Three Mystery Tools, Two Decomp People & a Council Meeting in the City

I’ve been living in a bit of a bubble the last week or so. I feel utterly exhausted constantly the reason for which I’m not sure if it is because I’m genuinely tired, the b12 tablets are not working or, self-diagnosed, I have some degree of Seasonal Affected Disorder. Just all round I have no energy for much at all, which is proving rather challenging!

Busy doesn’t even really cover it. We are the busiest we have been for a long time. I’m regularly feeling my Fitbit buzz to tell me I’ve hit 10,000 steps well before my working day has ended. Half of that is running lengths of the mortuary at the other hospital to either answer the phone or the doorbell which can be at either end. I try not to miss people so it often involves sprinting.

On Tuesday we had two ‘decomps’ to post-mortem, and myself with the other trainee were tasked with completing them. One was not as bad as the other, by not as bad I mean not as decomposed. There tends to be stages which range from just what seems to be a smell and a change in skin colour, to full on massive changes in the body. I won’t go into masses of detail as always, but I will say that I am rather proud of us coping with the smells that we encountered, plus we received some lovely comments from the pathologist who completed the post-mortem (comments regarding the work, not the bad smells). I do feel I will remember for a long time trying to remove a brain which is effectively mush. It really reminded me of an episode of izombie, you will know what I am talking about if you have ever watched that programme and I highly recommend you do if you haven’t.

Looking fabulous as always in a Tyvek suit and wellington boots. The end outfit is this plus an apron, sleeve protectors, gloves and a face mask.

On Wednesday, I attended a council meeting with the AAPT. It was the first real action I’ve had as Student Representative and I really had a great time. It was fabulous to meet everyone and put faces to names, plus everyone is just really nice and friendly which is only to be expected as a profession known to have a cheery disposition! Lots of things were discussed, and actually it was fantastic to hear about the latest goings on plus particular concerns with our industry. I feel like I have a thirst for knowledge and involvement in these things and I am so lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of the council. I also notably got to meet the organiser of the training course I will be beginning in February and he was really encouraging about working together going forward. I’m super lucky to have the support from my manager and trust in undertaking this venture and I hope this start means I can be involved with the AAPT for a long time.

Yesterday we had no pathologist available so could not do any post mortems, therefore myself and the other trainee cleaned nearly every door and wall in the mortuary in the morning, of which there are loads! Armed with a bucket of cleaning solution and cloths we went round scrubbing down all the surfaces we could. One thing I try to always tell people when they enquire about pursuing a career like mine is that a large part of this job is cleaning. I can’t lie, I’m not the biggest fan of cleaning but I do find that with some music, and/or a colleague to talk to, it’s actually quite a fun part of the job in a weird way.

My manager won an award this week! Congratulations!

This week we had the fabulous news that our manager had won an award he was nominated for in the category of Care and Compassion. We are so proud as a team of him winning this award and also how we work together to provide the care we do. This is largely in relation to the training we provide to nurses and others but also the hard work put in to provide the best care we can. Winning awards like this is great because it highlights the work done in the mortuary that people may not necessarily be aware of or want to think about.

Mystery Tool Number 3- what could they be for?

Today we have our Christmas meal out in the evening which I am looking forward to, and we are also exchanging our Secret Santa gifts. I’ll be sure to let you know what I get. For now, I’ll leave you with Mystery Tool Number 3!! Yes, they are scissors, but why do they have that rounded end and what are they used for? Current or past mortuary workers need not reply thank you! I hope you are all enjoying the festive season and have a good weekend.

MG x

December So Far (Plus mystery Tool Number 2 reveal!)

We are well into the flow of December and I feel like making up my own 12 days of Christmas. Needs work but this is what I have so far…

I know it’s awful, and I’m the worst for thinking I am remotely funny just because I crack myself up! Work has really ramped up and we’ve had to be quite on top of things. It’s times like these I think I feel like I’m treading water not very well to try and be as useful as possible but struggling. I got particularly annoyed with myself for needing as much help as I did during the eviscerations on Tuesday when really I need to take a step back and realise even the well experienced need help every now and then. It went much better today and I feel a lot better about how well it’s going luckily. I do get terribly frustrated with myself sometimes.

