Chad Varah was a clergyman who founded the Samaritans, was vicar of St Paul’s Church on St John’s Hill Battersea SW11 from 1949-53 and scrptwriter/visualiser for comics through his friend and fellow vicar Marcus Morris who described Varah as “the wild card of the Church of England”
He was never a conventional clergyman. His chief concern from the start was to help individuals rather than spreading the gospel. In his autobiography Before I Die Again he said”Church people were all too often narrow-minded, censorious , judgemental intolerant, conventional”
I think he is another strong candidate to receive a Battersea Society blue plaque. I’ve got a little list!
Edward Chad Varah, the eldest of nine children, was born on November 12 1911 at Barton-on-Humber, where his father, Canon William Edward Varah, was the vicar (he named his son after the founder of the parish, St Chad).
From Worksop College he went on an exhibition to Keble College, Oxford, to read Natural Sciences, but he changed horses midstream and achieved only modest success in PPE, getting a third class degree..
He was, however, secretary of the university’s Russian and Slavonic clubs, thus beginning a lifelong interest in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and was also founder-president of the Scandinavian Club (not least because of the access it gave me to long-legged, blue-eyed blondes).
He married Susan Whanslaw in Wandsworth in 1940 and they had five chidren including triplets. She later became a key figure in the Church of England as world president of the Mothers’ Union during the 1970s, steering through important changes in the organisation’s statutes.
The Samaritans website http://www.samaritans.org › About us › Our organisation › The history of Samaritans explains how he came to establish The Samaritans and dedicated his long life to providing emotional support, caring for people, and teaching others how to do so..
“I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t at a loose end. I was busy and needed as Vicar of St Paul’s Clapham Junction, Chaplain of St John’s Hospital Battersea, Staff Scriptwriter/Visualiser for Eagle and Girl strip cartoon magazines and Scientific and Astronautical Consultant to Dan Dare!
When I wasn’t running an ‘open’ youth club, or bawling prayers at geriatric patients, or teaching in my Church School, or cycling around giving Holy Communion to the sick, I was pounding my typewriter up to 2 or 3am earning my living, as my stipend was only enough to pay my secretary. There was no time to discover whether I was happy or not, and I’ve managed to keep it that way.
A lightbulb moment
It had been 18 years since I made my debut in the ministry by burying a 14 year old girl who’d killed herself when her periods started because she thought she had a sexually transmitted disease – which had a profound affect on me.
I read somewhere there were three suicides a day in Greater London. What were they supposed to do if they didn’t want a Doctor or Social Worker from our splendid Welfare State? What sort of a someone might they want? Well, some had chosen me, because of my liberal views. If it was so easy to save lives, why didn’t I do it all the time? But how would I raise the funds to offer this kind of support and how would they get in touch at the moment of crisis.”
When he was offered charge of the parish of St Stephen Walbrook, in the summer of 1953 he knew that the time was right for him to launch what he called a “999 for the suicidal”. At the time, suicide was still illegal in the UK and so many people who were in difficult situations and who felt suicidal were unable to talk to anyone about it without worrying about the consequences. A confidential emergency service for people “in distress who need spiritual aid” was what Chad felt was needed to address the problems he saw around him. He was, in his own words, “a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone”. 15 years after the emergency 999 number was set up, the number MAN 9000 was chosen for the helpline that was number of the church!
In February 1954, Chad officially handed over the task of supporting the callers to the volunteers and Samaritans, based on the principles that it is today was born.
From then Chad became known as the ‘Director’ and he continued to be in charge of many aspects of the service such as selecting and training volunteers until 1974. His involvement with Samaritans has continued through the years, primarily working on developing a network of international support services to mirror Samaritans’ work in the UK but also in shaping the organisation.
Varah revelled in the extensive travel which his work involved. He soon became familiar with airports of the world, seized an opportunity to fly from Bahrain to London on Concorde, and wherever he went gave classes on dealing with sexual problems.Language problems did not hinder him — he was fluent in French and knew some Russian.
Befrienders International now operates in more than 40 countries, including some where there is no easy access to phones or emails, and where people will walk for hours to receive emotional support. As an inveterate traveller, Varah visited continuing these journeys into his nineties.
