Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

A Typical Wedding Day Family Group Photo, February 2021

Marx and Piaf - Very Different From Marks and Spencer

Marigold Says…

Not much from me today, far too busy. Isn’t lockdown marvellous? I personally have saved lots of dosh by not wearing makeup, going to the hairdressers, not caring what we eat, not window shopping and lusting after stuff, not going out for coffee and treats or wandering around a supermarket.

Has all this doing without changed us? No, not at all.

G’s claims of his body being his temple are years out of date and nowadays the temple just looks a bit more ruinous but with a newly thatched roof due to the absence of barbers. He would never have gone outside with long hair looking like Giant Haystacks but he does now. Its only long at the back and sides by the way as the top part is mostly baby hair.

Not having to hug and kiss people is great. I remember once somebody kissing me on the cheek and leaving a blob of tomato sauce stain from his own face. Yuk. Keep your food stains to yourself.

If we ever shake hands with people again, we will immediately want to wash them. Will we ever want to use cutlery we haven’t boiled or bleached? I would imagine the fad of sharing platters will be no more, but as I have never liked them it won’t matter. My plate of food is mine and keep your paws off.

People won’t want to share crisps in a bowl. Thing to do is get in first and dive in filling your pockets before saying “now you help yourselves”. They would all think “greedy”. Would I care?

We have become obsessed with saying “how Many deaths today”. Never thought we would be discussing that one. I still don’t understand the R number. G comments on it, and I switch my attention off.

The other weird thing is not making plans, not because we think death is imminent but there doesn’t seem any point. If we go over the channel all sorts of unsavoury people could be waiting in the mist coughing and spluttering in a Gallic manner.

We have been watching a lot of stuff on Netflix which may have been influencing our thoughts. All the things I decided to do in first lockdown were to teach ourselves chess, make bread, do exotic cooking, lose loads of weight, read improving books, learn what the birds are in our garden, learn another language and have more patience.

The only one I have achieved so far are the names of several birds, but I knew those before, Magpie, crows, sparrows and starlings. Speaking of which we did see a hawk circling around. G said it was a drone and probably belonged to the council or police, looking for illegal swimming pools, naked sun worshippers or rave parties. I am still waiting for inspiration to take up the other pursuits.

Karl Marx grave in Highgate cemetery

This was the original. Not quite so fancy

G Says...

I can only vaguely remember being able to get up out of an armchair without making sound effects. It’s a gradual thing, age. It creeps up on you. The recognition I can’t do some things any more, or certainly not as well, dawned on me long ago, but I heard from an old friend* recently who is finding late middle age, as I prefer to call it, a tad more difficult than most.

*When I refer to my old friend, I am of course referencing the breadth of years we’ve known each other not his chronological age. After all, he’s the same age as me; no more than late middle aged then. A mere slip of a lad.

The most famous offering of Scottish poet, Andrew Marvell, turned up in a podcast I listened to the other day. Regarding podcasts, I mostly listen to learned people commenting on news events or football. Mostly football, but somehow this one containing references to poetry sneaked in. To His Coy Mistress is, basically, a plea to the poet’s uncertain lady friend to hurry up, get a move on and become a little more free with her ‘favours’.

The opening couplet sets the tone:

‘Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, Lady, were no crime…’

but the segment of verse that’s stood the test of time best is buried in the second verse:

‘But at my back I always hear

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.’

That’s the bit that can invoke despondency in later life. Not as much time left as we imagined in our youth and now we’re in a pandemic, we’re potentially wasting what bit of time we’ve got left.

That’s the stark reality facing many people now and my old friend isn’t dealing with it very well. He’s a born and bred Londoner, (not being judgemental, he can’t help where he comes from), and in the far off days when I worked alongside him in the Kings Road, at that time the epicentre of ‘Swinging London’, we had spectacularly intense arguments about every subject under the sun. Bizarrely, we’ve been mates for almost fifty years now.

