Blog Archives: August 2014

Wonderful to listen to

Friday, 29 August 2014



It all began in South Africa. I bet you didn’t know that.

Top Gear tweeted during it. So did Diane Abbot and British Gas.

In Asda, Bournemouth, they played Sweet Soul Music during it.

In Ayrshire they once shockingly forgot to do it at all.

It was transplanted to the UK following a proclamation by King George V:

“All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

Yes, you’ve got it: the two minutes’ silence held every year on 11/11 at 11 o’clock. Incredibly effective it was, too, back then. Everyone marvelled at the sudden bottomless silence of Britain’s cities, something never heard before.

Silence is a stiff-upper-lip, emotionally uptight style of commemoration peculiarly typical of its era. So, is silent commemoration of the dead looking a bit dated now that we have become so much more emotionally demonstrative?

Far from it. It not only lives on, it’s spread to mark sad occasions in all sorts of communities.

Beekeepers do it:

‘Stowmarket Group held its AGM on 24th February; 32 members enjoyed a ploughman’s lunch prior to the meeting. Tony Payne (Chair) opened the meeting with a minute’s silence as a tribute to Elaine Buffery who died last year.’

Chimneysweeps do it:

‘It was a great shock to us to learn of the untimely death in September, of a lovely gentleman Allan Lyon from Malton, who never missed our meetings, he had been sweeping 10 years and retired in May. It was rather a sad start to the afternoon having to inform everyone there, most having had long chats with him in previous years. We observed a minutes silence and drank a toast in his memory.’

Pretty much everyone does it.

Newcastle United began their first game of the season with a minute’s silence to mourn the deaths of two fans on MH17. In fact, so many football matches begin with a period of silence to mark the passing of a former player that academics have warned us of the diminishing impact that will result from ‘silence inflation’.

It’s a clever idea but what do academics know? Silent commemoration is here to stay. It exerts huge and compelling bonding power over communities of people. Silence is a very eloquent way of saying ‘You’re one of us, we honour you, we miss you.’

They do it differently in Italy, Italians being more exuberant. There, they start with silence then begin to clap around halfway through, building to a crescendo.

The Liverpool-Juventus game in 2005 was the first time the teams had met since the infamous game of 1985 when 39 Juventus supporters were killed in riots. This time, both sets of fans were on their best behaviour. A minute’s silence was held for Pope John Paul II, who had recently died. The Liverpool fans, unaware of the Italian way of commemoration, were shocked when the opposition fans began to clap. So angry were they at their desecration of the silence that they booed them when they stopped. Tricky moment.

In spite of that, the Italian way of silence-and-applause has caught on at football grounds all over the UK. Fans have clapped Bobby Robson, Nelson Mandela, the victims of Hillsborough.

The minute’s applause has taken its place as the alternative to silence, although as one fan has pointed out, ‘What we will lose is the life-goes-on eruption of the crowd once the referee has signalled the end of the silence. Everybody loves that.’


Why do kids go free?

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Graveyard with lots of tributes and toys


“We lost our son at 22 weeks … My husband and I were not religious so we had a small cremation. The funeral company did not charge us for the service. A humanist also held a short service for us and yet again there was no charge. I know money isn’t everything but it was so lovely to know this wasn’t an additional thing to have to worry about.” A mum on Mumsnet.

Commodification is when something done for nothing becomes something sold for money. The dead used to be cared for, free, by members of the community, whose work had no market value. It does now, though. It’s been commodified.

Bereaved people often find it hard to get their heads around this business of making money out of misery. Many undertakers aren’t entirely comfortable with their commercial function, either, which is why the word ‘service’ is so prominent in their vocabulary.

Presumably it’s also why hardly any of them charge for the funerals of children.

What does that say? It’s not as if the workload is any less. On the contrary, it’s likely to be far greater, both physically and emotionally. Sure, many parents are unprepared for the expense of arranging a funeral, but they’re not the only ones. Is it because the death of a child is particularly, poignantly tragic? Okay then, what about the death of a young bride on her honeymoon? What about suicides? Hit-and-run victims?

Is it that charging for adults is bad enough, but that charging for children would just be going too far? If that really is the message, it shows some undertakers to be very unconvinced commodifiers – as, indeed, some are. It’s why a few of them hardly charge enough to put food on their tables. They’d love to be able to wind the clock back and do it for nothing.

