I decided to visit Kensal Rise Cemetery this afternoon. It took me 45 minutes to get there, but it was shut. Apparently, they close at 1pm on bank holidays, which must be incredibly frustrating for those with loved ones buried there. It is still a functioning graveyard, so surely a bank holiday afternoon is exactly the sort of time that someone might want to pay a visit. The parking regulations around the cemetery are also extremely unsatisfactory. Despite it being a bank holiday, quite a number of cars parked in residents only bays had been given tickets.
Still, en route to the graveyard, two astonishing things happened. Firstly, Radio 4 informed me that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by a swift and highly effective American military operation. The world seems to be celebrating, but I'm not sure it's exactly good news. Capture the bastard, sure. Subject him to the humiliation of a Western prison, but I find myself feeling slightly suspicious when I hear that the man was conveniently "buried at sea." We've all seen the pictures of a dead Saddam Hussein. Perhaps the shots of Bin Laden are just too gruesome. I don't exactly doubt that the man is dead. I'm just not convinced he's only just been killed. Obviously, I also fear retaliation. I worry about Nathan getting home from New York but I also envy his being there. Thousands of people were apparently on the streets of the city celebrating last night, which must have been a very interesting sight. The English, of course, despite 7/7, remain decorous and understated to the last.
The other strange occurrence came in the form of a massive lime tree which had come down, smashed into a parked car, and entirely blocked Southwood Lane. Heaven knows what ripped it from its roots. It's blustery in London at the moment, but not gale-like. A group of bemused Highgate Residents was standing around the fallen tree, some filming it on their mobile phones, all saying they didn't know who they should be telling about this on a bank holiday. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it fell to me to call the police. There is a frightening tendency for people nowadays to simply film events without thinking to tell the relevant authorities. I was horrified to learn, for example, that someone filmed Ian Baynham's murder on Trafalgar Square, but didn't go to the police because he "just thought it was someone getting beaten up."
I've just been on a tour of the Western side of Highgate Cemetery, the bit the public aren’t allowed to visit unsupervised. It’s also the place where Alexander Litvineko is buried. They haven’t yet selected his headstone, so a rather eerie photograph of him stares out from behind a pile of earth and flowers.
The tour was incredible. That part of the cemetery clings to a hillside which is filled with tall trees and all sorts of bizarre monuments, mausoleums and megaliths. The most exciting part is the Egyptian Avenue, which looks like some kind of bazaar in Tangiers. It was magical. We shuffeld into cool catacombs and peered into ornate tombs with gold-leaf ceilings. At one point we were paid a visit by a beautiful baby fox, which darted out of a burrow and stared at us quite happily for some time. The tour guide was even gracious enough to point out some of her favourite inscriptions to help me with my research.
350 years ago, Pepys spent the day exploring Portsmouth. He walked along the city walls, met with Navy officers and visited a ship called The Mantagu, which he described as “fine”. In the evening, he paid a rather macabre visit to the room where George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was murdered by John Felton in 1628. Villiers was the favourite and possible lover of King James I of England, who rather weirdly described him as his “sweet child and wife.” He was one of the most rewarded courtiers in British history. John Felton was hanged in London later in the year and his body was returned to Portsmouth, where it became somewhat revered. Obviously Villiers wasn't as popular with the populace as he was with the monarch.
The West Cemetery