He was telling me of his daily exercise routine, wandering around Highgate cemetery. We’ve loved our visits there. One of Marigold’s choices for a perfect excursion, forget about Alton Towers or Disneyland, is a trip around an old graveyard and Highgate is a belter. 170,000 ‘residents’ in 53,000 graves – Ooh, budge up missus, room for one more – there can be few more fascinating places for a daily walk, but maybe a tad morbid in view of my friend’s present and seemingly immovable melancholia.

When Highgate Cemetery opened, cemetery tourism was a big thing, not just in London. If you went to Paris in the 1830s, one of the top places to go was Père Lachaise – it was a must-see.

It still is in my view, if only to discover such unlikely residents as Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison all grouped together in one place. It’s unlike any other cemetery we’ve visited and we’ve trailed around a lot of them. It took us ages to find the grave of Edith Piaf, even though the scenes of public mourning following her death had been mind blowing. She’s buried in the family grave as Madame Lamboukas dite Edith Piaf, with the acknowledgment of her stage name only seen at the side of the monument, almost as an afterthought. With hindsight, we should have just looked out for a grave heaped with masses of floral tributes. Even many years after her death, the ‘little sparrow’ still draws vast numbers of her fans to Père Lachaise.

Highgate opened in 1839, before London had public parks so it was a virtual day out in the countryside for city dwellers. More recently visiting cemeteries fell out of fashion with more and more people opting for cremation and Highgate, its costs helped out by being used as a ‘horror setting’ by Hammer films, became increasingly dilapidated and neglected until a group of likeminded people came to the rescue forming the Friends of Highgate Association.

The success of their ‘business model’ means Highgate Cemetery draws 100,000 paying visitors a year, up from 63,000 seven years ago, There are various guided tours available. I looked on their website and most tours omit the final resting places of Karl Marx and George Michael. I assume this is an attempt to restrict numbers at ‘popular landmarks’.

Marx, observed in the Communist Manifesto: ‘In bourgeois society... the past dominates the present.’ I can’t recall the context when I first read this but I’m fairly sure it was nothing to do with where and how he would end his days.

When Marx died in 1883, he was buried under a plain, flat slab on a small side path at Highgate, with only a dozen people attending his funeral. The grave was neglected for decades, hidden under overgrown weeds, until Marx’s remains were moved in 1954 to a more visible location in the cemetery, and the monument was added, possibly for tourists, the original headstone being cracked and broken.

He is buried there along with his wife, a daughter, two grandchildren and, a nice touch, the family’s housekeeper.

There’s CCTV around the Karl Marx statue now following two recent incidents of vandalism. The desecration or removal of monuments is in vogue, an unfortunate reflection of our era.

Karl Marx, Michael Faraday, Douglas Adams, Ralph Richardson, George Elliot, just a few of the notable grave sights I’ve seen in person at Highgate, including the most memorable of all in my view, those of the brilliant artist Patrick Caulfield and the not remotely famous ‘resident,’ Jim Stanford Horn who was only 34, but I’ve missed out many more.

Since my last visit there’s evidence that it’s not necessary to be a Marx or a Faraday to be interred there. I offer up Jeremy Beadle and Malcolm McLaren in evidence. Ralph Miliband, father of Ed and David, is there too. As a prominent British Marxist in his day I assume he’s happy enough to be close to his chief inspiration.

I told my gloomy friend to buck up and get a grip. After all, things could be worse. He could be entombed in a Travel Lodge for ten days, the fate that now awaits anyone unwise enough to want to travel to the U.K. to savour the delights of our February climate.

The television news interviewed some of those poor wretches confined to one room in a hotel near Heathrow airport. Until I heard these harrowing tales I hadn’t realised the quarantine process was apparently akin to recreating the Black Hole of Calcutta in deepest Middlesex. Restricted to one centrally heated room, containing a bed, a chair, a desk, table, refrigerator, access to Internet and television and an attached en-suite bathroom, the inmates are being forced to collect all their meals from the doorstep.

Where do the BBC find these people? Some of them appeared fairly ‘normal’ until asked for their opinion. More evidence of light travelling faster than sound - many people appear bright until they start to speak.

