94 Comments
Apr 30, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I grew up in a house with no books, no awareness of art except as something that 'others' did. And yet I loved to draw and paint. I used discarded cardboard and cereal packets, as buying paper for a child to draw on was unthinkable, unthoughtof. At 14 in the top stream of a grammar school i was told i had to give up art as a subject and do sciences instead. I was heartbroken. I would never be an artist now. But no one understood so I had to grieve quietly and coped by not picking up a pencil or brush for forty years. Then I did a weekend course in drawing and found it was all still there. I've become pretty good but what is also still there is my family's incomprehension, their refusal to see any worth in it. I got accepted for an MA and they sneered. This time I chose the drawing and gave up the family.

Expand full comment
Apr 28, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Home from school, she watched as I practiced my hand writing. “You could be a hand model”, she said. I took it as a compliment, although others later tried to persuade me it was an insult. She knew how to give those, but never to me.

In the care home, an old bloke had threatened her. “You’re too old to punch a hole in a wet Echo”, she scoffed, covering her fear. That was as true for her now, hands crippled with arthritis. She liked to chat and knit, but neither small pleasure was on offer, shut in as she was with the demented, her hands as stiff as her whisky.

She would wait for my visits, threads of stories forming in a mind more active for being trapped in an unwilling body. There was the time she made my cousin a pair of gloves from scraps of old wool, each finger a different colour. Soon they were all the rage. Children would turn up at her door, left over wool in their pockets, asking for a pair to be made. All of them, making ends meet. She, a local hero.

I wanted to be as effortless as she had been, but every time I took up the needles, I counted each stitch as if it were a child, and I, a worried teacher on a school trip. I wouldn’t know what to do if I lost one, so vigilance was key. I wanted to be as bold and as brave as her, but there are things that can’t be handed down so easily.

Expand full comment
Nov 22, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

When my son came to live with us, I knew something about what he had experienced at the hands of his birth family. I knew that once, he had been hit so badly that his ears swelled up as if he had been in a boxing ring. I knew that the hospital also discovered a deep cut on the left side of his head, which I imagined had been caused by a belt buckle, or a heavy ring. He was twenty months old.

The first night he was here, aged four, after I had read him a story, I asked if I could stroke his back. I needed his permission.

It might help you sleep, I said.

My son said yes. I gently put my hand under his pyjama top, which was blue and covered in tiny spaceships. His back felt warm and soft. I traced the nubs of his spine, very carefully.

Draw something, he said.

He knew. He knew what he wanted, what he needed.

I drew a cat.

Talk it, he said, and so I did.

This is the head, I said, as my index finger traced the shapes on his warm skin. This is the body.

I drew stick legs, ears, eyes, whiskers, and a long tail. My fingers on his back. The connection was building, the safety, the love.

More, he said. His voice was becoming drowsy. I drew a house with four windows and smoke curling from a chimney. I drew a tree. I spoke the trunk, the branches. His breathing deepened. He was asleep. My hand kept moving.

I am drawing my heart, I said. I love you.

He’s sixteen now. Stroke on my back, he says sometimes, in the mornings, when he can’t get out of bed for college. Most of all he wants me to draw the cat. The first steps we traced together. Our bonding animal. Our love.

Expand full comment
Jun 15, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Touch.

My fingers are barbs that cling onto my world, dig deep into it's fabric and connect to it's core. My fingers guide me in the dark; embrace the earth's textures, slide over a myriad of surfaces and sense the dangers and pleasures that stream over my skin.

I feel through my fingers. " You have healing hands Steve. The touch of an Angel." I have led a tactile life and without touch there is no nourishing of the soul. I have touched and been touched in return; not a fondle, fumble or a false stroke, but a feathery sweep of skin on skin. the faintest of touches that bristles the love layer.

A brief encounter with a stranger's skin, a personal barrier and private space that has my therapists' respect for the profound connectedness between us; the most intimate of human contact will need total trust and faith in the power of touch.

