A small disaster on the Common and some graffiti – first published 5 September 2014

In early September 2014 I’d revisited my past and had a pleasant walk through the parks. Now I was on my way to the Common. As I was passing the old Mad House building a van passed me with its stereo blaring. I often wonder about the hearing of people who play their music so loudly in their vehicles but this time they were playing one of my favourite songs, Kevin Lyttle’s Turn Me On. This was one of those tunes we’d put on the CD player when the marketing team were in the penthouse at Dream Factory. Sometimes we’d even get up and dance around a bit. Hearing this reminded me I had my iPod in my pocket. Once upon a time I almost always had my iPod on when I was walking but lately I’ve hardly used it. I got it out, found the song and set it to shuffle.

5 September 2014

Not long after this I spotted some very Banksyesque graffiti on a gate post. Unfortunately a new wall was in the process of being built and some barriers had been put up around it so I couldn’t get close but it was intriguing nonetheless. There was an actual Banksy on a wall in Bevois Valley some years ago but the owners of the wall whitewashed over it. Sadly I never got to see it myself. Maybe this is another real one, who knows?

The Common is a mixture of paths winding through the trees, open spaces and small lakes. Some of it I know well, other parts are a mystery to me. Rather than take one of the usual paths I decided to walk along a leafy trail through the trees to see where it would lead me.

From the direction the path was taking me I had an idea it would lead to the old cemetery and I wasn’t wrong. The gate it took me to, however, was new to me and the sign said Commonwealth War Graves so I went inside. It’s no secret that I enjoy a stroll through an old cemetery and war graves are always very interesting and moving. Sadly, despite the sign I didn’t actually find any war graves, perhaps I took a wrong turn. Despite this it was a pleasant and peaceful walk.

This is a very large and very old cemetery. It was opened in 1846, covers more than twenty seven acres and has around sixteen and a half thousand graves. This makes it easy to get lost and hard to find any particular grave, even though there are many worth finding. As you’d expect most of the graves are very old although there are still a handful of burials each year even today. Some stones are in a very poor state of repair and much is overgrown. To me this is a bonus because it makes for interesting photos but I have heard that some people whose relatives are buried there would like the council to take more care of it.

I wandered between the graves, stopping from time to time to read an inscription or take a photograph of a particularly noteworthy grave. Sometimes I feel slightly bad about taking photos of graves but I suppose the occupants aren’t worried and I take care not to photograph modern graves at least not on purpose. One that caught my eye was an anchor on what looked like driftwood. Any inscription there might have been was long gone but I’m guessing this was the grave of a sailor.

In parts the graveyard has become a haven for wildflowers, one of the reasons I’m glad it’s been left to grow wild. Many of the graves are sunken the headstones leaning at odd angles and some of the trees have followed suit. I found a rather beautiful little angel lying in the undergrowth and a heart shaped stone which had fallen and was embedded in the grave. There are fallen trees too and some are dead but still standing. Some monuments are very simple, others large and ornate. One tall angel was particularly beautiful.

As I made my way along the path, not really sure where I was headed I noticed a single magpie watching me from a grave. Of course, being slightly superstitious, I saluted him. Unfortunately it didn’t ward off the bad luck.

At the end of this path I began to get my bearings and, having spent way too much time grave watching, made my way along the avenue of yew trees to one of the exits. There are bright red berries at the moment, highly toxic to humans but loved by the birds. Beside them what I think are immature berries that look for all the world like tiny acorns. These yews are are more than a hundred and sixty years old.

Just before I reached the gate I saw a dog walker with the most beautiful golden Labrador. Like me the man was dawdling to look at graves and the dog, maybe a little impatient, followed me out of the gate. I was tempted to make off with him but I think Commando, not to mention his owner, would have had something to say about that.

Not really knowing where I was going I made my way across the grass and stumbled upon one of the lakes. Sadly the swans and cygnets were all on the other side where people were throwing bread but the lake was pretty with the sky reflected so I didn’t mind too much. Just after this I had a steep climb up some rudimentary log steps, this was where disaster struck. Somehow I missed my footing and fell hard onto my left hand. It hurt. I’m hoping the loud cracking sound was a twig breaking rather than a bone. I’m pretty sure it was because, although my wrist was painful, it didn’t swell up or bruise. That magpie has a lot to answer for especially as I saluted him.

By this time I knew I was close to the top of The Common and I was hoping to find the underpass. Crossing one final stretch of open grass, yellow with hawkweed, I crossed my fingers and headed towards what I thought was the road. They say good luck follows bad and, for once, this was true. The path I took led me straight where I wanted to go. Maybe my sense of direction isn’t quite as bad as I thought.

This is not just any old underpass. It’s the Beyond Graffiti underpass. This is an art project set up in 2004 after graphic designers Corbin Adler and Michael Flibb were asked to spruce up the old paddling pool kiosk on the common. They involved local youngsters and the finished work was so popular they went on to set up Beyond Graffiti to provide an alternative to vandalism for talented youths in the city. They’ve become a bridge between the establishment and the graffiti artists setting up urban galleries like this wonderful underpass where young people can spray their designs and brighten up dull areas.

The designs change on a regular basis so there’s always something new to see and some of the work is breathtakingly beautiful. This is not just graffiti, it’s art. I walked the three miles home thinking about the hard work and dedication that went into making this project possible. Some people complain about graffiti, and in some cases rightly so, but it seems to me there are plenty of run down, ugly areas that could benefit from the Beyond Graffiti treatment. Bristol may have Banksy but Beyond Graffiti proves that Southampton has its fair share of talented graffiti artists. Long may it continue.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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