cemeteries

London: Highgate Cemetery

I’ve been to Highgate’s East Cemetery quite a few times over the years, since Marcus’s grandmother and great-grandmother are buried there, but neither of us had ever been to the West Cemetery. The guided tour only policy coupled with a £14 entry fee had put us off a bit, not to mention that the tours typically booked up in advance, and visiting the cemetery is usually more of an impromptu affair for us. However, Highgate have recently opened the West Cemetery for pre-booked, self-guided visits, and I was definitely keen to take advantage, especially as museums hadn’t reopened yet at that point, so I booked us a couple of slots on a day in May that looked to be slightly less crappy than the rest (still kind of crappy though. What awful weather for May!). Admission for a self-guided visit is £10, which galls me a bit, since I feel that cemeteries should be free, but if this meant that they’d be able to do more upkeep than the other Magnificent Seven, I wasn’t going to begrudge them the money (too much).

  

We turned up at around the same time a guided tour was getting started, so we set off pretty quickly to avoid getting stuck behind them. You must keep to the footpaths, as the grassy areas are pretty unkempt and apparently have random sinkholes (and you can probably guess what’s at the bottom of those sinkholes), but they’ve put gravel paths in to lead you to famous graves that aren’t on the main paths, so you won’t miss anything major. And with Highgate being probably the most famous cemetery in London and located in an extremely wealthy area, there’s quite a lot of famous people buried here. They don’t advertise the graves of more recent burials, so your guess where George Michael is buried is as good as mine, but there are plenty of historical ones to look out for. Like Michael Faraday, Lucian Freud, and the Rossetti family grave where Dante Gabriel Rossetti famously buried his unpublished poems with Lizzie Siddal and then later changed his mind and had the poems dug up again (this would seem to imply that Lizzie Siddal is buried there too, but her name isn’t listed anywhere that I could see. Poor Lizzie doesn’t even merit an entry, unless she went full zombie when they dug up the poems and just wandered off somewhere to eat brains, in which case I can understand why Highgate would want to keep that quiet).

  

Highgate is also the final resting place of people whose names aren’t well known today, but clearly had A LOT of money in the Victorian era. There are some huge tombs in here, particularly the one belonging to Julius Beer, who owned The Observer (above left). I would say that Highgate’s West Cemetery has more character than the East (it’s also older, having opened in 1839 vs. 1856), and is probably more atmospheric too. It is not quite as derelict as the other Magnificent Seven (so that entry fee is going somewhere) but is still significantly overgrown, and there’s a lot of trees and overhanging vegetation, which really makes it a good creepy Victorian cemetery experience.

 

The Egyptian Avenue and Circle of Lebanon are probably the most famous parts of the cemetery, and a volunteer was waiting nearby to tell us all about them if we wanted (she wasn’t at all pushy, which I appreciated). The Egyptian Avenue is a series of single-family vaults each containing twelve coffins, decorated with Ancient Egyptian motifs, which were very fashionable in the late Victorian era. It was originally roofed over, but people thought that made it too dark, so they removed the roof. There are a lot of overhanging trees, so it is pretty dark again today, and I personally think it’s lovely. The Circle of Lebanon is pretty fancy too (and impossible to photograph in its entirety at ground level), with steps leading out of the circular wall of tombs at various places to another layer of graves above.

  

My absolute favourite grave in the cemetery is hands down the sad/sleepy lion laying atop the grave of the owner of a menagerie (knowing what I know about Victorian circuses, I suspect the menagerie owner probably abused the crap out of a number of lions and other animals, so it’s no wonder the lion looks sad). A close second was the otherwise nondescript grave that contained the epitaph (amongst other, much nicer ones) “He meant well.” I interpreted that as a passive aggressive insult to someone they couldn’t really say anything nice about, and it genuinely made me laugh out loud for a perhaps inappropriate amount of time, considering where we were.

 

Having spent quite a lot of time exploring the West Cemetery, we headed over to the East Cemetery so Marcus could tidy up his grandma’s grave (as you can probably see, Highgate only does selective landscaping, so her grave ends up pretty overgrown every spring). Family members get a special card that allows them free entry, but if you are just visiting, you will need to pay. However, buying a ticket to the West Cemetery gives you free entry to the East Cemetery, so you should absolutely visit both! Although we’d been here many times, we’d never actually been given a map before (I guess because we hadn’t paid to get in), so it was nice to be able to hunt down some more famous graves.

 

Quite a few of them we’d already seen, particularly Karl Marx, since he’s practically staring us down when we visit Marcus’s grandma, and also Douglas Adams, Jeremy Beadle, and the iconic DEAD grave (see below), but this gave us an opportunity to wander down some pathways we hadn’t explored before and see Karl Marx’s original grave, which is a lot more subtle than the giant statue he has these days (and one would think more fitting for a communist, but I guess not, if Lenin’s tomb is anything to go by). There are also a weird number of other communists buried around Karl Marx (if having “comrade” written on their graves is anything to go by), which I have to think is intentional and shows a disturbing amount of dedication to the cause.

 

We spent about two and a half hours between the two cemeteries, and definitely could have spent longer, but rush hour was approaching and we wanted to get home. Having seen it, I do feel slightly better about the admission fee, because Highgate West Cemetery really is a special place, and has probably slightly edged out Brompton in my affections (though I do retain a soft spot for Brompton because of my brief period volunteering there with Arthur, the completely delightful former head of the Friends who sadly recently passed away) amongst the Magnificent Seven. Would definitely recommend visiting! The friendliness of the volunteers were encountered has given me some hope that the tours worth doing, but I’ve been on enough bad cemetery tours to have been scared off them a bit, so the self-guided visit was perfect for a first visit.

London: Putney Vale Cemetery

With nearly two weeks off just before Easter, but nowhere to go since even outdoor attractions and non-essential shops aren’t reopening til mid-April, let alone museums (those aren’t opening until May), I was scrambling to find something to do with my leave other than my usual reading and watching TV, particularly as the weather was so nice for a couple of days. Fortunately, I happened to see a post on the fascinating Flickering Lamps blog on Putney Vale Cemetery, near the edge of Wimbledon Common, which I had somehow never heard of even though I lived in Wimbledon for over a decade and love visiting cemeteries. Putney Vale is about a three mile walk away from my house, and a return trip on foot would admittedly be pushing the upper limits of how far I am willing to walk in a day, especially since Marcus and I had walked to Bushy Park the day before and my feet still hurt from that, but because there was nowhere else to go locally that I hadn’t already been a thousand times before, I decided to just suck it up and go for it (Marcus is always game for a walk since he’s not a hater of the outdoors like me).

Putney Vale Cemetery really attracted my attention because of how many famous people are buried there, especially since it’s not even one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries where most of the famous Londoners seem to end up. And, unlike most of the Magnificent Seven, Putney Vale have put together an extremely helpful map marking out the most notable graves that I downloaded on my phone before we left to aid in navigation. And by the time we got there, I was certainly glad I did, because I didn’t want to have to walk one unnecessary step! It is admittedly a nice walk from where we live, as we pretty much went through Richmond Park the entire way (and got to see a road crossing for horses as we crossed over into Putney Vale, which amused me to no end) but I am lazy and prone to wearing uncomfortable shoes so it was still a bit of a trial.

Putney Vale Cemetery is right by a massive Asda that I’ve been to quite a few times over the years (it’s definitely not my supermarket of choice, but I like to look at their Halloween section in October, as they seem to have more than most other supermarkets here), which makes it even weirder I didn’t know it existed, but I guess I’ve only ever travelled to Asda by car or bus, so I’ve never had any reason to explore the area in more depth. One thing to keep in mind is that Putney Vale is still very much an active cemetery and crematorium – there was a funeral taking place there during our visit, so we gave that area of the cemetery a wide berth out of respect. Not that I would do anything inappropriate in a cemetery anyway, but most cemeteries I’ve been to here are so empty that I feel comfortable talking at a normal volume, and this was more of a whispering place, at least when near other visitors. There were also a number of family members visiting and leaving flowers on loved ones’ graves, so it was definitely not as neglected as most of the Magnificent Seven are. However, that said, many of the gravestones were clearly made out of softer rock than one would find ideal as so many of them were completely weathered beyond recognition, despite only being twenty years old in some cases!

