Archive for January 13th, 2007

I was a grave digger…

The tag game which Justin Patten of Human Law drew my attention to by tagging me has been taken up by Binary Law, Family Lore, Pupil Blog and others. I was about to launch into a peroration about the fact that Geeklawyer had not participated in the tag game (I tagged him) – with an especially crafted aphorism – but then, decided to check his website. Geeklawyer has played the tag game and has tagged me again!… so I have to play again! [Please look at my blogroll if you want to look at the bloggers I tagged ]

Well… I have just returned from The Bollo, via The Swan – and was, in any event, going to spend a quiet half hour or so blogging – inspired by some linguine and a bit of Tempranillo (Monarchist wine, as a friend of mine calls it.)

So… rather than give you five more things you did not know about me – I have decided to focus on one thing you definitely did not know about me – and tell you, that when I was a law student, I financed my studies by working as a grave digger. I even took my spade to tutorials (on occasion) and went on, to the land of death and the final resting place, to dig graves when the tutor had finished giving of his or her wisdom.

Charon, as many will know, was ‘The Ferryman of Hades’ who took the newly dead to Hades. I have taught Law (and been a law examiner) for many years and I thought it only appropriate, when considering an alter ego, to use the name ‘Charon’ (which I pronounce with a hard ‘C’ – like a ‘k’ – but, purists aside – I pronounce my own pseudonym as I choose.)

So… why did I become a gravedigger?, what was it like? and did it provide for me the foundation in life which I needed?

I became a grave digger because I needed a job to help fund my law degree. There weren’t any gastropubs then, so I became a crap waiter at an Angus Steak House. I sacked myself, knowing that it was only a matter of time before I was sacked. I have never liked wearing bow ties in any event. I’m sorry if any of you have a penchant for wearing bow ties – but there is something ‘of Las Vegas and a Cruise ship’ about men who wear bow ties routinely which I feel sure is an irrational prejudice of mine from having had to wear a bow tie when I was a crap waiter.)

The truth of the matter is that I was in a Yates’ Wine Lodge listening to jazz one night – after a tutorial on Re Vandervell – and, like those students who came after me – I needed a stiff drink after that Equity tutorial. I was poor and was drinking exceptionally cheap port. I have absolutely no idea how I found myself talking to the saxophonist in the band, telling him that I was a poor law student looking for a part-time job – but he told me that he had done some work as a gravedigger and that I should contact my local cemetery. I did. I was hired immediately. I was over 6ft – 190 lbs and extremely fit to army levels – having recently returned from somewhere other than England.

Digging graves is a bit more technical than simply bringing in a JCB and ripping up turf. (JCB diggers are used on new graves – or were in the cemetary I was assigned to) – but old graves and new graves in consecrated ground, or plots where a JCB could not be used, had to be dug by hand.

In a new grave – the depth is not ‘six foot under’ – it is closer to 12 feet. (It was in that cemetary.) It doesn’t take long – about half a day. I would start digging at 8.00 and take lunch at 12.00. I could not afford to go to a restaurant for lunch – so made my own ‘pack lunch’ – a brioche, some fine pate, a bit of sushi, grapes, exquisite french cheese and a bottle of Burgundy) [Reality: it was a cheese and tomato cob (roll) and a coke]. It was the long hot summer of 1976 and it was hot… very hot. I would sit at the bottom of the grave and eat my lunch – reading The Times and The Guardian. I had an hour to do so. On occasion, I would be visited by an elderly lady – charming woman of 74 (she told me), who spent many happy days wandering about the cemetery asking the diggers who was ‘going in’. The other diggers could be fairly brusque with her – but I liked her and would talk to her about art, news, politics – in fact, anything but death.

I enjoyed that job. Our ‘ganger’ was an irishman – a former road builder. He had a few missing teeth, enjoyed his whisky (which he drank throughout the day from a hip flask) and wore a black silk top hat – a gift from the local funeral company. He would raise it before digging a new grave and raise it and say a prayer before digging into a grave which already had bodies in it.

