Is he?

Charles 19 Comments

Photo Copyright © 2011 Lee Mitchell, LMX Creative, All Rights Reserved

No, I’m pleased to tell you. Reports are exaggerated. I remain sentient, mostly. Thank you, all those of you who have emailed to express concern. You’ve added to my guilt, but I am very touched.

I’ve been busy – busy with stuff and busy thinking. It’s the thinking that’s kept me away from the blog.

I’ve been preoccupied with paralysing existential brooding concerning the GFG.  I’ve suffered a major identity crisis. I’d be interested to know what you think.

My first and lesser concern has been sustainability. Can the GFG begin to break even at the very least? It runs at a lean and hungry loss at the moment, and that’s silly. ‘What was your business plan?’ I hear you ask. Never had one. I’m a believer in muddling through and seeing what happens. Even planners look back and agree that that’s the way it actually works. My guiding idea has been that if you can be of value to people then you can charge a little for that. I fancy the GFG to be of value to some FDs and providers of services and merchandise. I am proudest of all that it’s helped to keep Yuli Somme busy making her Leafshrouds. The GFG is of value to consumers, too. There ought to be a revenue stream there. Potentially, there is. The GFG just needs a better business head on its shoulders.

My principal concern has been identity. Does the GFG need to exist? What is it for? Last night I happened upon a Catholic blog which, it seems to me, expresses the idea of the GFG very well. The writer begins by saying, I have had a morbid interest in that particular blog for some time,’ and goes on to say:

‘it is an excellent resource to get to grips with the confused secular world and its prevailing attitudes towards death and dying.’ [Source]

That’s it! That’s what we spend a lot of time doing here. So: the GFG is a little think tank. It is earnest, altruistic, mischievous, angry, sad, sometimes bonkers, always serious, never self-serving. It is rooted in things as they are. It seeks to compete with no one and to respect all (almost). It is capable of influence and even authority – and, dammit, we want to change things.

It is the contributions of its loyal commenters, the discussions they have, which bring, in a good month, upwards of 19,000 people to the site. Sure, not all of those get beyond the home page, and I don’t know how many actually go through to the blog. But the name of the GFG is well and widely known; it has readers in many countries. As they say in smart circles, its brand value is high.

But the GFG is presently not growing and maturing, which means, does it, that it’s dying? If it is to mature, how is it to do that? By transitioning from one-man-band to some sort of partnership which formalises what it already is?  Is that what it actually is? (I’ve never been big on egotism; it would be a relief if it were.) Were it to become a partnership, what would the organisational architecture look like?

Maybe I am toying with ideas above my station. Sure, I am ambitious. I’d like us to shout louder and make an impact on public opinion, not leave the field open to Funeralcare and SunLife. But I am possibly being hubristic, and if so you’ll holler ‘Back in your box, Charles’. I can take it. There’s always something next.




  1. Charles

    Never go into the box…you are much better thinking outside it, not ticking it, leaving the lid off, opening it from the wrong end, turning it into post modern installation art.
    As for a business plan, I didn’t get where I am today having a business plan! You’ve got a brilliant idea and it will work…everybody will have a funeral. There are good ones and there are bad ones. Increasingly we will want, and our loved ones will want us to have, good funerals.
    And who will they turn to when you turn away? Sorry, that’s a Last Song.
    Who will they turn to will increasing regularity and be willing to pay for it?
    Y)our day will come, and we’ll have lots of fun, la, la, la…[enter men in white coats].

  2. Charles

    The fact that you have been much missed gives you a clue as to the value of your blog, your website, your book and, most importantly YOU! The sustainability of GFG in hard cash may be a conundrum (for the moment) but your contribution to both consumers and those of us ‘in the business’, in one form or another, is priceless. Perhaps you need to change the name – from The GOOD Funeral Guide to The UTTERLY BRILLIANT Funeral Guide. As for ‘ideas above your station’, that’s crazy. You, of all people, are living proof that ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp…’
    And if a ‘partnership’ is something you are currently pondering, I imagine you will have to ask people to form an orderly queue. Such would be the rush. Where do I sign?
    Now get out of that coffin…

  3. Charles

    First things first, old chap, I’m sure I can speak for many of us when I say:

    a) We’re glad you’re not dead after all, and

    b) we’d all have been miffed if you hadn’t asked us to conduct your funeral, so

    c) please don’t die.

    As to the sustainability of the GFG; if hard cash is an issue then I for one would be glad to stump up a few bob to keep this unique resource active (architecture and business head assumed to be in place) and help it become more pro-active. It may not be strictly irreplaceable, but it would be very hard indeed for us to start the same venture again from scratch; and since it’s here already, thanks to your indefatigable adrenalin glands, leave well alone.

