BE WARNED: Growing old disgracefully (as I am attempting to do) has its ups and downs.
I made a decision in my youth never to behave like my father, who had the mesmerising habit of sitting on the edge of his bed, clad only in what Mother referred to as his “passion killer” white Jockey shorts, and attending to his toenails.
Dad’s toenail clippers were a sacred icon in our house. You could sneak into his cupboard and feast your eyes on his Popular Mechanics collection, but woe betide anyone who messed with his stainless steel clippers.
I rather fancy they were made in the Czech Republic or somewhere where toenail clipper craftsmen dwell.
Once a fortnight, in something rather akin to a religious ritual, after the strains of Big Ben had boomed through his transistor radio announcing the nine o’clock Sunday night news on National Radio, there came the sound of a drawer being opened – and my brother and I would stand solemnly at Father’s bedroom door.
“Now boys,” he’d say, lifting his right foot onto the bed, jocks dropping, and eyes fierce with the passion of the forthcoming paring. “There’s an art to this. You must make sure you don’t cut too close to the edges because that can produce what?”
Sleepy boys intoned … “Ingrown toenails, Dad.”
“That’s right,” he would reply … and then tell us for the hundredth time about how the chemist went to visit old Frank up the road, whose ingrown toenail had been left to fester, which led to gangrene, and finally when they took Frank’s sock off (after six months of continual wearing) his leg was black with disease and stank like something from the pit of hell.
As usual, even though I had heard the story many times before, a little bit of sick came into my mouth.
But the real challenge on toenail night was to avoid being hit by a clipping. My father’s toenails were like tempered steel, and being hit by an errant piece of the hideous, claw-like detritus was – I am sure – his way of testing our manhood.
A crescent-shaped piece once hit my cheek and drew blood. I flinched ever so briefly and mumbled something about hay-fever as the tears coursed from my young tear-ducts. Father nodded with approval in much the same way he had done that night, when one of his clippings (which I believe cricketers call a ‘seamer’) blinded our cat in one eye.
Now I am entering the gnarly toenail era of my life. I fear this marks the end to any prospect of a relationship in which some other human being actually desires physical contact with me.
My feet, to be blunt, are a mess. Hideous callouses develop over the summer, and if I go out in jandals, before long, cracks appear in my heels which are roughly the depth of the Grand Canyon. Both of my dogs are taking an unhealthy and obsessive interest in my feet and seem to want to lick them constantly. This cannot be healthy.
What I’ve discovered, is, the older you get, the more the toughness of your toenails increases. To attempt to cut them, one needs a range of tools from Mitre 10 Mega. And when one leaves this exercise too long, one finds that the process of putting on socks in the morning is a nightmare. There’s always that one toenail, with protrusions not unlike an Antarctic icebreaker, that becomes snared in one’s sock and makes the task of preparing for the day ahead deeply frustrating.
ROB HARLEY IS ONE OF NEW ZEALAND’S TOP DOCUMENTARY MAKERS, AN AUTHOR, AND A HIGHLY INSPIRATIONAL SPEAKER. HE’S A WORLD RENOWNED STORY-TELLER, A SOMETIMES HARLEY-DAVIDSON RIDER AND A GREAT KIWI BLOKE.