Several years ago now, I went to a talk at Highgate Cemetery. A niche talk for a very niche (but rather fascinating) audience interested in Victorian grave sculptures. It may also have been just the fact of a talk at a cemetery with wine and all that drew them as it had me. But there was no chance to wander round, and somehow I had never been back. Until our latest wander through North London, along Parkland Walk — of my favourite green spaces in all of London, these two both rate high.
South London though, I’d been to a couple cemeteries in South London, those great new cemeteries springing up along the city’s outer limits to deal with the little church graveyards full to overflowing. Lambeth Cemetery in Tooting Bec, next to St George’s hospital where I had an appointment. After a lonesome visit to West Norwood Cemetery I had rather sworn off them, it was sad and grim and I wondered why I ever thought I liked them.
I realise the answer to that question is trees.
Like Arnos Vale in Bristol, Highgate is beautiful, eerie, splendid.
Our lives and deaths as part of a natural world so much bigger than we are, part of trees and forests primeval in their swallowing up of our memories and returning us to a natural cycle. Finally, to breath part of a natural cycle here in London. Just to fucking breathe.
I like to feel able to embrace that larger reality while fighting like hell to break all of our human cycles of oppression and horror, the second reason this is such a wonderful place.
Marx’s original grave, before his followers moved him to larger, more monumental grave of infinitely more questionable taste.
Yet I confess I cried — unexpected and quite embarrassing really. It was not Marx’s grave so much as the cluster of people who have chosen to be buried near him, people who have dedicated their lives to changing the world we live in for the better, and whose actions and words have all impacted my own struggle and thinking. Beginning with Eleanor Marx, who I love immensely and is buried with her father as though she were not worth her own monument. There is also Claudia Jones:
And so many others, from all around the world:
Someone else who had a great impact on me when I was growing up? The incomparable Douglas Adams:
Those who I have come to honour more recently through my partner’s love of film:
Carl Mayer, the cowriter of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari:
I confess, too, that I have no small enjoyment from some of the weird, wonderful and strange things to be found in places like this:
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