    But it is ‘us’ in the previous paragraph that’s the crux. The reason we repeatedly return to this blog is that it’s our voice in a discussion about reclaiming our property – death – from its medical, religious, legal, professional and other purloiners, and returning it to our human community and embracing it in the loving and healing arms of the heart (the only true expert on life), which is what it needs to enable it to do its good work for us.

    Leaving aside for a moment that catholic arrogance towards ‘the confused secular world’ (!); it drives the nail smack bang into the cross when it highlights ‘its prevailing attitudes towards death and dying’. That, Charles, is why we are all here, and why you in particular occupy a pivotal role in our vision.

    Still, as you said, you want to broaden the base of the GFG. What does that mean in practice? That it needs to be a more high-profile first choice of information for the newly bereaved, familiar to and recommended by those who have first contact with them? Realize its capability for influence and authority, certainly. How?

    Us, I presume; you can’t be expected to do it all yourself, obviously. A partnership? My name’s right under Comfort Blanket’s on the list. But just how to achieve our potential as agents of the revitalization of death culture leaves me pondering. I expect I’ll be back on this one.

    Thanks for the post. Thanks too for your honesty. And remember, the times they are a-changing, and it’s down to us to change them because there ain’t nobody else.

  4. Charles

    Well, mon vieux, I hope the response so far has persuaded you to get out of that bloody box!

    You’ve succeeded in bringing together a bunch of people with overlapping interests and concerns in an important area – happily, we disagree from time to time, but we all support the GFG. Without it, I wouldn’t even be writing comments, reading good stuff, and thinking and learning all the time from you and your commentators. The GFG has helped my funeral practice to grow and mature, and to continue doing so, and it and its satellites have helped me progress my own thoughts about mortality.

    You say the GFG is not growing, not maturing. H’m.

    Do you mean you feel you are not breaking new ground, have gone as far as you can in certain directions (e.g. in baiting a well-known chain without actually getting sued)and you don’t know what to do next with it?

    Well, many people would be quite happy just to roll along, putting down the odd bon mot, wry comment or picture/song etc. And directing people to earlier posts, past riches. (My guess is that people often forget to look back at enough earlier posts on a really good blog.)And I’m sure you’d still get visited. But.

    You (admirably) want to push things further along, change more sooner – am I right?

    I’m assuming, by the way, that you mean the website/blog. I guess and hope the book is rolling gently along – saw it for sale in Waterstones the other day in a very unhip local seaside town – “Charles is in the mainstream,” I thought. “Excellent.”

    At the moment, the GFG depends entirely on your energies and visions, and whether on any particularl day you can be arsed to have a good idea, as it were. That seems fine to me, and I’m sure we’d all keep visiting and posting.

    If you wanted to partnerise it as far as content goes (other than comments), I think it might lose something. It would certainly change.

    If it was the organ of an organisation that was active in other ways, i.e. off the internet, it might move forward with a changed function.There seem to me to be quite a lot of organisations now, currently trying to change our culture’s attitudes towards death, dying and funerals, but maybe there’s room for another one grouped round the GFG.

    As for dosh – I don’t like to think of it draining your coffers whilst we all dance merrily in and out of its pages enjoying ourselves, commenting and chatting away….thing is, you don’t advertise, and you don’t sell anything (except your oustandingly fine book) and as far as I know – which is very little, netwise – that’s the only way websites ever make any money.

    Maybe you could work up a partnership round the GFG to generate purchase-only downloads of useful stuff for funeralists, Reaperphiles, minibrants and other gloomy sods?

    We, who would be ready to sign up, await your further thoughts, O Generalissimo of the Graveyard!

  5. Charles

    John, you certainly can speak for me, and I couldn’t do better than this fantastic phrase: “(Charles’s blog) blog is our voice in a discussion about reclaiming our property – death – from its medical, religious, legal, professional and other purloiners, and returning it to our human community and embracing it in the loving and healing arms of the heart.”
    A profound, subversive and utterly correct statement.
    Thank you Jonathan and thank you Charles.

  6. Charles

    Charles, you know we love you over here in the U.S.A. too! Don’t give up. I think all of us funeral bloggers are struggling to find a way to make this endeavor pay off monetarily. The immediate rewards of helping people – “priceless.”

    Great photo, by the way!

  7. Charles

    One of the things I love about GFG’s commenters is we all seem to start not by thinking, “I need money, what can I do to get it?”, but, “I need to do this to realize a vision, how can I pay the rent from it without compromising it?”

