Bring out your dead

I’ve been lucky to have met a fair number of interesting people in my lifetime. And also a fair number less so.

I decided to take the slow train back from Manchester. It may take longer but I thought, I’m in no rush, and besides it’ll give me longer to stare out the window and admire the Peak District that is presently covered in a blanket of snow.

Although the train was less comfortable and considerably colder than the express, the mix of people on it seemed more interesting. Day-trippers going out to spend the afternoon hiking or just hitting the pub at Edale.

A mix of students, both indigenous and overseas, plus older, more experienced hikers sporting all the right gear.

The guy behind me was on my less interesting list. He was droning on to the poor woman sitting next to him. Going over the same three facts again and again. I’m going to study in Australia, my girlfriends left me, I’m studying biology. Repeat ad nausem.

Trying to block out his monotony I was musing over some of the more famous people I have been lucky enough to meet.

A few years back I was asked to cover a fashion show. I seem to remember that it was predominantly focussed on lingerie and the guests of honour were Neil and Christine Hamilton.

It was after their brush with the law, as at I had previously seen Louis Theroux’s  documentary about them. It afforded me the opportunity to collar them by the bar and see if the documentary was accurate. Were they really like that in real life? After a brief conversation, it was clear Louis had nailed them spot on. I was glad that he had, but it also disturbed me a little that people like that were loose in society.

Several weeks later I was lucky to meet Gunther von Hagens. Gunther perfected the plasticination of the human body, preserving them for posterity. This was before his Body World’s exhibition became a global phenomena. He was in Sheffield to promote his work and he had pulled up his transit van under the flyover outside the University of Sheffield’s Student Union.

I arrived just as he and his wife(?) were unloading the van. He was wearing his trade mark hat, not looking too disimillar to Freddie Kruger. The corpses were piled up in the back of the van. Four or five I remember. None had legs. They all had iron rods inserted in their backsides so that a stand could be fitted.

He arranged them around a table he had set up at the back of the van. Waiting for curious people to roll up, ask questions and pick up a flyer.

The corpses didn’t look real. On their stands they just looked like mannequins. But on closer inspection you could see the blood vessels, nervous sytem, muscles, from where the skin had been flayed off. They had a slight waxy feel to them and smelt like slightly sweaty pork pies.

Gunther, it turned out, was staying a local hotel, so I asked what he did with the corpses at night. We leave them in the back of the van was his reply. Odd I thought. Then I wondered what would happen if the van got stolen? What do you say to the police? How do you describe the contents without sounding like a serial killer?

Then I thought about the theives pulling the van up on a dark layby in the Peak District to inspect their bounty, only to discover a bunch of legless, half flayed corpses with metal rods up their bottoms. That would be enough to freak anyone out. Justice? Or another myth to be added to mystery of the moors.

I thought about turning round to woman sitting behind me. Interuppting the guy and offering her a more interesting story. One about half flayed legless corpses stalking the moors, seeking out innocent hikers and scaring them out of their minds.

But it was too late. The train had just pulled in to Sheffield and it was time to get off.

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