Brains, Books, Bodies & More

Ahhhhh I have so much to tell you all! Be prepared for a complete update summary; possibly quite lengthy and I’m not sure where to begin, so here it goes! The latest Brain Count (the number of brains successfully removed by myself) is at a healthy 42. I’m well on my way to my aim of 50 and pretty chuffed I started counting as recommended by my manager many months ago! I think I’ve got quite good at doing this, and reconstructing the head afterwards. I am careful to not cut through the ear canal when opening the scalp as this can lead to leaking through the ear once reconstructed. I also have been using the other stitch I learnt to complete the head because the skin lies flatter and it cannot be seen so easily. Once the head is reconstructed, we wash the person’s hair with shampoo, comb it and then dry with a hairdryer, probably the closest I will ever come to being a hairdresser! This week I notably experienced my first post-mortem on an organ donor which was an interesting experience. It’s a challenge to work out what has been taken and what remains, a real test on your anatomy knowledge for certain. Plus, you all know organ donation is a huge thing for me that I support wholeheartedly (pun intended) and the news about the Opt-out system coming in for 2019 is absolutely amazing!

You may have seen recently that Laura D and I have now visited six of the Magnificent Seven Victorian cemeteries in London. We have plans to visit the seventh and final one soon, and I will provide a write up of Tower Hamlets individually as well as a full write up of all seven once complete. I’m really excited to share my thoughts on this and some tips if you ever plan on paying any of them a visit. Laura D thinks it would make a good BBC4-style documentary, and while I would love to make something like that one day I’m not so sure the general public would agree.

You may have also seen that in London in October is the Month of the Dead. There are a series of walks, talks and tours taking place throughout London and, as much as I would love to go to them all, not only do some of them clash but also I would not be able to afford food by the end of the month if I did. I completed, however, some stellar work putting together a spreadsheet of those I wanted to attend, filtered out the ones that had sold out and got it down to a final, affordable five. Maybe I will see some of you there, sadly I was too late for the ossuary tours that I really wanted to go on but let me know if you are planning on attending any or were lucky to get tickets for them!

Of late, my podcast consumption has increased but so has the rate of which I am devouring books. This week in particular, I finished The Graveyard Book by Nail Gaiman in less than three days (it’s that good!) and have begun Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death Revisited. The former I was recommended and leant by my Mum who knew I would love it and she wasn’t wrong! The latter I have wanted to read for some time, and expected a bit of a slog but in fact Mitford writes in an incredibly witty and laugh out loud in places kind of way that it’s thoroughly enjoyable. This also led me to read a bit online about the fascinating Mitford Sisters, if you’ve never heard of them I encourage you to do the same.

In addition to all of that and looking ahead still, I not only have my year anniversary of working at the mortuary on the 2nd October but I also have secured a place at the AAPT (Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology) annual conference on the 29th September which is being held in London this year. Once again I’m incredibly excited to hear the different talks, currently I’m most looking forward to a talk about the deaths that occur on the Thames. It will be great to see people from all over the country once again and some familiar faces from over the last year. September happens to be the month of the annual London Podcast Festival coincidentally and I’ve got tickets to see my two death-related favourites Griefcast and Wooden Overcoats live in show which I am very much excited about.

Coming back to the present, don’t forget that the Upminster Death Cafe for August is coming up on the 21st. Rachel and I are once again at The Sweet Rose Cakery to discuss all things death. If you have something you would like to talk about with other people relating to death or dying then please coming along! Or if you would just like to listen to others talk about death then you are very welcome also. More information in the link above.

I’ll leave you (probably quite grateful that I’m done) with a final thought. I don’t know if anyone has noticed but it has occurred to me that I never refer to those in our care as ‘bodies’. Or ‘corpses’. Or, even worse, ‘cadavers’. While I don’t think these are necessarily incorrect terms to use, I also don’t feel comfortable using them in our context of the hospital. I personally prefer to say ‘person’ or ‘patient’ and acknowledge they are still who they were. I’m not against using any terms you want in this sense, I just wouldn’t myself. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? I’d be interested to find out if other people think the same or feel differently to me!

MG x

Chocolate, Coffins & Cornelius

After the best Death Cafe so far, I had a day off work with big plans. Laura T had bought us tickets to go to Cadbury World for my birthday, and while we were in that part of the country I was eager to visit another place I’d had my eye on for a while.

Cadbury World itself is fabulous and well worth a visit. It was so quiet there apart from a few school groups that we had a bit of a crazy time running about, eating chocolate and taking silly photos of ourselves. In hindsight, among the chocolate shoes, teapots and footballs, I should have asked if they’d make a coffin or a skull. Just a thought!

Just a tad excited to eat all the chocolate!

From there we drove about twenty minutes back into the city to visit an old factory known as Coffin Works. Coffin Works is the original home of the Newman Brothers coffin furniture business founded in 1894. Hidden away down Fleet Street, it’s only noticeable from a distance by the distinct turquoise signage outside. I picked up a leaflet for this place when I visited Abney Park cemetery with Laura D not realising it was in Birmingham but agreeing with myself that I would visit one day.

The factory itself closed in 1998 and shut its doors, but not for good. Those that cared deeply about the history and legacy of the building took great care until the funds were raised to open a museum on the site with many of the original features and fittings still in place.

We arrived not long before two o’clock and were told a tour started in approximately ten minutes so to go and wait in the courtyard until it began. Such a pretty courtyard it is!

Hanging out in the courtyard

Our tour guide is named Cornelius and he himself worked at the factory and knows the machinery there like the back of his hand. He showed us around every nook and cranny, telling us stories about the people who worked there and explaining how each part worked and would have looked originally. Cornelius even got quite emotional when telling us about one of the original staff members and I just wanted to tell him he was the best tour guide I’ve ever had. I think I then did, later on back in the shop and also in their guestbook!

The rather brilliant Cornelius

Please do visit the Coffin Works museum if you find yourself in Birmingham. It’s an hour tour which is rich in history and some heartwarming stories of the people who made coffin furniture (or the tea for those people) for some of the wealthiest and most important people in the country. An absolute bargain at £6 entry and you won’t regret it one bit.

Thank you to Laura T for a fantastic day out, it was incredible!

MG x

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