We’ve been full on training this week with the usual nurses and healthcare assistant training which I always find fun. I’ve said it before, but I never imagined myself feeling comfortable standing in front of a big group of people but death is something I could talk about for hours if you’d let me.

Of course, at Death Cafe they do let me! We had our December and final Death Cafe of 2018 on Tuesday which was a very intense but successful evening. We had a lovely PhD student pop along for some research which was brilliant and we discussed some very hard hitting subjects along with some lighter topics. Not every event needs to be or is as intense as this one and I think it really depends on who is present to influence the kinds of discussions we have. The dates are just being finalised for January and February and I’m working on the flyers as we speak. I’ll release them out as soon as they are confirmed and if you would like to know more or attend please get in touch!

Mystery Tool Number Two….

Well it’s what you’ve been waiting for- Mystery Tool Number Two is…… a skull key! None the wiser? Let me explain. A good guess was it was used for some kind of scraping, and I can totally understand why however that couldn’t be further from the truth. While this nifty little thing could be used to scrape, and sometimes we might use tools for other purposes when the need demands it, it is actually used in opening the skull once sawn open. After the scalp has been opened and folded back over the face, and the skull has been cut so a section is loose with the bone saw, the sharp end of this tool is inserted into the groove made and twisted to force the cut apart. It can also be used around the cut section to loosen or open parts not entirely cut. And that’s the skull key, a handy t-shaped device! We have ones with a longer section where the sharp end is and a short one too. I have no real personal preference over which one I use yet but I know that some do.

Keep an eye out for the upcoming mystery Tool Number 3, the dates of the next Death Cafe’s and any improvements to my 12 Days of Christmas!

MG x

Copenhagen Medical Museum

Copenhagen was the perfect break for November. Laura B and I had planned it for a few months, we reacted to the intense heatwave of the summer by booking a trip to somewhere that would definitely be cold. I spent many a hot summers day dreaming of blankets, scarves and thick socks. I’m a Winter person as well as a cat person it would seem.

Always perfectly happy in the cold!

One thing I had discovered upon researching the sights of the city was that there was an ‘anatomy’ museum or medical museum. I knew nothing about it apart from a glance at the website to find out where exactly it was, because I had to visit no matter what. As it turns out, the medical museum is nestled in a grand looking building next to the more popular Design Museum. The door as you approach is closed, sensible in the climate, but automatically opens as you approach which is not something you expect from a very tall, old looking wooden door. Once inside, the museum is made of wooden floors and steps, the different areas of the museum separated by split levels and short flights of stairs.

I try not to make a habit of taking photographs in toilets…. but this arty display of sharps bins caught my eye while using the facilities!

Fortunately, the people of Copenhagen do generally have everything in Danish or English so we were given an English leaflet guide to take around with us. I had tried my hand at Duolingo before we went but I was hardly fluent. The museums we went to all asked that we left our coats and bags in either a locker or at a cloakroom, something which felt like a very sensible idea and a good way to feel the benefit of your coat upon leaving!

Cool display of pacemaker devices

The first room we entered was a history of psychiatric care and the different approaches. Most notable of this room was the display of a large lockable box with a bed inside which looked mostly terrifying, and the different therapies shown such as electric shock therapy and a really disturbing box of props used for children’s therapy including a creepy mask.

Next we found ourselves in a room with a large glass table which turned out to be a game. After a good ten minutes of trying to Google Translate the Danish, I turned around to find the English version behind me. It was a game of luck, selecting body parts at random each turn via a spinner in the centre of the table. A bit like Anatomical Twister but each body part came with its own disease or trait that added or subtracted years from your life. We both started off at 80, I was taken years for having some mild complaints and died at 76. Laura B was given a great head start and added many years to get life by being a widow! I can’t remember at what age she died but it was at least twenty years on me. I really liked the concept and playing this game, and once we had finished the guide from the front desk came to find us to tell us a tour in English was starting soon if we would like to join. Of course we obliged!

The back wall of the teaching auditorium

The tour took us through the remaining rooms, starting of looking at some early surgical procedures such as trepanning and amputation. We then moved onto the early thoughts of the four humours of the body and how this developed through time to what we know today. This was very interesting, and included a look at the auditorium that was used for early anatomy and surgical demonstrations and lectures, and also a discussion of how the concept of miasma formed and was then forgotten. This is the belief that infections and diseases were carried in the air, which later changed once we understood infection control a lot better!

