To our critics

Charles 21 Comments

Dear Ian and Frank, 

It was good to see you commenting once more on the blog. It shows that people of all shades of opinion read it, not just a clique. 

I hope you appreciate the way I allow you to say whatever you like, however abusive (so long as it isn’t also libellous).   

Do you ever wonder why I don’t just bin your more abusive comments as soon as they appear? After all, they are often personal, they can be pretty hurtful, they are usually very negative and they contribute nothing to the debate. 

I let you comment because I believe in free speech and because I am interested in what you have to say. I know that you speak for many people in the industry. 

I hope you have some respect for the way in which I expose everything I say to comment. This is because I don’t think I am always right, and because I like to be put right where I have got it wrong. I hope you’ll agree that it takes guts and open-mindedness to do that. 

I hope you respect the way that I do not hide my identity or shelter my contact details. I take personal responsibility for everything I say, and I make myself vulnerable by doing so.   

Which is more than I can say for you. 

The funeral industry is a service industry. Service users have a right to talk about it. So I want to suggest to you that your aggressive defence of the industry you clearly love is unhelpful and mistaken. You make it look small-minded and nasty. 

So come on. Step up. Let’s have reasoned debate and a constructive dialogue. Stop being so angry. 

We all want what’s best. 

With best wishes, 



  1. Charles

    I don’t think that anything in the very small number of posts I have made has been abusive. I have taken exception to the way in which you decided to set a fee for being in the guide. I made a comment , you clearly don’t see it the way that I do, but I haven’t exactly lost any sleep about it!
    Regarding my comment re David’s TV experience, I would say that I was supportive of the man and was trying to say that I don’t think it did him any harm.
    I still hold by my belief that it is unethical to charge to be recommended. I know you will disagree, but what about any companies that pay for you time to go and ‘evaluate’ them and then don’t get in? And on what authority can you recommend. I think the last point that Frank was making was that you seem to have set yourself up as some expert but have no basis for doing so any more than anyone else who comments on this blog. I have no time particularly for the BIFD, NAFD or SAIF either. I just don’t see the guide as any different now.

  2. Charles

    Okay, Ian, perhaps I am in a prickly mood just now. I get quite a lot of nasty email and it can undermine my customary good spirits.

    I did not bill myself as an expert on that programme, the television people did.

    As to the rest, I guess we’ll just have to disagree. Quite a lot of funeral directors see value in having a consumer-focussed survey of their business conducted by informed, detached observers of the funeral industry. That’s our prospectus. A colleague and I have just spent three man-days with AW Lymn in Nottingham. We didn’t force ourselves on them, they invited us — and they knew who they were inviting.

    I am proud that we are doing this on a financial shoestring, displaying the sort of business sense that David Holmes would admire.

    We are, as Tony Blair might say, pretty humble guys, trying to be useful. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t expose ourselves to criticism so openly.

    And, yes, sometimes it hurts and this time I said Ouch. Ought to toughen up a bit, I guess, but I have no plans to do that.

    Do carry on commenting, Ian. I can take it (most of the time).

  3. Charles

    It’s very much a double-edged sword isn’t it?

    Any public forum is as entitled to its critics as it is its supporters. The vast majority of commentators on the GFG blog are supporters, and it does seem that when a critic appears, he or she is shot down, accused of being over-the-top, criticised back.

    The GFG is pretty scathing of the Co-op isn’t it? There are some quite nasty things said about them on here. And yet that’s ok.

    Ian and Frank make valid points, opinions to which they are totally entitled. It could be said that they should be applauded for voicing their objections in a place where the majority have a very middle class, jolly good show attitude.

    This ‘expert’ term is debatable. I guess anyone can set themselves up as an expert in anything can’t they?

    My personal opinion is that there are likely to be very very few, if any real ‘experts’ in the funeral profession. It’s such a subjective place to be that it’s virtually impossible to have expert knowledge. Idealist yes, expert probably not.

