Sunday, 28 September 2008

So what is grave humour?

I ask this question in all seriousness - and I have a feeling that over the next few years, it will be an issue that confronts me and stretches me - sometimes to breaking point.

You may have detected a certain relationship between me and Mr Reaper...I admit to being attracted to the 'Pythonesque' vision and also the version purported by the inhabitants of 'Diskworld'. Mort ought to be my nickname, but I have a perfectly nice acquaintance called Mort (in real life naming terms...) and Antler is something that I got stuck with years ago. Antler reminds me of a shamanic head-dress I once saw - or imagined. (No one else would think of that link in relation to.....) I digress. Sorry.

'Grave humour'. What is it? How is it used? Is it helpful - even useful....?

There are so many aspects of this question - aren't there!
Bordering on the dangerous and distasteful - some of them.......

Justification/or not-of...

Facetious and tasteless quips to cover the discomfort of a situation.
Light hearted observationals, such as 'do you know the one about the headless man.....' Throw-away lines that may even act as 'mantras' to 'protect' the speaker - but which might actually cut to the quick, or deeply offend someone else, if heard inappropriately.

Could this mechanism be used unwittingly to transcend unpleasant reality, especially by those who face these types of hard realities daily?

Is this a phenomenon that can be seen as a measurable coping mechanism?

I know some of you are nurses/etc....medical humour may be considered to act similarly. Any observations?

Back to tattoos...'CUT HERE' seems appropriate to me.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Death is for life....

It's a promise folks, death is more permanent than a tattoo!

Tat's are sometimes cool, but unless you're a Japanese gangster and get your skin fleyed - or come to that, you become one of 'Von Hangman's' specimines, it's death that sticks by/to/on the soul. Yours and mine.

So in the meantime, while you're waiting, make a list of stuff you can do, but don't anymore.....see if there is anything worth re-visiting in the skills closet.

Here are some of mine: The Can-do but Don't-do-anymore List.

1. Darn socks......
2. French Polish Pianos.....
3. Turn Table Legs.....
4. Cook....
5. Smoke a Pipe....
6. Play the flute/guitar....
7. Sing.....
8. Swim.....
9. Sleep......

I am going to give the last one a go - right now!

If I make it through the night without the reaper getting me, I will blog again soon.
Tata for now!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Meaning of Death...

I just thought I ought to balance the last post with something pertinent to the subject in hand.

You know, of course, that this is clearly a real event from "The Meaning of Life"
- docupython style don't you?

But for those who are still puzzled, you needn't be. This clip is exactly what it says on the opening credits. Moreover, having studied the work of Mr Grim Reaper, up close and personally, for several years, I think I do detect his real - true-to-life - biographical this little fillum.

Now you have watched and learned, I hope you found everything instructifying and re-assuring. Petrolheads amongst you ought to be particularly pleased to know the truth.

However, my tip for today is most certainly to avoid the Salmon Mousse!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


I found this clip...and then had to manage to overcome the 'Poohemes' and work out how to post it.
It had me rolling around in mirth. I just love this team of people. However I can't help casting John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in everything else he does.

Where was I? A clip was about birth, surely - that's the wrong end of the story!


I am now the proud owner of a new shiny University card (sporting a hideous photo). Not only that, but I have an NUS (National Union of Students) card to pick up - next time I go to campus. The photo on that one is worse, but the prospect of money off books might coax it out of my wallet - every now and then!!!

Logged into the system and fired up. My tutor is enthusiastic, supportive and awake -I just have to rev up the brain cell, re-learn how to write in 'academic-speak' and prepare to wear my reading glasses a lot, lot more.

MA here I come.....the plan is to convert eventually to MPhil then PhD.
Not bad for a gal who left school at 16 with not much in the way of qualifications or hope. For me, it's the very best way of entering my 50th birthday month and the most fabulous present that my 'Ancestors' could ever have given me.

Death has done me proud - they died - bless 'em and I have thrived - I have, I hope, been positive about being the only one left plodding the earth.

I have taken time to think, time to grow and time to explore the wonderful opportunities I have been given. I never dreamed such things were possible for me. What blessings!

I recon they look proudly down every now and again and smile on me...
or should that be...look up?