Dry specimens displaying various pathologies

The final room of our tour took us into a large area packed full of specimen jars like those I’m used to seeing in the Gordon Museum or at Barts Pathology Museum in London. The first cabinet we looked at was packed full of pre-natal and full term babies with various defects and deformities. It turns out this is a collection formed to better understand these problems and find ways of preventing them. The second and third cabinets were full of other specimens showing various pathologies both in dry and wet specimens which was really interesting. I didn’t ask at the time but I think this was a fraction of the teaching collection from the hospital.

Some wet specimens and also the child with Rickets in the lower left corner

One thing I noticed while there was that there were no issues with taking any photographs in this museum. I know from experience of those in London you are not allowed to take photographs, particularly close up of specimens and I would never wish to because I feel it inappropriate especially in the case of babies. I asked our guide Rasmus after our tour had finished if there were any particular laws around display in Denmark, he said there were no laws as such but there were guidelines which allowed display of specimens over 70 years old and there were no issues with photography. He also commented that they had prepared for controversy when the museum opened in regards to the displays but so far none had been received! It was very interesting to see this difference in attitude here and how they chose to display items.

I loved this display but in hindsight I can’t remember exactly what it was!

One final thing, there was a skeleton of a child displaying the effects of a severe vitamin D deficiency. We in the UK know this as Rickets, however in Denmark it was known as the English Disease! Rasmus said he did not know exactly why, however there was a tendency in the early medicine stages of naming illnesses after nations you did not like. As we found out on our boat tour the day before, the English stole the Danish navy at one point so I can see the justification here.

I hope this was interesting, and has tempted you to visit the museum if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen! Link for the museum is here.

MG x

Mystery Tool Number One Revealed- Rib Shears

(Apologies for the delay, this was written on Wednesday waiting on the tarmac and later during take off at Stanstead. A basic introduction to a tool we use, hopefully you will find interesting!)

I said I would write a post on tools starting with the photo at the end of my last post, then I got either another cold or my original one came back with a vengeance and now I find myself on a plane heading for Copenhagen. Life really does take us in some funny directions, this time to the cold land of pastry and schnapps that is Denmark.

Ceiling of the auditorium at the Medical Museion in Copenhagen. More on this in another blog post soon!

However I do also find myself with a little under two hours to kill which seems like a good time to get the article I had planned out of my brain. No one actually guessed what the tool was, well no one who didn’t work or previously work in a mortuary so that doesn’t count! One guess for their similarity to scissors used in fabric cutting with the curved edge underneath to protect the fabric below. That guess made me realise why the bottom of this tool is curved to protect the organs below.

Many different types (and brands!) of rib shears available

The tool in question is a set of rib shears. They do come in many different shapes and sizes, I’ve tried out many different ones and I do have a preference but they all very much work the same way. Rib shears are used to remove the sternum and the area around it, opening up the cavity of the body to access the organs underneath. I’ve been shown that the right way is to remove them from the areas of the ribs made of cartilage, this means the edges left behind from the cut are smooth and do not leave sharp edges to tear your gloves or yourself on. Although you can place a pad or similar over these edges if this happens.

Before using these, we expose the ribcage from the initial incision and ‘loosen’ the clavicles (collar bones) at the top by cutting them free from the attachment to the sternum. Sometimes the clavicles come away easily and pop upwards, other times they can be harder to cut around and this has even snapped the blade of the scalpel I have been using on a couple of occasions. Note, if a blade snaps like this it can be very dangerous so it is important to locate the tip of the blade (probably stuck inside the patient somewhere) and remove it with tweezers or another tool before continuing to work.

The lower ribs cut through easier than the upper ones, and the first rib is the toughest. Sometimes so tough it requires you to rock back and forth a bit to get it to go, I have broken out in a sweat before in all the PPE trying to do this. Once the ‘plate’ consisting of the sternum and ribs sections is cut, we raise the edge from the base and lift while cutting it free from the attachments underneath. I’ve been told this is a common time to accidentally cut yourself and it’s easy to see why. I’ve also been shown how to make a notch between two of the ribs about halfway up while cutting so you can use this to grip better. When I’ve witnessed people come in and watch post-mortems I’ve noticed that they mainly wince at the noise the rib shears make, a loud crunch occasionally when a bone is tough.

