The Cotswold Funeral Director: Juke box jury

Sep 10, 2013
The Cotswold Funeral Director: Juke box jury “I expect you get a lot of this nowadays don’t you?!” My unwanted companion waved one of the CD’s in his hand. I groaned inwardly, managing to summon up the strength to smile politely and reply “Yes, I do.”

I braced myself for hackneyed tales of amusing funerals he’d been to; or tales of the old village undertaker which usually ended with the tedious revelation that “they had to dig graves/make coffins by hand in those days, you know.” I just didn’t have the time or the energy for it that day.

As it turned out I was spared the obligatory, soporific account of his funerary memories, but the mercy was a brief one. He had another sly conversational trick up his sleeve:
“So what’s the most popular music track currently, d’you think?”

He clearly didn’t realise that I was stressed, harassed and generally not feeling very sociable, but it was as if we were playing poker and he’d just said, “I’ll see your polite but vague response and raise you an open-ended question.” That was a shrewd move - I could face no fiercer verbal weapon; there was little I could do to avoid continuing the conversation. I chose the only defensive manoeuvre I had left:

“Well, it varies. We’ve had everything from Glenn Miller & Frank Sinatra through to Abba & Cliff Richard. It depends what the deceased’s favourite music was, really.” 
“Ah, yes! Frank Sinatra.” My irksome companion chuckled. “I recall a crematorium funeral some years ago where the widow wanted “My Way” played as her husband’s coffin entered the chapel.”

Now, personally I can’t abide Frank Sinatra. “My Way” is the most pompous, self-indulgent nonsense I’ve ever heard. A perfect soundtrack for burying East End gangsters with, but definitely not for the average man on the street.

“I bet the mourners forced to listen to that tripe were sat there feeling jealous of the guy in the coffin.” I muttered under my breath.
“I said I bet the mourners thought that was a great way to send him off in.” I replied quickly.

That seemed to be enough to satisfy my interrogator and he shuffled away, leaving me to complete my tasks.

Recorded music is virtually the norm at funerals now – even the most traditional services. But in the smaller, rural churches my company works in, responsibility for providing sound equipment or a CD player often falls to us as the funeral directors.

On that particular morning – and that was the first problem: I’m not a “morning person” - I had to nip up to the church and deliver the printed service sheets, set out reserved seating tickets for the family pews and rig up the CD player. It was a big funeral and there were a lot of preparations still to make back at the office too. At that moment I simply wasn’t in the mood for anyone to delay me with silly conversations. Like all funeral directors I suffer with PFT (pre-funeral tension) to some extent. We know only too well we’ve got just one chance to get it right; so is it any wonder we all get a bit of….stage fright?

Anyway, by then I’d positioned the CD player at the back of the church and I was looking for a socket for the extension lead. The elderly churchwarden wandered back again and started admiring the CD player for some reason. “I say, what a foxy piece of machinery. I bet that makes a good sound.”

I felt like I’d been time-warped back into an episode of Juke Box Jury with David Jacobs. The doddery fellow watched me as I hunted round for an electric socket, trailing the cable around behind me. I glanced at back him, unkindly wondering if the village had noticed its idiot was missing.

“So, is that by chance one of those fancy I-Pod docking station devices my great grandchildren are always talking about?”

Dear reader, forgive me. I just couldn’t resist. The septuagenarian sacristan had caught me at a bad moment: I was hassled, harassed and worrying about the funeral later that morning. I held up my hand and said:

“No, it’s a plug”

James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.

He is the author of “A Life In Death – Memoirs Of A Cotswold Funeral Director

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