When I was younger I wanted to be a pathologist. I think mainly because I could say it and knew what it meant and when people asked me I could tell them and they would be surprised that I could say it and I knew what it meant. Attention seeker from day one, clearly. My dad was friends with his dentist and the dentist collected skulls, mainly animal ones but he also had a human one that I think was a model and useful for his work and not a real actual skull but then again I never asked I just assumed it was.
And we went to his house to look at the skulls and the dentist had hard-backed books, a set that looked like the Reader’s Digest Dickens, but the paper inside the books was glossy and printed with pictures of injuries and skin diseases and dead bodies. I don’t think it was corpse-porn – I think they were proper medical text-books about forensic science. I remember one picture very clearly: a dead woman lying on a mortuary table with no hair and no clothes on except her tights. She was quite fat but not because she was a large person but because she had died in her caravan wearing her tights and it was hot and the air in her body had got warm and grown bigger, pushing against her skin, her skin pushing against the nylon waist band of her tights, cutting her up as she swelled. And her skin was black, not like Black people are black, but like blackboards and coal and tar, seals and crayola crayons – shiny and blacker than anything is in real life. I think it was something to do with the decay of her blood or the heat.
I never thought what a strange thing to show a child (I was eight, maybe younger) but I thought about a book I had when I was very little. It was called Bagdad Ate It and it was about a dog who was fat and greedy and ate everything until one day he ate a blob of yeasty dough rising in front of the oven, and it rose and rose and rose until he had to be rolled to the vets and popped, or squeezed, or extracted – like the purple one in the Willy Wonka film.