Thursday, October 18, 2012

I'm Not Alone

We all have stories that originate somewhere in the depth of our memory, filed at the back of the oldest filing cabinet in our brain, so old that over a period of time we come to regard them as being true even though we know we can't really prove whether or not they actually happened or not. I'm not talking about urban myths or regressive memory but events that we feel are more personal, have somehow impacted on our lives and yet are almost intangible.

Some scientists believe that as adults we cannot imagine how we felt before we were 10 years old. We can tell stories of events that happened before then but our brain won't allow us to recall how we actually felt, we get into the area of transference allowing our adult selves to impart adult emotions on our long gone childhood selves.

I was born left handed. About 10% of the worlds population are left handed, we can all name a few exceptional left handers because they are such a small number in comparison to the rest of the human race, however I have been right handed since the age of 4, what happened when I was 4? I began my formal education.

Prior to beginning school my Mum taught me the basics of reading (thank you Janet and John) and spelling and writing, I don't doubt there was a sub conscious effort to give me a 'head start' but I also suspect there was an element of a young mother being alone with two young children and not wanting to go 'stir crazy'. Anyway schools apparently wanted everybody to be taught the same way and that meant being different was not encouraged where it would be a disadvantage to the majority and it was easier for a teacher to teach a classroom of pupils writing with the same hand, so I became right handed. Two years after I began my schooling my brother started school and he was also left handed, so he too was forced to change. I say forced because we had to write with our left hand either behind our backs or on our laps - yes this really was Britain in the 1960's!

I don't know how long the gene of left-handedness has been in our family but when it came to sport I was the odd man out. Both my brother and Dad played sports needing the use or arms or hands with their left hand whilst I was right handed, they were left footed whilst I was two footed. Playing any racket sport against a leftie when you are right handed is very difficult - look at the success of Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Rafael Nadal and Monica Seles who have won more tennis events than they should have won statistically based on the number of left handed people in the world - because an attacking stroke for a left handed player against a right handed player goes against what the brain (of the right handed player) understands as asymmetry.

Anyway the role of education in changing me from left handed to right handed became part of what I was, part of a back story that was entirely reliant upon my Mother's memory. There was no reason to disbelieve her but I had no independent verification - until today.

I was at the gym this morning, I have been on holiday this week (having to use up my annual leave before the end of the year) and got into a conversation with another hot and sweaty body. He said how he wanted to invent an exercise which involved gaining a flat stomach, endurance, muscles all without leaving his computer and whilst enjoying a glass of red wine. I said we all did but for now we'd have to settle for time of the treadmill, cycles, cross trainers and weights. He then said that he had been working on a 10 k.g mouse to use at his computer, I laughed and said that was fine but he'd end up with a 'Popeye' right arm and the original five stone weakling left arm. No problem, he replied, I'm ambidextrous, I was left handed until I went to school.

There was a brief pause before I replied, "Bloody hell. I was the same."
"We all were he said, we used to get threatened with the board rubber if we didn't use our right hands (corporal punishment was also a much used part of British education before the 1980's)."
"It must have been peculiar to anybody who went to school in the 50's or 60's", I replied.
"I was born in 1947". "
"1960," I replied, "so you went to school around 1952 ish. Blimey, try telling this to the kids of today".

The amazing thing is that we weren't/aren't the only ones, if you look at this page you get a small sample of the 200 comments that were posted in response to an online item from March 2012. 

The other interesting thing to come out of this mornings meeting and some subsequent research online is that having tried these tests I have discovered that my left handedness wasn't eliminated completely back in 1964 and that it has simply remained a hidden part of my personality in the intervening forty eight years. Yes I know it's not a test conducted in a scientific environment but it is still interesting to do.

So Mum, it wasn't that I didn't believe you, I just wanted to know if I was one of only two or part of a bigger experiment.


Span Ows said...

This is an unbelievable coincidence... sinister one could say (arf arf) but only last week my ex was discussing how the school had made one of our lads use his right hand when he was really left handed etc and I said rubbish...well, I am stunned.

Paul said...

Well there you go, all these things are obviously part of a bigger conspiracy!

A Northern Bloke said...

When I was a boy, I became football crazy and loved playing as often as I could. One of my older brother's was a keen amateur footballer and he became my unofficial coach.

He told me I ought to be two footed and not just use my right foot so I practised with my left, so much so that I eventually became left footed.

So I am left footed but right handed.

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