Ooh, the conjurer’s just arrived.
Yes, it’s all party hats and facepainting over here at the GFG-Batesville Shard. Jelly, pizza fingers, crisps and ice cream. A whole lot of bunting.
Our blog is five years old today and we’re awaiting the arrival in his much-loved Daimler DS420 of our patron and sugar-daddy, Sir Basil Batesville-Caskett Bt, CDM, OTT, RLSS (Bronze). There’ll be speeches and cup cakes, party games and lemonade.
At five, believe it or not, we’re one of the longest-running blogs in Funeralworld, our longevity exceeded only, we think, by Margaret Nelson’s blog, Dead Interesting. As we look back, we… Nah, can’t be bothered with any of that retrospective, self-congratulatory stuff. Tomorrow’s what matters.
Posted by Richard Rawlinson
Julie Bailey, founder of the Cure the NHS campaign group, which exposed the Mid Staffordshire scandal, has closed her café in Stafford after “political activists” desecrated her mother’s grave.
“I am having to leave my home, my livelihood and my friends because a few misinformed local political activists have fuelled a hate campaign based on proven lies. The final straw for me was the desecration of my mum’s grave. It is a sad day today, but I have no alternative than to move out of Stafford. The last few months have been a very distressing time for myself and Cure the NHS; our main aim has always been a safer NHS for all. Difficult as it is for people, everyone must finally realise that patient safety must be the priority. The main focus for every hospital must be the patient.”
Who are these fanatics who treat the NHS like a religion and its critics as blasphemers? Ian Birell of The Independent recently wrote: “Britons cling to a nostalgic notion that this creaking, outdated institution is the envy of the world. Perhaps, as scandal after scandal washes over the service, our nation can finally grow up and see that such myopic worship helped foster a culture of complacency.”
Are you coming to the National Funeral Exhibition?
The NFE is the biggest and best business-boosting/networking/nattering event in Funeralworld and we are delighted to have been invited. To mark the occasion we are presently decanting the GFG-Batesville Shard, packing the wretched, zit-face interns into charabancs, and looking forward to spending the next three days sampling the delights, delighting in the sights and feasting on chat with all and sundry.
If you’re undecided, make up your mind to come. You don’t want to spend the next 2 years feeling like the person in the pic above. Simply present yourself at the desk, flash your business card and they’ll bung you a badge.
Meeting up can be touch and go, such is the throng. So, if you’d like to catch us, we shall be taking tea and cake in the Stroller Restaurant between 3 and 4 on each day.
Call us on 07557 684 515
We hope to see you there!
Posted by Richard Rawlinson
Sherlock Holmes looks nothing like Benedict Cumberbatch, and is in fact the doppelgänger of Charles Cowling. This is, of course, subjective as the casting director of the TV series can present the great detective how he wants, just as a reader of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories can picture him as Charles’ twin bro in deerstalker and tweed cape. This is because Holmes is—shock-horror—not real, a man of fiction, a figment of the imagination.
When Conan Doyle killed off Holmes in his serialised adventures in The Strand, the magazine lost 20,000 subscribers and some readers wore black armbands in the streets. Conan Doyle was less sentimental, and resented Holmes for overshadowing the rest of his literary output. So he sent him tumbling to his death over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland during a fight with arch-enemy Moriarty.
Eight years later, in 1901, there was rejoicing when Conan Doyle, under pressure to balance his bank account, decided to write The Hound of the Baskervilles, a story set before Holmes’s death. He then caved in entirely with The Adventure of the Empty House, in which it transpires Holmes didn’t die in Switzerland after all. The fall was all cleverly staged so he could disappear into undercover anonymity. This was one of the earliest cases of a narrative device known as ‘retconning’: retrospectively altering the continuity.
It’s fitting that the writer of the cliffhanger at the end of last season’s Sherlock series used ‘retconning’. Holmes fell from the roof of St Bart’s hospital, Watson was an eye witness, we saw a pulse taken, blood on the pavement and a body being carted off in an ambulance. But as the camera cut away at the funeral we saw Holmes looking secretly on.
What a teaser, and we have to wait for the new series this autumn to find out what happened. In the meantime, the internet is buzzing with theories. Did Holmes borrow a corpse from St Bart’s mortuary and toss it off the building? Did the strategically parked van allow for the stand-in body to be taken away so the real Holmes could lie on the pavement, releasing blood capsules just before drugging himself to temporarily stop his own heart? As Watson ran to the scene of the accident, was his collision with a cyclist a deliberate ploy to delay his arrival?
Whether viewed on TV from fireside sofas; whether read about in bed or in library armchairs; whether discussed online, in classrooms, pubs or by office watercoolers, Sherlock Holmes lives on!
James Hardcastle of The Carriagemaster has enjoyed ‘strong successes’ with his self-drive hearse, a venture to which the teeming team here at the GFG-Batesvile Shard has given its unanimous and enthusiastic backing. No one ever went wrong, we like to say (over and over, the record shows), who sought to find ways to empower the bereaved. What’s more, we’ve met James and we think he is not just a good egg but an unimpeachable egg and a very astute businessperson.
