I've lived with my fingers for nearly seventy years, and it's only just occurred to me to value the work they do. I've written about legs, hands, breasts, teeth and brain, but I've never even thought about the very particular contribution of my ten digits. They can't be quite indispensable because I've known two men who have lived brilliant lives without the use of fingers. I'm a lesser mortal, and I can't imagine life without all the things they can do.
In the kitchen, I'd be lost without the ability of my fingers to chop spring onions, chilli and ginger for the curry or dates and apricots for the muesli; to grip the scrubber to remove stuck-on food from the frypan; to wrest lids from bottles of jam and sauce; to open cans of tomatoes or corn or beetroot; to peel oranges or mandarins or apples.
In my infrequent forays into the garden, I need those digits to prune callistemon, to persuade the lawn mower to start, to pick my precious lemons from their tree, to continue the murder of my red cedar by slitting its base with a tomahawk and painting on poison, to pull up the proliferating baby palms and to activate the sprayer that squirts pyrethrum for the eradication of ticks.
My fingers are my accomplices as I pursue my obsessions. They tap the keyboard of my iPad and control the stylus as I churn out blogs, edit photos, catch up with the lives of my children on Facebook, flick between apps and wilf on the net. They click the camera button to capture orchids, sea foam, pythons, bark, rock face and grandtwins. They pull the wool over the needle as I battle to master the complicated pattern of my son's jumper, currently growing at the rate of 6 inches a year. They cover the holes on my recorder as I practise Bach and Mozart and struggle to comprehend the vagaries of syncopation.
As I move around the supermarket, my fingers pick up items so I can scrutinise purpose and contents, and assess the quality of fruit and vegetables. They tilt tins or boxes on high shelves so I can get a grip on them to toss into my trolley. At the checkout, they unbutton my Warsaw bags and help me to shake them open, and they allow me to pick through the small change and relieve myself of the weight of 50c pieces and $2 coins. (A palm suffices in Poland, because I hold out my handful of drobna for someone else to sift through.) If I'm shopping for material, my fingers squeeze and assess texture and weight.
My fingers have served me well with my grandtwins. They have manipulated the stroppy fastenings of the safety belts in the pram as I reload two tired grizzly kidlets after a few hours playing on the rug in the park. They have led wondering eyes upwards as I perform the actions accompanying my less than wonderful rendition of “Twinkle twinkle little star”. They have enabled me to change nappies on wriggling bottoms and finesse the pulling of jumpsuits over reluctant heads. They have provided the variation to the drum-beat of my palms as I pursue the rhythmic education of two sets of ears. They have allowed me to extract blades of grass and floor fluff and other tiny discoveries from exploring mouths. It's my fingers that allow me to feel that beautiful softness of baby skin, and to gently ruffle their fine hair.
Subtract from my life all the things my fingers enable me to do, and I am lost.