How I’m winning at parenting – no GCSE maths required

At least once a month I panic that I am failing my children in some new but devastating way.  That they will be condemned to live out their lives in misery and despair because they haven’t had piano lessons.  This month I have been hyper-ventilating that I am insufficiently enriching their spare time with stimulating extra-curricular activities.  Which is why in the last few weeks my children have been surprised to find themselves on a day trip to the Science Museum, dancing to the Bollywood Brass Band, and attending a talk on Homer’s Iliad.

I have written about the Science Museum before and it remains excellent, but Bollywood at Blackheath Halls in south east London was a whole new experience.  Band leader Kay Charlton opened the evening by inviting the audience to dance in the space in front of the stage, which I thought was just an easy way to identify who had been drinking before they arrived.  And for the first couple of songs two confident individuals ploughed a lonely furrow waving their arms and jiggling awkwardly from foot to foot.  But, as the evening went on, more and more people began to join them.

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This is Chaiyya Chaiyya – a song and dance number filmed on top of a moving train.  Gotta love Bollywood!

I’m not sure if there are any down-tempo songs in Bollywood, but every single one the Band played was an absolute barn-stormer.  In the background a huge screen projected carefully chosen dance scenes from Bollywood movies, and for every other song, a dancer in traditional dress gyrated mesmerizingly to the music.

By the time we reached the finale, pretty much every member of the audience was on their feet.  My family were all up giving it more welly than a Barbour and Hunter shop in a sale.  We went home as happy as we were sweaty, which must count as a triumph by any objective measure.

Natalie Haynes

Natalie Haynes

Next up on my children’s cultural odyssey was Dulwich Literary Festival and tickets to see classicist and broadcaster Natalie Haynes talk about her new book, A Thousand Ships, a re-telling of the Trojan war from different female perspectives.  I’m going to level with you here, this is not something my children were busting to go to.  This was a little treat for mummy disguised as an educational benefit to my children.

After anxiously bombing round darkest Dulwich on a rainy Friday looking for, but failing to find, the entrance to Dulwich College, the evening went surprisingly well.  Natalie took the audience on a whistle-stop tour of The Iliad with a fierce feminist take on the well-known tale.  As she rightly pointed out, it is just as much about the women caught up in the war as it is about the men.  After all, Helen is the only character so integral to the story that we have added the words ‘of Troy’ to her name.

At the end of the evening we left with a signed copy of the book, two children with a nascent interest in ancient Greek literature, and a very happy mummy, who is now a little bit in love with Natalie Haynes.  I’m chalking that one up as another win.

Mr B reckons that we are reaching the end of my children’s cultural education, as either my enthusiasm or my money will soon run out.  But he hasn’t realised that the Troy exhibition is now on at the British Museum and that tickets are FREE for children under 16.  I feel a little giddy just thinking about it…

Want to expose your children to the same maelstrom of culture as mine have just endured?

Why everyone should enter the ballot for Wimbledon

Wimbledon is everything England should be when it’s at its absolute best.  It’s about summer and sport; champagne and strawberries; the green of carefully manicured lawns and the white of tennis players dressed for glory.  Even the line-judges look as if they are about to stroll off court to join a garden party.

This year my lovely friend Sonia and I were lucky enough to have tickets for centre court in the second week.  And my level of happiness was set to ‘historic’.

IMG_0119As soon as I stepped out of my front door, I was enveloped in a cloud of contentment.  By the time my train had reached its first stop I was already texting friends and posting photos of my journey on Twitter.  There was a point where I worried I may not actually make it to Wimbledon, but would burst with joy somewhere on the Southwestern Rail trainline.

I arrived about 4 minutes after the gates opened and the entire place was already thronging with people just as excited as I was.  Everyone was chatting , taking selfies, and drinking it all in.  In fact, the incredible friendliness of everyone, from the spectators to every single member of staff, suffused the entire event with good cheer.

Just to be able to sit on Centre Court was amazing (cue posing for multiple selfies, all of which I look terrible in), but to watch Serena Williams play, for me, that is a once in a lifetime experience.  She’s so powerful that it’s easy to overlook how nimble she is around the court and how diverse her game is.  She may not have won the tournament this year, but she won the match we saw, and she was awesome.

