Friday, 19 February 2010

Left is best? Left rules? Left is simply different

I am, and am happy to admit, left handed.

I didn't start out that way though.  My earliest recollection of handedness was in school and painting. My arm was tired about the same time the teacher asked me how I was doing.  I mentioned my tired arm and she suggested a break.  I just changed hands and carried on.  Why was this memorable?  The reaction from the teacher.

If you search for facts and information on being left-handed or even ambi-dextrous (as that's what I really was), the word sinister appears fairly regularly.  I went to a catholic school and left, as they would often tell me, was the work of the devil.  Yes, you read that correctly.  They even tried to make me write with my right.  I would get rapped on the knuckles when they caught me with the pencil in my left hand.  If you think I'm 107 years old and I'm talking about the early 20th Century, you'd be 70 odd years out.  This was the early 1970's. 

Left handedness is, thankfully, becoming more widely acknowledged and accepted, and most importantly, recognised.  I say recognised as this is crucial to the whole handedness issue.

When I was younger, everything was made the same, the same one way.  There was no other way.  No provision was made for anything other than the norm.  No one ever dared to believe there was anything outside the norm.  One way street. It's probably this tunnel vision and lack of understanding that made things a little difficult.  Example.

If you're truely left handed, trying to cut something using a bog-standard pair of scissors is impossible.  Fact.  I know you right handers reading this are thinking "what a load of bollocks" If you are, allow me to visit you with a pair of left handed scissors and ask you to cut a piece of paper.  You won't be able to.  As ridiculous as it sounds, you simply can't.  Someone, somewhere, with a lot more intelligence than me can explain the whys of this, but all I know is that you can't.  When I was little, they looked at me like there was something wrong with me because I couldn't cut a piece of paper.  Similarly, the looks of incredulidity when they viewed my massively smudged, pencil-written work (remember, us lefties run over what we've just written with the soft fleshy outside part of our hand - you righties are always ahead of the game, so to speak). And the list goes on.

I play both guitar and drums.  The former started when I was 10, may be 11.  The latter as I approached my late teens.  Now, one of my elder brothers first introduced a guitar to our household, and we would pretend away we were guitar gods whilst barely able to play a chord.  For me, learning a few chords was the least of the problems.

Of the half-dozen kids that my parents had, I am the odd-handed amongst them. Now my delight at having the dream 6 strings to play was tempered by the reality.  The guitar was set for a right-hander, and I doubted whether my brother would allow me to top and tail the strings on a regular basis (he wouldn't, I checked). So it was either not play at all or learn to play right handed.  My ambi-dextrous nature ensured I was able to play, albeit with some initial difficulties and natural discomfort, although I still play right handed today.

Drums, however, were a different game.  We'd perform concerts, reviews, you name it whilst at college, and I'd have to share the drums with each act, and as you'd know it, I'd be the only leftie.  With no time to change the kit round between acts, I'd just have to go with it.

I cannot play drums right handed.  There's something in my internal set up that just cannot grasp the syncopation of off-beat rhythms and more when viewed from a righties perspective.  I'd look like a dick on stage.  Correction, I looked like a dick on stage.  

Golf was the same.  Hiring clubs from the clubhouse meant right handers only (they'd give me a ridiculous look when I asked for left-handed clubs).  And after 20 odd years of playing golf, I wouldn't now consider playing left handed, although my companions always complain that I have an unfair advantage when I have to swap hands due to a particular lie of the ball.

But now it's all very different.  Golf clubs, scissors, can openers (god, don't get me started on can openers) are all freely available for lefties, and everywhere you look, lefties are springing out of the woodwork. On the floor of my office, say about 40 people tops, there's about 10 lefties.  That's like 25%.  That's staggering. The recognised average for left handed adults is about 7% - 10% of the population.

So why am I here, banging on about being left handed?  Are we better?  Are we, as many theories go, more creative as we use the opposite side of the brain to right handers?  Truth be told, I don't know.  What we are, and that is a certainty, is different. 

I asked the twitter world to shout up if they were left handed, and before posting, I'd already selected those I thought to be so.  I can't explain to you why I thought they were, I just did.  The creative side does play a part here, but there are endless massively creative people on Twitter, but I don't think they're all left handed.  Of the 4 I'd have bet on (and from the 3 replies I had) I'd correctly pegged two of them. There's just something in what those guys said, more importantly how they said it.  May be I'm just fine-tuned to their waves being of the same ilk, I don't know.  I doubt I'll ever be able to satisfactorily explain it.  May be it's better that I can't.

But then again, may be we're not all the way there yet.  My eldest, 7, is left handed.  At parents evening when we mention her left handed nature, we often get total blank looks cast back at us.  They've just not even considered that someone out there is different. Now she's 7 we're over the worst of it, but learning to shape letters and words for a left hander when taught by a rightie is not easy.  We just don't do it the same, and no amount of showing will get us over that barrier.  I'm glad that I'm a leftie and had some comprehension of what she was going through.  Sounds daft, but until you sit there, listening to the "you do it this way, then that, then this" knowing that it just doesn't work like that for lefties you have no grasp of it.  It's seems such a small thing.  When we graduated to fountain pens, I was forever the last kid out of class as I had to work so hard to not smudge absolutely every word I wrote.  I'd often miss the whole of the dinner break.

But I should be, and am actually, grateful.  There are so many things I can do either way without thinking about it.  Playing tennis, I never had a backhand shot - I'd just swap the racket between hands so I was always playing forehand (used to drive my opponents mad). Badminton is an either handed affair, as is most things where not a lot of strength is involved.  For that, the right side takes over, but for finesse, left is best.  I know you'll say that my ambi-dextrous nature means I shouldn't even be writing this on the part of a left hander, so I'll leave you with this thought.

You're sitting down for dinner, and the dish requires no knife, just a fork.  The fork starts the meal in your left hand, yes?  If you're right handed, I bet you good money the fork finishes in your right.  Mine stays firmly in my left.  I'm a leftie.  Are you?

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