8th May 2012 – my first day. I was based in Brighton and arrived at 08:20 to start for 08:30. I was greeted by a fellow Funeral Service Operative (FSO), ‘You’re late, boy’ were his words. Although the official start time was 08:30, we started at 07:30 to clean the vehicles consisting of a hearse, two limousines and three ambulances. Introductions were made with the other ‘lads’ and I was given a tour of the premises, finishing in the staff room and shown my locker where the nameplate ‘HENRY BIEBER’ was emblazoned. I knew I was in for a tough time with my mop-style haircut and swiftly took a trip to the barbershop, although ‘HENRY BIEBER’ remained for five years regardless of my hairstyle.
I didn’t expect to work for a funeral directors where six of the eight FSOs were under the age of 30. One thing I did notice was all of them had big bushy beards. Now, if you have met me, you will know my face is always clean shaven. That is not necessarily out of choice, though, I simply cannot grow facial hair. I would return to work after a week off, without shaving, thinking I’ve grown this impeccable goatee, only to be met with ‘it’s windy out there, Henry, it will blow away!’ or ‘Put a bit of milk on there and get the cat to lick it off’. I never attempted to grow a beard again.
I remember one day I was the hearse driver for a funeral in Brighton. On my return to the Hub I was informed by the manager that a member of the public had called the office stating they had witnessed ‘a young lad joy riding’ in the hearse. That ‘young lad joy riding’ was obviously me. A member of the public had honestly thought I had stolen the hearse and decided to cruise around the centre of Brighton.
There were often times people would make indirect comments about my youth. ‘Are you on work experience?’ was the most frequent. This did not bother me in the slightest. In fact, I felt it made families warm to me, a sort of ice-breaker. I would be attending a private address, the family would open the door expecting to see an ‘older’ (I use the word ‘older’ instead of elderly, it saves me getting a slap) funeral director but seeing a younger man (or boy) would take their mind off the grieving process for a short period of time. It is always a story I enjoy telling, even to this day. Now, I often get ‘Is it your father’s business that you have taken over?’ to which I reply, ‘I am Mr Henry George King of H G King Funeral Services’ and tell the story again.
From quite early on in my career, I knew I wanted to be a Funeral Director. The top hat, the tailcoat, the pocket watch. I could picture myself wearing the attire, walking in front of the hearse and making everyone stop and look. I also knew I wanted to be in control of making sure everything run smoothly on the day. A leader. When things do not go according to plan, using my initiative to problem-solve. There would often be a divide between Funeral Directors and FSOs. Us and them. Funeral Directors are superior. I knew I could gain the respect of the FSOs, being one myself, if I became a Funeral Director. I would not relinquish my car cleaning, on call or other FSO duties. I still wanted to be ‘one of the lads’. No matter how much I tried convincing the management to allow me to conduct a funeral, it would not happen.
I used to cover the Co-ordinator when they were on holiday. Organising the personnel for each funeral and collection and transferring of deceased for our 12 branches. I decided to put matters into my own hands and put myself down as the conductor for a funeral the following day. I did not ask or tell anyone; I knew management would deter me. ‘It’s too late’, I said, ‘I have already spoken with the family and clarified the arrangements with them’.
I conducted my first funeral on the 4th September 2015 at the age of 21.
I often say, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’. In my case, I asked and asked and asked and I simply did not get. Which leaves me to end this blog with the following quote by Jim Rohn:
‘If you really want to do something, you will find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.’