Weather Cemetery Perfect

William Friese Greene (1855-1921) portrait photographer and prolific inventor – Bert Jansch (1943-2011) folk musician – Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010) impresario – Claudia Jones (1915-64) journalist & political activist – Yusuf Dadoo (1909-83) communist & anti-apartheid activist – Anna Mahler (1904-88) sculptor – Anthony Froshaug (1920-84) progressive typographer – Baron Dalziel of Wooler (1852-1928) newspaper owner and conservative politician – Richard ‘Stoney’ Smith (1836-1900) miller who patented hovis high wheatgerm flour process – Hercules Belleville (1939-2009) film producer – Robert Grant (1837-67) awarded Victoria cross during Indian rebellion of 1857

There is such a thing as perfect cemetery weather. I remember going to a football match with my father and brother, walking through Hanwell Cemetery, Kensington, in the midst of a seemingly endless drizzle; a sky so full of cloud it was dark, no wind, but a breeze stirred by almost imperceptibly small drops of rain, so that one feels as though they are walking through a cloud and constantly blinking it away. It was weather just like that when she and I first arrived at Highgate Cemetery. Perfect cemetery weather. A few weeks before she had mentioned Highgate Cemetery in conversation, and I thought it was as good a place as any for a date, noted it down and decided to take her there, up in the hills of North London.

Ann Jewson Crisp (1789-1894) had a faithful dog, Emperor – John Groom (1845-1919) philanthropist who set up a charity for disabled women and girls – Sir Eyre Shaw (1830-1908) Superintendent of London Fire Brigade – Peter Ucko (1938-2007) archaeologist – Andrew Baird (1842-1908) tidal surveyor – David Kirkaldy (1820-97) engineer – George Critchett (1817-82) ophthalmic surgeon – Corin Redgrave (1939-2010) actor and political activist – Jeremy Beadle (1948-2008) TV presenter, write & producer – Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005) pop artist – Karl Marx (1818-83) political philosopher

She took me for breakfast at a café round the corner from my flat, which, although I had passed it many times, I had never ventured inside. It was packed and the heat of people brewed the rain off them and into the air, amongst the steam from coffee and fry-ups and toasted croissants. We sat next to the till. There was a television set but it was only playing some weird animations intended to be relaxing; a projection contested by the queue which reached to the door of everybody craning their neck to see the chalkboard above the counter, above the chrome and steel sculptures of a flustered Saturday kitchen. So rammed was it that there was barely space to butter one’s bread! It was the weekend and, finally, we had all day with each other.

Ernestine Rose (1810-92) atheist & political activist – Sheila Gish (1942-2005) actor – Willoughby Smith (1828-91) electrical engineer; pioneer of underwater telegraphy – George Eliot (1819-80) novelist – Pat Kavanagh (1940-2008) literary agent – Arthur ‘Peggy’ Bettinson (1862-1926) boxer and boxing promoter – Ernest Barker (c.1872-1912) went down with RMS Titanic – Ferdinand Barzetti (1836-1914) British veteran of American civil war – Dr José Carlos Rodrigues (1844-1923) journalist, financial expert and philanthropist – Jim Horn (1976-2010) reader but not a partner of the Penguin firm – Douglas Adam (1952-2001) writer – Lucien Stryk (1924-2013) poet and translator

The cemetery was on the top of the hill and probably saw more visitors in summer, but those folks never got perfect cemetery weather. The west cemetery was too expensive, or perhaps closed – my memory fails at such trifles – so we paid a small fee for the east cemetery to an old woman holed up in a garden shed, and were given a map of the dead & buried, their names, their born and died days, their accomplishments and professions. The cemetery scrunched up into tiny hillocks of grave and tomb, memorial and tribute. There was a party of young Americans in front of us, talking loudly with trademark intonation, ignorant of company or location, so we slowed our step that they might pass along. We bent down and studied engravings underneath the orange and brown-leaved trees that sprinkled upon the stones. There was a young woman on her lonesome, photographing the graves. ‘Perfect weather for a cemetery, isn’t it?’ she said. The subjects all posed faultlessly!

Martin Colnaghi (1821-1908) picture dealer and collector – Feliks Toposki (1907-89) painter and stage designer – Sheila Gish (1942-2005) actor – Frank Matcham (1854-1920) theatre architect – Sir L:awrence Weaver (1876-1930) civil servant and architect – Sir Colin St John Wilson (1922-2007) architect – Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867) lawyer and diarist – Berenice Sydney (1944-83) artist – Lewis Foreman Day (1845-1910) designer and writer – Max Wall (1908-90) comedian and actor – Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton (1844-1916) physician; pioneer of angina drug treatment – Anthony Shaffer (1926-2001) writer

I observed her looking with wonderful curiosity at the grey teeth sprouting from the earth into the distance, underneath bare or undressing branches, such a delight, so worth the wait, so worth the note I had made and the patience I had found. Soon it became so dark that our cameras began to wheeze. There was an empty café halfway down the hill where we stopped to coffee and warm. She leaned against the wall, looked at me with those eyes. Those eyes. Those heavenly eyes, so alive and I’m falling. We took the Northern line south, back into the city, where we met one of my dearest friends, who was out on the town with his wife, mother and aunt over from Ireland. I felt like I was part of a couple, part of stumbling into love, as she held court with these strangers, so charismatic and congenial. Then, still in the drizzle, the rain, the perfect cemetery weather, we searched for somewhere to eat, and found it, eventually, over a bottle of Italian red and every part of her autumn colour presented in the ambient light of a dusty Old Compton St restaurant.