January 20th, 2012

me: wrong side of the mirror

The Magnificent Seven: #5, Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead is one of the more far-flung of the Magnificent Seven, requiring a Tube plus overground train journey to reach. The wide drive leading from the entrance provides a wonderful view of the destroyed Anglican chapel at its heart. An arsonist made short work of the interior and the roof in the 1970s. The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery have determined to make it a showcase for art installations like the one below.

At first I thought a living person had managed to sneak inside and play at being a statue, rather like those silver people you see on the South Bank in the summer. What a cunning stunt, I thought. As I approached, I got out my camera. A group of dog walkers promptly accosted me.

"Are you with that person?" one of them demanded in an accusatory tone.

"Er, no," I replied, surprised.

"Oh, I thought because you have that fancy camera, you might be participating in this," said Dog Walker #1 with a disgusted gesture at the scary black-clad figure on the bench behind the heavily padlocked chapel gates. Clearly her reaction to the installation was an anagram of mine.

"Isn't it clever?" I said wickedly.

"No, it's horrible!" she replied. "They show artwork here all the time and they're usually nice, but this is terrifying. I got the fright of my life coming up the walk."

"How funny we should have such different reactions," I smiled, and turned away to take photos of it.

(Curiously, Dog Walker #2 who had heretofore seemed inclined to agree with Dog Walker #1, now stepped forward with her phone to take pictures.)

Dog Walker #3, a middle-aged man, said, "Imagine seeing it at twilight. The crows settle on this chapel at night and they always turn up making the creepiest noise with their cawing."

Dog Walker #1 threw up her hands, harrumphed and left us to our contemplation of this ghoulish vision.

Nunhead was a refreshingly chaotic change after the strict order of Kensal Green. Signs everywhere warned visitors to keep to the paths as the grounds outside of them were treacherously unstable. There weren't all that many outstanding grave markers and the sections of the cemetery that are currently in use lack the romance of the old ivy-choked bits of it. But the atmosphere was excellent, enhanced by the incessant cawing of the crows. If you decide to visit Nunhead after it's been raining, I recommend sturdy walking boots or wellies, as my smart boots were completely filthy when I left.

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