Scents and Sounds of Brompton Cemetery

I lived around the corner from West London’s Brompton Cemetery about two or three years ago.

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it didn’t seem quite as wild or untamed as it does now.

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I like it this way, less groomed, equally inviting.

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It feels more natural, more like a nature reserve that just happens to be a cemetery.

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Now, there are more tousled vines engulfing crooked gravestones.

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There are delicate pink wildflowers poking up in between hard surfaces.

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Wild berries hang, juicy and ripening in the Summer sun.

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Tangled plants sweep over the untidy edges of trails that deviate through the grass off of the main walkways.

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The main strip is still pretty orderly, but there are large patches that have been left to grow as nature intended.

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Weather-worn gravestones are marked with brown patches of moss and bird droppings faded in the sun.

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The names are becoming more difficult to decipher on some of the older inscriptions.

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Despite being a cemetery – one of the Magnificent Seven in London – it’s full of life.

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I used to run here, as do many others.

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People come to settle on benches and spend their lunch breaks or early mornings with a newspaper.

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Others walk, slowly and contemplatively, without the sense of rush that goes on beyond the cemetery walls.

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I settle in on the steps across from the domed chapel in the middle.

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It’s easy to think back to three years ago and how much life has changed since.

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I have a completely different set of friends now.

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Many have moved away – to Toronto, to Sydney, to Mongolia, to the US, to the countryside.

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I’m in a different relationship, happier.

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I went off to Colombia for six months and New York for three and then came back and have been back for almost two years again now.

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I’m happier at work with a different and more interesting, creative and fulfilling job.

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I thought not so much about the death all around me but about the different cycles that life takes us through, the many changes that come year after year, especially living in a huge global city like London.

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A slight breeze stirs the ferns and a train faintly clacks over the tracks beyond the wall.

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There’s a background hum of soaring planes above, but it’s muffled here.

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What stands out most is the buzz of crickets and other insects.

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You can actually hear the breeze slip through the leaves.

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Squirrels sniff at the ground.

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Pigeons grovel.

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No dogs in sight though.

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There are what seems to be a million stoic black crows stand still, glaring our from their headstone perches.

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It smells of earth.

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It sounds like peacefulness of death.

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But it feels quite alive.

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If you’re a cemetery fan, check out some previous posts from Nunhead, Plumstead and Woolwich!

Brompton Cemetery Birds

Leaves are changing colour in Brompton Cemetery and the birds just seem to be sitting around watching the season turn. On the Old Brompton Road end, a huge number of birds gathers in the street and surrounding tombs and monuments…

Brompton Cemetery Birds

It’s a peaceful walk from one end to the other, the scent of Autumn creeping out of the ground now, people quietly jogging around or reading books on the benches.

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There are still flowers in bloom, raspberries growing along the railway tracks on the far side and as you can see, plenty of wildlife.

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Enjoy the birds!

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And a fake one….

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London Art Spot: Fabienne Henry

 

Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Ireland, Canada and the UK. Sounds like a holiday wish list, but it’s actually all of the countries where this week’s featured artist Fabienne Henry has lived. Originally from Paris, she’s lived outside of France for most of her life.

After studying Law in Paris, Fabienne practised only for a few months. Law doesn’t travel very well. She lectured in Law for a while, spent some time as a French teacher and then a magazine editor (why not?) before settling into her current career as a freelance writer. As you can see from her creative images below, she is also a keen, self-taught photographer.

Living in London since last summer, Fabienne finds every stroll she takes and every event she attends a true delight. (It is London, after all.) However, she’s also very nostalgic of her time in Vancouver.  Ideally, the two cities would bump heads and Fabienne would live in Vancouver with the cultural aspect and the eccentricity of London.

For this week’s London Art Spot, she tells us about her blog “Lost & Found in London”, about the popularity of a certain piece of flour-less chocolate cake and shares photos of a woman eating ice cream in a burqa.

“Primrose Hill”  

LLO: Where are you from originally and how and when did you end up in London?
FH:
I’m originally from France but I grew up in Africa. I went to university in Paris and then went to Dublin to improve my English. I ended up staying there for eight years since I met a lovely Irish man who became my husband. We moved to Vancouver in 2003 and came back to Europe after three great years in BBC (Beautiful British Columbia). We landed in Yorkshire first, which was a culture shock for a city slicker. Thankfully, a work opportunity came up in London and we moved to the city in the summer 2009. 

“Brompton Cemetery”  

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
FH:
There is always something happening in London. I think that Londoners are very creative in many aspects of their lives: in the way they dress, in their food, in their hobbies… Plus London is so cosmopolitan; there are many different influences everywhere you look. How can you not feel inspired or creative when you live in London? 

“Garlic”

LLO: Do you remember when you first fell in love with photography and how has your style evolved since then?
FH:
I think I became obsessed with photography in my early teens. I was taking pictures mostly of family events and friends. I used to love that moment when I went to collect my film rolls at the photo shop. A moment of expectations that’s lost to digital nowadays. When I was 16 I bought a SLR Canon EOS with 2 different lenses and I started to take shots of almost everything. It was a costly hobby back then. Now I still photograph about everything and I mostly enjoy shooting unusual places or situations in London, Paris, Brittany, my daughter and food. 