The Medezine saw like we use (I’m not being paid to advertise!) with the round blades we use for the cranium and the other ‘fan’ shapes blades.

In really tough cases or other scenarios we can use the bone saw. For example, I recently used the bone saw on the spine to remove the spinal cord from a patient who was donating it for research. We mainly use the bone saw for the skull, but there is another blade you can use to cut through other bones like below.

There you have it, the rib shears! I wanted to start my tool posts with something interesting so I hope this has been a good place to start. If you think I’ve missed anything or have any questions then please let me know by the usual ways, you can see my contact page if you’re not sure.

MG x

Sweet Rose Cottage

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a fairly frustrating week all round. I caught the man flu, which turned out to be close to actual flu in some ways and still has me feeling terrible. On top of that, add some insomnia, anxiety and general joint pain, I think feel close to the classic ‘death warmed up’. She writes during a sneezing fit on the bus.

Wednesday Addams & Antigone Funn inspired generic tired mortuary worker look.

I was in for two days this week and I’m only in work for one next week. I’m then in for the rest of the year, and I’m starting to do some on call type work. In the last two days that went fast, I did some more nurses training in the big auditorium style training room. I get to feel important and stand on a stage with the presentation projected either side of me. For those that have known me a long time, bet you never thought this nervous wreck would stand there confidently and do that!

A selection of stills from the Just Five Minutes More video by Michelle Lancaster at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

At the start of the training we play a video made by another NHS trust which demonstrates as well as possible our roles as APTs. It perfectly describes the care we have for our patients and our characters, particularly the ‘cheerful disposition’ we all possess. The link to the video on YouTube is here, Michelle Lancaster who made it and stars in it is someone I have a lot of admiration for and had the pleasure to meet at conference two years in a row, she is a really lovely human being.

There is another line in the video that I’d like to discuss where Michelle mentions the use of the term ‘rose cottage’, describing the phrase as sweet. This hit home upon hearing it yesterday because it sounded so much like the Sweet Rose Cakery where we host our Death Cafe each month, how appropriate and coincidental we found a location named that!

Laura T at the Sweet Rose Cakery

I should explain, the term rose cottage is used by hospital staff to describe either the mortuary, or has further extended to mean a death on the ward either in full form or shortened. The porters use it to ask where the death is, I hear them using our phone to call the ward and ask ‘Do you have a rose cottage?’ or more often it is ‘Do you have a rosie?’. It’s a sweet term indeed, not necessarily one I agree with because I’m fairly certain it’s born of avoiding talking about death, but it’s a tradition that has existed for a long time and I’m sure will continue. I believe other hospitals have other terms they might use, but the Rose Cottage has firmly stuck at ours. Although I believe you can encounter staff who have still yet to hear it and then assume you are asking after a patient called Rose Cottage which would be unfortunate if there was someone with that name!

Have a watch of the video and let me know what you think! Also, as promised I am working on a post about tools starting with the handy device below. Anyone want to take a guess what it’s used for? Mortuary workers past and present need not comment! If you’re Hospital has another term used to mean a death please get in touch also. Have a great weekend everyone.

Mystery tool… what could it be? It’s quite easy (I think!)

MG x

Hyde Park Pet Cemetery

The end of October has been cold hasn’t it? Really chillingly cold. I’ve been hiding under a blanket when not out and about, and the change in weather seems to have made work very interesting. I can always tell that the number of deaths has risen, not necessarily by the number of post-mortems but definitely by the number of viewing requests we have. A year ago I was terrified of walking in the waiting room with the relatives, but one year on and I only get a little nervous now. You honestly don’t know what waits for you with viewings, some people don’t want to chat they just want to see their relative and that’s perfectly normal. Other people don’t want you to leave their side for the entire time they are in the room. I’ve become accustomed to both types. Some people want to see them and then walk out again, not even in the room for minutes. Other people stay beyond their allotted appointment time and we sometimes have to tell them their time is up because we have to prepare for the next viewing to take place. It’s a time consuming but very important part of the job.

All this week I have been looking forward to the weekend immensely. Not just because I had Friday off (I’m up to my 4 day week antics again I’m afraid, I’ve got three in a row!) but also because today I had a very exciting tour in my diary. Laura D and I headed to Speaker’s Corner this morning and joined several others for a walk around Hyde Park with two tour guides called Jonathan and Myra.