  4. Charles

    Charles, you sit on the fence and jump off into a funeral garden that suits you, where the grass is green and all the flower beds are in full bloom, you slate the Co op and Dignity, yet neglect too slate other huge groups ie: Laurel, Funeral Partners etc! The GFG is happy to promote Funeral Services it sees fit to. You need to make decisions, who are you Good Guiding for, the conglomerates, us little independents, or whoever pays the bills? there can’t be a half in situation, you can’t invite people to the wedding breakfast and others too the evening buffet. You seem to have forgotten what your really all about…the bereaved!.
    Your blog is sometimes interesting and informative, your views are dubious! regards Frank.

    1. Charles

      I agree with Frank that the blog is not aimed at the bereaved. However, the bereaved are at the heart of the GFG in promoting good funerals; a place for debate amongst funeral professionals; showcasing new ideas; reminding us of good practice; drawing our attention to bad practice.

  5. Charles

    If Charles is an”expert” (dubious title at best!) it is because he knows a great deal about funeral practices around the country, he has invested a lot of time over several years in doing so, and the fruits of it are plain to see. He has a comparative view and wide range of vision, although his preferences are plain to see. As they need to be.

    What makes me sad about some of the comments are the way they ignore Charles’ point about the open nature of GFG comments, and the generally civilised and benign way he conducts the blog. This is blogland, for goodness sake, a frequently snarly, opinionated and abusive place. The GFG is generally free of such.

    I have to disagree entirely with Andrew. Many comments on the GFG show insight and expertise in their own areas. Charles has a great deal of comparative knowledge, and it seems to me odd to try to ignore it. A “jolly good show” attitude? What? There’s been all sorts of comment over years on the GFG, and I can’t tell from a comment what class someone belongs to, so I congratulate you Andrew on your second sight.

    I find Frank”s comments sweeping, exaggerated and grossly unfair. To imply that Charles has forgotten the bereaved is plain silly. I congratulate Charles for giving such stuff airtime. Fresh air and daylight are great for seeing things as they truly are….

    I have, btw, no connection with the GFG, I don’t work at or for it, but I have found it enormously helpful. Charles, of course you have found some comments hurtful, it’s not just you being too thin-skinned- they sometimes look to me like comments that are intended to make you feel at least uncomfortable. I hope you can ignore all such and carry on the good work.

  6. Charles

    It never ceases to amaze me just how many people in the funeral trade think that their way of doing things is the only way. Yes, keep standards as high as possible, but at least keep an open mind as to clients’ various wishes.

    I was explaining the direct cremation service we provide to a couple of arrangers from a large national group. They were positively hostile towards the idea of having no mourners at the physical cremation, and to suggest that some people actually prefer to arrange matters over the phone, and by email was the very last straw for them. They insisted, however, that their “organisation” provided a complete set of choices for their clients, and that no-one could possibly want a funeral without a hearse and cars, and all the other usual bells and whistles.

    “We are fully trained to provide all the possible options our clients could ever want” was the blinkered attitude.

    Charles Cowling, thankfully, sees things rather differently. He has followed the changing trends in the funeral trade for quite a bit longer than most people know. From my contact with, and knowledge of the man, he is a positive influence for good in the trade. He gets my vote for all the right reasons.

  7. Charles

    I think the point that Andrew was making was that on the whole, there are a small number of very regular contributors on the blog, most of whom obviously work within the funeral industry, and that they all broadly share the same view point in terms on of embalming (most seem to think it is somehow a shameful practice) and a back-patting ‘ooh isn’t this different therefore it’s automatically great’ approach. I don’t think he was being literal when he said middle -class, just the general attitude!

    I very rarely contribute to the blogs because it is rare that they interest me enough to have a strong opinion. I have no automatic respect whatsoever for the general funeral ‘profession’ and, personally, am happy for anyone to do anything they want on a funeral. But I do take exception to this assumption that ‘green’ or ‘no frills’ or no mourners or the other extreme of hearses that look like ice cream vans are somehow ‘better’. Be honest – the end result is the same! it’s either more or less expensive!!

