The story behind ‘Toes, or, The Meaning Of Life…’

When I was 12 I braked my leg. I know what you are thinking, it’s ‘broke’, not ‘brake’. Let me explain.

Me and my mates were out riding on our bikes. We lived on a council estate in a small fishing town in Northumberland. It used to be a mining town too and although the mines were long gone, in a field next to our estate there was a gas outlet pipe from the old pit. The NCB (that’s National Coal Board for those of you not young enough to remember) were busy renewing the pipework and had dug a huge trench for the new line, with the displaced earth stacked in high mounds at the side of the trench. High mounds which were excellent ramps for us bairns on out chopper, tomahawk and grifter bikes.

I did have a tomahawk, honest, but it had a flat tyre, so on this ride I was out on my sisters bike, a folding girls bike with a basket on front. Yes, I got stick off my mates. We were all bombing down the earth ramps, flying high in the air, pulling wheelies and just having the best time on a sunny summer’s afternoon. These weren’t small ramps mind, they were about four/five foot high and weren’t really that smooth on the incline.

For most solid frame bikes, this wasn’t much of a problem, but for a folding bike, held together in the middle with a leg bolt, I guess the constant banging on landing and rough riding in between took its toll. As I went up another ramp, pulling the bike at the apex of the run to get a bit more height, the leg bolt gave, the bike started to fold and in mid-air I came off. It landed on the ground first and I landed with an almighty thud right on top of it.

I didn’t feel much pain as the earth was fairly soft, I mainly felt numb with a bit of aching where my body had hit the frame. Not enough pain for a 12 year old on a North East council estate to let his mates see anyway. So I stood up as the guys came to see if I was OK. ‘I’m fine’ I said, bending over to pick the bike up. One of them then said ‘What’s up with your leg, there’s blood coming out of it.’ I looked down; saw a big rip in my jeans on my left thigh with red gunge spurting out of it. It was at that point I fainted.

I regained consciousness and looked up to see a halo of worried faces staring down at me. My mates helped me up and then hobbling, they helped me home, blood still dripping down my leg from the hole made where the brake of the bike had punctured it.

My Mam and Dad took me to A&E where the doctor checked the injury out. The brake had gone all the way to the bone, chipping it, through skin, muscle, tendons but fortunately no major arteries. Six stitches and half as many pain killers later, with a huge dressing applied, I was sent home with the message that my leg was going to hurt for a few days and to rest it up.

Excellent, time off school! It didn’t really hurt that much but it was uncomfortable walking and I did rest up. So much so that I was bored rigid. I couldn’t get out and in those days there was nothing on TV during the day for kids (apart from Rainbow at lunchtimes), so most of my time was spent reading and doodling. While I was doodling I wiggled my toes and noticed that this caused the muscles around my injury to spasm. It made me think, ‘How come that works then, they are nowhere near the injury…’ and over the next few days my first real poem was born at the tender age of 12.

I could end the story there; after all, it’s on a high point. I’ve explained why I braked my leg and also where the poem came from. What you might not get though is why ‘The Meaning of Life’.

A couple of days after visiting A&E I had to go to the doctors to have the wound redressed. My Dad was at work so there was no car to take me and I couldn’t walk as the surgery was a mile away. So, the only real option my Mam had was to put me in my young brothers push chair to get me there. The appointment was at 8:30am, exactly the same time that all my mates (and enemies) were on their way to school. Now as if riding a girl’s bike and feinting in front of your friends isn’t embarrassing enough; sitting in a pushchair much too small for you, hunched up like Quasimodo, being pushed by your Mam, having people point, stare, giggle behind their hands, laughing out loud, calling names takes a 12 year old way beyond embarrassment, to the depths of humiliation.

It taught me a lot about life and its meaning.

Here is is:

Toes, Or The Meaning Of Life

The big toe on my left foot is bleeding,

so I stick fingers in my ears,

but that only stops me from hearing,

and the big toe on my left foot’s still bleeding.


The big toe on my left foot is bleeding,

so I stick fingers in my eyes,

but that only stops me from seeing,

and the big toe on my left foot’s still bleeding.


The big toe on my left foot is bleeding,

so I stick fingers up my nose,

but that only stops me from smelling,

and the big toe on my left foot’s still bleeding.


The big toe on my left foot is bleeding,

so I stick fingers in my mouth,

but that only stops me from tasting,

and the big to on my left foot’s still bleeding.


So I stand with fingers in

my mouth, my nose, my ears, my eyes,

but that only stops me from

touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing;

and the big toe on my left foot is still bleeding.

Written by maxhardy