Monday, October 03, 2011

Morbid musings

When walking through a graveyard the other week (there's not much else in the way of green space round where I live) I noticed that there are distinct patterns to the demographics of the dead. Obviously, death can strike at any time, but if you plotted all the dates on a graph you'd see some obvious spikes emerging.

The first, obviously, is that of those that died in infancy or childhood. This demographic is most strongly represented in the old 19th century section of the graveyard. From the dates on the stones it would appear that, as a general rule, if you lived past about 10 without catching something horrific then you were pretty much safe for at least the next eight years. One interesting thing I noticed was that while this demographic is far less common in the newer sections of the graveyard, the average age seems to have dropped. Children below the age of one are a pretty rare sight in the older sections, while they make up the majority of pre-18 year-old graves in the newer sections.

As a reflection of changing social attitudes I find this interesting -- as infant mortality drops, people seem to become emotionally invested in their children at a much younger age. In some cases this tendency is taken to a stage that makes me a little uneasy -- there's a few modern graves in the cemetery whose stones record the names of infants who died two or three days after birth. I get the impression that the victorians would have classified these sad events as unusually drawn out stillbirths and moved quickly on, probably without ever giving the infants a name. These modern graves, however, are covered with flowers and cards -- something that I'd find understandable if it wasn't for the fact that the most recent of them records a death that happened more than 6 years ago. In a particularly morbid touch, some of the graves have flowers whose notes are signed by not only parents but also by "your little brother" or "your little sister."

The next big demographic is young men between the ages of 17 and 25, whose deaths are generally recorded on small white stones, decorated with just a cross or a regimental crest. The majority are from the First World War era*, a testament to the mind-numbing carnage of that war. With each coming year these stones disturb me more -- I'm now about seven years older than those kids were when they died, and can't help but think of 18-year-olds as essentially big children.

The last demographic spike before old age is populated by young women between the ages of 20 and 30. The cause of death isn't often mentioned on gravestones, but it's not hard to imagine what caused this. Happily this demographic almost completely vanishes in the mid-twentieth century, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine.

The thing that makes me particularly troubled by the deaths of these women is the fact that they are often buried in family plots with their parents, grandparents, etc. Every now and then you'll come across a woman buried in her own grave, usually beneath a touchingly inscribed gravestone composed by her husband, but these are the exceptions. On most occasions the men involved seem to have been all too happy to hand the mortal remains of their former loved ones to the in-laws with all the respect and reverence of someone returning a broken TV to the shop.

As we've got a major cat-shitty garden problem at the moment, my thoughts have been increasingly turning toward supersoakers. As a kid, I fucking loved supersoakers. Me and my brother used the "stopping cats from shitting in the yard" pretext to obtain many hours of damp summer fun. We, and the neighbor kids used to swarm around the overgrown alleyways and bomb-sites round the back of our house, soaking each other with a variety of odd implements. The only-child from the top of the road had a massive super soaker 150, while some of the other kids we played football with favored simpler stirrup-pump like plastic things (powerful, decent range, ran out of water fast). The fat kid preferred to lurk round corners with a bucket (not very subtle, but effective).

Me and my brother favored the Supersoaker 50, the klashnikov rifle of the water-pistol world; cheap and reliable. It wasn't hugely powerful, but it was surprisingly accurate over quite long distances. The bottles it used were a standard size and used the same screw threads as coke bottles (which meant you could carry spares in your belt, filled with water and ready to go).

It was also good for use on the cats that tried to shit in our yard and eat our guinea pigs (we didn't have very exciting pets as children) -- it got them wet enough to make them run away, but not so wet that you felt like you were being mean.

Last night I flipped open the gigantic copy of the argos catalog we've got in the house and turned, by muscle memory alone, to the supersoaker section. Instead of the range of fearsome water cannons, however, I found only strange pink things with flowers and such on ("urr! gurls toys!", cried the sticky fat kid in my head). I figured it was silly to think that they'd keep the supersoakers on the same page that they were on when I was a kid (I mean, there's whole sections in the catalog that weren't there when I was wee small, like the array of mobile phones). I looked though the whole thing, though, and I found nothing.

A quick search of the internet revealed that they do still exist, but that they've gotten much more complicated since their inventor first pitched them to larami. They've now got all sorts of cosmetic doodads, non-detachable tanks, and other such gumpf. I also discovered that there's a whole internet subculture devoted to grown men who play with water pistols.

They take it very seriously.

I find this a little sad.I mean, don't get me wrong, when I was a kid I took the whole business seriously, but, you know, there came a time when I did genuinely only ever use the thing for chasing away cats.

Some of their home-made designs look pretty awesome though... might have to get me some plumbing supplies.