Putney Vale is a newer cemetery than most of the others I’ve visited in London – it opened in 1891, and really seems to have expanded in the 1930s after the crematorium opened – but that didn’t stop icons of the Victorian era and early 20th century from being buried here, and those were the graves I was keenest to see. The walk marked out on the map doesn’t start until you pass a long, narrow, obviously much newer section of the cemetery, and enter the gates proper. Because of this, my initial impression was that the cemetery wasn’t all that big, and then we got inside the gates, and I quickly revised my initial estimate of its size. It is plenty big enough to still involve a lot of walking, though it’s certainly no Brookwood!

We skipped the first couple of graves on the map because I’d never heard of the people buried there (and like I said, wanted to avoid any extra walking), and headed straight for J. Bruce Ismay of Titanic fame/infamy. Ismay was the managing director of the White Star Line at the time of the Titanic disaster, and also happened to be on the ship itself, though he managed to escape, which brought horrible criticism from the public, given how many passengers weren’t as lucky (I assume they still would have criticised him if he’d died, he just wouldn’t have known about it). The incident basically destroyed his mental health and he died in 1937 after suffering from depression and ill health for a number of years. However, his grave is one of the most splendid ones in the whole cemetery. It features a large, ship-engraved stone sarcophagus, another stone in front of it with a ship-themed proverb, and then a bench at the back with another verse apparently designed to encourage reflection, though it was a little difficult to read thanks to weathering.

Vesta Tilley was next on the list, which is the stage name of Matilda de Frece (nee Powles), a vaudeville performer who was known for being a male impersonator. She is buried with her husband, and their grave isn’t as elaborate as Ismay’s, but I did like the bits of art deco detailing up the sides.

I’ve read enough about the Russian Revolution to have heard of Alexander Kerensky, so I also checked his out, though I actually spotted what I think was his son’s grave first, realised he wouldn’t have been old enough to have been the Alexander Kerensky I was looking for, carried on searching, and then eventually realised I’d overshot and found the correct Kerensky right next to the younger Kerensky. Anyway, he was president of the short-lived Russian Republic for a couple of months in the period after the February Revolution but before the October one, and ended up having to flee Russia for Paris once the Bolsheviks came to power. He moved to the US when WWII broke out and lived there for the rest of his life, but all the Russian Orthodox churches there refused to bury him because of his role in the Russian Revolution, so they ended up sending his body to London where Putney Vale Cemetery found a place for him.

I’m not at all a sports person, with one exception – I absolutely love World’s Strongest Man. I look forward to it all year, and watch pretty much any kind of strongman competition I can find, including all the qualifying rounds and weird WSM off-shoots. So naturally, my workout room (aka the spare bedroom I keep all my exercise stuff in) is strongman themed, with Victorian strongman wallpaper and a poster of Eugen Sandow, actual Victorian strongman, who is buried in Putney Vale! This was definitely the grave that completely sold me on visiting, if I wasn’t already sold, and it took us a minute to find it, because sadly, it didn’t have a statue of a flexing Sandow on it as I was hoping, but it is actually quite a striking stone, especially compared to the others around it. Apparently, he was originally buried in an unmarked grave by his wife, who was angry that he had cheated on her (fair enough!). He finally received a marker in 2002, after a fellow strongman fan bought him one (though obviously a fan with lots more money than I have), but it was replaced in 2009 by Sandow’s great-grandson, and that is the stone that currently stands here.

I confess I am not at all interested in motor racing (see above comment on my lack of interest in sports), but I do have such a juvenile sense of humour that I had to see the grave of poor unfortunately named Dick Seaman, who died after crashing his car in the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix. Personally, if my last name was Seaman and my first name Richard, I think I’d probably go by Richard or Rich, but at least he must have had a sense of humour, and his grave was still well-tended, with a crop of blooming daffodils.

I also love cooking shows, and though I’m not the biggest fan of the Two Fat Ladies, mainly because their food always looked super meat-heavy and gross, and I didn’t care for Clarissa Dickson Wright’s antipathy towards vegetarians, love of hunting, and seemingly reactionary views, I did want to see the grave of Jennifer Paterson whilst we were here since at least I knew who she was, and she seemed less objectionable than Clarissa, though I could be wrong about that. Her grave is all the way in the back of the cemetery and is rather hard to find, because even though she only died in 1999, the writing on her tombstone is almost completely worn away (though you can just about make out the Paterson in person, so I’m pretty sure it’s the right one). Jennifer Paterson’s grave aside, the back part of the cemetery generally houses the more ornate Victorian style graves with angels and Jesuses (Jesii?) and stuff on them and a few mausoleums, so I would hazard a guess that this is the oldest part.

The final grave I was interested in seeing, and honestly the one I was most interested in, apart from Sandow, was that of Howard Carter, of Tutankhamun fame. I suspect his tombstone was replaced relatively recently, because he died in 1939 and his stone was in much better condition than those of a similar vintage. It proudly proclaimed that he was an Egyptologist, which made me think that I’d like a similarly prominently displayed title on my grave, though obviously not Egyptologist. I’ll have to come up with something appropriately descriptive of my eclectic interests!

There are certainly other famous people buried here (including an actor from Allo Allo but I’ve never watched the show so wasn’t bothered about seeing his grave), including some famous-adjacent people not on the official map, like one of Dahl’s Chickens’ (Charles Dickens’s) sons, and even more famous people have been cremated here, including Clement Attlee, Clementine Churchill, Donald Pleasance, Jon Pertwee and many others, but they don’t have memorials to look at or anything, so you wouldn’t know unless you’d had a look at the online guide. On the whole, I’m glad we did visit, since not only was it something new to see, it gave me something to blog about, plus the weather turned the next day, so at least I was able to feel that I made the most of the brief warm spell. Almost made it worth literally feeling like I was walking on needles the whole long three miles back!

 

 

London: Kensal Green Cemetery

Visiting Kensal Green means that I have finally seen all of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries! I’d of course been meaning to visit for a while, pre-pandemic, but it’s a long, convoluted route there on public transport from where I live, so it was actually much quicker and easier (not to mention safer), for Marcus and me to drive there whilst we had a hire car.

 

Kensal Green is London’s largest cemetery, which I was not at all surprised to learn after visiting, because it seems to go on for miles! It was built in 1833 as a sort of English equivalent to Pere Lachaise, and is the oldest of the Magnificent Seven. As you might expect from a cemetery with over 250,000 burials, there are also a lot of famous people buried here, from Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel to Lady Jane Franklin, Thackeray to Trollope, and hundreds of other names of varying degrees of (mostly Victorian) fame. However, because there is no cemetery map pointing out where these graves are, the only way you’re likely to find any of them is by stumbling on them accidentally.

 

I can’t understand why their Friends haven’t noticed this glaring oversight and produced a map to sell. A digital download would be great, and low effort for them once they’ve produced it, but even a stand holding photocopies with an honesty box attached to it within the cemetery would do the job, because surely some income is better than none (assuming some people would just grab a map without paying, because people suck), but they haven’t, so you’re on your own. We did look up some of the graves we were keen on seeing on Find a Grave, but there were no directions there either, so although we knew what the graves should look like, in a cemetery with a quarter of a million burials, finding them was still highly unlikely.

 

We did manage to stumble upon the Brunel grave somehow, which was surprisingly plain. Given my interest in polar exploration, I was also keen to find Lady Jane Franklin’s (even though she sucked as a person. She tried to discredit John Rae because she couldn’t handle the truth about her husband’s fate, and was pretty damn racist) but as it was apparently just a nondescript cross like the thousands of others in the cemetery, we struck out.

  

However, I serendipitously found George Cruikshank by the side of one of the paths we walked down, which I was thrilled about, since I adore his George IV cartoons. His body was actually moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1878, but his headstone was left behind. We also encountered various obscure Dickens relations, but I’m not the biggest Dahl’s Chickens fan, and am really clueless about his extended family.

 

Kensal Green is home to four chapels, two of which we didn’t really look at as they’re located in the crematorium (where Freddie Mercury et al were cremated, but not buried). Of the two in the cemetery proper, the massive Anglican Chapel had fencing set up all around it, so we couldn’t get very close, though we did investigate the exterior of the much smaller Noncomformist Chapel.

