Yesterday was interesting. Well, sort of. For the second time in my wood-turning career, I had One Of Those Moments. You know the sort of thing – where something happens in a split second, and for the rest of your life it comes back, if not exactly to haunt you, most certainly to remind you….
The first of these in my life was waking up in hospital at the age of two and a bit, and realising that I was tied in to my cot. I didn’t like it one tiny bit, and let the whole of Preston Royal Infirmary know it. I still have a loathing of being physically restrained as a result. There then followed the usual “moments” that any somewhat “whizzy”, slightly unorthodox, boy would experience as a result of generally exploring the “what if….” side of life. Some were amazingly exhilarating, some a bit scary, and some downright painful – par for the course, you might say. Two incidents stand out -one was when my ear came off during a sort of routine boyhood scrap, and the other was when I played host to a high velocity bullet which visited my left foot. The ear episode came about as a result of the fact that I had been receiving plastic surgery to build an almost non-existent right outer ear (I was what was called a “Rubella baby” – since my mother contracted the disease whilst pregnant with me, and the result was that I was born with a vestigeal right ear that was completely devoid of any hearing capability, leaving me fairly substantially deaf). After the Second World War, the sphere of plastic surgery developed rapidly, mainly as a result of the pioneering work done on ex-servicemen whom had been very badly burned in wartime action. As a youngster, I was offered the opportunity to benefit from some of the new techniques, and I was promised a new ear…..a really good ear, if I had the surgery. Nobody thought of telling me two vital facts at the time: that it would take a long time (years) and, at the end of the treatment, I would still not be able to hear any better. However, after several years’-worth of summer holidays, I had an almost completely remodelled/rebuilt ear – made from recycled skin from my arms, thighs, and the cheeks of my arse. At that point I realised that the whole exercise wasn’t worth the sacrifice of several summers of exploration, fishing, climbing trees and swimming, and cancelled the project. The decision was made all the easier because I had developed a loathing for cod boiled in milk, served with steamed cabbage and mashed potatoes, followed by a daily dose of a disgusting substance known as “junket”, which we were told was a pudding. Yeah, right. Anyway, shortly after coming home from hospital, I got involved in a fight (as you do at that age), and my ear was ripped off . The guy I was fighting with was totally freaked by this, and I felt huge anger at seeing all those wasted summer holidays whizz by in my mind. Fortunately, prompt action by the local hospital resulted in the stitched-back ear taking fresh root, and it has happily inhabited the side of my head ever since.
Other memorable “split-second” incidents over the years included suddenly realising I was hiding in a waste bin/container in Algiers when a gunfight broke out as I was crossing a square in the town. I don’t remember getting into the bin, but I do remember the numerous shots being fired from opposite sides of the square, and the sound of ricochetting bullets as they whizzed about above my head, like angry hornets. Suddenly it all went quiet, traffic started moving, Algerians started yelling gently to each other, as they do, and life got back to normal. It still haunts me occasionally though.
Back to the woodturning. Shortly after I got involved in this activity – completely self-”taught” (i.e. something needs to be done, so you think about how to do it, what tools should be used, etc etc – and it either works or it doesn’t), I was investigating the way I should use a certain tool, known as a scraper. Without going into detail, I suddenly wondered, as so often in the past, “what if I do this with it…..”. The result was a very loud bang as the tool caught against the wood spinning at about 2000 rpm on the lathe, and brought the flat of the blade down hard, trapping my left index finger between the tool and the toolrest. There was a lot of blood, actually a hell of a lot of blood, but at this point, no pain. I washed the wound under the cold water tap, saw the bone of the knuckle, and managed to stem the bleeding with a dressing. (I am lucky in that my blood always seems to coagulate very quickly). The wound eventually healed (apparently I almost lost the finger, according to the doctor), but left a lot of scar tissue and stiffness – which resulted in my career as a jazz guitarist being effectively over (me not being of the ilk of the legendary Django Reinhardt, who still played with incredible skill after losing fingers in a caravan fire).
Finally, to get to the point of this entry (!), what happened in my workshop yesterday was almost a case of deja vu. I had a large salad bowl on the lathe, which was about 37cms in diameter, spinning sweetly at a speed of around 1,250 rpm (at the centre – the speed at the rim would be much faster, given the radius, but let’s not get embroiled in mechanics…). Suddenly, there was an almighty bang, the gauge flashed past my nose, half of the bowl crashed against the opposite wall behind the lathe, and the other half tried to embed itself in my forearm. Flashback time…….I looked for blood – none seen, felt for pain – none felt, and then realised that my left forearm looked like one of dear old Popeye’s forearms -massive, and getting thicker by the minute. In the best tradition of First Aid practice, I opened the nearby deep freeze, and grabbed a large pack of frozen peas to place over the site of the impact. Instant relief!
A little later, as I sat down to enjoy a very welcome cup of tea, and clutched the pack of peas to my forearm, I suddenly thought that, although fresh peas picked from your own garden ( and most of them having already been eaten before you get them back to the kitchen) may taste far better than frozen ones, they would have been of no use at all in this instance. Food for thought, perhaps?