Blog Archives: February 2016

Something old, something news

Monday, 29 February 2016


Tear of sadness from the Imaginarium of Tears


In Wales a car crashed into a funeral procession killing the horse that was pulling the hearse –

The CDAS newsletter is out, full of good things. If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up –

Dead women are being dug up in China to be corpse brides for dead bachelors –  This inspired London fashionista to include a corpse bride installation in her recent show –

Cremation is now legal in Greece. Our brothers and sisters in crematoria are intrigued by this cremator –

Over the last 5 years 1.2 million people have taken out payday loans to cover the cost of a funeral, a total of £576 million –

A discussion about funeral sex here –

Sharp-eyed viewers of Happy Valley saw strangled Amelia Bullmore blink on the mortuary table –

The C of E can repulse civil celebrants, says the Church Times –  Letter from civil celebrant here –

Old people who lose a partner are being fed antidepressants –

Kenya has a problem with necrophiliac mortuary workers –

Good article by Rosie Inman-Cook of the NDC here –

Disruptive startups are bringing the French funerals business up to date –

Finally, in the US people are tending to go to visitations and skip the funeral. Has the British memorial service something to learn from this sort of less structured, drop-in event?

That’s it. Have a great week.

No place like home? Really?

Saturday, 27 February 2016



Seventy per cent of us want to die at home. This rounded figure was obtained using a methodology which funeral industry practitioners may find strikingly odd: namely, by asking people what they want.

It is therefore an informative statistic. If you’re one of the thirty per cent who are happy to die in a hospital, you’re swimming against the tide. Wouldn’t you like to join the majority? Come on over.

If you do, you’ll save the NHS a small fortune.

And there’s the rub. The agencies that broadcast this stat are the ones which stand to benefit from persuading people who want to die in hospital to switch. It’s a self-serving stat. So you begin to wonder how the question was worded. Were people, for example, asked about their preferred place of death or their preferred place of care? To whom was the question put – were they well or ill?

And then you begin to wonder if that 70 per cent headline figure might have been attained by leaving out ‘inconvenient’ data. In November 2015 a scholarly  article titled Do Patients Want to Die at Home? examined the effect of missing data from PPOD (preferred place of death) surveys and concluded that:

Our review shows that when missing data were excluded the majority of participants preferred to die at home. However, when the large amount of missing data were included in the analysis, it could not be stated that home was known to be where most participants with cancer or other conditions wanted to die … We do not know what locations, if any, these ‘missing’ preferences are for and we should therefore be careful about asserting that the majority of patients wish to die at home.

Years ago I discovered what % of people who had cared for a dying person at home wished to die at home themselves. I can’t find it now (I wonder why). From memory, it’s a lot less than 70%. Not really surprising, is it?

Goings on in the death zone

Sunday, 21 February 2016



Some of the stories in the news last week.

The Daily Telegraph took consumer journalism to an all-time low here

A peek inside Melbourne’s oldest funeral home here

Find out about the excellent Free Funeral Services Society in Burma here. Moving video here.

Residents of Lagos were inconvenienced by a corpse at their bus stop – here

Love a gangster funeral (pic above)? Here’s the big one, from Dublin + more pics – here

A corpseless head with red rubber balls for eyes turned up in a field in Pennsylvania – here

In Kenya a drunken mourner was beaten up for making a nuisance of himself. In Yorkshire a drunken mourner dragged his partner along the street by her hair – here

In India a mortuary technician spoke out about his profession: ““Cutting open a dead body or decomposed body or an accident body, is a tough task. It needs courage and mental stability. And we do it under influence of alcohol.” Here

There was an important ruling in Dorset concerning the inheritance rights of common law spouses – here

In Italy a coffee tycoon had his ashes put into one of his iconic coffee-makers – here

There was a nasty funeral-plan scam in Bournemouth – here

At the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge there’s a fascinating exhibition about the evolution of ancient Egyptian coffee design. Here

In Kenya, coffin sellers were urged to move away from a hospital because they were alarming the patients – here

In India a row between neighbours ended up with a 5 year-old boy being lobbed into a funeral pyre – here

The Linder calendar receives a salacious review in the Mail here. I am accustomed to being berated for drawing attention to the Lindner calendar. It’s a mystifying curiosity. Here

There’s a visual history of corpse paint here

Good blog post from Dignity in Dying reviewing the way things are panning out in Oregon – here

Another undertaker has written a book about his adventures – here

The Telegraph asks what happens to people who die in aeroplanes – here

Lastly, Carla Valentine has a book coming in out in, be patient, 2017 – here. If you don’t know of Carla, check out her website and get dating here.

Have a great week!

Screenshot 2016-02-20 at 15

What they think of you

Thursday, 18 February 2016


Hat tip to the Fisher King

(I’m in pieces, bits and pieces)
Since you left me and you said goodbye
(I’m in pieces, bits and pieces)
All I do is sit and cry
(I’m in pieces, bits and pieces)
You went away and left me misery
(I’m in pieces, bits and pieces)
And that’s the way it’ll always be.


