The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Gnome, sweet gnome

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

If multiculturalism and meritocracy have undermined or overwhelmed Britishness, I have to confess that I’m all for it. We’re not the country we were twenty years ago, and all the better for it. Now that discrimination is taboo, barriers between us have fallen and we all appreciate, enjoy and indulge each other so much more.

Did the British invent snobbery? They probably can’t lay exclusive claim, but they’ve always made an especially good fist of it. Does it live on in this new Age of Diversity? Well, it may not arch its eyebrow quite as disdainfully as it did, but it’s always been subtle and insidious and, yes, its delicate sneer is still detectable.

Where, for example, do you stand on the decoration of graves? Especially children’s graves? I’m talking solar-powered angels, windchimes, smiley plastic flowers, twee-wee cherubs, big-eyed teddies—you know the stuff. Where do you stand on all that?

I’ve heard people who should know better wrinkle their nicely-bred noses in revulsion, then launch into a diatribe about roadside shrines, Dianafication, trash, we never used to do all this—AND NOW WE’VE GOT BLOODY JADE!

Gnomification is Cynthia’s word for it. She, like me, is wholly indulgent. We enjoy it.

Simplicity. Restraint. Decorum. Are those virtues? Or are they merely the obverse of repression, inhibition, an undeveloped heart? Why bother debating it? Can we not agree just to suspend our critical faculties and let others do their thing? In the immortal words of Mehitabel, wotthehell wotthehell.

There was a good and moving piece about this in the Spectator at the end of January by the eminently humane and inclusive Matthew Parris:

I was walking along Limehouse Causeway, a narrow street running close to the Thames in East London. It was about half past eight in the morning, I was short of sleep and feeling temporarily annoyed with, oh, nothing in particular — just everything. Approaching a junction I saw from some distance that the pedestrian railings hugging this corner were a mass of flowers and paper.

That irritated me. Presumably a memorial to somebody who had died nearby. Sad, no doubt, but we never used to make roadside shrines like this in England and the habit has always struck me as mawkish and somehow pagan. Getting closer, it became clear that the whole corner had been turned into a crematorium-style display, with masses of blossoms, trinkets, letters, soft toys and the like. My grumpiness increased. ‘Sweep it all away,’ I thought. ‘Death is a private thing. Let people mourn privately. Whatever happened to our English reserve?’

He stops to read some of the cards:

The longest tribute was stuck to a lamp-post, a whole letter, written in an unsophisticated hand, addressed to young Kane — an outpouring of affection and grief, starting with: ‘Kane, we can’t believe your acctually gone everybody thought you was going to pull through…

He discovers that Kane was 15 or 16. He was riding his moped when it was hit by a car and burst into flames, trapping him.

I took a closer look at the whole display. There were crash helmets, teddy bears, T-shirts, letters, cards, and a good £100-worth of flowers. You could hardly see the cruel steel railings beneath. Feeling now too moved for comfort, and resolving to return and make some notes, I walked on … As I fumbled for the keys, and thought of Kane Theodore, and the flowers and cards … my eyes began to well with tears I simply could not control. I had to turn away quickly from a passing jogger, open the door and dive inside. Those tears were not for Kane, whom I never knew … They were tears of self-reproach and — admit it — of shame. Shame not for my behaviour, which is usually fair, but for my feelings, which are spasmodically unfair and unkind.

Read the whole piece here.

And then see what hot water the public officers of Stockton have got themselves into after attempting to impose their own ghastly good taste on the ghastly good taste of the owners of the children’s graves in the local cemetery. Thanks for this, Cynthia. Read it here.

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