Everyone looks at other people differently according to what they do. Hairdressers scan your hair, dentists your teeth, snobs your shoes… Undertakers? Why, they measure you for your coffin of course.
Surveying a funeral, the preoccupations of an undertaker are quite different from those of anybody else. Ordinary folk take in the procession, the flowers, the demeanour of the close family (grief bravely borne if they’re doing it by the script). But undertakers want to know who got it – who got the job. Their beady eyes home in on the registration plate of the hearse and decode the letters. Ah, CDF 1, Change and Decay Funeral Service (dignity assured, Daimler fleet, open 24 hours). They scrutinise the demeanour of the conductor (that watch chain’s a bit over the top), they log the condition and cleanliness of the cars and the aspect of the bearers. Who supplied that coffin? One of Wainman’s?
It is from this viewpoint that they will regard the funeral of lovely Claire Rayner, who died on Monday. As the chair of the Co-operative Funeralcare Forum (2002) Claire abetted this admirable organisation in its mission to bring about a “major shake-up in the UK’s funeral provision” and meet the “need for more information to help people make every funeral special.” So will she go with Co-operative Funeralcare? Why not?
What could possibly go wrong?
Claire was also a president of the British Humanist Association. It’s no surprise, then, that she will have a humanist farewell ceremony. This may pose a problem for the celebrant (if they use one), a problem which is becoming increasingly common. Humanist celebrants have, most of them, always gently outlawed hymns from funerals. Now they’ve got a new ontological problem with their clients. For though they may profess themselves to be hardened atheists, they later reveal a fuzzy belief in an afterlife of some sort, a freestanding heaven where no one’s in charge, a cake-and-eat-it sort of a place. Atheists are not the rigorous (left-leaning, often puritanical in the best sense) rationalists they used to be. They just don’t like, I don’t know, authority figures?
Whatever, Claire, who revealed a capacity for inconsistency when, as a lifelong republican she accepted an OBE, uttered these last words: “Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I’ll come back and bloody haunt him.”
Only joking, for sure. But Claire, I hope you will.
Thanks to Tony Piper for popping these mischievous thoughts into my head