It was only as The Samaritans’ 50th anniversary in 2003 approached that he felt it necessary to express his disapproval of, and disappointment with, some of the ways both The Samaritans and Befrienders International were being directed.
However, in the summer of 2005 a rapprochement was reached when he enjoyed a particularly happy meeting with the new chief executive and the then chairman of The Samaritans, listening enthusiastically to news about all those people who continue his original enlightened and essential work. Varah was delighted when, in 2006, his eldest son, the late Michael Varah, was appointed to sit on the organisation’s newly created board of trustees.
Varah was a man of immense intellect and linguistic skills, of eclectic interests, originality and practicality. He engaged in consultancy work for the sex education magazine Forum for 20 years till 1987 – in that year, in recognition of this efforts, the aids charity The Terrence Higgins Trust made him its patron, a role he held till 1999.
Only in 2003, at the age of 92 and 50 years after he had founded the Samaritans in its crypt, did he finally retire as rector of his beloved church, St Stephen Walbrook, and prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral. He was, at the time, the oldest incumbent in the Church of England.
The desire to speak his mind and take on contentious issues never left him: some would say that it was what had kept him going. He would not easily drop an issue in which he believed.
Among many awards, Varah was made a Companion of Honour in the Millennium Year honours list. His wife died in 1993, and he is survived by four of his children. He died November 8 2007.
In 2012 three trains were named after him .Felicity, his daughter, said of the honour:
“My father never drove a car, he believed in public transport, especially trains. In his lifetime he would have travelled thousands of miles visiting Samaritans branches up and down the country. He would say it is the best form of transport and would have been delighted that both he, and Samaritans, is being recognised in this way.”
I think Battersea should commemorate Chad Varah , one time vicar of St Paul’s church and founder of such an important organisation worldwide and which has been so influential in the understanding of suicide and mental health.
October 2010. We went to a beer-making party hosted by my cousin Billy Quinn who now lives in the home in which I was born Cordarragh Headford Co Galway. Billy inherited the thatched cottage from uncle Billy who decided that his namesake, who is an archaeologist, was the right person to pass on the the property to. We lived with uncle Billy for ten years from 1940 before we moved to Galway city. Uncle Billy was a great horseman and was one of the riders in the film The Quiet Man.
Billy has done a wonderful renovation on the homestead and it such a delight to see the place opened up again as uncle Billy had blocked off the upstairs after we had left, having lived there from 1940-1950 before moving to Galway city.
This is a drone photo of the house.
Billy’s research into beer making the ancient way in Ireland has resulted in his sideline of making the stuff. It really does taste good. He was using a famine relief soup pot on the day we went to the mini beer festival held on a beautiful sunny autumn day. Cordarragh looked wonderful. Uncle Billy would have been amused at the shenanigans and seeing his field used as a festival car park! here is their video.
Here is an item from The BELFAST TELEGRAPH. A team of archaeologists has recreated the heather ale drunk by marauding Vikings to boost their ferocity in battle.
Galway archaeologists Billy Quinn and Nigel Malcolm and businessman Declan Moore have been involved in their “great experiment” for the past three years, sampling Bronze Age brews and unearthing Ireland’s ancient recipes and beer-making traditions.
The intrepid trio have just brewed their first heather ale using a recipe believed to date back to the 8th century AD.
‘Bheoir Lochlannachis’ is made from heather and barley; and instead of hops, which only became common in brewing in the 9th century, the herb bog myrtle is used to add flavour and preserve the potion.
Some sources believe the word ‘ale’ comes directly from the Viking word ‘aul’, and, according to legend, Norse invaders downed substantial quantities of the heather brew to whip up their battle frenzy.
The trio brewed the Scandinavian ale with barley from the Oslo Hotel Microbrewery in Salthill. The heather was gathered at Maumeen Lake in Connemara.
“We’re using a recipe that was recorded in the ‘Ulster Journal of Archaeology’ in 1859,” explained Mr Moore, MD of the Moore Group, an environmental consultancy firm. “It dates back, we would estimate, to the early Christian and Viking period.”
Unlike the Moore Group’s previous beer experiment, which involved using a prehistoric cooking pit heated by stones, the Viking beer was heated in a large pot and is now fermenting.
