I never wanted this blog to be that serious-minded, so perhaps it’s appropriate that my first ‘Fancy a Walk’ walk was pretty much unplanned and saw me sitting on a rainbow bench, in a park graveyard, with a little can of vodka and ginger ale, talking about boys.
The graveyard in question was Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, just down the road from Mile End station, which, like many of London’s Victorian cemeteries has been turned over to nature, resulting in a romantic mess of broken tombstones and tangled wildflowers. The day in question was a sunny and warm Bank Holiday Saturday, and the company in question was my old friend Philomena and her sister’s adorable dog, Joey.
So after a lol-filled misunderstanding with a Muslim guy at Mile End station who was handing out anti-ISIS leaflets, and thought I’d refused to take one because I’d misheard ‘anti’ as ‘pro’ – as opposed to my general dislike of leaflets and waste – we set off on our merry way, drifting in and out of the gravestones, in and out of the sunlight.
One of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’, you could easily dismiss this space, with its inevitable war memorial at the entrance, as just another crumbling corner of Empire, another slice of chintzy Victoriana; all angels and melodramatic inscriptions. And if it were perfectly maintained then it certainly would be a strange and chintzy place, but giving spaces over to nature tends to free them a little, especially when the past is literally being swamped, rotted and covered up by the flora and fauna of the present. Nature has taken over to such an extent, that the graves themselves have very little impact; they’re merely a backdrop to the sun, which is what we’re really here to pay our respects to.
After weaving in and out of graves, we discover a pretty cool rainbow bench and sit down for a while to enjoy the warmth. Smoking, talking, taking photos, we chat about how unfair it is that women are labelled as ‘emotional’ and ‘moody’ when men, in our humble opinion, are just as batshit crazy and emotionally unstable as the rest of us. And as if to prove our point, we hear a drunk heading our way, yelling about ‘boners’ with his friend. Time to move on.
On our slow way out, after failing to find the chalk maze and pissing Joey off by kicking his ball into the undergrowth, we spot a kicked-in tomb. A black marble slab lies on top of a few rows of bricks, which someone has booted a hole in, so you can see down into the crypt below. Having been raised on episodes of Scooby-Do and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we go looking for the dead. With the joint power of two iPhone torches, we peer into the hole and there they are, Victorian bones. There was no skull in sight, but rows of bones, unmistakably ribs and legs, suggest someone, long since passed, was definitely resting gently on top of the soil. Buried perhaps 150 years ago (I forget the date or the name) they looked exactly how you’d expect a (headless) skeleton to look. And while it was a little eerie if you put your mind to it, there was also something quite everyday about it. You see them in museums after all; bones are bones, and when everything is stripped away they don’t have much power left. Put them together in a science lab and you’ve got a cheeky skeleton named ‘Bob’. Rotting flesh on the other hand, would’ve been another matter, but thankfully there’s none of that here, there’s just flowers and flaking stone, gently decaying under the warm London sun.
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Southern Grove, London, E3 4PX
Thanks to Philomena for the company, and the great photo of me and Joey!