Charles Cowling

 

It was always going to be risky, this business of recommending funeral directors. We set out purposefully, hoping for the best with the best possible intentions, knowing that if you’re going to make anything in this world, you’re going to make mistakes. We’re optimists. It seemed, and still seems, to be a good thing to do, to show funeral shoppers the way to the people who’ll look after them best. Win-win.

Yes, it’s an important service. Because of their reluctance to say to their funeral director, “Now take me to your mortuary, I want to see that everything is in order,” funeral shoppers must, instead, blindly trust him/her to discharge what is, to them, a funeral director’s most important role: to be nice to their dead person. As we know, there can be many a slip twixt back and front. As independent consumer advocates, we are in the best possible position to offer the reassurance that consumers most desire.

But Funeralworld is another country; they do things differently there. Who (the hell) are we to sit behind our keyboards and opinionate? What do we know, dammit?! Well, by sheer hard work we have learned. When we’ve boobed — and we have — we have put our hands up quick as a flash.  We’ve done it the hard way. It’s been a slog at our own expense. And, yes, we’ve won precious credibility.

So it came as a blow last week to undergo a credibility-threatening event which, coincidentally, came at a time when, having suspended our listing in order to radically remodel it in sustainable form, we are about to relaunch it. We know that our listing is 98% good. We need to aim for 100% minimum and roll it out nationwide. We can do it. Stand by for an announcement.

The credibility-threatening event was the arrival of a letter here at GFG HQ. Here’s what it said:

Dear Mr Cowling

I see you recommend __________ of __________!   (Name and place deleted.)

Have you visited his premises? I have, and was appalled. Only one room divided by a curtain to make a reception and a chapel … I also asked where he kept his bodies and was told in his mortuary. I could not see where his mortuary was so have asked around and been told he does not have one. Also he has no cold storage and in hot weather advises people that a relative is not suitable for visiting when really he has not collected the body from the hospital because he has nowhere to keep it! After leaving I also noticed he has only one door into the premises and no parking. I did not like the idea of my dad being hurried across the road on a stretcher and left in the front room so I went somewhere else. I may have paid more but at least I know my dad was cared for in proper surroundings.

I follow your blog and you seem to be a very nice man, perhaps you are too nice and have had the wool pulled over your eyes by someone who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.

I wonder how you follow up your recommendations, do you make spot checks, do you phone around pretending to be a customer.

The letter is signed, but there is no address, postcode or any other contact details. 

The subject of the letter is a funeral director in whom we placed an absolute trust. He was trained to the highest standards by the doyenne of tutors and seemed to us to be born to be an undertaker. He recently moved to new premises which are, by his own admission, small. We trusted that they were big enough. Above all, we trusted that he would have made adequate provision for the care of his dead and, of course, installed a fridge. We hadn’t yet got around to re-visiting him. 

What could have happened? He’d gone mad? He was never anything but a charming blagger? He had money problems? We all know well enough how the most unlikely people can go off the rails. 

It was time for a spot check.

Having no address for my correspondent and, therefore, no assurance that she is who she says she is, but knowing that she follows the blog, I publish my reply here. 

Dear _______

Thank you for your letter (undated) drawing our attention to what you allege are grave shortcomings in the premises and mortuary equipment of the funeral director you named. 

I paid him a visit on Friday and asked to be shown his mortuary/embalming suite. There I found a perfectly adequate fridge. Every tray had on it a duvet which is used to cover each occupant. Every tray had its own pillow, and on each pillow lay an artificial rose (of rather good quality). The mortuary was entirely clean and odour-free. 

The premises are, as you say, small. While I was there I spoke to a person who had come to visit her dead relative — not for the first time. She was perfectly happy with both the premises and the service she was receiving. Indeed, she could not have expressed higher satisfaction with both. 

I am pleased to be able to tell you that your principal misgiving is unfounded. I cannot verify your allegation concerning the coffin. As to the premises having no rear entrance, we must bear in mind that many funeral directors do not have rear access, yet manage to transfer their dead in a perfectly respectful manner. We must bear in mind also that it is the tradition in this country ostentatiously to display a coffin in a hearse on the public highway.

The funeral director has been offered the lease on the much bigger premises next door and intends to move as soon as he can. 

We remain happy to recommend him. Our opinion of him rides as high as ever.

Please feel free to post a response to this in a comment box, but please do not publish the name of the funeral director concerned because this may involve us in litigation. This is a censor-free blog except in cases of libellous comments. Please be aware that any comment you post will reveal your IP address.