  8. Charles

    I’m a blog contributor who isn’t in the funeral trade and who is a tradition-loving, conservative Catholic. Minority of one?! My views have niggled a few people and vice versa. A bit of disagreement on a blog is healthy as long as it stimulates healthy debate and doesn’t descend into trollish name-calling, something GFG usually avoids as GM says.

    Five classic insults:

    “I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” Mark Twain

    “I’ve neverr killed a man, but I’ve read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction.” Clarence Darrow

    “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” Oscar Wilde

    “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” Groucho Marx

    “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” Winston Churchill

  9. Charles

    GM, what you say is absolutely fine, I have no issue at all with it. You are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine as Frank and Ian are to theirs.

    I was not trying to be vindictive, just to point out that all opinions are equally valid. I certainly don’t think that I have a supernatural ability to tell someone’s class from their comments, it was just a general view that the blog does naturally attract majority middle-class attitudes.

    I could, equally fairly GM, pick up this from the same post “I hope you respect the way that I do not hide my identity or shelter my contact details. I take personal responsibility for everything I say, and I make myself vulnerable by doing so. Which is more than I can say for you.”

    It’s quite ok for many people to use hidden identities, for whatever reasons, but not for Frank or Ian. Is that fair?

  10. Charles

    It became clear to me not long after it was too late that I was wrong to say what I did. It was a whinge. It derived from a despairing awareness of the prevailing Us and Them hostility which Ian puts his finger on, and which prevents what I think could be useful dialogue.

    It’s interesting to see class raise its ugly head — but this is Britain, after all, so it had to happen. I don’t know that it’s a helpful term, and for this reason: the funeral business is diversifying into lots of niche markets, and they are not class-specific. Direct cremation, for example. Natural burial. Requiem Mass. Themed. Formal. Informal. Quiet, Noisy. There is an increasing variety in the ways that people choose to say goodbye. This is not driven by class, it’s principally driven by social change – secularism, individualism, personal religion and the circumstances of the death. Different parts of the country are moving at different speeds and, overall, the rate of change is slow. But change is inexorable and, as an observer, I find it fascinating to watch. I also find it gratifying that I can often start a discussion which is taken up by people a lot cleverer than me. They may have strong opinions but it seems to me that they are good, sincere people with open minds who inform each other and want the best for the people they work for.

    In 20 years the business of funerals could look very different. That won’t be down to the GFG.

    As to debating the desirability of embalming, or the conditions in which people who have died are stored (as at that Co-op hub), or all sorts of other ‘controversial’ issues, well, these are all perfectly legitimate topics for discussion. We all learn from each other’s points of view. I don’t suppose many who think about these things stand still in their thinking. I know I don’t.

    Frank, I am just an ordinary person with an interest in all this stuff. Yes, I am middle class, and I often acknowledge that. But I try to be useful to the best of my ability – and I don’t hold a terrifically high opinion of my opinions. I welcome any initiative which I think may be of benefit to the bereaved. And I do, actually, have the highest respect for those who work with the dead and the bereaved. I couldn’t, that’s why. I speak for all those who, like me, need people like you.

    Because most people who read this blog work in the funeral industry, it is principally directed at them – but by no means exclusively.

    Given the way things are, debate about funerals is bound to be robust. I don’t think it’s a matter of Us vs Them. But after my little wobble, I look forward to rolling up my sleeves again, not in a spirit of aggression but of self-defence. These things need to be talked about, and I’m well up for it.

  11. Charles

    I don’t expect you really believe that everyone who agrees with Charles over a particular issue is his lap-dog Frank, so I guess you must truly be bored to be bothered to take the time to write such stuff.