Me, a white coated healer fixing that which was broken; a heart, a friendship, a stream of creativity; re-kindling a fire within that was quenched by sadness. My conducting rod fingers pouring in the fullness of life, repairing and re-balancing. A thousand finger cascade igniting a billion nerve cells, triggering a seventh heaven..

The skin becomes a sensory sieve, filtering the emotions; filleting out desire and arousal, leaving only a blissful landscape for the splendour of a transcendental moment to grow.

Can this really be so? Can a body be so fixed? Can fingers weald such power? Can the body be so easily persuaded? Yes! Yes! Yes! Something deep, profound and primordial bridges the skin divide and bonds after the slightest of touches.

It's all alchemy, the fingers awaken the sparklets of sensation when unacquainted skin fuses with unacquainted skin.

Expand full comment
May 6, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

The human hand has 17,000 touch receptors and the star nosed mole has 6 times that just on the tiny forward facing star, this star that never shines, never grants a wish, a full of feeling star. Think of how my hands might explode when they picked a wildflower if they had this power. What would happen when they scratched my dog behind her ears, this dog full of dirt and bits of burdock and raucous joy? Would they leave imprints on the shell when I pull a warm, freshly laid egg from the nest box, slip it into my pocket, and soon after crack it open for my children’s breakfast? Maybe sing when they pick wild black raspberries and turn them into jam? Sizzle wiping away tears?

I like to think my hands, these hands that brown in the summer, short nails, no paint, plain hands, no taper to the fingers hands, the pointer finger a little pudgy compared to the rest, blue veins popping hands, hands supporting these fingers, these carved away fingers, would sigh with relief as they write my story, each ridge of a fingerprint like growth lines in a tree, another story to tell. Perhaps, on a good day, these hands would giggle with delight, with truth.

(Facts about touch receptors and the star nosed mole from Great Adaptations by Kenneth Catania.)

Expand full comment

We walked through the dark fields, following the beam of my father’s torch, and scanned the small flock. The light focused on one ewe, over by the ditch, and we headed in that direction. Even to my child’s eye, it was obvious that she was in some distress. I can still see the whites of her eyes rolling in the beam of light, and hear her ominous grunts.

“She’s in trouble, said my father. “Hold the lamp.” I directed the torch as instructed, and my father examined the sheep.

“The lamb is stuck and my hand won’t fit. I’m going to need your small hands here,” he said.

Though I was a farming child, I was quite innocent and had never been involved in the birth of an animal – we only had sheep, who were generally trouble-free, and horses, who were usually taken away to the stud farm for the births. I had seen them being scanned, but no more than that. I had a general idea of the process, but wasn’t prepared for this.

Shining the torch on the sheep’s vagina, my father directed my hand. I initially baulked at the gory sight and sensation of the moist redness, but I understood that it was this or lose the lamb and maybe the sheep, and my father was patient. Thankfully, once my hand entered the birth canal, I quickly felt a leg, and followed my father’s guidance to find a second one and to pull straight outwards at first. Once the feet were out, my father took over and delivered the lamb hind legs first.

As he checked the mother and baby, I gazed in wonder at my small, mucus-covered hands, utterly awed by their contribution to the safe delivery of this little creature into the world.

Expand full comment
May 20, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I pick up the needles and it all comes pack - in, out, pull through, push the stitch off. And I wonder why I’m so awkward, so clumsy, and how I will ever figure out how to knit the pattern backwards on the purl side, because I could never be like a Shetland lady and do it as easily as breathing. And I try and I try, until one day I think, ”Why not put one colour in your left hand?” It feels all wrong but I persevere, pink on the left, green on the right, and suddenly the circle is closing, the tube is growing, a little clumsy but I’m getting there. And then I remember, or maybe I realise for the first time ever - my granny taught me to knit (or tried to). And she was right handed. She taught my mother too, and my mother was left handed, like me. My mother remembered the teacher coming around the class and taking her pen out of her left hand and putting it into her right, over and over. Sometimes the problem isn’t us at all. It’s other people.

