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People go to university for many reasons. I assumed back then my own reason - wanting to know why fingernails grew so fast - was completely normal. Like most boys straight out of high school, I knew pretty much everything else there was to know, but the fingernail growth thing mystified me so much I often broke out into a rash.
Naturally, I checked with all my fellow students, and what mystified THEM was why on earth I was interested in why fingernails grew so fast. In fact some of them even doubted it was a topic worthy of discussion. How naive and immature first-year students can be!
I recently went back to this topic after a woman told me I had the ugliest fingernails she had ever seen. Being a real man, I fought back with blazing eyes and rising voice. The tale was long and tortuous, but it had to be told.
We had a friend in the 1960s, Morris Kershaw, the photographer, who offered to tune our Bechstein grand piano. He dutifully came around one Saturday and worked his way through the bottom half of the keyboard. It was a long and tedious task, and he said he would return the following Saturday to do the rest. However, during the week he died, and not only was Dunedin deprived of one of its finest photographers, but we were left with a piano whose top half was not in tune with its bottom.
And so it is with my toe and fingernails. Down at the bottom of my body lies a perfect set of toenails, especially perfect for a type 1 diabetic, for whom the foot is a constant worry. My podiatrist at the hospital in fact has commented more than once I have the best feet she has ever seen in a diabetic, and frequently begs me to let her photograph them so she can frame the photo, toenails at the top gleaming like opals, on her work wall. This, she says, would inspire diabetics of all colour and creed. My podiatrist clips with a lifetime-guarantee clipper bought in England.
However, my fingernails, which I clip with a cheap clipper bought in Dunedin, are a crooked wretched mess. This is because I am nearly blind and head towards each nail with the swaying confusion of an extremely drunk man trying to insert a camel through the eye of a donkey. Sometimes I just rip indiscriminately with the thumb-nail, itself the worst nail of all.
However, industrial sandpaper with a thin inner lining of wild goat tusk, imported from the very bleakest parts of eastern Europe, has enabled me to rescue my fingernails with fierce sanding, and eventually make them, if not as smooth as the bottom of a baby, then at least something worthy of being spread out across the table at an inner city cafe.
But within 10 minutes, I can feel the fingernail roughening and stretching its arms from its sandpapered base. Had I better sight, I swear I could see this process with even a mediocre magnifying glass. What plant in Christendom grows this fast? I have planted everything in a long and illustrious career in the soil, and not even Jerusalem artichokes or rhubarb grows so quickly. Not even Google's choice as the fastest of them all - the 45th genera of bamboo, which can grow up to 91cm in a single day! The common fingernail beats them all!
Google didn't come up trumps on this one, it came up misere. Sure it told me fingernails grow twice as fast as toenails, and it even admitted through metaphorically clenched teeth that fingernail growth speed has substantially quickened in recent years. Diet? Fast food? Cretinous television? Mike Hosking AGAIN? Also, man fingernails grow faster then woman fingernails, and the middle finger, used so often for obscene gestures, almost always by men, has the fastest-growing nail of them all.
I really have no idea about all this. I don't even know if fingernails grow from the bottom or the top of the nail, or whether the top, as it is so often, is out of tune with the bottom. Science! It's a baffling thing.
- Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.