Simon Kelner: With GPS, you know where the bodies are buried

Kelner's view


It's an amazing thing, GPS tracking. Yes, this is the American-run satellite (Global Positioning System to use its full name) which powers everything from satellite navigation on cars to air traffic control to those gadgets which tell you how far you are from the bunker at the front of the green.

It's also a way of keeping tabs on you from here to eternity. Literally. We may have reservations about the amount of information that can be discovered about our whereabouts while we're alive, but we can still be on the radar even when we're dead.

Allow me to explain. Last week, I had the privilege of attending the humanist funeral of an old colleague of mine, which took place in a natural burial ground on a hillside near Cardiff. I didn't quite know what to expect, having been only to Welsh funerals where the choir sings Cwm Rhondda and the readings are heavily laced with foreboding.

Anyway, we were led to a field where, in the bright sunlight and with a warm breeze blowing in off the Bristol Channel, we listened to jazz music played on a portable music system and heard a series of warm, humorous and moving speeches from close friends and relatives of the deceased.

The woman who led the proceedings acknowledged that, while there were those in the congregation who would have their own ideas as far as faith was concerned, we all could agree on common human values. It was an affecting ceremony, no less laden with meaning and significance than if it had been at Cardiff Cathedral.

The people who spoke were able to share personal, intimate recollections in a relaxed, natural environment. I particularly enjoyed the reminiscences of a friend who said that the man we were burying, Dudley, had introduced him to Seneca, Voltaire and Marstons Pedigree.

And even in the midst of this terrible summer, the sun beat down on us throughout. Were we meant to thank God? I am not sure, but Dudley would have appreciated the dark humour of the person I was standing next to, who said it was a good job the burial had not happened 24 hours earlier, when it had been pouring down. "That would have cast quite a gloom over the proceedings," he said.

But even in his sardonic observation, he was right to suggest that, actually, there was a light-hearted, celebratory aspect to events, something which, combined with the verdant splendour of the setting, made me think this was quite a nice way to go. Laid to rest in completely unspoilt surroundings. In fact, so natural was this burial ground that none of the graves was marked: no plaques, no tributes, and the only flowers were wild ones.

So how do you know where your loved ones are interred? Easy. GPS tracking! Apparently, a digital chip is buried with the coffin which enables identification of the spot where the body is buried. And, as someone pointed out, we found it hard to track down Dudley when he was alive. Perhaps we'll have more luck in the hereafter.

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