Once upon a time, when we lived in Broken Barnet, it was sometimes possible, or even necessary, to write about the things that happened in the style of parody, or satire.
Now that we live in Capitaville, of course, we have moved beyond the choice of periodic satire to a state where life has become devoid of irony, or any sense of the absurd. In evidence of this, I ask you to contemplate the following revelations from the newly published DRS contract, a document which has been put online by Barnet Council and used as proof of a commitment to the principles of transparency and open government.
Open government may be the 'default mode' of this council, in the fevered imaginings of delusional senior officers, but transparent this document most certainly is not: see here
The pages that have not been redacted wholesale are blacked out with a marker pen, the meaning of the content made incomprehensible, censored, to use a metaphor that comes easily today, Remembrance Day - like my grandfather's postcards from the trenches, for fear of betraying the secrets of war. And it is a war, despite the attempts by the same delusional officers to set up a temporary truce with bloggers in a sort of virtual No Mans Land.
Mrs Angry has no particular desire to sit and navigate her way through the redacted collection of corporate claptrap without a specific purpose, but yesterday afternoon, she did sit and read through part of the section dealing with the plans by Capita to maximise the revenue and development potential of Hendon Crematorium.
As previously reported, the Crematorium was added as an afterthought to the DRS contract for a significant reason: as a 'sweetener' to attract the attentions of would be bidders.
Crematoria are attractive to outsourcing companies because of the guaranteed income from the lucrative marketing opportunity that is death.
And not just death, because, as we know, death is not the end, in Capitaville: there is the life of the world to come, a paradise comprising even more marketing opportunities for our new masters, who have come to judge both the living and the dead, and weigh up the potential there may be to extract from those in the process of mourning, or having had the impertinence to try to evade their clutches by dying.
The process of mourning, and the business of profit based upon it, was a subject famously written about by Jessica Mitford, in 'The American Way of Death', a study of the obsequious predations of the funeral trade, its targeting of the bereaved and ruthless inflation of the cost of burial, with unnecessary services and accoutrements.
Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel 'The Loved One' had already tapped into the rich seam of grotesque material that this subject supplies, with its portrayal of 'Whispering Glades', the Happier Hunting Ground, and Mr Joyboy, the mortician and embalmer with a notable skill for leaving his clients with a permanent smile ...
In truly horrible detail, and with a commendable accompaniment of black humour , Mitford portrayed a world where the exploitation of grief and of the fear of dying, accompanied by unscrupulous sales practices and a grossly amusing euphemistic world of 'pre-need' arrangements, there was, there is still, a range of services where the reality of death is cosmetically enhanced, or rather embalmed, so as to facilitate the grasping ambitions of a hugely profitable industry.
Still: that would never happen here, would it?
Oh yes, it would - and it is, here, and now, now that - ah, in the midst of life, we are in Capitaville.
Hidden away in the DRS contract, is Schedule 37, the commercial development plan, which tells us with great glee of the way in which Capita Symonds intends to make money out of us, here and in the hereafter.
Wade through the marvellously entitled 'Assessment of the opportunity Pipeline' with its 'PROSPECTS' - this is their aspirational marketing range - and its un-factored pipeline nemesis, along with the dreaded 'SUSPECTS' - but don't worry, you can convert SUSPECTS into PROSPECTS, presumably with the same evangelical strategies as Christians Against Poverty, or BT in their 'Vital Vision' programme?
Then we get to the nitty gritty. Various marketing proposals specific to Barnet. Each introduced in a section headed The Opportunity, followed by 'Making it happen', and then a note informing you that this is a 'Monopolistic Market Penetration growth idea'. Bit of a tease, because these aspirational penetrations may come to nothing, of course. Always disappointing. Don't be embarrassed, Capita Symonds, could happen to anyone.
Now then: Hendon Crematorium. What is The Opportunity there? Oh, plenty, plenty of Opportunities. Take your pick.
Let's see. Well, we already know that Capita Symonds have announced they want to designate the cemetery grounds as 'an open space, and have their greedy mitts on the historic Gatehouse entrance, and want to install a cafe there, to enhance your bereavement experience. And it seems there is further development potential there, in surplus land and buildings. Quite how they think they will get permission to change the use on Green Belt Land is puzzling ... ah, but then, Capita Symonds is in charge of planning now, is it not?
What new proposals do we have?
Flowers. Ah. Nothing to object to here, surely? A service to place flowers on memorials, on specified dates, take photos and email them to the bereaved. Fine. How will they do this? An annual fee, and discreet sensitive marketing of the bereaved.
Unfortunately, the report notes, some bereaved families may insist on laying their own flowers, at first. Once the novelty wears off though: kerrching! They will access their records of those associated with the last ten years of funerals and target them for the new 'Opportunity'.
But what about your pre-need needs, deathwise, that is to say, for your post-life resting place? Can you pre-book your pre-need place in eternity?
Maybe not in eternity, but in Capitaville yes, as this will create an infinity of further Opportunities for you, your grieving families and on and on to the generations that follow, all being milked of their inheritance in order to pay for your post-need placement, flowers, and maintenance costs. Nothing to dwell on, simply like pre-ordering drinks at the theatre bar, when waiting to see Les Mis. But with even less of a happy ending, though hopefully less singing, other than choirs of heavenly angels, depending on your ultimate destination.
