The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Bring on the empty corpses

Monday, 17 November 2014



Book review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty, graduate in medieval history and author of a sunny thesis entitled The Suppression of Demonic Births in Late Medieval Witchcraft Theory, rejects a promising career in academia in favour of one as a corpse handler and incinerator of the dead.

Anticipating bewilderment she asks, rhetorically, “So, really, what was a nice girl like me working at a ghastly ol’ crematory like Westwind?” And she goes on to tell us what drew her to it. She describes a traumatic childhood trigger event. I won’t reveal what it was, of course; you need to read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes for yourself. Her theory is that she dispelled the consequent denial that insulated her from the traumatic event by confronting her fears and getting on down with corpses. As a result of this self-prescribed and gruelling CBT she is now at peace with the “stillness and perfection of death”.

More than that, Doughty is now the world’s leading cheerleader for death: “Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives,” she says, “but in fact it is the very source of our creativity.” This is just one of many debatable assertions she makes in this book. Death may inspire urgency and thereby rouse latent creativity, but it is doubtful whether it can put in what God left out.

Doughty is the leader of a clever, charismatic and acclaimed corpse cult, the Order of the Good Death, “a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” You’ve seen the Ask A Mortician video series — you have, haven’t you? She’s sassy, funny, outrageous and very likeable. She’s a brilliant performer. She spills and splashes behind-the-scenes secrets with a mischievous glee that appals and infuriates industry insiders, who firmly believe that there are Things It’s Best We Don’t Know. To this day, despite a great and growing following, she remains shunned by the National Funeral Directors Association. Her preparedness to bring down, in Biblical abundance, the murderous fear and loathing of old school funeral people takes guts. She’s outrageous because she’s also passionately seriousness.

Like so many progressives, Doughty is essentially retrogressive — in a positive way. Her prescription for the way things are is to get back to doing them the way we did. Nowadays, when someone dies, we call the undertaker and have them disappeared. This, reckons Doughty, is a symptom of a “vast mortality cover-up … society’s structural denial of death … There has never been a time in the history of the world when a culture has broken so completely with traditional methods of body disposition and beliefs surrounding mortality.”

The way to restore society to emotional and psychological health, Doughty believes, is to engage with the event and get hands-on with the corpse. She believes that “more families would choose to take responsibility for their own dead if they knew that it was a possibility.”

This is what working in a crematory teaches her: “Westwind Cremation & Burial changed my understanding of death. Less than a year after donning my corpse-colored glasses, I went from thinking it was strange that we don’t see dead bodies any more to believing their absence was a root cause of problems in the modern world. Corpses keep the living tethered to reality.”

I’m not so sure. I have in mind David Clark’s 1982 paper, Death in Staithes. The older inhabitants of Staithes, a fishing village on the east coast of Yorkshire, could easily recall the way things used to be: “When a person passed away the first thing they did was go for the board – the lying-out board,” which was kept by the village joiner. The lying-out itself was supervised by women qualified by skill and experience. These same villagers had lived through the commodification of death and the arrival of the Co-operative. To them the hands-on past is no paradise lost and they display no desire to return to it.

I question Doughty’s assertion that we suffer from “structural denial of death.” If we were to think about death some more, would it really do us any good? Yes, she says: “I don’t just pretend to love death. I really do love death. I bet you would too if you got to know him.” Elsewhere, she writes: “Accepting death doesn’t mean that you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by the bigger existential questions like ‘Why do people die?'”

Philip Larkin felt sort of the same until he hit 50. In Julian Barnes’ words, “our national connoisseur of mortal terror … died in a hospital in Hull. A friend, visiting him the day before, said, ‘If Philip hadn’t been drugged, he would have been raving. He was that frightened.’” Pretty much the same can be said about the death of another connoisseur, Sherwin Nuland, the man who wrote with spooky prescience “I have not seen much dignity in the process by which we die.” He was that frightened, too.

