Warm airs float up from Saharan sands across Europe and into our corner of heaven. It’s September and blackberrying time again. To the endless rustle of the distant sea, I pick the ripe and juicy fruit, but more I marvel at the thing which picks them – my hand. It is not fine elegant long nailed hand, but a small hand with a long-ago broken thumb and short-nailed fingers. Never, do I consider my hand except when I forage the tasty countryside fare. As my stubby digits gently squeeze with enough pressure to clamp but not too much to squash, I think how evolution had transformed our hands into such subtle instruments capable of so many actions so dextrously.
Doctor Gavin Francis in his highly engaging selection of short stories, ‘Adventures in Human Being’, and yes, I did read to the end, tells the story of how a lecturer, Gordon Findlater, used to ask his medical students, Gavin included, ‘Which is the more specialised in terms of its function and specific to human beings: the hand or the foot?’
As I attempt to pick another ripe berry, I must take care to adjust my fingers around the fruit precisely and squeeze with the correct pressure, not too hard and not too soft. Yet even before I reach the berry, I must manoeuvre my hand past the bramble’s unfriendly neighbours – Mr. Nettle and Mrs. Hawthorn – as well as past its own prickly defences. Guided by my eyes which can discern colour and texture differences between ripe black fruit and immature, dark red, or blushed dark grey, overripe berries, my hand twists and turns to settle on the berry. Next, I pull with the minimal effort in the correct direction to liberate the fruit from its lifelong umbilical cup. Finally, I slip the berry down into my palm, a temporary storage facility while I repeat the process once or twice more before pouring all my berries into a punnet. I fill it, helped furthermore by the dexterity of my hand. The same hand can either ball up and punch someone’s lights out – especially on the silver screen – or stretch itself to span a full octave and trill a piano’s keys turning crochets and quavers into wonderful tunes that can move the most wooden of hearts.
That is the marvel of the human hand.
A foot may have evolved arches to enable us to walk upright and it may be the correct answer to Mr. Findlater’s esoteric question but a functional hand is a marvel and a joy to behold and one which I’ll take for granted for another year until I come to dart it among the brambles and pick those blackberries again.