Some undertakers may feel like this, but not all. Offering free funerals for children is cynically reckoned by some to be an eyecatching loss-leader. It lends an aura of compassion to what is actually an act of ingratiation, because one child’s funeral earns you, what, three adult funerals? Someone in marketing, we may be sure, will have done the maths.

So: who pays? There’s no such thing as a free funeral, obviously. No, the funerals of babies and children are subsidised by either by the profits of the funerals of adults, or the marketing budget, or the undertaker. If the undertaker is taking a personal hit every time, I don’t know that I can think of a single good reason for that. Can you?

Celebrancy, too, is commodified. Some celebrants lead babies’ and children’s funerals for nothing, others don’t. Some don’t get to decide either way. A celebrant told me:

“I’ve come across a funeral directors’ manager saying she would never employ a celebrant again who charged money for a child’s ceremony. She still uses Interflora and all the rest who charge, doesn’t expect the local petrol station to fill the hearse for nothing and, as far as I know, she still keeps that part of her salary relevant to organizing the funeral. Are there double standards at work here?  It may be admirable if you want to decline payment, for anything at all and for whatever reason, but why would it be an expectation?”

Why indeed? Do doctors and nurses who treat children decline pay? Do the grief counsellors of bereaved parents waive their fee?

An undertaker told me:

“It’s a fine line to walk, isn’t it? Some parents appreciate the gesture, but I think that some parents don’t want ‘pity’, ‘charity’. They actually want their child to be ‘worth’ something like a ‘real person’ would be – they somehow feel the life is validated by paying for the funeral. One father said, ‘I’ll never walk her down the aisle on her wedding day, but I can give her the best funeral.’

“But then we run the danger of getting into the conspicuous spending loop, don’t we? If we do one for ‘free’ and they spend thousands on flowers… what do they think of us charging nothing? What are we saying by charging nothing – that we don’t want to be sullied by taking money associated with their child’s death? That there’s not so much work involved? That we feel that not charging somehow could help mitigate their loss?”

Getting the best you can afford

Tuesday, 19 August 2014



When the GFG started blogging all of 6 years ago, an appalled and furious undertaker rang his solicitor and instructed him to take out an injunction requiring us to cease and desist.

The solicitor told him it didn’t quite work like that; had the GFG libelled him?

No we hadn’t. But we were doing something no one had ever done before. We were disturbing the peace, talking publicly about the funerals business on a blog, asking impertinent questions. New. Shocking. Damnable. We weren’t the national treasure back then that we are today.

It’s the internet wot done it, the greatest change agent that consumer advocacy has ever seen. It informs bereaved people and enables them to shop around. Are they all going to rush to the cheapest? Not all by any means, they’re going to buy the best they can for what they can afford. How many people use TripAdvisor to find the cheapest? Price is important of course; funeral shoppers are extremely sensitive to being ripped off. But what they’re looking for above all is value for money, and that means hunting down the best possible personal service available in their price bracket.

Ironically, that’s often one of the cheapest.

Reputation testifies to quality of service, which is why undertakers prize it so highly. But it’s not enough any more for them to rely on word-of-mouth because funeral shoppers can now research more effectively on the internet where customer reviews are reckoned more reliable than haphazard hearsay. They like to make their minds up for themselves, not rely on the heads-up of a neighbour or the testimonials on an undertaker’s website. Everyone has those, so they tell you nothing.

The internet is the new maker and breaker of reputations.

The best undertakers have nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing this. awlymn-logoAW Lymn publishes all essential information online, including prices. It also publishes, monthly, its client feedback. It is alone in doing this.

At present, the nationwide consumer reviews site is Funeral Advisor, funeral-advisor-logowhich is gaining traction not because it has a marketing budget of millions but because funeral shoppers need it to work and are therefore making it work. It is credible because it is sponsored by the National Death Centre. It doesn’t carry much info on prices, though.

Which is why there’s room in the market for a price comparison site and, as it happens, we now have one: FuneralChoice. I know the people behind it. They are everything you’d hope. FuneralChoice is a labour of love which hopes to find a way of becoming sustainable by proving its value.

FuneralChoice’s’s coverage is nowhere near national, but it’s spreading. I decided to look in London and typed in a postcode: SW1P 1SB. This is what I got. Click the pic to bring it up to full size.


