Friday, 11 June 2010


If you’re a real Sherlock Holmes, you can learn a lot about people by looking closely at them. In the old days, of course, you could always tell miners by the coal-dust ingrained in their skin, and weavers had bad front teeth because of what they called “kissing the shuttle”. It even applies to some trades today: an antique dealer once joked that he could always spot his fellow-tradesmen by their baggy trousers, caused by kneeling down to take a closer look at the furniture. But hands are the main thing for clues. Manual workers’ hands look quite different. There’s a story from the Russian revolution that the Red Guard used to patrol around Petrograd stopping strangers and examining their hands. If a man had hard hands, he was a worker and they’d buy him a drink; but if he had soft hands it meant he was a bourgeois and they beat him up. But Lenin had to put a stop to this, because so many of the Bolshevik leaders had soft hands!

My wife once managed something on these lines. She was brought up on a farm, and when she told this to a chap we’d just met, he said he was a farmer too, on the Surrey-Sussex border; but after he’d gone she said to me, “Did you see his hands? He’s never milked a cow in his life!” He wasn’t THAT kind of farmer, you see; the sort who has to milk his own cattle. I thought Sherlock Holmes would have been proud of her.

Now where was I? Oh yes. I think you could apply this to a whole lot of different professions if you knew what you were doing. You could probably spot musicians, for instance, and even guess the instrument. The fingertips and nails for playing stringed instruments would be a dead give-away. And teachers would always have chalk underneath the fingernails of the hand they used to write on the blackboard, though I don’t expect this applies any more.

People who’ve played a lot of sport can also be distinctive. Yes, I’m trying to come to the point. Everyone knows that rugby forwards tend to have horrible cauliflower ears from all that time in the scrum. Olympic throwers will have overdeveloped muscles on one side of the body, and so will tennis players and fencers. And footballers have often had knee operations, though of course this isn’t easy to spot when they’re just walking around. As regards hands: I remember a reporter once telling the American gymnast Kurt Thomas that someone could probably stub out cigarettes on his palms and he wouldn’t feel a thing. Cricketers also have hands like old boots. Do you remember when Darren Gough was on “Strictly Come Dancing”? In one of the early rounds, a judge complained that he had big thick hands that looked inelegant. He must have felt like saying, well of course I’ve got big thick hands; I’m a fast bowler, what do you expect? It didn’t stop him winning in the end, though. And cricketers often have broken fingers: I’ve known one or two with fingers sticking out at ridiculous angles. And if you do a lot of bowling you develop calluses on the spinning fingers, and these can get ripped and be very painful.

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get to the point, officer. I know I’ve been waffling away,
but that’s because I’m just as upset as you are: I’m sure you’ll understand. As regards this particular person, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before; in fact, I couldn’t tell him from Adam; though of course when the body’s got no head, you can’t be certain. But I’m prepared to bet that he was a slow-left-arm bowler.

1 comment:

  1. Superb!!! I'm giggling away like a kid! :D

    I have a favor to ask of you. I want to feature this story on a mag that I've recently started for short-fiction aficionados. The downside is that I won't be able to pay - only link back, since it's an entirely non-monetising site. :(

    Here's the link to the mag:

    Do let me know. :)