On being left-handed

This week I barked my knuckle on most of the radiators in my house while bleeding them. Well, they both ended up bleeding. No, not because I am a woman and have no aptitude for odd jobs around the home, but because I am left-handed and all radiators are designed to be bled on the right. Meaning you have to hold the key in your right hand, and do some coordinated and quite physically demanding turning before a murky squirt of water leaps out at you and soaks the carpet.

Kenneth Branagh * Lewis Carroll

I am left-handed in a 90% right-handed world. This may as well be 100% right-handed, because who is going to design things that won’t work properly for nine out of ten of us? I’ll try not to let this post become a leftie rant, but have read that left-handers tend to die slightly earlier than the rest of you because of the cumulative stress of living in a right-handed world.

David Bowie * Jimi Hendrix

‘Oh, but you must be so creative!’ you cry. When you’re not clicking your tongue in impatience as you wait behind me at a ticket barrier, with me either leaning across my body to feed the ticket into the slot on the right, or trying to get my right hand to aim straight first time.

Benjamin Britten * Albert Einstein

I’ve included bits of lists of some famous left-handers. Sometimes looking through a list like this is cheering, after so many negative experiences.

Neil Armstrong * John McEnroe

I work with language, and it slinks around meaning like a cat who can smell bacon. In English, the meaning of ‘right’ as ‘correct’ seeps into other areas; the Latin ‘sinistra’ meant both ‘left’ and ‘unlucky’, and has emerged into our language as ‘sinister’. If someone is dextrous, it’s a compliment, even though it derives from the Latin ‘dexter’, meaning ‘right’. If you are lucky enough to be ambidextrous, you have both sides as good as the right!  We’ve nicked the French words ‘gauche’ and ‘adroit’ with unsurprising meanings. Cack-handed isn’t a nice word, is it? Southpaw is an Americanism. A superstitious relative told me to throw spilled salt over my left shoulder because the devil was there. (Has anyone done a study on prevalence of left-handed atheists?)

Martina Navratilova * Judy Garland

So, to the life of a left-hander. For me, it started in school. I couldn’t cut shapes properly because the scissors wouldn’t work. My early geometry was approximate because I couldn’t see exactly how long my line was along my ruler. And don’t start me on fountain pens. Quite apart from the actual letter shapes being much easier to draw from the right side, if you don’t move your left hand away from the word you’ve just written it ends up as an interesting series of Rorschach ink blots. It’s either squishing your elbow into your side to get your hand under the line, or hooking it above and parachuting your letters in from the top. I spent all my school years with a blue smudge down the side of my left hand.

Paul McCartney * Ringo Starr

School humiliation didn’t stop in the classroom. Games lessons were sometimes awful. I was sporty, could run fast, and loved it. Then we started hockey. There were no left-handed hockey sticks at our school. I had the choice of either playing on the right side (meaning I missed every ball I aimed at) or playing on the left side with the curved bit of stick at the front (meaning I mis-hit every ball I aimed at). I was not picked for the team.

Cole Porter * MC Escher

A bit later on I started learning the cello. I know Paul McCartney plays on a left-handed guitar, but that wasn’t really one of my options. The advantage is that I can do trills and twiddly bits with my left hand on the fingerboard quite easily. The disadvantage is that if I’m stuck in an orchestra doing very fast triplets I have to think very hard or my right arm gets topsy-turvy with the triple beats.

Raphael * Jim Henson

Growing up, you need wine. Corkscrews are right-handed. Yes, I quickly adapted to my environment and learned to use them, but it’s not ideal. My favourite party game is now offering to lend my Swiss Army knife left-handed corkscrew attachment to a drunk right-hander and see how long it takes THEM to work it out. Tin openers. Serrated knives. Cake forks. Fish knives. Some are more essential than others, but they are all right-handed.

Kermit the Frog * Steve McQueen

Go into any bank and you see tethered pens. Tethered on the right. Tethered with a metal chain that is in no way stretchy, so I either use my own pen or scrunch up to the right, hoping there isn’t a customer next-door who thinks I’m trying to nick their PIN. And while we’re on the subject of banks, what about cheque books? They can’t go obsolete quickly enough for me: trying to get the spine to lay straight enough for a left-hand to write on the stub is impossible. Most of my old cheque books look as if my account has been hacked by a very angry spider.

Marilyn Monroe * Ayrton Senna

Then I went to work, and my early accidental career was as a temp (well, I couldn’t have worked a supermarket checkout till, tapping all those prices in with my right hand). I worked in many different offices, at many different desks. Each had a mouse on the right of the computer keyboard. For the first few bookings I unthreaded the wire, put it on the other side (after moving coffee cup/post-it detritus), switched the mouse buttons over in the computer preferences and away I went at 200 words per minute. After a few weeks, I simply couldn’t be bothered, and compromised by merely moving the mouse but leaving the buttons in their original settings. I use a right-handed mouse with my left hand. Get me. Just don’t get me to input a load of numbers, cos the keypad is on the right.

Leonardo da Vinci * Barack Obama

I haven’t time now to go into the difficulties I found when travelling round India, where you apparently have to eat with your right hand and wipe your bottom with your left.  I can leave you with an inkling of the joy I found when I discovered that London had a shop just for us. Anything Left-Handed was the first shop of its kind, and it was like coming home. They now deal entirely online, but every time I hear of a friend’s child who is left-handed, I browse there and send some gifts that perhaps a right-handed parent would not have thought of. Genuinely, why would they? I hope the current generation of left-handed school kids are having a better time than I did.

I shall now go off and be brilliant and creative with my weird brain.