This is not the trio’s first foray into bygone brewing techniques. In 2007, the team produced a Bronze Age brew using a prehistoric cooking pit, which overturned the belief that brewing was only practised here from the 6th century onwards.
Immediately we set out on a journey of discovery. This quest took us to Barcelona to the Congres Cerveza Prehistorica, and later one evening in Las Ramblas in the company of, among others, an international beer author, an award winning short story writer, a world renowned beer academic and a Canadian Classical scholar – all of whom shared our passion for the early history of beer. In pursuit of the early Northern European brewing evidence we travelled to the Orkneys to meet Merryn and Graham Dineley, an archaeologist and home brewer who taught about ancient brewing techniques. Hot rock brewing technology brought us to Rauchenfels brewery in Marktoberdorf, Germany and finally to Canada.
Children enjoying the beer fest in the rain with wellies and brollies.
I am an accredited Humanist Wedding celebrant of the British Humanist Association based in London but I come from Galway and I regularly return. I am not a registered wedding solemniser in Ireland. I am aware, that as Humanist/non-religious weddings are becoming ever more popular in Ireland,especially since the welcome change in the law giving equal recognition to same sex marriages, there can a shortage of celebrants available. This is why I am happy to conduct Humanist weddings in the Galway area.
As Humanist celebrants we do namings, weddings and funerals. These rite-of-passage ceremonies are also known as hatchings, matchings and dispatchings. For those many couples who are no longer religious believers and do not want to follow the tradition of getting married in a Catholic wedding ceremony then our ceremonies are right for them.
Our ceremonies are personal and therefore each one is specific and not formulaic like religious/civil ceremonies. They are real and humorous and reflect the lives, personalities and values of those taking part. The participants make commitments publicly and say the important things that need to be said before their family and friends. It is family and friends who are crucial to us as Humanists and not a deity. It is they who support us when we need them and who share in the vicissitudes of our lives, who laugh and cry with us and who sometimes drive us mad. For us Humanists it is those people that we love along with science, wonderful nature, our empathy with others and the arts that constitute our spirituality and give meaning to our lives and guide our morality. I often remark that as a celebrant I will not have done my job properly unless there is laughter and tears!
Humanism is very much about equality between men and women. Many of our ceremonies and couples will eschew some of the elements of ‘traditional white weddings’. This includes the never-to-be-worn-again white bridal gown which was introduced and popularised by Queen Victoria to signify chastity and virginity! I think it is sensible and rational that a couples would have lived together before they got married. I don’t marry virgins. Some couples do not like the idea of the bride being handed over – ‘given away’ – by her father to another man but both bride and groom might come in together or with their parents/guardians as well as their entourage of ‘best’people.
I like the wedding ceremony to contain a section entitled ‘The Story so far- why we are here today? This often includes a brief profile of each of the couple, the story of them meeting, the dynamics of their relationship and domestic life. This can be presented by different friends/family members. This along with readings/poems can involve many people. Indeed, sometimes much of what might have been included in speeches afterwards can be incorporated in the ceremony.
When it comes to the vows I think the couple should read them to each rather using the ‘repeat after me’ formula. After all, it comes from a time when people were illiterate. Also I would encourage that they have some personal and funny vows along with their more serious ones.
Most European countries separate the legal registration from the wedding ceremony. I believe that the legal registration should be separated from the wedding ceremony. This gives couples freedom to hold their ceremony wherever, whenever they wish and what the content should be. Furthermore, because of the way that the laws have been formulated whereby some venues have been registered for wedding the prices for them have disgracefully rocketed. So, if you separate the marriage registration from the ceremony you can hold your wedding anywhere – in a house, garden, park, field or beach.
I am increasingly conducting combined Wedding/Baby Naming which are chosen by many couples who want a low-key, inexpensive but meaningful ceremony after they have started a family. These can easily be arranged within weeks and avoid the stresses often associated with organising weddings.
I am also prepared to help couples to produce their wedding script which can be delivered by a family member or friend. My fee for ceremony preparation/consultation and script to be used by a family member/friend is €150. My fee for weddings in Galway is €450.
