Ambling in a park the other day, I saw three memorial benches – you know, the kind that friends and relatives club together to buy when someone dies. They usually feature some kind of placard with something like: ‘Dedicated to the loving memory of Gilbert van den Splak, who so enjoyed walking in these grounds.’
If the benches are anywhere near a school, you can guarantee that the ‘lk’ of walking has been scratched out and replaced by an ‘n’; such are our times.
Anyway, the three benches were very different. The first had curly wrought iron arms and polished slats. The second was all wood – sturdy and greyed from many years of British weather. The third had plain iron arms and plain wood slats.
Each represented a life lived, and – as those benches aren’t cheap – a life also loved.
I wondered: did the style of the benches represent the character of the deceased? Did the plain bench commemorate a Mavis, and the ornate one an Horatio? I found myself pondering what kind of bench I’d be. Obviously one that sprouted 10 inch spikes triggered by any approaching Trump or Trump supporter, any member of extremist religions, or Nigel Farage.
More realistically, I concluded, the style of the benches reflected the financial abilities of those ‘left behind’. I wondered what kind of life was worth a bench; if all lives were worth a bench, there wouldn’t be room for the parks. We’d have instead great bench dumping grounds – heaps upon heaps of them; they’d be the environmental problem of our day, well, another one anyway.
And then I thought of all the benches that would be swept away when the sea levels rise. That would also be a lot of benches. And in a flooded world, how would people be commemorated when gravestones could not be set, nor benches placed. All monuments require as a seat earth or rock, never mud.
Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of my walk. What had started as a bimble through the thin March sunshine had ended as an existential crisis at the intersection between commemorative benches and environmental hazard. Yes, who knew there was one?
I can still see those three benches in my mind’s eye. Sitting there.