    The alias business is a bit troubling; I got into it because on my own blog I was writing about actual funerals, and I didn’t want to discomfort anyone. Nothing to do with opinions pro or anti.

    I’m a funeral celebrant Ian, and there is only one thing I think is always right: what the family wants. Embalmed or not, green or ungreen, black or rainbow coloured- up to them. There’s no mafia of the enlightened I belong to, and I reckon that very many of the contributors to the blog feel broadly the same.

    I think it’s a pity that more and different people don’t contribute comments to the GFG blog, but it seems to me a great variety of both people and views turn up.

    It also seems to me as useless to be apologetic about one’s class as it is to be aggressive about someone else’s, particularly since class is so difficult to define these days. Surely all that matters on a blog is the quality of thought and opinion. Oh, and the civility of discourse.

    Enough from me. I’m just off to buy a doggie comb so that my master can groom his lapdog.

    1. Charles

      Well said Gloria.

      I’m a frequent lurker who rarely posts but I couldn’t agree more that the only ‘right way’ is what the family want (as long as there is no up-selling or pressure from the FD involved in their decision making).

      As a small independent FD I’ve used estate cars, hearses, pick up trucks, horse drawn hearses and once an ordinary land rover to convey the deceased to the crematorium or burial ground.

      I’ve arranged funerals with no mourners and hired coaches for others. I’ve never seen some families because everything has been arranged by phone and email, whilst others have become a large part of my daily life for weeks on end.

      I’ve provided cost price cardboard coffins and free advice for families arranging their own loved ones funerals, trimmed wicker coffins for nothing with flowers and ivy from my own garden to save families the cost of a florist where money is tight and hand sewn clothes for tiny NVFs … but I’m equally happy to order a top end American Casket, hire dozens of white limousines, a jazz band and hand held posies for every mourner if that’s what the family want.

      It’s not about being welded to a particular way of doing things – it’s about listening to families, being flexible and making sure that we provide the best service possible.

  12. Charles

    Cliche it may be – but I know I was born knowing nothing. Anything I do know I learned along the way.

    Often I am certainly right, frequently I am probably wrong. I always remain as open minded as possible. Sometimes that makes me a procrastinator. I am sure that my doubt makes me a better person.

    The day I realised I would die in ignorance of most things in our incredible world, is the day I accepted my time here is very limited.

    If I can do a few good things in my hoped-for three score years and ten, then my excessive consumption and time wouldn’t have been entirely wasted.

  13. Charles

    Blimey – didn’t expect to come across a thread like this.

    We, who deal with the bereaved, generally have very high EQs – I’ve noticed over the years how quickly this can slip away when we feel secure among our peers.

    Charles, you provide us with a platform for this and a lot more – thank you. I enjoyed seeing you on the TV the other night and was disappointed they didn’t exploit your experience more. If we can get over this nervy embarrassment the media have with death, we could really have some interesting productions.

    Professionalism is about separating the personal from the issue. I love a good argument and the pint afterwards. I don’t agree with Charles all the time – sometimes I haven’t a clue what he’s on about to be honest; but I’ll still be reading this blog as long as he chooses to host it. Most of all, as do many, I respect his uncorruptible independence. So lets get over this.

  14. Charles

    Ian, its the faithful followers who make this blog boring and at times painful too follow, all in agreement, no debate, all looking for self satisfaction from any comment they make…come on….man or women up…

  15. Charles

    Frank, it’s up to individuals to offer up differing views for debate, whether pro or anti embalming, pro or anti euthanasia, theist or atheist, socialist or sensible etc. Charles welcomes a broad spectrum that, as you say, stimulates debate more than consensus opinion. But better to state what you believe in than what you dislike. I know nothing of your views on various aspects of Funeral World. Set an agenda rather than complain about an existing one.

  16. Charles

    A provocative article Charles with some interesting responses.

    I couldn’t help noticing that it has received 174 ‘thumbs ups’ which seems a lot, is that a typical amount?

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