Death, taxes and gravedigging

Only two things in life, it is said, are certain – death and taxes. So why not make a living out of death? That’s what these two do (rather successfully, as it happens) and I chance across them in my local graveyard (as one does when one finds oneself at a loose end on a Thursday afternoon).

They are the gravediggers, the forgotten men who dig out 6 x 2 spaces in readiness for the sombre occasion.

I say 6 x 2, but apparently the job has become harder of late. Caskets, you see, have got bigger as society has got, well, let’s not be PC about it: fatter. In the “olden” days the average width of a coffin was 20 inches. It’s now 26 inches. Yes, they now have diggers to do the bulk of the work, but the inside still needs squaring off in the traditional way with a shovel.

As for the term “six feet under”, well, it’s more like four really. Which is logical when you think about it. You’d be digging your own grave otherwise!

Each grave takes approximately 90 minutes to dig out, and these guys average 38 a week, all over Cheshire and North Wales. This was the last dig of the day – the fifth. Fortunately there’s enough space here to get the JCB in, but that’s not always the case. Many graveyards are simply so tightly packed with the dead that it’d be impossible to get the mechanical digger in without knocking over headstones…which means a complete hand dig.

With graveyard space filling up fast, these days it’s a lot easier to be buried where you want to be. A growing number are laid to rest in their own gardens, but it comes at a cost. When you sell your house, its the law that for the next hundred years you must declare to your prospective purchaser that someone is buried there. Understandably this can impact on the sale price, and I am told a story about a lady from Malpas in North Wales who decided to comply with her late husband’s dying wish to be buried on his farm.

Everything was fine until it came to sell up and move on. At which point the value of the farm (complete with dead husband) had deteriorated by the trifling matter of half a million pounds!

Rather than suffer the property hit the lady in question did what any reasonable financially astute person would do. She had her husband dug up and cremated. Well wouldn’t you for half a million pounds? And one thing’s for certain – the taxman will have got his slice!