I buried some of 'em if I remember rightly - didn't I!


An argument I really wish I had won....

I have quite strong views when it comes to talking about my work.

I talk around it but not often about it - except in defense.

As a member of my institute, I have various statements or promises that I endeavour to keep. We all should. It's only fair. Especially where 'the media' are concerned...a slippery bunch - on the whole.

In the dim and distant past - when I was working and not studenting and sitting on my bum reading, a film crew visited our company. They were from the local University - which apparently had/has a very good reputation for turning out media graduates.

They wanted to make a documentary all about funerals...

I made a stand and declared that I wasn't going to be filmed in the embalming theatre and they could interview me about my job in the sitting room....that was it.

My boss and I had a row.

I refused to budge. But somehow during the course of the day, she managed to manouver things so that I was told to go and do a sound check while the film crew took some shots inside the theatre.

How bloody nieve was I?

They got me talking....and before long it dawned on me that the very worst situation was unfolding. There I was, walking around in my day clothes and the red-light was on the camera.

I asked later when they were going to do my interview. I was told that they already had.

I was furious. Incandescent with rage (that's when my nose goes red). I was especially angry with my boss - who had clearly given permission for them to film me like that. I felt really betrayed. Another huge row happened but I was just seen as obstructive and difficult....Moi?

Some months later, a copy of the film was delivered to the premises.

No one ever got to see it.

It vanished.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Pepper up-the-bum of the establishment....

"...pepper up-the-bum of the establishment..."

Lindsay Anderson (the 'If man'), was described thus (or by words to that effect) this-morning on the esteemed Radio4. I was driving up a steep hill at the time and had to stop a guffaw of laughter from swerving me recklessly into parked cars that people had left on each side of the road.

Dunno who said it - I suppose listen again could inform me - but somehow, the phrase not only tickled my fancy, but it described me to a tee.

I passed it on to Charlie (Good Funeral Guide...) and he recognised himself in it too...I am going to have it on my tombstone. He agreed. I suppose now, we have to see which of us goes first and claims it in carving. Second time round on a grave (however far apart) could be thought so very passe darling.

I had been down to my local FD, to collect my equipment. I don't suppose many people know what 'equipment to embalm' looks like - my car was full to the brim with it.

Dog was there too. He often is. I am reassured to know that Zoroastrians consider Dogs to have the power to ward off evil spirits. Dead Zoroastrians are always shown to a dog as a precaution against such contamination.

My dog is happy around coffins - he knows, I think, that he has a duty to perform - as far as I know, he does his best. (It surely isn't for nothing that dog spelled backwards is deemed an important some humans).

Peoples dogs and cats should go to their owners got me thinking.

I have been to a couple of funerals where anonymous cats have appeared and partaken actively with no bidding. The first memorable time was in a very, very cold cemetery. Parents were burying the ashes of a much loved daughter - aged 23. A tragic time, much sorrow, many tears and hankies.

Suddenly and with much purpose, a cat came towards us and looked into the hole at the ashes casket, then it proceeded to wind itself round the legs of the parents - completely ignoring the rest of the small group of onlookers. The FD tried to usher it away - but it persisted around the two 'chosen' for a number of minutes - before going off in the direction from whence it came.

Afterwards, we realised that donations for the funeral were being collected in aid of 'Cats' Protection' and that the daughter had been a real proper cat lover and owner of several. We never managed to find out who's cat it had been...we asked around.

The parents loved it - it made the day really special for them. They said so.

Second memorable cat was black and sleek and very vocal. It came from nowhere and marched in front of the hearse up the hill towards the Crematorium accompanying the FD who again tried the "shoo! go-away!" handbag technique...Not easy when you are trying to walk in front of a hearse with unsuspecting but onlooking mourners.

The hearse stopped - the cat stayed around and insisted on coming in to the funeral - the family decided to let it; why not? It behaved perfectly and didn't sing till after the service. It liked funerals, (It was black for a reason I guess).

It stayed around the crem this black funeral cat, (helping...where it could), for a week or so, till it was adopted by the cremator attendant who took it home. He and his wife lived in a cemetery gate-house, so the cat was still in it's absolute element.

So I think that animals too can be 'pepper up-the-bum of the establishment' - frankly, who would want to stop them?

