After Market

Jul 20, 2015
After Market Once again the National Funeral Exhibition has been and gone. For some reason best known to the exhibition organisers it had a medieval theme this time. 

The result of that was yours truly constantly having to dodge the unwanted attentions of some goon dressed in knight’s armour welcoming everyone to the show. In an effort to avoid him I tried making a break for the bird of prey display, only to be snared en route by representatives of a printing company specialising in bespoke memory books. That was fifteen minutes of my life I won’t get back again.    

Tragically, due no doubt to austerity measures, the ‘high-heeled hotties’ on the vehicle coachbuilders’ stands were conspicuous by their absence. They’d been replaced by ‘earnest chaps in corporate polo shirts’. This sinister and wholly unwelcome development didn’t do anything to deter the constant stream of dreamy-eyed Top Gear devotees gathering to admire the latest space-aged hearses and limousines, but it did cause an interesting side-effect: it meant they all gave the chocolate fountain a wider berth. With no leggy temptresses there to lure them, the visitors who’d really only pitched up for their fix of chocolate were instead hovering round the fringes of the stand like a herd of Zebra who’ve realised there are crocodiles lurking in their favourite watering hole.  

But the thing that struck me most this time around was the huge shift in emphasis towards ‘after market’ merchandise. And in saying that I should point out that was actually the terminology some of those exhibitors used! The concept of ‘after sales’ has traditionally been associated with the automobile industry, consisting of the totally necessary elements of servicing, spare parts or accessories. But the emergence of a similar market for funerals is to me symptomatic of the creeping commercialisation / Americanisation (choose your preferred adverb) of the funeral profession and I have to admit it’s a development I’m a bit suspicious of.   

Now, the thing is, the idea of having a sample of your loved one’s ashes infused into an item of memorial jewellery, added into decorative glassware, or even turned into a memorial diamond if you feel so inclined, has been around for a while now. But the Diamante-finish ashes casket is an altogether newer and to my mind slightly garish concept. I’m no fan of Diamante-anything anyway, but just because you can stick Swarovski crystals all over something doesn’t mean that you should.  

As if that bit of ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ styling wasn’t enough, it seems that for monumental masonry the coming thing is to have a ‘QR’ code plaque fitted, so visitors to the grave can scan it with their smartphone and instantly access a digital tribute (complete with photo’s or even video’s). I honestly don’t know whether that sort of thing has a value or not.   

One thing is certain though. I can well imagine a disturbing sea-change happening in cemetery tourism as a result. At the moment people find hours of entertainment in searching out humorous Victorian epitaphs such as:  

Here lies I and my three daughters 

Kill'd by drinking Cheltenham waters; 

Had we a'stuck to Epsom-salts

We’d not a bin lyin in these 'ere vaults   

But it’s not hard to imagine the mobile phone-obsessed, next generation will probably go round looking for QR codes that link to a YouTube video of the deceased’s last moments obligingly captured by a passer-by with a smartphone.   

Treasured memories of Joe Bloggs, 

Tragically taken from us on 10th July 2015, 

aged 50 years.   

(scan the QR code to watch a video of the moment he lit a cigarette in a petrol station)   

To my mind, the emergence of the ‘after market’ concept could end up becoming a significant downside to the increasing personalisation of funerals. It will inevitably open the door to further rampant commercialism. If I displayed every leaflet from every prospective supplier that approaches me I wouldn’t have time to be arranging funerals. Instead I’d be running a showroom for bespoke-designed coffins, online memorials and a jewellery shop for diamonds made from ashes.   

“Ooh, I love your engagement ring!” 

“Yes, it’s my mother.”

“You mean it was your mother’s ring?”

“No, it’s my mother.”


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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