So, if this sounds like the sort of wedding you would like please do get in touch. A quick telephone call initially will help you decide if this would suit you. My number is 00 44 207 228 2327 and I will return your call using my free telephone charge.
Jeanne Rathbone – Humanist Ceremonies
Pamela Hansford Johnson 1912-1981 was born and lived at 53 Battersea Rise the ground floor of which is now a pleasant cafe with a little garden called Tim’s Kitchen. She was author of 27 novels, a critic and a Proustian scholar
Wendy Pollard is her biographer. I got our library on Lavender Hill to order it, as a matter of principle, and hogged it for months! I was intrigued to read the first paragraph in the introduction to it. Some years ago, idling while on holiday in a second-hand bookshop in Galway, I came across a penguin edition of a novel called Too Dear for My Possessing. The name of the author, Pamela Hansford Johnson ….
This could have been Kenny’s or Charlie Byrne’s -well known Galway bookshops.
Pamela was the daughter of Amy née Howson, an actor and singer with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and Reginald Johnson, a colonial administrator who worked as chief storekeeper on the Baro Kano Railway in what is now Ghana. He was frequently absent, and she grew up with her mother’s family of actors and theatrical administrators. Her mother’s father, C E Howson, worked for the London Lyceum Company, as Sir Henry Irving’s Treasurer.
Pamela described her home in the first of the autobiographical essays contained in her book Important to Me, as “a large brick terrace house”on Battersea Rise. Battersea Rise runs between Clapham Common down and across the valley of Northcote Road/St. John’s Road and up to the Roundhouse pub going over the railway line near the site of the awful Clapham Junction railway disaster in December 1988 when 35 people were killed and 500 people injured when three trains collided.
The house had been bought by her grandfather in the 1890s, a time when she claimed “it looked out on fields where sheep might safely graze. But by the time I was born, the railway had come, and the houses had been built up right over the hills between it and us. Not pretty, I suppose.” I think her description of the house looking out on ‘fields where sheep may safely graze’ was somewhat fanciful for 1890 as Battersea Rise was a main road then and the streets in behind, Lindore and Almeric, had been built on the former mansion and grounds of the Ashness family by Thomas Ingram the most prolific of Battersea’s Victorian developers according to the Survey of London. The railway had come in 1863.
The delightful painting by Leonora Green entitled View from my window looking across at the Northcote pub up Battersea Rise towards number 53 is very much how it would have been in Pamela’s day.
Most commentators claim Pamela was born in Clapham which is wrong. We are used to such confusions and some of us get more irritated than others about this! Of course, Battersea Rise is close to Clapham Common and, with its leafy, rustic connotations, is why our station got misnamed. Again I would quibble with the Survey of London comment ‘No doubt for snobbish reasons residents usually gave their addresses as being in Clapham, Clapham Common or Wandsworth, but Battersea very seldom, unless Battersea Rise, a name with cachet’ . I wonder how Pamela referred to where she came from.
Her grandfather Charles had come from Australia in the 1870s and his family had been involved in theatre and musical entertainment there. He went on to work as an administrator for Henry Irving who had attracted his attention when Charles was playing in the orchestra of the Lyceum in London. Bram Stoker, who had been a civil servant and part time critic in Dublin became Irving’s theatre manager but the two two men clashed. Charles referred to Stoker as Irving’s secretary and Pamela related:One day he came home with a greyish volume in his hands, and said to his children, ‘Stoker has written a beastly book. It’s all about people who suck other people’s blood and lunatics who eat flies.’ He put it straight on the fire. It was, of course, the first edition of Dracula. (Important to Me: Personalia (1974 pp.67-68)
This Irving connection was important in Pamela’s early life and the hallways of their house were hung with Irving ephemera – photographs, playbills, programmes and costume sketches . This and the anecdotes she would have heard came into play in her novel Catherine Carter (1952).
Pamela related that as Irving liked to deck his stage with good-looking people her grandmother Helen and her three daughters occasionally got non-speaking roles in his more lavish productions which toured. I was not impressed by a badly punctuated letter sent from Dublin from said grandmother Helen : Begorra and bejabers here we are right here! And don’t I like Dublin faith and I do especially the jaunting cars and the whiskey and the Guinness stout.
