I had an interesting but brief discussion with a woman I met yesterday. Asked about her occupation, she replied ‘I make coffins and caskets.’ I evinced what I think is genuine interest, and it was obvious that she enjoys her job. There is a difference between the two, caskets are a simple rectangular shape, and also tend to have hinged lids, sometimes in two halves, so that the upper or lower half of the body can be open to view separately. I imagine that it is mostly only the upper half which is open on its own, I can’t think many viewers at a wake or funeral would want to see only the deceased’s legs.

Coffins are the traditional coffin shape, surprise, surprise, being widest about the shoulders and narrower at the feet. This makes sense, uses less timber, but I wonder if there is another reason perhaps to do with the metaphysical. Coffins also have lids which are generally screwed down, maybe they are used more in societies where ‘viewings’ are not routine.

I asked about environmentally friendly coffins, and she took out her phone to show me photos of their latest range of cardboard caskets. These were decorated with tasteful designs, printed onto the cardboard and laminated over. Pink with roses, blue with swans or doves, or a design featuring frangipani blossoms and bamboo. You can even customise your own, or I guess more likely your relatives might do so after the event. The ultimate pre-planning would be to decorate your own coffin though. They can be drawn or painted on, or you could stick on photos and other memorabilia, and then they are laminated over the top. Surprisingly, the cardboard coffins are more expensive than their wooden counterparts, which doesn’t somehow seem right. Ultimately of course they are all either buried or burned, which has always seemed to me to be a waste of both money and resources. I know there is a trend towards ‘woodland’ burials, where the body is wrapped simply in a shroud, where local laws and regulations permit, and I can see no problem with this.

We also talked about the fact that coffins and caskets are now having to be made bigger, to accommodate the fact that people are bigger, and more likely to be obese. This, sadly, is not something which is going to change quickly.

As we parted I commented that she was obviously enthusiastic about her work, and she tossed back a reply which I suspect she had used before –  ‘people are dying to see my work!’