Several weeks ago a young man was knocked off his scooter and killed on the busy A38 dual carriageway, opposite the entrance to Streethay Wharf boatyard.
Another dark day, another sad death, another bleak statistic. I was (fortunately) late to the scene, coming across it a couple of hours after the clearing up began.
The local papers covered the accident extensively, since it appears to have been a 'hit-&-run' by a lorry driver.
A day or two later, a modest bunch of flowers appeared, rooted with a stick to the verge, and a hauntingly sad card. "Our beautiful Ben - taken from us so suddenly":
I've said it before, I don't like the modern, mawkish custom for death-scene flowers. In fact I have to stifle my stiff-upper-lip urge to take a walking stick to these roadside shrines. Or at the very least remove the plastic wrapping, which usually ends up as litter.
However, this one was never much more than a single bouquet, unlike the veritable compost heaps that many such sites become. And it has been regularly refreshed, with the old flowers removed.
A couple of weeks ago, something unusual happened: When the recent wet weather made the verge grow fast, the family seemed to have cut the grass for several yards around the flowers.
The 'lawn' was being 'mowed'. A 'garden' was developing.
They haven't cleared any of the rubbish in the adjacent ditch or trimmed the hawthorn hedge, but I suppose it's a start. But what they should do in his memory, I think, is to plant something permanently.
Daffodils or snowdrops, I think. These would have the charm of blooming on the anniversary of his death, February 21st.
(The family have started a petition to have streetlights installed on this stretch of the dual carriageway as yet another memorial to their boy, but that's the last thing the boatyard wants. It's hard enough to live alongside the constant thundering roar of the traffic without 24-hour lighting around as well.)
What has this got to do with canals?
Well, it occurred to me that what we have here is an equivalent to towpaths.
You occasionally see similar towpath shrines, where someone has died in the canal (or on the towpath) in unfortunate circumstances.
It's rare that any of these canalside shrines include an element of 'gardening', but perhaps they could be pressured into doing so, in the new spirit of volunteering?
Yes, pressured. Either by the new Canal & River Trust, or by canal users in general, perhaps with some sort of unofficial 'towpath rental' or 'towpath adoption' scheme. That is, in return for being permitted a memorial, they could either do some towpath maintenance on that particular stretch, or make a regular donation in return for the right to keep their relative's memory there.
One solution might be to create a proper 'garden'.
I remember coming across a makeshift garden on the River Stort near Sawbridgeworth in 2008.
It had been over four years since the 17-year old was found drowned (here's the inquest report from the local paper), and clearly the family were still in mourning, as they'd created a clearly-permanent shrine, complete with brass plaque - and note the watering can hidden in the bushes behind - and laid flowers recently on the fourth anniversary the month before I passed.
What disappointed me about this was not the shrine itself, but all the plastic wrapping on the cheap bouquets, instead of permanent flowers being planted.
I passed by in late 2008. I don't know what that shrine is like now, but I'd like to think they've planted flowers permanently, and that they are diligently doing local towpath litter collections and hedge trimming in honour of their boy's memory.
But I think it would be good for such 'gardens' to need a payable licence, or at least rules for their maintenance.
Another canalside memorial was for young Stefan Morriss, who drowned in Dunn's Lock, near Leicester, in July 2006.
In that case, the memory was a couple of filling-station bouquets tied to the lock steps and a profusion of scrawled graffiti, soon gone and painted-over.
But in that case the relatives soon made a more permanent (and cost-free, maintenance-free) online shrine on the 'Gone Too Soon' website and on Facebook.
Where presumably he's always being reminded "UR THE BEST".
No tiresome gardening or volunteer-led litter picking required on the web.