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On evolving etiquette - Off in the distance
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May 2016
 

The Bellinghman
Date: 2011-06-23 11:14
Subject: On evolving etiquette
Security: Public
One thing that has appeared over the last few years in this country is the 'flower shrine' - a spontaneous laying of flowers at sites associated with unexpected deaths, particularly road accidents.

Three and a half weeks ago, a toddler was struck down and killed by a car on Kneesworth Street here in Royston, and a stack of flowers appeared strapped to a nearby lamp post. Perhaps because it was in town, and thereby easily accessible, or perhaps because it was a small child, or perhaps because the victim and family were well known by the people nearby, the stack was particularly massive, forming a pyramid about six foot in height.

(Parenthetically, the family appear to be of Malaysian Chinese origin, so incomers.)

Today I saw that the flowers were gone.

Is there an accepted period during which flowers are left? Is it till the funeral has happened and there's a grave available? At what point does the council feel it right to take the left flowers away? Who feels they are permitted to lay flowers? Can anyone do it? Who feels they are required to lay flowers?

***

In a somewhat sad sequel, there is now a large arrangement of flowers on Melbourn Street, and workmen are repairing the lights of the pedestrian crossing there. This appears to be due to some teenagers losing control of their car early Monday morning after being asked to stop by the police. We didn't even hear it, despite being only a couple of hundred metres away.

(The two streets named are both millennia old, considerably pre-dating the town which was founded at their crossing point. In Roman times, it would have been a major but remote crossroads, with no water supply anywhere near.)
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jon_a_five
User: jon_a_five
Date: 2011-06-23 11:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There was an item in the news a while ago where a council cleared flowers away and got complaints. The council pointed out all the flowers were dead. Frankly I think they have an obligation to clear up and I'm sure whichever period of time they choose is not intended to cause offence.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2011-06-23 11:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I personally would prefer the flowers to be taken away rather than to see dead ones left — while fresh flowers say one thing, dead ones say something rather different and IMO worse than a mere absence.
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Max
User: hawkida
Date: 2011-06-23 11:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've heard a lot of people recently talking about how it is a new phenomena, but I'm sure I saw instances of it happening as much as twenty years ago. Perhaps it's a regional thing that has spread?
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2011-06-23 11:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I suspect it was happening that far back, but it is an interesting question as to when it became widespread. The first big occurrence that I'm aware of in this country was on the death of Princess Diana, which is now ... almost a decade and a half ago! I'd say that that was probably the point where it went mainstream.

The size of that response then implies there must have been a pre-existing understanding of the idea among those who did do it, or at least of the first ones that did.
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Laura Anne Gilman
User: suricattus
Date: 2011-06-23 11:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's been common in the States, at sites of fatal car accidents and/or shootings, for as long as I can remember. (I used the visual in PACK OF LIES, actually, as indication that he community was rallying around the victims...)

The flowers are usually cleared up once they start to die, yeah.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2011-06-23 13:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hmm, I wonder whether the more reserved British imported the idea from over there.
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dorispossum
User: dorispossum
Date: 2011-06-23 16:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
They were doing this in rural Crete and Spain back in the 90s, so I don't think it's an American thing. I think it's been common in Europe for some time.
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Perdita
User: perdita_fysh
Date: 2011-06-23 20:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
First time I saw it happen was when Jonathan was killed by the IRA in 1993, although it was more teddy bears than flowers but there were a lot of both.

At the time there were no policies or processes for dealing with it. The police were left to sort it out in the best way they thought. They left the flowers for a long time but collected up the teddy bears because of the rain and distributed them to the families and local children's agencies etc. (I still have one).

I suspect these days it will be down to the local agencies and their approaches will vary, and how often the family etc refresh the flowers will have an effect too. Around here (particularly in liverpool) there is a tendency to use artificial flowers so they continue to look good and they stay in place for years.
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Silly Swordsman
User: silly_swordsman
Date: 2011-06-23 11:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've wondered about the etiquette for these cases for years, but never made an attempt to find out. Perhaps because it would feel intrusive, or as I questioned the practice.

There is a flower memorial at the top of the hill on A10 just north of the A505 junction that has been there for years.

I'd actually be surprised if new flowers didn't appear on Kneesworth Street soon.

I'd love to see an anthropo-/ethnological investigation of this low-key shrine-building.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2011-06-23 11:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The flowers up on the hill are, presumably, from family and/or close friends. I wonder how many of the flowers on Kneesworth Street will have been from strangers (as per the Princess Diana case), or from people who knew the victim only peripherally.
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MEG
User: djelibeybi
Date: 2011-06-23 15:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
On the ring-road close to our house, there is a little shrine at the side of the road which always has a selection of flowers on display. It has been there as long as I have lived in Bristol (1997) and is not particularly easy to get to as it's a very busy road.

I assume that someone is visiting regularly in the small hours to refresh the shrine.
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dorispossum
User: dorispossum
Date: 2011-06-23 16:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think they should stay as long as the flowers are alive, but no longer.

It says something about the emphemerality of life. And also allows the family to renew the flowers if they wish.
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Jonathan Lewis-Jones
User: j_lj
Date: 2011-06-23 17:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I remember seeing road side shrines in Wales during the 1970's, so it's not a new thing in this country.
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User: sshi
Date: 2011-06-24 21:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've seen them in Dublin and various parts of Ireland for donkey's years, so can corroborate their European history from this side. They do seem to be left for quite some time here, if they aren't blocking anything or are too big or distracting. Or maybe the flowers are replaced fairly often, I haven't looked that closely.

Interesting evolution of ritual, though. I would also love to read an ethnographic analysis on them, too.
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