Thursday, June 18, 2009

vera the bog mummy

‘She’s in a terrible state,’ says the caretaker of the flats, a man as square and brutally constructed as the building itself. ‘Absolutely terrible. No one had seen her for a couple of days, and I had a key, so…’
The lift springs to a halt and the doors slide back.
‘I expect you’re used to these things, but – er – it’s going to be one hell of a job for you.’
‘You’re not selling it, particularly’ says Frank.
We follow the caretaker over to a battered blue door that shows signs of having been kicked in a few times in the past. He knocks on it twice.
‘Vera? It’s Barry again, with the ambulance.’ Then to us: ‘Not that she’ll understand any of that, of course.’
He pushes open the door.
‘She’s under the table in the living room.’

As we stand in the doorway a dreadfully grey and foetid smell billows out around us and on into the pine fresh chamber of the hallway.
‘I told you it was bad,’ Barry says. ‘Poor thing. She’s been bad with the drink before now, but nothing like this.’
‘Hello? Ambulance!’ I say, and we step inside.

Three thousand years ago the early Northern Europeans, in an effort to buy off their gods and make the harvest work that year, would sometimes lead a person out onto the marshland and cut their throat. Then they would lay the body in a shallow grave, cover it with peat, walk away and evaporate into Time. But the body would be drenched in the aseptic waters of the sphagnum moss, would be drawn down into the deepening bog, that black and anaerobic world – until, shockingly, its tanned leather face is suddenly squinting back up into the sunlight again, another bog mummy for the museum, tucked up on its side, with a long dream of suffering playing across its flattened face for everyone to see.

But now - if instead of taking your bog mummy and carefully lying it in a presentation case, you dress it instead in a torn floral nightie, drop it down on some lino and slide it under a chipped white Formica table, and instead of respectfully placing its grave goods alongside it you scatter round the withered feet a half dozen empty bottles of cheap supermarket vodka, and instead of installing a clinical de-humidifier you take a bucket of cold urine and faeces and slop it generously all over your specimen – this is how you will come to see Vera as we see her now, groaning and wailing beneath the table on the other side of the room.

‘I told you,’ says Barry. ‘How on earth are you going to move her?’


petrolhead said...

Wow. Was she still alive?

Spence Kennedy said...

Yeah - but not in a good way. Because of her drinking she had a massive thiamine deficiency which led to something called Wernicke-Korsakov syndrome - a whole collection of symptoms all related to her drinking. She was in a terrible state! And when we tried to move her, she screamed really loudly...

uphilldowndale said...

How sad and lonely.
I used to work near where ‘Pete Marsh’ the bog body was found back in the 1980’s, I have to tell you when the mist rolls in over the bog it is one hell of an eerie place, but sweetly scented compared to this place

Spence Kennedy said...

It was a pretty desperate state of affairs. But at least she had someone looking out for her.

I wouldn't mind a walk across those peat bogs. I love wild places like that. I was brought up on the Fens, so I feel an affinity for those marshy environments.

loveinvienna said...

I looked up Wernicke-Korsakov syndrome and it sounds terrible - loss of eye movement, confabulation etc. How did you eventually move her - was it kind of "manoeuvre whilst avoiding long evil-looking nails"?

So you're a yellerbelly or from further south? Must admit to not being a huge fan of the fens (give me hills and mountains any day) but I remember driving through them early one morning when there was still floating mist on the fields - very atmospheric.

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

The removal was a classic blanket wrap. We worked like fastidious spiders, bundling her up in blankets and delivering her to A&E as a big white parcel for the poor nurses to unwrap.

I hadn't heard of the yellerbelly term - just wiki'd it, and found out it means from Lincs. No - I'm from Cambs! I know what you mean about the land of the Big Sky. I moved there from London when I was 2 - and in retrospect it felt like a bit of an exile. But there is a beauty to a big slab of flat black land. I still prefer mountains & hills, though ...

;0) x