It was an interesting experience. I fell through an old coffin while digging a grave one day for a ‘newbie’. Police were called. White tent erected. Sexton involved. Pathologist attended. Police tape. When they were absolutely certain I was not a grave robber, I was allowed to proceed. The coffin lid had rotted and my weight, through the thin separation of soil between coffins, was too great.

There we are… I am glad to have had the opportunity to give you ‘one more thing’ you did not know about me. Geeklawyer: be sure… I will avenge being tagged again.

Forget serious blogging for a moment. It is Saturday night – and it is the midst of deep mid-winter. The serious law bloggers have Monday – Friday. The dark hours of the weekend are for ‘strangers in the night’ as Frankie used to sing.

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parcheggio perfetto…human idiocy..

Occasionally I like to remind myself that our species – apart from doing our best to destroy the planet, destroy each other and, not get on with anyone who we don’t know that well (I leave the British class system to one side tonight) – can behave in ways which defy comprehension. The legal profession, of course, understands this and leverages a degree of fee paying work accordingly.

Tonight I returned from a most enjoyable evening out, after a fairly demanding week of work, to surf the net. I came across this driver – as it happens – an Italian woman, trying to park a car which was far too long to fit into the parking space. I watched the film all the way through and, as a biker (motor bike), I take a keen interest in the ability of other road users to control their chosen mode of transport. (Some of you may remember that I was seriously injured by a woman who drove into the back of me at speed while I was waiting to turn right at a junction)

A week ago I went to a meeting in Notting Hill. The film which I have linked to reminded me of the incident. I went on my motorbike. It was fairly early (9.30 am) – early enough for most drivers to be sober and late enough for those who had been drinking (heavily) the night before to think they were ‘safe’.

I saw a man in his mid to late twenties, using a mobile with his right hand, drinking a coffee in his left hand and steering a BMW with his knees. This was on the Goldhawk Road heading towards Shepherds Bush. He was doing approximately 20 mph – which is why I decided to pass him on the right. ( Filtering). Riding up past Holland Park to Notting Hill I saw a woman in a Range Rover veer across two lanes of traffic, unexpectedly, in front of a bus. The bus had to brake quickly. I could see that she, too, was on a mobile phone and had a fairly limited interest in other road users. I have given up flicking ‘V’ signs at motorists who drive like prats – simply because they then get angry and drive even more badly.

I made ‘good progress’ (bikers will know the meaning of this) past Holland Park towards Notting Hill and, just as I thought it was safe to filter past a line of slow moving traffic, a London ‘Cabbie’ (Taxi driver – for our overseas viewers) decided that he would pull into the lane I was in and nearly knocked me off. I decided that I had had enough. The traffic was moving very slowly and, when the lights turned red, I positioned my bike in front of his cab, turned the ignition off, dismounted and went over to him. I was polite and measured and asked to see his cab driver’s licence. I don’t look like a police officer in my bike kit (or at all). My bike does not have police lights… so no offence of impersonating a police officer was being committed. The ‘Cabbie’ looked a bit shocked. Interestingly, his passenger volunteered the following: “I saw him pull out on you… are you OK?” I thanked the passenger (He may have been a personal injury lawyer – I did not ask) and said that I was, indeed, OK.

I explained to the Cabbie that I did not expect to be run down in Holland Park by one of our ‘salt of the earth, rich, ‘hansom cabbies’, resisting the urge to share some of our more colourful anglo-saxon words with him. I was expecting the usual ‘verbals’ – but the driver smiled and apologised, adding that he was a fellow biker, and should have been looking for a bike!. My irritation disappeared immediately – partly because it is unusual to get any form of apology from a cabbie and, of course, partly because he told me he was a biker. Took the wind out of my sails. What could I say? I wanted to use the old police cliche ‘mind how you go’ – but, had to laugh and went on my way. I appear to be becoming more militant as I get older – but obstreperous may be a better word for my condition.

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