About halfway down Hill Lane, at the south end of Southampton Common, is Southampton Old Cemetery. It was one of England’s earliest municipal cemeteries, established by the Southampton Cemetery Act of 1843, and covers 27 acres. Although a team of council workers is generally at work somewhere in the grounds, nature has pretty much been allowed to have its way and, as I said in the previous post, so many trees have grown to full height -- including giant redwood conifers and monkey-puzzle trees -- that the crowded, tilted and tumbled gravestones appear to be a species of undergrowth in a forest.
I ended up in there on my May Day walk. It's always something of a personal dare, for me, to enter a graveyard, on two levels.
First, I am immediately rendered into an 8-year-old trespasser, as primed to be spooked as the audience of a horror film. I was raised as a sort of Baptist-agnostic in a town without much history, where the few conventional graveyards belonged to rural Anglican churches swallowed up by the new-build estates, and thus represented an older, alien way of death. The clean, modern way of "disposal" was cremation, of course, and a dank, overgrown bit of ground containing actual bodies (or more probably, and worse, skellingtons) seemed to exhale infection and spiritual danger. There were other dangers, too; a boy was caned in front of our school morning assembly for taking green marble chippings from a grave, and distributing them in the playground. We just didn't know how to behave around dead folk, and it was best simply to leave them alone.
Second, I am acutely aware, surrounded by all those ranks of headstones, and all those picturesque monuments, and all those fading inscriptions, of the way generation after generation of amateur photographers have come here in search of clichés. I tell you, it takes courage merely to raise a camera. But I have a blog to feed, and an invincible belief in my own capacity to enter into the Valley of the Shadow of Death and emerge unscathed and with a decent set of snaps.
That second one gave me a bit of a start. What my presbyopic vision took for a grinning Hallowe'en-style pumpkin skull turned out to be merely an eroded "lamb and flag". Phew. I knew that. The first one has a bit of a mocking monkey face on it, too, if you're that way inclined. Paranoia? Paranormal? No, pareidolia!