Pop shop

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Poppy’s Funerals moved into two 19th-century buildings in Lambeth Cemetery, Tooting in January 2016. Here they install a mortuary into the old chapel.


Wag goodbye to his lordship

Wednesday, 17 February 2016



Lord Avebury, the Liberal Democrat peer who died on Valentine’s day was noted for the eccentricity of some of his views. He was a conventional supporter of assisted suicide but his expressed preferences for his disposal raised eyebrows.

He was the only person to have his body rejected by Battersea Dogs Home. A keen environmentalist, he was determined to keep his deathprint to a minimum so he offered his corpse to be eaten by strays. The Sun calculated that he’d fill 168 1lb tins of dogfood. Battersea turned him down. They said his ageing corpse wouldn’t be sufficiently nourishing.

His last request concerning his disposal was that he might be buried without a coffin, thus enabling his remains to return to the earth as rapidly as possible and push up a tree.

You know what happened next? Yes, he was told that this is illegal.


Let’s hear it for our local heroes

Tuesday, 16 February 2016



Friday’s Times had an article about Matthew Bannister of BBC R4’s obits programme Last Word (Fridays at 4.00 pm). You listen to it? Of course you do. Who doesn’t? Here’s what the article said: 

When Bannister, who had been a high-profile radio presenter and media executive for many years, was asked by Mark Damazer, controller of BBC Radio 4, to host Last Word in 2006, his reaction was, “This could be a bit depressing — dealing with death could really get you down.”

The reality was different. “I realised very quickly that it is a life-affirming programme to work on,” he says. “It’s about the stories of lives not deaths. We talk about people in the prime of their lives, we celebrate their lives . . . it’s a tremendous occupation to have, delving into the lives of interesting people.”

You may be surprised that Bannister reckoned he might buckle under the weight of death death death because this is the programme you would most like to front. His concern is completely normal. The term people in the death business like to lob at those who are not loved-up about death is denialists. Call em what you like, the fact is that 99.9% of the population hate death, a stat that hasn’t changed since the dawn of time and isn’t going to change any time before the Rapture. It’s the death-embracers who are abnormal. Quite possibly you’re one of them.

Anyway, the reason why Bannister hasn’t gone under is of course because his programme is a harvest festival. He doesn’t deal in corpses and raw grief, just afterglow-filled life stories.

Not so undertakers and celebrants. Until comparatively recently deathcare was a part-time occupation for all concerned: the laying-out woman, the coffin maker, the carriagemaster, the priest. I wonder if that wasn’t best. Is it really emotionally healthy to spend all day, every day, handling this stuff?

To the point. I think Last Word could be an even better programme. So I have written to Mr Bannister and his team. This is what I said:

Dear Last Word team

I’m writing to ask you to consider including in Last Word the life stories of ordinary people.

By ordinary people I mean those local heroes whose value was measured not by glittering achievements on the national or international stage but instead by human qualities, good deeds and what they meant to those they lived among.

You may reckon such lives insufficiently interesting. You’d be wrong. No one’s life is easy. There is much heroism in the lives of ordinary people, much patient endurance of suffering, much unselfishness, much sacrifice, much incident, much good done, much lovingkindness shown. It’s undetectable in the people queueing for a bus or shopping in a supermarket. The public face obscures we know not what, but this quiet heroism is general.

The point is, life’s ups and downs make heroes of lots of people — heroes, not nonentities.

The stories of those of our fellow-citizens who have lived and struggled and won some and lost some are moving and inspiring. All priests and funeral celebrants know this, as do many undertakers. Every day their life-stories are recounted in crematoria and churches and at gravesides up and down the land, and what stories they are. They celebrate the extraordinariness of ordinary people. They are the stories of people like your listeners, people like us. 

As a nation we set aside space and erect monuments to our glorious dead but not to our ordinary dead. Thus do we lose the lessons they could teach us, the examples that might inspire us and the opportunities to say thank you.

You can do something to redress this. Perhaps a trial period, one local hero a month? The Good Funeral Guide community ( can help you. You’ll be amazed how admired and popular this will be.

In a nutshell, keep up the Them, but let’s have some Us too.

With best wishes, etc

If Last Word writes back I’ll tell you what they said.

Some of the stories you missed

Sunday, 14 February 2016


Jade McAndrew and Rachel Pollard, owners of homewares company Dead Ringer


Here are some the news stories you may have inadvertently missed in the last week.

