This is a sign I have never really had to bother about.
I am only 5 feet 7 inches tall. Below average height in Europe, where I would be 1.7 metres. I have spent my life being shorter than almost all other men I have encountered, and many of the women I have met too. I first really noticed the difference when I was about 13 years old, and realised a girl I really liked was taller than me. Well, she was on the Netball Team, so I should have known. By the time I had grown to my full height, I was disappointed that I would be stuck with that for the rest of my life.
As I reached my late teens and was dating girls, I started to hate high-heeled shoes too. Some girls who were shorter than me immediately became taller once wearing shoes to go on a date. When I got to the pub with her, I became obsessed with trying to find another male shorter than me, so I wouldn’t be the shortest guy in the place.
Then I started work, and had to commute on public transport for a while. I could never see past any man standing nearby, and had to learn to count the stops, so I knew when to get off. Going to the cinema or theatre was a pain too, as if another man sat in front of me, it usually meant I had to watch the film or show with my head cranked to one side, so I could see over his shoulder.
Being short in Central London in the late 1960s wasn’t great either. Taller blokes (so almost all of them) would enjoy baiting me, or intimidating me. I had to develop a serious ‘attitude’ to avoid being pushed around or ridiculed. My long-term girlfriend at the time was almost as tall as me, so once she added heeled boots or shoes, I found myself having to glance up at her. She didn’t mind the difference, but I did.
But it does have some benefits. I have never hit my head on a car roof when getting in and out. I didn’t have to bend my knees up to my chin to be able to drive a car, and I could always find shoes and trousers in my size too. And I wasn’t ‘really short’. Not like some of the local boys who never got past 5 feet 2. I would have felt really sorry for them, and suggested they seek a career as a jockey, had it not been for the fact that most of them developed a real ‘little-man’ attitude, and became very aggressive. Presumably for self-protection.
It seemed that I was often a sucker for punishment too. My second wife was almost 6 feet tall in her bare feet, so with shoes on, she literally towered above me. The photos of our wedding look like she is escorting her little brother to a function. She didn’t mind our height difference at all. But I did.
Luckily, nobody ever made much of a fuss about it. I was never called ‘Little Pete’. In fact, I was far more likely to be called ‘Grumpy Pete’. Nobody ever called me ‘Shorty’, ‘Tich’, or ‘Half-Pint’. There were times I wondered if I was making too much of it. But then there were those signs, like the one above. As I walked under them, I didn’t dip down, or duck my head. Everyone else had to of course, including my ex-wife.
Over the decades, it came to matter less. I arrived in Beetley, retired from work, and stopped bothering about my height.
Then one day last year, I was walking with two lady dog-walkers over at Beetley Meadows. I know them well, and we often walk our dogs together. A small tree had fallen across the path, creating a kind of arch of its branches. As we walked through, I ducked under. Turning to wait for the two ladies, I saw one of them chuckling. I asked her what was funny, thinking I had missed a joke.
“You ducked under the branches, Pete. There was no need, they cleared your head by a mile. How tall do you think you are?”