At the end of our road is a small park overlooking the River. With its cafe,playgrounds and tennis courts its very popular. For the last three years we have had street parties under its mature trees. Its where I have taken to doing my early morning stretch regime. Some of these exercises involve a support.
My favourite bench, like many in Britain’s parks ,has a commemorative plaque. “Julie Hattersley 24/06/59-23/01/11. A wonderful Mum, dearly loved and missed by her family, her friends and all at Our Lady of Victories School. She loved this park.”
Her anniversary was last week and one of family-her son perhaps- had placed six yellow roses. The School,obviously Catholic, is a star among local primaries. Once by far the worst of an excellent bunch of Putney’s junior schools ,it is now the best. I have a friend who works there and got a bit more on this woman who died aged 52.
She worked as a teacher’s assistant and ran the dining room. Her husband had left her but my contact confirmed she was a “lovely woman and her early death from cancer was desperately sad”. So she was alone bringing up her family. Did her faith get in the way of finding a new partner? Her son at one point worked as a caretaker at the School. She lived in a nearby street, hence the affection for the Park.
But it was the roses which caught my eye. This was not some private wreath in a distant graveyard but very much part of the modern trend of public shrines. Who would dare sit on the bench while the roses still bloomed?The family are practising Catholics and she had a high mass for a funeral. For many the public show, be it at the road side ,in the park, on the lamp post is an echo of religious rituals now no longer cared for. Maybe the family needed something more personal.
Anyway, especially by fatal road accidents throughout the world d-i-y shrines have sprung up. The boy racer goes too fast. He hits the kerb,he dies,he wacks the child playing,the pensioner too slow to jump. Cards,flowers,toys appear. Sad messages,Always With Us, An Angel Forever, Gone To a Better Place. We may have given up worship but the messages predate the Reformation.
There is something terribly country and western, something sentimental rather than emotional going on. Without any spiritual guidance these roadside shrines show how much we flounder in the face of death. In the end the weather does its worst and the flowers and cards turn to mush. The Council cleaners have to do their business After a week of very cold weather the six roses in the park are already looking ready for compost.
Three years ago I was climbing a hill in Durham. It was snowing hard. I passed an old lady carrying a rose. She was making little progress against the blizzard. She asked me to take the rose to the top, as it was her daughter’s favourite place. On that day the young lady would have been 29. I cannot remember,but lets say,the rose was yellow.