Little life lessons from a left-hander

BY AMANDA BARLOW, NEW SOUTH wales-based media stringer

Which way? Left or Right?

Which way? Left or Right?

Left Handers Day celebrates the unique differences of left handers every year on August 13. On this special day I thought I’d share my personal left hander life lessons, dedicated to all my fellow left handers the world over!

Three lefties: Imogen - the proud left hander (left), Amanda (middle), Caroline (right)

Three lefties: Imogen - the proud left hander (left), Amanda (middle), Caroline (right)

When I was at school, they always made me write with my right hand. I was meant to be left handed. Never learnt a thing!’ John WATSON

Not all that long ago, children were strongly encouraged to be right-handed and left-handers struggled mercilessly with dip pens, smudging ink all over their pages with their sleeves. Frequently, left- handed children in the 1950s were forced to write with their right hand and in many cases, it meant they battled with their educations, just like John. In some countries today, it remains the case that writing with the right hand is still encouraged.

I’m a left-hander myself, with two right-handed parents, and two of my six siblings are also left-handed. Apparently, left-handers make up only 10% of the population so our family has its own little left-handed micro world. I can remember having the pencil taken out of my left hand and put straight into my right hand, when I first started school. When I insisted on putting it back into my left hand, Mother Margaret capitulated!

Being left-handed has brought its difficulties for me. I wasn’t very good at sewing anyway but having the needle in my left hand while everyone else had theirs in their right didn’t make for fast progress! I quickly learned to use right-handed scissors and only learned to knit when a left-handed visitor taught me. Neither my husband nor any of my four children is left-handed and I am forever the butt of their jokes…

When I’ve got a knife in my hand, “be careful of the left hander with a knife!”

When I’ve tagged a calf backwards, “another fine example of mum’s tagging!”

When I suggested I might buy myself a chainsaw, “you’ve got to be joking!”

Some left-handed people (including myself) have trouble telling left from right when it comes to directions. I’ve always had to give a reasonable amount of consideration to which way is left and which way is right. My niece, Imogen, has a freckle on her left hand which she uses to tell left from right. Her mother Caroline, my sister, struggles with directions too and says we’re both, “directionally challenged”. Some years ago, when she was living in London and I was visiting, we emerged from the Tate Gallery and we were so both confused about which way to go. We fell about laughing about our shared weakness and Caroline says she felt liberated by our sameness, “I was set free by the Tate Gallery!”

My brother, Nicholas

My brother, Nicholas

Caroline, is a proud left-hander. She says left-handers are identifiable and quirky. She believes she can often pick if someone is left-handed. The quirkiest person I know is my left-handed brother, Nicholas. He has an extraordinary collection of eclectic interests which include the American Civil War, particularly the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, music, guns, shooting, hunting, dogs, knots, leatherwork, horses, Santa Gertrudis cattle and whip making. He has ten Clydesdale horses and his current dream is to drive a four-in-hand Clydesdale team at the Melbourne Show. Nicholas does not casually pursue his interests, he is extremely invested, accumulating an encyclopaedic amount of knowledge. Whether this is connected with left-handedness or not, I don’t know…but it does make me wonder!

Left-handed hairdressers from  Hakkas  salon: Sue (left) and Toni (right)

Left-handed hairdressers from Hakkas salon: Sue (left) and Toni (right)

Over time I’ve come to learn there are degrees of left-handedness. I’ve broken my left hand twice, once falling off a rearing horse and once getting kicked by a cow, both times I was forced to adapt to using my right hand for many tasks including writing…albeit somewhat untidily! While I play tennis with my left hand, I’m never sure which hand to play golf with. Perhaps my left-handedness has been tempered by circumstance?

Inverted left-handers turn their fingers towards their body when they write. Barack Obama, Prince William and my brother all do this. I don’t know about the neatness of Barack or William’s writing, but my brother’s scrawl has always resembled hieroglyphics! On the other hand, Caroline and I write like right handers, holding the pen conventionally, but in our left hand and our writing is quite neat.

It might surprise you to know that some animals have left-handed tendencies. As a horse rider who bred, trained, rode and showed ponies and horses for many years, I quickly realised that most horses prefer the right side of going. This means they canter with more ease on the right leg and are more comfortable on that leg. They also trot more willingly in a circle to the right rather than to the left. I’ve had horses fight strongly against going to the left and refuse to canter on the left leg.

For the purposes of this piece, I asked a few people about their experience of being left-handed. Who better to ask than my hairdresser, Toni, and her business partner, Sue. Both initially said that being left-handed made absolutely no difference to them. However, as was talked they began to reflect that being left-handed had in fact, has presented interesting challenges. Toni, a very fine cutter, said that she had trouble learning to cut hair and that she finds it difficult to teach right-handers. Sue cuts with left handed scissors and believes her creative flair, particularly with sewing, is attributed to her left-handed ways.

Fellow Rural Room Media Stringer, Emma Leonard, said of her left-handed experience, “being left handed in a right-handed world certainly has its little challenges!”

“I'm always smudging ink when writing on paper, and it's the worst when you’re trying to write a really neat card to someone,” she says.

“And when I’m trying to learn any sport with a right-handed stick or a bat I find it extremely hard, especially hockey! Curiously, when someone hands you a mug the handle is usually the wrong way. I still eat with a fork in my left hand and knife in my right, but if I was to cut up veggies or meat the knife goes in my left hand. I also read magazines from the back cover to the front, weird and kind of impossible, I know! However, all in all, I love being left-handed and it’s a unique quality that makes me, me!”

Editor and writer, Margaret Jacobs, sums up her mother Anne’s left-handed challenges in the below excerpt, which I find fascinating.

Writing was important to Anne. She bent to it. She concentrated. In my memory of her manner as she wrote there is no sense of ease but rather of directed effort, of it needing all her attention. Her family learned to make out the words intended by the loopy characters - so different from the pointiness of the those we learned to assemble at kindergarten and school. We saw no other writing like it. Thirty-seven years since her death and if I come across it on old recipes or letters it still brings me up with a start - her writing is so ‘her’. She would remind us how at the elementary school in Hanover, Germany, left-handedness was forbidden. No choice - write with the right hand or don’t write at all. Not writing was never an option for Anne. My father’s secretary kindly transcribed into a typescript her memoir of her childhood and adolescence in Germany, ‘Alien Roots’ . Thank goodness she had done so, when we decided (after both our parents had died) to publish her book.”

When I started thinking about being left-handed and its repercussions, I had no idea how far it would take me! While it does seem as if it’s still largely a right-handed world things have certainly changed for the better…though I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tell left from right!