Where the dead

The latest videohaiku uses footage shot in Kensal Green Cemetery, the oldest of London’s “Magnificent Seven” Victorian garden cemeteries, which is just a half mile from my wife’s house. The footage reminded me initially somehow of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold…”) — time and timelessness being hard not to think about in a cemetery in any season.

Sleep was of course the dominant metaphor for death in the Victorian era, a fact that was brought home in a lecture we attended at another of the Magnificent Seven last week, Brompton Cemetery, about the once-popular custom of posing the recently deceased for photographs. Hopefully the faceless figure in the video suggests something of my feelings about our fondness for euphemisms around death. I also gave the video misty edges as a general nod to Arcadian sentimentality.

I can’t help thinking though that this would be greatly improved by the addition of a black metal soundtrack…

Pepys pilgrimage

Samuel Pepys bust at Seething Lane

On Wednesday, Rachel and I made our way over to the Museum of London to gawk at the silver plate recently identified as having belonged to Samuel Pepys.

The silver trencher plate is one of three in existence known to have belonged to Pepys — although it was only recently recognised as such — and is the only one on display in the UK.

It bears Pepys’ coat of arms and was made in a workshop in Foster Lane, near St Paul’s Cathedral and the museum where it now resides, in 1681/2. Cutlery scratch marks are visible in its surface, suggesting it was one of the pieces Pepys was referring to in his diary when he boasted that he served his guests on silver plates rather than pewter.

Well, if it was made in 1681 or 2, it couldn’t have featured in the diary, though there’s no doubt he was very proud of his silver. At any rate, it was such an impressive object I walked right past it and had to ask Rachel where the hell it was. My photo is, um, not good:

Pepys plate at Museum of London

I thought this ceramic plate on display nearby captured the spirit of the age much better:

plate in Museum of London

Coolest of all, perhaps, was this copy of astrologer William Lilly’s 1651 book Monarchy or No Monarchy, which was said to predict the Great Fire:

astrologist William Lilly's 1651 book predicting the Great Fire

Pepys’ diary accounts of the actual conflagration were extensively drawn upon for the museum’s looped six-minute film. I sometimes wonder whether his diary would be nearly as famous had he not had the (mis)fortune to live through the great plague in 1665 and the fire the next year.

We decided sort of on the spur of the moment to go back to Seething Lane and see whether the gardens on the site of Pepys’ office were accessible. On our previous attempt at a Pepys pilgrimage three years ago, the site had been all torn up and walled off for some sort of construction, and we feared the worse.

Our route took us past the Guildhall, and I couldn’t resist another selfie with the Pepys bust there. This is Sam at the peak of his power and influence — not the young man on the make of the diary period.

selfie with Pepys bust  at London Guildhall

As we rounded the corner from Hart Street to Seething Lane, Rachel noticed that St. Olave’s — Pepys’ church — was actually open. We hadn’t gotten into that last time either. So we were finally able to see the sculptor John Bushnell’s bust of Elizabeth Pepys that the grieving Sam had paid for after her early death in 1669, high on the wall to the left of the altar.

St. Olave's on Hart Street interior - Elizabeth Pepys memorial close-up

A more modern memorial to Sam himself, paid for by public subscription at the instigation of his Victorian-era editor Wheatley — the diary edition I’m erasing — isn’t nearly as impressive:

St. Olave's on Hart Street - Sam Pepys memorial

But the church has plenty of other fascinating details, such as this window from the Clothworkers’ guild, which evidently had teasel as its emblem:

St. Olave's on Hart Street window

And it was great to see that it was still very much a functioning Anglican church, not merely a tourist attraction. See my album on Flickr for more photos.

The churchyard was also charming, and included an herb garden in tribute to another famous parishioner, William Turner (1510-1568), the father of English botany. There was also a labyrinth, and Rachel didn’t object to my filming her feet as she walked it. Naturally, I had to turn it into another videohaiku:

The site of the Naval Board offices was right across the narrow Seething Lane, and Pepys had arranged for a covered walkway connecting them so the great men could walk to their gallery in church without getting rained on. Such is the enduring interest in Pepys that even the location of that former entrance is memorialized…

Pepys entrance to St. Olave's

…as is, of course, the site of the navy office, which survived the Great Fire only to be destroyed in another fire seven years later.

site of Naval Board offices

The reason the Seething Lane gardens had to be destroyed and replaced was to build an underground parking garage for the adjacent building, formerly the headquarters of the Port of London Authority, but now London’s second Four Seasons Hotel,

Seething Lane Gardens Pepys bust and Four Seasons back door

this one owned and operated by a Chinese corporation…

Seething Lane Gardens dedication

…which has done a decent job with it. To quote the wonderful London travel blog IanVisits:

The word ‘Seething’ may originate from a medieval word ‘sifethen’ meaning ‘full of chaff’, so-called after a nearby Corn Market.

Seething Lane Gardens have a curious history, but suffice to say it was once the topic of a planning dispute, and, with a slight gap, the fine of one red rose has been paid annually to the Lord Mayor. That’s since 1381, and the Knollys Rose ceremony still takes place each year.

In addition to the roses though, it’s famous for its association with the diarist Samuel Pepys, who lived in the same street and said he buried his exceptionally expensive Parmesan cheeses in his own back garden to protect them from the Great Fire of London.

