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It's one more victory for church standards

PUBLISHED: 09:29 24 July 2012 | UPDATED: 09:32 24 July 2012

Say what you like about the Egyptians, they didnt go in for understated burials...

Say what you like about the Egyptians, they didnt go in for understated burials...

Archant

A few years ago, I visited the grave of First World War soldier and poet Wilfred Owen who died in action just days before Armistice Day.

It was an emotional moment (not least because I’d spent the last few days as a vegetarian in France and was therefore on the brink of starvation) as I, and the group of journalists I had travelled across the Channel with, gazed at Owen’s last resting place.

Commonwealth graves in France totally rule when it comes to aesthetics. Simple white headstones, wonderfully spare prose, row upon row of quiet, reflective beauty. The modern French graves next door, on the other hand, look like a dog’s dinner served in a pound shop by a colour-blind flamenco dancer.

Practically every grave is covered in every imaginable shade of plastic flower, there are dolls, gonks, hideous religious tat, vile ornaments, lanterns, photographs and day-glo gravel scattered under the headstones themselves.

Some graves even boast recorded messages from the deceased. It’s absolutely great.

I’ve spent my entire life cloaked in black in the misguided hope that it will render me partially invisible, or at the very least make my arse look a bit smaller. My addiction to looking like an ambulatory storm cloud is one I can only imagine being kicked when I myself kick the bucket, at which point I’m going to demand in my will that my grave is the gaudiest in the boneyard.

In Britain, personal expression at a graveyard is as welcome as a syphilitic member at an orgy. Try and place a teddy or a trinket on a grave in certain areas and you’ll be surrounded by armed police.

This week, the mother of a 22-year-old who died in a car accident has been told that his gravestone – which features a picture of him – is “unacceptable”.

Sue Johnson, from Wollaston, was told that her son’s gravestone had to be replaced within 28 days because it doesn’t meet “church standards”, you know, the same standards that are causing faith schools to ban girls from having the cervical cancer vaccine on religious grounds.

The Archdeacon of Dudley, the venerable Fred Trethewey, said he sympathised with the family of Adam Johnson, but leaving the three inch high etched image of the father-of-one on the gravestone would anger God and possibly cause early-onset Armageddon.

Or something.

(On a separate note, can you imagine your name being preceded by “the venerable”? It’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it? I mean, my name literally translates as “Heaven’s Gracious Gift to Men”, but it’s a moniker I more than live up to on a day-to-day basis.)

“Churchyards are places where lots of people with lots of different ways of grieving come to remem-ber their loved ones,” he said.

“It would not be fair on others to make exceptions and permit bold and distinctive likenesses of people that mourning families attending adjacent graves might find insensitive.”

It’s not often that I side with the French, although I like their Champagne, perfume and cheese, but at least they’ve got it right when it comes to graveyards.

We spend our entire lives bound by tiresome rules and regulations: it doesn’t seem too much to ask that once we’re dead, we can cut loose a bit: for a start, it might make graveyards a little bit less valley of the dead and a little bit more celebratory.

I wouldn’t find an etched likeness of someone insensitive and I don’t know anyone with half a brain that would. What is insensitive is hounding a woman who has lost her son into changing a gravestone over a bit of red tape.

Perhaps there’s a passage about it in the Bible that I’ve missed, alongside the one that says Christians don’t get cervical cancer.

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