My Hand


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.

William Wordsworth

I went out blackberrying today.
A westerly wind hummed and hawed
Amid the blackthorn and the nettles
Where brambles grew aplenty.
My September delight on southern hedges
Ripe with sloes and long-eared grasses
To pick most carefully brambles black and round.

The wind, my companion ushered the sounds
Of rolling waves from the shore below
While gulls and crows called and cawed
To partners and their pals.
O! to be out under the troubled sky
Of blues and blacks, of whites and greys
Amid the swords of sunshine and my punnet full.

Thanks to a fellow Participant (Alathea Anderssohn) I noticed a poem by Wilfred Owen:


Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

And her comparison to Wordworth’s opening lines of The Prelude: Book 1: Childhood and School-time.

—Was it for this
That one, the fairest of all Rivers, lov’d
To blend his murmurs with my Nurse’s song,
And from his alder shades and rocky falls,
And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice
That flow’d along my dreams?