Nana was laid to rest in Hendon Cemetery. All I ever heard was tales of how lovely she was. She was kind, she was a great cook and a seamstress. She'd lived in Milling Road in Burnt Oak between the second world war and 1960, the family had just bought her a house in Marion Road, Mill Hill (an area known as Poets Corner). Nana never got to move in because the work wasn't finished.
She'd had a difficult life, my Grandfather, a Dubliner, was scarred by his experiences in the first world war. He had been gassed and never properly recovered. He died prematurely in 1948, most likely as a result of his experiences.
And there the story ended, she was laid to rest and hopefully has gone on to better things. My Aunty Audrey is the only of her offspring still around. My parents are buried in the same cemetery and when we visit the graves, we do a tour and visit our parents, grandparents, aunties uncles and godparents. My former business partner and best friend Ernie Ferebee, who helped me set up the studios I run is also laid to rest in Hendon.
You may wonder what all this long, sentimental preamble is all about. Well last year, Barnet Council handed over the management of the cemetery to Capita, a private company, who see "cemetery management" as a great way to make a profit. I wondered exactly how this may manifest itself. Today we got the first clue. The Hendon Times printed the most crass, revolting article I've ever seen (and that is saying something) in any serious newspaper.
The headline states "Unkempt memorial benches to be destroyed in Hendon Crematourium" I read with horror the article that followed.
Benches that have been deemed "abandoned" will be removed from a crematorium unless the owners come forward. People have been given two months notice to claim benches dedicated to their loved ones at Hendon Crematorium, in Holders Hill Road. Barnet Borough Council claim many of the benches breach health and safety regulations as they are broken, have mould growing from them or are in a state of disrepair.
I simply could not believe what I was reading. You see these so called "abandoned" benches were bought by relatives of those who have passed away and given to the cemetery so that elderly mourners can have some rest and those of us a bit younger can have some contemplation time. They have not simply been dumped on the site. The council is meant to care for and maintain them. If they are broken or have mould growning on them, it is because the Council or Capita have not maintained them. The article also implies that perfectly good benches, necessary for mourners to take a rest have also been removed. It clearly doesn't occur to the plutocrats running the council or the numpties from Capita who have taken over, that many elderly mourners do not have cars. For them it may e a long walk to a grave, as the site is large, and a rest is essential.
You may wonder why the benches are being removed. I have. The journalist writing the article clearly didn't bother to ask. Could it be to squeeze more graves in or to flog a whole load of new benches.
The article also says
Those are in a good condition will be kept in storage until the owner comes forward to collect them. So far, 90 per cent of benches have been claimed.
Which I think is horrible. Just suppose my Aunty Audrey and the rest of the family had bought a bench in memory of Nana a few years ago. Audrey is in her eighties (sorry Aunty for spilling the beans, you only look 21!). How would she feel if she got this phonecall
"Hello, this is Giles from Capita. We are now running Hendon Cemetery on behalf of Barnet Council and our records show that you are the owner of an abandoned bench. Please come and collect it immediately otherwise we'll have to dispose of it"
Can you imagine how she would feel? I know exactly how I would feel. Interestingly enough I contacted the Leader of the Council Richard Cornelius about putting a bench in Mill Hill Park in memory of my parents a couple of years ago. No one got back to the council after I confirmed my interest. In some ways I am pleased as I think I would blow a fuse if I got that call.
The sad truth is that Barnet have flogged off the management of the cemetery to turn a quick buck. In doing so they've disprespected every family in Barnet with a loved one in a local authority cemetery. I cannot for a second think what sort of politician could do such a thing or could let the decent people who have generously donated the benches be treated so shabbily.
I have to also ask how the Hendon Times could have such an off day, to allow such crass behaviour to go unchallenged. I will be writing to the editor to demand that a proper piece of journalism is done on this issue, which looks at the issue properly and takes account of the feelings of the people in Barnet, not the shareholders of Capita.
This is what One Barnet really means. It is all about Profit and not people. The first act of One Barnet was to sell my dead granny to turn a quick buck. I will not rest until we, the people of Barnet get her back and give her final resting place the dignity and respect it deserves.