Archive for thumb

thumbleweed [local] news

Posted in Kids, Mountains, University life with tags , , , , , , on September 15, 2013 by xi'an

Most likely one of the last thumbleweed posts. This one just to mention the marginalia that I have now gone back to the climbing gym, along with my daughter, and that we both managed to climb (apparently) without any injury. Obviously, we have both lost our earlier climbing abilities and are down by about three (French) grades but I am very glad we could and can make it, looking forward to improving our climbing skills back to earlier standards… Or whatever level I can reasonably reach with enough training. (And remember the deadline for submitting the short stories by the end of the month!)

thumbleweed news [short story #b]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on August 3, 2013 by xi'an

Following the previous thumbleweed news, here is a second short story, called… #b for the time being, that sounds more on a realistic plane than #a:

The din was deafening, literally deafening. One hundred and ten kids, drunk on sun, sea and the urge to enjoy a last and final day of freedom together before returning to their respective families after this too short summer camp. As it happened, the dining hall was a large barn with high ceiling, white walls and thin roofs, storing heat and noise like no other place in those hot summer days. The shouts and conversations were rising like so many waves, only to break against the next shouts and conversations. But this did not prevent the kids from eating whatever fell in their plate. Or in their neighbours’! They had cleaned dry the bones of the mackerels I had spent the whole afternoon gutting and cleaning after a fisherman showed up with a basket of leftovers from the morning market. And there was not a single slice remaining from the potatoes I had peeled and cut over the morning. I had already refilled the bread baskets once  and now they wanted more, to get with the salad bowls I had just dropped on the tables…

Getting back to the camp kitchen was a relief from both the heat and the noise. Its heavy stone walls were protection enough and the oven were cold as we had cooked the mackerels on grills outside. More cleaning to do later, though. The poor lighting due to narrow and dusty windows helped in this feeling of relative coolness. I dropped my baskets on a table and looked around: fortunately there was enough bread left in the scullery and I took several loaves next to the manual bread slicer. I had grown expert over the past weeks at working the slicer with high efficiency, pushing the break with one hand while quickly pumping the handle and the blade with the other. This was my only recipe at the moment to prevent a riot in the dinner hall! Anyway, I did not want to see any one and especially no kid near this machine. 

I had already filled two baskets and I looked at the third one as the loaf was steadily disappearing under the blade. I was actually much closed to its end than I thought and pushed my thumb through the gap with the rest of the loaf. It all happened so quickly that in the heat of the moment I first fail to notice anything was wrong. Only when the bread slices came out crimson did I realise I had cut myself. I nonetheless had to look at my hand to see the bleeding stump and understand my thumb was gone. I could see it lying there in the crumb collector under the machine, not much distinguishable from a bread piece in the uncertain light. The cut had been sharp and instantaneous, thanks to the weight of the blade, so sharp that I was not in pain but just stunned and shocked, unable to move or speak or act in any coherent way, staring at this impossible transformation of my hand. However, my body defences quickly took over and I soon fainted on the kitchen cool floor. Before the pain really hit.

When I woke up, staring at the wooden ceiling and its cobwebs, I tried to resist the unavoidable reality, to block sound and feeling and mind away in a world where nothing had happened, in another plane where the floor and the thumb were far below me, in another structure with no pain but only the sounds of the waves breaking on the rocks outside the house and of the gulls calling one another in the evening light. I could not stay there long enough and came back to my floor to realise the main cook had wrapped the stump in a clean white cloth, then put ice cubes around. I could not see the thumb any longer. The kitchen was still quiet and cool, with the cook holding my head against her knees with her other hand. Someone had clearly gone to call emergency for an ambulance came to take me to the hospital a few minutes later. I left the camp unobserved by the kids: the din from the hall had not abated a bit.