“Let us … reclaim our mortality,” exhorts Doughty headily. But does the dearth of corpses in our lives really distance us from death? Death was big in the lives of everyone in the past because people died at any age. They don’t do that so much now, they mostly die old, and that’s less tragic, less sensational. But death is arguably bigger in our lives than ever before because the dying spend so bloody long about it. There can be very few children who are not acquainted with a tottering, muttering relative, and very few adults who do not spend years despairingly caring for dementing, degenerating parents. They are in no doubt about what their parents are doing: they are dying a modern death, a slow and beastly death. That’s why there’s such an intense national conversation in so many countries about assisted suicide — come on, how mortality aware is that? Far from being a time of death denial, the present age has focussed our attention on mortality at least as urgently as any other because the distressing dilapidation of legions of almost-corpses starkly and terrifyingly prefigures our own end times, leaving us in no doubt that the home straight is going to be unutterably horrible. If we don’t feel we have much to learn from corpses, we learn as much as we feel we need from the living dead (ever seen a stroke ward?) and from self-deliverers like Brittany Maynard. They teach us the allure of Nembutal. We talk about this. A lot.

What people believe also plays its part in modern attitudes. Religious and spiritual-but-not-religious people are, pretty much all of them, dualists. There’s a soul and there’s a body. It’s a belief reinforced by the appearance of any corpse they have ever seen. Gape-jawed and evacuated of all vitality, a corpse speaks of the absence of self. Whoever it once embodied has gone. The corpse is not the person, so what value is there to be gained from cosseting it? This isn’t a new thing. Radical Protestantism has always taught it. Calvinist settlers in America became very careless of the ‘dignity’ of their soul-less dead and drifted into just hauling them into the forest or pushing them into rivers. In some places it got so bad that neighbours were appointed to oversee next door’s disposal arrangements and held responsible for making sure things were done properly. For these settlers, direct cremation would have been a godsend.

If I take issue with Doughty’s thesis, it is because someone’s got to. For Doughty, the contemplation of the corpse is “the beginning of wisdom.” If you are inclined to believe that, she says, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you you are ‘sick’ or ‘morbid’ or ‘deviant.’”

What does morbid mean, exactly? It is Doughty herself who has pointed out that it has no antonym. Yes, what is the word for a healthy interest in death and dying? How does it express itself? Doughty and her fellow members of the Order of the Good Death express their wisdom exotically, sharing delight in much that others would regard as macabre — transi tombs, taxidermy, mortabilia and of all sorts. All a bit goth for my taste; I think there’s more than a dash of innate morbidity here. It would be idiotic to question the charisma of the cause, because it has attracted a huge worldwide following. How does it play to Mr and Mrs Everyday-Person? It remains to be seen. All I can say is that, speaking as a detached and jaded dullwit, after 6 years of hanging out with funeral people and their charges I remain unconvinced of the value of the corpse in death rituals, and while I acknowledge matter-of-factly the inevitability of death, I hate it as much as I ever did.

If by now you need some remission from my grinding and joyless pessimism, you need to buy this book. It it touches all the right bases — funny, shocking, sad, wise. Above all, it is full of hope and purpose. It is also highly readable. It was only when I re-read it that I became aware just how beautifully constructed it is. This is the work of a highly intelligent person who has got the inspiration-perspiration balance right (1:99). What she has to say is the product of experience, a lot of it penitential. She has captured the zeitgeist. This is a manifesto for today.

ECSTASY OF DECAY №1: Your Mortician from Angeline Gragasin on Vimeo.

Onsite SEO for Funeral Directors

Friday, 14 November 2014




Posted by Mark Sharron

For the third part in this series on SEO for funeral directors I’m going to explore onsite SEO. The goal of this post is to give you an understanding of how the major search engines view your website’s funerary focused content.

If you think back in time before Google existed, the internet was a disorganized unsavory place. Many of you will probably retort the internet is still an unsavory disorganized place.

Before Google, if you wanted to find a website you either had to know its address or you used search engine directories e.g. Yahoo, Altavista, Lycos Dogpile and many more that have since faded into oblivion.

Search engine directories depended on webmasters to submit an honest description of their websites and place them in an appropriate category. This system was open to abuse and it made it difficult to find anything of value.

Google arrived in the mid 1990’s and quickly became the dominant choice as it was a lot better than its competitors at returning relevant results. The way Google achieved this feat is as follows:

Google used a crawler/spider to index the actual content of a website.