 

Kensal Green suffers from the same neglect as the other Magnificent Seven – it is more open than some, and not quite as overgrown as places like Abney Park, where you can’t even access half the graves, but it is still very obviously in decline, despite being a working cemetery.  I would also say that because of its size, its location, and the lack of visitors/staff, other than a few workmen we encountered, it does feel a bit unsafe in places. I would be hesitant to venture to the farthest reaches by myself, because there would be absolutely no one there to help you if a mugger or rapist jumped out. I hope I’m wrong about that, and I was just being paranoid, but I genuinely did feel a bit uneasy when I wandered off on my own.

 

Despite this uneasy feeling, or maybe because of it, something about the sheer scale of it also made it feel a bit magical in places. For example, I stumbled across a beautiful tree-lined path at one point in our visit, and when I wanted to return to walk down it, I couldn’t manage to find it again. There’s lots of twists and turns and an abundance of horse chestnut trees. There is also a giant, somewhat mysterious structure that looks like a garden surrounded by columns. I didn’t try to go inside, because I didn’t realise that you could, but I happened to read Peter Ross’s excellent A Tomb with a View shortly after visiting (recommended by the always informative Kev), and learned it was a garden memorial built by a grieving father to honour his deceased son, and there is a statue of the son inside. People are welcome to enter and sit in contemplation. I honestly hadn’t realised it was a privately built memorial because it was so huge – I just thought it was part of the cemetery complex, like the chapels, but knowing this makes it much more poignant.

 

I would absolutely recommend visiting, because it is a fabulous crumbling old Grand Dame of a cemetery, but maybe bring a friend and don’t come too close to dusk. Our visit was actually on an unseasonably hot September day, but I would have definitely enjoyed it more with an autumnal chill in the air. I think Brompton Cemetery is still my favourite of the Magnificent Seven, but Kensal Green is probably third on that list, behind Highgate.

 

I’ve realised that although I have visited all of the seven, I have only actually blogged about three of them: Abney Park, Brompton, and now Kensal Green (which I guess gives me something to do if we go back into lockdown again). I’m saving my spookiest October post for next week, so hope you’re ready! By the way, this is the first post that WordPress has forced me to write in the new Block Editor, at least until I figured out you could select Classic Editor from the drop down menu when you start a new post (I didn’t discover that until after writing most of this post though!). Does anyone hate it as much as I do? There’s not even a word count on the bottom (is there a word count at all? I haven’t found it yet!), which I usually rely on to know when to shut up.

 

Woking, Surrey: Brookwood Cemetery and the Necropolis Railway

Since we needed a car to go cherry picking anyway, we rented one for the entire week and I took a bit of time off work so we could do some things that were actually fun (unlike cherry picking). I have to admit that I was tempted by the Grayson Perry exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath, which I was fully intending on visiting before Covid happened, but I ultimately decided that was farther than I wanted to go in a day as it meant I would definitely have to use a public toilet at some point, and I am still not keen (I did admittedly have to use one at the orchard where we went cherry picking, but I didn’t see anyone else using them, and they came fully equipped with cleaning supplies which I availed myself of before and after, so it’s not quite the same as a heavily-used public toilet in a city would be. Still not ready for that!). So we settled on doing a few walks within an hour’s drive instead, because although I am definitely more of a city woman at heart (saying that makes me think of the I Love Lucy where Lucy tries to scare off Cousin Ernie by dressing up as a “wicked city woman”), this pandemic has forced me to embrace the countryside due to it being blissfully free of other people. One of these walks was in Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, which I have wanted to visit for ages, and this provided the perfect opportunity.

 

Brookwood Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Western Europe, and also contains a separate CWGC-run cemetery, which is impressive in itself, but the main reason I wanted to visit was because Brookwood was once the home of the Necropolis Railway, which I am endlessly fascinated by (it’s just so perfectly gothy Victorian). If you’re a regular reader, I’m sure you’ve heard me mention London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries, which were opened in the 1830s and 1840s as garden cemeteries in what were then the outskirts of London, in an attempt to solve the problem of London’s overcrowded burial grounds. However, after all the burial grounds within the City of London were closed in 1852, the authorities were worried there still wasn’t enough room in the cemeteries around London to accommodate future burials, and the London Necropolis Company was established to find a solution. They decided to start a massive cemetery (at one time the largest in the world) in Surrey, and transport bodies there from London by railway. Although demand was never quite as high as the company anticipated, the railway opened in 1854 and successfully ran until 1941, when part of the line was bombed, and the company decided not to rebuild the railway as it was no longer economically viable in the age of the automobile. In the years the railway was operational, the trains ran from a special station in London Waterloo to two different stations within the cemetery – one for Anglicans, and one for Non-Conformists – and the trains were divided into first, second, and third class carriages, just like a normal train. This wasn’t only because class distinctions persisted even after death (though they definitely did), but because the trains also carried mourners who were snobbier about that sort of thing than a corpse would be. The trains would depart from London at 11:35 am, and leave Brookwood at 2:30 pm (the journey took anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour throughout the railway’s history). Mourners were sold return trips, whilst the corpse only had to buy a single fare.

 

There is absolutely nothing about this that I don’t find amazing. I’ve only seen photos of the exterior of the trains (when I attended a lecture on the subject at the Frederick W. Paine Funeral Museum in Kingston a couple of years ago, which probably merits a post of its own someday) but I bet the interiors were a masterwork of gothic elegance. Travelling by rail feels like a very sophisticated way to have a funeral, though I guess you wouldn’t be able to enjoy it yourself. The second Necropolis Waterloo station, which opened in 1902, is still standing (the earlier one was demolished), although it obviously doesn’t house the railway today, and I know roughly where it is (I’ve almost certainly walked past without realising), so I will definitely go investigate when I feel more comfortable with using public transport again (I don’t want to end up the guest of honour on a Necropolis train just yet). Sadly, neither of the stations in Brookwood are still standing – the North Station was demolished in the 1960s, and the South Station survived as a snack bar until the 1970s, when it was destroyed by fire (I know the idea of a snack bar in a cemetery might sound weird, but as someone who visits a lot of cemeteries, I honestly think it’s a nice idea, provided people weren’t just throwing their rubbish all over the place. Cemeteries shouldn’t be scary to people; they should be seen as a lovely place to enjoy nature and visit your dead relatives) – so other than the old platforms, which we didn’t manage to find, there isn’t a whole lot relating to the railway itself to see, but it is still a really big cemetery with plenty of Victorian gravestones, so I wanted to have a look.

 

You can actually still travel by train if you’re so inclined, but it is with notoriously unreliable South Western Railway, rather than what I assume was the punctual Necropolis service, and you’d be going to Brookwood Station in the nearby village of Brookwood rather than the cemetery itself, but since we had the car to use, and the whole point was to avoid public transport, we drove. There is still a North and South Cemetery, though those now have lots of small divisions, including Catholic sections, a Muslim section, an Oddfellows burial ground, and most intriguingly of all, a Zoroastrian section (intriguing because I thought one of the key tenets of Zoroastrianism was sky burials, and there didn’t seem to be an area for that here (though there was a natural burial section elsewhere, which I assume means being buried without a coffin or grave marker rather than just having your body left in a field), but they did have some splendid mausoleums, as you can see below left). There is also quite a large military cemetery for WWII soldiers, including an American cemetery (it was a bit surreal to see the American flag flying proudly over it in the middle of the Surrey countryside).

 

Because people are still actively buried here, it was more well-kept than the Magnificent Seven, but there were still quite a few overgrown and neglected areas, which is a shame (I actually quite enjoy the aesthetics of the overgrown sections, but I feel bad for the people buried there with broken tombstones that never get replaced). I do wish there were still more things relating to the Necropolis Railway, because despite attending the lecture and reading all I’ve been able to find on it, I still want to know more. Marcus did manage to find a sign stating that the site where the South Station used to stand is now a monastery, but they don’t really want people walking back there, so we didn’t investigate further. During normal (non-Covid) times, they run tours tracing the route of the railway through the cemetery, so I am definitely keen on attending one of those in the future, especially if it allows you to access areas of the cemetery the public isn’t normally allowed in.

