I was four when my Gran died. Being at too young an age to really grasp the reality and implications of her passing away, I didn't get the OH MY CHRIST, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE revelation of mortality that most kids do in that situation. Instead, I developed a slightly odd fascination with the fact that Gran had been here last week, but she wasn't anymore; I knew that death happened, but I wasn't afraid of it. After all, dying was just something that old people did, like talking about the war, or finding Last Of The Summer Wine funny. This interest in the mechanics of mortality led to many evenings spent politely asking my mum over the dinner table when other people were going to die: The Pope. The cat. Bruce Forsyth. Our next-door neighbour Alf. Visiting the cemetery was no more solemn than going to the park for me, and so for a significant period of my childhood, I was getting yelled at for being disrespectful about something I didn't even fully understand.
It took time, and a couple of other deaths among family and friends, before the truth of life and death started to sink in. Suffice it to say, our trips to the cemetery ceased to be a barrel of laughs. After one too many let's-think-about-death-until-our-brains-implode visits, I just stopped going. Like most normal and rational young people, I associated the rows of graves with ageing, and with the chilly inevitability that one day, I too would not be on this mortal coil. And that's really not what a youngster needs to be thinking about.
So me and cemeteries have a thorny history. But having spent two hours this afternoon wandering around Scotforth Cemetery, I think we're on speaking terms again. I can't remember the last time I've felt so uplifted. Of course, there are plenty of sights there to sadden you; far too many kids and teenagers in the ground, their stones etched with heart-rending poems from loved ones. But the sheer range of people and cultures commemorated forces you to think about their lives, the stories and memories that were lost with them. I found tombstones for Poles, Russians and Muslims, a grave that took the form of a burial mound, one that had an array of model butterflies in place of a headstone. I found a stone with the inscription: "And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek Cod unencumbered?", demonstrating a love for fish that defies mortal boundaries. But this was my firm favourite. My knowledge of Chinese is less than zero, so I can't tell you who he was, or who remembers him. I can't tell you how he came to be on these shores, or whether the young man in the picture ever imagined he'd spend eternity in the wet Lancastrian earth. But the offerings from his loved ones, including the glass of grain, and the box of sweets in the bottom right, demonstrate that to someone, somewhere, he was important. I wish him, and them, all the best.