Effective, isn’t it? I decided to go with Leverton’s. It’s not the cheapest, but look, it’s recommended by the Good Funeral Guide, which is notoriously hard to please. As for Evershed’s, the cheapest, I wonder if its clients love it? I can’t tell because FuneralChoice doesn’t enable client reviews and Evershed’s hasn’t asked us to accredit it. Shame, that.

You notice how Co-op Funeralcare and Dignity cluster at the most expensive end? It’ll be the death of them.

The ideal is a website which enables browsers to determine value by measuring price and other info against customer satisfaction — a capital-intensive instrument calling for big databases and complex software.

On the horizon there is RightChoice, a sophisticated instrument which is in the final stages of development. Definitely one to watch.

Does this spell the end for the GFG and NDC as consumer resources? Far from it. People buy a funeral far less frequently than they eat out, go on holiday and buy a car. Their knowledge of the market is close to zero. So there will always be a need for guidance by informed observers of the industry. Our knowledge and expertise are indispensable.

Our relationship with price comparison websites will be symbiotic. Our reviews of undertakers we recommend greatly enhance the info they carry. They in return publicise us and our recommended funeral directors.

It all helps put customers in the driving seat where they belong.


This year’s Good Funeral Award finalists

Friday, 15 August 2014


 The GFA judges delivering the list of  last year’s winners


The Good Funeral Awards judges have sifted through hundreds of nominations for this year’s great event and have issued the following longlist. Every category is strong. Winners will be announced at the glittering, gala Good Funeral Awards dinner at Bournville, Birmingham, on 6 September 2014.

Who are the judges? We couldn’t possibly say. As with the Oscars and the Baftas, the identities of the judges are hidden in order to protect them from influence, on the one hand, and retribution, on the other. The process is as safe and fair and objective as possible.

Have you booked for either this event or for the Ideal Death Show, 5-7 September? Have a look at the Ideal Death Show website here and see what you’ll miss if you don’t book now. As ever, this is a great gathering of the most interesting people in the funerals biz. This year there will be lots of members of the public there, too.

Good Funeral Awards 2014 — the longlist

Funeral Director of the Year

Daniel and  Sarah Wolsey – Daniel Ross Funerals, West Midlands

Mark Catchpole – Harrison Funeral Home, Essex

Sarah Clarke – Arka Original Funerals, Sussex

Julian Hussey – AG Down, Dorset and Devon

Chris Parker – Abbey Funeral Services, Kent

Poppy Mardall – Poppy’s Funerals, London

David Parslow – Walter C Parson, Devon

Jill Huelin – Co-operative Funeralcare, West Yorkshire

Colin Fisher – Colin Fisher Funerals, Kent

Lucy Jane – Individual Funeral Company, Oxfordshire


Embalmer of the Year

Liz Davis – Freelance

Helen Bozon – Richard Ward Funeral Services, Leicestershire

Bob Dyer – Midlands Embalming Services

Cara Wisznieski – Fred Hamer Funeral Services, Lancashire


Most Promising New Funeral Director of the Year sponsored by the Church of England