  

There are a handful of famous people buried here, including John Singer Sargent, Robert Knox, and William De Morgan, but the only one I really wanted to see was Edith Thompson, who was hanged in 1923 after her lover, Frederick Bywaters, killed her husband Percy. There was nothing to implicate Edith in the murder, other than the fact she was having an affair with Bywaters and had mentioned that she wished her husband would die in some of her letters to him, but apparently that was enough for the jury, who sentenced her to death. Even though she is still mentioned on signs within in the cemetery, when I googled it to try to find the exact location of her grave, I found out that Edith was exhumed and moved to City of London cemetery in 2018 to be buried with her parents in accordance with her wishes, so good for Edith, but bad news for people hoping to see her grave here (and also weird considering what I said earlier about the burial grounds within the City of London closing in 1852. I guess they must have relaxed the rules at some point).

 

Although it wasn’t the most impressive cemetery I’ve ever seen, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t really anything relating to the railway left (I knew there wasn’t much going in, but I was at least hoping the platforms would be a bit easier to find), it is still a large cemetery with some interesting monuments and gorgeous sequoia trees (supposedly the first to be planted in Britain), so it was worth visiting, not least because it was somewhere quiet where we didn’t have to worry about people not social distancing! (I’m sure they must still hold funeral services here, but there were none on the day of our visit, and aside from a handful of other visitors who were easy to avoid, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.)

  

 

 

London: Abney Park Cemetery Tour

Happy almost Halloween everyone! I have more posts from the US coming up, but since I’ve managed to keep the spooky theme going for the whole of October, I couldn’t resist posting about a cemetery tour I went on recently first. Over the years, I have managed to visit almost all of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries (garden cemeteries built during the Victorian era in what were at the time suburban locations as a way to accommodate the growing number of London’s dead that could no longer fit in central London’s churchyards). The only ones I had yet to see were Abney Park and Kensal Green, so when I saw that Abney Park was offering a special Halloween tour, I jumped at the chance. Even though it meant going all the way out to Stoke Newington, which is quite a trek from Southwest London.

 

Our tour was due to start at 3, but we got to Stokey (as the cool people call it) a bit early so I could grab some cake from a local bakery and get a few photos of the cemetery before the tour started. The cemetery is quite near to Stoke Newington Overground station, so is easier to access than some of the Magnificent Seven (looking at you, Tower Hamlets). The tour cost around £13, which ended up being more like £15 once Eventbrite fees were added in, but the description did say we would have mulled apple juice, soul cakes, and bones of the dead to end the tour, which was honestly one of the main reasons I booked on. It also meant I had to miss a London Month of the Dead event that I had accidentally booked for the same day, but I’ve been to a few of those and they’re always slightly disappointing, so it wasn’t a major loss, though I wasn’t pleased that they refused to refund our money even though we contacted them more than two weeks ahead of time to say we couldn’t make it. It was a sold out event, and I’m sure they could have resold our tickets to someone on the waiting list rather than have them go to waste (but that’s a complaint for another time, I’ve got plenty of others for today!).

 

Initial impressions of the cemetery were good. Although obviously overgrown and in a state of disrepair, like all of the Magnificent Seven, it wasn’t as bad as Tower Hamlets (can you tell that is my least favourite of the seven?) – in fact, in terms of atmosphere, I’d rank it up there with Brompton and Highgate, though the condition was a bit worse than either of those. However, the tour itself seemed a little disorganised when we arrived. It wasn’t clear who would be leading it, and there were various staff members standing about, but only one had the guest list and she kept disappearing inside, so you had to catch her to get your name checked off. They also abruptly decided we would all walk to the chapel to begin the tour right after Marcus had gone in to find a toilet, so I had to awkwardly wait around for him to come back (fortunately, the group didn’t move very fast, so they were easy to find). Instead of having treats at the end, apparently we would start the tour with them, which was fine with me as I was starving (I got the aforementioned cake to take home, so I hadn’t eaten since breakfast).

 

The chapel itself was quite a neat design, although there were no modern conveniences like heat or light. In fact, there was nothing in the interior except a set of folding chairs and a whole lot of ladybugs flying around, which kept landing on people (I started thinking of them as death beetles, and was glad none landed on me). However, it is the only one of the Magnificent Seven to only have a non-denominational chapel (most of the others started with an Anglican one, and then added one for dissenters (anyone who wasn’t Anglican)), and it was cool in every sense of the word, so the mulled apple juice was much appreciated! I liked that the default drink was nonalcoholic, because they serve this revolting hot gin punch at London Month of the Dead events. There were no soul cakes, but there were cookie-esque things that were meant to be ossi dei morti, but according to the woman who baked them, they had all run together, so were just broken into chunks. No matter, as they tasted delicious, like the crunchy brown edges of sugar cookies.

Once we were all settled in, the woman giving the tour appeared, and this is where things started to get disappointing. Not because she was bad at public speaking or anything like that, but because my expectations for these events are clearly unrealistically high. Because I’m really fascinated by certain subjects (Halloween, crime and punishment, medical history, the macabre), I tend to know a lot about them, so if I attend a talk by someone who doesn’t really know their stuff, I end up disappointed, and that’s exactly what happened here. She had clearly done some research, but she was working towards a MA in Victorian history rather than anything directly related to Halloween, so these subjects were not necessarily her forte. Really it’s my own fault for booking on, because I know this will happen every time. She started off by drily reading some notes she had written on the history of Halloween, which was all pretty basic information. I suppose this may have been interesting for people who don’t know much about Halloween, but for me it had all the appeal of sitting in a particularly dreary lecture hall. I would so much have rather heard about the history of the cemetery, which seemed to have been much more the tour guide’s speciality, but she touched on it only briefly.

Once she’d finished with Halloween history, we headed out into the cemetery to visit the graves of five Victorians buried there who she thought fitted into the Halloween theme. This sounded much more promising, but unfortunately also turned out to be not what I was hoping for. For one thing, almost all the actual graves of the people were located in the overgrown inaccessible parts of the cemetery, so we didn’t even get to look at them! For another thing, some of the facts she was giving us contained glaring omissions, or were just plain wrong. She mentioned the Bloody Code, and described it as coming about because “people cared about property more than people”. Fair enough, but that’s painting an incomplete picture. It was also tied in to the lack of a police force and the need for punishments to be severe enough to act as a deterrent (not defending the Bloody Code, because it was a horrible thing, just saying it was more complex than she made it sound). The primary reason it was gradually revoked in the 19th century was because Britain had established an effective police force and alternative means of punishment, such as transportation, by that point, not because property had become any less important!

Anyway, the five people she discussed were William Calcroft, one of Britain’s most prolific and brutal executioners; a member of the Mather family who was distantly related to Cotton Mather, chosen for Cotton Mather’s role in the Salem Witchcraft Trials (the connection was tenuous at best, as was her grasp of medical history. She mentioned how Cotton Mather was interested in inoculation, which he was, but then went on to imply that he and Edward Jenner were contemporaries who were influenced by each other’s ideas, which was not the case at all! Mather died years before Jenner was born, and though Jenner was influenced by inoculation, Britain and America had independently adopted inoculation at almost exactly the same time, and the practice was popularised in Britain by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Can you tell I can go on about this sort of thing all day?); a famous aeronaut and astrologer named George Graham; and finally a father and daughter who practised stage magic. The father was known as the “Wizard of the South,” and there was another odd moment where she seemed to say that Houdini and the Wizard knew each other, even though Houdini was born 15 years after the Wizard died. There was a lot of jumbling of timelines). Even though I obviously had some issues with some of her research (or lack thereof), I am at least polite enough to keep my mouth shut whilst someone is delivering a talk. Not so her friend, a self-described historian, who stood in front and kept interrupting to add bits in (but not make necessary corrections). It was just obnoxious after a while.

