Grave News from the Dead Centre of Winchester…

…Okay, that’s the last dad joke for this guest post. I promise…

So just in case you haven’t managed to work it out yet, it’s Tony here again, guest blogging for Min while she shops for boots plans exciting new things for the blog in the coming weeks.

We’ve been based in Winchester for more than a fortnight now, putting us more halfway through our stay here (in fact, this time in a fortnight we will be in Singapore and, this time in two weeks and two days, we’ll be back home again! Eeeep!) For now, though we are – as you might have gathered from some of Min’s previous posts – thoroughly enjoying being in one place for a while. We’re all unpacked, and have dropped into a kind of normal family routine, albeit on the other side of the world. In the mornings I head up to the University, where I’m working on my OSP projects and getting a lot of writing done. Imogen and Toby do school work through until about 1 or 2 in the afternoon, and Millie… well, Millie just uses her newfound mobility to keep us all on our toes. (On an unrelated note, I’m predicting that in years to come, Millie will be our child who likes rollercoasters. And bungy jumping. And skydiving. Seriously, the kid has no sense of self-preservation at all…)

Outside, the seasons are changing, and we’re now well into a South West England Autumn. Which is rather like being in the middle of a mild Canberra winter. Maximum temperatures each day are hovering in the low teens, nights are down to two or three degrees, and the weather is grey and cloudy, but with occasional bursts of gorgeous sunlight. The trees are turning various shades of russet, the pavements buried under blankets of golden leaves which Toby is taking great delight in wading through at every available opportunity, and there’s a quiet sort of anticipation of the winter ahead. It’s very different from what we are used to.

And one of the things we are all really enjoying is just gradually exploring Winchester – finding the little hidden bits and pieces that you might miss if just visiting for a day or two. Min will no doubt be posting a few of these in the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to share one of my favourite parts of Winchester with you all.

Every morning, on my daily commute, I walk through the centre of town, past the rather glorious Winchester Cathedral, up and across the train lines and then through the West Hill Cemetery, which conveniently takes me right to the front gates of the University.

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The Cemetery has quickly become my favourite part of the walk, to the point where a couple of my trips have ended up seriously prolonged, owing to me getting distracted wandering among the gravestones.

It’s an old Cemetery, no longer in use. The most recent burials I’ve managed to find were generally from the early 1990’s, but these are spouses of people long gone, finally re-united. For the most part, the last regular burials seem to have taken place in the 1950’s, but most date from a lot earlier than that.

It’s a place that completely sets the ‘writer’ part of my brain buzzing. For one thing, it looks almost exactly like the cemetery described in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book – built on the side of a hill, the graves are dotted in a seemingly random manner, with rough paths twisting among them from the bottom to the top. There are a couple of old trees keeping sentry, and a crumbling old gatekeepers cottage with gothic architecture at the entrance.

To add to the effect, the whole graveyard is a protected grassland area – a vital little refuge for the biodiversity of the chalk region, which lends it a gorgeous, unkempt air. Wandering through it during the grey silence of an autumn morning is an amazing experience.

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The view across the cemetery - the overgrown grasslands lend the place a lovely gentle atmosphere
The view down the hill towards Winchester from the cemetery – the overgrown grasslands lend the place a lovely gentle atmosphere

And, of course, it’s full of stories. Winchester isn’t a young town, not by a long shot, and West Hill was the cemetery that oversaw (among other things) the late Victorian era and two world wars. Many of them are stories of love and separation, covering large swathes of modern British history (and are also, very often, amazing tales of re-unification…)

“Devoted to the memory of EVELYN SARAH, the devoted wife of George William Till, who died November 7th 1905, aged 47 years. And of HARRY, 4th son of the above, 2nd Lieut Closter Regiment, who fell at Ypres Oct 7th 1917, aged 32, interred here as are the ashes of GEORGE WILLIAM TILL, who died March 10, 1960, aged 101 years”

I posted on instagram a while back a picture of one of the amazing stories of people who waited, but there are also a few really touching stories of people who couldn’t:

“Precious memories of ARTHUR SIDNEY WATMORE who fell asleep 31st March 1963 aged 86 years, Rest in Peace. Also his dear wife, ALICE MARY, who passed away october 22nd 1969, aged 86 years, Together Again”

And then, of course, there are the war graves. There are war commission graves dotted right throughout the lower half of the graveyard, and a cenotaph in the middle on the main pathway, but there is one particular little cluster of war graves which, even when the grass in the rest of the graveyard is at its longest, is kept neatly trimmed and tended:

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In here are stories of those who died young –

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One solitary Australian:

“2704 Cadet G.R.JOHNSTON Australian Flying Corps, 26th March 1948, aged 22”

And many others. Perhaps the war grave that had the most impact on me, though, was this one here:

4804 Serjeant F.J.James, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, 7th January 1918, Age 42
4804 Serjeant F.J.James, Kings Royal Rifle Corps, 7th January 1918, Age 42

He was just a year younger than I am now, and the same age my great grandfather was when he was pulled into WW1, leaving behind a wife and children. There’s such a lot of loss in all war deaths, but this one really hits me.