Claire Turnham – Only With Love, Oxfordshire

Evelyn Temple – Evelyn’s Funerals, Berkshire

Louris Hilton – Hilton’s Funeral Directors, Shropshire

Lesley Wallace and Sarah Stuart – Wallace Stuart Funeral Directors, Somerset


Funeral Arranger of the Year

Angela Bailey – Harrison Funeral Home, Essex

Donna Adams – AR Adams, Essex

Emma Fisher – Colin Fisher Funerals, Kent

Rebecca Diamond – AW Lymn, Nottinghamshire


Celebrant of the Year

Belinda Forbes

Wendy Weavin

Katie Deverell

Dee Ryding

Jane Morgan

Terri Shanks

Steve Emmett

Rebecca Williams Dinsdale

Lynne Watson

Lyn Banham

Lesley Arnold Hopkins


Lifetime Achievement Award

David Meek – AW Lymn, Nottinghamshire

Eric de Chalon – Bungard, Sussex

Chris Parker – Abbey Funerals, Kent


Major Contribution to the Understanding of Death

Barbara Chalmers – Final Fling

Jon Underwood – Death Café

Chantal Lockey


Best Alternative Hearse

Volkswagen Funerals

Trike Funerals

Morris Minor Hearse Company

Land Rover 4 * 4 Funerals


Cemetery of the Year


Groby Garden of Remembrance

Kemnal Park

Welwyn Hatfield Lawn Cemetery

Clandon Wood


Florist of the Year

Cassandra Thompson – Stems

UK Flower Lounge – Didsbury, Yorks

Melanie Edwards – Flowers by Mel


Green Funeral Director of the Year sponsored by GreenAcres

Tracy O’Leary – Woodland Wishes

Respect – Margaret Rose

Tomalins, Henley


Crematorium Attendant

Peter Rodwell – Seven Hills

Paul James – Easthampstead Park


Gravedigger of the Year

Jonny Yaxley & Will Macdonald – Henley NBG

Ken McGarrigle & Steve Riddell – Dunstable Cemetery

Michael and Mark Symonds – Karen Hussey


Coffin Supplier of the Year

Sara Elliot – Terra Pura

Roger Fowle

Wealden Coffins

Honest Coffins


Best Bereavement Resource

Much Loved

Dead Social

What to do if someone dies


This year’s funeral Oscar, a statuette of Anubis, the Egyptian god of embalming

Lawrence’s story

Wednesday, 13 August 2014



The following story is not new and it has been published elsewhere. I’d not seen it, and perhaps you hadn’t, either. It was sent to me by Lawrence’s mother, Virginia Prifti. 

“Lawrence’s death and cremation was incredibly powerful for us as a family. We decided to take control, organise our own goodbyes and keep Lawrence with us at home. It was very therapeutic and helped us to come to terms with his death over the five days. During that time I learnt that death was nothing to be afraid of –but like birth, it is a completely natural event.”

In late Spring 2004, my six-year-old son Lawrence was diagnosed with a very rare genetic degenerative terminal condition called Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). We were told that we might have another six months of near normality, but that after that the disease would take its hold quickly and that Lawrence would end up in a vegetative state.

By December Lawrence had developed a sickness bug and ended up in hospital. He recovered quickly and was discharged from hospital the following day, but when I went to get him up I discovered to my horror that he had lost the ability to walk. This was the start of a pattern – sickness bug followed by a dramatic decline – until the ability to move, talk and swallow had disappeared.

In late July Lawrence developed yet another sickness bug. My husband, Peter, and I took the decision that Lawrence had spent too long in hospital recently and that we would keep him at home. When we first received the diagnosis I was adamant that I did not want Lawrence to die at home, but now I realised that he needed to die in his home, surrounded by familiar things, and with us with him.

On the evening of July 22nd 2005 Lawrence died at home, surrounded by his family and all things familiar.  We had been able to love and comfort him and I put his favourite Mozart CD on which seemed to calm him. I sat next to him and stroked his arm. I told him just to let go – that he shouldn’t fight. I told him how much we loved him and how much we were going to miss him, but that he would always be with us.

After Lawrence had died, we took him up to his bedroom and laid him on his bed, we changed him into his favourite clothes – combat trousers and a khaki T-shirt. We knew we should turn our minds to his cremation, but I have always had a problem with the undertaking business, and find the idea of lavish funerals distasteful.

I had seen a programme about a ‘green funeral service’ and had been struck by how lovely it was. I couldn’t imagine how one would go about organising this, but the local crematorium advised me that it would be much easier if involved a funeral director. I phoned our recommended undertaker and was horrified by the call – he wanted to come and get Lawrence’s body that afternoon, but wouldn’t tell me how much he was going to charge for the service. He wouldn’t entertain my idea of an ‘eco friendly’ cardboard coffin and tried to push me into a quick decision. He ‘phoned again to say that he would be in the vicinity soon so could collect the body. When I told him that this was not possible, he started to sound quite menacing – he told me that he had heard that I was considering a ‘DIY’ funeral and informed me that I couldn’t just do my own thing, I needed to ‘play by the book’.

I realised that there was no way that I was going to let my precious child go off with some complete stranger. I wanted him at home – it was still where he belonged even though he was dead! I still needed to look after him.

Two friends who had been medically trained very kindly offered to come and give Lawrence what I called his ‘makeover’. They closed his eyes and mouth and washed him, cut his nails and did his hair. All the time they were with him they chatted to him and treated him with such care and tenderness. This was the turning point for me – I realised that if I treated him as if he was still alive, I would find going into his room much less scary.