Honestly, I did enjoy the overall experience more than I’m probably making it sound like I did. The mulled cloudy apple juice and cookies were delicious (and the very nice cemetery volunteers were waiting for us at the end of the tour with more mulled juice, which was much appreciated), and the cemetery itself was great, I just wish the tour guide had bothered to do a bit more research and maybe picked graves we could actually see! I hope I’m not coming down too harsh – I just get annoyed sometimes because this is exactly the sort of thing I would like to do, but have never really been given a chance to do so, so it irks me when I see people who have had the opportunity not use it to the fullest of their abilities! I also think that if someone is talking about a subject I know about myself, and saying things I know are wrong, it makes it difficult for me to trust what they say on subjects I know nothing about, like George Graham. I enjoyed getting to see Abney Park, but I would have liked more of the focus to be on the cemetery itself, which I think would have let our guide play to her strengths – I think she would have been great under the right circumstances, this just clearly wasn’t her choice of subject. Still, not a bad thing to do pre-Halloween, and certainly better than London Month of the Dead’s horrible hot lemon gin would have been. I’ll be spending Halloween night watching all of my favourite films (Hocus Pocus, Braindead, etc) and vintage Treehouses of Horror, and maybe I’ll even get some trick or treaters this year, now that we’ve moved into an actual house! Hope your Halloween is just as spooky as you want it to be (even if that’s not very)!

Roma, Ancora

I was back in Rome for a short trip a couple of weeks ago for the second time since I started blogging, hence the post title. Because this was my fourth trip to Rome overall, I’d already seen most of the major sites (though I still haven’t actually been inside the Colosseum…), so I was quite happy to just eat, stroll around, take in a bit of culture, and then eat some more. We also only really had less than two full days there, so we just didn’t have time to do very much (not even eat as much gelato as I’d hoped). So rather than break up the trip into multiple posts, I’ll just do this one big one.

 

We arrived quite late in Rome on the first day (due to our decision to take a bus from the airport. It’s cheap for a reason), when all the museums were already shut, so we just went to grab a pizza and gelato (gelato pic from second day, as I looked too hideous in the ones from day one), which wasn’t really a problem as those were my top concerns anyway. Roman pizza is super thin and pretty much the best (except for maybe New York pizza), though I am the sort of person who likes to eat dinner promptly at 5, so got very impatient and hungry waiting for the pizzerias to open for dinner at 7.

 

Day two was meant to be the nicest weather of our trip by far (though still quite windy; Italy was going through an unseasonable cold spell whilst we were there), so we took advantage by heading out to see the Non-Catholic Cemetery where Keats and Shelley are buried, which is located right by the Piramide Cestia (built in 18-12 BC for a Roman magistrate, and based on the pyramids in Egypt, albeit on a much smaller scale). The grounds of the pyramid are only open a couple Saturdays a month, so we couldn’t go in, but we could enter the cemetery, which is free with a recommended €3 donation.

 

I would have happily paid that anyway for upkeep, but even more happily paid when I realised the cemetery also cares for at least four delightfully grumpy feral cats, who freely wander doing their cat thing. The cemetery is often thought of as the Protestant Cemetery, but actually people from all non-Catholic religions (or no religion at all) are interred here. There are some vague arrows pointing to Keats’ and Shelley’s graves, but what you need to know is that Keats is in the grassy annex next to the main cemetery, right by a bench on the left wall with a plaque of Keats’s head above it, and Shelley is in the main part of the cemetery – from where you enter, go straight up to the top, and proceed left along the back wall. He’s quite near to Goethe’s son, who is also here.

Shelley is buried next to Edward Trelawney, who paid for his grave, and who I’ve always thought of as kind of a hanger-on (he basically fanboyed around with all the Romantic poets), and Keats is similarly buried next to Joseph Severn, who arranged this well after Keats’ death and without consulting him, though I don’t think quite as poorly of Severn, maybe because he drew some great portraits and nursed Keats in his final hours. And the non-famous graves in here are pretty great too – I may have changed my mind about looking sassy on my grave like Ady, and instead go for reclining with a favourite book and beloved pet, like the excellently named Devereux Plantagenet Cockburn, above right. I just need to acquire a pet at some point before I die. It’s a wonderful cemetery, and much bigger than it looks at first glance – go, you’ll enjoy it!

We subsequently headed over to see the Mouth of Truth, to test whether it deemed us liars and bit our hands off (I wasn’t actually worried, since if anything, I’m too honest). I had never actually been here before, and was a bit dismayed about the line, but it moved very quickly, thanks in large part to a man working there who hustled everyone along. He’d grab your camera, take a couple of photos of you, and then BOOM, move you along out the side door so the next person could step up. A good system that more popular attractions could benefit from! It’s next to a church that contains the alleged head of St. Valentine – make sure your knees and shoulders are covered if you want to come here, since they do enforce “modesty standards”.

After having a delicious lunch of a whole fried artichoke and cacio e pepe served in a bowl made of cheese, we headed over to see the Medical History Museum at Sapienza University, which I had skipped on previous visits since it didn’t look like anything special, but given my love of medical history, I thought it was probably time I checked it out anyway. Also, I was intrigued by the re-construction of an alchemist’s lab that was meant to be in the basement. This turned out to be less exciting than hoped-for, as you can see above (I had to find light switches to even see anything, as all the lights were turned off down there. I suspect we were the only visitors that day), but the museum did have some fantastic stained glass windows depicting medieval medicine (I love the panel with the dog, but knowing what I know about medieval medical practices, I suspect no good can come of it for either the dog or the patient).

 

The rest of the museum was bigger than I was expecting (on three floors counting the basement), but I was correct in initially thinking it wasn’t really anything special. It contained a very generic overview of the history of medicine, with a few specimens and medical instruments, but nothing terribly unique or interesting outside of Garibaldi’s crutch. Also, the main signage in each room was in English, but none of the object labels were; apparently there are audio guides available, but I didn’t see anyone working there during my visit who I could have asked for one. I think I would have preferred the Anatomical Museum, also on campus, but that was open by appointment only, and I feel a bit weird about being shown around somewhere, especially if I don’t speak the language. It was free, so I didn’t lose anything by going, but there are definitely lots and lots of attractions to see in Rome before trying this one. At least it was quiet!

Our last day in Rome dawned cold and rainy, just really unpleasant weather (I was not a happy camper, as you can see, and my mood was not improved by street vendors constantly trying to stick umbrellas in my face. Couldn’t they see I already had one?), but we braved it to head over to the Capuchin Crypt, which I had first visited about 9 years before. Needless to say, things have changed a lot since my first visit. I remember just walking into the crypt, after dropping a few euro into a donation basket, and it only took maybe ten minutes to see. They have now turned it into a whole little complex with a museum about the Capuchin Order, which costs €8.50 to enter (including crypt and museum). Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to take pictures anywhere inside, not even the museum, but there were a lot of gems here, and just about everything had an English translation (and they even had a public toilet, though it was one of those horrible seatless ones). I learned an awful lot about famous Capuchin monks, and there were a lot of relics, creepy dolls, and even a wooden statue of a dog with a bread roll in his mouth, which I am sorry I can’t show you. The crypts themselves seem more or less unchanged, and involve fabulous tableaux of bones and mummified monks in a series of rooms (like a whole room lined with pelvises, and chandeliers made from human bones that hang inches from your head) that were started in the 17th century and added to up until the 19th century (the Marquis de Sade visited here and helped to popularise it). It is all excellently gothic, and I love it. Definitely visit if you’re anything like me, though again, be sure you are clad “modestly” (not a challenge on a day as cold as the one we visited on).

 

Unfortunately, because I wasn’t expecting there to be a museum, the visit took much longer than anticipated, and we had to head for the airport right after (a fiasco that involved missing a train because the platform was seriously like a mile away from the barriers and having to take the same bus back to the airport that we were trying to avoid after the journey there, but at least we made our flight in the end), so I didn’t even get to eat any gelato that day! Fewer than 48 hours is certainly not enough time to do Rome properly, but if I’d been able to get some food on the last day, I think I’d have been satisfied enough with what we did considering it was my fourth time there. The weather was disappointing, and we didn’t get to see the Galleria Borghese, which a friend had recommended, because it was booked up, but it was overall a decent trip, if not quite as fruitful in terms of gelato as my last one.

 

Glasgow Mop-Up Post

As you all have probably come to know by now (and hopefully look forward to, but maybe dread, who knows?), any kind of holiday I take usually leads to a mop-up post so I can fit everything else in that I didn’t quite have enough to jabber on about for its own post. This is Glasgow’s.
  