With all best wishes,

Charles

 

 

 

 

 

 

35 thoughts on “J’accuse!

  1. Charles Cowling
    David

    Can we assume that Mark E, Jane, Lucy and Paul all know who this letter is referring to? If so, how?


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    This blog has a strict no-censorship rule. We never delete a comment. It is important for people to know that if they want to fire a torpedo at us, they can. That creates jeopardy for the GFG: we have to think very carefully before we speak. It (incidentally) creates very much less jeopardy for those who leave comments using an internet identity, so the jeopardy is not shared. As you rightly point out, James (quite rightly making yourself accountable for what you say), “It amazes me what people are prepared to type and I doubt would say to the face of an individual.”

    Had this letter-writer given a phone number or email address, it might have been possible to solve this matter over the phone. I wonder whether the writer wrote a hard copy letter in order not to reveal an IP address. Whatever, it cost me the better part of a day and quite a lot of money in fuel to check out the allegation, and that annoyed me.

    I would also point out that I have, over the years, received several emails from people purporting to be members of the public who, when pressed, have fallen silent. Most of these gave themselves away by using industry jargon in their email. They were clearly competitors. I wondered if

    It is possible that I should not have published the letter at all. A quick straw poll reveals a majority in favour of treating an anonymous letter as I have done. There is much to be said for holding the writer of such a letter to account.

    But I wonder.

    And I hope that we may now see an end to the recrimination game.


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      jane

      I have to agreee charles one has to wonder if this is a competitor that is the reason for no contact details .If this was genuine most people would give contact details so you can reply to them and not have to put it on here.I now hope this person can see that the premises are all above board and stop nosing into other FD business .


      Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Lucy

    Maybe or not the letter to the. Good funeral guide was genuine or not but why not give any contact details is very strange not even a phone number this so called person needs to get there facts right before hand.Thankyou Charles for showing this letter and I am looking forward to meeting you on Friday.


    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling
    James

    On a lighter note I did like the comments about what a ‘very nice man’ you are Charles


    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling
    James

    Charles, I appreciate your predicament particularly as the letter writer wished (for whatever reason) to remain anonymous. I think where things took a turn for the worse was the actual printing their letter rather than just posting a request to contact you. As the letter is now published it can, as you mention, inflict harm to the reputation of an individual or company. Be that the FD criticised or ironically the letter writer themselves.

    The subsequent barrage of critiscm of the letter writer concerned me. It amazes me what people are prepared to type and I doubt would say to the face of an individual.

    It may be that the letter has come from a competitor but if it has they must be rubbing their hands together at the mischief they have caused. Or on a more serious note it could be a genuine complainant.


    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Mark Elliott & Ann.L

    I think you can tell from the content of the letter that this is not from a client. It is quite obvious that this is a rival funeral director.


    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling
    James

    Well this is an interesting thread.

    What if the letter is genuine? Surely we should give them the benefit of the doubt rather than accuse them of disgusting behaviour. Perhaps as has been suggested it is the FD that they changed to who gave them the ‘information’ about mortuary facilities. They may wish to remain anonymous as they are recently bereaved and do not wish the publicity. In the light of the publishing of their letter and the subsequent comments who can blame them?

    Will the way this complaint has been dealt with encourage others to raise concerns with the GFG? Perhaps not which would be a great shame as whilst I put great stead in the recommended status it needs to have checks and balances against it. The ability to complain about a recomended FD has to be one of those checks.


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Maggie Brinklow

      Well said, James, and thanks for putting this thread back on course. Let’s hope it remains that way.


      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        jane

        people only want this kept on course as it may get to close for comfort for someone .it wouldnt have gone off course if the disgusting coward who wrote this letter had the guts to put their real name and contact no so charles could have replied to them once he did his checks which of course ALL proved unfounded.People just get annoyed when others poke their nose in others business they should look at themselves first before picking on others


        Charles Cowling
        1. Charles Cowling
          James

          Jane, what do you mean by ‘people only want this kept on course as it may get too close to comfort for someone’? As I appear to be one of those ‘people’ what are you inferring?


          Charles Cowling
    2. Charles Cowling
      Charles Cowling

      Thank you, James. Pertinent and bracing points you make.

      When we get complaints (and we do) they are always dealt with sensitively and confidentially. In this case, though, there was no address and no verifiable name — it was, essentially, anonymous.

      I think we all agree on the status of anonymity. If someone wishes to inflict deserved and justifiable reputational damage on a business, they must make themselves accountable, even if the condition is anonymity. There’s nothing wrong with a tip-off.

