Up Front by Emma Hart


Feeling Like Death

For those of us who live in the parts of the country that have proper seasons, it's finally become that time of year again. The fact that it's been a long time coming this year doesn't seem to be helping. We're still waking up feeling as if we just drank twenty cups of Aunty Joan's chamomile tea, and nothing in life could possibly be worth the bother of getting out of bed.

Seasonal Affective Disorder makes perfect sense scientifically, of course. Production of your brain's 'go to sleep' hormone, melatonin, is inhibited by light exposure. When light levels are low, we feel sleepy. Energy levels drop: people become lethargic, depressed and, according to Wikipedia, pregnant. (Note: bollocks. Since I wrote this last night, someone has removed the reference to pregnancy from the description of symptoms. Turns out it was only there for seven hours.)

Sense isn't really any consolation. Nor is logic any deterrent from wanting to punch Mr Science Bunny in his smug little sock-puppet face, if one could just raise the energy.

Unlike a couple of my friends, who go through what is basically a very slow-cycling manic depression, I don't have full-blown SAD. I don't want to sound like one of those people who say things like, "Yeah, I was depressed once, it was terrible. Then I went for a walk and I felt better. You should try that instead of taking drugs." No, you weren't depressed, you were sad. Shut up.

So yesterday I went for a walk to try to feel better. The plan was to go to Ruru Lawn Cemetery and find the plots of some cousins of my mother's. I'm one of those people who loves cemeteries. I used to skip the Morning Whiskey at my in-law's place to go across the road and explore the cemetery. I do understand how mad this seems, looking at the graves of people you don't know, and I'm not sure if I can explain it to anyone who doesn't already understand the inherent appeal of cemeteries. Perhaps the best illustration is why I didn't quite stick to the plan.

Ruru Lawn is a lawn cemetery. "Headstones" are set into the turf, in neat little lines. The flowers set by them stick up brightly out of the grass in a fashion that reminded me of a book I had when I was a child about a lollipop tree, which disturbed the hell out of me.

So I sort of accidentally ended up in Linwood Cemetery. (Our new part of town is just all cemeteries, all the time. We're well within the zombie radius of three, and a crematorium.) If there are vampires in Christchurch (and let's be quite clear about this: there aren't), this is where they'd hang out. On a rise (possibly a lesson learned about dead bodies and high water tables from the Barbadoes St cemetery), it's just huge crumbling gothic headstones to the horizon in every direction. Marble columns thicker than my thighs lie on the ground snapped clear in half. Plinths on alarming leans show why the headstones have toppled and smashed as the ground has subsided. Time is erasing expensively-engraved Biblical sentiment. On a nasty grey Christchurch nearly-winter's day, it's the perfect place to be. The total absence of moody art photographers and black-draped teenage girls was kind of surprising.

Occasionally there's a place where someone has painstakingly reassembled the fragments of a shattered stone, lining up the sinuous curves of ivy and heavy gothic font like a monumental jigsaw puzzle. I was reminded of Sir Walter Scott's Old Mortality, and the man who goes around cleaning and restoring the graves of martyred Covenanters. Our history is falling apart, and while any attempt to fight that might seem utterly futile in a big-picture sense, it's unexpectedly touching, that someone should care about what remains of a stranger.

It seems, however, that there's a group of dedicated individuals and a Lotteries' grant working on actively sticking the cemetery back together – or at least the bits that the Jewish and Freemasonry communities aren't already taking very good care of.

It made me feel slightly guilty that I haven't been back to check on my great-great-grandfather's grave for about a decade. I really should do that. Though it must be said, I'm never going back to the Barbadoes St cemetery without shoes.

As some of you may have heard through the Twitter-vine, when not wandering through cemeteries as therapy against excessive sleeping-in, I'm going to be writing an opinion column for Metro magazine. Not one of you is as surprised as I am.

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

(Click here to find out more)

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