’s memorials”.

The Memorial Awareness Board is a non-profit organisation, representing memorial stonemasons and campaigning for sympathetic memorialisation in the UK. Its brand new website,, aims to inform the public and the press alike about their options regardingmemorialisation. Whether a loved one is buried or cremated they deserve to be remembered forever and a stone memorial is the best way to accomplish this. The website gives details of all types of stone memorial available from UK memorial masons. 

Each year, the ‘Dead Art? Then and Now’ photography competition attracts entries from across the country. The purpose of the competition is to encourage the public to venture to their local cemeteries to discover the beauty of stone memorials, while helping them to understand the importance of stone memorials as a focus for grief in the short term, and agenealogy tool in the long term. The competition  is sponsored by Funeral Directors Lodge

Christopher Lodge, Director of Masonry at Lodge Brothers (Funerals) Ltd says, “ As a family business established over 200 years, we are really pleased to sponsor this unique photographic competition. Memorials play a part in our social history through both personal and public memorials. They are a lasting tribute to loved ones and those who have lost their lives for our country. We sincerely hopethat this competition shows the changes within our industry and society through the theme “Then and Now” and raises the awareness and importance of commemorating in stone.” 


Remembering a suicide: outward appearances and inner selves

Thursday, 30 January 2014




I’ve recently attended the memorial service of a friend I’ll refer to as B, who committed suicide towards the end of last year. He hanged himself with his belt in a hospital room, just an hour after being sectioned following previous attempts to take his own life. Having had an intimate funeral at a crematorium, his memorial service was a bigger gathering in a church, and was followed by drinks at his club.

Perhaps more than after premature deaths by accident or illness, the mood swings of those left behind are complex after a suicide, both at the public send-offs and during private grief. Regret is tainted with anger and incomprehension at the person’s decision. There’s also guilt that we were powerless to change things.

The memorial service and party came three months after B’s death, time enough to lessen the intensity of fresh grief. He was remembered in speeches, prayers and music. Causing both tears and smiles, the tone was respectful and affectionate. At the social afterwards, guests chatted freely, neither obliged to share good memories especially, nor to articulate feelings about the awful circumstances of the death. That he is missed is a given.

The event got me thinking about what can and cannot be said on such occasions. Initially, my response had manifested itself by constantly asking, why? A sensible friend, who was chosen as executor, was more practical. As well as busying himself with funeral arrangements and financials matters, he investigated a case for negligence at the mental institution. Why leave someone alone with a belt when on suicide watch?

I had no taste for such wrangles. I just wallowed in private misery. I considered posting a blog but couldn’t string a sentence together about something so personal. I was freed from this solitary numbness by what started as an unrelated phone conversation. To my surprise, a casual chat somehow gave me permission to let it all out. I ranted and sobbed with uncharacteristic abandon.

However, I also had a slight disagreement with the executor during a conversation about the ‘whys’ of B’s suicide. I mentioned B had talked of serious money worries, something the executor promptly denied. He should know, I thought, and decided never to repeat the ‘money angle’ lest I was indeed spreading false information. Certainly a no-go subject at the memorial gathering.

This was nevertheless my impression from my final conversation with B. The last time I saw him was after he’d just been sectioned for the first time after overdosing on pills. Briefly allowed out of care before curfew, we met in a bar early evening, him sticking to soft drinks as he was on lithium. I told him how shocked I was by his situation. He’d always seemed so together, not just because he was successful and popular but because he exuded an inner calm. The swan was clearly peddling like crazy beneath the water’s surface.

Did he realise how loved and admired he was? Was it a genuine attempt to end it all or a cry for help after concealing his demons for too long? Would he promise never again to hide his troubles as if vulnerability was somehow shameful?

He shrugged nonchalantly, his gaze still. Was he being evasive? Was he medicated beyond feelings? I persisted. So what were the triggers? People say depression needs no fuel, that it’s a mental disorder that can consume regardless of external forces. But could he identify any preoccupations that caused his predicament?

Had he been diagnosed with any serious illness other than depression? No. Had he been heartbroken in love? No. Had drink or recreational drugs escalated into a problem? Not really. Did he have money worries, having gone self-employed after years as a salary man at a big firm? I thought I’d identified a catalyst here as he claimed that establishing his own company was the biggest mistake of his life, that business was slow and not covering the overheads of office rental and staff salaries.

I tried to offer a positive spin. We’d admired his entrepreneurial spirit but career defeat was no big deal in the greater scheme of things, even in a buoyant market let alone a recession. He could walk away and become an employee again. Besides, he also owned homes in London and the country. Far from being broke, he could easily regain solvency with a few lifestyle adjustments.

He looked sheepish, saying he was closer to bankruptcy than I imagined, his properties mortgaged to the hilt. I wanted him to see a light at the end of the tunnel regardless. He could downsize to release the profits and start with a clean slate. At the end of the day, wealth was relative, and all any of us needed for physical comfort was a roof over our heads, a bed, shower, fridge, computer…

The direction of this dialogue now started to reveal a side of B I’d never previously encountered. He alluded to affluent mutual friends, and the need to keep face among privileged company. I brushed aside this self pity. Come on, B, you’re surrounded by loyal friends who adore you. We all know people who are both richer and poorer than us.

I didn’t judge him for seeming insecure, I was in fact thankful he was opening up to something that seemed so simple to remedy through reason. Other more visible character traits were now falling into place. He had always been extravagantly generous. Was he a pathological people pleaser, better at giving love than receiving it?

As we said goodbye, I reminded him many of us were there for him. When I next called, we arranged to meet over the weekend. He then cancelled by text saying he’d had to leave town. It transpires he was in fact attempting to jump off an infamous ‘suicide’ bridge in the home counties. He was caught behaving suspiciously on CCTV camera, and picked up by the police. This time, the sectioning didn’t work. Whether or not his belt had been confiscated, he was clearly intent on dying.

