SARAH VINE: What country can't let a son hug his mother at a funeral?

SARAH VINE: What kind of country are we when a son can’t hug his mother at a funeral… but can travel there on a packed train?

One of the best things about Britain has always been its people’s healthy disregard for petty bureaucracy. 

Nothing seems to irk us quite so much as officious officialdom, rules for the sake of rules. 

We have a kind of innate horror of anyone who applies the letter of the law too obsessively, and a healthy mistrust of authority. 

It’s because of this, I suspect, that footage of a socially distanced funeral in Milton Keynes has gone viral. 

In the video, a son pulls his chair closer to his mother’s in order to put his arm around her, comfort her — only to be reprimanded dramatically by a council official. 

The clip shows two other mourners also trying to move closer together to comfort each other before the marshal intervenes, waving his arms and shouting: ‘Sorry, sorry, you have to put the chairs back.’ 

The result has been a visceral response on social media. And it’s not hard to see why. 

There is something so fundamentally inhumane, so inherently heartbreaking about a funeral where mourners are required to sit in isolation as though they have done something terribly wrong. 

Where a widow must wear a face mask to say goodbye to the person who has been her companion in life, perched alone on a hard municipal chair with no hand to hold, adrift in a sterile space devoid of all warmth and feeling.

No wonder her son did what he did. 

SARAH VINE said footage of mourners being told to keep apart was ‘fundamentally inhumane,’ and ‘so inherently heartbreaking’ 

How could he not have? It was a small, simple, universal gesture of love at a moment of crushing grief, made all the more necessary by her predicament. 

To then witness that fragile dignity rudely interrupted in such an insensitive, jobsworth manner is the kind of thing that, in me at least, makes the red mist descend. 

It betrayed a complete lack of tact, not to mention a total absence of compassion. 

No wonder her furious son felt compelled to make the moment public. 

After all, as he pointed out himself: ‘I can sit in a restaurant, I can sit in a pub, I can live at her house… But when I want to give my mum a cuddle at Dad’s funeral, a man flies out mid-service shouting “Stop the service” and makes us split. A devastating day made even worse.’ 

Quite. Any normal person would have ignored this minor infraction, or at least looked the other way for a few minutes before gently asking them to move their chairs apart. Instead the man went in like a bull in a china shop. 

Whatever the rules, however technically justified he may have been in his actions, it just seems wrong. 

Paul Bicknell moved his chair to comfort his mother at his father Alan Wright’s funeral – he and his brother have asked how they were stopped from doing so, but can still drink in pubs and eat in restaurants

But there’s another reason this incident strikes such a chord. It is emblematic of the wider situation in Covid-stricken Britain today. 

Because this may be just one family at one funeral: but their experience echoes that of the entire nation when it comes to the way this virus has affected all our lives. 

It’s not just the way it has divided families and loved ones in their hour of greatest need; it’s the way that the rules and regulations imposed on us as a result of Covid can so often seem unnecessarily draconian, random — and at times completely callous. 

Because the man is right: why can he have supper in a restaurant with five complete strangers, but when he wants to hug his mum — with whom he lives — at his father’s funeral, he is treated like a criminal? 

It is not just unnecessarily cruel, it’s also baffling. 

Everyone understands the need to contain the virus, to minimise contagion as much as possible. 

And the majority are more than prepared to respect the Government’s directives for the greater good. 

But there is nevertheless a strong sense that in some cases — and this funeral is a clear case in point — the disproportionate response and draconian nature of the restrictions only end up undermining public support for them. 

It’s not just funerals, either. These are the kinds of scenes that are playing out daily, all across the nation, in myriad different ways. 

Women who have been forced to give birth alone; students being locked up in halls of residence; children who are having their educations irretrievably damaged. 

The elderly who are dying of loneliness because of measures to keep them alive; those with serious illnesses whose care is being delayed. 

Every day, we hear more and more stories of idiotic decisions being taken in the name of Covid. 

‘Why is it OK for total strangers to rub shoulders on public transport when members of the same family can’t hug each other at a funeral?’ Asks SARAH VINE 

There was that restaurant whose owner was fined £1,000 for having a customer on his premises at 10:04pm, four minutes after the official curfew. 

Four minutes. 

Yes, technically I suppose he had broken the rules. 

But where’s the common sense, where’s the sense of understanding in slapping a business, presumably already struggling, with a crippling fine? 

All of this is contributing to a build-up of resentment which the Government simply cannot afford. 

Especially when you consider the flagrant gaps in logic elsewhere. The fact that people are squashed like sardines on trains and Tubes. 

Why is it OK for total strangers to rub shoulders on public transport when members of the same family can’t hug each other at a funeral? 

Simple answer: it’s not. And this mixture of illogical, contradictory advice combined with the overzealous nature of many of those tasked with enforcing it, is creating a deep sense of public frustration. 

Most of us, I think, are prepared to follow the rules if we think they make sense. 

But when they manifestly don’t — as in the case of a son not being able to comfort a grieving mother, or a father not being able to witness the birth of a child, it is only natural to start questioning them. 

And when the official response is defensiveness, instead of acknowledging people’s concerns; when the authorities just double-down and threaten even more punitive measures — such as, for example, £10,000 fines — people respond less with meek acquiescence than with renewed outrage. 

Brothers Craig and Paul Bricknell were devastated when they received a telling off for trying to to comfort their grieving mother, at their father’s funeral in Milton Keynes. SARAH VINE says the country should ‘question the direction we’re going in,’ after watching the shocking footage

They go from being broadly sympathetic and compliant to feeling angry, hurt and defiant. 

That spirit of ‘we are all in this together’ starts to wear thin — to be replaced by confusion and resentment. 

And you end up in serious danger of losing the dressing room. Which is a worry, because if we are to have any chance of beating Covid, the country needs to pull together as a team. 

There is a reason Britain voted for Brexit, and why it gave a Brexiteer Conservative Prime Minister a landslide victory in last year’s General Election. 

Not for us the rigid, blind unquestioning bureaucracy of Brussels: we pride ourselves on our independent minded self-determination. 

We’ve had our fill of pointless regulation and over-­zealous autocrats. And yet here we are, less than a year on, mired it seems in both. 

The day we become a country where a son cannot hug his own mother at his father’s funeral is a day when we have to seriously question the direction we’re going in. 

Yes, these are trying times; yes, we must all do our best to fight Covid; yes, sacrifices must be made. 

But not at the cost of our fundamental freedoms and rights. 

Because at the end of the day, these are what Britain has always stood for. And nothing, not even a pandemic, should shake us from those foundations.

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