10 PM 11th June 2012 Nunhead Heights

I was on my high horse about burials in our cemeteries when I got the call that my friend Dieter is to be buried at Camberwell New Cemetery Tuesday, the 12th. Services at 10AM at St. John’s on Goose Green.


Aerial view of the Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood.

I was to propose stopping burials at the three cemeteries in The Nedd.

[The Nedd is what I call the leafy bit of Southwark - Nunhead Heights, East Dulwich and Dulwich. Maybe Belleden. OK, you come up with a better name.]

They’ve been burying bodies in The Nedd since 1840 – over 170 years. First in Nunhead Cemetery, then council-owned Camberwell Old and Camberwell New Cemeteries. My asking for a ban on burials is akin to moving next to Heathrow and demanding the airport be closed. Chutzpah, or as the English might say, cheeky.

I knew Dieter from Penny’s Father’s Group at the Townley Road Surgery in East Dulwich. A lovely, gently guy. Quite unlike anyone I had known in New York. He died in a motorcycle accident aged about 50. Read what I wrote about him here.

Could I have said to Dieter that he couldn’t be buried in his cemetery? Could I say to his son, Richard, that his father couldn’t be buried in his cemetery?

And to make me a bit more hypocritical, I buried my mother last year in New York. Staten Island. The only time I’ve ever been to Staten Island except for lining up for two New York City Marathons on the far side of the Verranzano Narrows Bridge. That’s almost true. I had been there a few times before that.

Burying my mother was a very satisfying experience – as these things go. The sense of finality, that you are doing the right thing, and that you’ll have someplace to go back to. It soothed me a bit, for a while.

My father, of the same religion, was cremated. Died in a house fire. That’s a joke. He was cremated after he died. I wasn’t soothed. But over time I can’t feel there was much of difference.

Here’s the rub.

There must have been budget cuts in Southwark way back and graves were left to go wild. Acres of Camberwell New and Camberwell Old are beautifully wild woods.

Christians allow for graves to be reused. After 50 or seventy-five years the graves can be re-dug and the newly dead are put in. I don’t think Jews and Muslims allow this.

My guess is that if the cemetery people had mowed and trimmed no one would have noticed or cared if they dug up an old grave. And they wouldn’t have needed planning permission because there were no trees to remove.

But there are now woods over the graves and now we care about trees and bushes and flowers. The Nedd isn’t on the edge of the Great North Wood or in the Surrey countryside anymore. It is in the center of crowded south London.

Southwark Council will need to cut down trees and rip up bushes and flowers and make a wood dead to bury 5000 dead people in the next few years.

The question is:

What can we do to stop, or at least reduce the number of, burials in Southwark so that we can keep our lovely woods?

I’ve made my decision. Please cremate me. Do not bury me on Staten Island.

Click here for my original post about losing the Camberwell Old Cemetery Wood.

And click here for something I wrote about Nunhead Cemetery, in a similar vein.

If you believe that what I have written is untrue, please tell me. If you think it is brilliant, rubbish, or something in-between, please tell me.

@lewisschaffer

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