If you were to draw up a list of characteristics to describe somebody with advantages – a person with little to complain about, from a sociological point of view – it might possibly run like this:
male caucasian heterosexual,
married (with a baby on the way),
living in the southeast of England,
in possession of a new car,
a house with south-facing garden and
an enjoyable job.
And I would have to raise my hand and say: “That’s me.” But, like many people, I prefer to see myself as a bit of an outsider, an underdog, one of the disadvantaged.
Hitherto, I have attempted to do this by complaining about being superfluously tall.
I’m not a giant, but at nearly 6’3” I do have problems.
As a teenager, after shooting up to this height, I became intensely self-conscious, worried that people would think I was showing off just by standing up.
I compensated by stooping and I’ve stooped ever since: on the Tube, in London, and on double-decker buses where my hair brushes against the ceiling, wiping away the greasy residue left by others before me.
Staying in hotels – or with friends – whose beds have footboards, I must fold myself up or sleep at odd angles, and if there’s no footboard my feet stick out at the end, twin prows on the ship of no-sleep.
Worse, I bang my head on low ceilings and door frames at the surprisingly high rate of about once every couple of months.
This rarely draws blood but I usually feel dizzy; and fear that, long-term, the consequences may be similar to those resulting from Muhammad Ali’s pounding by George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle.
But now a more promising opportunity for chippy outsiderhood has presented itself. Next-week [August 13], the 28,000-strong Left-Handers Club is celebrating Left-Handers Day.
Right-handers who bother to play along will be encouraged to feel the pain of the roughly 13 per cent of people like me by using their left hands on, among other things,
- ticket barriers,
- the stylus on a Palm Pilot,
- telephone boxes with receiver and coin-slot on the right and
- record-player arms…
…by writing without smudging ink as the hand passes over it, or writing at all in binders, files, cheque-book stubs and with pens on chains in banks; by availing themselves of (wrong-sided) back-pocket on trousers with only one such; and zips; and by eating in restaurants without bumping elbows.
Some of these problems (record-player arms! Palm Pilot! Cheque books!) may be merely historical.
But that history, friend, is my painful heritage.
The Bible contains over 100 favourable references to the right-hand and 25 unfavourable references to the left.
The Latin word for left is sinister, and the French, gauche, indicates clumsiness.
Stuttering and dyslexia occur more often in left-handers, particularly those forced to change our writing hand in childhood, as was George VI.
Left-handers have been shunned by society: historically, few married and reproduced. (It can’t have helped that left-handers reach puberty four to five months after right-handers.)
We’re also, statistically, likely to die younger than right-handers.
The casual contempt heaped upon us persists. It was suggested, recently, that ultrasound scans of babies in the womb might – just possibly – cause brain damage.
The slender “evidence” for this is that babies who have been scanned seem more likely than others to be born left-handed. Please!
Looking into this more closely, I learned that Oxford-based Professor Tim Crow has analysed data taken from 12,770 children, tested for hand preference, verbal, reading and mathematical ability.
This resolved the age-old argument over whether right- or left-handers are more intelligent: there is no difference.
I also discovered that left-handed players of racquet sports enjoy an advantage. Right-handers more usually face “like-handed” opponents, playing a similar game, and encounter left-handers only rarely; whereas lefties face right-handers often and are thus used to their “opposite” style of play.
Well, I’ve always believed I could have been good at tennis (or cricket or snooker) if only I could decide in which hand to hold the racquet (or bat or cue).
But I couldn’t. I constantly switched between hands and never satisfactorily developed either one.
So am I left-handed or not? I took a test on www.left-handersday.com. This suggested I am ambidextrous. Now that really would be special.
Unlike chimps – who are truly ambidextrous – humans tend to heavily favour one hand and struggle to perform simple tasks with the other.
It has been suggested that the development of a division in function between the left and right sides of the brain – leading to right- or left-handedness – was a major factor in our leap from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens.
Indeed, Professor Crow’s research suggests that I really do enjoy freakish status. “People who are truly ambidextrous are slower to develop verbal and non-verbal skills.
“It’s the predictor of both reading difficulties at the age of 16 and” – crumbs – “psychosis”.
So you can forget George VI, and the ultrasound scans.
Who cares that four-out-of-five original designers of the Macintosh computer were left-handed, as were a quarter of Apollo astronauts?
Forget too the Financial Times report revealing that internet business chiefs were twice as likely to be left-handed as in traditional businesses – and the senior London mounted policeman who found that over half of his senior officers are left-handed.
Because out here on the edge, where superfluously tall, moderately ambidextrous people hang out, left-handed people are regarded as mainstream.