Monday, April 11

A coffin is for life ..

You sometimes get an oblique insight into the workings of the brains of some people by their reactions – and in this instance I'm referring to Sonia.

Bear with me on this one while I prepare the scenario for the story.

There was a junk shop about 300 yards from where I live called the Kasbah – it sold the usual collection of second hand furniture (of variable quality – some excellent, some ok and the rest would have been shunned by an East European refugee at the height of the cold war), a sad collection of paperback books, old pictures, gewgaws of various and wondrous variety, toys and “collectibles” from the 1950’s and so forth gathered from the usual house clearances etc.

It closed about 2 months ago – which surprised me as it was quite a good example of its type and had a regular turnover. They might have moved but no forwarding address was posted in the window. But I digress again.

It has been taken over by a swish and trendy new funeral parlour. It is called “Go As You Please Funerals”. I’m tempted to comment that on the day itself, you’d have precious little control over the proceedings (and if the corpse sat up in the coffin and announced that it wasn’t happy with the service, I’d be surprised, though clearly not as surprised as the Vicar) so “as you please” may not quite live up to its billing. They are unlikely to get complaints or sued so it’s a safe bet …

Nonetheless; it advertises a wide variety of different, alternative funeral arrangements for those who desire a different and alternative funeral.

A fetching wickerwork coffin is in the window – I’ve noticed it driving past a few times, but never bothered to investigate further. I'm odd like that. I just never seem to be able to raise the enthusiasm to examine coffins.

On Sunday, there being per usual naff all on the telly, Sonia and I were forced to talk to each other (having read the Sunday papers, done the crossword and put the lunch on). I mentioned the new funeral parlour and the wickerwork coffin in the window.

To my surprise, she became quite animated and lively and started to question me about it. She said that, as she was a keen gardener and loved nature, she wanted to be buried in a cardboard coffin in woodland. But a wickerwork coffin, being more environmentally friendly and biodegradable was definitely “of interest”. As it was only a short stroll along the road and a nice day, we proceeded up the road (in an orderly fashion) to view wickerwork coffins. As you do.

When we got there, we pressed our noses against the window and examined the stuff on display. Sure enough there was a wickerwork coffin (with wickerwork handles and wickerwork trim fetchingly dyed in a dark blue colour which contrasted with the very pale cream of the wickerwork itself) and marked prominently with the fair trade label so it was made in Africa presumably. Unfortunately for Sonia, it was for someone 6 feet 6 inches tall and as my little pocket Venus is five feet tall, it was too large. I suggested that if the one on display was £170, then one for her would probably work out at about £140 to £150. This resulted in her giving me the hard stare. I managed to survive by pointing out that there was proportionately less work in making a smaller coffin (but really I was only thinking of her bank balance – she’s very budget minded ….). I could see that she was deep in thought and was contemplating things.

“Steve would be interested too” she remarked. Steve works for another of the local councils and is an arboreal expert and another mad keen gardener. “I’ll have to tell him”.

I was unconvinced. I thought £170 was a bit steep for a wicker basket so thinking a bit laterally, I suggested that this September she should enrol in night classes in basket weaving and as her project, she could weave herself a coffin instead of the usual waste paper or laundry baskets. It would provide a talking point at the end of term open day and that when she took it home, she could get a plate glass top cut for it and use it in the living room as a coffee table and storage unit. She could keep her magazines, CD,s and other bits and bobs in the coffin. Or she could store her summer clothes in it during the winter and her winter clothes during the summer. The open weave design will allow good air circulation and will stop the clothes going foisty.

To my surprise I retained my head on my shoulders and she grunted an agreement.

The open weave design troubled me - it isn't very air tight and if you were going to the trouble and expense of being environmentally friendly, presumably you wouldn't want the body to be preserved or enbalmed. No additives or artificial preservatives allowed. So the funeral would have to take place pretty quick to prevent the congregation being assailed by the smell of the body decomposing. And the outline of the body could be seen through the gaps in the wickerwork against the light. I'd opt to line the coffin with somethng like newspaper to spare the more sensitive members of the congregation from the sight. It's touches like that which will make or break the success of the company - perhaps I should suggest this to them?

Further into the shop, there was a cardboard coffin for £130 which definitely wasn’t worth it in my opinion – you can collect empty cardboard boxes from the supermarket and construct your own. Or is this the result of watching too much Blue Peter when I was an impressionable youngster? Amazing what you can do with a plastic washing up liquid bottle and some sticky backed plastic. Another woven coffin was a bit cheaper – it looked like it was made out of some kind of broad leafed grass but more “basket like” than the wicker one. It was £150.

If you wanted to go semi conventional, then an ordinary coffin was £195 BUT (and here I started to reel backwards in a swoon) there was a conventional coffin but painted in black and white stripes with a Newcastle United crest on the lid! I pointed this out to Sonia and she immediately said “Paul; would like that one!” I had met Paul a few times and he’s a bit like a stick of Blackpool rock – cut him in half and he would have Newcastle United all the way through. He even has a black and white dressing gown with Alan Shearers number on the back. Allegedly he supports two teams – Newcastle United and anyone that is playing Sunderland (if you aren’t from the North East, it would be like saying Ian Paisley supports the Belfast Orange Order Footy team and anyone else playing the Derry Catholic and Republican boys club) so a Newcastle United coffin would be right up his street.

I suppose that her Christmas Present list is taken care of for the foreseeable future – if only things were quite so simple for me!

But wait! The estimable Go As You Please Funeral Company will arrange an interment at sea if you want. It’s advertised as using a Marine coffin and costs from £3560. It might be an attractive and viable option for those who have incurred the enmity of someone who has threatened to dance on their grave but I’m worried.

The North Sea isn’t very deep anywhere and certainly the fishermen trawl all of it down to the bottom without difficulty. I wonder what will happen if they trawl up a body. I can imagine the scene on the boat as the fishermen scratch their heads and consult the EEC fishing rules and regulations when confronted with the coffin. “OK Boys, we can land 10 boxes of haddock, 2 of cod, we’re allowed 12 boxes of plaice and Dover sole but what about THIS?” You see my point - it isn’t fair to shock fishermen like that.

I’ll avoid the spam fritter in the chip shop from now on ….


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2:00 a.m.  
Anonymous Self-Talk said...

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5:46 p.m.  

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