Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Monkey's Paws

Last week I was perturbed to discover something that’s been creeping up on me with my right hand: it can’t make a Scout salute any more.

For the uninitiated, a Scout salute is the same the world over, and is only slightly varied for Cubs, Guides, Brownies and so on – the hand’s three middle fingers straight, with the farthest finger tucked under the thumb and against the palm. It’s always made by the right hand, as Scouts always shake a fellow Scout with the left. This, our Scouting Manual told us, would equip us well in future endeavours, as we would always therefore be able to recognise the friendship of a fellow Scout. Real life didn’t work that way, of course. Strike one.

But other things have happened since the last days of my Scouting, some twenty-six years ago. Obviously I’ve not been required to make a Scout salute in that time (I’m not entirely sure why I tried it last week, to be honest), but if Old Righty has seemingly forgotten how to make one – you should see it, it’s pathetic, fingers like a row of naked geriatrics struggling to rise out of their deckchairs – then ‘his’ left-side counterpart can make one whip-smart. And ‘he’ never had to practice. Why is that? I’m guessing it’s because I’m right-handed anyway, and roughly in the years between giving up woggles and lanyards and now, I’ve been a guitarist (primarily a lazy strummer), and consequently with the stretching of fingers into new positions my left hand has become nimbler, faster, and generally ‘smarter’ than its earlier outstripper. The whole thing has been some gradual, weird reversal of fortunes, with my right hand – my creative arm, literally, now slower off the mark than his opposite. Strike two.

I’m a right-brained, apparently, being less logical/mathematical and more creative, so perhaps there’s some cerebral shenanigans at play. Dunno. In the mean-time, Old Righty has practiced and is making some headway into recovering his Scout salute-ability. Maybe I should have worked more on my fingerwork during my band days. I do remember the quiet thrill of watching my previously 'dumb' left hand acquire the skill to form chords, find their positions in time without me having to look down to check. It was like getting an extra 'right' hand, but it was as simple as acquiring a new skill. Anyone could do it.

Writer Steve Braunias once observed in an essay for The Listener his fellow contributor, cartoonist Trace Hodgson, and how his middle finger bent away from his thumb at the tip, as though it was shaped with years of drawing. Mine do that, but on both hands - I think barunias' observation was a little off, sadly. But I do have a callus on my right middle finger from years olf holding pens and pencils (will future generations boats these, I wonder?), and of course the string-tapping fingertips of my left hand have the requisite calluses, the badge of becoming a musician, as my guitar playing brother told me. You carry the story of your life on your hands. Being fair-skinned, and living in a country which bakes its citizens alive in the sun I look with abject mortification at my old man hands, and yet they’re the ones I was born with, and intend to keep for as long as I live, scars (I have them, from infant accidents and unruly pets), and all.

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