When Amy and Reginald married they joined Amy’s mother and her sister Kalie at 53. Pamela considered herself classless and thought of herself and family as Bohemians but admitted in her memoirs that: I am afraid that my family was afflicted with a degree of snobbery : the thought of ‘marrying into trade’ afflicted them.
Pamela was christened at St Marks Church Battersea Rise and she attended services there.
It has now become evangelical under the vicar Paul Perkins and runs an Alpha course for well-off but unfulfilled adherents and has been accused of homophobia Maverick church deepens C of E divide over gay marriage ..
Her father died suddenly when he came back on leave and his widow was left with debts and economies made. All manner of lodgers were taken in and PHJ wrote:
Pamela had attended Clapham County Girls School and began writing then. She wrote a poem called The Curtain which was published in a magazine The Town Crier when she was fourteen and it is unlikely the editor knew it was from self-asssured a young teenager who became an acclaimed novelist.
She thrived at school and loved theatre and novels and wrote in Important to me .
There was serious talk of marriage. Dylan had told her he was the same age as her in his first letter, was actually not yet nineteen when their correspondence began and thus too young to marry at that time without his parents’ permission. Her mother erroneously and dramatically claimed to Phillip Snow, brother of PHJ’s second husband that they had got to the steps of Chelsea Registry office and she followed them there and had forbidden the marriage!! Their stormy relationship and his letters to Pamela are recounted in the biography and he does come across as a young brat. They used to meet in the Six Bells on the Kings Road.
In later life Pamela invoked where she was brought up. In June 1957, dining with C. P. Snow, at the Governor General’s residence in Malta, she recorded in her diary her impression of an‘exceedingly glamorous’ evening—‘lights in trees, beautiful garden….Oh,a long way from Clapham Junction’ (272). When visiting Eton after Philip, her son by Snow, had won a scholarship there, she observed: ‘O, a long way from Clapham Junction!’ Commentator Nicolas Tredell concludes: “This might suggest a snobbish disdain for low origins but come as the base by which to measure her upward mobility”
PHJ left Battersea when she was 22 in 1934 and so I finish this second literary connection to Battersea Rise. However, there is a conversation planned as part of the Battersea Society events for next year on Pamela Hansford Johnson.
Battersea Rise runs from the corner of Clapham Common Northside up to the Roundhouse pub and forms part of the south circular road. The literary connections are associated with the section from the junction at the bottom of the Hill which is slightly more salubrious. This is alluded to by Pamela Hansford Johnson one of our three authors who lived here as did John Walsh -journalist and author – whereas EM Forster once visited the house called Battersea Rise in which his paternal great grandparents had lived and which he commemorated in the book Marianne Thornton who was his patron and great aunt.
In the Survey of London Battersea,which has become somewhat of a bible for those researching the area, dubiously states: No doubt for snobbish reasons residents usually gave their addresses as being in Clapham, Clapham Common or Wandsworth, but Battersea very seldom, unless Battersea Rise, a name with cachet.
I think that remark about Battersea residents, even the more recent ones, about their address is wrong and subjective. It has been businesses that have often used Clapham in their title. I know that the naming of Clapham Junction in Battersea has caused confusion. This was noted at the time of the disturbances in 2011 when reporters referred to riots in in Clapham High Street opposite Clapham Junction station. The is a campaign about getting the name right.Battersea Junction – the ‘SW11tch’ campaign continues …
BATTERSEA RISE HOUSE and EM Forster
Battersea Rise House was bought in 1792 by Henry Thornton who was a banker and one of the celebrated Clapham Sect. Much of this information has come from the Survey of London. Battersea – The Bartlett
Henry Thornton (1760-1815) was a philanthropist and economist. In 1780 he entered his father’s counting-house, and two or three years later became a partner, then he joined the bank of Downe, Free & Thornton, of which he was an active member until his death. In 1782 Thornton was elected MP for Southwark, and he held the seat until the end of his life. He was an influential member of the ‘Clapham Sect’, and a friend, supporter and cousin of William Wilberforce. In 1792 he bought a house at Battersea Rise on Clapham Common and lived there initially with Wilberforce. In 1796 Thornton married Marianne Sykes. Wilberforce went to live at Broomfield (later Broomwood) House on his marriage in 1797.
