Picture this. You are standing on the pavement in a moderately busy road or street somewhere in Britain. In the distance you spot a hearse, followed by some black limousines. Yes, it is a funeral procession. What do you do? Is it:
a. Stand to attention, remove any headgear if you are a man, and wait for the coffin to pass; as it does so, you make a bow with the head. If you are a Catholic, you make the sign of the Cross. When the coffin has passed, you carry on as normal.
b. Ignore it, pretend it is not happening, and carry on as normal.
Once upon a time, everyone opted for “a”. Nowadays, everyone opts for “b”. I know that of which I speak, because only yesterday I did “a” as a coffin passed, but noticed no one else doing the same, and I often sit in hearses myself and see the way pedestrians behave. I have never seen anyone doing “a”.
The way we treat the living in Britain is pretty appalling, but the way we treat the dead is abominable, and even more inexcusable, as it would not cost us much to show a little respect to those on their last journey, or to teach our children to do the same.
Furthermore, undertakers often tell me that they have to deal with rude drivers on the way to the cemetery or crematorium; I too have witnessed the hooting of horns, and the “cutting in” at roundabouts. Funeral processions are supposed to go at a funereal pace, and people should give way to them – but this is all too rare.
I think this is another symptom of what has rightly been diagnosed as “Broken Britain”.
The tie that binds us together is no longer there. For stopping and noticing a funeral procession is a sign that we share a common humanity, a common mortality, that we are all one community. When people fail to do this, what does it say?
Kudos to the one shining example of a town in Britain that shows us how we ought to behave – Royal Wootton Bassett.