A sunny place

This week’s longer Design File is about the coffin and if anything, it shows that people are apprehensive even reading about the subject. Unlike other Design Files which garner a fairly robust bunch of ‘likes’ on their first day of publication on the Radio National website, this one has been remarkably slow on the uptake. Are we squeamish? Would we prefer the whole subject of coffins to be quietly dropped, please, thanks to our newly found hope for eternity?

And yet we find cemeteries so interesting. Tours of Highgate Cemetery in London are always well attended. Old churchyards with leaning gravestones that tell you of ‘the laft years of mortality’ of country squires and simpler folk are vivid and romantic places. Last year I wandered for the first time among the crowded alleyways of the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. So many names you recognise – Chopin, Wilde, Bizet, Piaf and so on (yes, yes, and Morrison). The elaborate styles, usually Classical as though this was the style decreed by Death itself. On a hill capturing views across the city so that you catch a sudden picturesque glimpse of the Eiffel Tower or the colourful top of the Pompidou Centre.

Many cemeteries are in idyllic places, none more so than Sydney’s Waverley Cemetery which clings to the cliff between Bronte and Clovelly, stark and plain, one of the best bits of real estate in the city. Facing the sea that brought these people to Sydney, it has a grand and melancholy air that is entirely fitting.


The cemetery at Menton is spectacular, crowning the hill above the town itself. Further along, in nearby Roquebrune, lies the simple square of Le Corbusier’s grave, shared with his wife Yvonne (black script on a colourful enamelled plaque tells you so). In both places the sea glitters below and behind you the rugged limestone mountains rise, and my mind tells me that the strongest feng shui is where land meets water. It seems so here (but do avert your eyes from the monstrosity of Monte Carlo to your right where strong feng shui seems to have only monetary value).

Me for a sunny place, my grandfather is supposed to have told my mother (in his lyrical way). And sure enough, on the rainy day of his funeral in a rather isolated Argyllshire cemetery surrounded by dripping green trees, as we lowered his coffin into the ground, the sun came out, slanting over the freshly dug earth. It pleased my mother no end.

My parents had coffins, plain oak both of them, but these were for cremation. I remember I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my mother’s body in the cold earth and was glad a cremation was so quick and functional. This year I stood in the same chapel in Yorkshire with my father’s coffin now sitting on the stone plinth before us. A scientist (and a Canon’s son) he was a devout non-believer and the service was free of any religious connotations except for the same piece of Brahms’ German Requiem we had also played at my mother’s service. I have always loved oak and the coffin was a lovely colour, golden but not too yellow, with that grain that speaks of age and strength. It seemed a pleasant last resting place and the fact that I could even think that thought showed that I was reconciled to the idea of his death. (My mother’s death was such a horrible shock that the service was spent with a quivering jaw and a headache behind my eyes.)

So yes, I suppose coffins are interesting items, filled (quite literally at times, ha…) with such memories and meaning. I don’t think I care much about my own funeral but I would, I suppose, like a decent coffin. Oak, I think. Oh, and why not in Menton cemetery while you’re about it…

Categories: Design, TravelTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Great piece Colin. There is a style about your writing that is identifiable you! I hear your voice when I read it. Wonderful and in a sense respectful and disrespectful at the same time!

  2. This is a typical cemetery in the southern island in Chiloé.

    They look sunny, even when it rains.

    • Hi Lino
      And thanks for following/ commenting/ sharing! Wonderful photograph – so atmospheric. Interesting to see the structures all in wood – obviously no stone available? Are they all like this in Chile? And I wonder if they were painted brightly, or am I thinking of Valparaiso too much? You live in a fascinating country – definitely on my list of to-do’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Earful Tower

Podcast: Figuring out France with Oliver Gee

The Australian Ugliness?

Maybe ugly, maybe not? Continuing Robin Boyd's conversation about the character of Australia's built envrionment

Savidge Reads

The Chronicles of a Book Addict

Barnabas Calder

Raw Concrete: the Beauty of Brutalism

Ticket to Adventures

Travel blog from around the world, near and far.

Write or Wrong

Uninspiration for the uninspired


architecture for travellers

Grasping Architecture

A student finding his way in the built environment




...how an oldish chap sees the world...

Internal Wudang Martial Arts

Official Wudang Sanfeng Blog


An Architectural Perspective

The worlds biggest fridge magnet

The simple musings of a Post Bariatric Surgery, self confessed fat bloke

Half Baked In Paradise

Searching, settling, sauteeing and spritzing

Paris here and there

An insider's guide to Paris

The Wine Wankers

G’day, you’re at the best wine blog ever! We're all about wine; without the wankery.

Colin Bisset

writer, traveller, broadcaster

Bite The Book

Book Reviews and Views

Long Haul Lumière

Exploring our planet through neon-clad noise

Poshbird with Passion

restoring and saving 'stuff'


Some kind of journey.

Elder Pipe

Just you - and the world.


Adventures in renovation & restoration of an old French village house

Forty, c'est Fantastique !

La vie est belle !


She turns coffee into books so she can afford to buy more coffee. And more books.

cate st hill

a blog sharing simple design that uplifts the everyday

Mel Healy

crime fiction (& the kitchen)


A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Architectural Visits

by Helena Ariza

SUGIH forever

Prince Dreamer constructs all his dreams!

The Ignited Mind !

"If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already" - Abraham Lincoln.

Publishing Insights

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose / The more things change, the more they stay the same


fairytales of architecture

Virginia Duran Blog

Art · Architecture · Graphic Design

My Book Strings

Those Who Say "You Only Live Once" Have Never Read a Book. ~John Hughes

andrew james writer

Unusual things to see and do in Paris


Camp but stylish Car Reviews and News

The Modern House Blog

Modern Residential Architecture

victoria blake


Time Tells

Vince Michael on history, preservation, planning and more

Alastair Gordon

Wall to Wall

Standing Ovation, Seated


silver painted river




%d bloggers like this: