I am going to cut my olde dad’s toenails. My toenails are not great but his are really not great. These toe nails are not great, I say. Ah! he says. When did you last cut these toenails? I ask. Don’t think I ever cut them, he says. My olde dad is 90. You must have cut them at some stage. They’re not that long, I say. I have the big industrial nail clipper but it still isn’t easy. Have we got a bowl or a bucket or something where you can soak your feet? I say. We must have, he says, but can’t think where it could be. In the end I find a plastic box that’s being used to put pills in. I take all the pills out. You could put some soapy water in it and it could fit one foot. These feet are smelly, I say. They are not clean. Roll your trousers up! We fit most of the foot in. With the bunion it’s difficult. I need a file, I say. There’s such a lot of stuff behind the toe nails. This is not pleasant work. You’ve got two good nails, I say. Good quality. But some of these others I just can’t cut. They’ve grown into funny shapes. They have and all. They have become like tusk, thick and twisted. One of them is the shape of a walnut whip. I can’t get the clipper round them. They are like stone. What I need is a barber for nails, says my olde dad. Chiropodists, they’re called, I say. Next time you see the doctor, ask him to get you an appointment with a chiropedist. Ah! he says. I’ll tell Helen, I say. Helen is my sister. She lives with my olde dad full time. She’s on holiday. That’s one reason why I’m cutting his toe-nails today.
I am spending a week with my olde dad (90). It is a very hot day. Must be 26 degrees. I am sitting in our little square of garden on a deck chair. Half the garden disappeared when the extension was put in. Now there’s just this bit. What time is it? I ask my dad. He is inside wearing a vest and thick shirt and thick socks, long johns and a pair of thick trousers and heavy duty slippers. It is about three o’clock. I’d dropped off in the deck chair after lunch. Dad says Ah. I repeat the question. The clock is in the house. What time is it? Dad says Ah. I can’t see the clock from where I am on the deck chair. What time is it? This time he says What type of what? I repeat: What time is it? and point impatiently at an imaginary wristwatch on my wrist. This is not for anyone’s benefit. He can’t see me. Ah! he says after a minute (really. A minute!) He emerges into the garden. It’s a quarter to twelve. I know it’s not a quarter to twelve. It’s not a quarter to twelve, I say. How can it be a quarter to twelve. It was half past one when we had that salad. Ah! My dad goes back into the house. He comes out after about five minutes (really. five minutes!). It’s a quarter past three, he says. Right. I’ve got the time now. That took about fifteen minutes. I get up and go in the house. Time to go out. I glance at the clock as I pas by. It’s not a quarter past three. It’s a quarter to three. Let that be a lesson to me. Next time just get up from the deck chair and go and look at the clock myself.
Oh, you are nowhere without a tatoo these days. As a little exercise on the bus in Manchester I thought I’d try and find someone without a tatoo. Not easy. All the young people have tatoos. All the single mothers have tatoos. The students have tatoos. There was an old woman. She won’t have one. But wait, there it is, a serpent sneaking up her ankle. And that woman over there won’t have one, will she? Oh but she will. It’s creeping up her neck from out of her collar. There’s a baby in her pram; she hasn’t got one. Yet.
What are the functions of the tatoo? One, it is decorative. Two, it signifies apartenance. You post up your tribe to the world. Three, it signifies your creed. Three reasons to exhibit a tatoo. As a tatoo-wearer you are committed to aestheics. You are tribal. You need to define and publicize your beliefs. It was traditionally a working class aesthetic. The patricians would not look to define themselves. The patrician did not commit. He hedged his bets. The patrician was a diplomat. A Hermes. He held himself in a number of loci. His identity was slippery. He had a bank account in Switzerland or on the Isle of Man. Just in case. For the tatoo-wearer there is no just in case. You only define yourself if you are committed to remaining fixed. What is the old woamn saying? I may look a bit thick round the waist these days, but I’m still basically a sleek and serpentine individual. I have not changed.
But what is this blog of mine if not an attempt to define? Although I do find that much of its material is the impossibility of definition and how changeable identity is.
I confess I am not a lover of the tatoo. Neither as a decorative feature nor as an idea. Of course, this is mostly a generational, cultural thing. I am not for a moment claimimg that I can transcend my own particular tribe and hold an individual opinion on the matter. Oops! Crown Point Denton. Time to get off the bus
How did it come to pass that I find myself sitting here in some fancy restaurant looking out over the Caspian Sea, being introduced by my minder as VIP, given the best seat in the house so that everyone stands up as I walk by? How did I get here? These are usual existential questions that arise from time to time. But I could equally ask myself next week: how did it happen that I find myself sitting in this armchair at home in the specific location of Kennington London England picking my nose?
The truth is that all specifics seem too random. Why this and not that? Our life should be universal not particular. The particular always seems unlikely.
Much the same instinct comes into play when we think about the unlikeliness of the specialness of, say, the historical Jesus Christ. A bloke with a beard in an iron age tribe in some desert region in the back of beyong 2000 years ago. How could that specificity be universal enough for us today, here?
I suppose one job of art over the years has been to aggrandize the specific.
Footballers, especially those from South America and Africa, are religious people. Catholic or muslim, before they start a match they look up to the heavens and pray. With God’s help, they say, we will win this match. The trouble is, even god can’t make both sides win. You sometimes think that at the end of the match when Brazil have lost, say, what are the players thinking about god’s participation. Did he forsake them in their hour of need?
It is at such times that we turn to St Augustine, who explains about suffering, deserved or undeserved: “For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brighter, and chaff to smoke, under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed…so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked.” (City of God)
So, the same suffering is imposed on virtuous and evil alike, but for Brazil, losing 1-7 against Germany, the suffering is there to purge and clarify them. In brief, it is all part of a greater good. Augustine of Hippo himself would have been an Algeria supporter. I wonder how he would have reacted to the painful exit at the hands of the Germans.
Better than sex, says the amply tatooed haircut of a footballer at the World Cup, referring to the goal he has scored. I suppose the moment the back of the net ripples or bulges or shimmers is tantamount to the orgasm. Reminding me of George Steiner on chess: “As one breathes in the first scent of victory – a musky, heady, faintly metallic aura, totally indescribable to a non-player – the skin tautens at one’s temples, and one’s fingers throb. The poets lie about orgasm. It is a small chancey business, its particularities immediately effaced even from the most roseate memories, compared to the crescendo of triumph in chess, to the tide of light and release that races over mind and knotted body as the opponent’s king, inert in the fatal web one has spun, falls on the board.”
Not wrong as far as the moment of release is concerned. Why even I myself have on rare occasions experienced difficulty in… no matter… no matter. Though perhaps the metallic sensuality might be an acquired taste.
More conventional evocations of performances of the brouhahha of orgasm surface perhaps in the gorgeous explosions of late 19th and early 20th Century symphonic music. Wagnerian climaxes were specifically interpreted as sexual at the time, and Brahm’s tendancy to evade that moment has been frequently linked to his repressed libido. For me, it is Mahler’s crystalline, shattering dread climaxes, shot through with imperfectly sated desire and the forlorn attempty to capture that fugitive instant that best recreate culmination. One-nil!