Small Things

by P.R.Banks

Small things amuse me at times. I have been caught transfixed, lieing on my bed just watching the rain run down the window - or running across the harbour when I see it at work during my tea breaks. That is one of the big compensations of where I work, the view of the harbour is one of the better ones around, I think, and I get frequent chances to look at it.

Or spending a good ten minutes quietly contemplating my fingernails and the ways in which one finger, on each hand, in particular grows faster than the other nails. For those who need to know it is the next finger in from my little finger. Presumably because it is a finger I use least often of the four. That explanation doesn't quite work for me because I don't use my little finger much either and it doesn't exhibit the same level of growth.

Of course such observing caters to my narcissitic needs quite wonderfully. Not only does it cater for that but I am bemused by the way in which what I think about parts of myself can vary so much. Not just changes due to mood altering my perception of myself but just the astonishing amount of physical variation that can occcur day to day.

Take my hands for example, and seeing as I started with an observation of fingernails it seems fittting to start with hands, they vary amazingly in size. Today my hands are in 'slender' mode. The fingers look long and thin, compared to the more normal meat hook look, and I can get my ring on and off easily. When they are like this I can look at them and see why they make such marvelous tool handlers. They look right, know what I mean? They look the part of being able to fashion, and shape, delicate tools and implements.

Then they could just as easily look short and stubby, fit only for the grossest of manipulations. Incapable of delicacy or subtlety. But they are the same pair of hands. I know a degree of change has occcured, as on such days my ring is harder to take off. (Of course that test is sensitive to temperature too.)

Or my hair. I seem to live in a permament not-quite-'bad hair' day, but more a distinctly recalcitrant hair day. A sort of uneasy truce between my hair and the rest of me exists whereby the hair agrees to remain attached to the scalp, but not much else. Naturally curly hair can be something of a curse at times.

But then on that rare day you get it just right. The hair co-operates and you get it styled just right so that you can look in the mirror and claim that hair as your own with some degree of pride. Try as I might I cannot pin down exactly what makes up the right 'formula' for that. I only know a few tricks that help to keep the hair away from the complete disaster end of the spectrum.

I just can't help the feeling that as fast as I work out exactly the right receipe for it my hair decides to change on me. Just enough to not so much completely foil my efforts but just subvert them enough.

Such small things serve to remind me that I am not truely in control of my body. It exerts it's own influence and will over me whether I like it or not. This is not to say I absolve myself of it's acts either. Gregory Benford, in 'Great Sky River', described man as the "dreaming ape". A fitting phrase as it both pays homage to our roots while indicating that we are not bound by them either.

We are the dreaming ape, the thinking ape, the tool maker and civilised ape. We have potential we rarely, if ever, tap. Just so long as we remember our roots, and this I think is the lesson these small rebellions have for us. We are, for all our sophistication, still just an ape. It behooves us to remember and be mindful of that.

Philip R. Banks
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