The great unsung

Charles 5 Comments

I’ll never make a funeral director. Yesterday’s experience reinforced that. No presence of mind. No eye for detail. In any case, I like things to hang loose, come a little unravelled if they will. But the mourning public likes to be held in a reassuring grip, I was reminded. They like someone to look to; someone commanding. To what extent this is a conditioned response, the product of strict timetabling brought about by the exacting demands of crematoria, I don’t know. But there is a decidedly British funeral behaviour and there’s more to it than Britishness. It goes with a lot of glancing at watches. Everyone except the dead guy, that is.

It all went well, just in case you’re wondering. Along the way I met some great people. And herein lay another reminder. Some of the nicest people we’ll ever meet work in the funeral industry. There was Richard who prepared the body and was so happy to be told what a very good job he’d done. There was Mandy at Adlam’s, where the body was being looked after. She couldn’t have been kinder or more generous. There was Margie McCallum, the celebrant. She gave up most of her day to this funeral and conducted the ceremony with clarity, intelligence and unhurriedness. And there was lovely Dave of ClassicRentabug whose fun lim followed me in the estate car in which poor Margie was crammed against the dashboard because the coffin was 6’ 8”.

Once at the crem my essential incompetence was made manifest. I even found I was unable to reassure myself that the coffin goes in feet first. So I threw myself on the mercies of the crematorium manager, confessing myself to be an imposter. This might have made him disdainful. It didn’t. With great magnanimity and gentleness he didn’t tell me what to do, he took over. He briefed the bearers, who were intent on shouldering the coffin. He arranged the procession. He seated everyone, and was alert to every latecomer. And while I have been to many crems and met many very nice people who work in them, this man, Nick Pearce, manager of West Wiltshire Crematorium, is, in my unwavering opinion, the Best in Britain. His staff are lovely, too.

Perhaps you have your own local hero whom you would like to nominate. Please do. I’d be happy to settle for equal best (if grudgingly).


  1. Charles

    I couldn’t possibly choose between the lovely people who work at my local Crem. Only two of them could be described as chapel attendants but they all work as a team. Whether it was cleaning up when someone vomited during one of my services (!)or helping set up an amplifier for an electric guitar, I know they’re there for my families and me.

  2. Charles

    My two favourite crematorium attendents are Fred and Alan at Lambeth Crematorium. For a start they have never told me off for going slightly over time. I have always been within the time slot but I don’t feel hassled for myself or the mourners. They are a pair of men who work as a team and who are NOT jobsworth but dedicated chapel attendents who appreciate that they are dealing with bereaved people and in the funeral business. They are an example of people who see this as a vocation much more than just a job.
    They are also a great fund of crem anecdotes for me.
    To be fair to other attendents in very busy crematoria Lambeth is not too hard pressed compared to, say, Mortlake which is still only providing half hour slots.

    Charles, is there any chance that you might email this comment to Lambeth Crematorium? As you say we can be quick to complain but not to praise.

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