Student sets out to review everything in existence. Fails miserably.
Alex is back and this time he’s worrying about death.
If there is one constant in life, it is the knowledge that after you reach your mid twenties you’ve pretty much lived as long as nature intended. The remaining years of existence are just a slow spiral into heart disease, blindness, dementia and loss of bowel control. And while this may be disheartening, the one consolation prize at the end of the ordeal is your lavish and expensive funeral.
As funeral prices continue to soar, it may be time to copy the strategy of the witches of the Discworld, and arrange your funeral at least two days before you die; as it’s the most expensive thing you’ll ever have paid for since you brought your car, you might as well turn up for the blessed thing. That way you get to say all the things you really wanted to say to your relatives, leave the party prematurely without paying the bill and then it’s off to eternal slumber six feet under.
Or is it? Never mind the cost of funerals, Britain is in the grip of a burial crisis, according to a study published last month by the BBC. I surveyed 358 out of almost 700 local authorities across England on the amount of room they have left in their cemeteries. The results were very grave (Adam’s note: “oh Jesus Christ”) – almost half said burial space would run out within the next 20 years, while one in four said that a ‘No Vacancies’ sign would be going up in the next decade. Several councils said there was already no room left. The figures are particularly striking given that three in four people already opt for cremation.
A messy mix of convoluted legislation and human emotion means little has been done to find a solution to alleviate the space problem. The report has already led to renewed calls for the reuse of graves in cemeteries. The practice is already in place at the City of London Cemetery but the rest of the country is reluctant to follow; maybe it’s because you have to exhume the previous person and then dig the grave twice as deep so the new person can fit as well. The main opposition to this idea is that obviously it’s a sure fire way to incur the wrath of the dead and bring upon the well overdue zombie apocalypse which will soon destroy our island nation.
(Or else improve it beyond our wildest dreams!)
But despite the fact that there is no evidence the practise has released hordes of evil beings eating our brains (we have the Daily Mail to do that, BOOM!) tampering with graves tends not to be a vote winner, meaning that councils usually just build more cemeteries. However, many people who like their countryside, oh I don’t know, free of the cheery sight of headstones, are branding this same old approach as a waste of money. Dr Julie Rugg from the Cemetery Research Group at the University of York says “the biggest problem is a failure of nerve by councillors; politicians are very anxious about the adverse publicity attached to this particular issue.”
It seems then that once again our nation is encountering a problem that can only be solved by politicians sacrificing their political careers for the good of the people.
(And then he said “for the good of the people”!)
The reusing of burial plots is an emotive issue but Dr Rugg said there are several myths about the process, which would only involve graves that are more than 75 years old. “When we are talking about old graves, we’re talking about empty graves where the last tenant has departed – there is nothing left,” she said. “The impression is given somehow that we’re thinking about moving bodies – we’re not, because actually for the most part there’s nothing left. They’ve decomposed; all we’re talking about is empty space.” The Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for burial law, said the situation is ‘under constant review’, but it has refused to introduce a policy on reuse, leaving cemeteries in limbo.
On the other hand, Nicky Whichelow from Green Acres Woodland Burials (which offer burials in parkland sites across England), says that “reusing graves is not the answer. That is such an emotional thing to ask people to go through.” Ms Whichelow believes other options should be explored before resorting to reusing graves; “it is about a sense of place. If you travel five or ten minutes away you got acres and acres of woodland that people can use.”
This sounds reasonable but should be taken with a pinch of salt for two reasons:
(This is Salcey forest in Northamptonshire. Now who’s overreacting about the whole zombie thing?)
So what to do? Neither of these solutions is long term and will inevitably lead to us running out of space again. There is however, a solution that everyone has seemed to overlook, and that is the Viking method of burial.
Are you picturing it? Your coffin is reverently placed in a boat (or longboat, preference at the customer’s discretion) filled with the possessions that you’ll need in the afterlife, another way of annoying the relatives, and gently pushed out to sea. Then all the mourners take up their bows, and pausing only to aim, set loose their flaming arrows onto the vessel. As the flames take hold, the majestic yet ethereal sight of the burning craft disappears into the mist, and the countryside is saved.