Monday, 22 September 2008

Caught up in the net......

Black boxes have captured me - as they have so many others.

I am wondering just how 'they' decide where to send me. Not that I am complaining at all, I have been places that I formerly wouldn't have dared to go...

This morning I found myself on a squeeky clean site - run by an American Pastor's wife......I left a message. I wonder, if she visits here, if she feels welcome, daunted or confugilated.

I hope it's the former.

Death is somewhere we can all meet's a net we can't escape from. No button marked 'out' or 'backspace'.

Just buttons marked 'chance', 'dare', 'choices', 'opportunities' and 'friendship'.
All the buttons determine how we live towards death.

The vicar's wife will have her own ideas as to what happens next. You also may have a vision.

Faith, vision, hope. More than this?

A promise that you'll meet Daena and get over the bridge? Heaven? Re-Birth?

What is out there and why do you think you'll go there and where and who will you be meeting up with?

When is just - for most of us at least, too dificult a question to be asking!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Something rocked my boat....

There are a few things that rock my boat. I guess you may have gathered my take or slant in life, but one thing I am passionate about is anatomy and another – books.

I mentioned my youthful infestation with ‘Pooh’ in a previous post. This new post might suggest another serious infestation and it may well explain, in a convoluted way, how I happened upon any facility for critical thinking about the following rant!

Remember the story of ‘The King’s New Clothes’ – Hans Anderson I believe (I can hear Dick Van Dyke singing in my head as I type – I had a record of stories when I was very very young). If you want a short recap, (off the top of my head and with many apologies to the original…), the tale is about a King who wanted to be the best dressed King around. He was visited by two Tailors who wanted to make a quick buck. These two geezers persuaded the King that they could make him a unique suit with the most prized cloth, so rare and fine was its quality, that only the most observant and bright could detect it. They ‘showed’ him a ‘sample’ – which he naturally agreed was genuinely unique, so fine as to be like the shadow of a wisp of silk.
The Tailors discussed design and price, said it would be ready in a few weeks and went off, smiling I bet.

The King was so excited and soon news of the marvellous suit of clothes was known far and wide – throughout his kingdom. Everyone was told that only the most genteel, wise and perceptive people could detect the quality of the cloth and people flocked to see the king as he paraded the streets on the celebratory day that he chose to wear it publicly.
Everyone “Oh’d” and “Ah’d” as His Maj. swept through the streets. They turned to the folk next to them saying “…Such fine lines – what rich colours, such subtle design….”

Till a little five year old girl pushed to the front of the crowd, pointed her finger at the King and shouted “Oi! He’s in the nuddy – look everyone, the King’s got no clothes on!”

You get my drift?

Well…in my world - and yours too, there is an anatomist with a hat.

Not the Cat in the Hat, a man in a hat. I think he’s really a Dr.

He wants (by his own admission) to be the best anatomist in the world. Well, there are some fabulous anatomy teachers – take Dr. Alice Roberts for example. Who, but the coldest of stones, could be uninspired by her? I recon she could teach me the differences between my adenoids and my aorta any-day.

Back to my “man in the hat”. What is he doing with bodies? Moreover, is it only me that simply doesn’t get it?

Actually, it seemingly isn’t only me and I am going to (try to) post a link or at least a site for you to cut & paste. Sorry - I am incapable, it's the best I can do!!!

If you are just about to have dinner, or are a bit on the ‘squeamy’ side – you could take my word for it, but watch it if you want plus all the other 'Body Worlds' stuff and make up your own minds.

When the ‘Body Worlds’ exhibition hit Brick Lane, I (along with many others) went to see it. I got in for a bargain price by showing my British Institute of Embalmers’ membership card.

As I made my way around the exhibition I became profoundly uneasy – not just because the exhibits were bodies – heavens, I’ve seen thousands of dead people, up close and very personally. I’ve been in anatomy labs in medical schools – scalpel in hand even; I have read text books galore and looked, for hours, at anatomical specimens in jars at places like The Hunterian Museum. Besides which, in the course of my work, I have held the very hearts of several people I once knew.

All that aside, nothing prepared me for ‘Body Worlds’. Something disturbed me so much, that I had to go to the V&A afterwards to see real art and to recover my composure.