First of all, I finally got to meet Anabel from the Glasgow Gallivanter (and her husband John) in person, after following each other’s blogs for a number of years. They kindly treated us to lunch at the cafe in the Lighthouse, Scotland’s centre for design and architecture, and we looked around the galleries a bit afterwards. We even climbed the Mackintosh tower, which gave lovely (albeit chilly!) views of the city, though I don’t think any of us quite got Louise Harris’s installation “Visaurihelix” which was in the tower at the time of our visit (loved the man playing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” on the piano in the viewing deck though). Afterwards, Anabel and John took us to the Billy Connolly murals we hadn’t seen yet (we’d stumbled on one en route to the People’s Palace, but there were still two more to see), and for a quick drink before we had to dash off to the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. Anabel is the first blogger I’ve met in person, and based on the lovely experience I had, I would definitely be open to meeting more bloggers in real life in the future (I’ve held off until now because I’m always scared people will hate me in person, since I’m kind of the worst)!
  
Secondly, inspired by Kev’s post on Walking Talking, another Glasgow blog, we went to the Necropolis, which is a fabulous old cemetery on a hill that overlooks the city (and is opposite the Tennant’s brewery, though we didn’t have time to visit that (fortunately)). I have to admit that I wasn’t super enthusiastic about the climb (massive understatement), but I’m glad I persevered, because it really is very cool up there, as you can probably see.
  
After the Necropolis, we got a train straight out to the Kelvingrove (well, the nearest train station to it, which really wasn’t all that close). By rights, we should have spent much more time here (as they say on their website, “If you only have one day in Glasgow, Kelvingrove is a must see!”), but we just didn’t really have time to fit it in on any other day, and I certainly wouldn’t have missed the Hunterian for it. It is a sort of everything museum – art, natural history, archaeology, etc, but it feels rather more elegant and modern than the Hunterian (which is definitely not a dig at the Hunterian. I love old-fashioned museums). Since I’m not the biggest art fan, we skipped most of that and just looked around the Glasgow-centric galleries, like the one on Mackintosh and the small social history gallery.
 
Because I only spent about an hour there, and thus only had time to visit the ground floor galleries, I’m just sticking the Kelvingrove in here rather than giving it a full post of its own, as it would otherwise deserve. I do want to show you the stuffed haggis though, as it was one of the funniest things we saw in Glasgow.
  
Our final stop on our last day there (other than swinging by the Christmas market so I could buy an enormous variation on the empire biscuit. I was intrigued since we don’t have empire biscuits down south, and they are really good but one of the sweetest things I’ve ever eaten, particularly when topped with caramel AND icing, as this one was) was Pollok Country Park, solely so I could see the Highland Coos (cows). I felt cheated that I never saw any when we were actually in the Highlands, so I definitely wanted to make sure I saw some on this trip. Pollok Park, which also had a stately home in the middle of it, has a herd, so we literally tramped through the mud to get to their enclosure, spent a nice chunk of time gazing at the cows, and walked straight back out of the park to the train back to central Glasgow so we could catch our train home. I think you’ll agree that it was worth the detour!
   
There are still plenty of things I’d like to see in Glasgow (like the Police Museum, the Anatomical and Zoological Hunterians, and the Tunnock’s factory (we were staying in a pretty fancy hotel since it was our anniversary, and everything in the minibar was free, so I got hooked on Tunnock’s Caramel Logs, which are unfortunately not so easily available outside of Scotland, unlike the more common Caramel Wafers, which I don’t like nearly as much), and I’d like to be able to spend more time at the Kelvingrove and the Lighthouse), so I’m sure I’ll be back someday, but I think we managed to cram quite a lot into our long weekend. I probably ate my own body weight in sugar (of course I had to have a deep fried Mars bar too!) for which I only have myself to blame (Glasgow has many lovely restaurants – I just really like sweets!). I always enjoy getting to travel up to Scotland (well, not so much the train journey the last time we went to Edinburgh, but there were no issues this time), and Glasgow was no exception.

The Rest of Budapest

Relative to most of my trips, I didn’t actually visit all that many museums on this Budapest jaunt – in large part because we arrived on a Sunday evening when everything was shut, and were there over a Monday which is the museum closing day in Budapest, which only left us only Tuesday, and Wednesday morning for museums – but that doesn’t mean we weren’t busy. On the contrary, my feet were still aching days later from all the walking we did (and from uncomfortable shoes, because I always pick form over function). So this post will cover the rest of the things we did, with of course plenty of photos (courtesy of Marcus).

  

The first (and probably best) thing we saw in Budapest was Kerepesi Cemetery, a huge and absolutely gorgeous cemetery in Pest. There are quite a few famous people buried here (famous primarily in Hungary I guess, because we hadn’t heard of them) including their first prime minister, poets, artists, and all the rest.
  
The cemetery was taken over by the Soviets in the 1940s, who did their best to destroy it (even building a rubber factory on part of the cemetery), but happily, most of the cemetery lives on. I think even the Communists were won over in the end, as there is a pretty cool monument for the Labour movement here, and a bunch of graves that certainly look communist, as they’re all nondescript black markers with stars on them.
  
Actually, I wanted to come here because there is a museum in the cemetery about Hungarian funerary practices which sounded AMAZING, but when we got here the whole thing was closed for renovation, with no mention of this on the only website in English I could find (it said it was being “partially renewed” which made it sound like at least some of it was open), which was obviously super irritating, but walking around the cemetery totally made up for it, because it is the best. My favourite marker was Ady’s (he was a poet) because dude is giving MAXIMUM sass, but I also like the guy with the rams. (When I die, I want a statue of myself on my grave looking as sassy as Ady does. This should preferably be sculpted well before I die, so I can make sure it is sassy enough (and enjoy it in life).)
  
They also have a big funeral coach (the largest in Hungary) and many many other cool things. I highly recommend visiting – it’s free and you can’t really go wrong (unless the museum is shut without warning, but hey, you can still enjoy the cemetery).
  
We also went to Buda Castle (as you do), which is totally fine and worth seeing (especially if you just wander around the outside for free, and don’t actually pay to go in anything), but I’m sure other people have covered it well so I don’t need to (I regret not seeing the very cheesy looking labyrinth, but it was expensive), other than showing you some photos.
 
I was scared of mask guy outside the souvenir shop, because I was half-convinced a real person was inside who would jump at me when I approached, but I think it was all fake (if it was my shop, I would of course hide in there and scare people).  Buda Castle also has some excellent hooded crows (and apparently fancy-cakes, which I am sad to have not tried, though I ate plenty of cake on this trip nonetheless).
  
We visited the outside of the Parliament building to take some photos and ended up wandering into the Lapidarium (this was our first experience with lapidariums (lapidari?), and I was attempting to use my extremely limited knowledge of Latin to guess what was inside. Jewels? Rabbits? Sadly, no. Old statues). The gargoyles were pretty great though. There was another museum about Parliament which appeared to be free, but given how boring I found the European Parliament museum (sorry Parlamentarium, you tried your best, but it’s true), I decided to skip it, since I know even less about Hungarian Parliament than I do about the European one (which Britain shouldn’t be leaving).
  
Hungary is of course known for its cake shops, and though I’m not the biggest fan of Central (Eastern? Still not sure!) European cakes (they tend to be real dry), even bad cake is still cake, so I couldn’t resist. It didn’t hurt (or maybe I mean help) that our hotel had a cake section at the breakfast buffet, including my favourite “bland cake” (I think it was hazelnut, but it was hard to tell. Still, I really liked the texture, so I just spread it with Nutella and ate it that way, No wonder I gained two pounds on this trip!) and an orange cake that wasn’t half bad.  We also visited the Central Market to pick up some paprika (it’s what you do), because surprisingly, the paprika in the market is cheaper than supermarket paprika, and found these badass witch pickles (too bad I hate pickles), but also cake. I was a big fan of the Pyramis, which was just layers of yellow cake and a chocolate moussey icing covered in chocolate, but it looked hella fancy, tasted good, and only cost like 80p. Considering a similar cake would cost at least £4 or £5 in London, I think that was a damn good deal (and ate Pyramis more than once).
  
