CITY OF THE DEAD

I wandered down to St Pauls the other day to see the protestors camped next to its churchyard.  I sympathise with them but it is rather unfortunate that their presence has caused the Cathedral to be closed for the first time since the Second World War.  
I do like the fact that the Churchmen and the protestors have been engaged in lively debate -  I have often felt the building and the hill upon which it sits to be one of the major psychic centres of London, if not of England. One of the reasons for this and a circumstance that those camping there may not be aware of is the number of dead bodies upon which it sits.  

When Christopher Wren started digging after the Great Fire which destroyed the old cathedral, he discovered layer upon layer of corpses - a compete corporeal cross section through the city's history with recent burials placed over mediaeval graves piled upon the chalk coffins of the Saxons heaped on the pinned shrouds of Dark Age Britons stacked over Roman urns.  Doubtless if he had been able to keep going he would have found prehistoric remains - Ludgate Hill is after all said to have been the site of a Neolithic stone circle.  He may have eventually even come upon the mythical bodies of the giants Gog and Magog long lost in legend.

London is a teetering Necropolis, a veritable honeycomb of the dead.  Countless thousands lie here beneath our feet - one reason no doubt that the present city is almost five meters higher than its Roman counterpart.  Until inner city burials were banned in the mid nineteenth century, everyone who died here was squashed into often tiny parochial cemeteries adjacent to churches.  Even before the horrors of the Black Death and its plague pits, tales abound of body parts being visible just below thin layers of soil in the churchyards, bodies piled upon each other in cellars, left lying in the streets or just thrown into the Thames.  Nowadays of course it's quite costly to even get a place in one of 'The Great Gardens of Sleep" the Victorians built in a ring around the city to stop all that.  Accomodation has always been a problem here - even for the dead.

At this time of year, they sleep lightly it is said.  I trust there will be a few souls floating around at The Real Tuesday Weld's All Hallows show at Westminster library on Saturday . The building has its own ghosts of course - it is Isaac Newton's old house after all.  If I won't see you there and as we are speaking of the afterlife, I hope you enjoy this little film made a little while ago for the song "Heaven Can't Wait

And to quote Orson Welles:

"Be of good heart," cry the dead artists out of the living past. 
"Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? 
Go on Singing!"
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(The image above is from the wonderful Minotaur exhibition at Waterloo Tunnels)

LOVE ON THE PAVEMENT

In recent weeks, a message has appeared on the pavements of Vauxhall and Albert Bridges.

It says "I think I am it.  If you are too, come to South Quay DLR".  One would guess that it has been painted by one who has have fallen in love with another on the way to work and harbours the belief that love is reciprocated.  My grasp of graphology is good enough to know the writer is male so we can assume HE followed the beloved (gender unknown) and left a message where he knew they would see it - probably on the way home.  It is rather strange because it would seem far more effort to do all that than to just go up to the person in question and start talking to them.  But love know no logic does it?  

There is of course  a noble tradition of romance on bridges - right back to Dante getting his first peek at Beatrice on the Ponte Vecchio in 1300 and dedicating his life to her honour.  Their love was never consumated of course - I believe she thought him somewhat of a wimp and there was always a Mrs Dante and some mini Dantes waiting for Dad back at home.

London provides endless scope for the romantic imagination - yet another reason not to live in the country I would have thought.  This is particularly true when you are falling into or being pushed out of love. The city is soaked with the stains and traces of love lost and love found:  particular districts become associated with a particular person or a particular time; a broken heart can lend significance to the most ordinary of bus stops; an intensity of feeling amplify some dismal corner to the level of that bridge in Florence.  Holborn tube reeks with the scent of a million assignations. 

Such urban love can make fools of us. For a while I couldn't deal with West Kensington at all and found even buying a ticket for the district line poignant yet Dalston retains a certain romantic air in the imagination in spite of its grubby appearance. Once lost in some amorous madness, I saw a man walk through the wall of Russell Square tube, a sun-lit stream flowing through a concrete car-park behind Grays Inn Road.   There is a bench in Soho square I have not been able to sit on since a friend told me he had sex on it ...with my ex. For months, I was absolutely convinced a certain person was about to turn into the street ahead of me and things would be alright. They never did, and now I am glad of it. 

I wrote a song about such things a while ago.  It was released with Joe Coles singing - but here is the orginal with yours truly

As for our friends on the bridge above,  It is conceivable that they may be together now.  Or perhaps the wrong person read the message and turned up and it all worked out anyway. That would be a nice ending to this story - but if they are together or even if they are not, I hope someone remembers to come back and clean the pavement - just in case.