I have thought about it a lot since then and have even explored the subject through the analytical sieve that is the undergraduate essay, but I still have questions and grave misgivings.

I could just about accept that people want to donate themselves as ‘exhibits’. But my gut tells me that what is actually being presented is akin to some kind of freak show – one that presents human tissue without any genuine reference to it’s humanity, even though the figures are posed ‘in artistic animation’. The glassiness of the plastic eyes gives nothing away and the preposterous nature of the exploded movements or exposed internal landscapes, seemed not to instruct many of the masses, simply titillate.

I say this as a reaction to what I heard and saw. I spent a lot of time at the exhibition listening to the comments of fellow voyeurs. It was an uncomfortable journey in which I witnessed many misunderstandings about the anatomical facts on display (many people were seemingly not able to interpret the labels). In addition to this, I witnessed many uneasy snickers and the inevitable guffaw or two about the nakedness so called ‘art’ in the arrangement.

Fascination was there, but questions were also being asked, by more than me, about where in the world a dead full term pregnant mother with baby in-situ could have come from.

Is there a European country (or a family for that matter) that would/could allow such an event to go un-examined by the Coroner, or equivalent, or un-marked by mourning ritual? In a post-Alder Hey Britain, the exhibition of such an emotive subject seemed to me to be wrong.

Please tell if you know, think, or suspect otherwise.

The visitors’ books that were available for all to sign, showed delight and support. People wanted to donate themselves and were engaged with the project.

I just didn’t get it - not really.

A fabulous technique, plastination may be, in its place - where should this place be?... Anatomy is the coolest subject after all and med students really do need to benefit from the technique.

Although we live in the most extraordinary bodies...(you do, look at yourself - go on); we have the technology to create real plastic model bodies. For centuries, beautiful wax anatomical models have also been on show. Moreover, the internet opens up doors and windows into body and soul alike...go to the Wellcome collection online or offline and see.

But surely, real anatomised bodies, so patently used as art-form, for fame and financial gain smacks of King’s New Clothes to me. Is, I wonder, the man in the hat a Tailor, an artful butcher or simply a very clever salesman?

Or, is it just me being a precious over sensitive death-worker, a grumpy old-woman or even - God's forbid, a wee bit cynical?

Failing that, I may simply be showing my true age...five wasn't it!!!

Friday, 19 September 2008

NO.....what's REALLY important?

Nothing that can be hoarded and that's for sure.

Love, laughter, good health, safe home, loving friends and family, good food and time to enjoy sharing ideas.

Communicating about the phases of the moon or shapes in clouds, hearing music, smelling scented flowers.

Smiles, cuddles - nothing that can be measured with a tape-measure or a calculator.

Thankfulness when these things are in life.
Strength granted when life is tough.
Mates to share troubles.
Understanding and grace, peace and gentleness.

Beauty - seen or unseen passion for adventures real or imagined.

Nothing to take into my final box for sure - but inspirations to find through Black Boxes........

You can't take it with you....

Why not....why can't I take it and anyway, what's really important?

Don't know about you, but I am a real hoarder. I think if it wasn't for my other half - who likes "cleaning up", I would be one of those old people with piles and piles of newspapers in the front hall and God's forbid 26 cats. (Thankfully, I now have a dog who has a serious hobby - cat chasing, so we are safe, for now).

Actually, I kid you about the 26 cat's, I couldn't live with the combined smells. EW and I'm an embalmer, we have iron stomachs - for smells!

But hoarding is a hard one to shake.

It's not a habit that I chose for myself, it just started to happen. One minute I was minding my own business in my flat, deeply enjoying a wall of books and the rest covered in pictures. Simple life - work and play, play and work. Polish furniture, mend furniture, lacquer doors.

Then it happened - mother died and the questions started. What do I throw away, what do I keep? What's important in my life that was also important in hers - precious enough to save and enjoy living with? Certain things were easy, the Oxfam mountain grew and grew. I moved to accommodate the resulting bulk.

Then, over the years, the rest of them went and you're right, none of them made any attempt to take any of their treasured stuff with them. They had wills, but they only covered theoretically 'important' things bank-manager, tax-man things.