Google’s algorithm would then parse the text on the page and judge the relevance of a site vs the relevance of similar sites based on its actual content and assign a search engine rank position.

Duplicate content was identified and demoted within the search index.

Google then reviewed how many links were directed at a site using an algorithm called Pagerank and determined sites with a greater number of links were more reputable and again reward them with a preferential rank.

I will explore links/Pagerank in a later post. For now my intention is to focus on the mechanics of creating a strong ranking signal using the text/content on your website alone.

Onsite SEO Basics:

The most important part of any SEO campaign is keyword research. Once you have identified which keywords you want to rank for, Onsite SEO becomes nothing more than a labelling exercise.

As a funeral director the trick is to identify terms that potential customers will search for. Running an Adwords campaign can be a great help to this end.

The obvious “funeral director + location” will be your core keyword however there will be a range of terms such as “cheap funeral director” or “no-fuss funerals” that will be equally desirable.

If you want to rank for “Funeral Directors in Brighton” or a similar keyword your site needs to contain references to “Funeral Directors in Brighton and lots of them though out the website.

Keyword Stuffing:

Please do not take this last sentence as a direction from myself to drop “Funeral Directors in Brighton” into every other line of your website. This technique is known as keyword stuffing and WILL NOT WORK.

The first problem you will encounter is the text on your site will become awkward and unreadable by potential clients. This will turn off prospective customers away from your brand.

The second and equally undesirable effect; Google will quickly identify the content on your site is low quality, an algorithm called PANDA will then penalise your site causing it to drop in rank.

Latent Semantic Indexing:

To avoid incurring a penalty, SEO’s like myself use a technique called latent Semantic Indexing. Google makes use of natural language processing and understands associations between words/language/entities. When writing content for your site the trick is to use variants of keywords, inflections, synonyms and related terms and seed your text with them.

Start with Variants:

* Funeral Director Brighton

* Brighton Funeral Director

* Undertaker

* Funeral Parlour

* Funeral Home

* Celebrant

Identify associated words:

* Death

* Cremation

* Burial

* Funeral Service

* Coffin

* Urn

* Bereavement

* Grief

* Tribute

The advantage of using this approach is your website’s content will read naturally, you will avoid a potential penalty and be rewarded with preferential placement within Google’s search index.

Writing Tip:

When I start creating content I compile a thorough list of keyword and associated terms. I then set the list aside and write the content without giving the list of keywords a second thought. After I have written the content I read through and slip keywords into sentences where possible and effecting minor re-writes if necessary. This approach saves time and the content reads naturally.

Page Structure:

Structuring the HTML on your page helps your website get noticed.

Heading Tags: Money keywords and variants are placed within unique HTML heading tags through each page.

Keyword Density: Money keyword/variants should be placed in the first paragraph and every 100-150 words.

Title Tag/Meta Description: The money keyword for any page should be the first word of the meta title and should be placed at least once in the meta description. Please note, title tags and meta descriptions should be unique for each page on your site.

Image Alt Tags: You have the option to place a text description. Again use this opportunity to work in your keywords.

Site Structure:

When building a website, I let the search engines and keyword research determine the structure. I mentioned earlier that SEO is a labelling exercise; I match each keyword to a client’s services where possible and create one page dedicated per keyword. e.g.

This approach ensures that the website will acquire a ranking signal for a broad range of keywords and creates a foundation that can be built upon.

Internal Linking:

Linking between pages on your site will again re-enforce the relevance of each page as Google recognises relationships between similar pages with similar content.

Once I have built a series of landing pages targeting specific keywords, I build a set of supporting pages and link between them and back to the page I am trying to optimise. Not only will this improve your search engine rank for the target keyword you will also start ranking for a variety of long tail variants of keywords you were not originally focusing on. The trick is to complete this process in a non-uniform manner using a variety of keywords/keyword variants and conversational anchor text as the basis of each link.

Screenshot 2014-11-14 at 07

This process is known as Silo’ing. If you would like to read more about it I would recommend this article:

Content Arms Race:

The more content your site has, the greater the number of keywords it will potentially rank for. Think about creative ways to add content to your site, eg, FAQ, glossary of terms, blogs, testimonials.