Looking out of Speaker’s Corner towards Marble Arch and the original Tyburn Gallows site

Interesting choice of the Star Wars font for the Animals In War Memorial…

The tour began on the corner there near Marble Arch, we were told something I never knew before that this was the site of Tyburn where the gallows stood for centuries. First we came out of the park and visited the Animals In War Memorial on Park Lane. From there we walked through the park, the wide flat area of the many festivals and Winter Wonderland (currently being set up) was explained as being the site of the large parade ground. Further into the park it was a lot less open, with a lot more meadow type areas, we were told about the days of Highwaymen and the main route through the park being that of sheep and cattle headed for Smithfield Market.

The meadow areas with their longer grasses, other plants and fallen logs for creatures like stag beetles to hide in

There is certainly something I love about learning the history of the places I visit, especially in London. However the real reason I was at the park today was left at the end of the walk. In a busy corner of Hyde Park near to a main gate there is a little lodge house surrounded by an iron fence. In that iron fence there is a secret gate and our tour guide had a key to open it. Behind that fence, in the small garden of the lodge house is what is know as the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery. Rows and rows of tiny gravestones are huddled together with names like ‘Sheila’, ‘Rex’ and ‘Patch’. The first to be buried here was a little dog called Cherry in 1881, who loved her walks around the park so much and her owners wanted her to be laid to rest there. It seems the lodge house occupant agreed to let them bury her in their garden and then the next burial came in the form of a royal family member’s beloved pet. After that it would appear burial here for the pets of London became very popular during the Victorian period, and I would imagine some form of status symbol amongst the people there.

Rows and rows of tiny headstones

I loved visiting this little place, it seems so very whimsical with the tiny headstones and amusing names for the pets. The heartfelt messages on the headstones are quite a tearjerker for the animal lover, and I can only imagine what it meant to people to be able to bury their pets in the park they loved and have a headstone erected in their memory. I took many photos of this lovely place that I will post below, the Cemetery is not widely open to the public but the Royal Parks do run tours throughout the year which are advertised on their website and I can not recommend more highly. We also wandered around the park a bit after and I will include some other photos I took, enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!

“Patch” A friend of a lifetime and for thirteen years a devoted companion, she suffered and those who loved her best helped her to pass on.

In loving memory of my dear Tom, for eight years the faithful companion and friend

Here I just noticed the word Crocodile, not sure if named crocodile or an actual pet crocodile!

My next pet will without doubt be named Bones!

The Physical Energy Monument

The Serpentine

The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial fountain

The Peter Pan Statue I’ve loved ever since I was a child!

MG x

Tools, Organ Blocks & Getting in the Hallowe’en Spirit

Noticeably it’s been getting busier in the mortuary, just like it’s been getting darker and colder in the evenings. We’ve not been short of work at all, while also trying to streamline some processes and make ourselves more efficient. Our manager would like us to get into the habit of working in certain ways that make more sense, for example the tools we need to be in the right places and the right time rather than hunting around for them. I’m all for this, as it makes a lot of sense to not only ensure our work flows a lot better but also make our lives easier! Might take some getting used to though, as I’ve really just got my head around how things are now and in some ways I have to change some habits even if newly formed ones! We also had a delivery of new tools with some exciting additions for me to try when I eviscerate and reconstruct.

You might think the tools we have are quite basic but there’s a lot of different ways to eviscerate. For example, you might like a short handled scalpel while someone else might prefer a long handle to hold. Then there’s different blade types and shapes for the end of that scalpel, there’s pointier ones, curved ones and it really depends on preference. Although I have been told to try them all because you never know when you might need to use a different type, for example if stocks run out of the one you like or you go to work at a different mortuary and they don’t have that one. The rest of the tools are much the same; varying in shape, size and (for want of a better term) ‘pointiness’.

Even down to the needles we use to stitch, they are much bigger than the sewing needle you might use in crafts but they too come in different shapes. At our mortuary we tend to use either an ‘s’ shape one like I prefer because it sits nicely in my hand, or one with a flat part and then a deep bend in it. If people are interested I can do further posts on the tools as I familiarise myself with them! I might well do this anyway as I find if I talk about them I learn more myself.