Food-wise, most of the vegetarian options seem to be fried, which is admittedly a guilty pleasure in moderation (my stomach can’t handle too much fried these days!). There actually are veggie establishments with healthier options, but I indulged in fried cheese and chips (I love the whole fried Emmenthal dipped in cranberry jam thing that is big in Central Europe), falafel and hummus (not Hungarian, but still, fried), and these giant potato pancakes from the Spring Market that were topped with more cheese than even I could finish (so amazing though. We also tried Langos at the market, which is fried bread topped with cheese, and I was not such a fan. The bread was sweet like an elephant ear, and would have been a hell of a lot better with cinnamon sugar than cheese!). Kurtoskalacs (chimney cake) are also a must, and there were enough stalls throughout the city to fill all my kurtoskalacs needs (cheap too! Way cheaper than Prague).  My favourite food is one I didn’t try, but was advertised at the Spring Market, as seen below (if anyone can tell me what Clod with Two Kind of Cummins is, I’d love to know. I debated going up and asking what kinds of cummins were available, just to find out what it meant, but it felt a bit jerkish, since I’m sure if I tried to translate English into Hungarian, it would come out even worse).
Budapest is a town of statues, and there are so many amazing ones, from derpy lions, to famous Hungarians, to good old Bela Lugosi at Vajdahunyad Castle. The one I was most excited to see, however, was Columbo and Dog, which was a good half an hour out of our way, but so worth it! We also saw Reagan (meh), Imre Nagy (he was prime minister of Hungary, and was executed by the Soviets) on a bridge, a fat policeman, and so many more, but Columbo was definitely the highlight (I’m still not exactly sure why Columbo is in Budapest, but I’m not complaining).
  
Transport-wise, Budapest is pretty easy to get around. They have the third oldest Metro system in the world (after London and Liverpool) and trams and buses (the trams are the most fun, as is Metro Line 1, which is the oldest and still has really old-fashioned trains (probably not the original ones, but I felt Michael Portillo-esque riding them, which may not be a good thing…at least I didn’t try to make awkward conversation with strangers!)), and I loved how they tell you when a train is expected in 30 second intervals. There’s nowhere to hide with 30 second intervals, unlike in London where a Tube minute can sometimes last like four actual minutes. Actually, the whole system was pleasant to use as people are very polite and stand well to the side to let everyone off the train before boarding, except for the escalators which seemed way faster and scarier than normal escalators, and I was nervous the whole time I was riding them. We got 72 hour transport passes (which were only like £10) and we used them a lot, because Budapest is pretty big.
  
I wasn’t always the biggest fan of the museums in Budapest, but there’s still a lot to like about this city, not least the architecture and cake. I enjoyed it much more on this visit than on my earlier one, probably because I wasn’t staying in a hostel with a sexual harasser, or getting talked into tagging along to a festival I had no interest in. I think 72 hours was probably the perfect amount of time here, as my feet couldn’t have taken much more. Definitely make sure you see Kerepesi Cemetery if you ever find yourself here, and take some time to check out all the statues in the city. And eat some cake!

London: The Secret Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park

 

How’s that for a good October post title?!  I have a couple more Ohio posts coming eventually, but you all know that I pretty much live for Halloween, so I can’t resist sharing a couple creepy posts while it’s still October. I have wanted to visit this Victorian pet cemetery ever since I found out about its existence during London Month of the Dead a few years ago, but the tour offered that year was already booked up by the time I saw it (I’ve since learned my lesson and book all my Halloween events in August. Stupid populous London). Last year, I was ready and waiting, but the pet cemetery tours never appeared on the London Month of the Dead website. But this year, this year, I got in. Seems like the Royal Parks finally got smart, and now offer about a dozen tours over the course of October, instead of just one (at the time of writing this post, it looked like one of them even still had some availability).

  

Since the tour is run by the Royal Parks (or their Friends, perhaps) it wasn’t simply a tour of the pet cemetery, but of Hyde Park more generally, so we had to meet by Speakers’ Corner. Good thing there was a guy with a Royal Parks jacket and a clipboard standing there, because otherwise I don’t think I would have spotted our fellow walkers. Unlike most London Month of the Dead events, where most of the attendees are, well, like me, if not much more overtly gothy, because this one was primarily a Royal Parks event, almost everyone else there were older “Friends of the Royal Parks” looking types, all ready to go in their waterproof autumn walking gear. Which probably also explains why the walk wasn’t quite as creepy as I was hoping it would be.

  

We began our tour with the nearby “Animals in War” memorial, which I had somehow never seen before, but it is absolutely lovely. We heard more about the role of animals in WWI, including the guide’s wife’s grandfather’s story, as he had worked with pack animals transporting ammunition to the Front, and this was all very well and good – I like animals and WWI, but it was far more poignant than scary.

  

We proceeded to the area where Tyburn used to be (now Marble Arch), and as he started telling us that over 100,000 people were executed in the seven centuries it was in operation (which, if true, is an absolutely appalling number, but I haven’t found that figure listed anywhere else in my admittedly limited research for this post), I thought, “now this is more like it!” Unfortunately, apart from a brief mention of the “Tyburn Tree,” a triangular gallows that could hang twenty-four people at a time (this was before the long-drop, mind, so it could take up to 20 minutes of slow strangulation for a person to die, with their limbs jerking ghoulishly all the while), the grisliness ended there. Instead, he told us the story of Jack Sheppard, which is interesting, but like anyone who is fascinated by the macabre, I’d heard it about twenty times before, so I do wish he could have shared a less well-known story with us (though perhaps it was new to the respectable types who were on the tour with us).

  

Thenceforth to the monument to the Reformers’ Tree, which was burnt down in 1866 during the Reform League protests. I’d never seen this monument either (I don’t come to Hyde Park much, as I mentioned in the Grayson Perry at the Serpentine post), and I was interested in hearing more about this plaque and what it symbolised, but apart from telling us why they were protesting (men’s voting rights, or rather, the lack thereof for working class men), the guide didn’t say much about it. We then went on to a more wooded area of Hyde Park and heard about stag beetles and their life cycle, which I suppose was rather creepy only because I think stag beetles are gross, but not in a Halloweeny kind of way.

 

But then, we finally came to the part I’d been waiting for. Hiding behind a secret gate next to a very unassuming looking maintenance building, was the pet cemetery. It was started in 1881 by the gatekeeper at the time, a Mr. Winbridge, who allowed some of his friends to bury their beloved dog “Cherry” in his garden (I hope he lived in the most excellent “lodge” (which actually looks like it could be an amazing witch’s cottage) a short distance away which I’ll show you a picture of at the end of the post, but if the graves were in his backyard, it’s more likely that there was some other building there before the ugly maintenance one), and it grew from there to include over 300 graves, including the Duke of Cambridge’s dog, who was run over by a carriage (the Victorian Duke of Cambridge that is, who was a cousin of Queen Victoria. Not the current one). Which is kind of amazing given how small it is (I know pet bodies aren’t as big as human ones, but still. I also think it’s kind of obnoxious that poor Mr. Winbridge had to give up the whole of his tiny garden to accommodate animal bodies, what with the rest of Hyde Park just sitting right there, but maybe he was into that kind of thing. Having a cemetery in his garden, that is, not necrophiliac bestiality).

  

It’s not a scary kind of Pet Sematary pet cemetery, but is actually rather sweet and quaint, and I enjoyed reading the heartfelt epitaphs on many of the tiny graves. The guide made sure to point out the “murder victim” to us, poor Balu, who was “poisoned by a cruel Swiss.” I think the grave inscriptions are pretty interesting, so I’ll include some here so you can read them for yourselves (see my Instagram for even more!). I have to wonder if poor “Tubby” actually was overweight, because he seems to be buried all by himself, even though space was at a premium.  They’re not all dogs or cats either; see if you can spot the monkey and crocodile!

  

  

  

  

So did the pet cemetery live up to expectations? Absolutely! I thought it was fantastic, though I’m still not sure if it was worth the 15 quid it cost to go on the tour. Perhaps if the rest of the walk had measured up to it, I would have felt that it was better value, but though our guide was certainly competent, the content of the walk was utterly lacking the scare factor I would have liked from a cemetery tour. What with Tyburn being right there, and with the park itself dating back to Henry VIII’s reign, I’m sure there must be plenty of murders and ghost stories associated with it that the guide could have told us, instead of the not at all spooky subject matter he offered us. I might have been reasonably satisfied with it at another time of year (actually, that’s a lie; for me, eerieness never goes out of season), but not as an October walk!  I suppose it was worth doing just to see the cemetery, but I think the price is high for what you actually get (though I suspect the majority of the other people on our tour were probably perfectly satisfied with the tour’s lack of creepiness).  3/5 for the walk, but the cemetery itself is practically perfect. Oh, and here’s the “witch cottage” I mentioned earlier; I’d be very happy to move in and tend the pet cemetery and scare children away if they need someone to do that kind of thing.

