Grunt – 3 Julie 2013

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Like most kids, I was drilled by my mother about the importance of having clean hands. Indeed, apart from riding my tricycle in the garden, I seemed to be washing my hands most of my waking day! I washed them after going to the toilet first thing in the morning, then just before breakfast, even though that was only a short while after going to the toilet. Of course, hands had to be washed again after breakfast. Even a simple ride on that tricycle led inevitably to the washbasin. And so the day progressed until bedtime: a final detour to the loo followed by – you guessed it. Of course, with hindsight, I came to understand that my mother’s behaviour might well be construed as somewhat obsessive, but then she came from a busy household – there were seven children – where cleanliness was next to Godliness. Alas, the subsequent events in the siblings’ family histories didn’t exactly epitomise the validity of that philosophy.
My father, on the other hand – a dreadful pun, I’m afraid – had another approach to hand-washing. He insisted on a rather elaborate process which involved lathering the soap, rubbing between the fingers before moving them over the backs of the hands and then, eventually, into the palms. This rigmarole was repeated at least three times until the water going down the plughole was crystal clear.
My father was particularly insistent about this ritual before I could pick up a book or read it. The reason, he explained to me, was to avoid smudging or marking the pages. At the same time he made certain that I never bent a paperback book, never dog-eared the top corner as a bookmark, and never put any book down with its pages open.
Years later, I discovered he had a passion for trees, which he sketched frequently. Books, he said, were objects to be cared for, revered even, for they carried the spirits of the trees that went into their making.
Obligatory hand-washing at all bookshop entrances might contribute to a necessary awareness for the trees we take for granted.