As I dwell on the executor’s dismissal of financial matters as a cause for the clinical depression, I realise the whys are not so important. We can ask whether life determines demons or demons determine life, but we’re all different things to different people, and some things go with us to the grave.

Funeral wishes are no more than wishful thinking

Wednesday, 29 January 2014



‘You can decide everything in advance if you wish, down to the kind of music you’d like – and there’s no charge for changing or updating your wishes at a later stage.’ Golden Charter

‘…pre-planning your funeral is actually a thoughtful and responsible way to show that you care your family … your family are spared the emotional and financial burden of organising your funeral, with all the decisions and problems this can entail, at a time when they least cope.’ Golden Leaves

‘With a Liberty funeral plan you can … choose your own funeral arrangements for your own peace of mind.’ FPS

‘Where do you want your funeral to be held? Do you want readings and, if so, which ones and read by whom? Perhaps there’s even a particular route you would like your hearse to take. By taking the initiative and setting out what you want now, you can get on with living your life, knowing that when the time comes your loved ones will know what you wanted and be spared from having to make difficult decisions.’ ‘…by capturing your funeral wishes in writing you’ll know that your requests will be honoured.’ Dying Matters in association with the National Association of Funeral Directors

‘Nottinghamshire residents could soon be able to design and record their own funeral ceremony with the help of the County Council. The proposed service will allow individuals to work with registrars to make their own choices about their funeral ceremony and take away difficult decisions family members would otherwise have to make at a time when they are coping with a bereavement. The ceremony plan will be stored at the County Archive and accessible to the next of kin or the person arranging the funeral after their death. Mansfield and Ashfield Chad

What they don’t tell you, even in the small print (we’ve checked) is this: you can design your funeral, record your wishes, choose your music and your readings, select a route for the hearse and issue myriad such instructions to be acted on post mortem, but nothing you say or write or sign, however insistently, changes this one overriding fact: none of it is legally binding on the person with the responsibility to dispose of your body – or as all manner of information sources euphemistically and wholly inaccurately express it, “arrange your funeral”, an entirely separate and optional event).

You have no legal right to prescribe the manner of disposal of your dead body, nor can you prescribe the palaver that is to accompany that disposal (the funeral in other words).

You can issue legally binding instructions regarding the disposal of your property – this is the purpose of a will. But you cannot issue instructions regarding the disposal of your corpse because in law there is no property in a dead body, end of.

Sure, most ‘families’ will be grateful to learn that Mum wanted to be cremated and asked for the hearse to pause outside the village hall on the way to the crem. Most will want to do what the dead person wanted. But not all will want to.

Memo to anyone out there who sells funeral plans or encourages people to record their funeral wishes: tell them all the facts. They need to know. 

Window dressing

Tuesday, 28 January 2014



An email arrived here recently from a person who has been struck by the way undertakers dress their windows. ‘Dreadful’ is one of the adjectives she used, ‘depressing’ another. She’d like to set up a small business and put them right.

Whether or not undertakers’ windows are on the whole dressed badly is a matter of perception. An assortment of tombstones, the window sticker of a trade association, a vase of faded artificial flowers and a fan of pamphlets selling Golden Fleece funeral plans – is that okay or is it dreadful and depressing? In truth, you rarely see much in most undertakers’ windows to raise the spirits of yer average potential customer, nor evidence of the exercise of much imagination, aesthetic intelligence or marketing acumen.

Did I say customer? I meant client, of course. Funeral Directors are professionals. They term themselves Funeral Directors to distance themselves from the unlettered, scurrilous undertakers of yore. The modern use of the word undertaker denotes an artisan funeral director, an altogether different fish, one we can dissect another day. Artisan, of course, doesn’t mean what it used to mean, either; it’s gone (socially) upmarket like artisan toast.

What other professional operates out of a shop? I mean, I was going to say, lawyers announce their presence with nobbut a discreet brass plaque, but actually, come to think of it, a lot of them now have something of a shopfront. As do banks, and banking is a profession, right? What are estate agents?

Does it matter? You can tie yourself in knots arguing one way or the other about whether undertaking is a trade or a profession and it’s only status anxiety that causes undertakers to fret about it. Journalists don’t. (They’re trade.)

Undertakers aren’t there to flog you stuff, so you wouldn’t expect their windows to follow the retail model. Nor is there anything they can put in them to tempt people to avail themselves of their services before they absolutely need them — it’s only sad necessity that draws them over the threshold.

Nevertheless, a window is a potent marketing tool – and as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s a place where you can transmit key messages about your professionalism which will bear fruit when people find themselves bereaved.

What messages should a shop window transmit? Answer: what people want to hear, of course. Here are some.

The attribute that bereaved people rate most highly is empathy. Kindness if you prefer.

They want to know that you are a member of the human race and not one of those weird sotto voce types from planet BlackMac.

They want to know that you possess specialist skills and expertise of a high order.

They want to know that you have a vocation; that you are motivated by altruism (not greed and an ambition to sell out to FSP as fast as you can).

They want to know you are honest and open in your commercial dealings.

They want to know you have organisational skills.

They want evidence that your qualities are endorsed by someone on the side of the consumer.

You’ll tell me which ones I’ve missed.

How you get all or even some of those messages into a window display I haven’t a clue. But if I were an undertaker I’d be working on it. If you can create in people a warm regard long before they need you, you can probably halve your advertising spend.

Famous last words about

Tuesday, 28 January 2014



“When they told me they were going to induct my friend George Harrison into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame posthumously, my first thought was – I bet he won’t show up.”

From Eric Idle’s eulogy to George Harrison

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