White Vain Man


I was out in Hampstead the other day, when I walked past a van (it wasn’t white, but then the title of the post wouldn’t have worked) and a man in blue overalls sat in the passenger seat clipping his nails into the gutter.


I was confused. Why would someone keep nail clippers in their van? These weren’t just pliers or scissors, but proper nail clippers. I could hear the metallic “snick” sounds of the nail-shards being hewn.

I came up with a few possible reasons:

1. Maybe this is exactly the work that the men in the van were hired to do.

2. Vanity. Obvious really. Too obvious.

3. Recently and specially purchased clippers, not necessarily kept in the van. He could have been parked there after getting his mate to stop the van at a chemist’s to buy the clippers… I don’t think there’s a chemist particularly near there, but it could have been lunch hour and he could just have come back, perhaps the driver and the man had shaken hands and the driver had said “You know, Den, you should really cut them nails, you could give someone tetanus”. That would work, especially if the driver was the boss and the nail-cutter the apprentice, as everyone knows that in England when you are apprenticed to a man you must obey HIS EVERY WORD. I was once apprenticed to a man with Tourette’s Syndrome. But that’s another story.

4. High nail-turnover. His nails grow so fast that if he doesn’t cut them every few hours he can’t put his dress gloves on to go out promenading.

5. High incidence of nail-damage. Maybe he works in a trade where hangnails are rife: carpentry, or some other trade which involves sharp implements. This would make sense especially if he had no teeth to bite the nail off himself… or if he were constantly surrounded by lots of:

6. Unpleasant hangnail fabrics: nylon, silk, velour… horrible fabrics.

I really struggle to understand why silk is so expensive and held in such high regard! I can’t stand the touch. You know that thing some people have with cotton wool? Or with rubbing wool between their teeth? Or with dry lolly-sticks?… maybe you don’t know but I can guarantee that if you mention those three things somebody around you will crumple helpless to the floor weeping. That’s what I get with silk.

The Middle Ages

Picture the scene (it’s the Middle Ages, so everyone stands side-on and has a wonky face.) I have come east to swap a boatload of beetroot for some rolls of silk. I run my merchant’s hand (calloused from counting coins) over the stuff to appraise its quality. Suddenly a blood-curdling shriek of disgust scares crows from the corpses of plague victims for miles around. I dance around in a circle, face like a baby tasting his first lemon, knuckles crammed into in my mouth. “What is this stuff? It’s all scratchy!” I manage to splutter. My dark-eyed, frenetically-haggling counterpart purses his lips, retrieves his silk from the dust and turns on his heel. “Weirdo!” I shout after him, but forever after nurse a secret fear of people creeping up on me and forcing me to touch their silk undergarments – and since that’s pretty much the only thing rich people do in the Middle Ages, the fear prevents me from climbing the social ladder and I remain a lowly beetroot trader, the skittish one, the one who’s always glaring at your crotch.)

Then I looked more closely and realised my mistake – they weren’t nail scissors at all but tiny tiny secateurs. It wasn’t a van either, but a greenhouse with dirty windows, and the man was pruning a tiny bonsai tree. Furthermore, I wasn’t in Hampstead at all, but in my deckchair at the allotment!

And all was well…


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