Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Graveyard

This piece is another one prompted by the 52 Dates for Writers course. We were invited to visit a graveyard and write our impressions of the visit. As this didn't fit in my novel at the moment I'm sharing it here as a stand alone piece of writing. I may find that I need a graveyard scene later so it's a useful exercise in its own right. See what you think!

If this was Yorkshire or the depths of Dartmoor then there would be mist rolling between the headstones and a strange eerie moaning would drift across the landscape. Images of large dogs and ghosts would flit through my mind and I'd quicken my paces to get to the other side. But this is neither of those places and this graveyard is bathed in bright sunshine on a warm summer's day. It is a municipal graveyard, ordered and neatly kept. As I wander down the pathways I see names which are modern and remind me of people I have known; Kevin, Darren, Carol and Sharon. Not the names I'm used to seeing in graveyards and a stark reminder of my own mortality. The dates are mostly within my lifetime too - 1972, 1968, 1983 - and this again makes me think about my own life.

The old Victorian churchyards I wandered through as a young woman are starkly different to this burial ground. They were properly atmospheric and it was easy to imagine moustache twirling villains chasing chaste maidens through them. Or slightly hysterical young girls swooning across the tombstones as they followed superstitions about spending time in churchyards conjuring up spirits. The slightly neglected air in those churchyards only made them more attractive in my view. The rambling undergrowth obscuring some of the inscriptions, the thick moss dripping from the stones, the overhanging trees keeping parts of the churchyard in almost permanent shade; all adding to the atmosphere, the spooky feeling and a tingle up the spine.

The modern graveyard is peaceful too. There are places to sit and contemplate, neatly trimmed shrubs and an air of tranquillity. If my family were buried here it would be a pleasant place to visit and remember. Yet I still can't shake the feeling that this isn't how a burial place should be. It's too neat and tidy, too many straight lines and edges. It feels like strolling through a shopping mall rather than visiting the dead.

As an antidote to the modernity and corporate feel I visited the churchyard of my local church and found things more to my liking. Here the graves were from the distant past - 1569, 1719, 1601 - and they fitted more my idea of a graveyard. The names were older too - Katherine, Richard, Thomasine - and the headstones were weathered and toppling. This had the silent, haunting atmosphere that I expect from a churchyard. This is the kind of place I'd like to rest for all eternity.

So what does this say about me and my attitude to death and burial? I think I have a rather Romantic even Gothic view of death. My ideal funeral would be a Victorian one with plenty of black crepe and wailing, a coffin with proper brass handles dripping with white lilies, a horse drawn hearse with glass side, mourning jewellery and lace hemmed handkerchiefs. I suspect that I'll end up with a cremation and a scattering rather than a burial but I do hope the funeral itself is a grand affair. Not expecting much, am I?


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