“Field Game in Yorkshire Lavender, Terrington, North Yorkshire” 

LLO: Tell us about your blog, Lost & Found in London, and how you came up about the idea.
FH:
 I started blogging in 2004 when I was living in Canada. It was the beginning of the blog phenomenon back then and I loved this idea of endless possibilities. Plus there was so much to tell about life in Vancouver. Then I moved to Yorkshire and the blog became “Lost in Yorkshire”. I took a different angle: as you can imagine it wasn’t as fun or exotic to live in the middle of Yorkshire. For me anyway. My posts turned towards the cultural differences between France and England. A little bit like Stephen Clarke’s A year in the Merde reversed! Thankfully, Yorkshire is a beautiful place (no cynicism here) and I was able to illustrate my posts with nice shots of the Dales and the numerous National Trust Gardens (the English really love their gardens). When I moved to London, I needed a celebrating change so the blog became known as “Lost & Found in London” and I now enjoy writing and posting photos about my adventures in this great city. 

“Palisades, Brittany, France” 

LLO: What is your most popular “find” according to your blog or Flickr stats?
FH:
 My most popular picture on Flickr at the moment is a close-up on a flour less chocolate cake. Probably tagging with “chocolate” helped!

On my blog, the most popular posts are the ones where I speak about British clichés and also my twice monthly guessing game – “la devinette du mercredi”. I post a photo where one has to guess what it is or where it was taken.

LLO: With all of your travel, living in so many different countries and having multiple talents from photography to writing to teaching, what do you ultimately see yourself doing?
FH:
Moving around makes it difficult to adapt to a steady professional life. Hopefully this time we’ll stay a bit longer in London so I would be able to develop my taste for freelance journalism. I would love to write regular articles for papers or internet sites as I’m doing right now, but not as frequently as I wish to.

“Amazing Light in Vancouver” 

LLO: Share a photo with a great story behind it and tell us about it?
FH:
 Last August, I was wandering in the Southbank when I captured this scene:


I found these shots amusing and interesting because in France at the time was the heated public debate about the possibility of the burqa ban. It was a way of speaking about it on a lighter note. When you think about it, eating ice cream with a burqa on is not the simplest task!

“Molly on the Beach” 

LLO: Where is your favourite place in London to take your camera?
FH:
 I always have my DSLR with me at the weekend, and a smaller camera anytime in my bag. Basically all of London is a playground paradise for photographers. If I had to choose a place I’d say may be the South Bank.

“Ballerina” 

LLO: Is there somewhere in London that you go to get a taste of Paris?
FH:
 Paris and London are really two different cities in many ways, especially from the architectural point of view. From that perspective it’s difficult to compare the two. Although sometimes when I take a walk on the riverbank or when I cross a bridge I can catch some kind of Paris feeling. If you refer to the French atmosphere, then head straight to South Ken: you’ll feel that sometimes that French is the primary language over there. This is definitely the French quarter with the Embassy, the lycée, the shops and the French Cultural Centre.

“Prison Break @ Borough Market” 

LLO: Show us you favourite London image you’ve captured so far.
FH:
I like the colours and the few iconic London items on it.

Thanks Fabienne! 

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here. 

Listen to a Londoner: Colleen Wagner

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview post with people who live (or have lived for a while) in London. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers.

Colleen Wagner, 33

Colleen moved to London for her husband’s job three months after getting married in 2008.  She’s a high school English teacher who is at present working part-time for a London relocation agency rather than duke it out in the city schools (hey, it’s not like she didn’t give it a try…), and while she wouldn’t recommend undergoing three major life changes in one summer to even her worst enemy, her and her husband have come to truly, ecstatically enjoy their new life together in London.  

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
CW:
A year and a half.

LLO: If not London, where are you from? 
CW:
Chicago, Illinois

LLO: What is your favourite London discovery?
CW:
Brompton Cemetery, a 40-acre plot of solitude among Victorian graves.  I almost don’t want to promote it, as I’d hate for it to become too populated with the living…

LLO: Where in London do you go to get a taste of “home”?
CW:
Partridges on Gloucester Road provided us Stove Top stuffing on Thanksgiving Day.  Also picked up some Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and Golden Grahams–basically, a 10 USD box of cereal, but worth every darn pence.

LLO: What’s the coolest part about living in your postcode?
CW:
On the SW10 / SW5 border, the Troubadour is ideal for coffee or cocktails and live music in the club downstairs (Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell played there in the ’60s).  We attended the BRIT Awards last week just a 10-minute walk from home, and my bookish self particularly adores that Beatrix Potter lived only a few blocks away * sigh *

LLO: Heard about any interesting places you’d like to check out but haven’t had the chance to yet?
CW:
After going to Proud last Saturday, I’d like to revisit the Camden Stables Market in the daytime.  Otherwise, after reading the book Longitude, my inner dork would really like to see the sea clocks at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

LLO: If I had one day in London and wanted to go “off the beaten path”, where would you send me?
CW:
I would send you first to one of my trusted pubs like the Drayton Arms on Old Brompton Road for a proper English Breakfast.  Then, so you can get at least one London museum in, you’re off to the Cabinet War Rooms–its right by Westminster and St. James Park, but its low profile renders it easily overlooked by other tourists.  If you’re thirsty, I’m sending you deeper into the city to at least gawk at St. Paul’s Cathedral from the outside before you wander over to the hidden shops and pubs around Bow Lane and/or to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese tucked away off Fleet Street (during the day, though, before the work crowd filters in).  Or, if you’d prefer a quiet, leisurely day, scrap all that and head to Hampstead for the village atmosphere and rolling heath.  Regardless of the daytime itinerary, by night you are being sent to Edgware Road for Middle Eastern cuisine and shisha.

LLO: Favourite London shop?
CW:
Zara, but for non-high street shops, the stalls at Portobello Road Market.  

LLO: Tell us about the most random thing you’ve seen in London.
CW:
Feathers stuck to my store-bought eggs, as though straight from the chicken’s va-jay-jay.

LLO: Best place to try to meet new people if you’ve just moved to London?
CW:
[insert shameless plug here]  Why, the new London Living social network at http://www.londonrelocation.ning.com!

Thanks Colleen!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.