Winston Churchill’s opposed thumbs

Ask any number of people what it is that separates human beings from the “lesser” animals?  You’ll, very likely, hear answers like: Our ability to use language and communicate with one another; Our sense of self; Our ability to solve problems; et cetera.  I maintain that what sets us apart is the simple fact that our thumbs are set in opposition to our fingers.  This evolutionary development has allowed us to reshape our environment throughout the course of human history.  While the “lesser” species must content themselves with an existence that is harmonious with their environment, the human species has always been compelled to reshape the natural environment and many of the individual ingredients therein.  We are driven to create, to build.  Why?  Because we can.  Because we have opposed thumbs.

Even the biggest “brainiacs”  are compelled to express this overwhelming need to be physically creative.  Some may find fulfillment of this need by doing something as simple as “crayoning” in some adult coloring book.  Others may draw or paint.  Some may work wood, “throw” pottery or engage in sewing.  Intellectual activity is simply not enough to give full vent to our “humanness.”

Consider Winston Churchill.  Few men in the modern era have intellectually and politically impacted the world around them more than Churchill.  Whether you agree or disagree with Churchill’s politics and tactics, no one can deny that his “bull dogged” determination helped the Allies win WWII.  So, did Winnie have the same need to physically express his creativity?  Indeed he did!  How?  By laying bricks!


Apparently, Churchill became interested in brick laying while a young man at his family home of Chartwell and was schooled in the trade by several local brick masons.


Mister Churchill thought so highly of his craft, that he accepted the invitation to become a member of the Bricklayer’s Union.

trade union membership

This last photo leads me to conclude that even skilled bricklayers can sometimes find it difficult to “butter the ends.”


So along with your eyes and ears, take good care of your thumbs.  You’ve only got two.  And, remember, they’re what really make you human.


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2 Comments on “Winston Churchill’s opposed thumbs”

  1. Alex A. Says:

    My brain may be making this up but I seem to remember that this was a was a temporary wall that Churchill used to build over an over again to help him relax/think. Once it reached a certain height it was demolished and he reused the bricks again so he intentionally left did not butter the ends to make removal easier.

    It could be a false memory though.

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      It will take a little research to confirm, but I think you may be right on this. Maybe some of our British friends can weigh in here.

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