*Updated 8th May with video: see below
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect,
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
The need to mark the ending of a life is an instinct common to all traditions, all cultures, and all periods of history.
Usually the privilege of a permanent memorial is reserved for those with means, of course, and for those less well placed in life, in death too, their memory is less likely to be given the honour of remembrance in any material form.
It is only relatively recently that the families of ordinary working people could afford to erect headstones for departed relatives, and the increase in use of cremation means that memorials are now likely to be in the form of plaques or other tokens of tribute, and grief.
Many residents in Barnet have family members laid to rest in Hendon Crematorium.
They may be interred with a headstone, or their ashes may have been scattered there.
If the latter, it is likely that the families have marked their passing with a plaque or perhaps a memorial bench.
It is no doubt the case that when these arrangements were made, it was on the understanding that this was a permanent act of memorial.
If so, the families of those remembered in this way are mistaken, and many of them face the deeply distressing possibility that they will come to the Crematorium grounds to mark an anniversary, or simply to grieve for their loss, and find that the bench has simply disappeared.
We know this because of a short article in the local Times paper this week, in which it was revealed that any benches deemed to have been 'abandoned' will be removed from the grounds. According to the council this is on the grounds of 'health and safety', as many of these memorial items are breaching regulations because they are 'broken, have mould growing on them, or are in a state of disrepair'.
Memorials manager David Aspiris said: “We are concerned some people might visit once a year on anniversaries so we’re making a note of that and keeping the benches in good condition safe.
We can’t say how long they’ll be kept for – I’ve got absolutely no idea – it depends on how much storage we’ve got.
But those which aren’t maintained are clearly not safe, and if something happens health and safety wise, it will be on our shoulders.”
On their shoulders.
Of course there are many thousands of instances every year of death and serious injury resulting from grieving relatives sitting on a bench in a memorial garden, and Mr Aspiris and his colleagues are quite right to interfere in this way.
If only these benches had been maintained to a standard that reaches the level of safety that would allow the memorials to remain. Oh: hang on - why have these benches not been maintained, anyway?
In fact, why has the Crematorium, its incinerators, and its grounds, been neglected, over so many years, by our Tory council?
Why was the Crematorium added, at the last moment, to the DRS/ Re contract, as a 'sweetener' - an inducement to increase the sweaty palmed desires of companies bidding for the business?
Why did our supposedly cash strapped council vote to award £2 million to the Crematorium for improvements, as soon as they had agreed to add it to the tender, having deliberately underinvested in it for so many years?
Who won the contract, Mrs Angry, you may be wondering?
Let me remind you.
Why was the addition of the Crematorium such a deal breaker?
Because in this world, as we know, the only certainties are death, and taxes, and a Capita run Easycrem can make great fat wads of cash from both sources, if given a free reign, and now that Broken Barnet is transformed into Capitaville, that is exactly what the company has: free reign, and a licence to print money.
As explained in this post:
... there is a business plan ready and waiting to be put into action, so as to maximise the level of profit that Capita can extract from our deceased relatives, and our grief.
Of course, the council has already approved increased charges for burials and other related services. But the new plans by Capita? These, as the contract makes clear - if you bother to read it, which our Tory councillors did not - include having more funerals, quicker funerals, floodlit funerals, live streamed funerals, funeral dvds. They will provide services like flower tributes, after marketing them 'sensitively' to the bereaved.
And, as one strongly suspects, the sudden interest in removing memorial benches is part of a wider scheme, to charge families for such forms of remembrance, or probably for 'maintenance'.
Time to make a visit to the Crematorium, and check what was happening.
This is not a place I like to visit, for one very good reason, a personal reason.
When my own mother died, due to a 'misunderstanding' between the undertakers, and the Crematorium, her ashes were scattered, without our consent, in the 'Garden of Remembrance', rather than kept for collection and taken to the Catholic churchyard in Durham where most of my grandmother's family are buried, since they came over from Ireland.
