Confessions of a small man
I’m short. I’m thin. And, frankly, I’m small.
I hate being small. I carry it around with me like a cloud, a tiny weather system of its own. You could call it a microclimate. You might say I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, were it not for the fact that my shoulders couldn’t accommodate anything quite so substantial.
My sister, who is two years younger than me, overtook me in the height department when I was four years old. Before I could remember, this tiny speck in a pram had become my ‘big’ sister. Now she’s six feet tall. But that’s nothing compared to my brother. He is more than seven years younger than me, and 10 inches taller. I like to think this, therefore, indicates that I’m genetically tall. It’s something I tell myself to feel better. Every little helps, after all.
Not only do my family tower above me, they are — as tall people always are — short on sympathy for small people like me.
My father recently caught me complaining that I couldn’t buy trousers because nothing fit my 27-inch waste.
“You should be shopping in the children’s section,” he said.
I looked at him, assuming this was a joke, but he was serious.
“There’s no VAT,” he said.
“Dad, I’m not going to do that.”
“Why not?” he asked.
I pictured myself rifling through the children’s section at a nearby department store, where people I knew undoubtedly shopped. I decided against it.
My mother wasn’t much more helpful. She, being Scottish, would tell me when I was a kid: “Guid gear comes in sma’ bulk.” I, being English, had no idea what she was going on about.
And it wasn’t just advice I was offered — I got my fair share of hand-me-downs, too. In today’s throwaway society, recycling of any kind is to be applauded. But if used clothes are still coming to you from your brother when you’re at university and he’s at primary school, things are getting out of hand. To this day, I have clothes that my younger brother grew out of. Perhaps I keep them to remind me that he was my size once — even if at that point he hadn’t reached puberty.
Only short members of tall families know this, but tall families gravitate towards activities that suit ‘tall’ people. Swimming is, without question, a ‘big person’ activity. That’s because height is better deployed for swimming than in other areas of life. For a start, you have less distance to travel in a pool if you’re halfway across it when you stretch out. And huge feet (my brother’s are UK size-14) are transformed from a mail-order nightmare on solid ground to an asset of rare quality in the water. That’s why my brother and sister won things and I did not.
At my local swimming club, I earned the nickname ‘Muscles’ for my failure to develop any. It didn’t dampen my enthusiasm, however. And, after years of persevering, I got picked for my borough swim team.
Registering at pool-side before my big race, I was asked to stay back for a moment by a concerned official. “I’m sorry but I don’t think you’re old enough to compete, hon,” she told me. “This is an under-19 race. Don’t you think you’re in the under 14s?”
I was 17. She was sympathetic, rather than officious. But that was probably because she thought I was an over-enthusiastic 12-year-old. Standing on the blocks, I could see her point. There were six-foot-plus powerhouses either side of me, complete with actual, not metaphorical, muscles.
It was inevitable that my height would play a part in my love life — or to be ruthlessly accurate, the lack of it. I signed up for online dating because making a first impression by writing something — rather than stumbling over my words while pissed out of my mind — seemed appealing. But I soon discovered that a lot of women, who were shorter than me, wouldn’t give me the time of day, because I wasn’t tall enough. Refusals from folk whom even I’d have to stoop to kiss, because I was the short one, never stopped being weird.
And even though, miraculously, I managed to meet the right person after again persevering — someone who loved me for who I am and even married me — she still insists on affectionately calling me her ‘little ginger one’.
So I’m writing this for the other small people out there. Those of you who want adult clothes that fit, automatic doors that open and to stride into a busy bar confident you won’t have to furiously tug at someone’s elbow to be recognised. Remember, we’re not the ones with the problem. It’s them — the big people — who’ve got it all wrong. That’s why right now I’m humming ‘I’m a small man’ to the tune of ‘Soul Man’. Because mum was right: the best things always come in small packages.
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