About me: Ken West
I’m still here! 75 years old, skin damage from the sun, the prostate enlarged, the PSA slightly up, chronic leukaemia but on no medication. My early life seems distant, rather like somebody else’s. The 11 plus failure. Becoming a trainee gardener in Shrewsbury Cemetery on my 15th birthday and being taught Victorian horticulture. That first set of wheels, the Singer Gazelle in two tone green and rust. Was that me?
Various men taught me and I stole from them those qualities I thought my father might have given me if he had not abandoned the family when I was nine. I found him in 2008, in Eire, much loved by his unknowing replica family. It was two years after his death, and the word bastard fell futilely on his grave. I married in 1971 and Ann and I soon left Shrewsbury, for jobs in Sheffield, Wolverhampton and then Cumbria. We both became fell runners and I set some records, the one for the Stretton Skyline Race in 1986 still stands.
At the age of 46 years I finally crushed that early school failure. My RHS Certificate and work diploma qualified me to study and obtain a post grad Diploma in Management Skills (DMS) at Teesside Business School. Using my new marketing skills and experience creating over 20 acres of wildflower meadow, I designed and opened the world’s first natural burial site, an idea still expanding across continents and creating forest, orchards and wildflowers. Under the slogan ‘Return to Nature’, the unknowing voles, owls, hedgehogs and deer moved in and gave purpose to the otherwise neglected and wasted graves of humans.
Over 45 years of work, I improved the burial situation for stillbirths, unchanged since the 1850’s, and for foetal remains, wrote the Charter for the Bereaved, introduced the reusable coffin for cremation and created techniques for reducing pollution from cremation. Currently, most crematoria ignore these environmental improvements. Because Ann was a midwife, we were called ‘hatch & dispatch’, and after I introduced natural burial, ‘sperm & worm’.
Work took me to Cardiff, then Croydon, where London became the purveyor of the arts, and joy. I was awarded the MBE in 2001, retired in 2006 and wrote my first two books. Durham University gave me an honorary MA and perhaps I can now call myself a secondary modern academic. We moved to Christchurch in 2012 and, knowing the country as we do, realised what an extraordinary place it is. The Bronze Age grave in my street soon opened up a new world; prehistory. What are we without our past, even if it is pagan in the only place in Britain with Christ in its name?
Having moved to the Peak District in 2019, people look at me but what do they see? The receding hairline and wrinkles are my storytellers, they highlight a life ending and a pensioner preparing to drain the NHS of its resources. No wonder people talk over me; see me as defunct in society. Yet even this late in life, and married for 50 years to the same woman, I am having an affair. My pagan ancestor Zuri, my alter ego, an emancipated woman from 2200BC, has joined our relationship. The sex, as it were, is her DNA, and it’s all around. When people ignore me, they ignore her, and she is almost certainly related to them.