I’ve had a few chances to have a go at eviscerating over the last few weeks and I’ve got a lot better at the parts I struggled with before. I’ve been trying to get my head around removing the organs in three blocks, the first block is easy and fine but separating the second and third is still flummoxing me a bit. Again, would people like to know more about these blocks and how they are examined? Let me know! I would, of course, warn you if I was to start going into detail about things like that.

https://www.haveringmuseum.org.uk

Outside of work, I had a quiet weekend mostly. Saturday I went to the local museum as they were having a talk on vampires which looked interesting. I couldn’t help noticing that I was the youngest person in the room by about 30 years, but it was enjoyable and amusing in places. It was the first time I had been to the Havering Museum and it’s small but worth a visit if you’re from around this area. After the talk I went to work for a couple of hours to catch up on booking people in. When it’s busy it makes sense to do this so we don’t have lots to do on Monday on top of our other work. Other than that I spent the weekend watching the new Sabrina series on Netflix and a lot of movies. It was a very restful couple of days!

Tuesday 6th November at 7pm!

Upcoming next week is the Upminster Death Cafe which is looking to be very exciting. If you have never been to a Death Cafe before then why not pop along if you can and see what it’s all about? If you’re not local to Upminster then there is certain to be one near you! Try looking at the website and search by postcode. If you think you would like to come or would like to know more, please message or email me and I’m happy to discuss your questions or concerns.

Only a few things I love more than a Snapchat filter and one of them is Hallowe’en

Wednesday is Halloween and I’m looking forward to it a lot! I’ve always loved Halloween, and I have had my decorations up since the start of the month. We get a few neighbourhood kids knock for sweets and then I like to watch a scary movie or two.

That’s it from me at the moment, but if you have any questions or would like to hear more on any of the things I’ve discussed then let me know.

MG x

Body Farms- Yep or Nope?

Would you like to see a Body Farm in the UK? It’s a simple question but one that seems to provoke either a very positive response or a rather negative one. It would seem a lot of people either don’t know what that means or have only a small idea what it would mean if one did exist. Add to that the feelings of disgust at human bodies being left outside to decompose, plus confusion about the legality or morality of such a place existing, it’s not such a simple question at all.

In fact, as I learnt at the weekend, there is no real good reason as to why a Body Farm, or Human Taphonomic Facility, does not exist as yet in the UK. Yesterday I attended my final event of the London Month of the Dead at Brompton Cemetery, a talk titled ‘The Case for a Body Farm in the UK’ presented by Dr. Anna Williams. This talk was a comprehensive one, and the most interesting of those I have attended recently by far.

I guess I should explain what a ‘Body Farm’ or ‘Human Taphonomic Facility’ actually is. In other countries around the world, most prominently in the US, there are insitutions like these. The basic principle is very straightforward and research is conducted into human body decompostion by placing donor bodies in certain situations or conditions and monitoring them for periods of time. The idea behind this being to get a better understanding of not only how bodies decompose but also being able to better interpret decomposed remains. The potential of the research being conducted is fairly endless in the amount of variables that could be examined. The ability to explore different environmental conditions alone is so vast I can’t imagine you could stop thinking of different ideas, let alone when you then combine these possiblities with the huge range of different physical and chemical aspects of the body too either due to lifestyle or other impacting factors.

I would like to specifically mention one of Anna’s comments during the talk that I found fascinating. She explained how it would be interesting to compare the decomposition of a vegetarian versus a vegan and then also versus those of a meat-eater, on the assumption that the different bacteria in the gut due to their diets would have a different affect and alter the decomposition presented! Something seemingly so obvious but I would never have thought of that before. That alone is just one example of how different aspects of lifestyle can affect decomposition.

Personally I would encourage people as a whole to read into this subject matter further if they are interested. As Anna stated, there is no legal reason why such a facility does not exist yet in the UK. In fact the impression she has of the situation is that a lot of people would like to make one, but are waiting for someone else to be the first person to take the leap into the unknown. Most people I speak to are all for this to happen, and the kind of people who attend talks are those who are wanting to learn more because they like the idea it would seem. It would definitely be more interesting to hear from people who have reservations or are completely against this happening.

