Saturday, January 21, 2006


The trouble with being very short is that in quite subtle but still quite important ways you remain a child for the whole of your adult life.

This week there's been a lot of top chat on Wyndham's blog about Neal Stephenson, with particular reference to Cryptonomicon, with particular reference to how Neal Stephenson is like Thomas Pynchon for dummies, which resulted in my rashly promising the assembled crowd that I would attempt to read Gravity's Rainbow again.

This is no minor undertaking, incidentally - the merest paragraph of Pynchon's can keep you awake for hours with lexical indigestion. But I wasn't going to let that deter me, oh no. Then I realised that my copy of Gravity's Rainbow is actually several postcodes away chez ex-Mr P. Not only that, but it's also all horrid, decayed and swollen because it used to live in our bathroom with the Tintin books and Onion annuals, which - for reasons I can't possibly imagine - tended to be more popular with bathroom visitors.

So off I skip to Waterstone's with one of those feelings of irrational joy that I often get on a Saturday morning. I'm wearing my green military-style jacket and a stripy scarf. I've just had my eyebrows threaded. I fancy I look just like one of London's boho left-wing intelligentsia. I'm going to buy Gravity's Rainbow, and I'm going to read it upstairs in the smoking bit of Caffe Nero, sitting on one of those banquettes that I hate so much. Handsome, intelligent men will probably fall in love with me. What could possibly go wrong?


In Waterstone's, alphabetical ordering has contrived to place Thomas Pynchon on the top shelf. I can see the book. I can touch it. But I can't get it down. It's wedged in too tightly, sandwiched in between his other - and in Wyndham's opinion, better - works. I need to get my fingers on top of it, but I can't reach that high. I look around. There's a bloke standing next to me. I briefly consider asking him to get it for me, but then I realise how stupid that would make me look, like a child asking its Mum to fetch the biscuit tin down*.

Feeling terribly humiliated, I leave empty-handed. I almost want to cry. Instead, I buy the Guardian and read it upstairs in the smoking bit of Caffe Nero, sitting on one of those banquettes that I hate so much. No one appears to fall in love with me. The whole morning is completely ruined.

Later, I remember there's a gigantic Books Etc. on Shepherd's Bush Green, where I find the book well within my puny reach. So, if you'll excuse me, I have 760 pages of literary tour de force to get through...

* To this day, my Mum (who's nine inches taller than me) keeps her biscuits and chocolates on the top shelf of the cupboard where I can't get at them.


Dave F said...

That's such a sweet sad story. For a moment I saw things from your perspective. But think how romantic it would be if you asked a bloke to get it down for you and everything began there ... "Well, actually, we met over a copy of Gravity's Rainbow."

It's Notting Hill all over again. Where with any luck I shall be ensconced in a ritzy flat near Portobello Road come April (home swap pending).

Dave again said...

I am frightened of tall women.

But then I have to stop myself acting protective/paternal to women shorter than me.

So generally I avoid them. But if you'd like to climb on my shoulders to reach something from the top shelf...

Dave F said...

Bless em all. Bless em all.
The long and the short and the tall.
"lofup" ...mmm ja, bitte.

GreatSheElephant said...

Good grief multiple Daves - you are being frightening yourselves.

P - you did that bloke out of a chance to feel good about himself. I often ask men to get things off top shelves - I view it as a random act of kindness. Am I letting down the sisterhood though, I wonder?

More importantly - where were all the scooty round stools? That's sinister.

Paul Pennyfeather said...

If you let me know which books you would like to buy I will arrange for your books to be put on a lower shelf.
It will be more like personal shopping- all grown up and that.

patroclus said...

That's very sweet of you, PP. However I'd feel terribly guilty that I might be seen to be calling favours from my shadowy contacts in the upper echelons of Waterstone's management. (Err, am I allowed to say that?)

No, essentially, this is why I like the internet so much. On the internet, no one knows you're five feet and half an inch.

And Dave (F): Returning to London? What about the cushy postprandial poolside lifestyle?

patroclus said...

Also, GSE: No, I don't believe you're letting down the sisterhood, although my understanding of feminism is woolly and illogical (because I'm a girl). I just don't like drawing attention to the fact that I'm not very tall.

Which is clearly why I've just written about it in depth. Damn my woolly and illogical girl mind!

bybuhua Evil laugh emitted by oppressive patriarchal overlords upon reading about my gender-based mental failings.

occasional poster of comments said...

Yep, being short sucks. Particularly at gigs. Quite apart from not being able to see, people trying to push through to the front always seem to see you as the path of least resistance. Hmm, maybe they should have scooty round stools at gigs too?

