Monday, November 15, 2010

Straw ear-rings # 1

This was a piece I started writing a while back, and though it's about finished, it's getting rather long and digressive, so I think I'll make it into two parts.  Daily posting is demanding enough of you I think, without long meandering memoirs to read all at once.  Though I'm really very touched and pleasantly surprised when every morning I come down thinking 'Surely there won't be anything this time...' and find a clutch of comments on the night before's offering, even though with posting here more often, work and a plan for a Qarrtsiluni submission which is taking me some way out of my comfort zone (sorry, cliché alert but I can't think of a better expression) and exercising me quite a bit, I'm not getting round to all of you as much as your deserve.

Blogging's like putting out lobster pots, I often think!  (Not that I've ever done that...)

By coincidence, the Nablo people earlier put up a prompt suggesting one write about a piece of jewellery and its associations, but I had already started to write about the straw ear-rings.


Straw earrings

There were only a few girls at school, mostly, I recall, those from the few black or Asian families, who wore small gold rings in their ears before their teenage years.  Other piercings were truly unheard of; the first nose studs began appearing about the time I went to university.  My friends and I would linger after school or on Saturday mornings looking in the windows of the jewellers on the corner of Lower Kings Road, whose name I now forget, not at the expensive and glittery dangling or jewelled ear-rings, but at the tiny studs with their discreet motifs of horseshoes and anchors, flowers and cats and, most wished for of all by me, a pair of miniature owls.  Could we wear them as keepers, we wondered, would they be allowed?  They would need to be gold for hygiene’s sake, we knew, though we hankered for silver.

No one in my immediate family had pierced ears.  I have a vague memory that my grandmother might have done, a vestige of  Edwardian femininity, luxurious and exotic as Brighton Pavilion and the Masonic ladies’ nights she went to  with my grandfather there, as remote as corsets and long hair swept up in tortoiseshell combs.  Between that and my girlhood lay two world wars and a depression, art deco, girl guides and girls on bicycles, the missing young men and the surplus women of my mother’s youth, utility and rationing, my five siblings and finally the 1960s, that decade of bold, bright and chunky clip-on experimentation.  Now though, tomboy from a no-frills tradition that I was,  I wanted real - that is pierced - ear-rings.

My sister Az, nine years my elder, was also looking at ear rings, and a lot more besides, and doubtless rather further and wider afield than the corner jewellers.  She would take me with her, she said, to Watford, to a proper place, for my 14th birthday, and we would have our ears pierced together.  I can’t really remember what kind of place this had to be 35 years ago - an optician’s comes to mind, or perhaps just a registered jeweller.  Whatever, we had a good afternoon window shopping in the town beforehand, then as the December evening fell, and the shop windows and street lights bloomed and glowed, we made our way up some stairs to a warm carpeted room somewhere.  Az had hers done first, then the bespectacled elderly man sprayed my earlobes with something cold before applying the piercing tool - like a light pair of pincers with a sharp point bent at a right angle on one part and a round bit on the other. This was in the days before the high speed guns which fired the studs directly into your ears.  I heard more than felt the metal go through the flesh, a slight, mildly sickening squelch.  

I have always been a pathological, spineless, squeamish wimp.  Honestly, it’s not the pain, it’s the thought (or in this case the sound).  Once when I was about six ( stop me if I’ve told you this before...)  I vomited in the doctor’s surgery merely because Az was having an injection.  Knowing what I was like, my mother shoved me behind her so I wouldn’t have to see, but it was too late, my imagination had done its worst.  The doctor, a rather severe woman, was unimpressed.  

‘When my children are sick ’ she harrumphed ‘I make them clear it up themselves.  That soon stops them.’

With a lot of work and willed detachment, I have got a little better; I was even complimented a few years ago by a dentist on how calm and collected I was about injections.  Even so, when I have a blood test I have to hope I can just make it to the car or back to bed before embarrassing myself and fainting.  Living in the UK during the years of BSE, mad cow disease, has spared me the humiliation of giving blood here - I have volunteered, truly.   It’s often a delayed reaction; on this occasion, I got down the stairs and into the street with adequate face saving bravado.

‘Come on,’ said Az ‘I’ll buy you a cake.’

We headed for the the warm, bright sweet-smelling space of the nearest baker’s, where I sunk down against the back wall of the shop in a woozy whirl with a black centre.  I can still remember biting into the fried sugary crust of the doughnut, and how it restored me to myself.


Kelly said...

I always had a problem with the process of drawing blood. Something about the needle going into the vein would cause me to have the fainting response. I had a nice doctor explain to me one time that there was a name for this reaction, I don't remember it though. He said the way to avoid fainting is to lay down when they draw the blood and not sit up until the flushing feeling goes away. Amazingly enough I finally outgrew the reaction somewhere in my 40s.

the polish chick said...

i muck about with blood on a daily basis (when i'm employed, that is), and yet my own makes me woozy. still, i have never in my life fainted. come close, yes, but not all the way into oblivion. mr. monkey, however, faints at the slightest provocation (speaking of edwardian ladies, of which he is neither edwardian nor a lady, but hey, if the shoe fits!)

i had my ears pierced when i was 8 or 9, and i remember feeling like i was the last girl on earth to get them. we were in austria, in the throes of immigrating to canada, and it was done by a lady who had been a nurse. she froze my ear with an ice cube and put a sterilised needle through my ear and into a raw potato. there was some reason for the potato but i cannot, for the life of me, remember what it was. i did not faint.

Zhoen said...

It is a more practical solution than clip ons, that always hurt.

I respect anyone who at least tries to be brave with icky/puncturey stuff.

Roderick Robinson said...

There's an interesting threshold here - between necessary and unnecessary pain (or, if you like, disgust). I was fascinated by my daughters' willingness to endure unnecessary sensations regarding ear-studs. Where does the impulse come from? Vanity? Peer pressure? Proof of something that in fellas would be called manhood? Because to me it was unnecessary it was therefore inexplicable although there was also a tiny hint of revulsion. When my mother revealed that she could no longer remove her wedding ring that too revolted me. A sense of confinement.

Necessary pain at the dentist or during phlebotomy is quite the reverse. I can't pretend I enjoy it but I enjoy my ability to resist it, not to go all wobbly. Also to explore myself as it happens. During dental hygiene there are moments when the drill de-clags the front of the bottom teeth and seems to get frighteningly close to the nerve within. But is that pain? I conclude it is primarily apprehension of pain. I suppose this is going to sound like boasting but the fact is I couldn't have submitted myself to lobe piercing simply because I didn't need to. Tattooing the same. I'm not against self-decoration and I know there are certain shirts I feel more - for want of a better word - manly wearing. But there is a finite level of decoration I don't care to exceed.

But this doesn't quench my curiosity. Some gold studs, positioned above the eyebrow, appear to screw directly into the skull. Can this be true?

20th Century Woman said...

It was in the days when doctors make house calls that I, at 15, was given a tetanus injection at the same time my younger cousins were having their booster shots given by the pediatrician. He remarked, while giving me the injection, that it was nice to give an injection to someone who wasn't a screaming child: at which point I fainted and had to be carried into the den and laid on the couch. For years after that I had shots (er -- jabs) lying down.

Dick said...

An excellent read. Don't delay with the second installment. 35 years ago I'd just moved from Watford so I've been trying to recall the High Street jewellers, especially ones with bespectacled elderly proprietors!

And a cliche alert is meant to be given BEFORE the cliche, not after. Too late now!