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Heads Hands & Feet

Heads hands & feet: one of the more interesting British bands of the sixties. Their guitarist Albert Lee [no relation to Alvin] went on to become a legendary country musician in America .

As with many bands of the time – Third Ear Band, Mahavishnu Orchestra and others – their name evoked very old, traditional understandings of the human spirit. These three features more or less define our humanity. Only humans have feet shaped to accommodate bipedal motion for long periods of time. Our hands, sensitive and dexterous, allowed our ancestors to shape our environment to our purposes. Over time, camp sites became villages, villages became cities. With these hands we carried and cared for our young, for much longer periods of time than other mammals. Human children require longer periods of dependence on their parents than other mammals, thanks to the size of their brains. We have huge heads relative to our bodies. Starting from within, the eyes are the windows of the soul. Our face carries our past while, to some, our palms describe our future. Many of us never consider these unsung heroes, but they have allowed us to accomplish all that we have, and define us as individuals.

The more poetic expressions of medical practice intuited and explored the importance of our head, hands and feet – especially the doctors of traditional Chinese medicine. They believed that the head, hands and feet are doorways through which they could gain entry to the rest of our body. The ears symbolize and relate to the fetal body and acupuncture treatments can focus solely on this area. The eyes, tongue, face, and pulse all informed TCM practitioners’ diagnoses.

The ayurvedic traditions of India privileged the hands and feet with special importance. They believed that the minor chakras embedded in the hands bore a special relationship to the heart, and those of the feet related to the root chakra, like ambassadors.

Here we go again.

This is where readers say “where on earth is Robin going with this? What drugs is he taking?”

I spoke with a surgeon this morning [I was going to say “I spoke with my surgeon … ” but even after a few hit records, I’m not in the personal physician bracket.] This was the unpteenth doctor reviewing the unpteenth set of scan and biopsy results. I knew I had cancer last autumn. Since then I’ve needed to increase the storage on my phone to accommodate the endless appointments, imaging, doctors letters and prescriptions. All a bewildering array of optional routes. In the end, I was told today that no amount of chanting, sunning, herbs, reflexology or fungi would get in the way of a bunch of cells hanging around in the departure lounge of my nervous system, clutching their boarding cards and brochures of fabulous resorts in the far flung reaches of my body.

We’re talking radical surgery here.

“Well doc, do I get to keep my head, hands and feet? That’s my main concern. I don’t mind an extra large body cavity, like a teddy bear equipped for storing pyjamas. Might come in handy for the catheters. I need my head to make up distracting blogs. I need my feet for cruising the bars of Marrakech and – well – I need my hands for just about everything else. Apart from holding the guitar and dear friends and lovers, they are my eyes.”

He seemed startled at this less-than-grief-stricken response to his kindly announcement that I need “radical surgery and time is of the essence”. I wasn’t born yesterday. I knew this already. I could have told them this months ago. Actually I did tell them this months ago. I know my own body. I know how tired I have been getting for no reason. I know how my organs are misfiring. “That’s fine, let’s get on with it doc. Can it wait until early June? I am putting on a big show for Scope and I’m playing the guitar and the catheter bag won’t look good under the Levis.”

“OK, but we need to schedule it straight after. Are you sure you understand there will be lasting, life changing consequences Mr Millar?”

“Well, Joni Mitchell’s Blue Album, working for UNHCR in Africa and going to the loo with Michelle Pfeiffer – all had lasting, life-changing consequences doc.”

Putting me down as either mad or certainly as a lost cause in denial, he made his goodbyes and moved on.

I’ve never been able to muster much in the way of panic, fury or fear over what I can’t control. It is what it is. I will still have my head, hands and feet. There will still be lots to do for folks whose lives are utter rubbish. I will still be a god in my own clear blue, sightless eyes that see everything.