    A concordant voice is the one that ulitmately gets heard because it’s the only one not adding to the cacophony, the only one comfortable to listen to. And I think the reason we keep going is that we can always hear it in our heads above the din, and know it cannot go unsung.

  8. Charles

    Thank you, all of you, for these very helpful and touching comments. As you say, GM, there are other orgs trying to change attitudes – well, there’s the heavily bureaucratised Dying Matters. I think the GFG is best when it’s muddling, not manifesto-ed; a happy band of free radicals. Let’s keep going and see what happens. A number of people I didn’t know existed, from all walks, have written to say how much they appreciate the discussions we have. I’m a stubborn cuss (used to be quite a good long-distance runner in my faraway prime). Let’s do the long haul and be what use we can. As the Blessed Tony Piper would say, it’s a golden thread that joins us.

    Thank you all again. I really appreciate what you say. And now I’m off to the seaside!

  9. Charles

    “Does the GFG need to exist?” Yes!! Also, to be slightly more helpful, have you considered publishing it in Kindle format? I’ve heard that it can be quite lucrative.

  10. Charles

    Thanks GB. My publisher seems to be too ivory tower to do this. I’ve urged, but to no avail. Lovely people, they inhabit a C18 mindset.

  11. Charles

    Dear departed – I hope you are buoyed up by the enthusiatic comments from all sides. I – like others- am not an the least surprised. You, and the GFG and the Blog are fab.
    Noticeably absent, however is much advice, which if followed would plug up the drain on your hard-won pension that GFG apparently represents.
    Kindle? Ads for things/services? Sales of something? All good food for thought perhaps.
    But more ideas needed I think:
    * Fee for membership? (Sign me up please)
    * Roadshows/workshops for professionals to upgrade their skills to meet the expanding counter culture?
    * After dinner speaking?
    * Sponsors of a totally cool site like GFG blog ? Bombay Saphire Gin for eg.
    * Develop an ‘app’ of “what to do when” a la GFG?
    Oh lord, we dig deep to find solutions, and all need real energy to bring fruit.

    Energy we can probably muster around the right idea..

    On the one hand, I admit to a p[ossible reality that most keen GFG readers are ‘edge of village’ folks, bold prophets destined to lobby from the wimgs and practice bravely for others like us while the money lasts.

    Don’t leave us, please, but do you have a day job? !

    PS. And yes, that effing awful chipboard coffin is too small, though we could bend your knees a bit.

  12. Charles

    Charles, fruitful new ideas for consideration from James.Some blogs, I notice, just have a Paypal thingy for donations – why not? We’d all trust you to use it to defray expenses, and although it won’t pull in thousands, it might help a bit.
    Sponsorship – why ever not?
    Membership – ditto. You might not want to charge for recommendations by the GFG, but membership would be a simple matter of showing one was part of something – The Good Funeral Society, as it were. Set a good sensible sub for us, and issue your nice calligraphic logo to all members to use on cards etc.
    Not that you are reading all this at present because you are dongle-less by the seaside – quite right too!

  13. Charles

    Well, you could always make money out of people like me!

    I am a researcher into contemporary attitudes to death and dying and the practices that represent them….

    If you were to say ‘young lady, I will host an online questionnaire for you and encourage my nice online friends to respond for x pounds’ I would be there with my donation faster than you could say ‘ethical approval committee!’

  14. Charles

    Oh my gosh. I have just come back from Holiday, to find Charles Cowling has died. There he is laid in the most awful coffin three sizes too small, I wonder which priviledged FD measured him then???? —- Oh, actually it’s not true – In the words of Joyce Grenfell – Charles “Don’t do that”. You have just given me a terrible shock. Now — on a more serious note. The Good Funeral Guide is a wonderful site, the book is fantastic, a MUST for any bereaved family, and in a prominent position on our company book shelf. If you require a business partner, look no further, but I’m sure I will be at the back of the queue, as lots of others will have got there first. Please don’t give up Charles, your blog is one of the highlights of my week, perhaps a membership fee is a good idea, even a modest fee would really help you out – you will then see who really loves you. Keep smiling, enjoy your break, and we all look forward to hearing from you soon. xx

  15. Charles

    No real practical suggestions at the moment, Charles, but instead some inspiration from Salman Rushdie:

    ‘A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.’

  16. Charles

    Came back here for a prowl via a link on facebook
    I heard a nice quote the other day at a tedious film
    “It’ll all be alright in the end. and if it’s not alright – it’s not the end.”

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