 

 

And it wasn’t just the tennis.  We max’d out on the whole Wimbledon experience.  We ate cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream, we drank champagne, and we had a cream tea.  And then, when it seemed like the day might be almost over, we blew the doors off it in the Wimbledon shop.  Everyone I know now has Wimbledon sweatbands, Wimbledon socks, a Wimbledon water bottle, a Wimbledon t-shirt, a Wimbledon pin-badge, a Wimbledon pencil-sharpener or some combination of all of the above.

 

Then we walked back to the train station in the warm evening air, chatting to a young woman who was working as a player escort (getting players to and from their matches).  True to every other member of staff we met, she was an absolute delight.  Not only did she tell us all the ins and outs behind the scenes and blow our minds with the sheer logistics of it, but she waited patiently as I stopped after every third step to take a photo.

Maybe some people who live in Wimbeldon are sick of it, but not the home-owner below, or shoe shop, or bar, or Farrow & Ball…

 

It was the Best. Day. Ever.

So thank you Sonia.  Thank you for organising the tickets and thank you for being there.  I am so lucky to have spent a day I will remember for the rest of my life with one of my best friends.  Big hugs to you.

PS  Writing this blog has reminded me of the brilliant joyful poem about tennis, love and Miss Joan Hunter Dunn by John Betjeman – if you’ve never read it, I recommend it!

 

Colour and joy in south east London

What better to do on a warm summer’s evening than roam around a Colour Palace?  Or The Colour Palace at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south east London, to be more precise.  Last week I was at the official opening of the new summer pavilion designed by Peckham-based architects Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori, whose vibrant design fusing European and African influences won an open competition.

Bright and welcoming, the pavilion is a ten metre tall cube made of hand-painted lengths of wood.  Built on four huge red cylinders it seems to float above the ground, and its layers of colourful timber shimmer in the sun, perfectly complementing the more traditional architecture of this lovely gallery designed by Sir John Soane.

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The Colour Palace by architects Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori

The gallery itself is small enough to feel intimate, big enough to host some really interesting exhibitions.  I was not expecting to enjoy Cutting Edge, the Gallery’s exhibition of linocut art, even though in her speech the Director, Jennifer Scott, had bigged it up as a movement to make the artistic process accessible to all, not just those who’d been to art school.  As it turned out, I loved it so much that by the end was wondering if any of the pieces might be small enough to slip under my jumper and sneak home with me.  (Just to note: obviously I would NEVER do this and nor should you!)

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The Cricket Match by Edith Lawrence c.1929

The exhibition is divided into themes, which include transport, speed and movement, industry, labour and sport and leisure.  Simple and beautiful, and each using only a limited colour-palette the prints seem to be able to capture both movement and stillness equally perfectly.  Like a slow game of cricket on a hot summer’s day, each piece sings with the spirit of the 1930s, and the exhibition reminds me of the optimism and exuberance of the old London Transport posters exhorting passengers to visit Kew Gardens by tram or take the tube to London Zoo.

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Sumi the crocodile, by Nahoko Kojima

The entrance to the gallery is dominated by a giant paper-cut crocodile, created specially for the exhibition by Japanese artist Nahoko Kojima.  This is not, as I imagined, some limp white thing sitting on a plinth, but a black and gold beast suspended from the ceiling that demands attention and was drawing quite a crowd when I was there.

If you have time after your visit, there’s a lovely café at the Gallery, or it is right in the middle of Dulwich village which is awash with good eateries.

This gallery is good to visit all year round, but the pavilion and printmaking exhibition are really worth a trip.  Also, the Gallery is running Pavilion Lates – totally free music, talks and more after hours.  Catch the pavilion and exhibition while you can – Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking is on until 8th September and the pavilion is open until 22nd September.

If you are the least bit persuaded, this is a helpful link to get there by public transport.

Dead good: loitering with intent in Kensal Green

I am sure there are many lovely things about Kensal Green, but my good friend Dev and I went with only one thing in mind: dead people.  We wanted to see as many of them as possible.

Not in a zombie horror movie sort of way, more in a ‘will you look at the elephant on that tombstone’ sort of way.  I know it’s not for everyone, but for the discerning tombstone tourist* Kensal Green Cemetery is pretty much the most fun you can have visiting dead people without it becoming illegal.

