SPAGHETTI OR NAILS?
Most teenagers like to conduct a little rebellion against their parents. Few, however, can have seen it get so much out of hand as England’s YBONA PRICE. When she was 13 she began to grow her fingernails long, in emulation of Marlene Dietrich’s starring role in ‘THE BLUE ANGEL’. Ybona’s mother said, “Cut them.” Ybona said, “No.” 47 years later, the nails on her left hand are still over 10” long, and she still enjoys the little extra ‘zip’ they give to her life. “And early in the 20th century, it was the same at school. We used to write with pens and nibs in those days – none of this biro business – and the teachers would never give me the nibs.
They’d just say, ‘You write with your nails.” And when they decided enough was enough, they wrote to my father. But in my father’s eye, I could do no wrong and he said the nails could stay. Ybona has been invited on TV and been published in several London newspapers. “Once it started,” she declares, “It snowballed and I just could not bear to cut them. “I don’t really understand all that fuss, because until recently nobody had taken any notice of my nails and they have been this long for decades.
“My poor old Mum hated them and my annoying dinner behaviour caused me having to leave the table more times than you’ve had hot dinners.
You know what it is – they can’t quite figure out, that a woman my age should be such a fool. But I don’t have them for other people. It’s for me. The children too have always loved Ybona’s extraordinary nails. And she adds, “The grandchildren think it’s the beginning and the end of life. Oh, they’re so proud of me! “I can understand people thinking my nails are terrible, especially women. But they should not say that to my face. Men seem to like them more.” “Over the last five years, I have thought that it is ridiculous and that maybe I should cut them off.
But my children say, ‘No Mum, it won’t be you without your nails.’ ” I tell Ybona that her sense of humour and proportion are so obviously in the right place, that despite that weird left hand she appears far from eccentric. The ex-ballet teacher goes off into a roar of laughter. This ability to appreciate how she might look to the rest of the world is one of her most engaging qualities. She wiggles her left hand for inspection, revealing the curling, tentacle-like growths that sprout from her fingers, each one beautifully kept, manicured, and shining with 5 coats of pink nail polish both on top and underneath, as they are easier to clean and keep clean that way.
Five decades later, with three grown-up children as well as five grandchildren, Ybona and her husband, Eric, live in the small English village of Balsall near Coventry. And far from objecting to his wife’s strange appearance, he seems to love the nails even more than Ybona herself and is totally bewildered by the attention paid to her. Ybona recalls a vivid memory. “We were on holiday in Cyprus when the war broke out. We were airlifted, jumping in and out of lorries, being pushed from pillar to post, from one transport to another. You name it – it happened to us.
“Like a cat’s claws, aren’t they,” she explains, laughing.
And suddenly in the pitch dark with guns and bombs popping all around us, Eric called out, ’Darling, be careful of your nails.’ “As if it mattered. We could have been blown up at any moment.” Ybona assures me that she has no trouble doing her own housework, as the nails on her right hand are almost bordering on normal. And when she uses her left hand she simply turns it sideways. “You might not think so, but I am a very, very shy person. You know how stiff it can be when you walk into a new party and you don’t know what to say. It’s my nails that have always broken the ice.
All my life they have been an asset to me, not a hindrance.” Ybona’s favourite story though is the one when she was alone in Cyprus in 1975. “I was sitting outside by the hotel swimming pool and a lot of children were about. Fascinated, they kept circling right around me, but would not come close or speak to me. “Then the mothers came out and asked if they could take photos. And after that, the children came near, sat by me, touched the nails and played with them. “At last one little girl about six, looked up at me innocently and whispered, ‘You know people think you are a witch, but you’re quite ordinary, aren’t you?’ “To this day I still have not made up my mind which word was the greater insult!”