I have an unwritten, and regularly changing, bucket list of things to do in London before (if?!) we depart for cooler shores. Cooler shores, I hear you say? Indeed. Summer arrived with a vengeance in England about two weeks ago. It’s been mid twenties to low thirties ever since. Mostly nearer the lower thirties. Skies are bright blue, the grassy lawns are browning off and the general population have stopped grumbling about the rain and cold just about long enough to whine about how sticky, sweaty and humid it is.
Not me, though. It is very sticky. But I’d take that over wet and frozen any day of the week. Heck, I’d take that every day of the week. But whilst everyone in London was getting out of the cities and down to my neighbourhood on the south coast to hit the sweaty, sticky beaches, we took a bus up to the even stickier Smoke. Time to knock another item off that bucket list whilst the sun is still shining.
Highgate. Home to the rich and famous. Forever. The cemetery is divided into east and west. We wanted to see the grave of Karl Marx so we headed east. Naturally. The East Cemetery is also cheaper, just four quid, and you don’t have to do an obligatory official tour. You can just stroll at your leisure through some of the greenest and most peaceful woodland in London. There are worse places to spend forever.
Marx is the most famous resident in Highgate, there’s no doubt about it. Infamous resident? Some might say. Not me. I’m not a fan of Marxist extremism by any stretch of the imagination. I’m very much a Mixed Economy fanboy. But many of Karl Marx’ notions and ideals were admirable, his thinking most profound, and his writings very much a product of their times. What others were to go on and do in his name was of their doing.
Marx might be the most notable name. But there are others. Malcolm McLaren. Elgar. Jeremy Beadle…can include Jeremy Beadle? You’d need to be British. But the grave I wanted to pay my respects to boasted one of the most humble headstones. It’s also a recent-ish entrant, the unfortunate occupant passing over in 2001. Far too early, at not quite 50 years of age. A writer, with a pot of pens left next to his last resting spot by fans who stop by. Just in case he has a last novel in him, from beyond the grave. The wonderful Douglas Adams.
I read Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy in my early teens. It’s a literary masterpiece. An icon of the world of fantasy and science fiction. It also, as you may know, provided human civilisation with the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. After millennia of philosophisers, scientists, religious leaders and assorted nut cases trying to work out what it all means, it turned out to be 42. Don’t mock. No one has ever come up with anything more plausible.
But truth be told, I read all his books so long ago, I can remember very, very little of them. For me, that wasn’t his finest work. His best came in the early 80s, and was something totally different. The Last Chance To See. Along with Mark Cawardine, Douglas travelled the world looking for six species of animal teetering on the brink of extinction. He wrote reports for the Observer, and a book followed. I listened to the audiobook, which is still available to purchase. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Don’t want to buy? It’s on YouTube too. For free. You tight git.
Once you’ve finished, then watch Mark Cawardine and Stephen Fry repeat the trip. They filmed it a couple of years ago, setting off to find those six species and see how they’re getting on, twenty years on. Only one had become extinct. I recently heard that a second of those six species has also passed into the world of books and museums. Wild animals are not permitted to be buried in Highgate Cemetery, sadly. Photos? Of course. On 500px, and you can see them by clicking here.