A friend brought an industrial air conditioner to keep his room chilled. Another friend came to visit with a gorgeous bunch of highly scented stocks, and another with a posy that she had made out of lavender and rosemary also to put in his room. I was amazed and very touched at the number of people who wanted to say goodbye to him. Imogen our daughter, meanwhile had made herself scarce. We were worried about the fact that she was scared to be in the house with Lawrence.

Over the next couple of days the house was inundated with visitors, most of whom were keen to go to Lawrence’s room to say goodbye to him. Most people stroked his hair or kissed his forehead, and I had to keep a hairbrush beside the bed to rearrange Lawrence’s hair into his usual style so that he looked like himself!

Imogen, by this time, had completely come to terms with Lawrence being at home, and spent hours in his room with her friends – chatting to him, doing his hair, stroking his arms and kissing him. It was really lovely to see her behaving like this, having been so scared of Lawrence just after he had died.

On the Wednesday we decorated the coffin.We had found a supplier of wicker coffins on the Internet – it was the most beautifully hand crafted object. Our neighbours helped to decorate it, creating posies using garden flowers and herbs. Another neighbour made the most magnificent bouquet out of garden roses, honeysuckle and wild flowers. I wanted something soft for Lawrence to lie on, so Imogen cut down half our leylandi hedge and mixed this with the best part of a rosemary bush – it did look very comfortable and smelled lovely.

and then just before we left, Peter carried Lawrence downstairs and put him into it. We loaded him into our car– it felt as if we were going on a family outing. We had a very simple but moving ceremony at the crematorium.

The whole process of Lawrence’s death and cremation was incredibly powerful for us as a family. Keeping Lawrence at home was very therapeutic and helped us to come to terms with his death over the five days. During that time I learnt that death was nothing to be afraid of – like birth, it is a completely natural event. I am still so glad that we did things the way we did, it helped us to move on and feel more positive about Lawrence’s illness and death.

I would encourage anyone who has ever thought about making their own arrangements for a funeral or cremation to go ahead. It is very simple and we found the local crematorium very helpful. The Register Office can also help you complete the paperwork. Most district nurses would be willing to come out and sort the body out after death. There are various sites on the Internet which sell alternative coffins – cardboard, willow or bamboo.

Virginia Prifti

Screenshot 2015-11-30 at 12

ED’S NOTE: Virginia set up a charity project in Lawrence’s memory. It’s called Lawrence’s Roundabout Well Appeal. All money raised is used for building PlayPumps™ in Africa. “The roundabout playpump combines a children’s roundabout with a pump. The pumps are usually installed in schools to harness the natural energy of children. As the children play on the roundabout they pump water into a holding tank at the rate of 1400 litres per hour.”  You can see Lawrence’s wells here.


At last, another celebrant trainer

Friday, 8 August 2014



A flurry of forwarded emails flies into our inbox. “What do you think of this?!?” they all demand.


The NFFD’s freshly launched celebrant training venture. The consensus is that it stinks.

What do we think? Well, let’s have a look.

The NFFD’s given reason for entering the celebrant training market is “growing demand”. Some will question whether, in a supersaturated market, there is any demand whatever. The answer is that market forces may confidently be relied upon to eliminate the less competent. There’s always room at the top.

What quality assurance can the NFFD offer? Selection for training is via “a telephone screening process”. The course, which seems not to be externally accredited, has been “Designed and developed in close conjunction with a number of industry experts” none of whom is named. The course is delivered at an intriguing venue, “our private church chapel” by “Rev Victor Johnson … an Ordained Priest of the Church of England” with “over 20 years’ experience conducting contemporary, civil-celebrant funeral ceremonies.”

The NFFD reckons that “funeral directors … are ideally placed to perform this valuable, satisfying, and lucrative, [celebrancy] role,” which sort of makes you wonder why they never thought of it before. The NFFD adds: “if public speaking isn’t for you, but you have a more confident driver, bearer, or other member of staff, why not give them an opportunity to develop their skills by enrolling them on the course instead?” Whoa, there’s one from out of left field.

The NFFD reckons “There’s rarely more than an hour or two’s work involved” in researching and writing a funeral ceremony. Our view is that if a celebrant were to use a laminated script on which he or she simply rubbed out an old name and wrote in a new one, that time could be halved. There are a lot of celebrants who reckon a bespoke funeral takes at least 10 hours to write but, let’s face it, they’re making a bit of a meal of it, aren’t they? You can’t be any good if you find it that difficult.