Henry and Marianne had nine children including Marianne, who didn’t marry and was great aunt to EM Forster. Her sister Laura married the Rev. Charles Forster. The marriage of Charles and Laura Forster produced Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster, an architect, who married Lily and their only son was Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), novelist and man of letters. There was a mix up with the names at EMs christening who came to be known as Morgan. His great aunt Marianne, known as Monie left him £8,000, which enabled him to go to Cambridge and be financially independent enough to exist as a writer. He repaid his debt by writing her biography in 1956.
Two of Thornton’s brothers, Samuel and Robert, owned villas on Clapham Common Southside and Thornton’s aim in buying Battersea Rise House and the land surrounding it was to create a community of like-minded and high-minded friends. Two substantial houses, Glenelg and Broomfield later renamed Broowoood were built in the grounds, with Wilberforce moving into Broomfield House when he married in 1797.
Battersea Rise House became the centre of, and meeting place, for the Clapham Sect dedicated to, in Wilberforce’s words “the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners”. Thornton was the prime organiser and financier of the campaign and Wilberforce provided its heart and charismatic leadership. God and Mammon easily went hand in hand.
Battersea Rise House became hallowed as the shrine of the ‘Clapham saints’. They used to attend The Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common which is close to Trinity Hospice.
possessions and Thornton family memories. The house has often been described as‘Queen Anne’.
This is the background to the Battersea Rise House that EM wrote about. He understood the significance of home and house which is reflected in Howards End and in his attachment to his own home Rooksnest.
His book is based ‘almost entirely upon family papers’. Parts of Forster’s narrative call into question the family values. His decision to focus upon her rather than one of his more publicly famous ancestors enabled him to emphasise the private implications of public life and give pride of place to the inner life. She had lived there most of her life with her brother and his family till the rift occurred.
Christopher Tolley has written an account of this book. Marianne Thornton: E. M. Forster and Clapham Domestic Biography: The Legacy of Evangelicalism in Four ..
EM did not share his predecessor’s particular religious views and this is why he identified more with Marianne and her more down-to-earth attitudes. He also questioned inherited wealth, the wealth that he felt produced the imaginative poverty of Henry Thornton and his spiritual materialism. EM was an avowed Humanist which is, of course, one reason why he would appeal to me. E M Forster – British Humanist Association
Forster wrote about his Humanism in a famous essay entitled What I Believe. He was President of the National Council for Civil Liberties, now Liberty. Forster called himself a humanist, and was President of the Cambridge Humanists from 1959 to his death. He was a Vice-President of the Ethical Union in the 1950s, and a member of the Advisory Council of the British Humanist Association from its foundation in 1963.
His work and viewpoint were summed up in a series on British Authors (Cambridge University Press) as:“the voice of the humanist – one seriously committed to human values while refusing to take himself too seriously. Its tone is inquiring, not dogmatic. It reflects a mind aware of the complexities confronting those who wish to live spiritually satisfying, morally responsible lives in a world that increasingly militates against individual’s needs. Sensitively and often profoundly, Forster’s fiction explores the problems such people encounter.” He shared many ideas with, and was friendly with, members of the Bloomsbury Group.
John Walsh, journalist and author of The Falling Angels – a memoir of growing up second generation Irish on Battersea Rise refers to EM Forster when talking of Battersea Rise and contrasting it with his own view of it growing up there in the sixties. Sin sceal eile – it is another story in this trilogy of literary connection and Battersea Rise.
Last things and final flings.
I came across the website Silversurfers – Over 50s Lifestyle & News Website I looked for the section on last things – end-of-life, death, funerals and memorials in their Lifestyle section – well where else! Alas, there was none. Does it mean that the over fifties are not ready to face their mortality?
My every day work revolves around death, funeral arrangements, bereavement, giving talks about our ceremonies and pastoral visits to non-religious people who are dying. I have given thought to what I want when I am dying and for my funeral and what I most certainly do not want like embalming, a hearse, men in black, wreaths etc.
The funeral business is still fairly conservative and many people who are planning a funeral go along with what’s being offered in those very busy and stressful few days in which to organise one.
