I grew up in a crematorium – we learned not to look too alive in front of the mourners

It was a regular family home – just one in which I learned not to run around the garden when the funeral processions passed, and to jump over, never on, any bluish grey powder I might find

When I was eight, roller skates were things you stepped into while wearing your outdoor shoes. They had laced, red leather toe-pieces that you pushed your shoes into, and red straps to buckle round your ankles. Two chunky black wheels sat either side of your toes, and two either side of your ankles. The metal base could be shortened or lengthened as needed. The skates made a loud clacking noise and didn’t roll well on -carpets or bumpy -pavements. If my sister and I were to build up any momentum at all, there was only one place to go. Down the crem.

The crematory was cavernous. The clackclackroll of skates was loud on the tiled floor, which was cold and hard to fall on, but goodness, you could pick up some speed. On the other side of the immense wall was the chapel. We knew that during the day coffins came through one hatch and were rolled across to three steel ones on the opposite side: cremators 1, 2 and 3. But we only went down the crem – as we all called it – when the room was still and the furnaces empty and cold. Each cremator had a small, nautical-style wheel that, when spun, opened the doors on to the scorched bricks of the incinerators. These wheels were handy to grab hold of when we needed to slow down. Occasionally, we’d spin one to see inside. My sister climbed in once, and her trousers were never the same again.

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