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I do like a bit of nonsense

April 26, 2010

You will never stub your toe standing still. The faster you go, the more chance there is of stubbing your toe, but the more chance you have of getting somewhere. (Charles Kettering, from

For over four months now, our daughter has been struggling with a toe-that-will-not-heal, her left big toe to be precise. It all started with a wedge resection done just a week before she headed off for the post-graduation grand adventure. She did have the grand adventure – those interested can check the link above – but through it all the toe refused to heal. She has now returned home and will have more surgery in a few days … so far so good, more or less.

Last week, while organising a table at an outside venue where I was to meet a couple of friends for lunch, I managed to drag said table onto my toe – my left big toe to be exact – and, well, I’ll spare you the gory details, but the end result is that mother and daughter are now sporting white-bandaged left big toes.

All this got me to thinking about toes, and what should pop into my mind but Edward Lear’s wonderful poem from my childhood, The pobble who has no toes. Now, at the beginning of the poem, the pobble happens to have toes, but by the end they are gone:

And when he came to observe his feet,
Formerly garnished with toes so neat,
His face at once became forlorn,
On perceiving that all his toes were gone

No-one knows where his toes goes went, but I do hope the same fate does not befall daughter and me. For the Pobble though, as I’m sure you all know:

… “It’s a fact the whole world knows,
That Pobbles are happier without their toes!”

But, moving on from toes, the point is that the Pobble made me think of nonsense-verse in general. The most well-known example is probably Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky” (“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves …”) but according to Wikipedia there is a long tradition of nonsense verse in English, and over the years I’ve read my share, because …

I have always enjoyed a bit of nonsense. I loved reading Dr Seuss to my kids and I got a kick out of reading Flann O’Brien’s rollicking, exuberant, almost incomprehensible at times, At Swim-two-birds. But, extending this a bit further, I think a love of nonsense is related to a love of word-play – in all sorts of writing. It’s one of the reasons why I like Gerard Manley Hopkins so much. His word-play is at the other end of the scale from nonsense, but it demonstrates the same fascination with and desire to push language to its limits – and to challenge the reader. I must say that I don’t always rise to the challenge, but I do enjoy trying.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2010 23:19

    Can’t resist a comment, having just recovered (maybe not completely) from my latest toe fiasco. I never wear shoes in the house. I do wear socks and slippers in the winter and am mostly barefoot in good weather. And I’m always in a hurry so the toes get the worst of it. In the latest incident I was herding a rabbit into her condo and tripped over the weight bench which had been doing dual duty as a convenient place to stack extra blankets at the foot of the bed. Next day it was purple. Clearly not broken but needing support, protection and only very sensible shoes for weeks. Last year I had to buy new walking shoes to enable my trip to the UK with a sore toe. The year before that I’m sure I broke a middle toe. My empathies to you and Hannah.

    • February 24, 2015 12:05

      Do you think you might need to change you footwear practice by any chance SuLu? I rarely go barefoot – love my Birkenstocks – but when I do I invariably hurt a toe OR a toenail catches the loose weave of the cotton blanket on the bed! it is now looking the worse for wear with loose threads all around the edges!

  2. April 26, 2010 23:19

    Well, it’s good to see you can have a sense of humour about your matching toes – I hope all heals up soon:)

  3. April 26, 2010 23:50

    Susan: Having now experienced damaged toes from two perspectives – carer and sufferer – I feel well qualified to feel your pain! Hannah has new surgery on Saturday, 2 hrs after I get back from doing the red-eye from Perth. (Like flying NY to LA, leaving NY at midnight, except I land in Melbourne and then have to fly up to Canberra so it’s a bit more complicated.

    Lisa: I feel it is always best to laugh! Sometimes I think people may misread my laugh which may be rueful or fellow-feeling rather than a laughing at laugh, but I do my best. Thanks for the wishes!

  4. April 27, 2010 01:22

    Hi Whisperinggums,
    I think with this entry you have risen to the level of nonsense to which you were aspiring. Congratulations! Just kidding, and hope both you and your daughter’s toes are better.

  5. April 27, 2010 01:33

    Ouch! As I frequently ran around barefoot all summer as a child I was always stubbing my poor toes. Never broke one though for which I am grateful. You should take a photo of you and your daughter with you wrapped up toes so you can look back in a year or two and have a good laugh 🙂

  6. April 27, 2010 09:01

    Tony: LOL, I rather like the idea that I rose to an equal level of nonsense … but I fear I don’t have quite the wit for that.

    Stefanie: Yes, you are right, we should take the photo – it would have been good for this post – just to add to the nonsense!

  7. April 27, 2010 16:20

    Stefanie: I have an entire folder of photos of my toe from my travels, in case you’d like to see the hideous details 😛

    And mother dear, it didn’t start with the wedge resection… it started with the strange swelling four month before that and ten weeks of antibiotics and three doctors and one podiatrist all telling me different treatment and…. Sigh.

    Thanks for all the well wishes, too. Toes crossed this surgery works! (I promise that after I laughed for five minutes upon discovering my mother’s bandaged foot, she also had my sympathies.)

  8. May 8, 2010 21:02

    Ah, wonderful – and, good grief, but such synchronicity as I’d been mulling over the same or related topics recently. Once had a super book (Christmas present from determinedly literary ageds) entitled ‘The Book of Nonsense’, which I adored. It was an anthology, containing several of the writers you mention plus many, many more. Alas, now gone the way of most of my things. As I no longer have fixed abode, let alone books, probably don’t qualify as book-y person, so forgive the intrustion.

    • May 8, 2010 21:54

      Oh, you don’t have to HAVE books to be a book-y person, you just have to love them (or, at least their contents). I’m glad you’ve commented here. Do come by again – and I will pop by to see you!

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