One of the things I love about writing the DI Charlie George novels is finding little snippets about my home town that I never knew.
While writing the second in the series, Innocence Dies, I discovered that London is fast running out of burial space.
The main cemeteries, most built during Victorian times, are now largely full. Charlie and one of his DC’s, Lovejoy, discuss this during a stake-out at a funeral in Ilford, a long way from the original murder scene in Finsbury Park.
The demand for grave sites has been slightly alleviated in recent years by more people choosing cremation, but for others this choice is restricted by religious beliefs; 90% of Jews, Buddhists and Muslims opt for a conventional burial.
The obvious solution to the overcrowding in London’s gardens of rest is to bury Londoners somewhere else. It’s been done before; for almost a century from 1850, the ‘London Necropolis Railway’ transported deceased persons from Waterloo station to their waterloo in leafy Surrey.
The other option is a pre-loved plot. Since 2007, burial authorities have had the power to reclaim any grave older than 75 years. So far this power has been used sparingly, although it does raise the interesting prospect of being able, at some time in the future, to be buried on top of Karl Marx or next to Charles Dickens, in Poet’s Corner. For a price.
Some people may be getting eternal rest. But the eels in the Thames aren’t getting any as I discovered while writing Angels Weep. Charlie is driving over Blackfriars Bridge and tells his sergeant how there’s so much residual cocaine in the Thames that the eels that live in the river have become hyperactive.
It sounds like a joke, but it’s not.
It’s based on research by a team of scientists at King’s College in London into the composition of waste water at a monitoring station near the Houses of Parliament.
London has water treatment stations that are tasked with purifying the city’s waste water, but these plants are overwhelmed during major storms and allow untreated sewage into the river.
The researchers found significant increases in cocaine and benzoylecgonine (a metabolite of cocaine) within 24 hours of these overflows.
Is it because Londoners are more coked up than the rest of Europe? Or is it because the monitoring station is so close to the Houses of Parliament? You’d have to think, watching the antics in Westminster over the last few years, that MP’s are consuming way too much Bolivian marching powder.
Whatever the reason, the eels are partying so hard that it’s having a deleterious effect on their physiology – they’re sweating too much and getting paranoid – and it could even threaten their future survival. Seriously.
It would be a shame if that happened. All my uncles used to love jellied eels.
These days they’d probably be arrested for taking a Class A drug.