O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
Robert Burns in To A Louse
My gran called me ‘heavy handed’. Mum said I was cack-handed at times. For as long as I can remember I’ve been clumsy. Show me a glass of water and I’ll knock it over.
I did something similar the other day. As I’ve become used to, I apologised. ‘Sorry. Clumsy fool,’ I said sheepishly.
She looked up from the latest puddle. ‘You’re not, you know?’
‘Yes I am.’ I was affronted.
‘No. You are careless at times. You lack concentration and you’re spatial awareness isn’t great but you are capable of delicate manoeuvring, you can do any number of tasks without mishap. We have glasses we were given when we married and you’ve yet to break them all (I should pause and note we were given a lot of glasses).’
‘But I’ve always been clumsy. Everyone knows it.’
‘You like the title. It is a comfort blanket. Maybe a bit of an excuse.’
We left it there. But I thought about it. I kind of watched myself. I still dropped things, fumbled stuff, spilled a proportion of the liquids I confronted but, frankly, not a lot more than anyone else.
So is she right? Have I happily carried the nomenclature for this long in error? Or are both positions tenable. Can I be self deludingly clumsy while in others’ eyes merely a little less coordinated than I might wish?
Of course it doesn’t matter. It’s not important. A few errors, then a small glut, one closely following the other starts the rot. I’m a child. I adopt the mantle, accept the received wisdom and before I know it, it is my cloak, part of the jokey exterior I like to use as a shield from the world.
I doubt either my grandmother or mother thought much of it; the labelling wasn’t done with any wish to control or harm. It wasn’t one to do me down, not deliberately and I have in some ways turned it to my advantage.
Its my default excuse. There’s a delicate job. ‘Not me, I’m clumsy.’
But for others, such careless labelling can be more damaging. Size, maybe or looks. I never thought, because of some careless word spoken way back when, that I was good at maths yet by my sixth form my maths teacher wanted me to try for Cambridge in maths (I still thank a minor deity for letting me avoid that particular hole).
Perhaps most telling was my English teacher, Mr Doubleday, who, to my ears, rubbished my attempt at starting a novel with a not particularly well chosen, ‘No one would be interested in that.’ Did he realise it would take me 35 years to move on from that memory?
Of course it wasn’t just his ill chosen words that set me back but, like ‘you’re heavy handed’ it was the beginning of a self assessment that time and circumstances reinforced. Needless to say it was the Textiliste who pricked that boil and encouraged me to take a creative writing course just prior to my 50th. Bloody woman knows me too well. Thanks be to said small godlet. At least now I can call myself a writer (even if a clumsy one).
And on that note I shall end with my favourite saucy postcard of all time.