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The tombstone whisperer


I spotted this pair of tombstones in a beautiful secluded churchyard at a flower festival over the weekend. This kind of skull-and-bones graveside iconography is very common in Puritan New England, but very uncommon indeed in an English boneyard.

I asked someone if they knew the story of the stones, and they directed me to — I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t catch or, anyway, don’t remember her name. She was in a tent selling books at the other end of the churchyard. She’s the local lady-who-knows-everything-about-the-stones.

As I walked up, she was complaining to another old dear that she was going to have to sell her motorcycle (a Honda 90) because ever since she turned eighty, the arthritis in her left leg prevented her propping up the bike at a stop. That’s such a shame, the other old lady said, you’ve been so mobile.

We fell to talking about the stones. Most of them are cut from granites and marbles and other stones that just melt away in the elements. Year on year, you can see the inscriptions fading.

She made a bit of kit — she described it as an old cider barrel, about 18″ across. It’s blackened inside, cut flush at one end and at a 45° at the other (I’m not entirely clear which end she looks down). She holds it against the stone in raking sunlight. She says it sometimes takes her hours of staring down the barrel, but sooner or later she’s able to decipher them all. At least, she hasn’t failed yet.

I was so engrossed, I forgot to ask about the two stones in the picture. Get this. This old dame bombs around the English countryside on a motorcycle visiting ancient country churches (oh my god, some of these places are so beautiful) to sit for hours staring at the stones. This is what she does.

I want to be this lady so bad.

Good weekend, all! This is our end-of-Summer long weekend, but I’m sure I’ll be around Monday as usual. Unless I buy that lady’s Honda and vanish down a country lane forever.

August 28, 2015 — 8:18 pm
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