No. 3: A company offering the expensive service of deep freezing and preserving corpses of wealthy folk who hoped that future generations would be able to revive them back to life, went in liquidation. Because of unpaid bills the electricity supply was cut off and the bodies went into a similar state to that of the company.
No. 4: A woodland burial site, which banned metal-lined coffins and embalmed bodies for ecological reasons, was confronted with the dilemma of a man, already buried there, being joined by his wife, who died while holidaying abroad. Air safety regulations require a sealed coffin and embalmed body.
No 5: A crematorium which linked up a CCTV camera to the internet so services could be watched by those mourners unable to attend, charged a family £75 for the password that enabled friends to log on. The local paper ran the headline, ‘Funeral pay-per-view storm’.
No 6: Church of England officials are in talks with the Ministry of Justice about relaxing regulations placed on memorial design in churchyards to move in line with secular cemeteries. Torn between modernisation and heritage, they can’t make up their mind if it’s the decent thing to do to allow teddy bears, toy cars, kerb stones, chippings, wind chimes, battery-operated lanterns, memorial photos contained in cartouches, and multicoloured plastic gravestones emblazoned with the word, ‘Mum’.
It was good to see you commenting once more on the blog. It shows that people of all shades of opinion read it, not just a clique.
I hope you appreciate the way I allow you to say whatever you like, however abusive (so long as it isn’t also libellous).
Do you ever wonder why I don’t just bin your more abusive comments as soon as they appear? After all, they are often personal, they can be pretty hurtful, they are usually very negative and they contribute nothing to the debate.
I let you comment because I believe in free speech and because I am interested in what you have to say. I know that you speak for many people in the industry.
I hope you have some respect for the way in which I expose everything I say to comment. This is because I don’t think I am always right, and because I like to be put right where I have got it wrong. I hope you’ll agree that it takes guts and open-mindedness to do that.
I hope you respect the way that I do not hide my identity or shelter my contact details. I take personal responsibility for everything I say, and I make myself vulnerable by doing so.
Which is more than I can say for you.
The funeral industry is a service industry. Service users have a right to talk about it. So I want to suggest to you that your aggressive defence of the industry you clearly love is unhelpful and mistaken. You make it look small-minded and nasty.
So come on. Step up. Let’s have reasoned debate and a constructive dialogue. Stop being so angry.
Some readers might recall Roal Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected on TV. ‘William and Mary’ was a particularly beastly story about an academic having his brain and one eye transplanted from his body after death, and attached to an artificial heart so they both continue to function.
William can see and think but nothing more. He is a mind incapable of being a person. His widow, Mary, takes the brain home in its protective capsule, but instead of caring for it by giving it learned books to read, she promptly takes revenge by doing all the things that met with William’s disapproval when he could communicate – things like smoking and watching trash TV. He’s helpless and in hell.
As animals, our deaths are defined by the end of the vital processes that sustain our existence as human beings. As minds, our deaths are constituted by the irreversible extinction of the vital processes that sustain our existence as minds. But if persistence is determined by our retaining certain psychological features, then does the loss of those features constitute death?
David Holmes runs a family business that’s one of the few industries to buck the current economic trend. Yet Holmes and Sons in Fleet, Hampshire, is almost dead and buried. If you haven’t guessed, they’re funeral directors. David’s young sons Olly and Toby are bored to death; David’s a soft touch (his nickname is Giveaway Dave), while colleague Sheena is sulkily and stubbornly resistant to change.
We give you advance notice of this with a heavy heart. The GFG gave hours of unpaid advice to the makers of the programme. We parted company when they rejected that advice and went trotting gaily down the well-worn path of formulaic tellytosh. The next sentence of the blurb tells you precisely why:
The meeting with a wedding planner to get ideas how to organise an event is nearly the final nail in the coffin for [Sheena].
As it was for us. We had gone out of our way to explain that a funeral business is like no other; that generic solutions don’t apply; that a cosmetic makeover wouldn’t do the trick; you can’t turn a funeral into a good funeral by accessorising it with gewgaws.
What we should have done next was withdraw permission for any footage of us to be shown. We didn’t — because we didn’t think it would be used. That was a very grave mistake and it calls for an apology. We had agreed a before-and-after format whereby we identified a problem… and then returned to rejoice in how wonderfully well it had been rectified. We got as far as filming the ‘before’ stuff and, regrettably, it looks as if it may be shown alone, wholly unbalanced by the praise and congratulation we looked forward to heaping on David and his crew at the end.
Some cultures are more repressive of public displays of emotion than others. Broadly, people who live in cool climates are repressors; people who live in sunny climates let fly with what they’re feeling.
It is unlikely that climate is the determining factor.
Here are two examples, one of each. The first is from a letter to the Oldie magazine’s agony aunt, Mavis Nicholson:
“… as to roadside shrines, I struggle to understand the custom of leaving floral tributes, with wrappings, where a tragic event has taken place. To me, it collects thoughts in a sad place, and traps the spirit, soul, whatever, in limbo there, instead of in happy places where lovely memories linger, or a place of peace where those that are left in sorrow can go to have quiet thoughts.”
And here’s a recent example from Port Said, Egypt:
“…in Port Said [grief] seemed … externalised, in some cases almost performative, yet no less sincere. At a march in protest at the killings the next morning, the mother of one of the victims was driven through the crowds of marchers in a taxi, holding up a photograph of her son. As she passed, she thrust from the car window the bloodstained jacket he died in, a bullet-hole ripped through the shoulder.” [Source]
Posted by our ornithology correspondent Richard Rawlinson
With its alliterative similarity to Shakespeare’s phrase ‘dead as a doornail’, the term ‘dead as a dodo’ also remains in usage.
The extinct bird has become a symbol of obsolescence. Unable to fly and laying just one egg at a time, this three feet-plus tall, 20-plus pound woodland forager didn’t have a chance once Man, or hungry Western explorers, discovered its habitat on the island of Mauritius.
The first recorded sighting was by Dutch sailors in 1598. Less than 100 years later, it was observed that the dodo had disappeared without trace, flagging up the previously unrecognised problem of human involvement in wiping out entire species.
Paintings and sketches of dodos vary considerably, implying some were drawn from hazy memory. Study of fossils in the 19th century gave us a more accurate picture. Sadly, we’ll never know exactly how they waddled and quacked.
Extraordinary communiqué from Sir Basil Batesville-Caskett Bt, CDM, RLSS (Bronze)
I have just been handed a note. It reads:
Hey, about that week’s holiday you’ve been promising me. Well, I’m taking it. I’ve gone to the seaside with my lovely missus. See ya next Monday!
Blog-ed x x
I of course apologise to readers for the interruption in service brought about by this deplorable dereliction of duty. We may talk of holidays here at the GFG-Batesville Shard, but we most emphatically do not take them.
I have every hope that a chap called Richard Rawlinson and a fella known as Vole may attempt to sail a jury-rigged blog through the next seven days.
Please be assured that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible — ie, after we have interviewed suitable candidates.
This is the most infuriation I have endured since Mrs Mollington upped and died on us.
Behind the scenes at the State University of New York’s Mortuary School. Interesting insights into the rationale for US funerary practices and what motivates the students. NOTE: Includes graphic scenes of embalming.