Expand full comment
May 15, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

So constant aren’t they, our hands? We see them so very often, a look at or a glimpse. They are such a reminder of ourselves. What we’ve written, touched, held. How we’ve loved and how we’ve got through the days.

I never used to like mine. So critical of them, too old looking, too dry, too chubby. Nails too long or too short. Not a bad dislike, but no real affection there.

But I’ve changed my mind. Now I’ve grown to love the familiarity with them. What they’ve experienced.

That scar on the knuckle of my right index finger where I scraped the skin along the school radiator. At Y-Bont-Faen where I’d play in the toilets at play time, crawling on the floor to sneak under doors. Not really sure why, but we felt so naughty; me and my friends.

These same hands I type with now held on to dad’s, mums, Cousin Emma’s. They picked daisies, they made dens from sticks and moss and drew with felt pen on those pattern pads we all had in the 70’s.

They’re a constant, aren’t they? These days my Welsh gold wedding ring feels a part of my left hand. The ring we chose in Cley that day amongst the paintings and the pottery. Feeling so adult as we admired the simplicity of the design at the choices we had.

They’ve also been pivotal in the many jobs I’ve had. From the cook at the old people’s home to the teacher to the camp America nurse and the nanny to Richard in 1985.

The most important though has been to hold my own beautiful boy. And now to reach up to his grown neck and hug him, to feel his back bigger than mine while I tiptoe to hug him.

Expand full comment
Aug 12, 2022Liked by Tanya Shadrick

HANDS

After his eyes, it was his hands that I fell for. Pressing my stubby fingers firmly along the edge of a table to increase my span, I would watch the silken skin slipping over neat knuckles to the tips of his slender fingers which effortlessly spread tobacco along the length of a fine cigarette paper. This he would then roll, lick and light with elegant precision.

In time we worked side by side. My right hand would move between thin black pens and thick white paper, while his soldered a circuit board or shaped the stamens of a Fuchsia bud, in silver.

His were hands that could turn any screw and mend the washing machine, stretch the thinnest dough for a pizza base and fillet a mackerel, build a tiny model of an enormous factory and ease the bellyache of a sick cat. Mine could play Philip Glass on the piano and sad tunes on the tin whistle, dye calico and shape it into dungarees, gild the Lord Chancellor’s carriage or restore a broken urn.

My freckled fingers sat comfortably in his strong hand.

When our children were little my hands held them to my breast, to my flesh, to safety as we crossed the city streets. He would sit them, in turn, on his right hand which he would raise slowly to the sky. There they would balance, like the torch in the hand of the Statue of Liberty, surveying the world below.

This evening it is quiet; lightly rustling leaves, a small fire crackling, a supermoon rising. On the shore a curlew is calling as waves whisper against the sand. My hands are putting a new ‘D’ string on my guitar. His hands are holding a penknife which he is using to fashion driftwood into the handle for a rake.

Expand full comment

I look at my hands and see the hands of generations of women. I look at my hands and I see my mother’s hands. I took a photo of them a few years back whilst she was in the depths of dementia. She’d allow me to massage them with scented hand cream, to trim and paint her nails. We sat quietly together in communion. No words, just touch. A connection that I’d found hard before she got lost in her own world. She’d look at me with eyes filled with gratitude. My mother’s hands were always busy with needle and thread, embroidering the most exquisite things that have outlived her and surely will me. I learned so much about craft from her. Her legacy to me.

I look at my hands and I remember my grandma’s hands, her ridged nails, her raised veins, the age spots all of which I have now. I remember how she’d massage my hands one finger at a time, gently pushing back the cuticles, taking care of me in a way I’m not certain she did for herself. She taught me to take care of my hands. My grandma’s hands were often covered in earth from tending her garden. I remember the smell of tomatoes on her hands as she brought them into the kitchen to make the most delicious tomato sauce, the recipe for which sadly went with her to the grave.

