Saturday, November 17, 2007


So, as my brief trip to London drew to an end, I had one final mission to complete:

On foot, at 9:08am, I passed the attractive Kew Gardens Hotel.

Soon, I was waiting to move along the District Line; as were others.

Kew Gardens (District Line) – we begin.

South Kensington – I look forward to seeing Emma and Alex later.


Embankment – ‘Change for the Northern Line’.

Embankment (Northern Line) – very busy.

EustonI’ll be back.

Mornington Crescent – I feel a bit nervous.

Tufnell Park – A young man up the carriage puts away the script he was reading. He now opts for a… an A to Z! Excellent! I’m not the only one heading into the unknown.

East Finchley – Get off.

I turn left out of the station, a one mile walk ahead of me. The street is the most spacious that I’ve walked all weekend.

Though there is much to engage with – many more eateries than I’d have imagined, I am focused on my immediate destination.

As I approach, it is further brought to mind.

The cemetery is vast. It is also pleasingly well-kept.

Autumn is stamped across the grounds.

I wonder where bench seat culture - seats as memorials - emerged from.

Mid-morning and the air remains crisp.

After a ten minute walk across the park-like surroundings, I am at the junction of Joint Road and Strawberry Vale Brook. Over to the left, I hear the distant buzz of maintenance machinery combine with the constant whirr of the north circular ring-road:

To the right is the section that I am interested in:

A more modest section for sure, though that’s no surprise.

Here, I am within yards of my destination, as I begin to understand the ordering of the graves. I am not sure what to expect, though it seems that each small stone or cross bears only one name. I presume that this whole section is – was - for the unknown and the poor.

I have a grave number – 25192, though I see no numbers upon the graves.

The section is the size of a large garden. There is a great orderliness about the lay-out of the graves. It would not be impossible to walk amongst the graves and to wait for my uncle’s name to register. So I do. My heart-rate is up.

Two thirds of the way towards the far corner of the section, I turn to take in the space from a different angle. And I notice that upon the back of one of the larger stones is a number – a five-digit number. My task has become much easier. A quick scan of other stones – brushing aside leaves and scraping away occasional moss – indicates that the grave numbers descend right to left, and from back to front.

Confidently, I walk by six or seven columns of stones and recognise a number that is close to that which I seek.

Counting down, I stop by the stone which I believe to be the one. It is obstructed by minor fauna, which I sweep aside. The name does not match, so I check the number. I have over-counted by one. I am seeking the previous stone, and so I return to it and with the in-step of my right foot, I sweep away some obstructive leaves.

But again, the name does not match. This is a little confusing. I check the number. It is one above my target.

And slowly, it dawns.
The unnatural, slightly out-of-sync space between these last two stones is for a reason.

Not only is 25192 ‘a public grave which means there are other unrelated people buried in this grave’, as I had been advised by the Memorial Administration Officer, but it is also unmarked.

I had not imagined this. Unsure of what to feel or to think, I cast my gaze around me. The tree that would shadow this space seems to take on a greater degree of import. Perhaps I try to make acceptable - less distasteful - this unanticipated void, but perhaps I don’t need to.

My return to the gate of the cemetery is a sad one. Befitting the whole journey that I have come on, I have been moved by an absence (as I later had explained to me by a very dear friend). It seems that the absence of a stone is appropriate for a life that, when push came to shovel in 1985, would seem not to have mattered. After all, who would there have been to have cared about a stone or any other memorial.
By the time I re-enter the station at East Finchley, I am over the immediate sadness that I felt.

And so on to Euston, where I immediately board my train.

This is a journey that has come to an end. I return home.


PI said...

Shane I'm sorry there wasn't a stone. I always think it is a touchstone where one can focus grief. But on the other hand I don't believe he is there anymore and his spirit will be free whatever. I hope you will find some comfort now you have found his last resting place. It was a good thing to do.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

In a way, it is too bad you know this. Your uncle doesn't.

This is a very nice piece, Shane. Big Ernie be with you.

Huw said...

Woah. A valiant journey nonetheless.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...


I love the way you can, in the middle of a most poignant post, still raise a smile. '...when push came to shovel...' did it for me.

Shane said...

All of y': Thanks for following this story. You, and my blogging it, have been good.
Pi - The touchstone thing is, in itself, fascinating. I've since chatted with Emma and there is presently a half-baked idea for us to generate some kind of unusually formatted story out of this.
Hoss - That first line of your's... it is that that prevents me from becoming too sentimental about this whole thing.
Huw - I quite like travel that is attached to a 'mission'. Traditionally, such missions have been less about dead relatives and more about obscure football fixtures, but hey, it's all part of the rich tapestry...
Z - I rather impressed myself with the shovel line. I guess it would be uncouth to admit to that.

PI said...

Shane I've done it! Alone! You're y less:)