Sunday, December 01, 2002

Watty's also been to Dunstable Cemetery:

There's something about cemeteries, isn't there? The feeling that there is something taboo or governed by superstition, yet the familiarity of the experience, the realisation that most of the other people in here are also using it for recreation rather than remembrance. They hold an endless fascination - who can resist comparing the styles of memorial, chuckling at Victorian names, identifying the tragic stories, or simply trying to find the earliest date? We really just went there to let the children blow off some steam, but a couple of things caught my attention:

A simple, tiny white stone, marked: Kevin Clifford, January 1960, aged 4 weeks. Who were you, Kevin? Easy to talk of tragedy, of course, at this distance, but there are no other related stones around - no other Cliffords. How did you come to be there on your own? An only child whose parents - living still, most likely, couldn't bear to be reminded of you, and who moved away? The missing child in a large family, barely remembered, save by the mother who carried you? Abandoned, with no one to care for you, and your fate otherwise unknown? You'd have been coming up for 43 now - I wonder what you'd have made of your life, who your children might have been? You missed a lot of good things, Kevin, not growing up, but maybe you missed a lot of pain, too.

Easily the gaudiest, most ostentatious memorial in the whole place remembers what were clearly the patriarch and matriarch of an enormous family. Bigger than most of the tombs of the monarchs in Westminster Abbey, it dominates its little corner of the cemetery. Entirely carved in shiny black marble, it was either designed to look haphazard or has been added to piecemeal over the years. Each of the ten children has their own personal remembrance on it somewhere, some lengthy texts, some simple words. There are photographs and carvings - one piece of stone depicts what must have been the couple's faithful Yorkshire Terriers, another, uniquely in my experience, carries a minutely engraved picture of a Bedford panel van. I don't stand in judgement over it - opinions of taste really don't count when it comes to this kind of thing; a family will remember in the way they feel is appropriate - but I am intrigued by my reaction. I don't come away thinking how much their family must have loved them; I come away shaking my head at how much it all must have cost...

You see, there's always something to be learned in a cemetery.

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