Month: January 2018

Secret London: Brompton Cemetery

Secret London: Brompton Cemetery

A while back I asked readers where they would take people who had never visited the capital before. I was hoping for recommendations that went beyond Madame Tussauds and the London Eye. I was after the hidden treats that make London a special place; perhaps a favourite café or park, something off the beaten track.

Picking up on one of the many suggestions and accompanied by the wife, two teenagers and Battersea Bucket we headed to Brompton Cemetery. Although a Royal Park, which are usually kept in peak condition, this boneyard is quite a mess, which perhaps makes it all the more interesting.

Victorian era

Opened at the start of the Victorian era, when death was enjoying a good run, it was built to ease pressure on overcrowded graveyards elsewhere in the capital. The earliest graves are from the 1830s and with most family members long since dead no one tends the graves. Weeds and squirrels rule.

Imagine the most Gothic thing you can think of and then season with a bit more Gothic to taste, then chuck the pot in. The Victorians had a bizarre relationship with death and for the upper and middle classes this place was clearly a portal to their next destination which would be almost indistinguishable from their comfortable English life but with added cherubs.

Allow all of the above to marinade for almost 200 years, let the grass grow, let the memorial angels fall into disrepair, bring your own smoke machine and you have the perfect horror movie location. It’s a graveyard smash.


Unlike Highgate Cemetery which boasts Marx, Douglas Adams, Malcom McLaren and George Eliot, Brompton is not chock full of celebri-toombs – there is suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and cricket stats supremo John Wisden, but that’s about your lot. Ms Pankhurst is located at the north end of the park and has, quite rightly, a rather fine modernist tombstone. We were unable to locate Mr Wisden, perhaps he moved.

Dogs are meant to be kept on particular paths but as I’ve long suspected Battersea Bucket can’t read and so made herself at home amongst the dear departed. The teenagers found rather maudlin entertainment doing mental maths as to how old people were when they died. Well I guess GCSEs are coming up.

To get there jump on the District Line tube and get off at West Brompton. The northern gate is a two-minute walk away.

I can’t deny it was an odd morning out, we saw a man carrying two enormous blue parrots (go figure), but it’s not without interest.

From signs placed at the entrance it seems Heritage Fund money has become available to do the place up. Some might welcome this but I’m not so sure. It’s current horror-show state seems to suit it well.

The Unwelcome Guest

The Unwelcome Guest

You may have wondered what happened to this blog and whether I’d disappeared. In short no, I’m still here, but just before Christmas I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, so as you might imagine that rather got in the way of writing humorous essays on London. But more of that in a moment.

Around sixty years ago god was checking the paperwork to see who was out for delivery and luckily it was me. The big man paused and looked at his notes, muttering to himself: “Well it looks pretty sweet for Jim Charles Preen. British, born to middle class parents, gets a decent education, the good things are programmed to rain down upon him. Well, lucky for him but what say we redress the balance occasionally?”

Of course, god was right. Well he would be, wouldn’t he? Extraordinary things have rained down upon me, but that didn’t stop him from having the odd laugh.

Sideburns, beards and moustaches

Growing up in the early seventies was a pretty hairy time, I mean literally. Hair was everywhere, it touched men’s shoulders for the first time in 200 years and sprouted luxuriantly from sideburns, beards and moustaches. Just take a look at that old devil Peter Wyngarde, what that man couldn’t do with a smoking jacket and an industrial set of whiskers.

This all made a deep impression on my teenage version and I’m: “Where do I sign up?” Hair was grown down to my knees, brushed and occasionally washed, that is until I was 28 and like the second in line to the throne it all fell out. Bald as a billiard ball. Score 1, god.

I always loved music and was introduced to jazz by my dad at an early age. He brought home a walnut encrusted gramophone that sat self-importantly in our living room. It came with LPs that displayed its stereo capabilities. My dad and I sat between the two speakers mesmerised as ping pong balls shot from side to side and trains trundled from one speaker to another. Hi-tech sixties heaven.

The New Frontier

Then came the albums or LPs as we called them. The covers were almost as good as the music. The Dave Brubeck Quartet gave us the soundtrack to President Kennedy’s New Frontier with modern art on the album sleeves and modern jazz deep in the grooves.

Oscar Peterson wore his pianos out playing more notes than seemed humanly possible. Chet Baker melancholy and bleak and who I thought when he sang was a woman until I looked at the beatnik cool album covers. I danced to them all and love them to this day. But here’s the rub I’m now quite deaf and struggle to hear those beautiful sounds in the way I once did. Score 2, god.

Now in my sixties; the knees are gone, the hair’s long gone, the hearing’s gone and I live in constant expectation that my cock will drop off. Men of my age are in what some call sniper’s alley. What was that, that went whistling by? A stroke, cardiac arrest, so many interesting possibilities. Up until now they have all missed their target, but not now, now I have an unwelcome guest.

In similar circumstances, when he was diagnosed with cancer, PJ O’Rourke said: “I looked death in the face. All right, I didn’t. I glimpsed him in a crowd.”

I’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s treatable, manageable and just possibly curable, but cancer can be a slippery bastard and demands to be taken seriously. In fact, the worst aspect of the diagnosis is that right now it’s hard to think about anything else. I didn’t expect a cancer diagnosis to be so damn compelling but at the same time so boring. Thanks god, score 3.

So, what is a writer supposed to do with this information? Well write about it I suppose.

I’m being treated with brisk efficiency at the Guy’s Cancer Centre at London Bridge. Actually, I favour brisk efficiency as if nurses and doctors show their softer side I’m likely to get teary and embarrassing. But being in the NHS mix is interesting and while there have been many cancer memoires by writers far greater than me, I’m inclined to draw the curtain back a fraction on my experiences. Don’t worry I’ll keep it light. Well that’s my intention, let’s see how it goes.