Strange people in strange places
One of the things I love about my job – apart from the uniform, and the chance to carry weapons around, obviously – is the fact that I meet lots of really interesting people and get the chance to go into places that people don’t normally. On my patrol area is a crematorium; early in my career I had to take a report of criminal damage there when some of the leaded windows were smashed by, presumably, rock chucking youths. After taking the details in the office I went around the back to speak to the ‘technician’ to see if he had had any particular problems with youths. There started a strange acquaintance – I step back from saying relationship; and no I’m not going to tell you I fell in love with the guy (please!) – the place is warm, has a kettle and there is someone to chat to, who is always glad of a bit of company, on quiet cold days. But, it is the weirdest thing to sit next to a stack of coffins waiting their turn to go into the fiery furnace, drinking tea with a backdrop muffled funeral sounds coming from beyond the curtain.
John the guy in charge of the furnace takes great pride in his work – which is quite technical, there is more to the process than simply sticking the box in the fire – he has dignity and respect for the dead people he incinerates. I do have to say though, that he is almost a caricature of himself, over six feet tall, skinny, with big hands, his lank hair is thinning and always looks like it could do with a cut; and guess what, he lives at home with his mum. I think he spends too much time on his own but I’m not about to do a Cold Comfort Farm job on him; and I know he passes an appraising eye over me – but why wouldn’t he god dammit? I might be doing him a disservice because he is really interesting to talk to, all that time on his own makes him quite well read, he doesn’t seem to spend (all) his time poring over porn books but reads a wide range of novels and historical books.
In the UK we have a very hands-off approach to death, disposal of its products is all very clean and is done for us. This isn’t the case all over the world. A girlfriend of mine went to India in her gap year; where it wasn’t unusual to witness bodies burning on rafts of wood on the river Ganges, the bodies being subsequently left to decompose in the river. Incidentally, the quality of that burning depends on the amount of wood a family can afford for the fire, this isn’t always enough and partly burnt bodies are often to be seen in the water. Anyway, the point of mentioning all that is to say that I dared myself to watch one of the bodies being burnt; looking through the little glass window in the furnace door I was surprised how unsurprising it was; it burnt like you would expect it to, fat sizzled, skin blistered, hair singed. Sounds grotesque but it made me think about spirituality and reinforced the fact that all we dispose of in the flames is the container, whatever the element of life is is long gone by that stage.
Anyway, enough of all that philosophising, I only mentioned it because I popped in there for a cup of tea today. Tonight is Friday night, a night very much for the living. I am on night duty next week so intend to feel good this weekend because I know I’ll feel shit by next Friday morning. Me and my good mates Jacqui and Tracy are going in to town tonight for a dance and a drink (or two) and an expensive taxi back to Jacqui’s flat.
Look out guys we’re gonna be gorgeous!