I can’t imagine mentioning cemeteries without recalling our many visits to Tarifa on the southern tip of Spain. The cemetery perched above the town has appeared in this blog in the past and it’s quite simply one of the best settings for a graveyard we can imagine. It’s always beautifully kept and an increasing number of the, mostly above ground, graves are occupied by victims of unsuccessful immigrants trying and failing to cross the mere 8 miles of sea that form the Straits of Gibraltar, dividing Europe from North Africa. Many graves bear just the simple, stark inscription, ‘unknown African.’ Those poor souls washed ashore receive a burial in the same graveyard as Spanish aristocracy and the locals ensure the graves of these unknown victims of the ocean are regularly provided with flowers and treated with equal reverence.

At Algeciras, in the shadow of Gibraltar, a few miles from Tarifa we saw a much more basic cemetery with at least 100 graves of people who drowned in the straits. Almost all are nameless. Only the date of burial and case number have been roughly scratched into the cement grave markers.

On our first ever trip to Morocco and North Africa, the first of many, we made the ferry crossing from Algeciras. We prefer the swifter ferry from Tarifa now, but visiting Algeciras for the first time was a real eye opener. The period celebrating Ramadan was imminent and the area was swamped with Moroccans and Algerians trying to get home to be with their families.

Ramadan, one of the Five Pillars of Islam is observed by Muslims throughout the world as a month of fasting, prayer and community so the roads across Europe are packed with expatriate Muslims in heavily laden cars heading towards the ferries to get home. At night the hillsides around Algeciras are dotted with hundreds of tiny bonfires as the early arrivals await their turn to board a ferry.

Algeciras is far from attractive, it’s a scruffy working port, but while wandering around the port area we came across a tiny ‘monastery’ run by a man I had heard about but never expected to meet.

For more than 40 years, Padre Patera has been the first point of contact in Europe for thousands of Africans crossing the Mediterranean illegally by boat. He runs his charity out of a tiny monastery right next to the port. Illegal immigrants set off clutching only a scrap of paper bearing the name Padre Patera in the certainty that if they survive the perilous crossing they will receive a welcome meal and useful advice as to the next steps to take to achieve their dreams of living in Europe.

Many other memorable cemeteries come to mind: just outside a tiny hamlet in New Zealand we came across a hill side dotted with graves and stopped to look at the view across the mouth of a river to the sea. A great number of the headstones bore very similar names, all of them Scandinavian in origin, but the most striking aspect was that so many of the dates of death were the same.

A tragedy involving the sinking of a vessel at the height of a storm as they reached landfall saw a score or more people, all ages, men, women and children, bearing the same name. We saw so many Andersons, Petersons and Eriksons, buried side by side, entire families laid to rest in one place. I can’t recall the name of that village, it was a tiny settlement far from any tourist route, but neither Marigold or I will ever forget it.

Other memorable graveyards are rooted in memory. Lacking the poignancy of that in New Zealand, but utterly remarkable were the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague with its ancient gravestones leaning against each other for support, the vast expanse of the City of the Dead in Cairo and the oddly named Cemeterio dos Prazeres (which translates Cemetery of Pleasures) in Lisbon which contains an absolutely gigantic mausoleum, the largest in Europe, constructed for the Duke of Palmela and his family in the shape of a pyramid and modelled on Solomon’s temple.

More of this to follow...

Isn't this wonderful? It's the headstone of Patric Caulfield, one of our favourite artists

Another remarkable headstone. We found this by accident and have no idea who Jim Stanford Horn is, or was. I'm assuming a gay relationship due to the spacing of the word 'partner' at the top - with the addition of a final 's' the spacing would be symmetrical

Typical McLaren, that sentence on the base. A man of vast talents and extraordinary energy, he was one of the shining lights of the 'Swinging London' scene when we arrived there in search of whatever it was we were all looking for in the late sixties

Rather more prosaic. The stark simplicity of this headstone is such a contrast to the limitless imagination of Douglas Adams

Yet more memorable cemeteries

Prague is one of our favourite cities. On our first visit we ate at a workers’ café just off Wenceslas Square where diners took a ticket on arrival and waited for their numbers to be called to collect their meals. We sat, crammed together, on long wooden benches either side of long narrow tables, there was no choice, you ate what was offered, on that day it was a thick, meaty stew, and in a separate bowl everyone received a vast dumpling the size of a water melon.