      In this case, the only reply I could possibly make was through the blog — it was the only way I had of reaching the complainant.

      Having said all of which, I take your point, James. Thank you for making it.


      Charles Cowling
    3. Charles Cowling
      jane

      James this is a bogus letter if it were true about the content dont you think it odd that they didnt contact the NAFD .I would have thought that would have been the appropiate body to contact .As charles proved there was refridgeration and NO curtain seperating the chapel and reception but lovely double doors al looking perfect so that tells you something about the writer of the letter ALL their facts were wrong its a pity people dont worry about their own business instead of poking their nose in others.I agree if it were true things should be done but as I and charles have stated it was ALL UNFOUNDED maybe someone is trying to scupper the event on fri ?


      Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Mark Elliott & Ann.L

    How sad this letter is because you can quite clearly tell its from another funeral director. It is such a shame that people have nothing better to do with their time. I always think people who write such letters have lots to hide and quite agree with Jane that people must be green with envy and not have a very good business themselves Some people out there are just not worth worrying about very sad. Mark & Ann


    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling
    Andrew Hickson

    This thread is weird. It starts with complete anonymity and sensible discussion, but changes to two people seemingly happy to discuss someone, clearly knowing who it is about.

    How do these people know who it is about? There can surely only be one link?


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      jane

      And what would that be andrew ?


      Charles Cowling
  10. Charles Cowling
    Paul

    Thank you Jane I agree this is a competitor, I’m sure that a client would have made their initial complaint to the funeral director in person beforehand, let’s say by means of a letter or after a visit to the parlour in question expressing their concerns, strange then that the place they make their complaint to is anonymous by letter to the GFD and not one letter to the funeral director involved, how sad jealousy is, and how vindictive.


    Charles Cowling
  11. Charles Cowling
    Paul

    Shame on the individual who has sent this letter, the funeral director being spoken of dealt with my late brother last year, I can only say that it was done in a very professional and dignified manner, not only did this person go out of their way to make sure everything went smoothly but after the funeral they kept in touch, now how many do that , I too have visited the mentioned funeral parlour and I can say its a very homely setting, there was a mention of a rose in the fridge, if you know this person you would know they go the extra mile because they care, you see there are some people in this life that like to go the extra mile for others.


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      jane

      Paul I wholly agree with you I too happen to know who this refers to .I think it is disgusting that someone can stoop so low as to try and discredit someone ,who certainlt does go that extra mile you only have to look at all the thank you cards etc to see how highly he is respected and thought of .Its a shame the coward who had the audacity to write such a disgusting letter all untrue i might add about such a caring ,thoughtful , incredibly talented lovely person .I wonder if the true culprit has something to hide themselves it all sounds very suspicious to me i think it is more likely a competitor FD


      Charles Cowling
  12. Charles Cowling
    Jed

    Thank you ‘Ms Accuser’ for writing about your concerns – it’s so important that people do contact the GFG when they feel there’s a case to be investigated. The recommendations made need to be checked and validated and rechecked repeatedly over time. I hope that CC’s visit will have reassured you as to his commitment to maintaining the high standards expected of the recommended FDs.

    I think the GFG recommended list is at the very least a good place to start when looking for an undertaker. I personally wouldn’t pay too much attention to the comments from rival FDs – they’re a bit like hairdressers and builders – they have that way of looking at you with such pity for having even considered the services of A.N.Other and are generally more than eager to pass on SHOCK! HORROR! anecdotes – heard or imagined – about their rivals. Of course you had to make a decision based on your instincts on the day, as we all do. I’m glad you were happy with the care and service you received for your Dad, wherever it was from. Perhaps your choice of undertaker should be recommended to the GFG? It’s not just about price, but total service surely?

    The rule remains ‘buyer beware’ whether you’re buying a haircut, a house or a funeral. Ms Accuser checked out a GFG recommended undertaker and from her viewpoint found him wanting, so went elsewhere. Hats off for being so bold and for actually looking around before committing her father to anyone’s care.

    As for the artificial flowers, Judith, have you seen some of the other monstrosities in undertakers’ premises? Headstones and gravel, tatty desks and chairs, dusty silk/plastic flowers on faux marble pedestals, a glow in the dark statue of the Virgin Mary, advertising brochures for dove release, windowless arranging rooms…. so if Undertaker X chooses to add a fake flower on his fridge pillows I really don’t mind. And, perhaps he added this – in his opinion – tasteful touch, after being asked by Ms Accuser to see his mortuary? Who knows?

