I spent many months observing, participating and interviewing people involved in the care of the dying and the disposal of the dead. I also interviewed women who had lost their husband some months previously. My anthropological training had led me to expect that I would not find anything that remotely approached a proper mortuary ritual in contemporary London. If anything, my tentative research hypotheses were drawn up to describe a greedy industry, empty rituals, hollow customs and pathologically grieving customers. Fortunately, the qualitative nature of the study allowed me to be surprised. I stumbled on vibrant social customs and vivid accounts of ritual participation: a shrine, complete with an old answerphone

tape which contained the dear deceased's voice; letters of condolence that flooded the doormat of a beteaved petson; an exotic personal rite in which the ashes were distributed according to the strict pre-death instructions of the deceased; weekly trips to adorn a carefully chosen and lovingly maintained memorial. In the depth of a metropolitan city I came across rites of passage in which the participants underwent transformations. I found survivors who believed in an afterlife which was peopled with ancestors, ghosts and even 'cells of the dead' which, apparently, circle in the ether.