The Vault: Your Side

13 June 2013 Mic Looby

The Vault: Your Side

Photography by James Braund

Mic Looby, Ed#428, March 2013

There was a time when lefties were thought of as gauche. Sinister, even. And some of them were. So let’s not go mocking our forebears for persecuting each other based on which hand they wrote with. The important thing is they took a side and stuck with it.

Back then, the right was good and the left was bad and things were simpler: the maladroit were rapped across the knuckles for their ungainly penmanship and that was the way of the world. 

Now it’s all shifted. Now the good and bad sides are much harder to distinguish. On the one hand, the right is often wrong. On the other hand, the left is often right. 

Sure, much of the world may be on a rightward lean (and lefties may still be statistically more likely to do themselves damage in bizarre right-handed-power-tool accidents), but it’s definitely getting more difficult to tell which side is which.   

Take the electronic keyboard. It may look harmless enough, but in no time at all it has killed off the pen (which was once rumoured to be mightier than the sword – how times have changed). All of a sudden, with technology at their fingertips and without a pen in their ungainly hand to distinguish them from their more orthodox counterparts, lefties can look just like righties. The labels once reserved for the left – things like ‘gauche’ and ‘sinister’ – now stick just as readily to the right. Who’d have thought it?

Now take our roads. If you think we drive on the left then clearly you’re stuck in the past. Get with the times, you old fogey. The fact is that plenty of us drive on the right (only we happen to be heading in the opposite direction) and frankly, it would be naive of you to think otherwise.

There’s a lesson here for us all. We may think we’re barrelling along on the left when in fact, in the eyes of some oncoming traffic, we’re somewhere over on the right. You see? It’s all about perception, and which way you’re facing, and driving conditions on the day.

Now take my kids. Here we have the next generation attempting to negotiate the many and varied aspects of life, not least of which is simply trying to learn their left from their right. What hope do they have? By the time they’re old enough to vote, the left and the right will be as one: fingers entwined, a mass of greasy palms. Nobody will remember which side was which, or if it mattered. Coincidentally, writing implements will be a distant memory. Penmanship will be a lost art. And our roads will be a nightmare.  

I can see it happening already. Venturing out with my kids on a two-lane bike path, the confusion is palpable. There’s me pedalling along in the wobbly wheeled wake of my children, plaintively calling: “Stick to the left! The left.”  While my kids – not at all sure which side I’m yelling about – hover uncertainly more or less in the middle, or opt for both sides in equal measure, as bell-ringers hurtle all around them.  

Then, to add to my kids’ befuddlement, at some point we turn around and head for home, with me once again hollering “The left! The left! Stick to the left!” Which, of course, is now the right, depending on how you look at it.

For quite a while there, I couldn’t work out why the poor little tackers would veer even further into the path of oncoming traffic on the ride home. It wasn’t just exhaustion. They were trying to stick to the left. Or at least, they were trying to stick to the left as it was before, until their father shifted everything on them and decided the left had switched to the other side. 

If this seems cruel then I guess it is. But the kids have to learn the truth sooner or later. Taking sides can be very confusing.

Mic Looby is a columnist for The Big Issue. Follow him on Twitter, @MicLooby