To this day, a basket of bread slices never fail to wake in me the memory of this hot and intense noise that reverberated from the hall roofs. Never the memory of a bread slicer, surprisingly…

thumbleweed news [short story #a]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on July 27, 2013 by xi'an

If you read the previous thumbleweed news, you may remember me launching a short story competition on the theme of losing a thumb. I already received a short story, called #a for the time being, that I find quite funny. (And before you start asking question, the author is not Dutch!) Here it is:

Xi’an sat impatiently while the pilot double-checked his harness. He understood the need for safety, but he was eager to begin his first trip into space. His mission was to debug the quantum computer aboard the International Space Station, and to reset it in the unlikely event that it went mad and tried to kill the crew. He anticipated that he would have plenty of time on his hands to work on the ninth edition of his treatise on solutions to multi-dimensional Sudoku. Finally the pilot, Lottie Yeager, gave him the “thumbs up” sign and began preparations for takeoff. Seated on the opposite side of the capsule was the only other passenger, Yevgeny Chekhov, a gifted young evolutionary biologist. It would also be Yevgeny’s first spaceflight. He had been nominated by his research group to conduct experiments with fruit flies in the multi-purpose laboratory module. Xi’an thought that the countdown would never end, but at last the prolonged waiting was supplanted by several intense minutes of sturm und drang. As they passed the Kármán line the nose fairing was jettisoned and the spacecraft rotated towards the horizon to pick up speed. Through the small viewport, Xi’an glimpsed the Earth from space for the first time.

It would still be several hours until their rendezvous with the ISS and space sickness was beginning to kick in. They were able to remove their helmets and gloves and get out of their seats. Xi’an moved towards the viewport for a closer look, while Yevgeny made his way gingerly to the cargo compartment in the rear.

Xi’an was still gazing, transfixed, into space when he heard Lottie shouting. He glanced back to see Yevgeny standing at the hatch with what looked like a pistol in his hand. “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded,” Yevgeny said, just before a loud bang was followed by a high-pitched whistling noise. Xi’an saw that there was now a small hole in the side of the spacecraft, mere centimetres from his head. He grabbed his glove and attempted to block the hole before it vented all of their air into space. Somehow his thumb got sucked into the hole, which caused him excruciating pain.

He had little memory of what happened next, but afterwards he was told that Lottie had confiscated the weapon and ordered Yevgeny to resume his seat. The young scientist apologized profusely. The gun had been his grandfather’s. He had smuggled it aboard amongst his scientific equipment as a memento of home. He hadn’t meant any harm, although it was clear that he had come very close to killing them all.

Lottie was able to patch the hole in the ship, but Xi’an’s thumb had to be amputated in the process. Venting all of that air had put them way off course. However, ground control had received the telemetry data and were able to recalculate a flight path so that they could still make their rendezvous.

Yevgeny would be put on the next flight back to Earth, where he would have to account for his actions. Xi’an would still be able to complete his mission, even though he was now one digit short.

thumbleweed [local] news

Posted in Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , on June 28, 2013 by xi'an

A few more weeks have gone since the last thumbleweed post. The wound on the thumb is now completely healed. I am having physiotherapy to untighten the hand muscles and I have seen a prosthesist  a few days ago, towards getting back some of the thumb abilities.  Once again, most sincere thanks to all of you who still keep sending me greetings and good  wishes. Thanks too to the complete unknowns, from the supermarket cashier helping with filling my bag to another cashier giving me a box of chocolates as a sign of support, despite my protests, and to other acts of kindness.

In the meanwhile, weird accounts on how I lost my thumb came back to me, the most glorifying one taking place in the Himalayas… So following the suggestion of friends in Dauphine, I am now launching a short story competition on the theme of losing a thumb. Send me your story and I will post it (provided it can be posted!), towards the selection of the best short story by the ‘Og readers. Deadline is mid-September  and the maximum length is 5000 words. There is no prize, by the way!

thumbleweed [local] news

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2013 by xi'an

As a few more weeks have gone since I left the hospital, here are some news for the aficionadi (apulgaradi?). The wound on the thumb is  healing at a good pace, although the dressings are still on for one or two weeks. While I am still recovering from those weeks in the hospital, lacking energy at times (and getting quickly tired by metro rides), the only major after-effect is an intolerance to beer. Hopefully temporary! I managed to get back to an almost daily run in the nearby park (and to lose my cameraagain!, in the process). Once again, most sincere thanks to all of you who sent and keep sending me greetings and good  wishes, incl. special thanks to my friends in the Statistics department at QUT for their collective postcard [and yes they can laugh about ït]! And to friends from New York who called me several times. Although my scientific production is very limited at the moment, since the i-like workshop was both enjoyable and cathartic, I plan to attend the French statistical meeting next week in Toulouse [hopefully getting some kg back from the great South-West cuisine!], followed by ABC in Roma [another opportunity for great food]. On the following weekend, I should leave for Vietnam to give a course on Bayesian analysis and attend a conference as well.