Tag Archives: parks

Breath and Memory in Highgate Cemetery

Several years ago now, I went to a talk at Highgate Cemetery. A niche talk for a very niche (but rather fascinating) audience interested in Victorian grave sculptures. It may also have been just the fact of a talk at a cemetery with wine and all that drew them as it had me. But there was no chance to wander round, and somehow I had never been back. Until our latest wander through North London, along Parkland Walk — of my favourite green spaces in all of London, these two both rate high.

South London though, I’d been to a couple cemeteries in South London, those great new cemeteries springing up along the city’s outer limits to deal with the little church graveyards full to overflowing. Lambeth Cemetery in Tooting Bec, next to St George’s hospital where I had an appointment. After a lonesome visit to West Norwood Cemetery I had rather sworn off them, it was sad and grim and I wondered why I ever thought I liked them.

I realise the answer to that question is trees.

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Like Arnos Vale in Bristol, Highgate is beautiful, eerie, splendid.

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Our lives and deaths as part of a natural world so much bigger than we are, part of trees and forests primeval in their swallowing up of our memories and returning us to a natural cycle. Finally, to breath part of a natural cycle here in London. Just to fucking breathe.

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

I like to feel able to embrace that larger reality while fighting like hell to break all of our human cycles of oppression and horror, the second reason this is such a wonderful place.

Highgate Cemetery

Marx’s original grave, before his followers moved him to larger, more monumental grave of infinitely more questionable taste.

Highgate Cemetery

Yet I confess I cried — unexpected and quite embarrassing really. It was not Marx’s grave so much as the cluster of people who have chosen to be buried near him, people who have dedicated their lives to changing the world we live in for the better, and whose actions and words have all impacted my own struggle and thinking. Beginning with Eleanor Marx, who I love immensely and is buried with her father as though she were not worth her own monument. There is also Claudia Jones:

Highgate Cemetery

And so many others, from all around the world:

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Someone else who had a great impact on me when I was growing up? The incomparable Douglas Adams:

Highgate Cemetery

George Elliot:

Highgate Cemetery

Those who I have come to honour more recently through my partner’s love of film:

Highgate Cemetery

Carl Mayer, the cowriter of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari:

Highgate Cemetery

I confess, too, that I have no small enjoyment from some of the weird, wonderful and strange things to be found in places like this:

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery

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Parkland Walk — and the transformation of every unused track

Parkland Walk is an extraordinary thing to find in London — it removes you from the city and carries you through it at the same time. You catch glimpses of buildings through the trees, everywhere little paths join it, allowing people to enter and exit from their streets of concrete and brick and stone. Each such path or stairway stands as a tantalising road not taken.

Never do you lose the feeling you have somehow escaped the city for a while into a cathedral of green.

It carries you along with quite a number of other people.

Parkland Walk, London

Past these wonderful ruins of the old train platforms

Parkland Walk, London

Through tunnels of leaves

Parkland Walk, London

Through tunnels of stone and brick, covered with a generally higher quality of graffiti art than I am used to in this city

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past alcoves with sprites [as we found out later, a spriggan] smiling down on you

Parkland Walk, Londonrounded towers and stairs Parkland Walk, LondonParkland Walk, LondonTrees intertwined with brick Parkland Walk, London

And nearing the end in Highgate, a meadow, with a dirt trail that invites you along

Parkland Walk, London

To find the bats:

Parkland Walk, London

Surely we can do this with all of our disused railway lines. A welcome breath of peace and beauty, a place for birds and wildlife, and a safe place to walk that many people can integrate into their daily routines, and the rest of us can enjoy from time to time.

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Boules, Moveable Chairs and Public Life

For any complaints about the lack of mystery, Paris does have wonderfully vibrant public spaces. On the hot summer days we were there, they were full of life and people — and it’s good to think that for all they have erased memories of a revolutionary past, these private, often royal gardens are now open to all. Like this enclosed garden of Le Palais Royal, where multiple families and friends were playing boules.

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The Jardins des Tuileries revealed a key feature of this success — not worrying about grass in most places that people have to keep off, and benches but also light and moveable chairs.

They’re not even rented. You can sit in them as long as you want. You can move them in groups to accommodate your friends or family, and you keep following the sun or the shade. People were picnicking, chatting, reading, observing, drinking wine, laughing, cuddling, enjoying themselves. This is the place to be, no? An escape from small rooms and jobs and nuclear families too confined between four walls.

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Gardens are everywhere. Here we looked down the long arm of Jardins de Luxemberg, with people clustered on chairs in the shade

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And entering from the other end, more formal plantings

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saucy statues

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cool water features

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and a view of the single solitary skyscraper we saw in this city, as well as back towards to main body of the park, full of people enjoying themselves.

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But it is not just in parks, the centre city is scattered with squares, like this one in Les Halles — not enough seating by any means, but vibrant all the same:

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All along the Seine we saw people out for a stroll or sitting on the embankment (except those places to rich with the smell of urine)

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Everywhere are scattered little plazas surrounded by cafes. The cafes are not, of course, public space exactly. But they spill out onto wide pavements — god I love wide pavements, facilitating not just the spill of cafes but of shops and pedestrians and proclaiming them more vital than cars to the life of the city. This square was pedestrianised entirely on a Sunday. Streets and squares facilitate people meeting, bumping into neighbours and friends, talking, moving through space. The way they used to before cars. I love these cafes also, and the interaction between inside and outside, public and private, diners and coffee drinkers and passers-by that they provoke.

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This is carried into what is most private as well, brought out into public space — many of the balconies were well used here, tiny as they are.

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It’s a different way of life than I at least am used to, lived much more in the visible, the public realm. Public life — I like it. We tried it ourselves on the last evening in our splash-out hotel:

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I confess I could get used to it — even though it’s worth remembering that these central spaces are where the money is.

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Closing Lollard Street Adventure Playground

I was looking up information on the four adventure playgrounds that Lambeth Council has ‘temporarily’ closed and I found these amazing photographs of Lollard Street Adventure Playground

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[photo from http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/whatson/exhibitions/brianbrake/brakeswork/Pages/Object.aspx?irn=1015656 ]

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[photo from http://www.thearchitectureofearlychildhood.com/2012/01/post-war-adventure-or-junk-playgrounds.html, along with a fascinating description of the importance of playgrounds and theories of play]

This was the birth of the adventure playground. At Lollard Street children gathered to play with the detritus created by the clearing away of a bombed out school. While the children played, children’s rights campaigner Lady Allen of Hurtwood started to form a movement for the building of playgrounds (a short history can be found here). Originally known as ‘junk’ playgrounds, they were renamed adventure playgrounds — a good public relations move I confess — in 1953, and the movement grew.

Look at the beautiful place Lollard Street Adventure Playground grew into. For years this has been a fully staffed facility of fun, learning and mentoring

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And now it is closed. Indefinitely. Empty of children for the first time in 60 odd years. In the old black and white photos you can see the houses of parliament in the background, you can still see them today. You can stare over a playground empty of children and committed workers at the parliament (dead center, just visible over the building, compare it to the second B&W picture!) that shut it all down.

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[also posted www.lambethsaveourservices.org]

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