The Three Burials of Johnny Sombrero

Once upon a time, as a young man, death was an obsession of mine. I thought about it constantly and was in a persistent state of dread about it. The neurosis progressed to the extent, where my thinking was, that, if you were even to come in contact with me you could probably die.

People just loved being around me at that time.

Many moons prior to that, I once read in the ‘Weekend’ magazine, a small two paragraph piece, advising that from some distant solar system, there was, on collision course with the Planet Earth, a Dirty Great Big Meteor and most likely everyone was going to die. It soon became apparent that nobody else had read this Armageddon soundbite, except me.

I tried to tell my gym teacher, using the information as a supplement to my weak excuse for forgetting my sandshoes, but he insisted that I get into the cold shower, to see if it would help me remember them the next time.

The meteor, or Cheerio Charlotte, as she was cheekily known, missed us by only 4 inches. It was one of the most unnoticed catastrophic events, that, I have ever been involved in.
Later in life, psychology, psychiatry and prescriptions were applied, to my burgeoning gloomfest, in tandem with my own holistic approach of increasing my intake of sex, drugs and alcohol, not necessarily in that order of priority, but at least helping to focus my mind on the more positive aspects of life.
The manifestation of all this, according to the heid experts, was, as an outcome of experiencing a major bereavement, the death of my father, early in childhood, and these were classic symptoms of delayed grief.

Such is life and life is such that it always throws you a challenge, a face-off, an opportunity to stick your hand in the hole and grasp the snake, and not just once , but many times.

Much later than the earlier years, I was tasked with building an extension on to Bonhill Church, which sat on banks of the River Leven. Unlike myself, the church was to be converted, the existing spacious void distilled into a community centre upstairs and the new area of worship to be downstairs, this requiring a new stairwell to be added on to the side of the existing building. The churchyard accommodated an old graveyard, the type that Henry Frankenstein and his assistant Fritz may have frequented, full of tumbled headstones and noisy black crows, but no echoey sound stage.
Excavations for the foundations, commenced, on the assurance given by church members, that their were no graves within the building footprint.
It was not obvious at first, that the bones that were rolling off the growing mound of excavated spoil were human, and the inter-twining sodden muddy fabric was certainly not recognised as being the remains of shrouds.
Instruction from the Procurator Fiscal to cease works was enforced, whilst forensic investigations were carried out by CIS Dumbarton, but I made no mention of the three lorry loads of spoil already taken off site to be disposed of at the local coup.

It was established that what had been disturbed, had been the remains of deceased families who had suffered a cholera outbreak, back in the 1700’s, and who were buried immediately adjacent the church walls, as was custom for paupers, although the shrouds were a charitable handout from the parish committee of the time, for which the relatives were no doubt, so appreciative that they would have probably danced in the streets.

No records were kept of such occurrences, so nobody knew. Approval to carry on was given. Then someone, who did know of these things, turned up one day.
An elderly gentlemen, who, queried me on the whereabouts of his great, great, great, great, great uncle’s grave.

Grave, where?
My good man, I know of no grave in that vicinity, I said
Yes, right there, he pointed and paced 8 strides from the centre of gothic arch out from the building line and then a further 10 strides right from that point
Right there, he pointed
Are you sure?
Yes, there was an inscribed tombstone , 6ft x 4ft, just under the surface of the grass, right there he pointed
I assured him, that nothing like that was ever found, and I had no clue, cryptic or otherwise to its whereabouts.
He left. Confused and in doubt.
I didn’t think it right to give him directions to the local coup.

To ensure that all the grave robbers concerned could sleep at night without having floating souls hovering outside their bedroom windows, all the remains were gathered with a yard brush and square mooth shovel and placed into a brand new coffin which was re-interned and a full ecclesiastical blessing was given.
Amen to that.

Faslane has it’s cemetery beside the famous Faslane Submarine base, and the dry-stone dyke wall that surrounded the graveyard was to be rebuilt.
I worked with other two stonemasons, who had requested from the resident gravedigger, that in the event of a burial taking place where a first lair already existed, then could they be given a shout as, it was commonplace for the original coffin to cave in during the excavation process and this was of much interest to these master craftsmen, Burke and Hare. The call came, and they hurriedly abandoned eating their lunch that day to see the ghoulish sight.
I never although, I did receive the full details on their return as they finished of their piece. I lost my appetite for my corn beef and tomato, and a for human dignity, that day.

It was at a Crematorium, outside Glasgow, that my next reality check with the grim reaper came about.
The building was being renovated, internally and externally. The ovens were also being refurbished. All this going on but the requirement was that cremations were to continue if relatives of the deceased so chose.
Many contractors reported for work only to disappear, when it was realised that the place was to continue functioning.

Hardened men were required and hardened men came. Four Bevy-Merchant plasterers from Easterhouse, who after three days of it, got blotto and laid out, topless, and on the green green grass on a hot summer day, oblivious to the attendant bereaved, having to step over them to enter the crematorium.

In response to new European Legislation, chimneys, to satisfy the criteria had to be extended upward, a metre, and the operation required cessation of the ovens, whilst this work was carried out. This resulted in a tailback of coffins gridlocked. When the shift changed for the afternoon attendant, he was unaware of the work being carried out and fired up the burners. Certain smells trigger happy memories, others you only experience once in a lifetime….

Nowadays I am free of all that, ‘the end is nigh’ shit. Well, I know, it is nigh, the end that is, I know that, and it is freeing for me to accept it. Life is for living.
Now .
At this moment and as much as I can.
Love and love life.

Buddhism says the the problem for the Western world, is the refusal to accept that everything is impermanent, but hopefully that could change.

Don’t take life too seriously, none of us get of this alive.


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