Exact Match Domains:

Using a domain that matches your primary keyword (exact match domain) e.g. doesn’t guarantee ranking but it certainly makes it easier coupled with lots of original content. Not having an exact match domain means significantly more effort needs to be placed on high quality content and relevant links.

Google Webmaster Quality Compliance:

Google will periodically conduct a manual review on your site. They have a set of quality guidelines websites should adhere to. These include:

* about page

* contact page

* terms and conditions

*private policy

* address and telephone number

* social profiles


* Exact match domains make life easier.

* Use original keyword rich content.

* Do not keyword stuff, use variants of keywords.

* Dedicate specific pages to each keyword.

* Build supporting pages and heavily interlink content on your site.

I will cover online branding in my next post including social profile integration, schema and the Google Knowledge Graph.

As always if you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll aim to answer within 24 hours.

Local and community

Monday, 10 November 2014



Guest post by John Porter

My first job was in a local grocer’s shop. They boiled ham in their kitchen – hmmmm, I can smell it now – and would cut three special slices, carefully wrapped in greaseproof paper for Mrs Rogers who came in every Tuesday. She chatted for a while, nobody huffed and puffed if there was a queue. The shop was stacked with huge range of products – a small quantity of each. The tinned stock was kept in the garage and I would go back and forth with a wire basket to fill and line up the items like soldiers at Trooping The Colour! It was not a village, just a typical suburban town in the south east of England but you did not have to go far to meet someone who would say hello.

Wind forward to November 2014. The two crematoriums where I lead funeral ceremonies as a celebrant seem a million miles away in spirit from the town I grew up in. Despite the many souls that have been burned or buried there they feel soulless places. As hearses glide up each drive I have seen bemused faces, surprised to meet a stranger in black, donned with hat and cane. The family’s shock at seeing the coffin for the first time (the dead person was kept miles away) creates tears. With no limousine bringing the chief mourners the out of town funeral director tries to work out who the client is. They often have to ask. How different when the person who opened the door of the funeral home is the person who processes in front of the dead!

I’m not harking back to some mystical sense of community but death certainly magnifies the lack of cohesion and tensions within families and communities. Families meet almost as strangers at hatching, matching and dispatching ceremonies. As so many of us know the letters, cards and telephone calls dry up after a few weeks and those left behind can suffer from a crippling loneliness, often left to cope on their own. No wonder people die of a broken heart. Families may live many miles from each other or in other countries that can prevent them from attending a funeral ceremony. This is a fact of modern living, often for economic reasons. Economics (okay, the will) often attracts them back and not always for the right reasons! The worst indicator of lack of community is when someone dies and no-one knows until the smell of rotting flesh becomes apparent or harbinger flies announce the fact. How awful!

As a celebrant I am in a strange and privileged position. I will definitely spend at least two hours with a family, often more, and usually in their own home. I will also speak with them on the telephone and via email before the ceremony to finalise the ceremony script and let them know everything is prepared. I’m there on the day before the funeral director arrives so can greet people and close family if they are not in the cortège. I will offer to return for a chat and coffee – not grief counselling! It is, and is most definitely not, “my” show yet I’m the guy at the front leading and supporting people who contribute. All this, of course, assumes a typical (on my patch) 30min slot at a crematorium chapel – less if a burial. Of course I am still a stranger. I do not know the person that died. I come from a different part of the country. It is extraordinary that families trust me to create and lead a funeral service for their dead loved one. I’m part of their community yet am not. I nearly always decline to attend gatherings afterwards. Does this make me a contradiction? No, but it is something I ponder on now and then.

When I started I visited the funeral directors on my patch. I soon realised that what I considered to be my local area was not shared by all. Only twelve miles away I was asked “Why have you come down here?… we use local celebrants and have done so for over 20 years”. I’m not going to unpick that very loaded statement but I must listen to what was being said. Walking in the high street I could sense that many people knew each other and I loved the villagey feel. In fact when I watch a Christmas True Movie from the USA something in me longs for the cosy community and the history oozing from the roads and buildings. Sentimental twaddle or is something else going on? Local cemeteries are a wonderful doorway to a town’s history. It is amazing to listen to older people tell stories that have been passed down through the generations. Here I go again getting all starry-eyed and soppy but a little bit of me longs for it. I really struggle to answer this question: “where are your roots”. I am a sojourner. I have friends scattered across the UK and the Globe.