This 'administrative mistake' (pre-Capita) caused me deep distress, and boy, would my mother have been furious. After it happened, I made a visit to the memorial garden, and sat there in tears, on one of the benches, for a long while. It is of course, the sort of place where people do sit, in tears, for a long while.
Yesterday I went there again, reluctantly, as it makes me feel so guilty. I had rung the Crematorium office in the morning to enquire about other relatives interred there, and a very helpful woman had produced a list of their known locations, and took my details, in case, as I had pointed out, there were any attempts to do anything which might affect their remains, or memorials. In the end, it transpired there are no memorials to remove - or so it seems.
Again I sat by the 'garden', and eventually became aware that there were a large number of benches around the edges -some with floral tributes, or cards, or personal items - and they all had laminated notices on them. The distribution of these notices in itself is grossly insensitive, in my view, and intrusive.
Walking around it became clear that these benches are most certainly not in a dangerous condition, nor very old, and the tributes left on many of them are relatively recent.
Normally I would not publish personal details, but in this case I think that the relatives of these benches ought to be alerted -this has a plaque for an Arthur and ?Ena Fitzgerald:
You can see that this bench still has a card from a grandchild, and other rather touching offerings tied to it. Other benches have photos, or religious material - this one below, with a prayer offering from Knock, for Mark and Sadie May, from the Mahon family:
None of these benches are in need of anything other than sanding down and a coat of varnish. Some of them were quite new looking, and it was impossible to see any argument for removing them:
The 'mould' referred to in the article on some of the older benches is actually lichen, and perfectly acceptable, indeed an indication of the ecological value of the surroundings, an area fringed with old trees, and with a tiny brook running through it. The variety of birds in the quieter parts of the grounds speaks of the importance of maintaining the site in its natural state: what chance of that, though, post Capita? Remember that they intend to have the Crematorium grounds listed as an 'open space' - an ominous warning of what is to come.
The notice which is left on these benches claims they have been 'identified' for removal due to the 'development of this area for further memorialisation'. It says nothing about their state of repair, and it would suggest very strongly that these benches are being removed on a false pretext, and in order to facilitate Capita's own ambitions for income generation. No doubt they will try to impose charges for replacements, and maintenance. Why not? That's how they make profit for their shareholders.
The dead have always been a valuable commodity, of course.
In the early nineteenth century, the risk of graverobbing by 'resurrection men', who made their living selling corpses for anatomisation by medical schools, was a real fear amongst the bereaved, with some graveyards driven to hire full time watchmen.
Now we have private companies like Capita, at the invitation of our Tory councillors, preying on the opportunities offered by their lucrative new contract.
From Easycouncil to Easycrem: the logical conclusion, after all.
I'd known my grandfather Charles, who died during the war, was interred at Hendon, but I had imagined he would have been cremated, like everyone else in the family. But records showed he was buried, in a plot located in a far corner of the grounds.
The woman in the office had helpfully pointed out, giving me a rather disconcerting look, that my grandfather was seven foot under, and there was room for another burial. Clearly she had no idea I already have the promise of a blogger's discounted pre-used grave, written into the Capita contract.
It was a long walk to find my grandfather's burial place, trailing along a rather melancholy route, through the Chinese and Greek sections - the benches there considerably older, but noticeably not festooned with threatening notices.
Impossible to tell which of the unmarked graves is his, only within a small area, right by the far edge, beautifully left to its own devices, surrounded by ancient oaks, watched only by a large crow, sitting on one of the headstones. I stood in the late afternoon sunlight, suddenly touched by the proximity to a grandfather who died long before I was born, and spent most of his life away from home, at sea, a virtual stranger to his own children, and never known by any of his grandchildren.
A tranquil place, as yet untouched by the grasping intrusion of Capita's development plans, and only spoilt by the PA noise wafting across from that other corporate giveaway, the rugby stadium given to Saracens by our Tory leader, at a peppercorn rent, while they clean up with a sponsorship deal from the former Nazi supporting Allianz insurance company.
Et in arcadia ego.
