Monday, 4 July 2011

How it all began


© Godric Godricson
I started wandering around in churchyards when I was a child and I still recall my parents looking anxiously when I asked for permission to go and have a look at our local churchyard.  I think I was about 12 years old and the habit had begun.  After that time, I would often find my parents parking the car by the side of the road as I ran off into the churchyard to have a look at the monuments and see what was there.  Looking back at it;  my parents were very tolerant of my apparently strange interest in headstones and graveyards.  I remember my mother having a very serious chat with me on one occasion about the reasons for my 'cemetery addiction' and I have to say that I don't think she was very satisfied with the response.  So, what was it about cemeteries and graveyards that interested a child?

Argotti Botanic Gardens & Herbarium
Valetta [Link]

© Godric Godricson

Well, I didn't have one of those 'difficult' childhoods. There wasn't a 'mean and moody',  testosterone driven young person who sought sanctuary from parents in the isolation of the cemetery.  There are no dark Gothic themes playing out in my life.  I wasn't running away from anything, instead, I was running towards something. That 'something' was a liking for the architecture of church buildings, the design and construction of churchyard monuments and the peace and tranquillity that comes from the well manicured lawn.  Oh, well manicured lawns............... I'm not addicted to them like some people are and in many ways a parish churchyard in the United Kingdom is often likely to own a rather rough lawn.  That is the way I like it now but when I was a child  I think I appreciated the attention to detail that can manifest itself after the mower has been out and cut down the long grass.

© Godric Godricson
I suppose, in some ways, a liking for well cut lawns was a cultural hangover from Victorian times when cemeteries were  rather beautiful gardens for the dead. Cemeteries were to be looked after and maintained and to be pristine.  I now buy into the idea of cemeteries being much more unkempt and being like wildlife islands in the middle of large towns and cities.  I quite like the idea of urban cemeteries being places of the living where busy office workers can enjoy their sandwich whilst waiting to go back to work and where rather bored teenagers can dream about future lives whilst they text each other incessantly on mobile phones.  Cemeteries are not just  places for the dead. They are places that tell us about the living (both now and in the past).  I have to say I am an inveterate people watcher and cemeteries often provide the perfect place to watch people coming and going and living their lives.  The well-behaved family as well as the rather poor immigrant worker hoping to pass an idle moment are all evident in the urban landscape.

© Godric Godricson
I did go to Durham University for a few years and took an archaeology course ( I am not an archaeologist)  and this merely fanned the flames when it came to cemeteries and what they contained.  So, I have some knowledge of what goes on underground when the earth is thrown onto the box.  Archaeology is one of those things that runs through my life and which entertains, amuses and informs my life.  I'm so pleased to have spent some time at Durham which is a privileged place set in a landscape of economic deprivation.  Again, I suppose I start to see contradictions and it is perhaps the contradictions between one thing and another that I enjoy and find satisfying in cemeteries.

I particularly like rural cemeteries.  In the United Kingdom we have so many old parish Churches that perhaps we often miss the beauty that is ever present in the rural landscape. Rural cemeteries are magnificent places and sometimes you will find a particularly fine carving or an incredibly beautiful sculpture.  Most likely,  you will find a fairly ordinary headstone telling the everyday lives of ordinary people and that is absolutely OK .  Ordinary people leading ordinary lives is what this country was all about and what it continues to be about.  Yes, there are magnificent monuments and mausolea that are  unusual and relate to historic and noble families although such structures often have little relationship to the contemporary visitor who now walks in the cemetery and sees the world going by.

© Godric Godricson
This blog is about the places that I go and the places where I take  pictures and explore the immense heritage that we have in United Kingdom.  The blog is not a creepy place because I'm not a creepy person.  I believe that the glass is always half full rather than half empty and I always see the bright side of situations.  In cemeteries, rather than simply a place for the dead,  I perceive an environmental bolthole where life will manifest itself no matter what happens.

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