Today, I am a day, and indeed a year, older, and the passing of another milestone in my life was marked not by celebrations, but by a truly haunting experience. Thus far, in my long and - if I may be so bold - eventful life, I had never previously seen a dead body. Until yesterday, that is. And the mundane, everyday circumstances in which this happened made it something that will stay with me for the rest of my days.
I was 100 yards from my home in a residential part of central London, in a delightful garden square, typical of this part of the capital. Tall, handsome Georgian houses and huge plane trees overlook a central garden where dogs and ball games aren't allowed. There's a small corner where children can play on slides and see-saws. It is a neighbourly part of London, and the residents of this square gather in the garden for occasional parties in the summer, and around this time of year. As I walked along one side of the square, I was able to study and compare everyone's Christmas decorations: it was a seasonal and cheering, and very normal, scene.
I then crossed to the other side of the square, where the flashing lights did not signify warmth and homeliness. There were two police cars and an ambulance, and a tape police line roped off a small area outside a corner house. There were no onlookers, so I guessed that whatever had taken place, it had only just occurred. I asked an ambulanceman what had happened. “If I were you, I'd just walk on by,” he said. I persisted, telling him that I lived round the corner. “Then just go home, and don't bother yourself with this,” he said, firmly but sensitively.
He walked off to attend to his business, and another passer-by joined me by the police line. It was then that I looked more carefully at the scene and saw the precise nature of the incident. I will not go into detail, because this is someone else's tragedy. The co-opting of other people's terrible misfortune is one of the most disturbing and distasteful features of this voyeuristic, disingenuously touchy-feely, it's-all-about-me world.
The morning after, on my birthday, I returned to the scene. Mundanity had been restored. There were no policemen, no forensics, and no yellow sign to appeal for witnesses. The only person around was a journalist, who knew less than me about what had happened. There was nothing to mark the incident other than a small amount of police tape on the railings
It was a brutal monument to a lost life. It contrasted eerily with the next door house, on which a blue plaque proudly proclaimed that a pop star had lived there for one year of his life. I wondered about laying a bunch of flowers - there were none - but desisted, thinking, perhaps wrongly, that I'd be guilty of trying to claim this grief for myself. It was nothing to do with me: my relation to this prone body was strictly accidental.
A birthday is a time to look forward and back. This has not been my favourite year, far from it in fact, but the fact that it ended in such shocking circumstances, the sorrow cloaked in anonymity, ensured that I was not to spend much time feeling sorry for my own self.Reuse content