It seems impossible to watch daytime TV at the moment without being continuously assailed by elderly actors and celebrities reminding you that you need to take care of those “final expenses”. Whilst this obsession with paying a few quid a week to pay for your own funeral is not new, it does seem to have skipped a few generations (Message to The Lad: when “my time comes” you can pick up the bill for the “lovely send-off”, it’s the least you can do to pay back all those years of spending money I forked out for you). The modern approach to paying for your own funeral is not half as entertaining as the one favoured by the working class in nineteenth century Britain. That was the great age of Friendly and Burial societies, where you paid the equivalent of a few quid into a fund and got in return, not just a decent send-off, but a good time as well, whilst you were still around to enjoy it.
Browsing through an old copy of The Leeds Times the other day (as one does), I came across this announcement concerning the activities of local Friendly and Burial Societies. Organisations such as the Honourable Order Of The Peaceful Dove and the Ancient Order Of Druids saw no contradiction between describing themselves as “Secret Orders” and advertising their activities in the columns of the local newspaper. Once you had paid your “subs” into the kitty, you not only got a good send off and a few pound for you surviving relatives, you also got regular dinners, useful conversation, and – given that meetings were always held in pubs – a goodly amount of ale as well.
However good their “lifetime payment guarantees” and the like are, I can’t imagine that many pensioners these days, after paying their weekly subscription, go home “highly pleased with a well spent day”.