I’m told by the nurses that my hands have good veins as I offer one up to be cannulated for my weekly chemotherapy. My hands now have bruising and puncture holes along with the age spots and brittle nails. I remember to look after my cuticles and massage hand cream into them at night.

These hands of these women have held and nurtured children, caressed lovers, they have wiped away tears of both joy and sadness, they have created meals and knitted sweaters. These hands have planted seedlings and made homes. My hands have touched my heart in gratitude and been pressed together in prayer. I look at my hands now with the deepest love and respect for all they’ve done for me these past almost 60 years.

Expand full comment
Mar 2, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Hands

In line, our hands were demanded for viewing. Our Brownie uniforms placed us on a Tuesday afternoon around the mushroom of shame. Remarks of disgust tore at my soul, just as I had bitten my nails and picked at my quicks. I was constantly reminded of my ugly hands, so I swooned at long painted nails in magazines. The disdain my mother expressed was for nails and hands like mine as well as the luscious red-lacquered elegance of ‘harlots’ and ‘common girls. Herein began my neuronal pathways of all-or-nothing mattered threads.

I busied my hands with making, they became my heart’s reflection. Ideas materialised into clothes made of face-washes and hankies, shoes of masking tape and a cork floor-tile that snapped on first step, forcing a second-generation design of wood with a butterfly embossed leather top. I knitted, crocheted, sewed, painted, drew and created endlessly. My father helped with my more unusual inventions, his broad solid hands, so like mine, were just bigger, rougher and male.

Making became me, I became the maker.

Later in life I had my nails done, red and shiny, stunning bits of fabricated extensions earning me the sophistication I dreamed of and the ire of Mother. But making went clumsy. Yet again and again throughout life I would see my ugly hands, my ugly self and succumb to the cycle of false nail elusion. I’m late middle aged now. My hands are still broad, my fingers still short, my nails worn down. But my heart is woven from the warp and weft of the love of making, softened through time, coloured with the fabric of ideas, and blessed with my long sought acceptance of hands that gift me beauty from the studio of imagination.

Expand full comment
Feb 12, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

"Would you like to cut the cord?"

Would I? I didn't know.

It was so unexpected; the move to the theatre, the cesarean, her words - "Can he be put straight in my arms", then, "Give him to Mum, please. I'm going to be sick".

And there you were. Such beautiful eyes. A squshy, messy, bundle of newness.

And there were the scissors. It was not a gentle snip. That cord was gristle and strength in my hands. I needed help to sever you, to finally help to deliver you into our world.

Measured and tested then back to your mum. In her arms where you belong. And me, hands still helping.

Expand full comment

My dad had made himself proper working hands- gnarled and roughed through heavy use as a joiner. Tools and wood had hammered and shaped them, honed their seasoned character.

I every so often rub my finger tips over my hands and feel again just how different mine are to his- delicate, soft, never mastering labour.

There’s a story my mum told of how he stopped me using my left thumb. I’d sucked on that thumb possibly from the moment the family doctor advised her to stop breast-feeding me as the cure for too much milk leakage. One day when we were out walking somewhere, my dad just said- Tommy, that's dirty - and the story goes that I never sucked that thumb again.

The one time our hands joined in work together was when he got the job of making a wooden casing for cement to fill on the wall down by our local chip shop. The cement was to be put in there coming to a point at the top to stop children walking along the wall. I could see this was the purpose and felt like a traitor but was still so glad to be up early and working with my dad.

I'm not sure how useful I was to him but I did take pride over the years at seeing the fruit of our labour.

He's gone now. At his funeral I gave a eulogy cased around the lyrics from his beloved Neil Diamond’s famous song Sweet Caroline. I didn’t have this memory in the eulogy but now I see it’s there - hands touching hands…reaching out…touching me…touching you…

I'm rarely back up our housing estate but it’s still there, stopping the few kids left from walking that wall, the cement memorial of our work together.

