Thing was – it snowed overnight. A heavy fall that thickened the line of everything and made the place look alien and new. I took Lola out early, both of us wrapped in our cold weather gear, saying good morning to the few people we passed in that self-conscious way people have when they’re out together in bad weather.
I was keen to get some arty snow shots over the fields and woods. I thought I’d go via the cemetery first, though. There’s a grave there with a large statue of Jesus standing over it, his left hand palm up to receive, his right pointing to heaven. (His weight is slung on his left hip, too, which in his long hair and robes give him a diffident, hippyish look). I figured he’d look great covered with snow, so that was my first port of call.
It’s quite a statement for any grave, to have a statue of Jesus standing at the head. Most of the others are marked with modest stones, engraved with dates and so one, beloved this and that, fallen asleep and so on. The occasional decorative flourish – a dove with a sprig of something in its beak, or a chalice and a few berries. One grave has an enormous block of granite landed on top, like the relatives thought it needed something substantial to weigh it all down. Another is overgrown with an azalea shrub that blossoms blood-red in the spring. One grave has a black granite stone with an enamelled picture of an old Morris Minor, and I can’t help wondering if the occupant is lying there in leather gloves and a flat cap. But a statue of Jesus? I suppose you have to think the occupant was a particularly Christian figure, to the extent that they wanted to lie with one of the key players over them, like a having a poster of your favourite singer in your bedroom. I did look online, though, and it seems that many Christians are buried with their feet to the East, on the understanding that God travels East to West, like the sun, and come The Resurrection, when you rise from your grave, you’ll be standing there looking straight at Him (in this case, with a statue of Jesus at your back, which – with the statue’s right hand in the air, would look a little like someone saying Hey! Over here!)
It’s a nice idea, but I can’t help wondering about the practicalities. I mean, if every grave had a statue of Jesus, what kind of cemetery would it be? Busy, like a January sale, or an auction house, with everyone on tiptoes, bidding at the same time. And then maybe to differentiate – or even in the spirit of customisation, and making the thing your own – you’d be tempted to start dressing the statues, with hats and garlands and bags (which actually doesn’t sound too bad). I suppose it just goes to show, you can’t escape social competitiveness, even when you’re dead. Which is why I want to be buried in a natural burial ground, under a tree, in a woven basket, with only the odd blackbird above me, beaking around for grubs.
I headed for the cemetery.
As I approached, I saw a guy standing in the lychgate lighting a cigarette in his cupped hands. He tipped his head back, blew out a great cloud of smoke, which billowed round his head in the frozen air, then took out his mobile to make a call, the cigarette in his lips whilst he dialled. That done, he took the cigarette out of his mouth again and holding it out to the side, used the phone to push up his woolly hat from his ear, and scrunched through the snow ahead of me into the cemetery.
Everything was so quiet, muffled by all the snow, and with hardly any traffic on the road, it was impossible not to hear him talking – especially as it quickly became apparent he was having a bitter argument. Luckily for me, Jesus was in the other direction, so Lola and I headed that way along another path. I heard him shout: Good! ‘Cos I don’t wanna be with you, neither!
I reached the Jesus grave and started taking pictures. I couldn’t help glancing over in the guy’s direction, though, and when I did, he saw me. I waved my phone in the air as if to say It’s okay, I’m not listening, I’m just taking pictures. But then it occurred to me he might think the exact opposite, that I’m waving the phone to say I can hear everything you say, and it’s very interesting. So I stopped. He didn’t react. He just stood there, blowing smoke, staring in my direction.
I bent down to take one more shot, then left through the gate on the other side, towards the woods.