In the light of yesterday’s Court of Appeal judgement in favour of Davender Ghai and anyone else who wants to be cremated on a funeral pyre, Rupert Callender of the Green Funeral Company, and a Trustee of the Natural Death Centre, has this to say:
The verdict this Wednesday from the High Court accepting the legal arguments presented by The Anglo-Asian Friendship Society and supported by The Natural Death Centre in favour of outdoor funeral pyres is as cheering as it is unexpected. It seems that underneath its musty periwigs and robes, British justice can still feel its way to the spirit of an issue and move radically in favour of the individual.
Of course, this is only a battle that has been won, not the war. The next impenetrable ring of defence, our Orwellian and inscrutable planning system and our perversely selective Environmental Health department will no doubt dig in for a long siege. For those of us who dream of blazing hilltops lighting up the night sky and illuminating dancing crowds, we still have miles to go before we sleep.
The media have predictably missed the point, with all of the major papers failing to grasp the concept that this is a right won for us all, not just those whose religious edicts prescribe it.
The strength of feeling on this matter that I have encountered from ordinary middle class Devonshire folk is incredible. It seems our ancestral memory has been stirred and will not lie down. Only this morning I encountered a woman who railed against not being able to cremate her mother in this way, and the spiritual paucity of what she had to settle for, the ubiquitous twenty minutes in a council run crem.
This is what has really cracked today, the one-size-fits-all funeral box that we have been squeezed into for so long. The people who manage our death rituals, particularly big funeral chains and crematorium consortiums, can be left in no doubt that the fundamental template no longer fits. Convenience can no longer dictate the ritual.
It is of course the crematoriums that are best placed to effect any changes; they solve many of the planning issues by existing already. Crematoriums are divided into those that are privately run, some by big players, and those that are managed by the council. Despite being heavily subsidised with our council taxes, it is the municipal ones that are shabby and run down. In one of our local urban ones, you are locked into a Victorian chapel for twenty minutes, so woe betide any latecomers, and the end of the service is marked by a noise reminiscent of the opening scenes of “Porridge.” The privately run ones, while still being deep in the belly of the capitalist beast at least are open to the whiff of consumer concern. We at the NDC have done our best to tempt them with new technologies, specifically Cryomation and Resomation, but we have also tried to sow seeds of change about how the ritual itself is managed, not just the mechanics of body disposal.
Integrating an area for outdoor cremations would be easy in a practical sense, and show that they do indeed “get it.” It is not quite the showy druidical theatrics of Dr Price that so many of us long for, but it is the beginning of something profound.
Ed’s note: Quoting the Press Association story: “the judgment goes on to state that the difficulties which may be thrown up by planning and public health legislation, should an application be submitted, have not been considered as part of this judgement.