My favourite graves, though, are the ones which are so old that they’ve been lost or forgotten, or are in the process of returning back to the amazing chalk soil – the ones where the stories are no longer etched in stone, but are faded past memory:

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There are plenty of these dotted all around the cemetery – some have collapsed, some are overgrown with ivy or other plants, some have simply fallen and are slowly crumbling away. All of them evidence of the hundreds of lives and loves and stories, all tangled together in the chalky soil of this altogether very pleasant little corner of the world.

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Grave News from the Dead Centre of Winchester…

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag!

Okay. Is this thing on?

Right.

Hi Everyone. Tony here. I’ve taken over the blog been generously invited to use Min’s blog to launch my newest photographic art exhibition. The official catalogue title is Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag (series one). For those of you not yet completely fluent in the language, this loosely translates to ‘Evil Morning Baby in The Hague’

About the work:

Inspired by a poorly timed 5.15am wakeup, and finding myself unceremoniously thrown into the streets of a Dutch city at sunrise, I was struck by the ironic juxtaposition between my own grainy-eyed exhaustion, and the bright-eyed, cheerful disposition of the baby that I was wheeling around, and resisting the urge to push into a lake. Instead, I decided to capture the granduer of the city, scaled against an eleven month old, by nearly abandoning said child in large empty plazas, deserted cafe forecourts, and barren window art exhibits. Referencing the early work of John Bracks and Jeffery Smart, but with the added frisson of potential investigation by child services, Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag, is available for purchase (the baby, not the photos) for only 25 Euros*

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 1: 6.15am – De straat bij zonsopgang

The sun rises thorugh a morning Haze of deserted cafes.
The sun rises through a morning Haze of deserted cafes. The subject’s serenity defies the screaming of 45 minutes earlier.

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 2: 6.27am – Het meisje met het lege meer

In the distance, the Mauritishuis Gallery, home to Vermeer's iconic 'The Girl with the Pearl Earring', forms a gentle counterpoint to Millie's 'The girl with no regard for daddy's sleep'
In the distance, the Mauritishuis Gallery, home to Vermeer’s iconic ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’, forms a gentle counterpoint to Millie’s ‘The girl with no regard for daddy’s sleep’

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 3: 6.48am – Slaap is voor losers

An empty plaza, a tiny pram. The granduer of the architecture outweighed by the lack of caffeine in the artist's system at 6.43am
An empty plaza, a tiny pram. The granduer of the architecture outweighed by the lack of caffeine in the artist’s system at this ungodly hour of the morning

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 4: 7.03am – De duivels speelplaats

An empty playground in the early morning. The only screams of delight those of a father, napping on a park bench while his daughter observes the surrealist playground equipment.
An empty playground in the early morning. The only screams of delight those of a father, napping on a park bench while his daughter observes the surrealist playground equipment.

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 5: 7.24am – Waar de straten geen naam hebben

Lost in translation, and in The Hague, the artist looks back not in anger, but in weary resignation. At this point, bed is but a dream, a glorious hallucination.
Lost in translation, and in The Hague, the artist looks back not in anger, but in weary resignation. At this point, bed is but a dream, a glorious hallucination.

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag 6: 7.44am – Ik weet niet veel over kunst…

Finally heading home, artist and subject find a beach in a shop window. The art becomes part of the art, the circle of creation (and of the centre of Den Haag, roughly 3 kilometres) is complete
Finally heading home, artist and subject find a beach in a shop window. The art becomes part of the art, the circle of creation (and of the centre of Den Haag, roughly 3 kilometres) is complete

About the artist:

Best known for his continuing performance instillation ‘Toby and Millicent, an adventure in fatherhood’, Tony Eaton continues to push the boundaries of art into the realm of parenting, fearlessly exploring the nexus between exhaustion, joy, and surrealism. The artist wishes to thank his manager, Imogen Marjorie, for her support for this project.

* or any reasonable offer

Kwade ochtend baby in Den Haag!