    I can’t comment on the fridge/cool room/embalming debate – I’d just like somewhere ‘peaceful and private’ to visit my dearly departed relative. I guess me taking care of my own Dad in my own front room would be the nicest possible option…. but we don’t really want THAT much reality, do we?


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Belinda Forbes

      Jed – I completely agree: ‘the GFG recommended list is at the very least a good place to start when looking for an undertaker.’ Much better to have a list (even if it can never be perfect) than not to bother and have no starting point.
      As with all things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and sadly few of the beholders contact the GFG with their opinions so it’s good that someone has on this occasion. Just a shame it was anonymous.


      Charles Cowling
    2. Charles Cowling
      jane

      I have to agree jed the word jelousy comes to mind in this case .Someone is obviously green with envy that he has such a good busines .He is excellent at what he does and this does not go down well with rival FD .They will have to get over it and get on with their sad lives .They cannot be that busy if they have time to sit and make up completely unfounded rubbish. GET OVER IT and leave others alone


      Charles Cowling
  13. Charles Cowling
    Nick Gandon

    It’s possible that I may be partly to blame for this situation by suggesting in a previous post that an impromptu visit to an FD’s mortuary should always be an option for those enquiring families that really need to know….. Sorry!

    Chilling a body is certainly of benefit where viewing is desired, and where embalming is not welcome. Both options are favourite where extended storage periods are envisaged, or where topical treatment alone is chosen.

    There is no doubt that modern hygienic considerations go hand-in-hand with chilled facilities.

    Having said that, some premises are naturally cool to begin with. The accepted temperature of a regular mortuary fridge is circa + 3 to + 4 degrees. Not as cold as you may think!

    It’s also surprising just how cold the old marble slab is. How does that work?

    Having fridge or cold room facilities are without doubt a benefit for any FD, but in my view, not an absolute requirement. It depends upon location, numbers, and client expectation.

    Nick


    Charles Cowling
  14. Charles Cowling
    Maggie

    As the old saying goes ‘Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see’ and in this case it would seem that we should also believe none of what we read (except, of course, for the GFG Guide!)


    Charles Cowling
  15. Charles Cowling
    Andrew Hickson

    You know I pick you up on things every so often Charles…

    “Above all, we trusted that he would have made adequate provision for the care of his dead and, of course, installed a fridge.”

    There are many funeral directors, myself included, who operate without a fridge.

    Why does ‘adequate [care] of the dead’ necessitate the use of a fridge?


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Maggie

      Well said Andrew, anyone who watched Undercover Undertaker would agree that the presence of cold storage doesn’t go hand in hand with ‘care’ of the dead.


      Charles Cowling
    2. Charles Cowling
      Charles Cowling

      Thanks, Andrew. You may have started something here. What (I put this to you for your sage consideration) I should have said was ‘provision for the safekeeping of his dead’. You, I know, have a cool room — and that’s the point. It’s all about temperature. I was influenced in what I said by the siting of this particular FD’s mortuary, which necessitated a fridge. Ice packs wouldn’t have served; in hot weather there would have been problems.

      Thank you for picking me up. It’s good to know that your rigorous eye is ever on us!


      Charles Cowling
  16. Charles Cowling
    Charles Cowling

    If you knew this undertaker, Judith, you’d know it is just the sort of touch he favours.


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Judith Hibbert

      One Perfect Rose

      A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
      All tenderly his messenger he chose;
      Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
      One perfect rose.

      I knew the language of the floweret;
      ‘My fragile leaves,’ it said, ‘his heart enclose.’
      Love long has taken for his amulet
      One perfect rose.

      Why is it no one ever sent me yet
      One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
      Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
      One perfect rose.

      Dorothy Parker


      Charles Cowling
      1. Charles Cowling
        Charles Cowling

        Ha! Brilliant, Judith! And a reminder that a good blog is one that is read for the quality of the comments it attracts.


        Charles Cowling
      2. Charles Cowling
        Evelyn

        Excellent – she was a witty mare!


        Charles Cowling
  17. Charles Cowling
    Judith Hibbert

    The artificial rose is a curious touch – for whose benefit?


    Charles Cowling
    1. Charles Cowling
      Kathryn Edwards

      Bishop Berkeley?


      Charles Cowling
        1. Charles Cowling
          Kathryn Edwards

          Oh, you know: just that philosophical enquiry about whether the tree falling in the forest makes any sound if there’s no-one there to hear it.


          Charles Cowling