The NFFD is keen to help its celebrants to maximise their business. Projected earnings are given as “between £100 and £200 per hour,” a rate they describe as “incredibly lucrative”. Isn’t it, just? And if that isn’t enough, “You will also be invited to attend a one-day course FREE OF CHARGE to teach you how to supplement your income through the sale of pre-paid funeral plans. Given the environment that celebrants routinely work in, selling funeral plans is a brilliant way for you to easily generate an extra £500 – £1500 per week on top of your earnings as a straightforward celebrant.” There aren’t many vocations that make you this sort of dough.

The NFFD has made a name for itself as a creatively disruptive force in a highly conservative industry. It has certainly made feathers fly.

It has exposed itself to market forces and consumer scrutiny, which may be trusted, we think, to do their Darwinian work.

If you wish to comment, please be aware that the NFFD is retributive in the matter of libel.


Window shopping in Lubeck

Thursday, 7 August 2014

2014-07-15 10


Yeah yeah, it’s a rubbish photo, I know, I’m not blind. It’s the best I could do. It’s an undertaker’s window.

In Germany. Me and the missus have been holidaying there. This undertaker is in the ancient city of Lubeck. As you can see (through a glass, darkly) the display is a series of objects on plinths.  It’s eyecatching. There’s a sign asking people who don’t understand the symbolism of the objects displayed to pop in and find out. It gives a reason for people to go in before they absolutely have to. Brilliant, eh? Beats luring the bowls team in to buy a funeral plan (the condemned men and women had a nice cup of tea and a sandwich).

Well of course we had to pop in and ask about the display and have a bit of a gossip. I don’t speak more German than it takes me to order pils and buy tobacco, but my wife (the one with the brains) is fluent. It ought to have been a good opportunity for her to practise, but the undertaker who greeted us, Carsten Berend, insisted on speaking English.

We had a good chat, and might have had a better one if Carsten hadn’t been so busy. They cremate 80% of their clients. We talked about the reuse of graves, and he was surprised that something considered so normal in Germany is reckoned so unacceptable by British politicians. He told us that there are 30 undertakers in Lubeck serving a population just over 200,000. His is a high-end business. He expressed exasperation at the incursion of semi-trained, cheapskate opportunists, which of course is something we know nothing about in Britain. Their window displays are created for them by an arty marketing agency and change regularly. We never found out what the display above actually means. Very nice piece of work, though, even better than dusty tombstones and upside-down bluebottles.

You can see their website here. You’ll need Google Translate to help you work through it.

It may intrigue you to know what music Germans like to play at funerals. Here’s what they recommend:

Screenshot 2014-08-03 at 11

Yup, Germans are much more relaxed about beastly foreign influences than we xenophobic Brits. Some of the songs you’ve never heard of are worth a listen. Not the Mancini Dornervogel (Thornbirds) perhaps. Xavier Naidoo is interesting; here’s his Abschied Nehmen (Farewell). Gronenmeyer’s really good. Try Der Weg (The Way) and Halt Mich (Hold Me), with its searing sax.

Historical note. So many people wanted to live in medieval Lubeck that they built houses for artisans in the gardens of the merchants’ houses. Thy are reached through narrow alleys. The only planning condition was that that the alley had to be wide enough to convey a coffin. Here’s what they look like:




Portrait of a deaf man

Tuesday, 5 August 2014



Posted by Vale

I was listening to a programme about the recordings John Betjeman made with Jim Parker, setting his verse to some glorious music.

Until they played this, though, I’d forgotten how dark Betjeman could be.

On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man

The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,
The tie, discretely loud,
The loosely fitting shooting clothes,
A closely fitting shroud.

He liked old city dining rooms,
Potatoes in their skin,
But now his mouth is wide to let
The London clay come in.

He took me on long silent walks
In country lanes when young.
He knew the names of ev’ry bird
But not the song it sung.

And when he could not hear me speak
He smiled and looked so wise
That now I do not like to think
Of maggots in his eyes.

He liked the rain-washed Cornish air
And smell of ploughed-up soil,
He liked a landscape big and bare
And painted it in oil.

But least of all he liked that place
Which hangs on Highgate Hill
Of soaked Carrara-covered earth
For Londoners to fill.

He would have liked to say goodbye,
Shake hands with many friends,
In Highgate now his finger-bones
Stick through his finger-ends.

You, God, who treat him thus and thus,
Say “Save his soul and pray.”
You ask me to believe You and
I only see decay.