There is a lot of information online about the existing facilities and also the UK desire to have one. Anna has put together a survey for people to fill out and have an opportunity to have their say which I encourage you fill out. The Twitter handle for this movement is @HTF4UK and there is a blog here. I genuinely want to help this cause and get poeple talking about it. Dr Anna Williams is also on Twitter @bonegella. Huge thank you to Anna for sparking this idea in my head and for a brilliant talk! I have pinned my badge to my coat and willing people to discuss this with me from here on in.

There’s a lack of photos this post so here’s a lovely lion from Brompton Cemetery to make up for it

Apologies for the short post this week and the general lack of posts in the last week or so. Rocks (my cat) is unwell again which has been awful, between that and a busy work week, going into the city for the weekend, plus some other crazy stuff happening I’ve not really had a chance to catch up on much. The next month or so is not promising to calm down although I do have a couple of trips planned where I should be able to chill out and take a step back from the crazy. Keep your eyes peeled for updates but you can also check out my Twitter or Instagram @mortuarygem if you want to see what’s happening. As always, get in touch if you have any questions or comments.

MG x

London Month of the Dead Continues

At the weekend I had the absolute pleasure of spending most of my time within West Brompton cemetery amongst the graves and shielding from the rain on Sunday in the chapel. I’d inadvertently chosen two events to attend that interested me for different reasons but ended up being very close to my heart for the same reason. In some ways I’m glad I don’t look too much into events before I attend so I can have nice surprises like this. In other ways I felt very naive for not realising!

What a difference a day makes! Bright sunshine to dreary rain. Definitely made for a different atmosphere in the cemetery each day.

In the sunshine of Saturday, Laura D and I attended a double session of talks on the topic of the Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark. Long time readers might remember I wrote about this graveyard previously as it used to be a favourite lunchtime spot when I was working at Guy’s Hospital. In the mizzle of Sunday we went to a talk discussing the mass graves of Spitalfields, something I thought would be historical and interesting. However, it proved that both talks had a large, if not complete, basis in archaeology, and those that know me well will know I have an archaeological background.

Lives of London Past – Red Cross Way (Crossbones)

I won’t go into too much detail as always, because I want to encourage you to go to talks and I don’t want to ruin any future ones for anybody. That and it doesn’t seem fair to the speakers to tell you all about their work. However, the Crossbones talk was a brilliant contrast to Spitalfields and I will explain why.

On one side you have a relatively unknown graveyard that was saved from being destroyed entirely due to the work of the community and those who fought to save it. This largely came through the work of the second speaker of the day, John Constable, who wrote a book titled Southwark Mysteries and has a lot of his work based around the figure of the ‘Goose’ who would have worked and lived in the area of the time as a sex worker. Jelena Bekvalac spoke intitially on the collection of 148 individuals who were excavated from this site and are now looked after by her at the Museum of London in Barbican. Her detailed analysis of the demographic of the individuals and some of the insights their bones gave to their lives were really fascinating. It’s hugely important to note that this was only a partial excavation and there were a lot more than 148 people buried there, although many have probably been destroyed or removed by buildings on the site previously.

Some interesting decor by the sponsor Hendricks gin

On the other side, the Spitalfields excavation that Don Walker from Museum of London Archaeology presented was more complete. Thousands of skeletons were removed and the site now has the market on top, although you can visit today and still see remnants like the priory. The research project into this excavation was lucky enough to be funded well, so they were even able to carbon date a lot of the findings. This allows much more precise dating than normal, and meant that certain assumptions about the period of burial were not made and therefore something much more exciting happened in the research into why there were so many mass graves at that time.

It was odd but lovely hearing about archaeology again. About stratigraphy, matrices, site codes, and even a little mention of hypoplastic defects (I might have written a whole 15,000 word dissertation about those delightful little things! I also have volunteered for both the Museum of London, although at their Docklands Museum, and also for MOLA but at their archive in Eagle Wharf Road. It was great in addition to bump into two of the hosts of the Dead Kids Club podcast too and say hello to them! They’re three PhD students from UCL where I studied who discuss different archaeological stuff together in a great podcast. You can listen to it where you get your podcasts, for example here.

So the London Month of the Dead is about halfway through now and I’ve loved the events so far. I think most of the events are sold out but it’s worth checking out what’s available and get yourself to a talk if you can! We have a couple left and I will let you know about them when we’ve attended.

MG x

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