As our poppies crumple and fall and we race towards Christmas I know that many funeral directors put up remembrance Christmas trees, write to clients and are involved with activities such as carol services etc. Others support local charities throughout the year. This helps them to feel part of a local community and may be good for business. Close communities can be great for repeat business if the service provided is good. Many people go with what they know and do not usually buy a funeral in the same way they would a car – looking at the market and researching before buying – though, hopefully this will change. This is where the independent family business has an advantage over the corporates. It is also risky in sustainability terms when business founders die and children or other family are not interested in funeral directing.

You may ask where is this blog going? I really cannot answer that… yet. I would like to start a conversation about this theme and will close now with a final thought. One of Aesop’s fables, The Fox and the Lion is summarised as “Familiarity breeds contempt”. This is a well-known saying. There is truth in it. If a funeral director or funeral celebrant only operates in a way that they are familiar and comfortable with then both they and clients miss out in the end. I recently saw a minister lead two funeral ceremonies one after the other – same poems recited perfectly and from the heart without reference to the text, same welcome and closing words. The tribute was different but each had a familiar ring to it – maybe mine do too!? The problem is that dying, death, funerals and grieving are generally unfamiliar to us until we are forced to engage with it. The cosyness, that feeling of belonging, being familiar with and part of a local community may breed contempt but if we are watchful and motivated to serve then it is something, I believe, we should work towards.

Are you a charitable body?

Thursday, 6 November 2014



Posted by Ken West 

Have you thought about the scrap metal value of your body? It began with metal hip joints but as we live longer and spend more time falling over and head butting the skirting boards, metal bone splints now outweigh the hips. Body piercing has added tongue studs and navel rings, not to mention those bits dangling in the erogenous zones. A little bite is added by gold molars and, a fact that surprises me, all that jewellery people still leave on the body. Following cremation, this metal remains in the ashes, but do they tell you what they do with it?    

About half of the UK crematoria, often those who have adopted the Charter for the Bereaved, send the metal residue for recycling through a scheme organised by the Institute for Cemetery & Crematorium Management (ICCM).  Much of it is unrecognisable as aggregate, usually the gold and silver, all of which melt when the temperature reaches 1100C. But alloys, like hip joints and plates, retain their shape and uniformity. There are few firms capable of smelting this residue, which is taken to a very high temperature and the various metals skimmed off as appropriate, the ingots being sold back into the metal market. After collecting the waste metal from participating crematoria, the contracted firm pay an agreed price per kilo to the ICCM and this is distributed to charities nominated by the participating crematoria. The sum will be around one million pounds in 2014. 

What happens at those crematoria who do not participate, half of the total, a further million pounds? Many of these are the private sector crematoria, the ones who say nothing about metal residue on their websites. Worse, do they still bury the metal in the crematorium grounds, which was usual until a few years ago? If so, this is a potential pollution hazard.

Be a charitable body, and ask your local crematorium whether your bits will benefit society.



A tragic and terrible miscarriage of justice?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014



Click the pic to make it bigger. Story reported in the same paper we contacted when the Southend One opened the Mary Mayer Funeral Home after escaping from Burnley. We told them to investigate and get rid of him. Isn’t that what newspapers are for? 

So far, no VO has arrived for the GFG from HMP Slammer. 

Story not yet online. 

Hat-tip JG & MS


Loading in the Dark at Radcliffe-on-Trent

Monday, 3 November 2014

unnamed (9)


Posted by David Hall

David Hall, of Vintage Lorry Funerals, took a call on a November Saturday morning for a funeral in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire. Cognisant of the excellent service he has received over the years from County Truck Services on Colwick Industrial Estate, David initially thought about parking the 1950 Leyland Beaver undercover at this location. However, even though Colwick is less than 1 mile from Radcliffe-on-Trent as the crow flies, the River Trent, with minimal crossing points necessitates a 6 mile detour. The River Trent separates communities including Nottingham Forest F.C. and Notts County F.C. whose grounds are yards apart on the edge of opposing riverbanks but miles apart by road and league positions!

