One on each ring finger.
One on the right hand where,
It got trapped in the door jamb aged 4
the day my mother slammed it in anger
but told the nurse at the hospital that
it had been the wind and I wondered
if that was another name for an argument.
This is a long story, but I’ll remember it to you because it has many important aspects to it, for me, and perhaps some will resonate with you too.
At worst, it may pass the time.
We lived in a sweet little council house, 3 up, 3 down, with a garden back and front made into 2 Paradises by my Dad. I lived there with him, my Mum, brother, Nana and Uncle. Another uncle would come back from time to time when his ship docked in Liverpool. He was an ex merchant sailor turned waiter on cruise liners such as the Cunard Line. To me, the house didn’t feel crowded, but tempers ran high from time to time probably through close proximity and insufficient money.
On one of these occasions when my Mum was arguing, I don’t know who with, I, aged 5, was hiding in the hall behind the door to the front room, listening. I must have had my fingers along the jamb because, all of a sudden, as my Mother slammed it shut, the ring finger of my right hand was trapped in it. Ouch.
I really don’t remember this at all, which is unusual for me because my long term memory for events and places is detailed usually. I suspect the original memory has been replaced by the story of it told and re-told by my Mother who was eternally guilt-ridden about it.
I know that I was taken to the Royal hospital in Liverpool and that Gerry Marsden’s grandad sewed the end back on, dressed it and put it in a splint for me. (The Gerry Marsden who was the singer in Gerry and the Pacemakers who had big hits with Ferry Across the Mersey and You’ll Never Walk Alone). Everyone in our house, excluding my Dad, but including me, was very much into pop music and so this was an ameliorating factor that was used to gloss over the horror of the rest of the sorry tale.
When I think about it, the end of the finger throbs a little. The nail is slightly different to the others; its bed has a raised, rounded shape and the free margin extends into a tiny square a little further down the nail bed on one side than all my other nails. It is here that you can see a slight indentation in the flesh where the top of the finger came off. The rest of the line has become very faint, but if I press the skin above it, it feels strangely empty. Perhaps the nerve endings never quite mended.
I don’t really consider it much now, except a little when I might paint my nails or try to file them evenly or in cold weather when it goes a little more numb than the others.
It’s healed really well considering. Especially considering the fact that within a few days back at school someone trod on it as I sat on the floor during story time and I had to return to the hospital to have it re-dressed. I wasn’t allowed back to school after that until it was nearly healed. I forget how long that took, but I would have really enjoyed it. Perhaps the happy memory of this time has been overridden by the pain of my anxious Mother fussing over me. One thing I do remember was how she was so zealous about it healing properly and it not leaving a scar that she took the doctor’s advice to lift the newly forming nail up and out of the nail bed with an orange stick each night to the nth degree and it became an ordeal of torture for me, made more surreal and excruciating by my Nana singing “when you’re smiling” in the background to drown out my cries, though she probably imagined she was trying to take my mind off it.
Whenever the whole thing was talked about, the argument was never referred to. The accident, as it surely was in any case, was blamed on a sudden gust of wind howling through the house. I liked the wind, I still do, but it did get entangled in my imagination with anger and danger and became a living entity that might perform acts of destruction both inside as well as out. It always reverberates inside of me.
On the other hand, same finger,
has a ring ridged around the top where
I ran it into the bandsaw whilst
making a small wooden sculpture
at art college aged 20.
It was a puzzle piece.
I finished it, then threw it away.
I didn’t think it would be considered
I got quite frenetic about making this thing. I wanted to create a 3D solution to a maths problem that we had been told about by a trendy maths teacher whilst in my third year at secondary school.
Maths had become my least favourite subject. When a newly qualified, lively, female maths teacher arrived and started to talk about a different kind of maths that didn’t obviously involve numbers, I, along with many of the other girls in my all girl class at our all girl grammar school, began to look forward to maths lessons, although I was always a little afraid that it was a bit of a con and maths couldn’t really be this fun and interesting.
She did sometimes talk about probability and throwing die, which was complex and did involve numbers, so that salved our guilty consciences, but mostly she talked about interesting problems to do with shapes and one of these was a spacial problem to do with fitting shapes together. It involved finding out how many shapes you could draw if the only rule was that they all had to have one side touching each other. It is apparently 7. I tried many many variations of this theme, some geometric, others more organic. It was a very relaxing puzzle that I toyed with in my spare time and bore surprisingly interesting results.
Later when I opted to study sculpture at Polytechnic, I tried out many approaches to that. One day, the maths puzzle came back to me and once again I became obsessed with it and, since I was involved in making objects, extending the number 7 by creating a 3D shape, a little like a Rubik’s cube was a natural progression.
I worked on it in secret because the atmosphere in the sculpture department felt combatitive, both amongst students and students and lecturers. We were always being challenged about anything we produced as if it might not be a good premise or the right approach or a satisfying result. Also, I had found myself amongst an unruly cohort who wouldn’t comply with those in charge; a running theme throughout my life. I seem to gravitate towards such people. We were under attack by the management for not producing proper sculpture in a traditional sense.
So, I produced many little maquets of my ideas in secret. It was difficult to find a way of thinking about it in 3D without actually producing an object, so I beavered away in a small storage room, nipping into the woodworking department to knock out rough versions on the bandsaw. They were fairly small. The finished thing was to be at most 18″ square. When it came to completing the final piece, I decided to take the guard off the bandsaw which allowed me to use it for more intricate cuts. I was in quite early. I didn’t want the technician to see. I worked quickly and was so engrossed that it was only the sudden spurt of blood that drew my attention to what I’d done.
Oh. What to do. I drew my sleeve over my hand. Took the wooden piece and put it in my pocket. Turned to make my retreat but the blood was of course revealing my sin. Lady Macbeth was I.
At some point, I was found out, taken, like a thief, by the wonderful technician who had assisted me so much throughout the year, to the A&E department to sit, pouring blood everywhere, in subdued silence together.
The workshop was closed for a week. I slinked in and out. attempting to make something else, perhaps a string table; the wooden puzzle hidden away with other secret vice objects in the little back cupboard I had annexed for myself to be hidden from prying criticism.
In due time, the technician forgave me and helped me make a large frame just the right size for me to stand in, based on the dimensions of my body. It was a kind of space frame, usually something imagined by an artist when making a drawing of a figure ” in space “. Made out of 2″x1” pieces of wood. I painted them white and displayed it as a thing in itself in a joint exhibition with the other mavericks from my year. We covered all our work in sheets and white flour. It gave them a uniform look.
Somewhere in-between, I threw the offending puzzle piece away. It’s not surprising really, though, looking back from here, quite annoying. I threw so many of the things I made away. Partly through not having any fixed abode, but mainly through not valuing it sufficiently. Which was silly really, because I usually put a lot of thought and energy and care and time into them.
I could re-imagine them, but the thought process has moved on now, so I have to just let them go.
The two faint almost matching scars on matching fingers of each hand create a tiny electrical buzz if I press their ends together. Like the completion of an electrical circuit. There’s something contained within them that can remind me of something if I care to pay attention. It’s on the edge of indefinable.