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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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A Post without a Theme
i) My mother showed me the Grove Park Jubilee Anthology - a collection of poems written between 1896 and 1946 by pupils at her Wrexham grammar school. It includes three poems by her: a Keatsian pastiche addressed to a cello, a poem about "stooking" (something she did as part of her "bit" during the summer holidays, sharing the fields with Italian prisoners of war), and this one, which I include not so much for its quality as poetry - though I like the sly satirical note in the last line - as for its 1941 topicality:

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ii) The green space in front of Romsey Abbey used to be a graveyard. It still is, in the sense that there are scores of dead bodies buried there, but in the early '60s the gravestones - mostly 18th century - were taken down so as to open the space to the living. Many's the time I played on the Abbey Green, for my primary school ran on one side of it, and home was just five minutes' walk away. They did leave a couple of box tombs at the edge, which I suppose would have been hard to move (but good for hide and seek); and I understand one family objected to the removal of their loved one's gravestone, so that was spared. It stood there solitary towards the back of the field throughout my childhood. Then it was vandalized and the carious stump sat for several years more. Finally it was removed altogether, family objections or no - though whether by the church or some less official vandals, I'm not sure. I can find no trace of it today.

Generally, I'm all in favour of giving the living priority - let the dead bury their dead, and all that - but I jib at what they did with the gravestones...

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That's right - they laid them all in the shape of a cross, around another, standing cross. I suppose it seemed a clever wheeze at the time - and as a child I took it for granted - but now it strikes me as being a really bad idea. Not only do I feel queasy standing on other people's gravestones, but in the intervening fifty years or so feet, rain and frost have worn away all but the deepest inscriptions. Occasionally you'll trip over an hourglass or a skull, but names and dates are largely gone. And the stones, which were never meant for paving, have begun to break up anyway, as you can see. It looks horrible - but is it unique? I've never seen another arrangment like it, but maybe graveyards were being given this treatment all over England back in the '60s?

iii) The electricians who came to fix my mother's outside light are based in the nearby village of Baddesley, not Ampfield (a couple of miles away). But they call themselves Ampfield Electronics: "Because it sounds more electrical". Subliminal advertising is alive and well in rural Hampshire.

iv) Finally, thanks to Cheryl Morgan for alerting me to this manga - which I so want to exist on the other 364 days of the year, and not just April 1st. Won't someone make it happen?

Awesome manga!

We have genuinely used a firm of electricians round here called PJ Sparks. 'New Scientist' calls the phenomenon "nominative determinism".

The Abbey organist used to be Mr Piper - and the undertaker was Mr Peace. Does New Scientist think there's more to it than coincidence?

Here's another appropriate P name for you. "Richard Payne, MD, is Professor of Medicine and Divinity at Duke Divinity School, Duke University and the Esther Colliflower Director of the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life. Dr. Payne is an internationally known expert in the areas of pain relief, care for those near death, oncology and neurology."

There's also the current Lord Chief Justice, whose name is Lord Judge. It's hard not to feel that he was destined for that position from the moment he took to the Bar - a bit like Major Major Major Major in Catch 22.

Oh, that's great. I also found a lot of dentists called Dr. Fang.

For a long time there was a firm of solicitors in Sligo called Argue and Phibbs. They were famous enough (solely for the name) to get a bit in the national papers when they closed down about 15 years ago.

That's a good one!

I don't think so - but perhaps people feel obliged to act according to their destinies. I used to work with a Dr Badman. He was ok.

That poem is fabulous. I can imagine her as a girl of firm opinions. I especially like the image of her cleaning her bike with margarine!

As for the gravestones-- they seem not to have thought that through very well. Of course the stones would wear away much faster in that position. On the other hand, I am not sure what a good solution would have been.

I'm not sure, either, to be honest. It's not as if I'd rather have it remain a graveyard - I had a lot of fun in that field.

A famous Sydney graveyard* was mostly (thankfully not all) turned into a public park. They put all the stones around the walls. Some friends and I had a picnic there one day and kept staring at the grass, wondering if there were any skulls staring back. Lining the walls with the stones doesn't look impressive, but it (mostly) worked in preservation terms.

*The one where the possible inspiration for Miss Havisham may still be found.

Alas, no walls in this case (see answer to puddleshark). However, that is a good non-rhetorical answer to the question "Why build a wall round a graveyard?" - one of several gloomy Depression Ditties I know from my mother's singing.

I've never come across anything quite like that arrangement of gravestones. The usual solution to moving them is to place them against the churchyard wall where, even the stones are now out of context, the inscriptions can still be read, and the skulls and hourglasses admired...

Lying them flat just guarantees that the inscriptions will be lost to weathering. What a shame.

Alas, the Green is surrounded on three sides by hedges, and the fourth is open to the Abbey itself: I took this from the same spot, 180 degrees around:

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It's a facer, all right. I just hope that somebody took rubbings or photographs, or at least made transcriptions, before they used them this way.

Your mother's poem is bloody good!

It's not unusual for old gravestones to be uprooted and reused as paving, but I've never seen that particular arrangement before. I think it's wicked. 17th and 18th century gravestones are beautiful things.

Your mother's poem is bloody good!

I thought it interesting that they labelled it "Doggerel", as if that were a genre rather than a pejorative!

It's better than doggerel. It says something interesting.

If I were compiling an anthology of wartime verse (which is never going to happen) I'd snap it up.