Heads I lost - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Heads I lost

ODD, what you notice or don't notice or can't quite put your finger on. When I was a lad, we used to cut up dead bodies, not just for a joke or a hobby, like fretwork, but because we were made to do it. Straight after breakfast I'd trudge blearily off to the Anatomy School, all the bodies half-dismantled in various shades of ham, like a sepia photograph in the pallid, submarine light.

One day, a couple of weeks into our first term, there was a frisson. Even the anatomy gnomes, the Grey Men, keen types destined to become surgeons and drink themselves to death, hovered uneasily in the doorway. Something different. Couldn't put our finger on it. Had they redecorated? Changed the light bulbs? Reorganised the enormous room with its rows of death- tables? Something different, anyway. Something ... and then we got it.

The heads had gone.

In the night, someone had come in and removed all the heads. The heads had to go, of course; you didn't do the head until your second year, and there were second year anatomists upstairs, in the Cutting Up Heads Room, yearning for heads. Fair dos. But it was eerie to imagine Ron the Dissecting Room Man and his team working through the night, the sounds of heavy breathing and muttered curses, the occasional thud and that familiar sound of the dissecting room, a faint tearing like someone skinning an orange.

Who were they? Did Ron hire them in, for the big day, Operation Heads Off? Casual anatomists, paid by the hour, shuffling outside at dusk in their knee-tied moleskins and big Anatomy Boots, thumbing their knife- blades hopefully? Was there rejoicing in outlying cottages, dank among the Fens, thin wives and ragged children crying with happiness as Papa stumbled home at dawn, head-stained and foot-sore but his rough canvas pockets clinking with change?

- How do, children. Papa's rich. Today, we eat.

- Tha smells o drink.

- Just a wet on tway hoame. Tis dryin work, tekkin off eads.

(And special dispensations in the pubs: 6am opening for the Heads Off workers, and a few effete revellers and early-risers trying to pass themselves off.)

Anyway, as the Casual Anatomists slept, we awoke to an inexplicably - and unnoticeably - headless world. You'd think you'd notice at once, the moment you stepped in the doorway, shrieking. "My God. The heads. All the heads. They've ... they've gone!" And then the slap around the face, the cold flannel, the tranquillisers, the interview: Medicine is a grisly trade and demands a strong stomach, lad. Happen tis not for thee. And then the ignominy, the packing of the bags, the lifetime of regrets.

But we didn't. Instead we thought they'd redecorated, changed the bulbs, moved the furniture. And so life protects us from itself, spares us the horrors until it's too late. And goes on doing so.

It happened again the other day. I noticed a shop Closing Down. (There are lots of shops Closing Down, but nobody believes it. Shops that really close down are just gone one morning, empty, with notices in the window saying "Temporarily Closed for Refurbishment" and that's that.) And then I got it. It had been my personal Hope Emporium, offering not only a selection of alternative futures, but a rewritten past: Bill Lewington London's Famous Musical Instrument Store.

For years, I had walked past it late at night on my way home, the garden of forking paths, choosing a new me. I would take up the saxophone, the pounds 3,000 white one, and play like an angel in a dirty mackintosh; no more typing but a life of smoky clubs, recording studios and friends with beards. I would buy some bagpipes and become a fierce solitary figure, the last man in Britain to play the thing pure, and the laments that came off the end of my pipes would reduce strong men to tears and inspire the weak to fight like demons. No! I would buy drums, have always been a drummer, the drummer that Steve Gadd and Russ Kunkel both said was the drummer they would have liked to have been, the only drummer ever invited on stage to sit in with the Buddy Rich Band. But wait ... no; I wouldn't be a drummer, but an oboist, that oboe, the expensive one ... an ascetic smile, rimless spectacles, lean and silent and austere but when I came on to play the Richard Strauss concerto the hall would fall silent and ...

... and it's gone. How come it took me so long to notice that now there were no more musical futures or alternative pasts, just Closing Down? It's eerie. It's awful. It's like ... having your head off.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week