One of the first book projects I ever worked on was a huge bulky hardback (weighing in at an impressive 1kg, no less), featuring a profile of every single one of London's many cemeteries. It was an awful project (not least because my boss was sacked halfway through it) but I still remember it quite fondly as both one of the heaviest and the most interesting books I ever helped to publish. Now I'm in London, I can visit all of its cemeteries for myself.

This particular cemetery is Nunhead, an elegant wilderness half an hour's walk away from my little corner of south-east London. Unkempt overgrowth is not something you really associate with London, unless you count the sprawl of general cityness, but Nunhead is an urban sprawl of a different kind. Left to itself for most of the latter half of the 20th century, nature was allowed to take over for the following three decades: heavy headstones were overturned by tree roots, heartfelt inscriptions were left to fade and creeping ivy reduced even the grandest catacombs to rubble. The cemetery reopened in 2001, and is now available for wandering around in. It's a slightly off-kilter kind of a place, perfect for exploring. 

I sometimes stumble around London and feel generally amazed at the spectacular show the Victorian era left for us to impress visiting tourists with – all we have to worry about is the upkeep, and the crowds just keep on coming. Nunhead is a Victorian wonder without the upkeep –  a genuine, heartfelt and wonderful relic.


Only In England


Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where
other people see nothing.

More than anything else, that was the quotation I was most reminded of at 'Only in England', the London Science Museum's new exhibition of Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones photography. It opened last weekend, understandably under the radar as it isn't large, but if you appreciate quietly amusing (and excellent) photography and a history of the unseen England, then I would recommend it.

The exhibition is centred on the mostly unknown photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, an English photographer of the late 1960s (mostly unknown due to his early death in 1972 aged 30) and a major early influence on the better-known photographer Martin Parr, who curated the exhibition and whose early work is also exhibited (his better-known British seaside work is both very funny and uncompromisingly brutal, if you are not aware of it already). 

The lists of instructions and critical notes that Ray-Jones wrote to himself are exhibited alongside his work – an insight that is not seen so very often. Each note ('Don't take boring pictures', 'Get in closer', 'Take simpler pictures') are so simple and familiar that they rather justify anyone who has ever regretfully written a list of instructions to themselves and then felt it to be just too contrived to be at all creative. The photographs are of real people living ordinary lives, and the notes and documents make it clear that the photographer, despite prodigious talent, was just a person with familiar and ordinary concerns.

Anyway, I did what I never do, and bought a book from a museum. The Non-Conformists, Martin Parr's beautiful book of photographs of the north of England in the 1970s. If that's not a recommendation, I'm not sure what is.