When I’m visiting friends and I ask where the nearest graveyard is, I’m still surprised when they look at me like I’m nuts. Sometimes I forget that not everyone understands my interest in cemeteries and some of my friends don’t know that I visit them for fun (meant in the most respectful way possible).
During a recent visit to Manchester, to get really drunk at the citys Beer Festival with some old friends I’d known since I lived and worked up there, I thought I would check out what Manchester had to offer, memorial-wise.
Our friends’ south-of-the-city location had a lot to do with the cemetery I chose to visit, as we were tired and hungover and I didn’t want to push my luck asking my fella to take a massive detour on the way home so I could wander through the headstones. The smell of the rain (it never stops raining in Manchester), and the particular kind of quiet that only cemeteries have, all helped calm my hangover.
Manchester’s Southern Cemetery opened in 1879 and is the largest municipal cemetery in the UK. I loved the fact it was open from dawn until dusk every day, the idea of someone having the keys to the cemetery gates, getting up before daybreak each day to open them, made me smile.
There were a few ‘famous’ people buried at the Southern Cemetery but I don’t know football or the industrial revolution so there was really only one person I wanted to visit and two other memorials that caught my attention – both for very different reasons.
Philanthropist John Rylands’ memorial was like a huge base of statue, as if smaller tiers were waiting to be put on top of it. I wanted to stand on it and pose like an award statuette (but would never do of course). It was so clean and simple, it really stood out.
The second unusual memorial was the polar opposite. I didn’t note the name of the person it remembered, I don’t think it was anyone the public would have known, but no one visiting a grave nearby would be able to miss it. A lifesize statue of an angel sat on a memorial stone, on its’ own plinth, looking downwards at sleeping cherubs. The angel was holding stone roses and the folds in her dress were almost moving. This impressive statue was not what caught my eye however. It was the sleeping stone dog, on a pillow plinth, complete with collar, lead and food dish and its’ own plaque that made me look twice. I’d never seen anything like this (and I’ve been to a pet cemetery). It took my third look at this unique memorial before I noticed the tiny headstone to the left of it, bearing only a last name, no date or RIP.
It took us a while to find the grave I had wanted to see. I am hopeless at reading maps and while my Mr is better, even he found the huge park difficult to negotiate. We did eventually discover the simple, shiny black headstone that marked the grave of record label owner Tony Wilson.
I have different reactions when finally being at the grave of someone that I’ve been hoping to see. I was moved almost to tears when I accidentally found John Peel’s grave, complete with a bottle of red wine. It warmed my heart to see Douglas Adams’ grave, covered in pens and pencils that fans of his writing had left. I felt genuinely sad inside when I made the trip across London, and searched seemingly every inch of every columbarium for his urn, only to find that Bram Stoker’s particular wing was supposedly closed for restoration work.
Tony Wilson’s marker was straightforward, rather like the inside of a book cover, with only the bare details printed. In sentimental contrast there were tiny animal figurines, glass vases and a hand bell left on the plinth surrounding it. I don’t know what I expected but it seemed fitting and wrong at the same time. I guess that’s what comes from knowing someone because of the things they’ve done or people they’re associated with rather than actually knowing them.
As we drove home and the rain eased, I wondered how on earth I was going to make visiting a cemetery with a hangover into a blog entry. I decided to let my head clear and the Lucozade kick in before I considered it any further.