Last updated on May 18, 2013
Ben Holbrook discovers a peaceful haven away from the London chaos, only to be greeted by another kind of crazy.
Living in London, or near London as I should say, has its moments. The bright lights are never too far away, there’s more history than you can shake a stick at and you can eat food from any country your heart desires. But from time to time I’m more interested in finding a quiet spot, a place where nobody really knows about, you know what I mean? I’m not talking about cool little coffee shops on hidden away back streets, or trendy pubs full of poets and acoustic jazz singers. No, I’m talking about finding places that nobody knows about, places people don’t necessarily even want to know about.
So with this in mind, on a beautiful sunny day in early autumn, I jumped on my beloved bicycle and headed ‘somewhere’. I took roads just because they looked quiet, and cycled aimlessly, enjoying the freedom that comes with having no fixed destination. If I saw people heading in one direction I’d cycle in the opposite; if I could see green trees in the distance I’d chase them; faster and faster, until my legs throbbed with a deep but welcome burn.
Eventually, and by pure bloody luck, I ended up at the gate of Teddington Cemetery. I was instantly taken aback with the regal entrance, complete with Castle-like towers and archways. I slipped in slowly, the noise of my bike seemed unusually loud so I got off, trying to be a little more respectful. The gravestones were slanting in various directions and covered in lime green moss. Many dated back to 1910 where the likes of “Mary Peters” rested in peace with her beloved husband “John Peters”. But what really amazed me was the colour of the leaves. Autumn had painted deep ruby reds and mustard yellows up and down these beautiful old trees, and the rich greens set them off like some kind of crazy oil painting disco, each more vibrant than the last. I walked a little, trying to get a feel for the place, and the same thought occupied my mind: could there be a more beautiful place to be laid to rest, than this?
I sat down to rest my aching legs and drank some water, when to my astonishment, a tiny little squirrel ran directly towards me. He stopped about 2 metres in front, stood on the head of a gravestone and stared at me with an expectant look in his eyes. I froze, and found myself waiting for his voice: “Hey you, yeh I’m talkin’ to you! You got any….grapes?” I hoped he’d say. But after realising I had nothing to offer, he bounced off on his merry way. It suddenly struck me that the ground was littered, and I mean littered, with thousands and thousands of monkey nut shells. Most of them were broken but there were a couple that were still complete. As I sat there in silence about ten squirrels, all of different sizes, came running up to me from all directions, rustling through the nuts, inspecting each one with their human-like little hands. It was one of those spontaneous moments where you become completely absorbed in where you are and forget about everything else – it was just me, the squirrels and a few hundred dead people.
I tried a million times to catch them on film, but they’d dart off as soon as they saw my camera. I even tried talking to them, I was convinced that these were “special” squirrels and I figured it was worth a try. I sat there sifting through handfuls of monkey nuts and talking to squirrels, and laughed at how much fun I was having. I’m sure there’s some kind of lesson to learn from this, but I can’t for the life of me work it out. Maybe I’ll go back and ask one of the squirrels.