Sunday, 24 April 2011

Malcolm Was Here

Another boiling hot day. Just when will this heat wave end? I’ve been with Nic, ambling around Stoke Newington and Abney Cemetery. We had tea on Church Street, before heading for Highgate, where Nathan joined us for sandwiches on Pond Square. It was far less genteel and British than it sounds. I sat in on ants' nest and Nic had to perch on a tiny wall. Furthermore, there is no longer a pond in Pond Square. It's a sort of pointless tarmacadam open space surrounded by posh houses and a public convenience. Quite why we chose the spot for lunch, I've no idea...

We went to Highgate Cemetery. More death. As usual, I was multitasking, and checking out the gravestones to see if there were any with words that might prove interesting to set alongside the traditional Requiem text in my next composition. Highgate is definitely the cemetery to find witty, interesting inscriptions. To begin with the place is interdenominational, so there are far less bog-standard passages from the bible and other slightly unfortunate double entendres like “died in Jesus." Frankly, I'd come back as a ghost if someone put that on my gravestone.

Some, however, are absolute genius. One wooden grave simply reads “Malcolm Was Here” and another is ornately carved with the single, rather appropriate word; “dead”! Surely it's better to go with comedy, rather than teddybears and rainbows and smiles? I’ve made it very clear to friends and family that aside from a bench on Hampstead Heath, all I require is a headstone which reads Benjamin Till: The Musical.

That said, we found some terribly moving inscriptions. There were odes to people who'd drowned in the Amazon, three children from one family who'd recently died as infants, two brothers killed in action in the first world war, one simply named “Dear Old Bert”. Other gravestones read; “incomparable friend, teacher and lover of life,” “we’d walk a million miles for one of Mum’s smiles,” “to a great man, the essence of our lives, the polestar of my existence. The love of my life,” and then the curiously ambiguous; “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” Either an absolute affirmation of love and trust in God, or a complete denial of his existence. The fact that he was buried in the communist section of graveyard, probably tells you the answer to this particular conundrum... The moral of this blog? Select the wording of your gravestone before you shuffle off, because otherwise a grieving relative could really screw you over!

April 23rd 1661 has gone down in history as the day Charles II was crowned. The first three words of this paragraph are also the first three words of the second movement of my motet, which quotes countless passages from today's entry, which is surely one of our hero's all time longest.

Pepys went to Westminster Abbey at 4am. He sat, high up in one of the tall scaffolds until 11, when the King finally arrived, “and a great pleasure it was to see the Abbey... all covered with red, and a throne... and footstool on the top of it; and all the officers of all kinds... The King in his robes, bare-headed, which was very fine. And after all had placed themselves, there was a sermon and the service; and then in the Quire at the high altar, the King passed through all the ceremonies of the Coronacon [sic], which to my great grief I and most in the Abbey could not see. The crown being put upon his head, a great shout begun, and he came forth to the throne, and there passed more ceremonies: as taking the oath... And three times the King at Arms went to the three open places on the scaffold, and proclaimed, that if any one could show any reason why Charles Stewart should not be King of England, that now he should come and speak.” Pepys left the ceremony early. He was desperate to pee. Hardly surprising. His waterworks didn't work properly at the best of times, and he'd been sitting on a wooden scaffold for 7 hours! When he got outside, he was astonished to find 10,000 people in the grounds of the Abbey, which must have been quite a sight – no doubt a sight we shall be seeing again next Friday, when Wils and that common girl get married.

Pepys went into Westminster Hall where Elizabeth was waiting. The hall was covered in beautiful hangings, and filled to the brim with "brave" ladies many of whom were seated in more scaffolding blocks. “And the King came in with his crown on, and his sceptre in his hand, under a canopy borne up by six silver staves, carried by Barons of the Cinque Ports, and little bells at every end.”

It was in Westminster Hall that the King ate his dinner, surrounded by people, including Pepys, who simply watched the proceedings, hoping to be thrown little bits of food like dogs. Some were even present on horseback in full armour. “I took a great deal of pleasure to go up and down, and look upon the ladies, and to hear the musique of all sorts, but above all, the 24 violins: About six at night they had dined, and I went up to my wife, and there met with a pretty lady (Mrs. Frankleyn, a Doctor’s wife, a friend of Mr. Bowyer’s), and kissed them both..." As soon as the King left the hall, the weather, which had stayed find for the past two days, took a massive turn for the worse. "Then it fell a-raining and thundering and lightening as I have not seen it do for some years: which people did take great notice of; God’s blessing of the work of these two days, which is a foolery to take too much notice of such things.” You tell 'em, Pepys.

He wondered out around Westminster, observing bonfires on the streets. The entire City of London looked like one enormous crescent of light. Pepys sent Elizabeth home and carried on partying at a nearby house. “Some gallant sparks that were there, we drank the King’s health, and nothing else, till one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk, and there lay spewing.” Charming. Pepys eventually turned in, sharing a bed with Mr Shepley, "but my head began to hum, and I to vomit... Only when I waked I found myself wet with my spewing. Thus did the day end with joy every where...” I'll say. Nothing like chunder in the hair to realise how much fun you've had! It wasn't fun for everyone, however. Pepys' final sentence deals with a poor woman on King's Street who lost an eye after a boy threw a firebrand into her carriage. How many more times? Fireworks are not toys. I bet he didn't put his dog indoors either. Did he not watch Blue Peter or see those public information films with the girl in mittens and the terrible high-pitched scream?

Say what you see...

1 comment:

  1. That's not just any Malcolm, that's Malcolm McClaren's grave! Godfather of punk!