A large Victorian Cemetery can be so daunting when you are looking for a specific headstone and the cemetery stretches out before you. It can be difficult enough in an overgrown country churchyard where the words upon the stones have melted in the rain. In a municipal cemetery it can appear to be an impossible task.
Fortunately the larger ones are divided into sections and records will show you where a particular person is buried. In Cathays Cemetery in Cardiff they go one better. There is a heritage trail, a route past a number of interesting graves. Add to this a map that you can download from the internet and suddenly everything seems so much easier.
On this occasion we arrived “en famille”. I always feel that it is better to park outside and walk in to the cemetery but sometimes this isn’t practical especially in the extensive ones like Newport, Cardiff and Aberdare. So we drove in and parked under the tall trees on a bright January morning. My mother in law stayed in the car and read The Daily Mail, which was presumably offering the sort of spluttering commentary on events that hasn’t changed at all since the people around her were buried.
We strode off bravely into cemetery with our map. We had three targets – and two we found quite easily. The other proved a little more elusive. I ventured deep into an untended area to find it, working diligently, not hiding behind a bush as my wife Liz believed, having a pee. An opinion prompted by bitter experience I imagine.
I found it in the spot my wife and her sister Moira had just vacated. They had been almost leaning on the marker post but not seen the grave. “If it had had teeth it would have bitten us,” said Moira eloquently. They had missed it in the undergrowth, presumably transfixed by the possibility of seeing me in action. They were sadly disappointed, though I called them back to share my triumph.
The headstone had slumped at an artistic angle and the letters that had been attached with rivets had started to fall. It all added to the sense of a forgotten story, slipping silently into the past and fueled that need to capture it before it is too late.
We took our photos and headed off for refreshment. As I drove out of the peace of the cemetery on to the busy roads, on to the shopping element of our trip, I couldn’t get the last headstone out of my mind. All those letters once attached carefully and individually, being shed like leaves. One day they will all be gone.
Yes all this searching around in cemeteries might have started off as a hobby and as a vehicle for telling interesting stories. But now it is a responsibility