Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Body Snatchers

I had a novel experience yesterday -- a Zoom call with more than 260 people! I didn't even know such a thing was possible. Every year, on the last day of school, we have a big assembly of faculty and staff where we wrap up the year and recognize people who are leaving or retiring. This year, obviously, we had to do it virtually, and I must admit it was kind of cool! Every participant was shown, 20 people to a screen, and you had to page through 13 screens to see all of us. It was like a gigantic "Brady Bunch" extended family reunion. We even sang "Happy Birthday" to one of our teachers -- not that anyone could hear it, really.

It's so funny how Zoom has become such a part of all of our lives.

So, yes, the school year is now over. No more Zooming. I know Dave is relieved.

We're still uncertain how the next school year will look. Apparently there are several possible plans, and what we do depends a lot on the government and the course of the virus. We could have only certain grade levels back at school, or certain kids on certain days, or everyone or no one. As for my job in the library, I have no idea how or whether it will change, but considering that so much of it focuses on circulating objects among lots of people, I imagine it's inevitable. I've been assured that I will still have a job, at least.

Speaking of books, I'm reading a fascinating non-fiction book, "The Italian Boy" by Sarah Wise, about a criminal case of body-snatching in London in the 1830s. It could almost be a farce, with three or four drunken protagonists stumbling in and out of pubs all day and in between lugging around the body of a 14-year-old kid, which they're trying to sell to one of the hospitals or anatomy schools for dissection. The crux of the story, of course, is where this body came from and whether or not they killed the boy.

Apparently this really was a business in London at the time -- procuring bodies for medical study. The practitioners were known as "resurrection men," and widely reviled. They sometimes dug up fresh graves to steal the corpses, and were known to linger outside the houses of dying people, waiting to make a deal with relatives.

The book is especially good at describing the filthiness of the city. This was the London of Dickens, before the Victorian sewer system was installed, and everywhere in the streets was poverty, stench and offal. Orphaned or abandoned children slept by the hundreds in doorways and beneath peddlers' carts in the markets. The cemeteries were so crowded they emitted fetid smells. Here's a passage describing James May, one of the body-snatchers, seen by a witness at a neighborhood pub:

 "Later in the evening, shortly before nine o'clock, May went up to the bar of the Fortune of War, poured some water over something he was holding in a handkerchief, and began rubbing it. Henry Lock, the barman, took a look and saw May was cleaning blood and flesh from a set of human teeth. Lock remarked to May that they looked like the teeth of a young person and would no doubt be worth something, and May boasted he expected to get two pounds for the set."

That passage alone shows how inured people were to grisly sights. When a guy can stand at the bar and clean stolen human teeth -- which he'd removed from the boy's body, by the way, with an awl -- well, let's just say I don't want to go to that pub.

On to happier topics. Olga says hello, from a cozy spot beneath her favorite pink blanket!

(Top photo: The Regent's Canal, near Primrose Hill. The big red boat is a floating Chinese restaurant. I've never been there, but every time I see it I think I should go!)


  1. Pretty in pink. Gorgeous photo of Olga and not bad feet either, lol

  2. Hopefully the school organisation goes well. An unenviable task.

  3. Olga's looking disgusted because all she can smell is those sweaty, prehensile and strangely deformed feet. Who may I ask do they belong to and what had Olga done wrong to deserve such a punishment? That floating Chinese restaurant does look cool - I wonder if they serve junk food?

  4. Ooh- I want to go to that restaurant!
    And I am so glad I don't live in 1830's London. Ugh. How did anyone live past the age of two?
    Olga is looking quite pretty in her pink blanket tent.

  5. I'll never understand how people lived like that, throwing their poop and pee and other nasty stuff in the street where they themselves had to walk and carry on. the stench must have been just awful not to mention disease running rampant.

    great shot of Olga.

  6. I am always recommending this book, so maybe I've already done so here--
    but if you're enjoying descriptions of London filth in the 1800s, have you read "The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic
    - and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World"
    by Steven Johnson?
    A great read about cholera and John Snow & Co's discoveries in the mid-1800s that it was spread by water (not air as had long been thought.)

  7. Well that does sound like a very creepy, foul time in London. Ugh.
    Olga looks quite beautiful in that pink light of the blanket. Lovely.

  8. That Chinese restaurant is beautiful and going there looks like a real adventure. Do it and review it for us.

  9. Olga under her pink blankie just about killed me! A calendar photo if ever there was one. I looked uo reviews of The Italian Boy in Goodreads- intriguing and one to know about - think I will pass but am so glad you brought it up and that you actually read it! Interesting about how "policing" was invented by the rich so that they would not be bothered by the sight of orphans. Some things have held - policing is one. Monetizing just about anything leads to criminality doesn't it? Dennis is going to donate his body to U of Wa. medical dept, so he says. They do not accept some bodies and there is a waiting list of sorts. Erik wants to be dumped in the ocean to feed the sharks.
    The walk along that canal was such a great find for me! What a treat- I checked the restaurant's menu but thought it too varied to be authentic Chinese, I am probably wrong.(As usual.)

  10. I love that photo of the canal and Chinese Restaurant. I wonder how the food is. Wow, that book sounds like pretty gruesome read. I don't think I could handle that right now. I didn't know that Zoom could actually picture that many people. That's wild. I've been zooming with friends every Sunday and I thought it was pretty good that they could fit eight people at once. Back in December, while at work, I met with a client that need to have "Zoom" added to their database as a selection for a type of meeting. I had to ask her what Zoom was. I had no idea. Now I'm doing it all the time.
    Olga looks very cute in her pink tent.

  11. Love the Olga photo! Did you apologize sufficiently profusely for interrupting her alone time? lol

    That restaurant is very photogenic too.

  12. Olga seems to be saying "Really? Have I no privacy?" She's adorable. I think I would love to have dinner in that Chinese restaurant. I wonder if we'd have made it living through those awful days in old London. Enjoy your day, hugs, Edna B.

  13. You and your couch blankets they make me smile

  14. Olga is so pretty! Nice shot of her.

  15. Briony: Ha! I guess it depends on who you ask. YP has some strong opinions about them!

    GZ: I agree. What a nightmare it must be to have to be in charge right about now.

    YP: Prehensile?!

    Ms Moon: I KNOW! Any romantic notions I've ever had about the past have been dispelled by this book. It must have been miserable.

    Ellen: I agree! Although at our far-right protest march yesterday apparently a lot of people were pissing in the street -- so I suppose it still goes on among certain elements of society.

    Fresca: I think we have that book in the library! I'll look for it! Apparently one of the patients who helped John Snow realize that cholera is waterborne is buried at Hampstead Cemetery, where I often walk Olga. (Yes, she died of cholera.)

    Robin: Does't it seem crazy? Hard to believe people were ever that accustomed to urban horrors.

    Catalyst: I know! I think we do need to try it out at some point.

    Linda Sue: Oh, who knows whether it's authentic. Probably not!

    Sharon: I don't think I'd even heard of Zoom before all this started.

    Jenny-O: She DOES look a bit put-upon, doesn't she? LOL

    Edna: I'm sure many of us wouldn't have survived!

    John: I'm glad! Everyone needs a cozy place!

    Jennifer: Thanks! (And she says thanks, too. :) )

  16. Yeah, not really sold on Zoom myself. Then again, I've only done a couple of calls. But keeping track of everyone was a pain. And then we had an administrator who muted everyone and would unmute a person who wanted to say something. Uf! As for that barge restaurant, it looks very inviting. Often those kinds of places are all about the outward appearance, but I'd give it a try.