season is approaching Downunder, which means that I have been
fossicking about in my computer desktop and file cabinets in search of
things I should have filed months ago. Why don't I ever learn
be more organized?
my searches, I ran across this essay which I wrote a few years back.
It got lost along with so much else. Re-reading, I
you might find it amusing.
got more of a kick watching the new American President sign his first
official document than many people. It wasn’t for any of the
reasons that pleased others--first black president; one of the
youngest presidents; Democrat; a well-travelled man; a new broom: all
those things are no doubt worthy reasons to be pleased—no, it
was the way he grabbed the pen in his left hand. A southpaw, a
molly-duker, a leftie: at last, we dextrally–challenged
of the world had a poster child!
five out of the last seven American presidents have been left-handed.
George W Bush wasn’t a lefty—no surprise there!
are the odds against having so many lefthanders in the Oval Office?
Tattersall’s could no doubt tell me.)
unfortunate that President Obama is one of those lefties who looks as
if he’d got his paw caught in a laundry mangle. That comes
from his not having had a parent who realised that the only reason
lefties write in their peculiar fashion is because teachers insist on
their placing the paper diagonally on the desk in the same direction
as right-handed people do, top left to bottom right. This placement
means that the only way a lefthander can write on the paper is with
that peculiar crabbed over-the-top-and-down style.
my mother’s intervention, I was allowed to put my paper on
desk at the opposite angle to my right-handed classmates. I could
write just as fluidly as the best of them, and didn’t drag my
sleeves over my own work. Penmanship was still taught when I was in
school, and I won a few certificates in my time, proving that lefties
can reach the same dizzy calligraphic heights as anyone else.
don’t write in the usual crabbed lefty manner, it has
taken years for right-handed acquaintances to notice I am not one of
them. One of my cousins only last month exclaimed
left-handed!” in the tone of one suddenly discovering I was
probation for arson.
wasn’t happy about my being left-handed. She regarded it as a
character flaw, and said often “I don’t know where
got that, nobody in my family is
left-handed.” She was
doubly upset when my only son turned out to be a lefty. Apparently I
should have tried harder not to pass on the sinister gene. I did my
best, putting his cereal spoon upright in the centre of mashed potato
or extra-stiff porridge so as not to influence his choice of hand.
easy being left-handed. At school, I was put at the back of the last
row, because ‘people can cheat from your papers by looking
your shoulder.’ I wasn’t sure whether to be proud
fact that I had papers worth cheating from, or feel guilty for being
an occasion of sin for my classmates. The Latin for left, sinister,
has blotched the escutcheons of all lefties—you have only to
look into heraldry to find the bar sinister, the diagonal line
indicating bastardry in one’s ancestors.
non-crabbed-lefties, life is even harder. I once took a summer
school course in calligraphy and had the devil’s own time of
it, as the instructor was very clear in his instructions:
lefthanders should hold your paper upside down and work from top to
bottom, then turn the paper around the right way.” He also
supplied peculiar offset pen nibs to the lefties. As I was not a
bent-paw lefty, the whole convoluted process made my attempts at
calligraphy pretty much of a dog’s breakfast. I later got a
book from the library, bought a standard calligraphy pen, and taught
myself a reasonable facsimile of Carolingian miniscule.
life I worked in southern Africa, in the Kingdom of Swaziland. The
right hand-left hand dichotomy is far more noticeable and important
there than in most western countries. Using the left hand was an
occasion of grievous rudeness. The first phrase I asked our language
tutor to teach me was ‘please pardon my left hand’,
case I slipped and forgot to give or accept anything with the right
hand. I moved my bracelets from my right to my left wrist, so that
the jingling would call to my attention that the left forelimb was up
a formal procedure for receiving something from another person which
I mastered early on: one holds the right forearm with the left hand;
thus preventing any unfortunate slips. It was a sort of archaic
gesture mainly used by old ladies when receiving gifts, but I made
sure to adopt it, and scored a few brownie points for my manners. It
took years to forget the procedure after I left the kingdom; three
decades on, I still do it occasionally.
be hoped that having an American President who is left-handed might
go some ways towards removing the stain from us all. Meanwhile,
parents and teachers of lefties: do them a favour and teach them to
place their paper at the opposite angle on the desk, top right to
bottom left. The resulting penmanship will be legible, many
shirtsleeves will be saved a smudging, and the mark of Cain
be quite so visible to a censorious world.
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