How in the world do you face throwing away bits of red white & blue ribbon saved from 1st World War France?

Yep - somewhere in my crowded house, it's here....somewhere.

However, a friend visited yesterday and he started reminiscing about my 104.5 year old Gran. He knew her while she was alive and helped at her funeral when she died.

(He also kept me on track, when the time came, between house and skip, throughout the whole drawn out episode of choosing artifacts to 'throw', 'keep' or 'Oxfam').

"Well!" he declared, "If they dig up your gran in the future sometime, they'll think she was some kind of royalty with all the stuff we put in her coffin...bits of knitted tat from 'Auntie Wheels and...'".

"Yep...", I replied "remember the Herb Alpert records...and the - and the..." and we spent a funny five minutes recounting all the detritus that we knew she had kept for a really good reason over the years - but for what reason we couldn't begin to guess. Some things we couldn't fathom at all, so in the course of time that the old lady lay in state, in her bedroom in her coffin, we just added and added her treasures to her burial box!(She was 4'2" and I swear that the coffin we gave her was huge - it had to be, to fit all the 'stuff')

It was a serious transition clearing out Gran's place - reminders of 4 generations of family that I am now the solitary remainder of. It was like a series of mini mourning episodes, all of which had to be examined emotionally and dealt with as the physical artifact was given an allotted place on the chosen pile.

No wonder a lot of it has ended up at home!

But what, would I take with me? (A much harder question than what would I grab if the house was on fire that's a practical and logistical question).

The 'taking list'
A photo of my spouse...
The ashes of 'Booby' my cat...(sorry dog)!
A miniature clarinet model...
A very small, very old Teddy...
A small matchbox steam-roller...
A small Buddha...
A Shabti...
All wrapped in a red and white spotted 'running-away' hankie.

But hang on you cry - we thought you were going to be cremated with Booby.

I am, so why not keep the above list intact and make up stories over lunch - over a good bottle of wine.

Discuss: These things were important to Antler - why?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Welcome to widget travellers....

Hi - if you got here via black boxes, please send me a message.

Despite the general theme of my site, i'm really quite OK.....really!

Welcome anyway whoever you are and wherever you zoned in from. Perhaps you could help me out and tell me what you think is going to happen when/after you die....what do you hope for? Heaven? Nothing? Something alternative?

Look forward to some comments......

boxed and not literate...

This is a lovely little word gadget......but try as I might, I can't work out how to paste it onto my sidebar. (I since have managed...I feel sooo credible now).

The instructions don't equate with my Pooh-logic. Sorry, but that's how it is.

Black boxes are interesting things. I have learned a little about them from training courses with one of the leading disaster management organisations. In aircraft, they aren't black at all - they are bright orange. Just goes to show that clearly in this case it's 'all in the name'.

Orange is one of my favorite colours. I wonder if this is why I have a leaning towards eastern religions? If it hadn't been for the threat/promise of no food after 12.00 mid-day, you might have seen me in a Buddhist robe....but hang on, the nuns wear brown at Amaravati.....I must have always imagined myself as a monk.

This whole thing about not fitting into boxes has been chasing me all my life and sometimes it has presented as a lot more than an irritation - no wonder I have been accused of being 'spiky'in the past. I have got to the stage now, where I can 'manage' the situation of not fitting in and am comfortable in the knowledge that what I think or do will most probably turn out to be the opposite - to the point of extreme - to anyone else.

I don't fit into the 'banking' system; I am under the credit 'radar'; I am married to someone of the same gender and think about death more often than is recommended in conventional Western religions. I certainly think about a personified death more than the so called modern gods and godesses of today - the 'celebrity'; 'football'; or 'fashion' icons - victims I would prefer to call them...

So there's the rub. The only box that I will ever actually fit into is probably going to be a gold leafed, feather-lined 'ecopod', check out the one on this website

So, from the Grim Reaper and ecopods to black-boxes of various hues, what a journey.

Bizarre things can happen when blogging. They are fruits of the imagination...

So, once more my friends,I have to remind you that as I haven't grasped the linkage thingy, you take your own chances as to where black-boxes send you - off a Death-site into...I wonder?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

poohmes vs witwimes?