Quite enjoyed Crying of Lot 49, but was then rather put off Pynchon by Vineland. Never mind lexical indigestion, the man uses more clauses and sub-clauses than a German philosopher. It seemed to me like a good book badly written/edited; those unending clunky sentences just distracted from his ideas and humour.

Dave again said...

Yes, this feminism lark. Nowadys I would never dream of offering to get something down from a high shelf for a woman, for fear of being physically attacked/verbally abused.

Oh, and being 5'8" means most shelves are too high for me anyway.

patroclus said...

>>Hmm, maybe they should have scooty round stools at gigs too?<<

Oo, I am *so* going to take one of those to the Nick Cave thing on the 31st. Why are all ex-goths so tall?

Fizzy good said...

I really enjoyed 'The Secret Integration'. It's in 'Slow Learner' if you're interested. Nobody fell in love with me though.

I have a sneaking, Grinch-like suspicion that my local Neros are all becoming non-smoking. Next thing we know they'll ban cannabis and raise the drinking age to 18. I don't know what the country is coming to.

- Love from fellow tiny person

Dave F said...

Yeah, Patro, it's actually a long-overdue month-long holiday; I've swapped (I think, final negotiations under way) my sun-drenched pad with pool for a place owned by two designers -- one a freelance shoe designer, which may be of peripheral interest to a certain blogger in these parts.

I've missed the bloody place, and friends and the South Bank and the theatre and the bookshops and blah blah blah. So it's going to be sheer luxury. Wish I could spend six months a year here and six months there.

patroclus said...

I think you have to eat half a magic pomegranate or something for that wish to come true. Worth a try, anyway.

Yes indeed, Mrs Shepherd's Bush Philosopher is a shoe designer, as is my friend the lovely S. There's a lot of it about.

occasional poster of comments said...

>>Why are all ex-goths so tall?<<

Tell me about it. It's just not necessary to be that tall. I was at the recent Alexandra Palace gig where they seemed to conspire to form an impenetrable wall about two metres from the front. Had to content myself with watching Mr Cave's impressively sinister shadow on the walls much of the time.

>>the Nick Cave thing on the 31st<<
Does that mean you'll be in my neck of the woods (i.e. Cambridge)? I'd say I'll look out for a short person with a stool, but I could only get a ticket for somewhere near the back of the balcony. Damn my disorganisation.

Anonymous said...

i always find tall people conspire to ruin my concert going a short person, they zone in on me, and stand directly in my line of perfect view of the collective genius of franz ferdinand was ruined last week by an incredibly tall man with a backpack and a hideous pair of sandals...grr...

patroclus said...

>>Had to content myself with watching Mr Cave's impressively sinister shadow on the walls much of the time.<<

Putting both of us into a select subset of People Who Have Enjoyed Nick Cave Via The Medium Of His Shadow.

>>Does that mean you'll be in my neck of the woods (i.e. Cambridge)?<<


Urban Chick said...


who? who?

*stamps foot and demands an answer and then invites self to tea in notting hill pad come april provided has not moved to scotland in meantime*

Tabby Rabbit said...

Did you try jumping at the book like said child eyeing up biscuit tin?

I used to share a house with a short bloke and, being 5 foot 9 (and several inches taller than him) I could reach things in the kitchen that he couldn't which was really awkward sometimes.

Good points about being short: you get to wear heels as much as you want; people assume you're not an axe-murderer; more choice of blokes (why do men go for women that are shorter than them?)

Bad points about being tall: Feeling you have to bin heels; feeling you have to stoop when in the company of shorter blokes; people assuming you're an axe murderer . (Dave - you have no need to be scared)

And if you're short people (read: men) can kiss you on top of the head when they hug you. Experienced this for the first time just a few months ago.

Sorry I'm rambling.

Dave again said...

Actually Tabby, it's tall people in general who reinforce my inferiority complex.

But I generally feel gauche in the presence of articulate women.

So having a woman look down on me just completely crushes me.

If I had to face a female fast bowler [cricket reference] I'd dig a hole and hide.

Dave F said...

Ye, Mrs Chick, thought that would get you going. Her name's Reina and I still don't have her second name. Her best friend lives in the next village up the coast. I'll ask him. Or her. She says she's hoping to find inspiration here for new collection -- would that be spring? Nowhere better anyway. Afro chic is very big here at the moment.

Oh, and you're welcome in Notting Hill pad if this all goes through.
Spose you know all the good cafes, etc? I've been away a long time ...

Dave F said...

Dave, I hate to think how terrified you'd be of my best friend, a tall drop-dead gorgeous redhead and ace journo. All the right buttons pressed in my case.

occasional poster of comments said...