Imagine our delight to look down and see Pepys’ buried cheese memorialized in a flagstone:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

This was just one in a whole series of flagstone engravings relating to Pepys, the Naval Board, the fire and the plague. Check out, for example, this excellent flea:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

And here’s a depiction of Pepys’ shorthand original of the diary:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

There’s no key to the paving stones anywhere, so if you’re not a Pepys fan, some are likely to be mystifying. This for example clearly depicts the removal of his bladder stone, which diary readers will know was a very big deal to him — he marked the anniversary of the operation every year with a party:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

I have photos of most of the engraved slabs on Flickr. As for the garden, Ian nails it:

Although I would have to say the current garden is rather pleasing, it’s of a style that’s increasingly generic – of raised beds with lots of paving, and hence not that interesting.

What does make this one stand out a bit is the paving […]

Sadly, the Knollys Rose has not been immortalized in stone, but some of the plants looked distinctly rose-like, so the ceremony should resume this year.

The garden was designed by the landscape architects, Capita Symonds.

The cost of the landscaping works came in at £1.25 million, paid for by the hotel development.

Pepys bust in Seething Lane Gardens

Walking to the Bank tube station at rush hour, we were impressed by the crowds of business-suited young and middle-aged City men, some scurrying, a few sauntering, many smoking (an unusual sight elsewhere these days). Palimpsest as London may be, some things don’t seem to change very much over the centuries.

200 years

View on Vimeo.

A brief videohaiku tribute to the 200th anniversary of John Keats composing “To Autumn” in September 1819. I’d thought about going to the Keats house next to Hampstead Heath to shoot video, but instead I was charmed by this tiny square of wildflowers that someone had protected in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy street (Kilburn Lane) closer to home. It speaks to me of how greatly wild spaces have diminished in the last two centuries, and much British people still love nature despite having so little of it left.

In wild

Watch on Vimeo.

The latest videohaiku. The London Borough of Brent put in “wildflower” beds in several of its parks this spring, part of an effort to stave off population crashes of wild bees and other insects in the UK, where the farming lobby is out of control. Unfortunately, the seed mix they used seems to be weighted more toward showy flowers than to UK natives, but it’s a start.

Building site

Still from "Building site" showing a digger in the middle distance surrounded by huge mounds of dirt.

View on Vimeo.

Where does all this soil end up, I wonder? It’s being removed to make room for the un-earth of a mass transit hub which, it seems, nobody really wants except for the investors.

Not the most brilliant footage, but I’m kind of pleased with the haiku.

Back alleys

still from "back alleys" showing two alleys side by side

View on Vimeo.

The latest videohaiku. I’ve been fascinated by the contrast between the super-scruffy Billy Fury Way, connecting West Hampstead and Finchley Road, and the posh alleys on Hampstead Hill just the east of it – my walking route to Hampstead Heath passes through both. This time of year, especially, it’s fascinating what decay looks like in each environment. Which is more magical, more portal-like? (I waver on this.) And which back alley better exemplifies the wabi-sabi aesthetic: the one colorful as a year-round fall, with dead pigeons and abandoned shopping carts, or the the one as clean and “natural” as a Zen temple?

Peace garden

Antony Gormley sculpture at the peace park

A videohaiku filmed at the Maygrove Peace Park, one of at least six gardens or parks in London dedicated to world peace – but the only one with an Antony Gormley sculpture, untitled (listening). Also featured in the video is Hamish Black’s Peace Crane. This park is just down the road from us in Kilburn, but few people outside the immediate neighborhood seem to be aware of it. For more on the park, see the friends group website.

Funicular + summer videohaiku collection is complete!

still from "funicular"

Watch on Vimeo.

I wasn’t going to use this footage of The Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, lovely as it is, but then I got the idea for a videohaiku, and some six hours later (five of them on the text, believe it or not), voila. That turned out to be the final piece in my third seasonal collection, Summer in the UK. To reproduce what I just blogged on my author site:

Much as I love my Pennsylvania mountaintop, I’m not as fond of our humid and increasingly hot summers; the cooler and drier maritime climate of the UK, where my partner lives, is far more to my liking. Regardless, summer is my least favorite season, and I often find it difficult to get in the mood for creative work. For most of July I fell off the videopoetry wagon altogether. But with a rush of catch-up videopoeming and a generous definition of summer (early June to the autumn equinox), I think I now have just enough to make a satisfying collection of haiku videos, if not quite as coherent a sequence as I put together for winter or spring. The high point, I think, is a nine-verse renku (linked verse) sequence called “Sea Levels” based on a low-tide visit to the submerged forest off the Welsh coast at Borth. Other locations in the collection include Aberystwyth, Hebden Bridge, Brill in Buckinghamshire, and various places in London, including Kew Gardens and the British Museum. To preserve a sense of seasonal progression, the videos are presented in the order in which the footage was shot rather than the order of composition.

As before, I’ve given the collection its own permanent page at DaveBonta.com (linked in the drop-down menu under Videopoetry if you’re viewing it on a proper computer), in addition to a showcase on Vimeo and a playlist on YouTube. The individual videos have also been shared on my Instagram and Twitter accounts (but not Facebook, because I have no truck with that hell site). If anyone would like to share this collection, first of all, thank you! And I think that YouTube will actually give you embed code. I’m happy to share the Vimeo embed code on request. Or of course you could simply share the link to my page.

Summer dusk

still from "summer dusk" - lights reflected on the river

A videohaiku filmed several weeks ago at Rotherhithe on the south bank of the Thames, London. There were many other things that afternoon and evening that I wish I’d filmed, such as the grand spectacle of the tide going out on the Thames, or the 18th-century clay pipe stems that still appear by the thousands among the stones on the foreshore. But you have to go with what you’ve got — and nothing stops me from making poems without video, after all.