My day started at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in the East End. We have been shooting sequences for the ten films which are being made about The London Requiem. Each movement of the work has its own film, all of which will be displayed on The Space (www.thespace.org)
interview was with a charming old lady called Doreen, who talked to us a little
about Victorian gravestone symbolism, which is a genuinely fascinating subject
matter. Death in Victorian times was something of an industry, which I'm
convinced is largely due to the fact that Victorians could control almost
anything; steam, water, electricity and diseases, but they couldn't stop people
from dying. Perhaps as a result, the mystery of death fascinated them. It became
grand and ritualised. As people grew wealthier and more class-obsessed, so they
showed off with ostentatious tomb stones, mausoleums and monuments.
Hidden symbols gave
clues to the occupation of the grave's occupant, how he'd died, where he'd
lived, whether his wife had gone first and even his secret religious leanings.
There was a symbol for everything.
After bidding a fond farewell to Doreen, we interviewed one of the
maintenance officers at the Cemetery Park, who talked with fabulous
enthusiasm about how important the space had become as a nature reserve.
From Tower Hamlets, we went to Bethnal Green to interview people about
the Stairway to Heaven campaign, which aims to finally build a monument to the
180-odd people who died in the wartime stampede and crush at that station. One
of the women we spoke to had lost a cousin and a grandmother in the tragedy. The
details are horrific. Many of the most seriously disfigured bodies belonged to
women, who had died in strange contortions in a vain attempt to protect the
children who were crushed underneath them.
We stood and looked down the staircase where
it happened; just 19 steps. It's almost inconceivable that so many people
died there; but in a crush of this nature, which happened in the dark, as people
fall, they stick their hands out, which means everyone becomes horribly
intertwined. It's almost impossible therefore to pull people out, and the result
is slow suffocation. The woman we spoke to said that her grandmother was heard
to scream "they're treading on me, they're killing me" before she died. It took
the family hours to identify her body in the morgue. In those last traumatic
moments, her hair had turned from jet black to snow white. Almost inconceivable.
After lunch we returned to the cemetery and I did a series of pieces to
camera about my requiem, perched on gravestones, basking in the
sunshine, surrounded by wild flowers. Believe me, it doesn't get much better
From Tower Hamlets to Westminster Bridge. Each of the films
is being presented by a different member of the choir and today was the turn of
Anthony, one of our tenors. We walked in tiny
circles on the bridge, trying to avoid the hell of waving tourists, a low,
bright sun, horrid high winds and pretty much every piece of rubbish the
location wanted to chuck at us!
It's now 8.30pm, and this workaholic has
returned to Highgate cemetery in the hope that it might yield a few decent bird
noises, or something, which I might use as atmospheric sound for the recording.
I think I need to knock things on the head and go home for a nice bit of
food and put my feet up however. I have a seemingly unending week. I must try to
recharge the batteries!
Pepys did his accounts for the end of June on
this date 350 years ago and discovered himself worth 650l, the largest amount
he'd ever possessed. To celebrate, he took his wife to church, and gloried in
her new "green petticoat of flowered satin with fine white and gimp lace of her
own putting on."
He met up with Sir William Penn in the evening, who was
being suspiciously nice. Pepys was unimpressed, and assumed the rogue was up to
no good; "I shall never be deceived again by him again, but do hate him and his
traitorous tricks with all my heart." 17th Century dissing was an art form!