This Opportunity proposes to increase revenue from grave purchases by an astonishing 40%. Not an increase - a premium. Especially if you want what they coyly refer to as 'a virgin grave'. This is not, as you might hope, a last, chaste lingering embrace, spending eternity in the shared last resting place of, say, one of the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus, (not sure all of them would qualify, tbh), but a grave that is not pre-used by a resident of Broken Barnet, who presumably might have to be turfed out or shoved to one side to make room for a new customer.
Capita Symonds note, with pursed lips, that some people are buying their last resting place in advance, laying their towels by the pool of eternal life, when they are not only a. not dead yet and b. worse still, not resident in the borough.
This practice is apparently frowned upon, in Capitaville, rather like the misuse of a heavenly CPZ in the celestial equivalent of Hampstead Garden Suburb, and of course any undue interference in the penetration of this market is unwelcome. Grave hogging will be forbidden, from now on:
'We will introduce strict measures to ensure this stops'.
Of course lack of space for burials is mirrored by lack of space in the schedules of a busy crematorium for funerals. Capita Symonds needs to maximise business, and have more funerals, therefore ... the company proposes to make funerals shorter. Yes, really.
They feel worried, however, at the 'public and political' reaction to this idea, so will be doing so 'incrementally'.
Marvellous: hurry along there, please, Madam, dry your tears, and pull yourself together: there's a queue forming under the entrance to the Capita Symonds 'Last Orders' bar and cafe.
Longer opening hours, too, to 'squeeze', as they put it, the service around the current constraints. In winter, lighting will be made available for later slots: marvellous Opportunities, one would have thought, for Halloween themed funerals, with catering?
An even more radical Opportunity now. Burials, you see, are frankly less of an Opportunity for business potential than cremations. This is because burials take too long, use too much valuable space, and do not provide the easier profits that cremations can deliver.
Capita Symonds therefore proposes to encourage the take up of cremation only packages. Even this has been carefully evaluated. We learn that each cremation takes between two to two and a half hours, an inconveniently long time. And that is not including the 'initial heating phase'.
This may be addressed, they think, but by taking on more staff to 'achieve business growth'. By such means they will be able to send at least one more resident of Capitaville on their last journey each day, and be quids in.
How about 'Making this happen', then Mrs Angry, I hear you ask?
They intend to consult faith groups, and 'other celebrants' ie those with no faith, such as humanists, whom they believe only live in Watford and Harrow. Watford certainly is a godforsaken sort of place, isn't it?
They also show immense sensitivity, in all the wrong places, by worrying about those faith groups who frown upon cremation, even though it is economically more productive, including Roman Catholics - a strange misapprehension, which may have been the case a century or so ago, but certainly not now.
Capita Symonds, you are in grave danger - oh: but you know what I mean - of missing the enormous potential incendiary Opportunity of the immense, and usually overlooked Catholic population of Broken Barnet. We worry more, in fact, about the prospect of roasting in hell: but no doubt Capita has a Joint Venture down there already, which will make the transition less painful.
There is more.
After you have been to a funeral, and enjoyed a good weep in the chapel, sung a few hymns, and strolled outside to admire the floral tributes - be honest, have you never felt that you wish you could relive the experience, in the comfort of your own home, and your flat screen HD tv?
Well: if this next Opportunity is agreed, that is exactly what you may be able to do soon, courtesy of Capita. Yes, live streaming of funerals, and dvds of that special ceremony will be available to support an improved at home bereavement experience. Fixed position cameras will be installed in the chapels, in 'a discreet way', 'sympathetic to the buildings' structures', and 'unobtrusive from the point of the bereaved' ... Customers will be given passwords to access the funerals of their 'loved ones'. Again, a terrific idea: why go at all to pay your respects when you could watch the ceremony live on your i-phone? The fewer who attend in person, the faster the turnover time, remember.
One sentence here more than any other, perhaps, in the entire document betrays the real philosopy of this company.
Referring to the Humanist representatives they intend to consult the document states:
Our proposal is to effectively separate the processing of the deceased from the service and rituals that accompany the funeral of whatever type, where this is possible.
The processing of the deceased.
Yes, put to one side the rituals of whatever type, that might interfere with the pursuit of profit. The last rites of the dead are a procedure, a process, a logistical challenge.
Everything and everyone now is a commodity, a piece of stock.
And one last thing.
Friends at Capita: Mrs Angry takes her hat off to you.
You do have a sense of humour, after all.
In the worst possible taste, of course.
Ploughing through all these monstrous marketing proposals, made near impossible by the relentless redactions, and dreadful scanning of the document, Mrs Angry's eye was caught by one tiny sentence in an obscure section relating to, oh dear - the 'capitalised' pre-selling of virgin graves ...
On page 182, under the 'deliverability' concerns of this proposed Opportunity, there is one very serious issue noted, and I quote:
Risk of some backlash from blogging community which can be mitigated by offering cheaper retained grave as a pre-purchase option.
In other words, readers, Capita is offering an Opportunity to Mrs Angry and her fellow citizen journalists, in the shape of a discounted grave in Hendon Crematorium, in the hope that they will embrace the new era of Capitalised post-life support services.
Mrs Angry imagines that this is the sort of offer that she is unable to refuse.
And this is actually in the contract: forget all the fuss about the unpredented publicity agreement - how many contracts have burial clauses for local bloggers?
Or have Capita taken out some other sort of contract, in order to ensure maximum take-up of this once in a lifetime Opportunity?
Of course the subtext, sadly, and inescapably, is that they want to see us deceased, and processed, silenced, and safely out of the way.
Over my dead body.