All that we are not

Charles Cowling



Back in the day – it feels like pre-history but it’s only 5 years – there was very little buzz around death (poor metaphor, I know).

Now there’s an ear-shattering din.

Back then, in a spirit of open-minded curiosity, I’d blog up anything that caught my eye — arty stuff, Goth stuff, silly stuff, serious stuff, funny cartoons… something for everybody. There’s no trick to it, just a preparedness to slog through Google Alerts, Pinterest, Vimeo, etc. Back then, people liked that – because there was virtually nowhere else to go for death stuff. It was a bit like being the only bar in a quiet, tiny fishing village way off the beaten track. Life was uncomplicated.

The little fishing village became Benidorm. There’s thousands of us, now, it’s got very competitive. Facebook’s been the game changer, the crack cocaine of social media, the essential promotional tool for everybody. The appetite for eyecatching ooh-ah stuff is huge and you can follow the numbers clicking your posts. It’d be addictive if you were a twat. Post anything requiring much more than 4 secs attention and you’re likely to be passed over. I know, I’ve experimented.

It’s not all bad. We had a chat on FB last night about whether Roy, had he followed his heart and kept Hayley at home, would have had to get her embalmed. There was a flurry of comments and the anti-embalmers ran out winners 4-0. There’s a lot of really good stuff on Facebook and there are some great new blogs.

Commentators on social media have their specialisms. The GFG has ceded territory. We don’t do instant-grat stuff from Pinterest any more, newcomers do that. We watch with a grandfatherly and slightly schizophrenic eye. Where does the GFG position itself in all this? Ans: two places at once. Our Facebook/Twitter presence is one place, the blog quite another.

The arty market has been staked out by an incursion of intellectuals, principally the Order of the Good Death and Death Salon. There’s heaps I like about them. Their fondness for morbidalia of all sorts from taxidermy to putrescence doesn’t float my boat, but no matter. The upcoming Salon in London, 10-12 April, looks very interesting. Well worth checking out. Tickets here.

So there’s lots of stuff we don’t do and there’s much that we aren’t any more. Have we lost ground? No. We know where we stand because we know what we are: a little consumer organisation focussed on improving the experience of ‘ordinary’ people needing to arrange a funeral. We’re not clever, we’re not exciting and we’re not fashionable. We try hard. Even if we were better at what we do we’d still be dull and a bit serious. Feels like home.

It ain’t Syria. There’s room for all of us.


6 thoughts on “All that we are not

  1. Charles Cowling
    james showers

    When I hover over my ‘bank’, ‘weather’, ‘tide times’ bookmarks, I consistently get a thump at ‘The good funeral guide blog’ spot.
    I feel a mixture of excitement,dutiful necessity, andwell founded fear that I shall be challenged beyond what I find comfortable………… sometimes threatened, by the radical and searching nature of the content and respondents.
    But stimulated …. pricked to do more, do better, offer better value; inspired to write clearer, using simpler more muscular words; inspired to lighten up.
    As death is embraced as the new rock ‘n roll, GFG has a clear and important role.
    Is it that you need more support and more help?
    Do you consider you have accomplished what you set out to do?

    I appreciate what you do, Charles. It is brilliant, selfless and inspiring.
    I couldn’t do it.
    I’m glad you’ve done it…. are doing it. I hope you can find new and interesting turf to plough – and I hope it will be in this particular field.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    Do I detect a valedictory tone here, or is that wishful thinking?

    Thank you, Jon, for your very kind words. And you, Kitty. And you, Richard.

    Yes, this is all about positive reflection and appraisal; I’m not falling into a slough of despond or a ditch of self-pity. It takes an inordinate amount of time, this GFG-ing, and it simply can’t go on. I need more balance in what remains of my life (swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day).

    The changes you refer to have been brought about by changers, Jon – visionaries, risk-takers, brave people who make things happen. Er, you for example. The GFG blog is nobbut the scribblings of an idle bystander, mostly, enriched by the indefatigable Richard, who has been a most refreshing stimulant with an element of grit, and other brilliant guest bloggers, including the marvellous Lyra Mollington, probably the best thing ever to happen.

    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Jon Underwood

      Hi Charles,

      I had to look up ‘valedictory’!

      Yes, I think you do detect a valedictory tone here, and I believe this may well have been established by you 🙂

      If there is a farewell going on then logically a ‘hello’ would be expected to follow…

      I for one look forward to what happens next. You can rely on my close attention, unwavering support and eternal thanks.

      Final thought – if the GFG ever did die it would have a bloody good funeral!


      Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling

    Thank you for being:
    for winding us up when things are in danger of becoming a bit boring.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    Your recent posts, this one and ‘Groundhog week’, express a reflective mood appropriate for the new year. While the January blues can make one’s cup seem half empty, such reflection often drives positive strides into the future.

    As you note, you have, over the years, attracted thousands of visitors to GFG as an information service covering matters relating to death, bereavement and appropriate send-offs.

    As commentators acknowledge, your content—whether practical or philosophical, light-hearted or high-brow—has indeed influenced public perceptions, and industry practices. Your biggest contribution, for me, has been to draw attention to the wealth of funeral choice available to pluralist society:

    —how humanist celebrants might better serve the needs of those non-religious who still opt, in default mode, for a quasi-religious ceremony performed by a cleric

    —how there are plenty of alternatives to the half-hour slot at the crematorium, woodland burial grounds to name but one

    —how funerals don’t have to involve hearses, limos and embalming services promoted by the corporate chains of traditional undertakers, that independents offer everything from direct cremation to advice on DIY home funerals, which some people don’t even realise are a legal option

    —how death itself can be hidden from view in the modern age, and that greater mental and physical interaction with the dead can lead to healthier healing processes among bereaved people

    It’s difficult to quantify one’s individual impact beyond general anecdotes and statistics revealing a steady diversification of funeral practices.

    However, it’s always nice to get specific feedback, positive or negative. A writer’s lot can be lonely if it’s hard to grasp how much words have helped enable others (or annoyed them or simply made them smile). Then again, while GFG stalwarts express themselves, it’s understandable that browsing, death-preoccupied consumers rarely comment (I check the Telegraph blog almost daily and yet I’m not even registered with it, even though I know the editor and respect his work).

    Personally, I like a mix of functional and fun, straight news that directs people to new services, critiques of existing options, and random quirkiness that provides relief from intensity. You do this well.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    Jon Underwood

    Hi Charles,

    As someone now resident in Benidorm I just wanted to recognise and thank you for what the GFG has achieved. Thanks to your creativity, authenticity and fearlessness you have played a foundational role in bringing about the changes you refer to. For me and (I’m pretty sure) many others you opened up new possibilities of what might be done in this domain and as such have demonstrably changed the space around death.

    You set the bar and it is in some way thanks to you that others are now setting the bar alongside you. I feel sure that in some way, which will be revealed in time, you’ve won. Thank you always for the inspiration.


    Charles Cowling

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