Brains and Knees


Running from my brother, I trip on an unseen root. My knee lands on the razor edge of a broken flint that pokes out of the earth of an
Oxfordshire woodland path. In the bathroom my blood drips onto the lino. I must be screaming but I am also fascinated by seeing the inside of myself – the white bacon–like stuff beneath the skin that is revealed whenever my mum cleans away the red.

35 years later I am trying to draw a dead body in the anatomy rooms of UCL. The room is filled with draped forms lying on trolleys and I have a moment’s panic at what will happen when she pulls back the drapes. In fact though, I am shocked by the normality. Like snakes that have shed their skins, the people in his room have long since departed – leaving only these broken objects as a trace. I’m attempting to understand how this machine is put together, how this bone connects to this tissue and how the object in front of me relates to the one that is now doing the drawing. I ask the white–coated attendant if I can draw a brain. She fetches a large, plastic tub from a shelf. Sloshing inside is a grey, glibbery mass in a strange–smelling liquid. With two rubber gloves I carefully remove the delicate blamange and set it down on the stainless–steel trolley. The folds and labyrinths of the brain are almost impossible to draw. Tracing the twisting contours I repeatedly lose my way across its surface. Attempting to capture the lines of this object I can feel the folds of my own cerebrum straining to process the data and to correctly instruct my fingers

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