We all need to be open to talk about death and to let those who will be making decisions for us and with us to know our wishes and thoughts on this crucial and inevitable phase of our life. I think that everyone should be concerned to let their next of kin know what are their end-of-life and funeral wishes. It would make things easier for them knowing that they were carrying out your expressed wishes and would confirm for other people that what was happening was what you wanted.
Our generation is very aware that we are living longer than previous generations and what might be in store for us as medical science intervenes. We are aware of diseases like cancer, Alzheimers and of the proliferation of residential care homes for elderly people. The majority of us do not want to die in hospital but it is where the majority of us die. I believe that it since the inception of the NHS after the war that these changes occurred. People mostly died at home and were cared for by family and friends after their death before the Funeral Directors took over this role. We have to start taking back control from those to whom we have handed it over.
We also know that some older people are breaking records and achieving things unheard of for our own parents and grandparents. We enjoy cruises, adventure holidays, attend UEA groups, book clubs, theatres, cinema and concerts, join choirs, embark on new hobbies, go fishing and have embraced the internet and new technologies. But we also need to face our mortality and plan for that too.
There are some great websites on this. One is Final Fling, founded by Barbara Chalmers, after attending a few bad funerals. It is for “people who like to be in control of life and death decisions” It suggests “Sort your paperwork, make plans, leave instructions, tell your story. Save others the bother. Know your options and stay in charge. And meantime, live life to the full”. Final Fling https://www.finalfling.com/
There is the very informative and entertaining one, founded by Charles Cowling, The Good Funeral Guide http://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/
It has a useful section plan and structure a non-religious ceremony.
The Natural Death Centre is helpful The Natural Death Centre. It has information on suppliers of crafted coffins eg. Respect Everybody Shrouds and http://www.feetfirstcoffins.co.uk
I think that researching and talking about the possibilities of what can happen at a funeral long before one’s time is fascinating. I do not like the standard coffin with ornate metal-looking plastic handles that are not even designed to be handled. To me it is another example of the fakery of funerals. I have a cardboard coffin in the attic. I would like to have a coffin coffee table but my family wouldn’t. I did once contact IKEA asking if they would consider producing a flat pack coffin. The reply told Madam that ‘the item she referred to is not one that is in our the future product plans’.
We do not have to have a funeral at all but could have a memorial ceremony instead. All FDs should be able to oblige but Poppy’s Funerals in London specialise in them.Alternative Funerals – Simple Cremation – Poppy’s Funerals …
Transport options for those who would like to eschew the black hearse and limousines are vans, estate cars and motorcycles http://www.motorcyclefunerals.com and vintage lorries http://www.vintagelorryfunerals.co.uk
One of the first changes that I would love to see happening is that non-religious funerals should be happening in people’s homes, gardens in residential homes, in pubs, community venues, hotel function rooms, gardens etc with a small group going to the crematorium for a brief committal and returning to the venue and reception afterwards.
This way there is not the time constraints of the crematorium, more scope for slide shows, music and speakers in a place that is not solely for the purpose of disposal of dead bodies by cremation. So often people do return to a pub or hotel for funeral ‘afters’ (it is not a wake!)
So, I think that we need to be talking about what we would prefer to happen and not accept the traditional sombre Victorian black funeral derived from a standard Church of England service or a Catholic mass. I think that all funerals should be about celebrating the person and include their lifestory and thoughts and memories of them from family and friends. There should be some humour in funerals as there is in life. A good funeral will include laughter as well as tears and sadness. Those attending should learn something new about the person who had died – their home and family life as well as well as their work life and their social life and interests.
It is good to hear about the person from different perspectives from spouses, children and grandchildren, colleagues and friends. It is often said to me that the person who has died would have appreciated the service. The obvious response is that we should be holding such dedication ceremonies while people are alive! I like to collect memorable phrases from funerals that I call ‘Oh bits from obits’ eg “ After father died mother and I enlisted in the Indian Army in Gwalia”. or “When Lawrence was told by his instructor to get a feel for the pedals he duly went down on his knees to touch them” ‘Oh bits from obits’.
I hope that some of you are ready to start the conversation on last things. So, Silversurfers let’s get creative, have fun and get talking about how you want your final fling.