Friday, 3 September 2010

Needles and Pins

article and illustrations by Mrs Tami Thirlwell-Nicol

Anarchy in the uk
Soo Catwoman graces the cover of the NME



God Save The Queen: Promotional Sticker, 1977
The Queen has always been a style icon
1977 was a bumper year for new music. It was also the year that I flipped through NME magazine and saw the safety pin being used for something other than a diaper or a kilt. The pin's status had been elevated from the unassuming utilitarian item found in the depths of a drawer or bottom of a pencil holder to the latest must-have (punk) defining accessory. The prolific use of that household item made such an impact that I had to run to my mom's sewing kit and see what was available for my own purposes. What a goldmine! She kept a well-stocked old cookie tin full various-sized pins that never saw the light of day. I selected one that I thought to be the perfect size. Yes, I said to myself, this needs to go in my ear.

Never having had my ears pierced, I spent a moment contemplating how I was going to execute the task. I tested the waters, poking at the skin. Ouch. I quickly realized I would need a much sharper needle (back to the sewing kit, and to the freezer for some ice). I even went so far as to grab a Bic lighter to sterilize my surgical implement. Not bad, I thought, as I surveyed my medical supplies.

Face front class here are the necessary implements!

With the aid of Johnny Rotten screaming ‘fuck this and fuck that’ from the turntable and a hard day of pent-up teen angst, I hit the ground running. I sat at my vanity mirror in my pink-coated bedroom (to match the pink and red shag carpeting I had picked out for my 15th birthday) and tried to freeze my lobe with the ice cube. My fingers got too cold. I moved onto Step Two. With a shaky but determined hand I tried pushing the sewing needle in to my wiggly soft right ear lobe. It only wanted to accommodate the intrusive needle and stretched along with it as my ear wondered why it was being punished. Argh. It’s nothing personal, lobe, trust me, this is going to look cool. I had to stop and breathe. Okay-- let’s try this again. Finally, after a lot of snarling through gritted teeth on my part, it was pierced! A little blood, but I was smart enough to have some cotton balls at the ready – however, not so smart to know that hydrogen peroxide would have been beneficial.

Hastily I grabbed my new piece of ‘jewelry’ and inserted it into my freshly pierced ear. Closing the safety pin was a little tricky (read painful) but eventually I got it. Pride doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. Try ‘warrior.’ Move over Sheena, the Ramones will be singing about me next! Ya, sure my ear lobe was red and throbbing and felt violated and betrayed but I was going to show off my new adornment at school tomorrow and nothing was going to stop me. Not even the fact that when I woke the next day, the victimized lobe was blazing hot and a tad puffy. I assured myself that my ear was simply adapting to the foreign piece of metal and eventually it would calm down.

Miss Thirlwell rocks the halls

I swaggered through the halls of my high school in a way that suggested, “I have just reached a new height of cool – ask me how.” Unfortunately, nobody did, so I had to go the extra mile and flick my hair back nonchalantly to unveil my handiwork. This was met with exclamations like “what the hell is that?” “does that hurt?” and “freak.” “Anarchy, baby,” I replied, “ nah” (yep), and “thank you.” It was obvious that my high school was not very progressive. The outlook was chronic Jock Nifty Journey with a sprinkling of Jethro Tull Stoner. By the time I got home from a long day of ‘show and tell’ and more teen angst, my ear lobe was the size of a golf ball. There was nothing safe about that safety pin. The next few days were pus-filled.

The second time I attempted to become pierced was in the doorway of a market on a small Greek island. It cost about five dollars to get the job done. My lobes became infected within 24 hours.

The third and last stab at giving pierced ears a go was at a community college. I was nervous about the lump of scar tissue that had formed in the lobe from the first two procedures but I hoped for the best. Surely the cosmetology program would be supervised with sterilized tools. I lasted about a week before my ears fully rejected the generic hoops. That’s it. Like a lady whose only choice is to adopt, I would spend my life wearing clip-ons. Although they fulfill the same desire they still aren’t really your own.

So maybe when multiple piercings came on the scene it only reminded me of my failed attempts. I wasn’t bitter. And when people explored new territories of punctuation I knew I would only be a spectator. And a listener: nothing says sophisticated like the impishly sweet lisp one acquires after having had their tongue pierced. Aw, you sound just like little Cindy Brady with that big fat dumbbell sticking through your tongue, how cute are you?
I mean edgy. Plus there’s the added bonus of the quasi-sexually suggestive distraction of said tongue-pierced talker spicing up the delivery of their words while playing tongue tag with their new slab of mouth metal. I know that for me, as an audience member, this is a mesmerizing way to spend an afternoon.

Are some of the other pierced areas of the body meant to be a type of code for things one would rather leave unspoken? For example, the barbell through the eyebrow, the dangling bellybutton chains, the hoops through nipples and places where no jeweler should have to venture.

Piercing for decoration can be a little confusing. I nearly made the faux paus of letting my local video store clerk know that she had a Tic Tac stuck to her chin. On closer inspection it was, in fact, ‘jewelry.’ I’ve always marveled at how people manage to get some of their piercings in what seem like tricky places. Did that dead bolt enter through your eye cavity in order to come out of your eyebrow? How does that work? How about those kids with shower curtain hoops in their earlobes stretched to the size of radial tires? And why am I so tempted to hang my dry cleaning from their ears while standing on the bus?

It seems the safety pin, like a collection of K-Tel hit-makers, had its fifteen minutes of fame and adoration and has been relegated back to its humble origins. No longer a statement of rebellion, now it mostly represents a lack of motivation for getting out the needle and thread to replace a button. But if, down the road, I’m feeling sentimental for that old punk rock feeling, I can take solace in knowing that when it comes time to wheel out the Depends, I can go the old school route and use a safety pin to secure them.


  1. Another excellent and hilarious romp through the punk rites of passage.
    Hugh, London

  2. Hi T.T.N.: g.d. good skool, kid. Glad you didn't lose your ear(lobe). Obviously it took a lot of guts and a fierce determination to hack into yourself like that and without an anesthetic. The craziest thing I ever did in those years was comb my hair backwards. I mean from right to left instead of it's natural growth of left to right. Awfully tame in comparison. I went to skool in a pre-hardware epoch. It was all square dancing and hay-rides out there in the valley. Perpetual hickfest. I felt I was missing something but didn't know what. I think it was cool-ness. Found it when I did a year at Semiahmoo high school in White Rock. Totally different world, and different kind of kids. Well, enough reminiscing. Gotta go shoot a salmon. Here they come, thirty-eight million of 'em.

  3. Yowsa! True Grit, Tami! Loved the line about wanting to hang your dry cleaning from the ears of people on the bus.