Neither of the two feeble British tourists could eat all of it, it was huge, but our fellow diners made sure our abandoned dumplings didn’t go to waste. As we waddled out, alongside well fed locals dashing back to work, a walk across the iconic bridge with its jazz bands, jugglers and other street entertainers and a climb up to the castle was just what we needed. The castle is impressive, but we loved the lively atmosphere of the Charles Bridge and its iconic statues just as much.

We found the statue of Prague’s favoured son, Franz Kafka – it’s hard to avoid references to Kafka here – but they’ve added a giant rotating Kafka head as well since we last visited which sounds interesting.

We’d passed the Sex Machines Museum on the way but gave it a miss, (eaten too many dumplings for all that malarkey?) and the Jewish cemetery in the former ghetto proved an inspired choice. It’s neglected to the point of dereliction, with 12,000 tombstones – I didn’t actually count them – most of them unable to remain standing without the support of its neighbour.

The cemetery dates back to 1439 and as Jewish people were only allowed to be buried within the Ghetto it was soon filled beyond capacity. Jewish faith does not permit a body to be removed after internment so the dead are buried twelves layers deep in this relatively small space.

An incredibly moving experience.

From the very small to the very, very large, the City of the Dead in Cairo has to be one of the world’s most unusual cemeteries. If asked what aspect of Egypt left the most lasting impression Marigold and I would place this above the pyramids, the Sphinx and even the Valley of the Kings.

Cairo’s population exceeds 20 million, the noise and bustle of its chaotic, crowded streets remain a shock for quite a while. It’s one of the few places Marigold wasn’t entirely comfortable on our first visit. On one occasion she momentarily released her grip on my jacket and took exception to being pushed aside by a group of pedestrians.

They ignored her and directed their annoyance at me.

‘Control your woman,’ barked an irritated local.

‘Oh, come on, mate’, I muttered, ‘I realised many years ago that was never going to happen.’

With such a vast population, housing is scarce and abject poverty forced many recent arrivals to get creative in the search for accommodation. Cairo’s sprawling cemetery with its ornate tombs and mausoleums became home to several million people who still live there full time. I didn’t take photographs for obvious reasons but the memories will be there forever.

I had another letter signed ‘Matt’ – he’s the Health Secretary when he’s not being my best friend and most regular correspondent. This one was to reiterate his ongoing concern for my well being and to advise I stay well away from the rest of humanity, Marigold excepted, until at least March 31st.

That’s no hardship whatsoever.

I read this in this morning’s newspaper: ‘English authorities have identified an extra 1.7 million people vulnerable to becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 by combining factors such as age, underlying clinical condition, ethnicity, body mass index and local levels of deprivation.’

Does this mean my ‘special’ status is to be diminished? Very disconcerting. The inclusion of body mass index is even more worrying. Suppose I am mistakenly grouped with the morbidly obese at risk in future? How very unfair after all my hard work in body mass reduction.

Is there any sign yet of a badge detailing the specific medical conditions that have allowed me the ‘privileged status’ of being in a carefully selected group of clinically vulnerable citizens? It’s rather awkward having one’s status diluted.

Marigold tells me not to worry as I’m much more decrepit than these nouveau vulnerables but I suspect she’s just trying to cheer me up.

Jewish cemetery in Prague

The lively bridge in Prague

Franz Kafka statue. In no danger of being pulled down in Prague

The latest 'revolving' statue. Not my photo as we haven't been to see it yet. It's certainly impressive

Madame Lamboukas - better known as Edith Piaf

Tarifa

One of the few victims of drowning who could be identified. His grave in Tarifa is home to dozens of floral tributes and has been on every one of the many occasions we have visited Tarifa

A vast mausoleum in Lisbon.