Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The graveyard shift

Something dawned on me recently; it’s probably blindingly obvious to most people but for some reason it hadn’t been to me until that moment.   I was taking a short cut through the churchyard and casually observing the gravestones standing there, like a small crowd of quiet, still people, when it suddenly struck me that that's exactly what they are. 

A small crowd of quiet, still people:  neighbours, friends, strangers;  old, young and in-between; shopkeepers and factory workers; families grouped together  - like a gathering at a village fête.    Although I’m not religious, the significance of headstones suddenly registered in a whole new way, and I found it kind of comforting.  I saw the graveyard in a different light, like a place full of life rather than death.

The local graveyard

Then last month I was down at the City of London Cemetery again and the analogy really hit home.  It’s huge.  The 'population' of headstones is more like a large town than a gathering at a village fête - there are 150,000 graves there.

It’s the biggest of its kind in the UK – set in 200 acres of grounds (I can never picture quite what an acre actually is, but someone told me it’s roughly the size of a football pitch).  It also has 7 miles of roadway intersecting its vast parks and gardens, and 5 chapels.  You might imagine there are quite a few notable characters buried there but a little research didn’t produce many names – although I did find two of Jack the Ripper’s victims and Bobby Moore’s ashes.  The enormous variety of the memorials – the humble, weathered stones alongside some contrastingly new and really quite blingy structures, the assortment  of different traits, cultures, tastes and religions of the people beneath expressed in their monuments – well, they looked just the same to me as the shoppers I’d walked amid earlier on an East London street and the passengers on the platform at Liverpool St. Station.  I suppose it’s obvious when I put it like that.  Anyway, there’s definitely something about this correlation that I find uplifting: the inanimate representations of all those diverse human beings now mingling so peacefully in the cemetery.  If only we could always be so peaceful in life. 


I had to take a taxi to the station on the way to help clear my aunt and uncle’s house (both now buried in the above mentioned City of London Cemetery, in a serene, woodland area, unmarked by memorials but represented fittingly by the wildness of nature) and was chatting to the cab driver about the task ahead.  He’d had to do the same thing himself with an aunt’s belongings not long beforehand.  “She’d never married nor lived with anyone and had no other family,” he explained, “but she kept a lot of stuff!”   

It’s strange when you sift through someone’s most personal and intimate possessions, isn’t it?  In some ways you can feel like a voyeur, an imposter.  So Cab Driver and I talked about that, and how a lot is changing now, as so much of what we'll leave behind in the future – photos, music collections, documents, even contact details for friends - may only be accessible via our hard drives and phones… passwords permitting.  There's something to bear in mind!  Anyway, up in the attic amid his aunt’s general paraphernalia, he'd found an old suitcase.  It was closed tight, and for extra security bound crossways with thick string like a parcel.  Attached to it was a hand-written note:

  ‘Please destroy after my death.  Not to be opened’

“Ooh!  I wonder what was in it… did you ever find out?” I asked.  But Cab Driver was an honourable  man and had followed his aunt's instructions without even taking a sneaky peek.

So, what could have been in there?  Secret letters from a forbidden lover, perhaps?  That was my first and favourite thought.  Or perhaps documents relating to an illegitimate child?  Or even evidence from an unsolved crime?  Or maybe just a private collection of….. well…  what?!

I'm tempted to do the same myself, just to bring some old-fashioned mystique to the proceedings when the time comes. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016


I hope you’re all well!   My apologies to those whose  blogs I usually visit regularly and have neglected  but life has pulled me in other directions lately and I’m appreciating a little break from the online life.   Real life is quite enough, sometimes.

I never wanted this blog to be a place for too much sorrow or self-pity, so it’s with some reluctance that I mention today something that is undoubtedly sad (sorry).  At the same time I just need to put it out there.  I can’t quite believe it; less than five months after the distressing loss of my dear friend Andy, I’m trying to process the recent news about the death of another, Dale - one which came as a complete shock and has now left me feeling a little numb.  Oddly enough, both these lovely men were born in the same month of the same year, and were both artists, their work exciting, individual, often controversial, full of energy and spark.  Whilst very different characters, with each of them I had a quite extraordinary, low-maintenance, one-to-one connection and understanding,  never searched for but instead stumbled upon serendipitously, the kind which is really quite rare and therefore precious.    I even introduced them to each other once - isn't life strange?!  But I’ve never been one for lots of friends – having always favoured quality over quantity (!) - and I am so sad to have lost two such loved ones in so short a space of time. 

That said, both inspired me with their optimism and selflessness – both of them clearly wished to spare their friends the worry and pain of what they were going through - and it feels wrong to write here in anything other than a humbled tone.  The last email I had from Dale, just weeks before his death, was full of positive thoughts about the future and made no mention of the cancer which had already taken hold.  I was oblivious.

By way of lifting this a little, let me revisit something I wrote about Dale on this blog some while ago, although I never mentioned his name at the time.....  I'm sure he wouldn't mind.


My dear friend has a memorable way of describing himself, which is: “great at art, shit at life”. He can drink three bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and still walk in a straight line, plus he has the energy of someone half his age, but he's the kind who forgets he's left a bath running and, on discovering the flood, decides to let it soak into the floor because he's “going out”. Somehow he gets through life relatively unscathed, surviving on creativity, charisma and an occasionally misplaced degree of optimism; I think he may also have superpowers.  I've never known anyone like him and his chaotic life has left me breathless at times.

Before he moved away to another town, we used to meet quite often for a natter about art.  Well: art, people, life, the universe and all its contents. I sat on his sagging sofa, surrounded by dozens of pieces of his striking (and frequently controversial) work, which filled every available space in his living-room-cum-studio. We drank wine in the afternoon out of chipped mugs, and I kept my coat on in Winter when he couldn't afford to feed the electricity meter for heating. I listened to tales of his latest unrequited love and money woes, stories you wouldn't believe... or wouldn't want to... yet he always rode through his problems with admirable positivity.  The wine (for there was always enough money for that kind of juice, if not the other) was often, almost ritualistically, accompanied by Maltesers, served in a ceramic dish. When the dodgy cassette player was actually working, he'd play secondhand tapes found in charity shops; it could be Henry Mancini one day and Happy Mondays the next.  Sometimes we went out - one time I took him to an exhibition of Syd Barrett's paintings at my old college (which was also Syd's); he was perfect company.  He's also the only person I've known who's left the house in odd shoes; perhaps the same could have been said of Syd...?!


Here is a tiny piece of collage art (only a few inches square) that he gave me several years ago:

I Didn't Mean For You To See Me Cry Miss Moneypenny

and a more recent 3D work entitled 'Angel':

(See some more of his work in this post too: Travels in East Anglia )

In loving memory of my two dear friends, 2016.  

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A pop up post

Just too good not to share!

Gallic-sounding dreamy bossa nova ye-ye pop electro psych by Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve (terrible name!) - from Richard Norris and Erol Alkan, with Jane Weaver and Hannah Peel on vocals - and a video that makes you feel like you've just stumbled into an episode of The Avengers.  I thought you might like it!

See you soon.

Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve: Creation
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