As the funeral was booked for the first service at Wilford Hill Crematorium it was too risky to make an early start from Colwick and fight through the rush-hour traffic. David often tells Funeral Directors that they are better looking at the lorry rather than looking for the lorry and he rang back the Funeral Director to ascertain if the lorry could be parked in their yard overnight. Brian Miles of A.W. Lymn Funeral Directors was very helpful, confirming that his yard was secure and suggested a B&B facility in the village that was quiet with fields behind which could guarantee a good night’s sleep.

For people who are employed in an office, each day can appear to be the same, however, for people who work outside every day is different. After the clocks went back on Sunday October 27th 2013, it was noticeable that the daylight hours started to get shorter. In November it got lighter later and later each day and got dark earlier and earlier each day during the month. In between funerals, David Hall undertakes joinery work and tree cutting projects and he is always conscious of the period in the day that he affectionately calls ‘the dark’ before which tools must be tidied away and administration time commences.

The Floral Tributes for the Radcliffe-on-Trent funeral included ‘DAD’, ‘STAN’, & ‘GRANDAD’ and David Hall designed a tiered display involving three steps. David calls this arrangement his ‘Eddie Cochrane Theme’ after the American singer who was killed on April 17th 1960 at Rowden Hill Chippenham whose posthumous hit ‘Three Steps to Heavenreached No 1 the month following his death. The Florists supplied the lengths of each Tribute and David set the End Stops and Support Buttresses, into which the plastic rails are attached, from his experience of similar Tributes before he set off from Bradford-on-Avon. However, the positions of the Support Buttresses vary dependant on the how the Florist has fixed the letters to the bars.

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David reversed into A. W. Lymn’s yard at 1500 hours well before darkness was due to fall at 16-30 hours and immediately discussed the conundrum with Brian Miles of how could they avoid loading ‘Name’ Tributes in the dark the following morning. They agreed a plan that involved David measuring the Tributes when they arrived and adjusting the Support Buttresses whilst it was light. With Brian’s help the Tributes were then put in place temporarily within the display in order to check that they would fit without any problem in the morning, when loading would have to take place in darkness. The ‘DAD’ and ‘STAN’ were already there, however, the ‘GRANDAD’ didn’t arrive until 1615 hours when light was starting to fail. The A. W. Lymn staff turned on whatever lights they could and luckily  no changes needed to be made to the Support Buttress positions for ‘GRANDAD’ and all three tributes were put back into the Chapel of Rest, with the Deceased’s coffin, just before the office closed for the night.

Brian gave David a lift to the B&B where the Irish Lady owner got up early specifically to make David a cooked Breakfast at 0645 hours. He was collected at 0715 hours and the loading of the flowers commenced at 0720 hours starting with the ‘DAD’ first then ‘STAN’ and ‘GRANDAD’ slotting them into place in the dark. David then used the torch facility on his mobile phone to provide enough light to fix the rails to the Buttresses. The coffin was loaded and coffin spray fixed in placed and the total operation was completed by 0732 hours, 12 minutes to load 3 ‘Names’, 2 Wreathes, 1 spray, I bouquet and the coffin was the fastest ever achieved.

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Brian paged the lorry out of the yard at 0750 hours and Brian had planned a route to avoid traffic to the house in Riverside Park, a development close to the Trent in Gunthorpe. The Family were delighted with the display especially how each Tribute was visible. Brian planned the timing of the journey to Wilford Hill Crematorium allowing for delays at pinch points on the route where congestion normally results in the morning rush hour. As it happened, however, the traffic was exceedingly light that day and the cortege arrived slightly ahead of schedule at Wilford Hill.

The decision to check that the Floral Tributes would fit the night before the funeral was a cardinal feature in achieving a successful operation and again the adage was proved that if you fail to prepare, then you should prepare to fail.


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Teenage Room
by Paul Wooldridge

My mother speaks in detail,
I avoid her tired gaze
and stare at local headlines,
folded double down the page.

