I’ve seen versions of this poster for 30 years or so and it was part-funded by the Council for British Archaeology.

CEMETERIES ARE

NOT PLAYGROUNDS

Be Respectful – Be Safe

One can almost hear a whining little stuck-up guttersnipe retorting: “Whatever old man, what’s gonna happen to me?”

And that’s when you show the little teenage mutant ninja turd this photograph/poster.

Following TV cop drama fashion, you don’t of course just show him it. Instead, you force the poster pointlessly close to his screwed up defiant face, as would John Thaw in The Sweeney during an interrogation. You scream unnecessarily loudly: “This is what’ll befall you, you little muppet! This! You’ll die by weeping angel, you pointless child-burial-waiting to happen! If your skull isn’t immediately crushed, you won’t die quick! You’ll die slow sunshine! Your pointless friend who pushed it will watch you ebb away in a pool of your own crushed bone and blood. Your hoodie and baseball caps won’t save you then will they? Your gameboys and your Nike trainers won’t count for nothing!”

In short, this warning sign, pictured here faded from exposure to the sun in a NE Wales cemetery, puts the fear of inanimate stone sculpture into me more than any episode of Dr Who. No time-jumping here by a Weeping Angel and you live on in another time! Oh no, no happy ending for Rory and Amy from this lithic apparition! This angel is gonna crush your ass! As one observer recently noted when I posted this pic online: it’s Scarfolk horror!

Truly funny, truly scary, this poster is memorable, dark and terrifying. No one wants to die, but certainly no one wants to be both so disrespectful, and embody irony, by dying in a cemetery.

The point is clear: cemeteries are dangerous places: old and fragmented memorials can topple, they are not to be played on or around. Vandalism and disregard are both threats to historic memorials. So: be respectful. Be safe. Our culture of ‘health and safety gone mad’ is no joke. It is in response to genuine perils resulting from kids playing in our historic burial grounds.

Then of course, we want young people to learn their history and their identities from visiting cemeteries and churchyards, surely? We want them to know that the dead aren’t there just to try to kill us with their dilapidated memorials, but to teaching us, to speak to us through the texts,  ornamentation, materials and locations of gravestones and tombs. So maybe this kind of horror story poster needs some balance and positive information about what one can learn from memorials. That’s what’s so often lacking for the important religious, cultural and social resource that are post-medieval memorials.

Now I’ve got an image of John Thaw and  Professor Harold Mytum – or maybe Helen Mirren and Professor Sarah Tarlow, interviewing the young miscreants.

Bad cop, good prof…

That’s surely the approach we need for cultivating appreciation of cemeteries. We need people to visit them! We must warn of the dangers, and advocate the many benefits, of visiting cemeteries and churchyards and exploring memorials.

These should be spaces for young and old: for the past, but also for the future.

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