Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
I often think I’ve got fat fingers, especially when my typing is clumsy, and every word comes out mangled. But, to be precise, I’ve got knuckles that are significantly larger than the bones in-between them. My hands have always been quite large, with square palms and long fingers, and I’ve always found them very clever in almost everything I’ve asked them to do. They have played pianos and guitars badly, they’ve gripped when necessarily, and done the softer things well too, in my humble opinion.
I’ve also taken them for granted and abused them quite a lot. They’ve been cut and grazed and caught in things and squashed by things. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve hit them against things or mashed them with mishandled tools. I’ve poked them with needles and penknife blades to get splinters out, and I’ve had lots of trouble with scabs, especially when I was young, and loved to pull them off.
I used to pick at my nails until they were ragged and painful
I had a terrible habit for decades, which wasn’t nail-biting, but just as bad. I used to pick at my nails until they were ragged and painful, using my thumbnails to saw away at any edge of any nail that they could get a purchase on, and then pull off the remailing shreds, even if that meant ripping off great chinks of the pink part of each nail. I did that until my early thirties. They were not a pretty sight. I only cured that by carrying a penknife with me at all times, and whenever the urge to pick arrived in my brain, I would reach for the penknife and trim off the offending ragged edge instead. After a few months I never wanted to pick them raw-red again.
Nowadays my skin doesn’t work so well, so it cracks around the knuckles in the cold weather, and they split. I started buying hand cream, and I wish I could remember to use it all the time, rather than after I notice the cracks and the pain. The trouble with my hands is that they’ve been used for a huge variety of jobs. If I was a model, especially what I’ve heard referred to as a ‘Hand Model’, specialising in photos of their hands only, I’d have taken better care of them, and avoided DIY or gardening. If I was a violinist or a surgeon I would have avoided any activity that might risk the fine-tuning of my fingertips. According to crime novels, if I had been a safe-cracker, I’d have had to rub off the top layers of skin on the tips of my fingers, partly to avoid leaving fingerprints, and to increase their sensitivity.
It should really be called ‘Settee Finger’
I haven’t had to do any of those jobs, so I’ve hurled my hands into the midst of any activity without a care. I did have a fright a few years ago, when I appeared to break the end of my little finger on the edge of a kitchen cupboard door. It swole up, but didn’t hurt much. The end of the finger wouldn’t line up straight any more, always pointing slightly down. By the time I had it looked at, the doctor told me that it was too late to treat.
I had ‘Mallet Finger’, where the bit of bone attaching the tendon to the last knuckle bone breaks off, and the only cure is to get it splinted immediately and held rigid for several weeks, in the hope it might reattach itself. He said it should really be called ‘Settee Finger’, because people usually break that bone thrusting their hands down between the cushions on settees. Too late, and not enough. I sometimes think that might be the anthem of my life. So I’ve got a wonky little finger now, although it doesn’t stop me doing anything.
I thank my lucky stars that I’m not superstitious
I once took my hands to a palmist, whose eyes opened wide when she studied the right hand. Apparently, my Life Line went down round the base of my thumb and carried on going right round the back of my hand, which indicated a very long life. I liked that. I just had another look at it, and it seems to have become considerably shorter, or it has just run into a lot of other lines and been diverted or lost, which would be worrying if I was superstitious. I thank my lucky stars that I’m not superstitious. Besides, you’re either going to have a long life or you aren’t. There’s nothing in the Palmist’s Handbook that says the odds change, as far as I know. I think I’m all right for another few years. At least I hope so.
There have been occasions when I thought about wearing a ring. A wedding ring. Sometimes I’ve tried one on, or been encouraged to do so, and I always explained that it would be no good, because any ring that would fit over the big knuckle would just rattle around over that thin bone above it. And that always felt a bit weird. I tried a ring that was split once. I could push it over the knuckle and then squeeze it tighter so it was comfortable around the finger, but I kept playing with it, and it broke in two. I also tried a ring I liked, but it was too thin, and I fiddled with that and broke it too.
It was the jetty rather than the fishing
I’m not alone in this. My father never wore a wedding ring. One of the actual few meaningful conversations I had with him involved him explaining why. He always liked fishing, and he once went out in a boat, but his ring caught on something sticking out from the jetty as the boat took off, and he thought his finger would be torn off. That frightened him so much tat he swore never to wear one again. I thought this wouldn’t be a problem for me, because I didn’t like fishing, but I never thought it through, because it was the jetty rather than the fishing that caused the ring problem.
Eventually, a few years ago, having got married again, we were walking around the streets of Ventnor, and chanced upon a lovely little jewellery shop. In the window was a ring that caught my eye. It was a very large silver ring, more like a cylinder that a circle. It had a smooth inside, and a slightly rough outside that reminded me of the bark of certain trees, like the London Plane Tree. The ring I saw was for a small finger, and had a setting in the middle for a blue stone, so it wasn’t going to be right for me. But I liked the basic design very much.
I loved it from the first moment I put it on
The sign in the shop window said that every item was hand-made on the premises, so we went in. I pointed out the ring in the window, and asked if the silversmith could make another one, big enough to fit over my knuckle, and without the stone setting, so it would be plain all round. She measured my finger and said that would be possible, and I went back a few days later and collected it. I loved it from the first moment I put it on, and I’ve worn it ever since. It even had her hallmark on the inside.
The great advantage of this ring was its size and weight. I could feel it on my hand, it didn’t rattle around because it more or less filled the space between the knuckles, and it wasn’t going to fall off without a significant noise. Besides, I thought I would notice if it left my hand. I discovered once I started wearing my ring that my knuckles change shape quite significantly. In hot weather they expand, so getting the ring off would be a struggle, but in very cold weather it became quite loose. But I never lost it, and if it did try to escape I always knew, and I could catch it or take it off and keep it safe.
It was in some way a part of me
I was busy yesterday morning, and a little preoccupied, when I noticed that there was no ring on my finger. It was a terrible shock. I had been doing a lot of odd jobs, and looking for things, and I couldn’t remember when I had last seen it. We had been out for a meal the day before, and to the cinema, and it was very cold outside. I racked my brain, and started to search. I retraced my steps backwards, checking everything I had been doing, pulling things out and going through them, even the two bags of garden waste that smelt disgusting. I remembered the last time I saw the ring the afternoon before. I phoned the cinema, which took a long time, and required a call to a call centre, because the cinema has no actual number. I phoned the restaurant too, with the same result.
I have no idea if it’s lost and gone, or if it’ll turn up, or if it’s in an obvious place and I’ll remember where it is any moment. But I miss my ring, and I feel bereft. I know it’s only a ring, but it was in some way a part of me, and it was there for such a significant portion of my life. I didn’t even think I had a photograph of it, but I’ve discovered one in the depths of my hard drive. Here it is. If you see it, I’d be eternally grateful if you got it back to me. It’s such a small thing, and yet so precious. It’s true, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
I’m thinking it might be worth anther trip to Ventnor to see if that clever Silversmith could make me another one. I hope that shop’s still there.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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