Back among the dead

More than a month after Ralph H first found a Hawfinch in Hastings Cemetery, and with many sightings since, David B emailed me to say he’d seen at least a dozen. Figuring that the nice sunny weather would make them easier to see, we called in at midday on our return from a recce to Beckley Woods but, tactfully taking a circuitous path in order to avoid the ceremonies in progress, we reached the north end of the cemetery without a sign of the fat finches in question. Not a click.

Never mind the birds, however, there is so much to see and to reflect upon: names familiar from illustrious Hastings firms both disappeared and surviving; military men who’d served in 19th century Madras; the naval Beaney brothers who’d been killed within a month of one another in the autumn of 1914…


… the work of skillful monumental masons: the chains, the anchors, the broken columns, draped urns, lilies-of-the-valley and clasped hands…then suddenly a stubby bird shot out of the yew-tops and parked itself in a bare tree as four other followed but dived into another yew. Peter C had just emerged from the gloomy conifers and was coming up the path towards us but from his angle the birds had been blocked by bushes.

Luckily though the one in the bare trees stayed there, lit by a shaft of sunlight like an angel – albeit one with a very big nose – in a Victorian devotional print. Once it had dived into cover we crept round there, seeing nothing again until a rattling council truck scared the birds out of cover to shoot off over the crematorium. Peter then told us that another friend, Jane B, had through patiently waiting for two hours earlier in the day had ended up seeing 15!

Time was up, but as we passed the flowers and mourners, the site’s sombre associations (our attendance more frequent with every year that passes) now seemed leavened a little.


This tilting, snake-draped urn commemorates Robert Tubbs Nightingale Tubbs.


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