Thoughts on being tall

Being tall is a mixed blessing.

Or a curse, depending on your taste.

I’m not just talking about the inevitable bad back, the premature stoop and the often involuntary intimidation of young children and small animals that invariably follows from towering above one’s fellow travellers and hitting one’s head on inadequate doorways, but the level of expectation that goes with being tall that we’re not all capable of living up to.

Height is automatically imposing. There’s nothing anyone can do about that. It’s why cathedrals are built with high ceilings, to evoke the self-knowledge that you are insignificant. It’s much easier to be a (what my grandmother used to call) shrinking violet if one is short and dainty. Try fading into the background if you’re six foot three inches. The opportunity to slope into parties that are mid-swing and sneak off to a corner unnoticed is simply unavailable to the tall person. Some people relish being noticed the moment they walk into a room (Margaret Atwood is notorious for it) but we’re not all cut out to be the life and soul of every party.

This is why I identified with Mr Darcy, the hero of Jane Austen’s rather verbose romantic novel Pride and Prejudice. He’s mistaken for a rude, haughty cad when heroine Elizabeth Bennett first meets him at a society dance. It later transpires that he didn’t think he was above everyone at all. The reason he engaged nobody in conversation and kept only to familiar company wasn’t out of his sense of superiority but because he’s naturally shy, uncomfortable in crowds and socially awkward.

It’s fine to be all of these things if you’re short, and other people will probably make exceptions for you based on their understanding that this is the case. They may even arrive at the assumption that you are all of these things based solely upon your size. But if you’re physically tall you simply can’t get away with being shy.

Not that I’m suggesting I’m universally social ice. Old ladies and dogs warm to me instantly, and I have a wonderful rapport with both. They usually find me reassuring. I’ve been known to be garrulous after a few drinks, and am not unaccustomed to making speeches.

I suppose the point is that with height comes expectation. And expectation isn’t always welcome.

Having said that, and with varicose veins and sloping shoulders to look forward to, I wouldn’t take anything off my height. I’m not quite sure why that’s the case, but possibly it’s on account of being able to reach all the booze shelves in supermarkets.