Dead ordinary

Charles 2 Comments

Redditch, where I live, is a town most people would only visit by mistake. It is a 1964 new town, a dreamy planner’s dud. We have Britain’s only cloverleaf roundabout. It’s not something I’ve ever heard anyone brag about.

Yet we boast our eminent citizens. John Bonham and Charles Dance were born here; Rik Mayall grew up here; John Taylor, co-founder of Duran Duran, went to school here. And we hit the news from time to time. Our dead heat swimming pool water. Brian Haw, anti-war campaigner, hailed from here. I looked out for signs of commemoration of Brian in our town centre yesterday. Nothing.

And I thought back to a recent discussion on Gloria Mundi’s blog, sparked by Thomas Friese’s idea that all people need permanent memorials, where GM reflects: “Maybe we can find ways for public commemoration, and re-think our commemoration of more “ordinary” people,” by which I suppose GM meant B-list famous people – Phil Lynott, for example.

And that set me thinking about unlisted celebs known only to their local communities, probably not even of interest to their local paper; the sort of people we might call local heroes.

I’ve done a few funerals for people like them. All celebrants have. This is what I said about the first:  Grace’s passing serves to remind us, perhaps, that the people we miss most, when they are gone, are not the grand, flashy folk who live out their lives on the big stage and make a big splash in the media. No, the people we miss most are the extra-ordinary ordinary folk; the ones who live among us. These are the people who make all the difference to us and to our lives. Grace’s passing was not announced on the news, yet her passing has touched you much more directly that if it had been. Because Grace was a local hero. I’ve used variants of that wording many times since.

There are lots of famous people who aren’t famous in the newsworthy sense, but whose lives were nevertheless outstandingly generous. They deserve commemoration by their communities. Wouldn’t it be good, I thought, if every city, town and village had its centrally situated Monument to Local Heroes serving as a focus for people’s appreciation?

And then I thought about how such a thing would be managed. Who would be eligible and who not? How long would you give for flowers and messages before clearing them away and incising the person’s name on the monument? How would you handle anniversaries? How would you handle more than one at the same time?

Haven’t a clue. But that’s what thinking-outside-the-box-Monday is all about.















  1. Charles

    Wise words Charles. I suppose it’s a cliche to point out how little some “famous” people mean to us, alive or dead, because their “fame” is generated by them and promulgated by those they pay. It has taken me a disappointingly large number of years to realise how fascinating ordinary people are – being a celebrant has helped – and how much we all value extraordinary ordinariness.

    If I meant anything very clear in the thought referred to above, it’d be totally unfamous “orinary” people, rathern than just a bit famous people like Mr L, who was in his day quite a famous rocker, I guess. No doubt he has an appreciation society of some sort, good luck to his memory, and he does have statue in Dublin.

    Yes, it’d be tricky to have names incised, and all the other trappings of individual memorialisation. H’m. Maybe we could have one really beautiful but anonymous public memorial in town, and on an anniversary, people who remember the ordinary person concerned could meet there, have a little ceremony, go to the pub or the tea-room afterwards – and hopefully as time went by, something would be happening every day – for the lollipop lady, the bloke who did nothing but prop up the bar but my God he was funny, the couple who ran the corner-shop, the reception teacher of 25 years in the local primary, the business man who was tireless in his support of local causes, the JP, the kid who cycled from John o’G to Land’s E and raised £50,00 for the disease that killed him – and people could drop by any day to join in and see who was being celebrated, the unsung ones who made their community a community. Their families would still do what they do, but they would have the comfort of knowing that someone who knew nothing of the person would suddenly find out about an extraordinary unfamous person. I’m lucky enough to find out so much about so many remarkable lives, it would be good to open up those insights beyond a funeral.

    Eat your heart out Max Clifford, here come the legions on the unfamous. They don’t need you – their worth to the rest of us doesn’t need your skills.

    Well, it all gets us thinking about how and why we memorialise.

  2. Charles

    How wonderful! Thanks Charles and GM…
    I think the issue here is how we define the word ‘hero’. What’s the criteria? Because I too have discovered – both through working as a celebrant and as a journalist – that everyone is remarkable in some way. The amount of times I’ve sat down with a family and they’ve said “there isn’t really much to say about (insert name here). They didn’t really do very much…” and then you find out all sorts of things, from the dramatic (was part of the D-Day Landings) to the simple (read to their children every single night without fail). All heroes to the person whose life they touched.
    I always liked the idea of the memorial Christmas tree, where people write messages to lost loved ones and tie them to the branches. But this only happens once a year and the trees are usually only to be found in churches or funeral directors’ reception areas. Perhaps, as you say, we need some other focal point…
    I love thinking-out-of-the-box Monday!

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