Once upon a time I was wandering along a stretch of beach on Blakang Mati, an island just south of Singapore (now renamed Sentosa and no longer an island) when I came across what looked like an interesting pebble half buried in the sand. For reasons I cannot explain, I stooped down and dug my fingers into the sand to see if I could expose the pebble.

But it wasn’t a pebble, it was a human skull.

Flabbergasted, I took the skull back to my billet, I was in the army at the time, and reported my find to the powers that be. This triggered an investigation and a number of skeletons were located buried in sand on that stretch of beach. They were assumed to have been victims of the Japanese during their occupation of Singapore in WW2.

The location of the skeletons was officially noted and they were covered up again. No one remembered that I still had the skull so I kept it in my room and called it George. When the time came to return to the UK, I packed George in my trunk, and he dully arrived home undetected. No scanning machines in those days!

For over 40 years George has been in my study, high up on a plate rack above my desk. From that vantage point he has been my silent witness. Occasionally he has been lifted down and explored by curious grandchildren, wide-eyed and stunned into whispering in George’s presence. ‘What happened to his nose?’, ‘Why is he grinning?’, ‘Where are the eyes?’ ‘Where was his brain?’, and, of course, ‘How did he die?’.

But now George, my non-judgemental companion over so many years, has gone. A taxidermist took him away along with a tiger’s head, a shark’s tooth, an ostrich egg, the sword off a sword fish, and four stag heads complete with magnificent antlers.

Amazing what you accumulate over the years!

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