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.
As Neville Chamberlain shuttled between the House of Commons, Paris, and Munich in search of peace, the world watched and listened, focussed on the important outcome of the serious discussions, debates, and conversations. World War had to be averted. A generation ago, the slaughter of the innocents had left its deathly mark in countries from Russia in the east to the United States of America in the west. No one wanted a repeat show. Continue reading “Rotten Apple?”
…crashing through the forest came a mature female. All Helen saw was the enormous grey ears flapping like flags on a windy day…
In late 1976, Dr. Helen Robinson undertakes a field study trip in the Zaire. Gerald Smelzer, a young adventurer is having an affair with a beautiful researcher at the Zaire research station, Salumbobo. As storm clouds brew in post-colonial Africa, their paths bring them face to face with Elakat Wangombe who is leading a pre-emptive rebel strike to free Katanga, now known as Shaba, and make it into an independent state….
Opening Chapter here Continue reading “The Bonobo Factor”
It’s July and the browning grasses are high
Along country lanes and tangled hedgerows
Thick with purple-headed rods of crooked foxgloves.
Spring’s dancing yellows are gone. Rose grows
Beside begonia, and buddleja, the butterflies’ friend
And I am at peace from my head to my toes,
As I rest in my chair, scenting the odours of Pembrokeshire’s air.
It’s July and the fund-starved farmers must try
With shiny new tractors and names like John Deere
To cut silage. Noisy but quick, squirting green streams
In a cavernous container, the ship of the field. The new buccaneer
Robs fields of grass deep and thick, afore it rains,
From clouds black and low, full-bodied drops, heavy and shear.
The weather’s so fickle. How did they, ere long, those grasses sickle?
Cycling home on my red Cannondale racing bike, at least the bike frame said “Racing”, as I struggled into the headwind, a thought hit me and it wouldn’t go away.
It was the kind of thought which seemed so clear as I pushed on the pedals but now I sit and push on the computer keys it seems somehow incomplete…
We are the bole of the tree of life, my wife and I. Our roots were nourished by the fertile soil of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, who gave us values and standards and love and our branches are surrounded by the burgeoning spring leaves of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
We are the trunk that links the past to the future.
We are the guardians of the past, who pass on family messages, stories, traits, values and mores in an uncertain world to the coming generations.
We are the trunk of a bountiful tree, a healthy and still growing tree, but we know when the time comes another tree will replace ours just as we replaced those trees which grew before us.
Just a thought.
Three badgers had lived quietly down in the woods just below our house for years. They upset no one and no one really bothered with them. They were just there in the background along with all the other members of the family of friends who lived at Belmont North. Then something changed, not suddenly but slowly, imperceptibly a first. Marjorie bought a bird feeder. Now she was extending an extra kindness to birds. Some some new foreign ones arrived too. We had all sorts flying in – black ravens, grey headed jackdaws, jays with their iridescent blue stripes and, of course, sparrows tits, and the year-round red breasted robin as well as a few visitors like swallows and swifts – to peck away at the freely abundant food…. Continue reading “The Three Badgers – An Allegorical Tale”
Bernard Russell wrote a piece with this title in 1932 at the nadir of the world depression. Perhaps he was trying to put an optimistic spin on mass unemployment, but he was also making a valid point, namely that we work too hard.
More recently Rutger Bregman wrote ‘The Solution to Everything: Work Less’. In the same spirit, he notes that that our work-life balance is too unevenly positioned.
I wrote ‘Mind Reader’, inspired by the opening of Russell’s piece, as a reflection of the relationship between crime and savings.
Thirteen-year old James O’Brien walked with a limp. Passers-by ignored him.
Yet he had a rare gift, a sixth sense his mother called it right after he came home, and announced, ‘Mum, today, I saw a traveller regard twelve beggars lying in the sun. He offered a dollar to the laziest of them. I knew which one would get it even before it happened.’… Continue reading “In Praise of Idleness”