Being a lefty – from runt of the litter to leader of the pack

By Gary Nunn

  • Notebook
  • Monday, 13 August 2012 at 12:01 am

“Look at the way he holds a pen, the cack-handed little git!”
These were the first words, delivered by my charming late Gran, that made me realise I was a bit different.
I was nine then and had just started to notice other differences, too. Every other pupil in my class had small silver-handled scissors, sat like a neat row of matching metal mouse ear sculptures in a wooden punnet. Plonked awkwardly at the end of the punnet were a single pair of massive scissors, startlingly luminous yellow handles jolting out at unnerving angles, with a sellotaped label reading GARY in messy, inconsistent handwriting.
Welcome to the childhood of a left-hander.
The adulthood of a lefty is not without its challenges. My handwriting is still inconsistent. Simply writing a compliments slip at work is as much of a headache as organising Olympic security. It requires an extra comps slip to slide under my left-hand as it writes like a meandering drunk moth, spilling out letters as if each one belonged to an entirely different alphabet from the last. The end result is always more of an insults slip than one offering compliments. With plenty of smudges.
Ah yes, smudges.  Any lefty will tell you, the blue or black ink stain on the left side of our left hand is like a permanent tribal or religious marking, singling out our rare breed (less than 10% of the population.)
It’s not just writing it affects; in the kitchen, at gym classes, learning musical instruments – all are counter-intuitive to us lefties.
Even language stigmatises us; left is gauche, awkward, clumsy, unlucky, sinister and devil-worshipping. Right, in juxtaposition, is correct, steadfast, proper, authoritative.
On top of this are the regular studies ominously suggesting we’ll have a lower life expectancy as we’re goofily more accident-prone.
But, reader, this is not a tale of self-pity.
Immediately following the regular cack-handed slight, Gran would fondly whisper “It’s what makes you so special, mate.”
Today is National Left Handers’ Day; a day to celebrate this specialness and reclaim our right to be left-handed.
There’s much to celebrate. The number of British left handed adults has increased fourfold in the last century, according to the studies of Professor Chris McManus, of University College London. Mainly because it’s no longer beaten out of us at school. We’re fighting back!
Another way we’re fighting back is by organising a pressure group which aims to get teachers trained on the specific needs of the left-handed child. The Rights of Left-Handed Writers Campaign launches today, calling on the Teacher Training Agency to implement long overdue teacher training explaining the differences of the left-handed writing technique. Lauren Milsom, expert on handedness, says that attempting to get a lefty to write using right-handed positioning leads to cramped hand grip, poor pen control, bad posture, slow laboured letter formation and – of course – that famous smudging. Without guidance, the child is forced to find their own ways of adapting – leading to the classic claw hand grip, body hunched over and bizarre writing angles with paper almost upside down. Prime bait for teasing and bullying, frustrated lefty pupils falling behind academically and acting up in class as a result.
But being a lefty can be a total boon. It’s a handy scapegoat; not just for my untidy handwriting. But also when I lose at bowling (nothing to do with being lefty; I’m just crap at it) and as a tenuous reason I can’t do mental maths (some gullible fools actually believe this). At rounders it’s advantageous when, at the last minute, I bat the ball to an empty left space as the fielders leg it from the right side of the field. And if I miss the ball? Well, it’s because I’m left-handed.
The best thing about being a lefty is the unique, outside-the-box perspective it gives you.  It teaches you to be creative, curious and inquisitive, to reject the status quo, to challenge authority to the point of contrariness, to resiliently stand firm without caving into pressure or conforming and to lead, not follow. I recently took up group boxing classes where lefties are called ‘Southpaws.’ When a ‘jab, hook, upper-cut, double jab, hook, jab’ instruction routine is demonstrated, I must do the polar opposite of every one of those instructions, requiring twice as much thought and a subversive feeling of individuality and defiance.
It’s for this reason I believe lefties are hugely over-represented in leadership positions. Prime Minister David Cameron is a lefty. Ireland’s previous Prime Minister Brian Cowen was a lefty, as was his predecessor Bertie Ahern. The world’s most powerful person, President Obama, is a lefty. Had he have lost the 2008 election, the current US President would be John McCain: also a lefty. In fact, five of the last seven US Presidents have been lefties. It’s a remarkable buck of the general population trend that, according to some studies, started with Thomas Jefferson then was continued by Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Gerard Ford, Ronald Reagan (ambidextrous), George Bush (senior), Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
For every doom-mongering study that predicts we’ll die younger, there are three that find we’re more creative and intelligent.
With those odds, I’d rather be left out than right-on.

the jingling geordie

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poet and raconteur