No record of my grandmother's memorial, nothing for my aunt, or my uncle, or my great uncle Percy, who died after being gassed in the trenches of the first world war: disappeared without trace.
Does it matter, leaving no trace?
I think so. That's why I put a headstone for both my parents, and all the other members of my family who have no other memorial, up in that churchyard in Durham. My father's ashes I scattered partly there, and partly in Cornwall, in a place of significance to him. His own garden of remembrance, unsullied by the hands of Capita. When I pass through there, I rejoice in the fact that now he is part of the landscape he loved so much, in the wild, and free. But his name is recorded elsewhere.
When someone dies, you need somewhere to go, to mark your loss, and remember their lives.
Otherwise, what are we, once we are gone? A name in a ledger, forgotten.
And if for some people, their way of marking their loss is a fading card, or some artificial flowers tied to a bench, who has the right to remove that?
As I left the Crematorium, I turned left out of the entrance - and something caught my eye, while I was regarding the delapidated state of the original Gatehouse and offices. A hole in the fence, and then - a curious sight, captured in the photograph at the beginning of this post.
A hoard of hijacked memorial benches, at least a couple of dozen of them, stashed in a dark corner, some with plaques still visible, and still displaying tokens from family members.
This is where memorial benches go to die, in Capitaville: held to ransom, and then quietly disposed of, if no one pays the price.
And here, in perfect form, we have a metaphor of everything that is wrong, in Broken Barnet: a devolution of responsiblity to the private sector, where everything has a price, if it must survive.
This is how we live now, in this borough, thanks to the Tory administration which brokered the billion pound contracts with Capita, and used my dead grandmother, and grandfather, and mother, and maybe yours too, to seal the deal.
If you think you have relatives buried or remembered here, you are advised to phone the Crapitorium and make sure they respect the last resting place or memorial of your loved ones: 020 8359 3370.
Oh, if you have problems getting through, as I did ... the phone lines? Also run by Capita.
And if you are not happy about the use of your family members to boost Capita's dividends for its shareholders, you know what to do, don't you?
Don't vote for the same Tory council, on May 22nd. Vote for a Labour administration, and hope for a better future, and a past that is honoured, and remembered, rather than exploited for the last penny of profit.
*Updated 8th May:
Here is a press release from Barnet Alliance, followed by a brilliant musical tribute to Capitaville, with footage filmed this weekend in the Crematorium, sung by an enthusiastic choir of residents including the marvellous John Sullivan - Selling our souls to Capita:
Barnet Alliance for Public Services
How crass, how insensitive, how money-grubbing does an organisation have to be before the press will expose it? Capita’s heartless removal of memorial benches from Hendon Crematorium is another outrage of privatisation that deserves more than a bland notice in the online local press.
Barnet Alliance for Public Services has fought against Barnet Council’s ‘One Barnet’ programme because it recognised that private companies put their profits before the people’s interests. Bad enough when our Conservative council resorts to outsourcing services for the most vulnerable people in the community to enable private companies to make bigger profits out of care, but can the current councillors sink any lower than allowing Capita to squeeze extra profits out of grieving families?
The facts have been presented in the Broken Barnet blog by Mrs Angry and the Barnet Eye blog by Roger Tichborne, both well known in Barnet. But Capita is a national, indeed a multinational, company, and people throughout the country should be made aware of its principles, its lack of ethics, its callous attitude. This is what you get when you privatise council services.
We are two weeks away from local elections on 22 May and people should be shown what will happen if they return Tories to power in local government.
This issue, a striking example of how services to residents will be run when privatised, is also highlighted in this video. The song, performed by resident John Sullivan and the Barnet People's Choir, is about the £16 million that Barnet Council told residents Capita was investing in the borough's IT systems … when in fact the council was actually giving Capita £16 million of taxpayers’ money for this purpose.
Mr Cameron sees Barnet as a flagship borough, spending taxpayers’ money to line shareholders’ pockets. The facts are easily available. The question is will Barnet residents allow this to continue, or will they use their vote to change their fate?