When I was a child I was very tall.
After that I stayed very tall and at least some people (mostly men) caught up with me.
It caused me endless problems. On my first day at school I was put in with seven-year-olds because the teachers decided – in their muddle-headed stupidity – that I was the right size for a seven year old. I couldn’t read or write, of course, but it took them a long time to find that out, by which time Chronic Bewilderitis had set in. It has never left me.
Other problems – teachers would call you out to reach up to the top shelves for the things – art supplies and such – that other children could not reach. And they would always make some silly joke about it, usually involving giraffes or clouds. This made the other children sneer at you.
And then there were school sports days. You’re tall so you’ll be good at running: the biggest fallacy of all time. Being tall just means there’s more of you to lug from one end of the field to the next. It doesn’t give you access to great rushes of energy. It doesn’t make your lungs work any better. Most importantly, it doesn’t make you competitive, in fact rather the reverse. In my experience it has always been short people who won things because short people seemed to want or need to win things. I only wanted not to be looked at.
That’s the trouble with winning, isn’t it? Up there on that podium, clutching that gold medal, doing that pretend ‘biting’ thing for the cameras as if to check that your gold medal really is gold (which it isn’t – it’s 1.34% gold, the rest is silver) everybody’s gawping at you. I can’t abide being gawped at.
The Job Centre sent me to be a barmaid. I said I couldn’t do it but they made me. I lasted all of eleven days. It’s like being on television. Men’s eyes follow you from here to there, from there to here, from here to there. When you turn round they are inspecting your bottom. When you turn again they are inspect your ‘front-bottom’ – and not even in an admiring kinda way: in a bored-and-too-many-beers kinda way.
I’ve always thought of people in terms of stray corks bobbing around in a stormy ocean at night. A few will bob high up on the surface. They are life’s winners. They are the people who will always win everything because everything is destined to be theirs.
Then there are the sinkers. They’re the factory-damaged ones, the ones made of hopelessly poor materials. Whatever luck comes their way, they will lose it. They are destined to end up on a street-corner somewhere, clutching a bottle of cheap cider.
And then there are the survivors – those who bob about half under, half above water. Comes a big wave and under they go again, only to pop up, take a despairing gasp of air and await the arrival of the next huge wave. Not even allowed the luxury of drowning. I suppose that’s the majority of us. It’s certainly me.