Built in the 1800s it was the first of the Magnificent Seven garden cemeteries built in a ring around London to alleviate overcrowding in parish burial grounds.  And its 72 acres are beautifully manicured and jam-packed with variety.  It claims to be not only one of England’s oldest and most beautiful public burial grounds, but also its most prestigious.

It doesn’t have the large architectural flourishes of Highgate, but there are just so many interesting monuments in such a variety of styles that I think it is actually my favourite of the magnificent seven.  But don’t take my word for it, look at the pics, or – even better – visit it yourself…

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‘Nothing fancy for me, thanks.  Just something simple…’

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TO HER: something fittingly modest…  The back reads:  To the memory of Madame Soyer
Died September 1st 1812
Aged 32 years
England gave her birth
Genius immortality

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Simple and stunning – the grave of Thea Canonero Altieri

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This is my absolute favourite – may we all hope to receive such a send off:  Major General the Hon. Sir William Casement KCB of the Bengal Council and member of the Supereme Council of India who after 47 years and six months of distinguished service partly in the field, partly as secretary government in the military department and finally as member of the Supreme Council, when about to returnm to his native country, crowned with well merited honors and distinctions, was swayed by a sense of duty to accede to the ??? instance of the Governor General in Council to defer his departure.  A step which exposed him to the attack of the fatal malady which terminated his valuable life at Cossipore on the 16th day of April 1844 in the 64th year of his ???.  In him the Government of India has to regret the loss of an able and upright adviser, the army of a steady friend, and the community at large of one of its most valued members.  His affliected widow records this tribute to his public merits.  Her own loss can only be ??? however imperfectly by those who knew his private worth.

If Kensal Green has lit your funeral pyre, don’t miss my blogs on Brompton Cemetery and Highgate and Nunhead.

* Thanks to Kelly Anne Mackay for giving me this phrase 😊 – you can read her own blog here.

Patio cleaning for a man who loves the smell of napalm in the morning

My poor husband works so hard and at the weekend all he wants to do is sit in the garden surrounded by lush greenery, listening to the tinkle of next-door’s fountain.  Sadly this is not his experience.  The gentle sounds of next door’s water feature are drowned out by the raucous shrieks of our unruly children.  The lawn looks like a stretch of unloved scrubland.  And the patio has been reclaimed by nature and is now coated in a thick layer of green slime.  It’s a cruel, cruel world where a man works hard all week only to come home to a slimy patio.

So last weekend I decided to address the whole rogue patio issue.  In his usual supportive way, my husband stood at the back door shouting helpful advice.  First piece of advice: coat the patio in bleach before hosing it down.  Of course he recommended bleach.  He loves the stuff.  Nothing makes him feel like a toilet has been properly cleaned like its pungent aroma burning his nasal passage every time he goes in the bathroom.

But, as we all know, bleach may well be excellent for patios, but it is terrible for clothes.  So I did what any right-thinking woman would: I took my trousers off and power-hosed the patio in my knickers.  This is despite watering it down so extensively I’m not even sure there was any bleach on the patio.  My daughter was baffled.  I mean, if a substance is so harmful you don’t want to get it on your clothes, surely messing about with the stuff in your underwear is the height of folly?  To be fair, I think a bigger concern was what the neighbours might think; but they’ve met me before, so power-hosing in my undies probably falls well within their expectations.

And now the patio is lovely.  It is an oasis of calm and joy.  My husband is happy and I am fully dressed again.  The only cloud in the sky (apart from the constant one that hangs over every British summer) is that now the patio is impeccable, my husband has noticed that the lawn isn’t meeting requirements.  Oh well, at least that’s a job I can do with my trousers on…

P.S. I would love to tell you that the lovely patio in the picture is mine, but sadly not.  It  is the patio my husband would like to have when we win the lottery.  It was designed by Belberdos Landscapes, who seem to do a lot of rather chic gardens.

When is a rub-down just a rub-down and when is it sexual harassment?

Last week my friend and I had a tennis lesson.  Although the courts are public, they are surrounded by a wall, so you can play as well or badly as you like and nobody but you and the coach will ever know how near (or far) from qualifying for Wimbledon you are.

