Don’t stop all the clocks

Charles 11 Comments

Posted by Baggaman

Yesterday Quokkagirl had a go at crappy crematoria. Fair do’s. But it’s not all bad.

Take the time limit. Is that a restraint or a constraint? A restraint is bad, something to be got round. A constraint is good. The best art, literature and music are inspired by self-imposed constraints. The haiku, for example. 12-note composition. Blank verse. Street art.

The 20-minute funeral.

It drives up attendance. It reassures us we won’t be there all day, praise the lord. We’ve got 21st century thresholds of impatience, we haven’t time or inclination to get whirled into a vortex of ritual and la-di-da and, god forbid, the sacrifice of an ox.

He was 78. That’s a decent innings. Death happens.

Time constraint enforces concision. Time for just one eulogy, and a snappy one at that. No time for close family members and friends to speak one after another with extreme difficulty, inarticulacy or egotism. No time for open-mic. Phew. 

Keep the private separate from the public. Don’t do in public what’s best done at home. Don’t do in the funeral what’s best left for afterwards over a few drinks.

Constraints concentrate the mind and condense the content. Make a decent fist of it but don’t overplay your hand, we won’t feel cheated. Cut to the chase, distil to the essence. 

We come to do our bit, pay our respects. Understand who a funeral is for. Enough’s enough.


  1. Charles

    Constraints are indeed useful Baggaman – anyone who has deadlines to work to can appreciate that. And so frequenlty families say they don’t want it funeral service going on and on . Cutting to the chase has much to commend it. But let’s also look at the practicalities. You have to get people in, get people out, let them settle, get through the niceties – welcome, donations dish at the back, come and join us at the do afterwards. Only then can the ceremonial flow really begin – acknowledgement of the circumstances, the eulogy (doesn’t need to be long) the music/time to think/absorb/breathe/prayer/sing …..only then is it comfortably possible to say farewell. Half an hour for all that is tight by anyone’s reckoning.

    Of course, the normal pattern and flow of ceremony isn’t for everyone and it can be done in may ways. But for the vast majority of ordinary folk who want a normal but personal service at the local crem, half an hour is, in my view, still too tight.

  2. Charles

    I confess it was me, Jonathan. I was motoring back from a very jolly lunch with some very jolly celebrants when I began to wonder what some the more jaundiced readers of the GFG blog might have thought of Qg’s post. “Another bloody celebrant bloody moaning again.”

    So I thought I’d try and put into words the contrary point of view. I sat down and channelled a moaner, but what came out was diabolic. So I tinkered with it til it was slightly more acceptable and pressed Publish. By then I’d had a few drinks. It didn’t look so good in the morning. It was, as you say, very accommodating of Qg to comment so kindly.

    Some years ago when I worked in prisons one of my ‘students’ decided to hold court and entertain his fellows with highlights of his colourful life. I was about to cut him off when another chap put his mouth to my ear and said “Him a baggaman, Charlie.” “A baggaman, what’s that?” I asked. “Bagga shit,” he replied.

    1. Charles

      Well, I see the alcohol hasn’t quite worn off yet Charles, you old rogue, but I have to admit I’m rather chuffed to have rumbled you – sorry if I pissed on your parade, this one could have gone on a long way!


  3. Charles

    Well in my view there’s more than sh*t in the Baggaman’s bag. Saying goodbye to someone isn’t all about the funeral. Stripped of it’s religious baggage the public ceremony just isn’t that a big deal and twenty minutes can seem ample for all that’s needed. I’m not saying a bit of a buffer between services wouldn’t be helpful, but does everyone want or need something longer? Of course not.

  4. Charles

    Of course it was Charles, Jonathan, being a rascally agent provocateur. But he had a point and I was just playing along with a fully considered reply. He’s an imp of the highest order for sure.

  5. Charles

    Thank you for your sympathetic hearing, Vale and QG. And no, I am not an alter ego of the editor, I am a figment in my own right.

    One thing I would have added were I not such a fan of my delete key is that I suspect that it is the shortness of services and the horribleness of so many crems that elicits so much subversive/disruptive creativity in the matter of alternative hearses, coffins, dress codes and eyebrow-raising music choices. I don’t know of any other country that has so many wacky hearses or such a wide range of coffins. An academic would have fun with the topic of Irony in the Modern British Funeral. Actually, I should probably say English. The Welsh and the Scots remain pretty old-school.

    Another thing about 20 mins (I’m sticking my neck out, here) is that it isn’t long enough for a mediocre celebrant to matter — but just long enough for a good one to shine.

  6. Charles

    I’m a humanist celebrant and I have conducted many beautiful and much appreciated funerals that have lasted only 20 minutes and have involved two or three speakers. A great deal can be said in a short time and a double-slot can be booked if required.

    That said, I’m relieved that the crem I visit most – West London – has increased its time slot. I can now be more relaxed about time and tell mourners at the end that they can take their time and leave when they are ready.

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