Needled and Nailed, and all Glassed Up

Medical-syringeSince I am presently obligated to inject myself in the stomach with one of these each day (I spare you visuals of the actual process!) – today under the fascinated gaze of my 12yo son and Dave’s same-age daughter – I thought I would post about the very sensible question they asked. No – not ‘Are you feeling any better, Dad?’ or anything… much more profound. A ‘showbiz’ question. Both of them are ‘kewl’ doing bed of nails as part of the family acrobatic/fakir performances – and yes, before you say, anyone, 12yo or otherwise, can do ‘bed of nails’ unless the number of nails is very low.Monopoly On Nails I’ve explained to them how tough skin is, and so long as there is a bit of muscle padding behind where the nail sits, the actual weight to be supported on each nail is quite low. Witness the 8yo London lad playing Monopoly whilst doing his nails training which I posted the other day and repeat here in a smaller form.

Leo’s question, therefore, was ‘how are you getting that needle to go in so easily?’ – which from his point of view (and therefore mine) is a good question. The needle goes in because its point is minute in size – and, on an atomic scale, rough – and because at the point of entry, the skin is in compression, not tension. Because I squeeze up a fold of skin to make it so.

tumblr_lymh5mMFGj1qz5q5oo1_1280Just about the time Leo was born, we were working with a Uruguayan guy who combined contortionism with pushing needles through different parts of his body. A strange background… We were in group called Circus Extreme at the time. It’s all in ‘Loving the Boy’ and ‘The Power of Love’. I don’t have pix of him to hand, but, here’s one from an earlier era. Felipe taught us – although we have rarely tried it – that rotating the needles helps them to penetrate skin which is in tension. That appears in the third book ‘Against All Odds’.

The point is that human skin is amazingly tough stuff. It needs to be. It is your largest organ and ‘it keeps your insides in’ as the old song lyric puts it. And here’s a young Iraqi boy making himself a few bucks by proving my point:


He lies on his back on a bed of broken glass, and a full-size man pays up to stand on top of the nails which bear down his chest and stomach. I reckon there are about 180 nails in that little nail bed – looks bad, huh?. That is less than half a kilo – say just over one pound – per nail. OK, his ribcage and pelvis has to take the total , and he doesn’t look all that strong. But if you take the average six-inch nail and push it into your skin – anywhere – you’ll feel only a little discomfort. And the boy doesn’t look too unhappy. The glass is easy…


You will have checked first that no razor edges are pointing straight upwards, then you’re pretty safe with that. A rather similar principle applies. Being crushed between two nail beds looks hairy (green hairy in this case)…


…but your average guy (or girl) can take it. Leo and Jaymee certainly can. When the Guiness book of records used to allow nail bed feats, they were described as ‘needle sharp, 1½-inch centres. No six-inch nail can be as ‘sharp’ as a hypodermic or sewing needle – you would need to taper it over it’s whole length almost to achieve that. There is a sharp(ish) point, but the sides leading up to that point bear of lot of that weight. Sorry, this is getting too technical.

Of course, you can choose to make it tougher:


..but, even then, remember that the skin on your heels is over a quarter-inch thick and the balls of your feet are pretty tough too and, if you go perpetually barefoot like New Zealand wild boy DeJay Davison, your feet become impervious to pretty much everything!


(DeJay, by the way, was a recent webfind for us. He was planning to run the 2100km length of the two New Zealand Islands barefoot and barechested, and training that way in cold rooms and ski resorts, but we’re not clear from his blog if the trip actually happened in full. His interesting blog is at and there are YouTube postings too -just Google for those)

We all go barefoot a lot, and our friend Zach more than the rest… but we would NEVER dare to enter a gym with such unwashed feet…

DeJay’s a pretty fit guy anyway and I’m sure he’s having a great time, whatever he is doing. And when I’ve finished showing Leo and Jaymee how I push needles into my stomach, I’m still sorting fitness pictures for you: at least I can still do that…



(That is one amazing set of abs, and a brilliant photographer to bring them to us)



byron 3311 2


(Does he REALLY have a blue nipple…?)



That’s the place to be – in the sun, by the water, ready to slip off those boardies and take a nice swim – something I am reluctant to do right now with a swollen leg. This is one of those times when it is REAL good to have Dave by my side… bye for now.





About tonycavanagh

Born Northampton UK; school Oxford UK and Oak Ridge Tennessee, where I met my wonderful partner Dave, also from UK. Oak Ridge is our main training base for acrobatics and circus stuff, but we also established a base in Wales (UK) to serve us when we are working in Europe. Our 'story', of finding gay love, learning the acrobatics trade and then of how we got shot at during our show (and worse was to follow - just to prove that the risks of being an acrobat are not always the most obvious ones!) are now available in my three books 'Loving the Boy', 'The Power of Love' and 'Against All Odds'. Links available on most blog posts. Actually, waiting for the imminent arrival of the first printed copies was far scarier than anything we do in performance. A fourth book - not about us but exploring the sadness of a gay Native American boy denied his true identity - is currently with an agent for evaluation. watch for 'Let The Future Find Me' in due time. And now to book five... another boy, another quest... seems its always boys...
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1 Response to Needled and Nailed, and all Glassed Up

  1. Pingback: Light Out of Darkness | Tony Cavanagh

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