There are no amenities.  There is no club house.  There is no club.  The protocol is that when your tennis lesson finishes, you depart.  But last week the person before us – a man probably in his late 60s – was somewhat reluctant to leave the court.  As we started our lesson he loitered a little picking up balls, and, once that was done, he sat on the bench beside the court and began to sip his water.  After a couple of minutes, I began to feel uncomfortable – the tennis lesson is for me to learn tennis, not for us to provide light entertainment to random strangers.  My friend and I began to mutter to each other that it was time for him to move on.

But he had no intention of leaving.  Instead he stood up, took his top off, pulled a flannel from his bag, and began to give himself a leisurely and ostentatious rub down.  And he was doing this barely two metres from the tennis net during our lesson.  It was like an elderly peacock preening.  And, just to be clear, he was not about to rush off to an important meeting that he wanted to look good for; he was about to get on his bicycle and cycle back to his house, less than five minutes away.  ‘Inappropriate’ is one of the kindest words I have to describe his behaviour.

As soon as he left we spoke to the tennis coach, who is a lovely man.  But he clearly felt unable to say anything, and suggested that if we were upset we should speak to Captain Inappropriate ourselves.  I’ve thought a lot about why we didn’t say anything at the time, and I think it’s multi-layered:

  1. We didn’t like the initial loitering, but it wasn’t a big enough deal to make a fuss. We didn’t realise that by not drawing a line at that point, we had opened the gate to much worse behaviour.
  2. When it happened, the sense of disbelief was palpable: am I really watching an elderly man strip off and rub himself down in front of me on a public tennis court? We were too non-plussed to say anything.
  3. It’s a very English thing not make a fuss, and women in particular are expected to suck up all sorts of inappropriate behaviour on a regular basis.
  4. Complaining is always a risky strategy, because you don’t know what support you’ll get. As it turned out (and this is not even a criticism of the tennis coach), if we had said anything, it is clear the coach wouldn’t have backed us up.

Obviously, this behaviour doesn’t make the man Harvey Weinstein, but it is on the same spectrum.  A spectrum that starts with rubbing yourself down on a tennis court, goes via opening your hotel room door for a meeting naked except for your dressing gown, and ends with coercing women into sex (or worse).

And isn’t this exactly how Harvey Weinstein and countless others have got and continue to get away with it?  The women on the receiving end feel disabled from saying anything for a variety of reasons, only some of which I’ve described above, and the men who might or should support them also feel unable to speak up or prevent it in future (remember: this man, and probably some of his friends, pay part of our tennis coach’s income).

I told the whole story to a male friend, and was shocked when he told me that if we wanted to say anything we shouldn’t make a scene.  After all, he reasoned, Captain Inappropriate might not know he was doing anything wrong.  Whaaaaat?  If I was 20 instead of 40-something, would he know then?  If he did it in front of my daughters (currently 9 and 11), would he know then?  (I recall being on the receiving end of similar behaviours when I was those ages, by the way, and still remember how threatening it feels.)  How inappropriate does his behaviour have to be, for me to make a fuss?  And should I suppress a full expression of how disturbed and angry it made me, because we don’t want to make the person whose behaviour was out of order feel bad about it?

I’m lucky to work in a sector where, if anything, the gender balance favours women and I am also sufficiently senior that I am rarely aware of any discrimination in a professional context.  I have also reached an age where random men on trains no longer hit on me (and yes, when I was younger that used to happen a lot).  But this incident has reminded me that society as a whole still has a significant distance to travel and we need everyone who can to call out bad behaviour and hold the perpetrators to account.  Until we do so, too many people will continue to consider it an acceptable norm.

I don’t know if I’ll see Captain Inappropriate again, but if I do, I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

What do others say?

I like what the University of Exeter has to say about ‘inappropriate behaviour’: The biggest challenge to ensuring an inclusive community isn’t the obviously illegal acts of discrimination. It’s the persistent, pervasive behaviours that fail to respect or value each other and our differences.

And the importance they place on calling it out: You may have decided not to challenge it because it’s uncomfortable, you didn’t want to stand out, you hoped someone else would have said something, or you might have thought there was no point saying anything because it wouldn’t make a difference.  And then it happens again, because no-one has challenged it (my bold).

