Ever since Barack Obama proved that a black Freemason can be President, there has been a pervasive belief that, for anyone, anything is possible. This is socially, culturally and literally untrue in the case of every person who has ever lived, but I get the general idea: we all have within us the ability to amaze ourselves, and that’s lovely. Indeed, I amazed myself recently by outperforming several other applicants, presumably goths, for a job wheeling corpses around a morgue at a popular East Anglian medical facility and, while this does not carry the same gravitas on the world stage, it was nonetheless quite a turn up for the books. I should state immediately there is more to the job than that, as I am to be trained to a surprisingly high level for, essentially, a hospital porter, but the corpse wheeling is where my predecessors have struggled. Well, that and the lifting and hefting of people, living and dead, ‘who aren’t getting any thinner’ as my new manager adroitly put it.
I enjoyed the interview. I usually do enjoy job interviews, and am considered ‘good in a room’, but was thrown by the question ‘Are you comfortable around cadavers, especially of those who may have died traumatically in accidents, or by suicide?’. The question intrigued me, because my career has things like ‘postman’ and ‘telecoms engineer’ and ‘market trader’ all over it, and an absence of anything that might be useful in this regard, like serial killer or murderer, so the answer is ‘No’. In fact, my initial thought was to say ‘Of course I’m not, you fucking weirdo, who the fuck is?’ but, remembering just in time that this was a job interview, I said ‘Yes’ instead, to be on the safe side. And lo, after a bit of to-ing a fro-ing, a job offer was forthcoming.
At Runton, response to the news was varied, ranging from Joe’s warm congratulations to ‘Anton’’s assertion that I only want to work in a morgue so I can go ‘nonce-ing and Savile-ing up the corpses’. For the benefit of foreigners, Jimmy Savile was an enthusiastic British paedophile and necrophiliac from a toxic time in the world of mainstream celebrity. My current girlfriend was once told she ‘…fills out her jumper nicely’ as a twelve year old by Rolf Harris, another notorious wrong ‘un of the era although, in his defence, at least he was good at drawing. At the height of his ubiquity, Savile was known for advertising the then-new Inter City train links criss-crossing the country. The service was only two years old at the time, which is presumably why he was interested in it, but while Jimmy Savile and I do both have several jobs – hospital porter, IT support, estate work at Runton, and a bit of UberEats delivery on the bike for me; television personality, charity fundraiser, paedophile and necrophiliac for him – we otherwise have nothing in common. Jimmy Savile was, by any measure except marathon running, a worse man than me, and I consider the matter closed. I mean he really was awful.
The fact remains, though, that a significant part of my new working life will be spent in a morgue, on my own, surrounded by the dead. I feel that my time up the council among colleagues who also had no brain function or dress sense might come in useful here. Sometimes, I would have wheeled people to the morgue a few hours after wheeling them into theatre for what turned out to be unsuccessful life saving surgery, which will at least give a sense of continuation, but still. For all that, though, dealing with the newly dead, and being responsible for their dignity at an undignified time, is a privilege. Also, a morgue is a place where, if nothing else, there is no suffering, which is an extra incentive to be chirpy. I’ll probably start by addressing the room to the effect that can anyone who isn’t dead make themselves known before I start rearranging limbs and writing labels and so on, because I am likely to freak the eff out if someone wakes up later. As far as I am concerned, going about my tasks with the demeanour of a 1950’s bus conductor is a way of remembering that my subjects, embracing mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything were, until an hour ago, as alive and embroiled in the lunacy of the days as you and I. And, when the cycle ride home has blown the formaldehyde out of my hair, and my son is brandishing implausible Lego creations at me and my dog is trying to climb into my shirt, it will remind me to be grateful to still be here.
So there we are. Once the references are sorted out, which should be OK as I’m writing them myself, I will be an NHS worker, entitled to gentle applause and people giving me rainbow hearts with ‘Thank You’ written on them wherever I go. Now I think of it, I’ve also worked in a food hub during this pandemic, so I’m basically Marcus Rashford. Sid’s about to start school any second now, too, and it will be strange to be among the recently deceased on a professional basis, for thirty-nine hours of exceptionally physical work split into thirteen hour shifts over a three day week, instead of looking after him all the time. Then again, a cornerstone of my parenting style is the old adage that a tired boy is a good boy so, bearing that in mind, I might get him to do it.
Main: They have mown the wheat in the field behind our house, and not before time because it was all overgrown.
Top inset: Leeds fan dressed at Jimmy Savile. ‘Why did West Ham run at Leeds? Because the Under 5’s were scared of Jimmy Savile’, as the old joke goes (the ‘Under 5’s’ were a useful West Ham hooligan firm back in the day, essentially functioning as understudies to the better known ICF).
Middle inset: Leeds fan Jimmy Savile, dressed as Jimmy Savile, in a style that immediately marks him out as not at all sinister or anything like that.
Lower inset: I cycle past this quite often. Lower Street is a patchwork of small, unkempt fields and wooden shacks where plague victims were banished to fend for themselves during an outbreak of the Black Death in 1349, and which is still generally avoided. There is an Upper Street too, where you were allowed to live if you didn’t have plague. Norfolk is extremely pretty, but there is low key sinister stuff like this at every turn.