Doh! It would seem that it was actually your blog that alerted me to the solo tour in the first place. I think I was so excited that I just clicked on the link, didn't read the rest and forgot entirely. So, a much belated thank you. Very remiss of me.

So, even after your timely alert, why the rubbish ticket? One of those ill-advised attempts to be sensible with money that sometimes momentarily cloud one's judgement. Fortunately, my memories of the solo show at Cambridge Folk Festival kept pestering me until I agreed to let them be joined by more of their own kind. They're getting very excited, by the way. The ones from Alexandra Palace haven't been much company for them, truth be told.

patroclus said...

Ohh, well in that case I'm delighted to have been of service, OPC. I'm very much looking forward to it myself. Maybe we should wear special badges so we can recognise each other! I've always wanted to wear a special badge, and I've been denied the pleasure thus far.

james henry said...

Or you could both wear special badgers? Much easier to spot from a distance.

patroclus said...

Oddly enough I was walking past Olympia the other day (the conference centre, not the birthplace of the Olympic games) and someone had altered a sign outside to read "Badger Holders Only". I grinned stupidly to myself all the way back to Hammersmith Broadway. It's how Bob Dylan started out, you know. Apparently.

occasional poster of comments said...

Ah, special badgers! Undoubtedly easier to spot, but what of that age-old problem: badger placement? I gather that where one wears one's badger can send out all kinds of messages to those in the know. Is this true, James? Should our badgers be thrown over our left or right shoulders, or should we in fact opt for the low-slung badger? Personally I favour peeking out of the left breast pocket, but goodness knows what that says about me.

Err, yes, anyway. Quite like the badge idea (though am now starting to worry about placement, and kicking myself that I didn't buy one at the Robyn Hitchcock gig last night). I was wondering whether to suggest something similar myself, but hadn't decided yet, being as I'm some-bloke-you-don't-know-off-of-the-internet and therefore unwise to meet with. Which would have put you in the awkward position of having to say something to that effect. Of course you could still say that, which would be understandable and no offence would be taken, nor should any awkwardness be felt.

I overthink things, don't I?

occasional poster of comments said...

Before James distracted me with his badger, I meant to say that should we spot eachother, I owe you a drink for the heads-up on the gig.

Anyway, sleep to be slept, dreams to be dreamt (involving being chased by badge-wielding badgers at the Corn Exchange, or something, most probably).

patroclus said...

Why not eh, Poster? All my meetings with people-off-the-internet have been good ones, and long may that continue.

In lieu of a badge (or badger), I'll be the short blonde one, accompanied by a tallish, bespectacled one with distinguished grey hair and better music taste than mine.

There, that should narrow it down sufficiently. Failing that, you could always email me via my Profile.

RickB said...

Hee, I love that post. My better half is short and I frequently hide my pork scratchings in high places around the flat. The downside is of course that I have to change all the lightbulbs and I'm frightend of electricity.

patroclus said...

>>I frequently hide my pork scratchings in high places around the flat.<<

Part of me really wants this to be a euphemism, and part of me really, really doesn't.

Either way, welcome!

Fizzy good said...

My father, who has a phobia of vinegar, once hid a jar of pickled onions from my mother. She never found them, and they have since moved house - ooh - about 17 times, between them, probably.

My parents, not the onions.

My mother is a tiny person, but I have no idea whether he hid them in a high place or not.

patroclus said...

This is becoming a nicely surreal discussion. Does anyone else have anything to contribute on the subject of Things Tall People Hid In High Places Where Short People Couldn't Find Them? Bonus points if the hidden item could be a euphemism for something else or possessed any other unusual attributes.

Wow, this is like getting the users to create the content inside a medium where users get to create the content. Meta-user-content-creation ahoy!

Sorry gone a bit nuts - bit of a stressful week.

belladona said...

Hello! Sorry, had to, haven't spoken to you for ages - anyway - my ex used to insist on using the backs of the cupboards for things only I used even though he knew full well I couldn't reach them without a chair. Clearly ought to have left him earlier. It may or may not have been metaphysical.

lyksmhe - an evil plan concieved by blogger to ensure I never manage to sign on due to misspelling.

mig bardsley said...

I am also short. I have been known to climb up on the lower shelf in supermarkets in order to reach things that have been stacked ridiculously high and of which there are only one left, at the back of the shelf.
Now that I am less agile* and a bit older, I look for a tall woman to reach for me. Then we can have a good giggle over it.
*Oh alright, fatter.

RickB said...

Taking the discussion in, quite literally, another direction: Do short people hide things in low places, away from we taller citizens? I might investigate this evening.