They’ve also got some sensible advice on how to call it out without making ‘the scene’ my friend was worried about.

7 top tips for running the London Marathon from a lady who knows

Julie Creffield, author of The Fat Girls’ Guide To Marathon Running, shares her top tips with runners for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

Taking on a marathon is a daunting task, particularly if – like most of those running for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust – it’s your first.  This year the marathon falls on the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s death, making it particularly poignant for all those running.  The Trust decided to add inspiration to all the perspiration by organising an evening with Julie Creffield, who writes popular blog toofattorun, recently published The Fat Girls’ Guide To Marathon Running, and is an all round good egg.   I was really chuffed to sneak a place at the evening, even though the furthest I normally run is to catch the train…

All the Trust’s marathoners said that running for a cause they really care about keeps them motivated whilst training, but Julie had some other practical advice to get them to the finish line.  I’m sharing some of her wisdom to help others, and if you get something out of it, please make a donation to the Trust or sponsor one of their runners.

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#Stephens Team meeting Julie Creffield (3rd from the right)

 

Julie’s top tips

  • Have a plan. Work out which will be your fast miles and where you expect to go more slowly; if people are coming to cheer for you, tell them in advance where to be; think about the sights and sounds that will motivate you, so you can count down to them as you run.
  • Let loved ones know that in the six weeks run up to the marathon, you are the Mo Farrah in your family. That means you need looking after – you don’t want to be humping shopping and get an injury at the last minute that means you have to pull out.
  • Don’t change anything on the day. Wear the kit you have practised in.  Eat and drink as you have been during your training.  Marathon day is not the time to find out that your expensive new trainers give you blisters!
  • Vaseline is your friend. It’s not glamorous, but every runner gets chafing, and often in the most unpleasant of places.  Avoid the worst of it by lubricating liberally!  You can also avoid it by re-dressing carefully after a toilet stop – lots of chafing happens because people rush to get dressed and don’t put their clothes back on properly.
  • Have an emergency plan. Statistically more people die playing monopoly than running a marathon, but its still worth planning for the unexpected.  Know what point you are happy to walk from and how you will get in touch with your loved ones if they, or you, are not in the place you expect at the end.
  • Make sure you have someone to travel home with. You’ve already been heroic and now your blood sugar will be low and you will be exhausted.  Now is the time to take it easy and let someone else take the strain of making sure you get home safely.
  • Remember the difference the money you raise will make. For Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust it means more support to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping them learn about different careers, and helping them get the qualifications, knowledge, skills and confidence they need to follow their dreams.

A massive thank you to Julie Creffield for giving up a precious evening to talk to #StephensTeam and for sharing her amazing expertise!  If you like what you’ve read, please show your appreciation by supporting the runners and donating to the Trust at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/25thanniversaryappeal or by texting the word SLCT25 to 70070 followed by either £50, £25, £10 or £5.

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3 lost skills of our parents that are ripe for revival

There are lots of things about parenting in the past that wouldn’t pass muster today: like handing out sweets that looked like cigarettes for children to ‘smoke’; or serving spam fritters with Smash like it was an actual meal rather than a dietary outrage.  But they also had some genuinely useful skills that are lost to modern parents.

So instead of worrying about whether my children have eaten all of their five-a-day, maybe I should give a little bit of time to re-learning some of the more useful things parents of the past could do.

The skills I’m thinking of reviving include:

  • Sewing – It’s so dull that after the first term of sewing name tags into my children’s clothes I bought a permanent marker pen. Same effect, but your index finger doesn’t end up red raw.  My mother, on the other hand, could create an entire capsule wardrobe from an off-cut of old fabric.  For my first school dance (because proms hadn’t been invented in those days), we went to a shop, chose a pattern, picked a fabric and my mum made my dress.  Not only that, but she actually seemed to enjoy it. Weird.
  • Fixing stuff – The only thing I’ve ever really tried to fix is my husband and, to be honest, I think the problem may be me, not him.  My parents, however, could fix nearly everything.  Broken toilet cistern?  Banging noise under the car bonnet?  Dangerous sounding hum when you turn the light on?  The older generation knows how to fix all that stuff.  And they pretty much wrote the manual on boring basics like bleeding the radiator and re-wiring a plug.  Although, in fairness, they can’t work the smart TV, so I feel like I might be winning that one…
  • Growing and cooking – Our parent’s generation grew up without the luxury of dial-a-pizza, or ready-made meals, and so had to do it all themselves.  As a result, my mum can somehow make a tasty meal out of whatever sad remains are lurking unloved at the bottom of the fridge.  Not only that, but when I was little, a lot of what she cooked was stuff she’d actually grown in our back garden.  I would starve to death if I couldn’t book my supermarket delivery online, but older people know how to grow what they need.  They will totally survive the apocalypse.

