59: culture and cocktails

Yesterday my best friend and I made our long-delayed visit to Highgate Cemetery, for no reason other than that we rather like a good graveyard. We’d planned to visit it last year but what with one lockdown and another we’d had to put it off. Pre-pandemic, the only way to visit the West (older) cemetery was on a guided tour, but they have been trialling self-guided visits, advance booked in timed slots. This was one of our culture and cocktail days, when we would usually go and see an exhibition or a museum and then have a very indulgent lunch: previous excursions have included The Lost Words at the Foundling Museum, Frida Kahlo at the V&A, and the Mail Rail and Postal Museum. We weren’t able to book anywhere for lunch so the plan was to get and M&S picnic with ready mixed cocktails and go and eat in Waterlow Park between visiting the West and East cemeteries.

Typically, yesterday was the first day of torrential rain in months: it’s been so dry and sunny, if not always warm! Luckily, we met at uni in Preston so we are quite used to rain, so we dug out the waterproofs and sensible shoes (how times change!) and met up at Kings Cross – track failure on the Central Line and the complete breakdown of all new LNER trains notwithstanding. After grabbing our picnic we hopped on the Northern Line and headed for Archway tube. We changed carriages once as there was a very strange man eyeing up handbags – we have never been out anywhere over the years without there being at least one weirdo involved, and at least this one didn’t tell me his life story. On our Mail Rail day a man accosted me at Kings Cross and told me all about his unfair dismissal from Royal Mail, as he was off to Parliament to protest about it. Bless him, I don’t think he’d realised there was an anti-Brexit march going on at the same time…my friend was crying with laughter from a distance as I am a magnet for weirdos.

We started with Highgate West, following the main route to start with and then wandering down the smaller paths as they appeared – there was a really helpful volunteer as we arrived, who kept popping up with useful information across the day. The sites are run by the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, so everyone is full of interesting knowledge – I do love a volunteer!

We were enchanted by the way the grounds have been left to grow wild, and spotted little Great Tits and a beautiful jay as we walked around. It does mean a lot of the space is inaccessible as many of the monuments and graves are unsafe, but even the main paths give you a good view and they are very well maintained. There’s a red route on the map which gives you the highlights like the Circle of Lebanon, the Egyptian Avenue and the main tombs, but you can also follow the smaller marked paths.

We were surprised to find the grave of Alexander Litvinenko in the old side, who was interred in a lead lined coffin – we hadn’t really registered that people were still being buried in this side, although there is very little space. The graves range from the very simple to the very elaborate, with a heavy emphasis on obelisk and angels (which we kept a careful eye on, and definitely didn’t blink). Our favourite on this side was George Wombwell’s, with a sculpture of a very friendly lion. He was a menagerist, with three travelling animal shows.

We found a shelter in Waterlow Park for our picnic – although it had stopped raining by then the ground was a bit too damp to sit on. I can highly recommend M&S’s Blackberry Gin Bramble, though I’m told their Cosmopolitan tasted like parma violets, and is not recommended. We offset the cocktails with the Crayfish and Mango salad.

Lunchtime company

Post lunch, we visited the East cemetery, where I made a pilgrimage to Douglas Adam’s very unassuming grave. No towels in evidence, but a whole flowerpot of biros. We loved the descriptions of people on their graves: scientists, poets, doctors, philosophers. Our very helpful volunteer popped up and pointed out the death mask of Bruce Reynolds, one of the great train robbers, and we found Malcom McLaren’s death mask later. We also found George Eliot, Jeremy Beadle, Karl Marx (hard to miss), Sheila Gish, Ann Jewson Crisp (who had a faithful dog, Emperor), Claudia Jones, and a whole lot of people called Martha.

The day was rounded off with a hot chocolate in a little cafe in Highgate Village – we earned it by walking up the rest of Highgate Hill! A cyclist passed us on the way up, huffing and puffing, and we were in serious awe of his stamina as that is one very steep hill. He also passed us on the way back down towards Highgate Station, freewheeling but still puffing. Highgate Village is an odd place that doesn’t feel like London – apart from the property prices.

On the way home I got to pull the emergency handle on the Central Line for the first time ever, as a man who had clearly had a few too many that afternoon was in a bad way and collapsed. We left him in the safe hands of the man at Debden Station and I hope he got home OK!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I finished the second sock and they are large enough to allow for a bit of shrinkage – my laundry skills, like my cooking, can be a bit erratic at times. I love the way that the colourway on the sock yarn has reversed itself for the second sock, and there was enough left over (I hope) for a pair of Vappu socks.

You can also see that I have finished the D20 cross stitch and handed it over as a housewarming gift for a colleague, filled in April (range of 6-16 degrees for the month) on the Temperature Tree and just have the final ‘T’ to go on the Hairspray cross stitch pattern which is destined for a birthday gift. The final image is the Suffragette sash I made a few weeks ago, now in NI and in context!

This week has felt quite productive, all in all! And right now I had better go and whip up a flask of hot chocolate and get my swimming bag packed.

Same time next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Juniper Wiles – Charles de Lint

Museum of Desire – Jonathan Kellerman

Serpentine – Jonathan Kellerman

Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book – Brian Froud and Terry Jones

Death Set To Music (Inspector Pel) – Mark Hebden

The Lollipop Shoes – Joanne Harris (Audible)

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