One of my all time heroines has to be Sue Blackmore....

Know her?

Get the general idea?

Well, having seen her in action on a lecture stage and having spoken to her, I can understand why Memetics may be seen as a force to be conjured with. She is a fabulous instrument of transmission for any kind of information. What's more, I want her hair; but haven't yet assimilated the correct meme for courage!

As a student of religious studies, I have to take this memetic aspect of information transmission seriously. It isn't hard and makes perfect sense - to me...

I have a theory of my own - bear with me. Yep, I meant that.

When I look at my friends and try to evaluate what 'take' they have on their own world and religious reality, it strikes me often that they fall into two camps. (I am aware that this may also be entirely kids read books now, or are they only subject to Temes???...).

I think, within my mates, that I can detect two predominant mindsets - and I know that although this is clearly a very, very (very, very), small sample of humanity; there are those of us who's world perspective and resultant logic is purely Poohish and another lot who show signs of being deeply Wind in the Willowsish.

In my case, I was 'infected' at such a very young age, that the Poohmes got hold of my innermost being - influencing my every thought and therefore infesting my physical, spiritual and psychological character to boot.

I know this theory to be totally true as I am manifestly an empty vessel - much like a 'hunny pot' after lunch. A good place therefore, for thoughts and 'thunks' to swill around in while being open a bit at the top - so that 'thinks' and thunks' get to escape again. It's a pretty random happening.

I have found.....that 'thunks' only escape from the memory, after swirling around a little. But possibly only really truly escaping after sticking a very little bit to the 'thinks' that have been left behind since the last time they were 'thunked'.

Besides all this, like Piglet, I have a very small head and must therefore have also inherited the perfekt Wol spelling meme as part of the 'Poohme' infestation. (Even tho I was initially infected by 'Boomes' [book memes???]that ought - one would have thought - to carry a viral attack of perfek grammar).

My friends - the real ones, who are therefore similarly infected - but with the alternative 'Witwimemes' - show different deep-thought characteristics. But I am sorry I can't 'thunk' quite what these deep-thoughts might be replicating or even believing in.

I can only guess that they (the replicated characteristics) might have proved to be too complicated for my 'hunny-pot' to capture - moreover, piper's anywhere - especially at the gates of dawn only act to frighten small-headed people like me - I am easilly confused to the point of memingless drivel.

Besides which, it's now time for a snack - which I need....if you have paid any attention to 'Pooh-logic'....parti-qu-lar-ly often.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Towers of Silence....,72.805924&spn=0.002055,0.003712&t=h&z=18

This link - if you can get to it mind you, takes you directly to a Google map image that hovers you above the Malabar Hill Dakhma Complex - The Zoroastrian Towers of Silence.

Actually, I thought that photographing them even from a height was frowned upon, so I was glad that the zoom button refused to take me in any further...yes, I admit to have tried it!

I have long had a fascination for the Zoroastrians - whoever thinks that Mazda is simply some kind of Japanese car, needs to look lively.

Mazda is the omniscient Wise Lord, the Creator. Mazda or Ahura Mazda among other names, is the exulted God of Zoroastrianism.

Zarathrustra was his priest/prophet who got the religion named after himself having built it out of some earlier established religious frameworks (Clark 2001: 3).

When shall I know, O Mazda, whether through truth you have control over anything, the fear of which frightens me. Let the pronouncement of good thoughts be told me truly. May the benefactor know of what kind his rewards will be. (Y.48:9)

That's from the Gathas which are the sacred texts provided for us by Zarathrustra - they are personal songs to God, a bit like the more widely known psalms and what is more interesting (to me at least), is that this religion - which we have, I hope, established is not - NOT - about worshiping a type of automotive technology, is considered to be the world's earliest 'received and prophetic' religion. Possibly 1400BCE and pre computer; blackberry or mud tablet script.

This is a living religion - although it seems not to be one that one can convert to.

However from what I can gather there has been enough spiritual permeability to allow scholarly types to detect historical links between the other 'people of the book'. but sadly Zoroastrians were dominated historically by the ones who thought theirs was best...

