A Happy Gardener

After my abrupt, unplanned career change in September 2017, (from freelance writer, Wars of the Roses interpreter/walk guide, funeral celebrant and general rent-a-gob  to full-time professional gardener), a friend and regular client told me, ‘You’re such a good public speaker, you’re wasted on gardening.’

I was extremely touched by his kind compliment – but explained that, although I’ll always enjoy doing speaking engagements, for many reasons I felt happy to let that part of my career come (largely) to a natural end. And here’s one of them…

I dare say my dear late friend Kate would’ve laughed like a drain (in a sympathetic way) to hear of the travails that preceded her funeral service this morning. As celebrant, I set off early enough to make the 50-odd minute journey to Doncaster’s Rose Hill Crematorium with a good half-hour in hand to compose myself, confirm final arrangements, meet Kate’s guitarist friend, Roy, who’d be playing her in with a heartfelt blues instrumental, and prepare myself in a suitably relaxed, respectful way.

On previous occasions when I – and Roy – have done services at Rose Hill, that’s pretty much what happened. But not today. Today, to my horror, I found the A638 out of Wakefield gridlocked, my lane blocked by a broken-down truck. Instant mega-stress. Map-less, sat-nav-less, (well, I thought I knew where I was going), I was too distracted and panicky to work out the obvious alternative: simply hang a left and take the M62 and A1 South. No, I queued for 20 agonising minutes, wringing my hands and muttering uselessly, ‘Please please please move,’ before I got round the obstruction and back on my road where, police or no police behind me, I floored it. At least, (barring further incident), I knew I’d be there to start the service on time; but as for arriving in a suitably composed and dignified fashion – it was way too late for that.

Unlike on previous occasions, I didn’t take a wrong turn or go to the wrong car-park. Arriving with a quarter-hour to spare, (phew!) it turned out I did have time to greet a few people, go to the loo, get a cup of water, and lay out my orders of service. And, luckily, to check the music running-order, because there’d been a slight mistake which we soon rectified. What I didn’t have, as the minutes ticked on, was a musician… Luckily the unflappable crematorium assistant stopped me having hysterics by substituting a terrific blues track; I was too flustered to mention it at the requisite point in the service, but if you were there and wondered about it, the song was ‘Sad Sad Day’ by Muddy Waters. I hope Kate would have approved.

Meanwhile her cortege had arrived, but still no Roy. So we went with his understudy Muddy, and kept Kate waiting at the gate while we fannied about with the sound system. From that point on, things settled down and resumed their expected order and pace. Then, part-way into the service, someone came in: tall, cowboy hat, dressed all in black. Even without seeing his Facebook photo I’d have recognised Roy – looking like that, he just had to be a musician. I later discovered he’d also been having the morning from hell, including breaking a guitar string shortly before he was due to set off – hence his failure to turn up as planned. He stood considerately at the back while I managed to get through the important bits without my voice breaking. It was a different matter the second I got out of the chapel – I clung onto and blubbed freely over friend, acquaintance and stranger alike if they said a kind word. But the tabby cat who wandered in as we were leaving cheered me up – cat-mad Kate would have liked that. (I hope she would’ve liked the service, too).

Maybe if I hadn’t had such a stressful start to the day I’d have enjoyed going on to Kate’s wake to give her an appropriate send-off (she loved a bevvy, did our Kate). But I was so drained I just Wanted To Go Home in the worst way, so I gave it a miss and headed straight back to Wakefield. And at first the drive was just fine, until I ran up against a new road closure on the A638 at Wragby and had to make a diversion…

I won’t bore you with further details; suffice to say, by the time I reached The Three Houses on Barnsley Road a couple of miles from home, I was screaming with frustration. So the first thing I did when I came in was to raise a very stiff drink to Kate in lieu of going to her wake, and neck it down PDQ; and several hours later, calmed down and half-cut on Hubcap’s Jagermeister, I can laugh – as Kate no doubt would – over these funeral farces. But it wasn’t very funny at the time… my pet hates are being late, stuck in unexpected traffic, and keeping people waiting, especially for something as important as a funeral.

So that’s partly the reason, dear reader, why I’m now such a happy gardener: it doesn’t much matter if I turn up a bit late, and the only thing I have to worry about is the weather.

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It’s Your Funeral (2)

Even though Hubcap and I are only in our fifties, in recent years we’ve lost so many friends and family members of around our age – or considerably younger – that we’re starting to hear the Grim Reaper scratching very gently at our own door with his scythe.

So, since publishing my original ‘Its Your Funeral’ blog back on 30th December 2015, we decided to go for it and acquired a SafeHands ‘Pearl’ pre-paid funeral plan. Now, when one of us pops off, all the other will have to do is ring a 24/7 helpline number to set the plan in motion – there’ll be no scrabbling about looking for funeral directors, no trying to second-guess what the late mate would have wanted for a service – and above all, no worries about what it’s going to cost.