This, I realise is number three in my very occasional series of tributes to fathers – the ‘Old Deaf Man – is certainly Betjemn senior. See numbers 1 (Horace Silver) and 2 (Astor Piazolla) here and here.

Avoiding a Parking Fine before a Coventry Funeral

Monday, 4 August 2014



Celebrating another adventure in the life of the Vintage Lorry Hearse

When David Hall, of Vintage Lorry Funerals, was booked for a funeral in the centre of Coventry he undertook research using Google Street-view. It was evident that building the inner city ring road had dissected streets, splitting them into two distinct parts, similarly to the impact imposed by the creation of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Also Coventry has a Medieval Centre like Berlin, however, David didn’t realise until he got there that the Berlin analogy should have a third strand as the Traffic Warden, who was responsible for the streets around the Funeral Director was known locally as ‘Little Hitler.’

On pulling up outside the Funeral Directors in Lower Holyhead Road, David noticed that the street was sectioned off into parking zones, which restricted parking to 2 hours with no return allowed for a further 2 hours. As the 1950 Leyland Beaver was envisaged to be outside the Funeral Directors for over 5 hours, the staff at the Funeral Director suggested that David should park the vintage vehicle on the paved area between the shop front and the footpath. It was explained that the street was patrolled by a most enthusiastic female Traffic Warden who booked any vehicle without a ticket, including a Hearse with a coffin that was due to depart. David could envisage the problem with the Traffic Warden, however, he elected to park on the street without a ticket and declined the offer to park on the paved area, due to the lorry’s 5.5 ton weight causing potential damage.

As David was sitting in his lorry, drinking his coffee and completing a So Doku puzzle he noticed in his wing mirror a small lady with a peaked cap who literally jumped for joy when she spotted a car parked illegally. Using her phone, she proceeded to take 4 pictures of the car, one from each corner, and then repeated the procedure once a prosecution notice had been positioned beneath the wind screen wipers. Working down the street the Traffic Warden came to the 1950 Leyland Beaver, walked around it and acknowledged David’s smile. As she moved to the next vehicle, the Funeral Director’s staff were flabbergasted that the Leyland Beaver received no parking prosecution notice.


Three hours later the Traffic Warden started to inspect cars at the bottom of the street and when she came to the 1950 Leyland Beaver she said, ‘You have been here for over 4 hours with no parking ticket.’ David replied, ‘I’m not parked, I’m waiting to load a coffin for a funeral due to depart within the hour.’ The Traffic Warden asked, ‘Can’t you reverse your lorry into the yard behind the Funeral Director?’ David replied, ‘The entrance is too narrow so I have no option but to wait here.’ The staff members, in the Funeral Directors office, were all standing at their window anticipating a parking prosecution notice to be given to David, however, to everyone’s amazement the Traffic Warden gave the Leyland Beaver a free pass.

Why did this Traffic Warden, who was renowned for never passing up an opportunity to book a vehicle, turn a blind eye to the Leyland Beaver being parked without a ticket for over 5 hours? Perhaps when walking around the vehicle she realised that her small frame would make it impossible for her to reach the Windscreen. In addition the Windscreen Wipers are fixed at the top of the screen and even if she had been taller and placed her document under a wiper, then there would be little to stop it blowing away.

Perhaps she noticed that David was wearing a Black Beret and she surmised wrongly that he was from a Military background, like her, and it is known that former personnel from the Armed Forces tend to stick together.

In between the visits from the Traffic Warden, David met a young boy, Joe Williams, and his Granddad, Stu Huffer, who were out for a walk. Apparently the 5 year old had spotted the 1950 Leyland Beaver’s wing embellishments catching the sunlight and pestered his Granddad to take him to see the lorry. The Granddad asked if the little lad could see inside the cab and David gave him a guided tour demonstrating the impact of putting down any switch that the young man pointed to.

A youth crossed the road to speak with David and told him about a relative who confessed on his deathbed to killing a Japanese prisoner in WWII who had committed atrocities on British troops and had shown no remorse. It is amazing what people tell David and sometimes the open cab window is like the grill between the priest and the person on the other side in a confessional box.

The events resulted in a win, win, win, win situation. The minimalistic display exceeded a Family’s expectations, 5 year old Joe had his day made, a youth got the world off his shoulders and a Traffic Warden showed compassion apparently for the first time.

Joe Williams