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The Cremulator

January 7, 2017


Gavin’s voice sounded like beige socks worn with sandals.


Welcoming, but not our type—not from our world of dumpster surfing and cold weather under duvets.


Welcoming was right; we’d only racked up in his olde English village to collect a bed, not share anecdotes over tea and digestives, yet, here we were, chewing the stretched-out Sunday fat about nothing in particular.


I mentioned I was still grief-stricken, following the deaths of my parents.


"I play the organ in the local crematorium. I do, really."


His generous mustache stood to attention with civic pride.


"I got a warning recently," he continued.


"What, for playing Stairway to Heaven?"


"No, for ogling the mourners."


"The vicar or priest or deacon or whatever said he’d caught me staring at some woman’s tits. He was right; I remembered her and her tits."


After his admission, conversation turned to technology, and the magnificently-named cremulator, which grinds the deceased into an urn-friendly giant snuff of was human.


He said it was all "digital and automated," not like James Bond trapped in a coffin behind the velvet curtains at all.


It sounded much more like Dr Evil’s lair, with banks of screens calculating pulverisation levels as replacement hips reformed into suicide bomb belts.


The bed was becoming a distant memory, tucked in the van and ready to go back to Reading.


We needed more of this stuff. The £100 we had handed over in their low-ceilinged "original, 17th century beams bedroom" seemed like a bargain for the sort of conversation that this enthusiastic Ebayer was supplying.


In fact, he had more.


A friend of his had introduced him to a young lady some time in the mid-70's—a very forceful young lady at that—who had dyed-red hair long before dyed-red hair had become fashionable.


She was German.


Apparently, she was the "then" girlfriend of the friend. He had "picked her up" in Berlin and brought over to Britain for unknown reasons, perhaps to introduce her to his friends and family.


She was, we learned, a member of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, infamous well beyond the German borders, and much feared within.


The only memory he could recall was the fact that her hair was flame-coloured—and not naturally so—back in a day when one would not dye one’s hair in such a conspicuous shade, especially not if one wished to remain "undercover" and somewhat "invisible".


“Why was this young woman choosing a hair colour that would instantly separate her from the masses?”


Was she perhaps trying to hide amongst her contemporaries by sticking out like a sore thumb?


But the 1970's were a decade in which sin stalked in plain sight.


Porn mags swelled like drowned dogs in bushes to be peeled apart, to see what women looked like with their legs peeled apart.


We had to keep them peeled in those days.


No non-stop LiveCams or sexting for us.


We were watching pedophile DJs make kids' dreams come true, and newspaper barons suddenly found their favourite daughter caught on fuzzy CCTV, leading a bank heist.


In fact, our Birkenstock-voiced, Sunday-afternoon raconteur led our charge back to the groaning memory bank of the decade that brought us Gary’s Glitter and Gilmore, the Black and White Minstrels and Steve Biko.


But that bed wasn't going to make itself, and now that death, terrorism and pedophilia had been drained from the conversational glass, full-on flat pack assembly was the last bastion of the 1970’s to be explored.


But that was in Reading, not Black & White Beamed, Cosy Hamlet World.


We slammed the van doors and set off, knowing that we had made great friends that we would never meet again, which reminds me of the blind man in Bolivia who showed me how to erect a tent.


Much as I have wanted to return to Bolivia to encounter his flip-flopped form staggering around a dusty campsite, he was a one-off, although I think of him often.


Other senses become heightened when a person goes blind.


As we grappled with the unforgiving bed back in the box room in Reading, we truly needed that groundsheet fondling, tent peg orientating pensioner to cast his milky eyes over our new "project."


He was nowhere near Reading.


Who knows how much help his flip-flops would have been hammering in the somewhat tired parts, that, some years earlier, fit together so perfectly?


Back then when the kids were little, Gavin had just started organ practice in an attempt to get away from the screaming and shouting from his offspring, and the despairing cries of his new wife.


A Cinderella of sorts: pulled up from the gutter into this picturesque, unreal England, far enough away from the horror that she knew, as her previous life of drudge.


Janie still felt the despair of her bleak past: the days when she had to shovel ashes into urns in the crematorium to make ends meet—days when she had nothing but a McDonalds bathroom to freshen up, ready for her night job.


Days when the curtains of her future drew shakily back to reveal a man who admired her body at first stare, persuaded her to dye her natural red hair blonde, and spoke with such industrial fervour about the afterlife.


He scattered stories all over her for years, and she buried them, desperate for the invention of eBay, strangers at the door to give Gavin a new congregation for his not-quite-right oration.

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