“There is one place you must never go. One place in space and time you must never find yourself…my grave”
The Doctor, ‘The Name of the Doctor’
As is customary in my own family, and in many others – every birthday of a deceased family member, the clan assembles on a mini-pilgrimage to lay flowers and tidy up the headstone. It’s a puzzlingly comforting ritual that you could almost set your watch to – the uneasy approach to the grave, a quick eye-up on the condition of it and a quick snap at your Dad who can’t find the watering can for the flowers – every year, without fail.
I never knew my Grandfathers. Both had (more or less) passed away by the time I came on the scene so there are memories of my childhood trekking to Chiswick New Cemetery – Mum parking the car under the tall old London Planes down Staveley Road, or Bandon Hill Cemetery in Surrey, with my Dad. Every time, my Grandmothers accompanied us on this journey, and they were never sad occasions – very matter of fact and happy, sometimes.
There’s one thing that sticks in my memory and has resounded in my head ever since I was a child. We were in Bandon Hill and my Nan had placed some flowers at my Grandad’s grave. A moment of silence followed, and with a sigh, she said ‘I’ll be in there one day‘.
This hit me like a bolt out of the blue. It’s difficult to imagine where your older family members – and yourself, for that matter – are ultimately heading towards. Of course she’d be joining him. But how would that make one feel? She and my other Grandmother must’ve lived with this knowledge for decades that one day, they’d be joining their husbands, buried deep in the clay soil. It’s like the old time travel scenario – and this was explored in an episode of Doctor Who recently.
“When you’re a time traveller, there is one place you must never go. One place in space and time you must never find yourself…my grave”
It’s an sci-fi idea that’s almost as old as sci-fi itself. What if we found our grave and found out when we’d die? For TV’s most popular Timelord such knowledge would be poison: with fifty years of time travel its remarkable he’s not happened upon his tomb by accident. To bring it slightly more on topic, my Nan was already halfway there. She was unsure of the date. But she knew where she’d be ending up.
From Kensal Green to Abney Park, in fact every cemetery on this island, there are thousands, if not millions of graves where people knew they’d finally be one day. Graves that were tended to and loved as a pre-cursor to their own internment. All too sadly, as family members vanish, the graves become abandoned, like most that you see in the Magnificent Seven.
This picture was a major reason as to why I wrote this blog in the first place. Freshly installed, this monument to Annie Elizabeth Jones would’ve been a gleaming white marble monument with two (probably pink) granite pillars either side, and to quote Ken from our recent visit to Tower Hamlets, must’ve ‘shone a gleaming white’. I’d like to draw your attention to two details about this photograph. Firstly, look at the gap under the people already in the grave: awaiting more details to be added. And then look at the lady. The lady is Sarah Jones, the mother of Annie, who more than probably ended up in the very grave she’s tending to. Other than grieving for her children, how much she have felt, knowing that was where she was destined to be? It’s like someone has placed a set of buffers on the train tracks of your life. Very macabre.
Every plot has a tale like this. I myself have no idea where I’ll end up. When I was on the radio speaking to Vanessa Feltz a week or two ago, she asked me that very question, and I imparted that I’m rather taken with being lain in a catacomb. I’ve done no research into how feasible this is, and my preference of having a big monument erected upon my death seems unlikely what with the comparatively austere lawn memorials that pervade death monuments nowadays – what would I do if I had a TARDIS and ended up at my own tomb, like the Doctor did, seeing when and where I’ll end up? Would there even be a space for me to be buried? I may never know.
I am extremely grateful to Andrew Dally, a dealer who sells vintage photography, who very kindly allowed me to use the image of Mrs. Sarah Jones for today’s post.
- ‘The Best Office in London, A Woodland in Zone 2…’ (cemeteryclub.wordpress.com)