Ken West

My writing is also my story, perhaps less a biography and more a social history; 1950's council house poverty; eleven plus failure; buying broken biscuits from Woolworths;nervously riding my BSA Bantam during the Cuban Missile crisis, but at least I had a job. In a cemetery!

Shrewsbury Cemetery, aged fifteen, watched the bullying of a conchie gardener; destroyed the environment,and the barn owls, using American herbicides; married and bought a new semi. To Wolverhampton, my first managerial post, as head of cemeteries and crematorium; it's not called the Black Country for nothing; negotiated with intimidating childish unions taking their cue from Red Robbo at British Leyland; racial hatred in senior management. Am accused by local maternity hospital of interfering in 'time honoured arrangements', (120 years!) when I replaced the burial of stillbirths in mass graves with individual burial in the 'Babies Memorial Garden'.

Moved to the Lake District, improved the environment through conservation management and brought back the owls; invented woodland (natural) burial and opened the world's first site. Created the first green funerals, promoted cardboard coffins, sent shrouds to Turin, introduced a re-usable coffin, wrote the Charter for the Bereaved and promoted DIY funerals. Call funeral directors gatekeepers and they say I say that they are a rip-off. Away from work, athlete; Northern Veterans 10K road race champion; fell runner; strong and fast on peat bog; poor on steep, rocky descents, but still hold the Stretton Skyline fell race record 27 years later.

Somebody noticed; awarded MBE for services to burial and cremation, and I am grateful. Retired, lifestyle green, organic gardener, godless and childless, in Croydon. Watch natural burial spread worldwide, its virtue defiled by increasing commercialism; me, its godfather,accused of being an eco-warrior and uncompromising. The augur, my wife Ann, says write the definite book on natural burial, so I do. This causes me to reflect on my career of over 100,000 funerals and my conviction that a good funeral is built on awareness. Other people tell me that humour is the only way that people will read about death, so turn some of my story into black humour and write my second book, R.I.P. Off! or: The British Way of Death. Conceived in 1961,it had a confinement of 52 years experience. It's a snapshot in time, when the British started a revolution in funerals, which is continuing across the world.
Now, I'm an anonymous coffin dodger, resident in the town with the oldest population in the UK; Christchurch, a place of virtuous bungalows, where a survivor can manage when half the team dies. Statistics suggest that's me, the physically strong yet physiologically weak male, and my grave in the natural burial plot is purchased; it waits, unvisited. My obituary is embellished when Durham University award me an Honorary MA, and a prescient reporter on the Manchester Guardian pens a line for me, a journeyman writer, to envey in perpetuity; a man who put his body where his mouth is!