Expand full comment

My hands have made up my face with black liquid eyeliner and silver or gold sparkly eyeshadow and black mascara, as a mask or defence to head out into the world

My hands have made seemingly endless cups of tea, slightly less coffee, and have filled hot water bottles during winters that seemed to last endlessly themselves

My hands have made abstract paintings, with plastic cards scrapping the paint across the canvas or paper

My hands have mended my husband’s tartan pyjama bottoms with a patch, sewed lovingly.

My hands have mended my own fractured mind, by writing down my hurts, rants and other frustrations into numerous journals

My hands have broken teacups, fallen out of hands onto hard kitchen floors or cracked in washing up bowl as they have bumped into other crockery.

My hands have broken up stitching from recent attempts to remember how to knit, as my late mother taught me.

My hands have been busy creatures - making, mending and breaking many things. How much more will they do in the next half of my life?

Expand full comment

I had my hands full. Fourth child, a busy one. Always getting into things and climbing anything he could grip with his chubby hands. A surprise mole appearing as if by magic once the true baby fat unfurled a crease at his wrist. How could I be expected to knit an entire hat with the others at this mum and tot class? Their children crawling gingerly about and plunking down contentedly with a basket of silks for the hour, whilst my hurricane knocked over block towers and grabbed at the knitting needles attempting to insert them into his ever-exploring mouth. I was sweating, the teacher scowling as I attempted to negotiate my stray needles from his firm grip.

Haltingly, I knit a few rows each week, intermittently redirecting my son, and glanced enviously at the progress others were making on their seemingly flawless creations. Once my son was down for the evening I worked feverishly on that hat until I hit a snag my novice hands could not repair. Then, forced to let go of my completion anxiety, I’d wait until the next class to sheepishly ask the parent mentor to set aside her project and help me repair mine. The thrill in my fingertips as she handed my project back to me. A relief to be knitting again! I wondered at this strange new urge for “busy work”, my mother mockingly called it, for repetition, the feeling of fabric growing in my hands. Now, many stitches later, I revel in the meditative process of knitting and sense, when I cast off, a drop of regret mixed with the pride of accomplishment.

That first hat fit perfectly. He called it his night cap and wore it to bed unfailingly for years. It magically stretched just enough to grow with him.

Expand full comment
Mar 5, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Many thanks Tanya, I hope this fits the bill.

Best wishes, Sheila

BASED

Dublin, Ireland

BIO

Sheila de Courcy is a freelance researcher/producer/writer. She spent over 30 years in RTÉ working as producer, director and commissioner of television and radio programmes. Before this she worked on exhibitions and conservation in the National Museum of Ireland. Academic studies have included history, archaeology, adult education, film and writing.

INSTA LINK

Insta: @sheiladecourcy

FEATURED PIECE...

Either Hands or My brother Mike ….equally happy with either, I’ll let you decide what suits the overall editorial (if that’s ok?!)

MY CURRENT CREATIVE JOURNEY AND HOW THIS COMMUNITY HELPS

I am in the final months of an MA in Travel and Nature Writing. This course has challenged me to write in different voices, explore diverse formats and develop professional skills. I now have to create a portfolio of varied work, a task that is both exhilarating and terrifying. Writing for this community has helped me to concentrate on core ideas, play with them, explore them and write them for publication in this most supportive environment. I love reading everyone else’s contributions for the variety of voices and approaches to storytelling and for their beauty and humanity in this world.

HOW I CAME TO JOIN THIS COMMUNITY

It is two years since I first wrote for this community. I was a big admirer of Tanya’s cross-disciplinary work and was particularly attracted by the nature of the work she did in the community. It was this that motivated me to contribute initially. Pressing the ‘send’ button on my first piece felt enormous and scary – I had only ever shared one piece of writing before this – but what a good decision! I am very grateful for all it has given me since.

Expand full comment