This all got me thinking - we have had the first Hindu Pyre in the UK, when can we build a Tower of Silence? Would we - if we had such a thing, as juddin - non-Zoroastrians get to go there, if the rituals were deemed suitable. Or would we have to steal the idea (like we have with lots of other non-western things in our oh so chequered past) and create our own local versions?

Where, (disregarding the straight-jacket of local planning departments for the benefit of imaginative thinking) would we put our new-fangled 'towers'? It seems a great pity to me that the famed Calder Hall piles have been demolished recently...They could have been modified perfectly!

Something on The Isle of Dog's might fit in with the ritual side of things....
(a joke in poor taste for those who know - shame on me).

But continuing on the wildlife theme, it's clearly the birds that are the main problem. Although if we are being creative, surely we could come-up with another form of vulture.....

Answers posted here please.

And I apologise in advance - for everything - with huge reverence - to Ahura Mazda engineer of all things and His followers in the Parsi community who I promise - I respect hugely.

Clark, P. (2001)Zoroastrianism: An Introduction to an Ancient Faith. Brighton/Portland: Sussex Academic Press

Thursday, 11 September 2008

In and Out of the Box...

I am reminded about how difficult it can be to explain coherently what you do, if you do something that is margianalised or hidden from the norm.

I have just been reading a book by three very erudite scholars - entitled:

Beyond the Body: Death and Social Identity

A book authored by Elizabeth Hallam, Jenny Hockey and Glennys Howarth; all women that I have huge respect for. I passed my previous degree with many references to their past works.

Now while it's entirely reasonable for people (including them) to hold opinions against embalming practice, even to describe the treatment in terms of "...violence...", I get really 'thingy' when the description is patently wrong.

I am nit picking - you think!

I have never sewn lips.......we don't sew lips.

We do oral sutures - or mandibular sutures, but the stitch doesn't go through the lips. For one thing, the tissue isn't strong enough to hold the suture and another thing the damage caused would cause fluid to 'weep' constantly.

Even you can understand the concept of wet lips being not one we would encourage...surely?

Then - if that wasn't bad enough, they got the whole embalming technique back to front so that whoever was embalming in the description, was injecting preservative into nowhere in particular.

Eh? you may ask.....

Well, the whole point is that you have to have an intact system to take advantage of the natural circulation. Poke holes in it and what do you get? A 'sieve'...with no way of transporting anything fluid that isn't going to escape.

It is of course possible - but it gets more complicated and having been accused in the same book of being "...pseudo medical...", I won't bore you with the anatomy lesson.

Which gets me to the point of this little rant.

Yesterday I went up to university to see my tutor and have a bit of a look round and chat to folk.
I met a charming young man who is a recent graduate - who having done the education thing at the correct end of his life, hopes to follow in his fathers footsteps into the Church of England. He was suitably earnest and enthusiastic a model 'Anglican'.

We had this chat about coffins, which I decided, suddenly as I was driving home later, might have been one of those parallel communications where you are each talking about the same issue - but from totally different points of knowledge.

Compared to him, a novitiate in 'boxes', I think I might be termed coffin expert - this latter position naturally only complicated things.

So, when he said words to the effect of 'I have heard that it is illegal to re-use a coffin after you have taken the body out of it....'

I naturally said - "rubbish - who told you that, of course you can re-use a coffin - mind you, you might not if it had been contaminated in some way.....!"

My answer was based on the knowledge that there ARE indeed certain circumstances where the coffin may be changed or re-used. I give you three such examples that I have experienced:

1. You go to remove a person who has died in certain private hospitals who only allow you to use a coffin and hearse.....not the usual stretcher and ambulance/van/estate-car.

This is the first-call and you have not yet been told by the relatives which coffin to use for the funeral - not only that, you may not be able to get an accurate size for the person. So you use a nicely lined coffin that is large enough to accommodate the nurses 'guesstimate'. You find out later that not only is it the wrong size - but the wrong colour.

You put the person in another coffin and are clearly not going to throw the first one away!

2. You do the funeral of a VERY large man.

To lay him out in comfort - the coffin (which has to be specially made) is 4" wider that the crematorium maximum you explain to the family that the option may be to get another identical but slightly smaller coffin (at no extra cost to them)- that will go into the cremator - and ask if they are happy for you to transfer him on the morning of the funeral. Otherwise - burial is the only option.

