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.

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls


The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
    Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

    Escape from Everest base camp

    Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
    Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

    What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

    Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
    Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

    Gossip girl comes of age

    Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
    Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

    Goat cuisine

    It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
    14 best coat hooks

    Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

    Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?