Peter Street - Rite of Passage

A new ebook by Peter Street: Rite of Passage is released by Natterjack, 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 Peter Street met were hard men: ex-Marines, night club bouncers, bare-knuckle boxers. But he himself is physically small, and has struggled all his life with epilepsy and dyspraxia, which had got him sacked from several previous jobs. But in the cemetery, he was accepted. He rose to the demands of the job. And, as it turned out, perhaps the main thing that makes him different from most of the other diggers is that he went on to become an author.

Rite of Passage is a true and eye-opening story. Peter describes his experiences, in Astley Bridge, Tonge, and Heaton Cemeteries, vividly and graphically. He also tells us about some of the people he buried, and some of those cemeteries’ permanent inhabitants: the story touches on violence, gangland, arson, prostitution, and lion-taming, but it also describes the very different experience of burying children and stillborn babies. In places it reads like a gothic horror story. But there’s plenty of humour too.

The main settings are the cemeteries themselves, but Peter puts them into a broader context of life by also including a sub-plot: he was courting and house-hunting at the time, and the story ends with his wedding. His style is colourful and imaginative, but very down to earth. This book will appeal to anyone who’s interested in working-class history, in the underworld that’s rarely reported in the mainstream press, in disability, in graveyards and all things gothic, or simply in a good and unusual read.

Don wouldn’t have known the signs of my grand mal seizure.
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.  



Read a sample section from Rite of Passage

Watch a short video interview with Peter Street

Rite of Passage is no longer available as an ebook. A new version, re-edited and with a new title, is soon to be published as an actual paper book. Watch this space ...

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