London: “The Joy of Bees” and “Through a Glass Darkly”

dsc07797This week, I wanted to tell you guys about two events I recently attended (despite always feeling kind of bad for reporting on events that were a one-off, because what’s the point if no one else can go?! Oh well), and given that it’s October, I couldn’t resist opening the post with a creepy blurry picture of Brompton Cemetery at night, even though I’m going to talk about the Joy of Bees first.

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So, the Joy of Bees.  I’ve attended a few of Bompas and Parr’s events over the years, with mixed results (I blogged about “Sensed Presence” a couple years ago), and at some point ended up on their mailing list, which means that if they mention anything interesting, I’m more inclined to go than I perhaps otherwise would be (especially because hearing about it before the general public means I’ve actually got a shot at booking tickets to most things).  I like bees, I like honey, and their description of the event, though pretentious (“an experiential art installation and gastronomic tasting of some of the rarest honeys in the world”), was nonetheless sufficiently intriguing for me to book tickets, despite the hefty £9 price tag.

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Knowing what I now know, I wish I’d kept that £9 and just bought a couple jars of nice honey.  I think the best way I can review this is by going through their descriptions of each level of the townhouse (it was in some random narrow building (maybe a former brothel?) in Soho), so you can see that although I can’t technically accuse them of lying, the grandiose promises didn’t quite match up to what was delivered.  First up, the “Observation Colony, containing 20,000 live bees” (seen in the picture on the left, above).  I didn’t count them, but I do believe that it contained that many bees.  The problem is that 20,000 bees don’t actually take up all that much room, so it wasn’t any more impressive than the bee display at the Geauga County Fair, and the Geauga County fair does free honey tastings free of pompous trappings.

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The 1st Floor contained “Hive Mind, an exposition of cultural contributions from artists for whom bees, hives, honey, and the visual language of beekeeping have provided a source of information.”  I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “exposition,” I think of it as being more than three things.  Because that’s how many pieces of “art” were there.  3.  You’ve already seen two of them (the log looking things and the vase thing) and the other was much the same, just another thing made of honeycomb.  When I heard “honeycomb inspired modern art,” for some reason I was picturing maybe like a giant honeycombed hive you could walk through or something, not some unremarkable little vase in a glass case.  Anyway, this was lame, and the resident beekeeper who was allegedly on hand to answer questions was none too friendly either.

The 2nd Floor, shown on the left above (I’m running out of pictures here because there wasn’t much worth photographing), was “Pollenesia, a botanical paradise where you’ll meet the enigmatic, steely and magnificent Mellifera, Queen of Honey.”  Mellifera was quite clearly an aspiring actress who didn’t seem particularly interested in “bee-ing” there.  Her whole shtick consisted of asking us to smell the wildflowers and then do a shot of malic acid, which was meant to cleanse our palates for the honey tasting.  And man, that was not what I’d call a “botanical paradise.”  When I think of botanical paradise, I think of something like the inside of the big greenhouses in Kew, where you’re actually surrounded by plants.  Not some clumps of dirt on the floor with wildflowers stuck in them (and rather hilariously, the wildflowers were arranged in exactly the way the honey tasting ladies told us not to plant them; i.e. you should plant flowers of one type all together, so bees don’t have to exert themselves too much gathering pollen.  These were all mixed together).

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Finally, there was the honey tasting itself, or should I say the “Salon of Honey, a honeycombed haven where you’ll be guided through a taste of some of the rarest honeys in the world.”  This was by far the best part of the installation, because it’s hard to go wrong with tasting honey, though I was annoyed that they had a map posted everywhere showing the “29 honeys featured at the Joy of Bees,” yet we only tasted 5 honeys.  I realise it wouldn’t have been practical to taste THAT many honeys, but why advertise them then?  Because of that map, I’m not sure which honeys we actually tasted, as there was nothing to distinguish the tasting honeys from the 24 other featured honeys, and many of them were from the same countries as the ones we tasted.  But the honey was delicious, no complaints there, and I actually quite liked the apple chunks soaked in super-tart malic acid that we were given to cleanse our palates.  I also enjoyed the honey mocktail we were given afterwards, and the bonus honey on bread.  But really, none of it was worth £9.  I’m not much of a drinker, but if they would have dumped some booze in that “mocktail” at least I would have felt like I was getting my money’s worth.  The other main complaint, in addition to the general vibe of half-assedness that pervaded, was that the whole thing was sponsored by some hotel chain I’d never heard of, and the honey came from their hives, as we kept being reminded, to the extent that the whole thing felt like a big advert that they should have been paying us to listen to.  Very disappointing overall, and I think it’s going to be a long time before I risk another Bompas and Parr event, unless it’s something free.

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However, all was not lost, because later that evening we attended “Through a Glass Darkly” at Brompton Cemetery, part of London Month of the Dead. London Month of the Dead offer some of the few non-clubbing related Halloween events in London, and for this I am grateful.  It was £12 (and did come with an actual cocktail, although I didn’t drink it due to an unfortunate incident at a different Month of the Dead event last year where I desperately had to pee for the entire lecture after having the cocktail, and then had to frantically run to the men’s room at the back of the chapel, because the women’s toilet wasn’t unlocked), which I didn’t object that much to paying because it was a Halloween event (the things I’ll do for my favourite holiday), and also a chance to enter an awesome Victorian cemetery at night (and because some of the ticket price went to cemetery upkeep, of course).

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Anyway, after a bit of waiting around in the cold for someone to open the gates (I think every goth in town was there, and we all know I’m a goth at heart…), we all headed up to the chapel, which is a fair walk up the path between the graves, and the cemetery was good and dark, though the chapel was atmospherically illuminated with candlelight.  I realise I still haven’t explained what the event actually was (if you didn’t click the link and find out); it was advertised as a phantasmagoria, in other words, a creepy magic lantern show.  Ever since reading about a similar event held in a cemetery in Paris in the 19th century, I’ve been dying (not literally, though I guess it’s a pun) to attend one, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw this event on the Month of the Dead website.  Hence the need to snap up tickets.  It turned out to not exactly be a straightforward phantasmagoria, but it was so good that I didn’t mind.  What actually happened was that Professor Mervyn Heard, operator of the gloriously steampunk-looking magic lantern (it ran on electricity, but apparently they were originally powered by a volatile mix of gasses that blew up and killed several magic lantern operators), gave us a history of magic lantern shows, accompanied by some of his favourite slides, many of which were gothic in nature, although he provided amusing sound effects (he did comedy accents and everything), so not really scary.  There were a few ghost stories thrown in, and Professor Heard was extremely engaging, and infectiously passionate about magic lanterns (to the extent that I kind of want one of my own).  He was also very knowledgeable, which was nice after recently attending a couple of lectures where the speakers didn’t really seem to know their subject matter.

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My only problems with the event were that the people behind us talked through the whole damn thing (not Month of the Dead’s fault), and that it was hard to see the screen from where we were sitting because of all the heads in front of me (I had to lean to the side and got a crick in my neck), but I’m not really sure what could be done about that, other to let fewer people in, but then I might not have gotten to attend at all, and I would have rather had a sore neck than not seen it.  Professor Heard was fantastic; surprisingly funny, and he had an excellent collection of slides.  The second best part of the evening came when we left the cemetery; as the gates had been re-locked during the show, we had to all exit together so they could let us out.  After impatiently waiting for everyone to leave, we were rewarded when one of the event organisers strapped on a wind-up gramophone, and led us out of the cemetery whilst cranking out spooky music (I’ve got a video up on my Instagram, if you want to hear it).  It was hilarious, and the perfect end to the evening.  London Month of the Dead have got a few more events this month, though I think most of them are sold out (and I’d avoid the one about the architecture of cemeteries; we went last year and it was pretty lame), but I’d definitely recommend the magic lantern show if they do it again next year!  It even made up for the disappointment that was the Joy of Bees!

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