In the slightly smaller coffin, which was indeed a very snug fit (meaning that the gentleman's hands stuck up a bit - due to his arms being tight against the coffin and his elbows up on his body, instead of by his sides)...he was safe enough. However, not quite as dignified looking as he was in the previous coffin.

Termed 'the boat' as it took up considerable space in the coffin store, this giant box was eventually acquired, by another funeral director who used it to bury one of his own clients.

3. A coffin comes over from abroad carrying a person who had died on holiday. The family don't like it at all - they hate it in fact - and so they ask for another one.

So we re-cycle the Zinc lining and put the coffin in the coffin store.

Sometime later we give it (at no charge) to a family who have limited funds and who love it, in all it's European glossy finary, while knowing perfectly well where it came from.

Going back to my prospective young priest........the coffin novice. What he was really implying was (I think), that once the coffin is on the catafalque in the crematorium, it is indeed illegal to tamper with it in any way, externally or internally. At that point, removing the body and re-using the coffin would incur a lengthy visit to one of HMQ's penal institutions.

Moreover it would be very bad form to try to tamper similarly with a burial coffin after the funeral. However, being a "...coffin expert...", I do know of a company supplying coffins that have a cardboard coffin liner (that remains - with the person inside - to be buried or cremated) and a legally removable posh wooden exterior that can be used for burial or cremation - and used and used and used again ad-infinitum!

Simple, in the end, wasn't it!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Lot to think about....

I am steaming uphill towards my 50th birthday.

I see it as either a half-way stage, considering my grandmother's 104 years and my great aunt's 97 - or near my ending, if looked at through the glass half empty eyes of someone who has lost 3 close relations all aged 58.

Those three early demised, all went to the great 'beyond' - that is the suprise behind the door of death - over a relatively short period of time. The race for the finish line in each case was attended by various illness which, I suppose helped to provide some reason for it all. Naturally though, it got me thinking - pondering and reflecting.

I was 32 when the first one went...and that's when I unwittingly fell into the funeral business. I think a Coroners case with 2 inquests and a 28 day wait for release of one's mother is a very sobering entrance into a profession...I French Polished her coffin - and that was it. I like to think that she would be secretly proud to have started the ball rolling!

When the very last of my relatives died - this time in her 80s, I had thought and pondered enough to do 99% of her funeral myself. The 1% was only a quirk of geography. I lived miles away from her nursing home, so when she died, I asked the nearest 'man in a suit' to collect her and see to the Dr's paperwork. I told him that the coffin would arrive the next day, that I wanted to hire a hearse & bearers and that I was going to conduct the funeral.

My partner's mother had just arrived from the Antipodes for a holiday so we decided to hold the funeral after she left - so that we could concentrate on both significant incidents to the full and it also gave me a few days to chat to folk and write the service.

So, when the Dr's papers had been done and the death registered by a friend who was there at the time of death, I got the 'call' and set out in my little van - up the motorway.....

It broke down, just outside Bristol . I think the RAC switchboard lady was a little taken aback when I calmly said I was going further north " embalm my 'auntie'!"

So - if you are a critic of embalming, I put my hand up to say that I have embalmed 3 members of my close family, quite a number of people I counted as good friends and even more folk who I recognised as aquaintances. What's more, in many cases, I know that my work made a difference - because unlike some other embalmers who are closited in the mortuary, I met many of the people who were left behind.

I am very passionate about my work - those who know me, know that I can be ferocious if I feel that corners are being cut or people aren't being treated correctly. I care because I recognise that what we are able to do as embalmers, is 'beyond' the remit of everyday life. Anyone can look on the internet and find things out about embalming - even see film clips, but nothing can really describe what it is like to stand there and make the first incision.

So, to those funeral directors who are 'fridge-magnates', who declare that there is more skill in keeping a body in cold storage to embalming, I say that in my experience and humble opinion - I beg to differ.

Moreover, when I do get to go through the doors of death myself, I want to spend as little time behind the door of a fridge as possible. Get me embalmed (I can tell you who I want to do it...) and put me at home in my living room - in the warm for at least a week!

I recognise skill...and when the time comes - will be happy to pay my last tribute to it.