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Rite of Passage - a gravedigger's memoir / 13 May 2013

Grave-digging was hazardous work back in the 1960s. There was very little machinery: graves were still largely dug by spade. There were no Health-and-Safety rules. Opening up a grave, after however many years, to inter a new member of the family, was anything but healthy or safe.

The typical gravediggers who I met were hard men: ex-Marines, night club bouncers, bare-knuckle boxers. But I am physically small, and have struggled all my life with epilepsy and dyspraxia, which got me sacked from several previous jobs. But in the cemetery, I was accepted. I rose to the demands of the job. And, as it turned out, perhaps the main thing that makes me different from most of the other diggers is that I went on to become an author.

My ebook is a memoir of my time spent working in the world's oldest profession in the various Bolton cemeteries where for almost four years I dug graves for friends, relatives and complete strangers. Those welcoming cemeteries were for me places where I needed to be: out of society, where me and my epilepsy could get to know more about each other.

Don wouldn’t have known the signs of my grand mal seizure.
 â€¨Apparently he came down, grabbed my overalls by the chest and leg, and then just lifted me up and out. It was an ambulance job. The hospital bed sheets were covered in mud. Trying to move there was big pain. Pain as though elephants had walked all over me. Eventually I managed to move. Leaning down I forced my eyes under the bed where my clogs were coated in mud and my bloody tongue felt like it was in shreds.

Four days later I trod into the cabin. Silence. Harold placed a breakfast on my knee. I was waiting for all the sorries and "Why didn't you tell us, we didn't know what to do?" 

That was the usual; but gravediggers are anything but usual. A room full of nods were aimed at me and that was it.  Yes, it had been my first grand mal while I was a digger. It had also been a first for them and they had passed with flying colours. It was then I knew more than ever, I was one of them: a gravedigger.

Rite of Passage is an ebook, not a paper book. If you order it you’ll be sent two versions, by email. The colour version is 98 pages, including photographs. You’ll also get a plain text version without the pictures, for convenience of printing out if you prefer to sit down with a paper version. (Either version can be either read on screen or printed out.)

Order Rite of Passage for £5 by Peter Street from Natterjack

Keywords: creative writing,memoir