Sunday, 16 August 2020

IN OTHER WORDS, HOLD MY HAND [255]



If a film is made of my life, it will begin like this:

It is 1987, I am four years old, and have just started school. A teacher notices how I am writing, and takes my pencil, putting it through a triangular block that will help me to write better. I was left-handed, and I am expected to take the pencil back in my right hand.

Cut to today, and I write freely and fluidly, with my left hand, like I always have done, because why would you change something that doesn’t need changing?

I hadn’t realised that every 13th August since 1992 has been observed as International Left Handers Day, because left-handedness has largely ceased to be a prejudicial difference in people, when other differences should also have done by now. Whenever left-handedness comes up, even my reaction is just an “oh yeah.” I am aware of the Latin word for “left” being “sinistralis,” causing its own set of problems through history, and how a the perceived cultural issue of using the “wrong” hand has given way to greater understanding of genetic differences in people, leaving general grumbles when you wish a left-handed can opener was as available as a right-handed one.

Before now, the last time I even gave a thought to the hand a person wrote with was at least three years ago. I had printed a photograph of David Bowie’s handwritten lyrics to “Fashion” – he had tried to replace his use of the “Taxman”-like “beep beep” in the chorus, only to write it back in when his first thought proved to be the best one – when I realised his writing sloped slightly to the left. I searched for confirmation of Bowie’s left-handedness online, only to realise all the saxophones, guitars and keyboards he played in his career were right-handed... just as all mine have been.


I am writing this after having placed an order for a keyboard, a Novation Mininova. I already know my left hand will be relegated to playing bass if I play a piece that anyone else has written, but at the same time, whenever I have played a guitar, my left hand is better placed for fingering and chords, with my right hand left holding the plectrum. At the same time, I like how all game consoles have their directional controls on the left side, a hangover when arcade machines did this to make games harder for (most) people to play. However, I only have right-handed scissors because they are all I have ever been given to use, my computer mouse has only ever been on the right side, and if I want tinned tomatoes... and for that matter, I remember another teacher at school, in the canteen at lunch, getting me to hold my knife in the left hand, seeing as I was left-handed. I always hold it in the right hand.

I don’t necessarily think I am ambidextrous because I can use right-handed implements – it is more that I have learned to adapt when implements that would be more suited for me are harder to find, more expensive, or non-existent. Sure, I have a left-handed ruler, where the increments are marked the other way, but that was after thirty years of practice using a “regular,” “standard” ruler. Even the “special” ruler cost more than a right-handed one. (Checking the website of guitar maker Fender, their left-handed guitars laudably cost the same as their right-handed versions, but they are specialist instruments with low production runs, more easily manufactured to an individual’s specifications.)

This may be a topic I will need to explore another time, as I had started this thinking my left-handedness is a quirk, and I have ended it thinking, “they’ve decided to stop going on about it, but the only left-handed things you can have easily are scissors and guitars,” whoever “they” happen to be. I have never been given reason to feel disadvantaged by being left-handed, but what difference would it have made if it had always been catered for? I will have to come back to this.

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