I know it sounds a bit Amish, but these are cool skills to have.  Our parents knew how to make the most of what they had without depleting our planet.  They didn’t need to sort their rubbish into different bins for recycling, because they weren’t throwing away plastic packaging every time they cooked supper.  The very same people who call you up to fix their internet connection, were busily protecting the world’s natural resources before anyone pointed out that we needed to.  Respect.

So if you put aside their propensity for feeding us sugary death-sweets and their worrying disregard for health and safety, our parents actually have some ninja survival skills.  I don’t need to be able to do everything they could do, but if I could just get the toilet to flush after my children have broken it, who knows what other dizzying heights I might achieve…

 

Why I’m ditching black and so should you

I just don’t understand why people wear black to parties.  I mean, I wear black to meetings so people know to take me seriously.  And it’s an absolutely first-class choice for funerals.  It’s pretty much de rigueur if you’re an undertaker.  Essentially black is the colour of being serious and of death.  It is definitely not the colour of parties.  Or Christmas.  Or joy.

It’s like choosing vanilla ice cream instead of pistachio or death-by-chocolate.  Sure, everyone will eat it, but it’s never going to rock your taste buds the way cookie dough can.

I prefer pink.  Pink is the colour of strawberry ice cream, and holiday sunsets.  It’s the colour of candy floss and rosy-cheeked children coming in from the cold.  What’s not to like about pink?  Or if that feels like a colour too far, what about green?  Green is the colour of Wimbledon and the scent of freshly cut grass.  It’s the colour of cool forests on hot summer days and mistletoe at Christmas.

The whole concept of the Little Black Dress is an affront to all that is great about parties.   Black is the colour of conformity.  The colour of corporate anonymity.  But parties are the time to be utterly yourself, not constrained by other people’s expectations, or who you have to be for work.  They’re for chatting animatedly and laughing uproariously.  They’re for dancing wildly and kissing passionately (depending on the parties you go to, obviously).   Everyone should be able to be unreservedly themselves at a party.

What’s the worst thing that could happen?  Maybe someone won’t like what you’re wearing.  But if it makes you feel great, what’s the problem?  That’s the beauty of us all being different!  The kind of people who judge you on your dress are not the kind of people whose opinion matters anyway.

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The Lilac Breasted Roller is out and proud

I know that my tastes, like my personality, tend towards the extrovert.  So if you’re reading this, but don’t feel ready to dress like a Lilac Breasted Roller threw up on you, might I suggest you start with shoes?  Shoes can be a little burst of joy in a grey world.  A chance to flirt with danger without risking your reputation.  And, as Cinderella will tell you, the right shoe could change your life…

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This is how to let them know you’re serious…

When all’s said and done, it’s not about what colour you wear, but how good you feel.  Now go out there and be fabulous!

 

Is it weird to love cemeteries?

We’ve been at it again, me and my good friend Devon.  Stalking the dead.  This time we’ve been visiting Brompton Cemetery, where the dearly departed of West London are interred.  What could be more joyful on a crisp December morning than stepping amongst the tombs of those who have been loved and lost and reading inscriptions about their lives?

Brompton is one of the Magnificent Seven – the fabulously-named ring of ‘garden cemeteries’ built in the late Georgian and early Victorian period to relieve the pressure on London’s crowded ancient churchyards.  And for keen cemetery-visitors like Dev and myself, it does not disappoint.

It is positively bijoux compared to vast Highgate Cemetery and rambling Nunhead.  The well-maintained graves are packed tightly together like a giant game of dominoes, as if with a mighty push you could send a ripple of falling tombstones that would run all the way round the cemetery.  I like my graveyards densely packed – all the better for seeing as many dead people as possible in the time you have available.

bromptonBrompton has some fancy mausoleums and some simple haeadstones, and at the southern end is a rather beautiful chapel – built at vast expense and nearly bankrupting its investors – which looks like a mini-version of the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford.  And who doesn’t love the Radcliffe Camera?

