Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Blatant Apart Height

Those of you who are kind enough to visit this blog occasionally may well have formed an opinion of the kind of person you think I am. This opinion will be partly based on my damn-fool ramblings, and partly upon the tiny image of me attached to my profile. Through my photograph you may detect a kind of inner calm, rather like that possessed by the skipper of a trawler in rough seas. I like to think it shows a person of character; insightful and thoughtful, but at the same time approachable and affable. But there are things it doesn't tell you. My height, for example.

Now, I'm not particularly tall. Like my friend and fellow blogger Mme Defarge, I have...um...little legs. But then neither am I particularly short, and I am not self-conscious about my height. But there was a time, dear reader, when things were very different.

On Sunday the 13th August 1978, I arrived at Hendon Police College as a (very) young and nervous probationary law enforcement officer. And it wasn't until the following morning, waiting in line to be 'sworn in', that I suddenly realised how many tall people there were in this world. I felt, with hindsight, a bit like Lemuel Gulliver in the land of Brobdignag. And wasn't I reminded of the fact for the next sixteen weeks!

This was back in the days when drill staff would seize, with delight, upon any supposed 'flaw' and exploit it to the full. Apparently, I already had a character defect because I had what was called a football moustache (five hairs a side), as did many of my fellow inmates. But with my height they had a field day. Alternative career paths were suggested; apparently, I could have been a fighter pilot for Airfix, a racing driver for Scalextric, or an Action Man with realistic gripping hands. According to one member of staff, my uniform would be supplied by Mothercare because the Hendon Stores didn't have anything small enough! A few people asked how I'd managed to get in , and I said I'd lied about my height. I also told anyone who would listen that the Metropolitan Police were looking for officers who could keep a low profile, and you couldn't get a profile much lower than mine! Nowadays, equality officials would probably say that I was being complicit in my own oppression; rather like a member of an ethnic group who professes not to mind an apparently inappropriate nickname.

I suppose this 'banter' did test me a little at the time. But, in law enforcement, you learn to develop a rather thick skin to deal with the kind of inventive and comprehensive insults that get thrown at you pretty well every day. And, believe me, the Great British Public can be pretty insulting, especially when it's had a few glasses of something. Thirty-odd years on, I can look back with a degree of affection at the ribbing I got at training school. In recent years, equality laws meant that police forces had to scrap height restrictions, so it came to pass that, before I retired, average height me was able to tower over some of my younger colleagues! But these five-foot-somethings were among some of the bravest officers I have ever worked with.

But doesn't it sometimes seem that the world is designed with tall people in mind? Most models, male or female, tend to be on the tall side. Clothes, unless you have them made to measure, look better on tall people. Apparently, tall people, on average, earn more money than us shorties. TV ads do not, in general, feature men who are around five foot seven inches tall (unless it is to portray them as dim-witted and in thrall to their taller and more intelligent wives!) And why is it that short people with attitude are told they have a Napoleon complex? It's apparently alright to be stroppy, forthright or demanding, but only if you're tall.

Of course, there are advantages to being short. You don't get too uncomfortable in the economy seats on a plane, you suffer less from acrophobia because your head is closer to the ground, and, if you trip over, you are less likely to suffer serious injury as you don't have so far to fall. So, on the whole, I'm reasonably happy with my five-seven, even if it does mean I have to use the step-stool to dust the top of my bookcase. But it is quite a tall bookcase...

So, what lessons have I learnt from all this? (i) Size matters; (ii) Size really doesn't matter; (iii) If in doubt, lie about your height; and (iv) if you really have a problem with your height (or lack of it), make friends with a tall person (or giraffe) today. Hi Raph!


Raph G. Neckmann said...

Giraffitude! Height doesn't matter in friendship!

(I'm quite tall even for a giraffe, but I have little legs too).

Yes, your photo does look like a person of character, with inner calm. As if you are looking to the horizon perceiving the grand design of things.

chris hale said...

Actually, Raph, now I think about it, I'm fairly sure the photo was taken whilst I was recovering from a bilious attack.

I must replace it one day!

Comedy Goddess said...

Viewing your profile I just figured you're like 7or 8 feet tall. You mean you aren't?

The cop part still mystifies me though.

chris hale said...

CG - Eight feet tall? I wish!

No mystery about the cop thing...the only mystery to me is how I stuck it for thirty years!

Rob Inukshuk said...

So if you're 5'7", how short was the person who took the profile pic?

Silly me, they were sitting down!

Madame DeFarge said...

Chris - As someone of average height (albeit for a century ago) I know what you mean. But it allows people to exercise their innate (and inane) talents for deprecation and wit, so we mustn't stop them in their erudite flow.

chris hale said...

Rob - the photo was actually taken by an elf, albeit quite a tall one.

MDF - Yes, whilst they are berating me for being shorter than them, at least they're leaving everyone else alone!

Derrick said...

Hi Chris,

To be honest, I thought policemen had to be 5'10" before they did away with the limits!

What I always find strange is the number of 6'plus men who have 5'2" ladies on their arm!

And the practical world is NOT designed for tall people. I'm tired of the back ache I get stooping over wash basins and kitchen worktops!

chris hale said...

Hi Derrick.

The height limit for the Met used to be 172cms (whatever that is!) but the City of London was the metric eqivalent of 5'10". Allegedly, in one City Police canteen, there were two rows of coat hooks. The higher one for City oficers, and the much lower one for visiting Met officers.

One amusing thing. Many years ago, the Met ran an advertising campaign. It showed a male and female officer standing opposite each other. The caption read, What's the difference between a policeman and a policewoman? At the foot of the ad was the answer, Basically, four inches. You can bet that ad was pulled very quickly!

mo.stoneskin said...

Dude your 'damn-fool ramblings' are beautifully written, eloquent as hell and I'm delighted to have dropped by.

I also appreciate any post that contains the word 'giraffe'.

I've only posted once using that word (as far as I'm aware), but if there is one thing I would like to achieve in life it is the record for "most frequent user of the word giraffe". Well, I've decided that right now - evidence suggests that it is not really my goal but I'm sure I can change that.

Just saw the word Sussex in the post below, which delights me (a Sussex resident). Sussex, beautiful Sussex.

chris hale said...

Hi Mo, thanks for dropping by!

Ah, Sussex! I have recently moved to Seaford from the edge of the Throbbing Metropolis.

What are our goals in life? I'm still working on mine. But frequent use of the word 'giraffe' seems like a good start to me. You could also try 'sesquipedalian', 'co-terminous' or 'meh'.

Speak again soon.