She talks of calls and records,
staying strong and on the go.
I know I should be helping,
be of use, keep up the show.

I only want to slope off,
all alone, to my own room
and hide away in silence
seeking comfort in the gloom.

But there’s no place to run now,
no retreat to my warm bed,
for I have just turned thirty
and my father’s three days dead.

Lifting the spirits

Friday, 31 October 2014


Circa 1997.  Neither of them became undertakers.

Circa 1997. Neither of them became undertakers.


Posted by Kitty Perry


When I was a child in the 60s, not a lot happened on 31st October. Casting my mind back and thinking really hard, the only thing I can remember doing is bobbing for apples. Which I did once at a friend’s birthday party. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure that the party was in October.

Fast forward to the 80s. Early one autumn evening the doorbell rang. Three children were standing there wearing cone-shaped hats made from black card.

‘Hello,’ I said, wondering what on earth was going on.

‘Trick or tree-eat?’

I had no idea what they meant.

‘Er, I’ll have a treat – what treats have you got?’

They looked at each other, completely confused. And then went away looking disappointed. Almost as disappointed as me.

By the time I had children of my own I knew a lot more about the traditions of Halloween. Or rather the Halloween that had crossed the pond from the USA: fancy-dress parties, carved pumpkins, green cakes, skull-shaped sweets and half-price offers on bags of fun-size chocolate bars – for the trick-or-treaters. Or as my husband calls them, ‘The spoiled brats who come round wanting something for nothing just as I’m settling down to watch the telly.’ Or words to that effect.

Have we missed our chance to resurrect the Celtic traditions of a night when the ghosts of the dead visit the mortal world? Where are our sacred bonfires and our ghost stories? Is there any hope for a proper ‘Day of the Dead’? Or even a few days of the dead? A time for remembering our ancestors – all of them, not only the ones who died fighting in wars. Culminating in parties and firework displays – incorporation of your dead ones’ ashes would be optional.

Fancy dress? Of course, but not for animals and pets. Sorry Vampire Hedgehog and Freddy Krueger Guinea Pig. You’ll know what I mean if you’re a fan of Bored Panda.

Old traditions combined with new. And, instead of sweets and chocolate, trick-or-treaters would be given fresh locally-sourced produce like turnips and cabbage for delicious home-made soups. And apples for bobbing.


Death Poets Society

Friday, 31 October 2014



Love and Loss: Poetry at funerals and in bereavement

Sunday 2nd Nov, 8pm

North London Tavern, Kilburn High Road

Tickets £8 through and on the door

 Bereavement can lead people to seek solace in poetry for the first time, or indeed, to express themselves by writing their own poetry for the first time. Discussing and reciting poems written in anger, confusion, sadness or celebration are:

Roundhouse_Poetry_Slam_Final-391Jack Rooke – stand-up poet and comedian from Watford. Jack is an associate artist of The Roundhouse and a part of Soho Theatre’s Comedy Lab 2014.
Jack hosts the award-winning stand-up poetry night Bang Said The Gun, the poetry/comedy Amphitheatre at Bestival and has created work for The Independent, Cosmopolitan, BBC Radio 1, The Guardian and Channel 4. He is also an ambassador for male suicide prevention charity CALM and curates the ‘Save The Male’ showcases to raise awareness that suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK.

kilburn_03Tim Wells – poet
‘London poetry landmark’ – TLS
‘suedehead bard of N16’ – the Guardian
‘bizarre character from the East End’ – The Times
‘a neatly twisted line in rhetoric’ – NME




Catherine Fried – sculptor, writer and authority on the work of her late husband Erich, a best-selling poet in Germany and his native Austria. As a boy of 17, Erich Fried fled the Holocaust for England and settled in Kilburn where he lived and worked for 30 years. Much of his poetry was political.  Later he was celebrated for his love poems.  He also wrote about death.


staff_Richard-PuttRichard Putt – a director of Leverton & Sons.  With 42 years’ experience as a dedicated funeral director, he is the ideal barometer of changing funeral traditions and the increasing importance of poetry in the lives of the bereaved.




 Audience members will also be invited to recite short poems of their own.

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