Happy Left-handers Day (13 August) to my fellow ciotógs. We might only make up 11% of the population, but apparently we are creative and are good at multitasking and problem-solving. That makes sense to me: we live in a right-handed world and are constantly having to figure out how to do things with our left hand that others take for granted.
If you’re right-handed, you probably don’t realise some of the tasks that are more difficult for us ciotógs. For example, the engine on a petrol strimmer is on the right. When I use it on the left, the hot engine is close to my body – the heat of which has, on one occasion, singed my clothes.
In general, power tools are not left-hand friendly, with the safety guards on the wrong side for us when we use them – so it’s not surprising that statistically we are more likely to be injured while using them.
Even regular jobs in the garden, like pruning, are more troublesome. When pruning with a right-handed pair of secateurs in my left hand, the blade is on the wrong side so it cuts at the wrong angle. Luckily for my plants, I have a left-handed secateurs, but I’ve had to give up using the strimmer.
Years ago, being left-handed was seen as a very negative thing. When I started junior infants, the teacher would tie my left arm behind my back at the start of each class. One night, I was at home practising my writing when my father noticed I was writing with my right hand and kept my left hand behind my back. I told him that was how I wrote in school. He paid a visit to the school the next morning and, whatever was said, I was allowed to use my left hand from then on.
The teacher did, however, continue to take a dig at me on a regular basis – telling me I could never be a secretary as I couldn’t type left-handed, or a nurse, as a doctor wouldn’t take instruments from a left-handed nurse. I guess it’s a good job I had no inclination to follow either path.
In secondary school, the domestic science teacher said I’d never be allowed to use a knife in her kitchen. I wasn’t having that, so I studied agricultural science with the boys instead, which worked out great, actually.
Many people of my generation had similar negative experiences in school for using their left hand. This resulted in many becoming ambidextrous or struggling with writing all their lives.
Being a ciotóg can be an advantage when playing sports. Our own Olympic gold medalist Michael Carruth is a southpaw. My grandfather used to fence (not to keep the sheep in) and believed he lost a major competition because his opponent was left-handed. Not surprisingly, there are few left-handed golfers as it requires a different set of clubs to play – but quite a few tennis players are left-handed.
When I started basket weaving under the excellent tutelage of Joe Hogan, he pointed out that I was weaving in the opposite direction to everyone else in the room.
My mother discovered it was easiest to teach me how to knit and crochet by having me sit opposite her rather than beside her. I often smile at the memory of her walking into the kitchen and saying: “I see Margaret set the table,” as I’d have placed the knives on the left.
From Marie Curie to Leonardo Da Vinci, from Marilyn Monroe to Morgan Freeman, ciotógs are everywhere.
We make up a higher than average percentage of solicitors, architects and – interestingly – Apollo astronauts.
Left-handed Bertie Ahern was succeeded as Taoiseach by left-handed Brian Cowen. I particularly like that left-handed cartoonist Matt Groening made his world famous character, Bart Simpson, left-handed.
Have a great day, ciotógs – and stay away from the power tools. CL