For those who enjoy variety, Brompton’s inhabitants represent a good mix of the famous, the slightly well-known and people who were possibly somebody at the time, but are now quite forgotten.  I always find it strange to think everyone who knew or cared about someone is dead, yet here I am reading about their lives a hundred years later.

Here’s some of the highlights from mine and Dev’s latest outing…

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To live in the heart of those we love is not to die

This tombstone is not damaged, it was designed like this.  I think its solid simplicity speaks volumes about the General.  Clearly Bill was a man of few words and no messing.  I respect that about him.

The same can’t be said of the next lady:

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To the memory of Blanche Roosevelt Macchetta… By her brilliant accomplishments and rare graces of mind and person she gave distinction in the world of literature and art to the name of Blanche Roosevelt.

I can’t help feeling she might have written that eulogy herself, although in fairness she has her own page on Wikipedia, so maybe I’m too cynical…

I do love a Latin inscription, particularly if it’s a mosaic.  This little beauty is on the floor of the family vault of Herbert Fitch.

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Deeds not words!

Other members of the family buried in the vault get little more than their names and ages, but the eldest son gets a poem:

Come unexpectedly! Give me no warning.

But in a brighter land, bid me ‘Good Morning!’

Rather lovely, I think.

I think the gates below look like they come from the film set for Cleopatra, but they are actually the entrance to the catacombs – I’m not sure whether the snakes are there to keep visitors out, or the dead in!

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The next lady gets a lovely inscription, although I can’t help feeling that the author (her husaband) had obviously run the poor woman ragged.

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In loving memory of my beloved wife Elizabeth Baker… who was a charming companion, a helpmate under all difficulties, a comforter in sorrow, a true wife and sincere friend and now alas the most blessed memory of mine age.

The inscription on the grave below is in Russian so I’ve no idea what it says.  I am filling in the blanks by imagining that she is a Russian aristocrat who fled her homeland during the Russian revolution.  Feel free to investigate and correct me.

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Sadly, despite being quite large, the monument below doesn’t take a good picture – and for some reason the statues around it are all headless.  But I love the idea that the community were so swelled with pride at Robert’s rowing achievements that they all chipped in to give him a good send off.

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This monument was erected by public subscription by the warm friends and admirers of Robert Coombes, champion sculler of the Thames and Tyne.

Rumours abound that this Egyptian-style mausoleum is, in fact, a working time machine.  And I don’t see why it shouldn’t be, since it looks very much like it might be a Tardis.  Although no-one let me in when I knocked…

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Mausoleum of Hannah Courtoy who conveniently inherited a fortune from her husband and invested it in this lovely monument to herself (and her daughters).

And lastly, a nod to science:

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To John Snow MD. Born at York March 15th 1813, died in London June 16th 1858.  In remembrance of his great labours in science, of the excellence of his private life and character.  This monument (with the assent of Mr William Snow) has been erected over his grave by his professional brethren and friends.

I’ve included John Snow because I once watched a very interesting documentary about him, and I thought it would be selfish to keep my learning to myself.  By mapping cases of cholera, Snow was able to demonstrate that they clustered around water pumps, showing that it was water-borne, and not caught by breathing ‘foul air’.  His systematic approach (i.e. using evidence, instead of making stuff up), means he is often cited as the founder of epidemiology. Go John Snow!

Hungry for more stuff about cemeteries, but don’t know where to get it?  Why not read my exciting blog about Highgate and Nunhead.  It’s got all of the fun of Brompton but less of the photos – enjoy!

 

Getting to Brompton Cemetery

The nearest London Underground & Overground station is West Brompton (District Line, Wimbledon branch, and London Overground): turn right out of the station, and the North Gate and Lodges are within two minutes’ walk.

Earl’s Court Station (Piccadilly and District Lines) is within ten minutes’ walk to the north: turn left out of the Warwick Road entrance and walk south along Warwick Road to Old Brompton Road.

Find out more about the Cemetery on the Friends of Brompton Cemetery website.