Altogether, I was so impressed by the company, its ethos and products that I went on and trained as a funeral planning consultant/SafeHands plan agent – so if you’d like a plan for yourself do get in touch, and I’ll gladly sell you one! In fact do get in touch even if you’re not in the market to buy, because thanks to their recent initiative to ensure every adult has one, I can give you something useful: the Free Funeral Plan. This is a handy four-page A4 form on which you fill in all the details your next-of-kin/executors will need when they have to arrange your funeral – essential stuff such as whether you want to be buried or cremated, whether you’re willing to be viewed in the funeral home, the kind of music and readings you’d like at your service, (if you want a service at all), and so on.

It might sound a bit morbid or frighteningly like tempting Fate, but it’s not – we did our plan 18 months ago, and we’re still here! Oddly enough, we both found it quite an enjoyable and comforting exercise, and it was certainly instructive; despite having known one another for nigh on 14 years/being married for nearly a decade, Hubcap hadn’t a clue I wanted my coffin to enter the chapel to Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue’- and it would never have occurred to me in a million years that my little ex-Goth would choose a Frank Sinatra song, (‘It Was A Very Good Year’ – I can’t hear it now without getting a lump in my throat).

So why not drop an email to helencox-celebrant@outlook.com to request your Free Funeral Plan? There’s no catch, no charge and no obligation to go on and buy anything – so you’ve got nothing to lose (but plenty to gain in terms of peace of mind for yourself and your nearest and dearest). And if you’re now thinking, ‘Wow! That sounds so great I’d like to become a SafeHands agent myself’, then contact my account manager Alan Holmes on alan.holmes@safehandsplans.co.uk and he’ll gladly talk you through it!

It’s Your Funeral

In the heady aperitif years of my youth, I paid no attention to the adverts. But now, chomping steadily through the coffee-and-mints stage of what Hubcap calls, ‘the lunchtime of life,’ I notice them everywhere. I must admit, (alas), that I need one of those. It’s responsible and prudent; it’d take a load off my mind and spare my family a world of hassle. And one thing’s for sure: someday, (long in the future, I hope), it will come in useful – yes, (gulp), I’m talking about funeral plans. If you’re my age, the adverts may grab you too: those budget funeral insurance policies plugged by silver-haired celebs (who could probably afford a horse-drawn hearse followed by a fleet of limos if they so desired). A free gift just for registering interest! No medical required! Mere pence a day guarantees a cash lump sum if you die after two years – and you get another free gift when you sign up!

For the over-fifty-fives they sound great – on the face of it. What’s not so great is being hooked into paying instalments on a non-transferable policy for the rest of your life – and if for any reason you stop, all benefits are forfeited and you lose every penny you put in. If you die within two years, all your family gets is what you’ve paid in – which may only amount to a few hundred pounds, nowhere near the price of even the simplest cremation. If you’re blessed with long life, at some point the balance of advantage will tip and you’ll be paying in more than the policy’s worth – but if you stop, you lose everything. And even if you die at an ‘optimal’ time so that your family receives more back than you shelled out, the sum still might not cover the full cost of your funeral.

It all sounds too risky to me, especially now I’ve found something different and better: the SafeHands funeral plans endorsed by the National Federation of Funeral Directors. Unlike the above, which seem designed primarily to make money for insurance companies, these offer decent, affordable, and above all reliable services to meet customers’ needs. Essentially, they’re about buying tomorrow’s funeral at today’s prices, either by one-off payment, up to two years of interest-free instalments, or instalments with interest for up to ten years. For folk who’d rather spend money on living than dying, a straightforward Direct Cremation without funeral service comes in at a modest £1695; alternatively, you can pick from four packages of increasing sophistication and cost, (although even the most expensive, at £3595, falls far short of the £6000 – £7000 which some funeral directors charge).

The main advantages of SafeHands plans are that you can choose your own funeral in advance, thus sparing your nearest and dearest; you can change/add to them if you wish, and even leave them un-named so that they can apply to any member of the family; you’re not bound to endless instalments; and they guarantee that when the time comes you’ll get exactly what you paid for, with no nasty surprises or shortfalls. (If you die before you finish paying, your family or estate has six months to come up with the outstanding balance). It seems like such a good deal that Hubcap’s currently considering a ‘Pearl’ for £2945, while I’m still undecided – I may yet leave my body to science, assuming science would want me – although I’m sufficiently impressed to have trained as a Federation funeral celebrant and agent to sell SafeHands plans. Check out my new website if you’d like to know more!