Highgate Cemetery

In loving memory

I’m over the worst of my cold now, but it brought back memories of last year’s ongoing illnesses – months and months of catching one virus after another and feeling exhausted and miserable, with only the occasional day here and there when I felt relatively ok.  It was a horrible time and part of me is feeling terrified that it’s going to happen again and that this is the start of it.  I keep telling myself it’s just a cold and it’s quite normal to catch colds at this time of year, but my mind spins off into catastrophe mode.  Anyway, today I feel a lot better and I’ve squashed those thoughts back into the deep recesses of my mind where I will do my best to pretend they don’t exist.

I went to Highgate Cemetery a few weeks back and have been processing my shots inbetween bouts of sneezing and paranoia.  There are two parts to the cemetery: one side can only be visited on a guided tour but has the most impressive tombs and monuments.  You can wander freely round the other side and, although it’s not so imposing, there’s still plenty of interest there.  By the time I’d met up with my friend Mike and we’d had lunch and a long chat, it was already mid-afternoon so we thought that this time we’d stick to the ‘wander freely’ side and save the other for another time.

It’s an interesting place, not least because it’s inter-denominational and people of all religions and nationalities can be buried there.  Although it’s been restored to some degree, it still has a wild, overgrown feel about it and there are areas where the undergrowth has taken over and tombstones lie tilted and broken.  It makes the whole place very moody and atmospheric.  Even as a child I loved wandering round graveyards and imagining the lives of the people buried there; these places still fascinate me and now I enjoy the visual qualities of them too.  This one is amazing, with lots of fascinating stones and statues.

Probably the most famous person buried there is Karl Marx, and this bulbous stone head really lent itself to being photographed.

Karl Marx

I don’t know who Violet May Gardiner was, but she was obviously very fond of her dog.

Faithful

This one I find a little troubling:

Head in hands

I’ve always loved stone angels and there are loads of these.

Angel

Angel 2

Angel 3

Angel 4

There are a lot of very unusual grave markers; here are a couple of bookish ones:

Jeremy Beadle

Jim Stanford Horn

And this puts a whole new spin on ‘I woz ‘ere’ graffiti:

Malcolm was here

This rather beautiful statue was placed here by a husband for his wife, and is a realistic representation of her.  He must have loved her very much.

Statue

There was a surprising abundance of flowers, even at this time of the year, and here and there were strands of creeper that had turned the most astonishing bright red.

White flowers

Red creeper

At one point we were talking about the euphemisms we tend to use for death – on almost every stone people ‘passed away’, or ‘went to sleep’ or ‘left to be with Jesus’ or were ‘taken from us’.  No-one, it seems, simply died.  It’s been said that death is the last taboo, and I do think it’s something that people find difficult to talk about.  And then we saw this one, and laughed – no euphemisms here:

Dead

But my favourite of the day was a very ordinary headstone, quite plain and simple, but I loved the words that were engraved on it.  How lovely to be remembered like this – ‘Incomparable friend, teacher and lover of life’.

Lover of life