One of my favourite places in London is a graveyard

The opening line is unashamed clickbait, but it’s true – Bunhill Fields is a gem of London’s history.

It is part-burial site, part-park and part-monument. It is like a microcosm of the things we antipodeans-cum-Brits find charming about the UK; a messy mix of history, faith and flora.

The City of London estimate that it is home to some 120,000 human remains. Its role as a formal burial site dates back over 350 years, but with bone disposal likely occurring much earlier, to our friendly Saxons. It may have even been a plague pit at one point.

This makes Bunhill (or ‘bone hill’) Fields really rather old and really rather interesting.

20180109_154447-EFFECTS

The final burials on the site took place at roughly the same time that my own home town – now a city of 4.8 million people – was still being established.

Unconsecrated land, the site was popular as a burial site for non-conformists – believers who practiced their protestant faith out of communion with the Church of England. We can find John Bunyan, of Pilgrim’s Progress fame, resting here, along with Daniel Defoe and William Blake. The grave of Dame Mary Page has an enigmatic inscription alluding to her final years:  “In 67 months she was tap’d [tapped] 66 times, Had taken away 240 gallons of water without ever repining at her case or ever fearing the operation.”

After the closure of the fields to new burials, and further damage from the Blitz, parts of the area were converted to an open park. At least one local vagrant lawyer (yours truly) is known to eat lunch there.

It is a magnificent place to watch the seasons pass. The site provides respite from summer, with the tree canopy providing peaceful cover. Autumn shows the very best of London colours, blanketing every surface.

In winter, the headstones complement the reality of British winter; bare trees, cold winds and a slight sense that all hope has left the world. But all that sets us up beautifully to find that the very best has been saved for spring. One can walk through the fields every day throughout Spring to discover that something has changed overnight. The daffodils will poke up, followed by an array of different flowers, ever-changing, with the greenery forming back to life.

Bunhill Fields is a joy and well worth the visit. More than once. Every day, even. You might even run into a vagrant lawyer.

PS: It’s got a great pub just outside.

20170824_184411_001

Further reading:
https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/Bunhill-Fields.aspx

https://flickeringlamps.com/2014/06/25/the-hill-of-bones-the-story-of-bunhill-fields/ 

The Gown

Susan extended a hand towards the powder, carefully dabbing the blush around her high cheekbones.

“Still beautiful”, she said aloud, admiring herself.

Tonight was important. They had to see her winning.

As she applied her lipstick, she caught sight of a tiara hanging from her mirror. She smiled, drawing confidence from a memory of victory.

Finally dressed for the occasion, she arose, sweeping her gown behind her.

She took her beloved Albert’s hand and departed.

Arriving, she haughtily gazed upon the crowd, as if a queen accompanied by her prince.

She was there to be seen, and, indeed, she was seen. The other attendees exchanged sad, knowing, looks.

“The poor thing has truly lost it”, murmured a burly orderly to Albert, Susan’s nurse, as he slopped mashed potatoes onto her paper plate.

Her residents’ gown gently rustled as he pushed his plastic food trolley past them.

On Reading: Relapsing into the Addiction

I grew up with a borderline-unhealthy attachment to books. I devoured everything from The Lord of the Rings to trashy teen fiction to dog-eared copies of Readers Digest in the doctor’s waiting room.

Law school, traumatic reading experience that is, changed that. A few years after graduating, I realised that I no longer regularly read for pleasure. The magic had been murdered by my LLB. I immediately set myself a modest goal to read 12 books by the end of the year.

That year, I read 17 books in total. I’ve since gone further (more on that later…), but those first few months, I learned three key things about (re)developing a reading habit.

1. “Let it gooo”: accept that it’s okay not to finish a book.

This should be rule number 1, 2 and 3.

A salutary lesson: in the afterglow of my goal-setting, I went to my nearest bookstore and bought three books. I got through three pages of the first, put it back down and didn’t read again for two months.

I had no desire to keep reading that book, but the idea of starting another without finishing the first was even less appealing.

In the end, I gave the first book away so it could not judge me, un-read, from my shelf. This let me start the second book (Grisham’s fun collection of short stories, Ford County). I had learned my first lesson: if a book is not working for you, move on!

2. Be flexible: read however works for you

Just start reading! Read wherever you possibly can, whenever you are able to, and whatever you feel like reading.

None of those first few books I read were particularly deep books. I needed to de-program my brain from approaching books like legal puzzles. Heavy literature is not the only (or best…) form of true reading. Reading something is nearly always better than reading nothing. Read what you enjoy!

Initially I resisted eBooks, feeling that a ‘true book experience’ (whatever that is) must be in paper form. What garbage. You need to read however works for you. I now read mostly on my kindle, often standing on the train, sometimes walking to Sainsbury’s. Audio books in the car might work as well. Snatch time where you can get it.

Just read!

3. Relax: have fun

Setting reading goals might not work for you. In fact, it might be counter-productive! If 12 books in a year is unattainable for you, start with 6; one book every two months is achievable for most folks. Even if you get 3, that is better than zero!

As you read, savour what you can; one of the joys I find in reading is encountering lines or passages that stick with you. I still find myself mulling over lines from East of Eden (“I wonder how many people I have looked at all my life and never really seen” being a particular favourite).

You might enjoy getting to know the characters – either way, enjoy the journey!

… and have fun.

James Hills Writes?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: posting your ramblings online is a bit narcissistic.

I’m not quite narcissistic enough to think that the world has been dying to hear what I have to say on any or all of these topics… but here I am anyway.

As such, I will do two things here:

  1. I will try to moderate the inherent narcissism of self-publishing one’s thoughts with a healthy dose of self-deprecation; and
  2. I will only post when I have something sensible to say.

Rule 2 will invariably be broken. It may already have been. Welcome.