Yesterday, I watched as a line of funeral cars passed slowly over the bridge on Fakenham Road. I stopped walking across with Ollie, and stood respectfully for the thirty seconds or so it took to pass us. That reminded me of funerals in my youth.
Where I lived in the 1950s, in a working-class area south of the Thames in London, the death of a neighbour was a serious event. Even though you might not have known them that well, a local woman would normally offer to attend the house to wash and lay out the body, ready for collection by the undertaker. The rest of the householders in the street would close their curtains, as a mark of respect for the dead person and any bereaved family members. Children were told not to play outside and make a lot of noise, but to go to the park instead, or to a friend’s house in another street.
On the day of the funeral, curtains would be closed again, and when the hearse arrived at the house with the body, anyone on the street would stand still, heads bowed respectfully. Most men at that time wore a hat of some kind, and any men seeing the funeral cars or horse-drawn hearse would remove their hats immediately, until the procession had passed.
Yesterday, someone who had died locally was being taken to their last resting place, whether grave or cremation. I had no idea who that person was, and nobody else passing stopped walking. The cars on the other side didn’t slow down, and no curtains were closed in any house I walked past.
Times change, we all know that. But some traditions are worth keeping.