In India, a man killed his girlfriend three days before his wedding (to someone else). Such was the stench of her decomposing body, he used 70 cans of perfume to disguise the smell. He was arrested on his honeymoon –

Nice description here of the old corpse road joining Rydal and Grasmere – See also –

As health experts strive to terrify us with the ‘finding’ that a glass of wine can give you galloping cancer, here’s the 107 year-old who proves them wrong –

One for the goths, a shop in Australia specialising in mortabilia –

A court in Belfast ruled that an unmarried partner is entitled to bereavement allowance –

In India a post-mortem was performed by an ambulance driver. A relative of the dead person observed, “When we were putting the body in the ambulance, the head almost came off.” –

Dr Michael Irwin counselled ‘Simon’s Choice’ subject, Simon Binner, about assisted suicide – . Remarkable man, Dr Irwin. If you’ve never checked out his organisation, SOARS, it’s high time you did –

Here’s a man who says that a celebration of life is a denial of the reality of death. Take out the religious content, does he still have a point? –

A man in Nigeria who neglected to marry his partner must now marry her corpse in order to enable her to be decently buried –

A group of people in Farnborough hope to raise £5000 in order to convert a cemetery chapel into a columbarium –

Our friends at Flexmort have created this ingenious pop-up mortuary –

In the wake of the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal, Scotland looks like pulling back from licensing undertakers –

In the US, SCI is losing market share. The GFG prays that nothing like this should befall its spawn in the UK: Dignity plc (hiss) –

Finally, if you didn’t see it (it’s gruelling) you can still watch Simon’s Choice here –

Have a great week.

Funeralcare mouldy corridor scandal

Friday, 12 February 2016



Update from the National Association of Funeral Directors:                                                                   

You may be aware of the media coverage this morning relating to Midcounties Cooperative.

In line with our commitment to uphold standards within the profession we have been working closely with Midcounties Cooperative today and sent a team of Standards and Quality Managers over to the branch.

Our inspectors found that coffins are no longer stored on the racking pictured and those stored in this area of the building were, in fact, empty.

Further, Ben Reid, Chief Executive Officer of Midcounties Co-operative, has confirmed publicly that those pictured in the media coverage were also empty. Minor remedial maintenance was being undertaken which will restore it to a properly functioning storage area.

In response to our initial enquiries Midcounties Cooperative have assured us they are increasing their own internal inspection regime to ensure this error is not repeated.

Along with Midcounties Cooperative we have been taking steps today to reassure the public that this is a high performing funeral home and, further, that the public can be confident in choosing any NAFD member firm, not only because of the high standards our members abide by but because of our swift and thorough approach to working with our members to address any concerns that may come to light.

William Millar, President, National Association of Funeral Directors


View from Ben Reid, ceo Midcounties Co-op:

“It appears that this is an ex-employee who has taken photos and fed a customer’s detail to The Sun. That breach of data will be investigated to the full.” Mr Reid added that after being alerted to The Sun’s story, he visited the Walsall funeral home early on Wednesday morning, prior to staff arrival, and saw no issues that would cause him concern if he had a loved one in the home’s care. Any issues were not about care of the deceased, but more about interior standards, he said. “Could we refresh it? Yes we could. Could it do with a lick of paint? Yes it could. Do I think that the people we are caring for are being disrespected in any way? No I do not.” [Source

What’s interesting here is Mr Reid’s typically combative we-know-best response. This is the second time in less than 4 years that Funeralcare has been exposed for its behind-the-scenes body-storage arrangements. As a commercial operator Mr Reid needs to acknowledge that the requirements of consumers are paramount. If they didn’t like what they saw in that Sun photo, Mr Reid, you messed up. End of. Put your hands in the air and say sorry. Don’t do it again.

Top people’s trends

Friday, 12 February 2016




If you’re of a certain age (ie, shortly to make the acquaintance of Reaper G) you’ll remember that advertising slogan. It made you worry whether you qualified to buy The Times – whether the newsvendor would cock an eye and snarl, “You ‘avin a larf?”

Society isn’t so stratified these days. And what with the internet, death announcements in newspapers aren’t what they were – just a handful, now. You probably make for them in your paper because, being a deathie, you are drawn by the dark force that is your mainspring. I’m not a deathie. What draws me is social trends the announcements exhibit. The Times, after all this time, remains the newspaper of the Establishment, so you’d expect the readership to be small-c conservative.

Here are yesterday’s (Thurs) Times death announcements reduced to age, description of event and venue. Anything here that interests you?

Barnes – 83 – funeral – St Peter’s church Ravenshead, committal Mansfield crematorium.

Barrowcliff – funeral – St Mary’s RC church Warwick

Coull – 65 – ‘A private cremation has already taken place.’ Service of thanksgiving All Saints Marlow on 7 March.

Duncan – 96 – All enquiries to undertaker

Ellory – 94 – funeral – Sacred Heart Cobham

Felkin – funeral – St Andrew’s church St Helier

Glyn – 94 – funeral – St Andrew’s Sonning

Herbert – 89 – Requiem Mass – Catholic church Ilkley

Hopkinson – 62 – private cremation – Party to Remember

Jaggers – 78 – enquiries to undertaker

Manson – 77 – private funeral, no flowers

Parsons – funeral – Westminster cathedral

Percy – 92 – enquiries to undertaker

Russell – 88 – funeral – enquiries to undertaker

Speer – 103 – funeral – St John’s Southbourne

Taverner – 86 – private cremation – service of remembrance Urchfont parish church

Wernberg-Moller – 92 – funeral – St Nicholas, Old Marston

Woodthorpe – 89 – private family cremation – service of thanksgiving St Paul’s Woldingham


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