Changing Places

By Bernie Bell

Recently, one of my Great-nephews – living in Ireland – was talking with his Mum, who grew up in Bradford, Yorkshire – she was telling him of the bomb craters which became playgrounds for children, and his comment was – what a strange, but good, thing it was, that people had dropped bombs, to try to kill people, but had produced playgrounds instead.  I thought this was an encouragingly positive view to have, of destruction.

On the subject of places dedicated to destruction, changing to something else – something positive, that’s how I see the photographic works of Ian Collins. He makes grim things, un-grim, and bring out the interest, and humanity, in them.

These places are getting noticed, and, I think, recognized as places which are ‘in between’  – not of defined time, or purpose.

Many of these places, not only get taken over by the wild things, but also, in doing so, become places of peace, and beauty.  As I mention in my Glimps Holm piece  – the rusty warship, is now home to marine life and a roost for birds.

For ruins which have ‘acquired’ gardens……….. head to Hoxa Head

I have a friend who lives in London, who was telling me of an old cemetery that she likes to go to.  Due to cuts to maintenance, parts of it are left to become wild – there’s a bit of management by local people, but Sally says she can wander there, on paths which are hard to find, and it’s peaceful and full of ….life. It’s called Ladywell and Brockley cemetery.

This particular cemetery has an annual event in the summer, which includes a choir in the church ruin, art exhibitions, guided tours of a crypt, and walking tours around the graves to point out ones of particular historical interest.

She also likes other city cemeteries – for the walks, grass, flowers, birds, insects, peaceful picnics!  There are several in London which she happily treats as a good day out, as they can be full of wildlife, with meadows and little pathways like country lanes, where she really feels like she’s somewhere else  – out in the countryside.

Something similar to Sally’s London ‘retreat’ – when we lived near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, we used to go for walks in a cemetery just down the hill from where we lived.  It was on the edge of town, about 5 minutes’ walk would find you right it Stroud, but…..the cemetery was mostly silent, and full of wild life.  It was a big,  old one – had a Victorian structure in it with an arch in the middle so that carriages with coffins could pull in under the archway.

The most recent bit of it was kept tidy, but, thank goodness – the older bits were just left.  You could still just about follow the paths, and there would be old, half fallen-over headstones. There were trees, and flowers and long grasses, and shrubs. It was a great place – we used to go for walks and sit on those ‘table’ sort-of grave markers, to eat our sandwiches.

Cemeteries, as long as they’re not kept too tidy, can be lovely places – the one down the hill from us, here on Orkney,  isn’t used any more. It’s maintained  by the Community Council, who employ people to cut the grass. A few years ago, the people cutting the grass, repeatedly scalped the whole lot, flowers and all. So Fiona-As-Was-Next-Door and I started a campaign, and….People Power – the Community Council, put it in the contract that the maintenance people have to leave each set of flowers until they had gone over, then they can mow over them. It’s lovely – like a garden, but a wild garden.  It starts with snowdrops, then moves on to celandines and primroses, then bluebells, then in high summer, Orange hawkweed, Ox-eye daisies and campion.  Also some saxifrage, here and there…

We love it.

Peaceful places – and spaces for the Wild Things. These places are havens for wildlife, and for people like us, and Sally.

My Dad used to say that a cemetery was one place you wouldn’t find people arguing, and he was right.

The sites of war – and other aspects of human life – revert back to the wild. It usually doesn’t take long – first the green shoots, then the shrubs, then the trees, then the critters.

Back to where I began, in Ireland – one of my nephews lives in a small village in the West of Ireland.  When their son was born, he and his wife had a christening party in the village pub, which we attended. Since then, the pub has closed, and, the ivy has simply taken over. Last time we went past, you could just about make out that there is a building there, behind the greenery.

John tells me that, when the landlord and landlady retired, they just shut the pub, and left it, with everything in it. Locked the door,  and walked away, leaving the place to live its life, behind the greenery. Imagine………

Oh – and – you could take a look at ‘Ness’ by Robert MacFarlane & Stanley Donwood, in which some of the illustrations are reminiscent of Ian Collins photographs, and where The Wild – gathers.

Ness by Robert MacFarlane and Stanley Donwood Bell

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