James has now launched what he calls Hearse+
It’s a Ford Galaxy private ambulance/removal vehicle (pictured above) in which 4 family members can drive their person who’s died on their last journey on Earth. They can spend as long as they want and take any route they want so long as they get to the ceremony venue on time.
One of James’s people will drive the hearse to the family, give them a short course in driving it, and lob them the keys.
Fuller detail here: Hearse+ Features and Benefits. The cost is around half that of a conventional hearse driven by someone else.
If you’ve any questions for James, contact him or, if you would like him to respond publicly, leave a comment below.
It goes without saying that the GFG has no commercial relationship with The Carriagemaster.
Posted by Malu Swayne, creator of No Sad Songs
ED’s NOTE: We have spent quite a lot of time talking to Malu and we think she is a thoroughly good thing. Classically trained herself, she has a wide range of really good musicians to call on. Like our friends at Threnody, we feel there’s nothing like the immediacy of live music at a funeral.
Death is the one certainty in life. As a musician myself, I have always believed in the power of music to bring solace and help release feelings that otherwise remain locked inside us.
It is a sad fact that as we grow older we attend more funerals; and as this began to happen to me, I noticed that live music – other than occasionally an organ – only seemed to be used when there were friends or relatives of the deceased or bereaved who were themselves musicians.
Unlike a wedding, when there are usually months between an engagement and the ceremony, a funeral usually happens very soon after a death, and many people are too shocked and upset to find and organise musicians in time.
The two things people remember most about a funeral are the weather and the music. We cannot control the weather; but we can make sure that the music is well chosen and of the highest quality.
During a funeral, a beautiful piece of music acts as a catalyst to release emotions, and provides an essential moment for every individual to say a private goodbye.
Music also lends dignity and structure to the occasion, and makes it unique and personal. Whether at a funeral or memorial service, the eloquence of great music can transform a painful ordeal into an event which will be remembered for ever.
Another important element of a funeral is often the singing of hymns. It is depressing when hardly anyone sings them; but it is hard to do when fighting back tears.
All too often, the priest ends up singing the hymns on his own.
This is where musicians can transform the atmosphere; but in churches which possess a regular choir, the members are usually at work during the week, and cannot be called upon.
In fact there is seldom the need for a large choir: a funeral is usually an intimate ritual, and four professional voices (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) are quite sufficient to lead and carry along the singing of hymns.
Recorded music is certainly better than no music, and for many popular songs or large-scale classical works CDs are the only practical solution.
But the benefits of live music cannot be exaggerated: it gives us a fleeting glimpse of timelessness, existing outside a world governed by the inexorable passing of minutes and ticking seconds.
It takes us into a dimension defined only by melody, pulse, rhythm and breath, in which a personal experience and response is engendered for each wife, husband, lover, parent, relative and friend.
Live music is therefore distinctive and profound – an experience in which the ordinary can be elevated into the extraordinary.
Sometimes a death causes such utter grief that no words are adequate. I recall being asked to provide music for a two-year-old boy’s funeral.
What can one do in such an appalling situation? What can one say about such a pitifully short life?
There was not even an organ in this church, and I remember thinking that if the parents hadn’t asked us to provide a harpist, the service would have been sadly arid and comfortless. This proved to me that live music can help where words could only fail.
A live performance is by its very nature a unique event, and is therefore something specifically human, precious and vital in a world which is becoming more and more fast-driven, anonymous and mechanical.
Taking the time and trouble to arrange a private performance of a beautiful piece of music is perhaps the most special thing one can ever do for someone.
Some people may be nervous of hiring musicians for a funeral, thinking it would be too expensive; but when set against the overall funeral expenses, the cost of booking professional musicians is not prohibitive – and as a funeral expense it may be offset against inheritance tax.
Good musicians are highly skilled, and will always perform their best. All mankind is touched by death; and musicians find it hugely rewarding to play or sing at funerals, where the consolation of music is so urgently needed.
This intimation of mortality reminds them of the value of their musical skills, and why they do what they do.
Naturally I am somewhat biased; but I would rather have a sublime or witty piece of music performed at my funeral by hand-picked musicians than an expensive coffin or any quantity of floral tributes.
Flowers wither and are thrown away; live music remains in the mind for ever.
Quite simply: when a funeral is graced by well-chosen music beautifully performed by live musicians, the mourners leave feeling better than when they arrived.
Find the No Sad Songs website here.
You may have noticed that we’re trying to calm the blog down a bit. The daily magazine format of up to five or so posts daily is more, we reckon, than you want or can cope with. (Today was a throwback day.)
We recognise that there are many sources, now, from which you can gather your funeral news.
We also recognise our own frailty. Keeping a blog going is hard work and we have lots of other things to do, all of which we are behind with.
So we’re going to try to give you one a day, max, from now on, and post minor items on our Facebook page and Twitter.
You are very welcome to use this blog to broach an idea, let off steam, reflect on an experience, proclaim a manifesto, ask a question… We are non-denominational. Anything goes. Get in touch: email us.
You can ‘like’ our Facebook page here (and see Barack Obama moonlighting as the Grim Reaper). And you can find us on Twitter: @goodfunerals