Yes, OK, I admit it: I am getting pretty long in the tooth. I am old enough to remember a time when, if you wanted to change the channel on the TV, you would say, 'let's see what's on the other side.' Because there was only one other channel. Then you would get up, walk over and press a button on the set (it was called a 'television set' in those days, like radio or Meccano) because there was no such thing as a remote. I am old enough to remember the excitement of maybe – maybe – being allowed to stay up so late that I got to witness the end of telly. Because back in those days, telly did have an end; it wasn't the wrap-around, 24-hour thing it is today. And when, around midnight, the end of telly arrived, the man would bid you Good Night from the BBC, and they would play God Save The Queen. I kid you not. And then the telly would emit an eerie alien whine, the screen would go dark, and you were truly alone.
Which brings me to that strange picture at the northern end of this blog post. This features in the BBC test card – which is actually still in use today, but I'm not sure how you would ever see it. But back when I was a kid, that's what was on the screen for hours before the programmes started. If you were really bored, you'd sit and watch it. (Ooh! She moved!' I remember joking to my brother).
What has all this got to do with my heading of "lefties unite", you may wonder. The girl is not even using her left hand to play noughts and crosses! Or is she...? There was a story that went around some years ago that the photo was reversed, because BBC executives belatedly noticed that the girl was in fact using her left hand, and ooh no, we mustn't have a lefty featured in our test card! The story turned out to be a hoax, but it does highlight something about how left-handedness used to be perceived.
At this point I should declare an interest. Sharp-eyed readers of my blog may already have noticed:Yes, I am a lefty. A southpaw. A gibble-fist. And one or two other slang terms I won't mention here. This is something I have in common with US president-elect Barack Obama (excuse me while I just say that again: US president-elect Barack Obama. Ah! It sounds so good!) and, as has been remarked on many times already, four out of the last six presidents of the United States. One of them, Ronald Reagan, started out a lefty, but had it trained out of him. This practice has thankfully gone the way of the test card on your TV screen, but think for a moment just how confusing and awkward that would be. Just try writing in your other hand, and imagine how you would feel if you were made to do that legibly, and somehow learn at the same time. It's cruel! I'm glad to say that my teachers didn't do that to me, but there was one prefect who regularly patrolled the school canteen and made me eat my dessert with my right hand. What WAS her problem?! What earthly difference did it make to her if I held my spoon in my left hand? I bet she's a teacher now, and I bet she's the sort who picks on people for having a squint or curly hair or something. She may even be your teacher, you poor thing.
On the other hand (ha!), maybe she knew one of those insufferable left-handed people who have a hang-up about why the whole world is designed for right-handed people, and is constantly reminding said righties that Leonardo da Vinci and Alexander the Great and Mozart and Einstein were all left-handed. And maybe she was taking that out on me.
It's true that all of the above were lefties, and it's true that we are more likely to think creatively (using the right side of the brain, which is not anchored to words, like the left is), but Jack the Ripper is also reputed to have been a southpaw, and we know that Osama Bin Laden is one. Funny how quiet they seem to keep about that. And some left-handers never grow up. I could be accused of that, as could Bart Simpson (he is left-handed because his creator Matt Groening is). Then there's Ziggy Stardust, who was not only the nazz but similar to a cat from Japan, and a leper messiah to boot.* And if you've figured out whether that's good or bad, you're cleverer than me.
Anyway. I'd be surprised if there are still people around like Ronnie Reagan's teacher and my spoon-interfering prefect. And perhaps people have become more appreciative of those of us who see things a bit differently; another expression is 'living in the mirror'. Like Alice Through the Looking Glass (a book written, incidentally, by Lewis Carroll, another lefty.) There are more of us about now, anyway (Interesting Fact! There are 300 times as many lefties now as there were 100 years ago!)
So I'm glad that people have learned there's nothing sinister about us – even if the word 'sinister' is of Latin origin and means, um, left. And evil. And unlucky. But, huh, what did those Romans know?
* (In case you're too young to know about him, he's a character invented and sung about by David Bowie. Yes, you guessed it; he is also left-handed.)
A Conversation about Fairytales (1)
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