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Better to be petit than tall beyond any utility

REMEMBER Randy Newman's wonderful song, Short People?

Short people, sang Newman, people who in weaselly argot are vertically challenged, have "no reason to live". Moreover, "they got little hands and little eyes" and walk around - in platform shoes - "tellin' great big lies". It was perhaps his most successful song, a bigger hit even than his similarly controversial "Davy the Fat Boy".

He, however, was not all that fond of it, because many of its listeners did not understand he was being ironic. Even in the era before the internet, Newman (6ft tall and then some) received threats to his wellbeing and, if ever he performed the song in concert, there was always at least one aggrieved and idiotic midget in the audience who took umbrage and shouted obscenities.

I thought immediately of Short People when I learned that researchers at the University of Edinburgh's institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine have published a study suggesting that men below 5ft 9in and women below 5ft 4in tall are inferior intellectually to those who tower above them. Can this possibly be true, I wondered, as I measured myself.

On a good day, in my stocking soles, I come in at around the cut-off height for women. But then I have always been petit. At primary school, I was the shortest boy in my class, which made me a target for any tall boy eager to develop a career as a bully.

What they did not know is that I am double jointed and before any fight developed into fisticuffs I would grab my opponent's hand and bend it backwards until it snapped. That usually did for them.

What we're talking about here is not physical but intellectual muscle. One tabloid, in relaying the story of the Edinburgh researchers, cited two tall people who are "blessed with both height and intelligence". There were 6ft 1in David Cameron and 6ft 5in Stephen Fry.

At this point I feel like saying, I rest my case. That both these chaps are tall is beyond dispute. But how intelligent are they? It depends on the standard by which we are judging them.

Neither of them, it seems to me, is what I'd call super bright. Neither of them, for instance, can paint like Picasso (5ft 4in) or compose like Mozart (ditto) or, like Napoleon (5ft 6in), forge an empire. What they can do is pose questions on quiz shows and shout across a dispatch box. Such, it seems, is the definition of an egghead in the 21st century.

Lest it appear otherwise, may I say I always felt a certain sympathy for those who are, in the words of Martin Amis (5ft 4in at a stretch), "tall beyond utility".

Like leylandii, they just kept on growing until they blocked out the sunlight. We had a couple of them at my school for runts. Instinctively, I felt pity for them rather than awe.

What had life in store for them, I used to wonder, as they soared higher and higher, outgrowing their clothes at a faster rate than their folks could replace them.

Being tall, they were the natural choice for goalkeeper or, at a pinch, centre half, even though they had trouble co-ordinating. This wee Jimmy Johnstone and Willie Henderson wannabes put down to the fact that it took so long for messages to get to their feet from their brains.

In later life, it was assumed they would join the police force, which at that time was institutionally sizeist. Hence the preponderance in Her Majesty's guest houses of people who looked as if they'd been deprived of fertiliser at an early age.

Height, clearly, came with certain advantages. Women, it was said, preferred their partners to be tall and dark, two bills which few of us fitted. But that was women for you, always trying to attain the impossible.

Two can play at that game. Once, when I had the capacity to hire and fire, I was encouraged by my then editor (5ft 3in, or so he insisted) only to select staff who were shorter than us. I have tried other methods since and none has worked so well.

Soon, we had the most vertically challenged reporters on any newspaper in the Western hemisphere. It was great. Like mice, they hardly took up any space and could crawl through keyholes in pursuit of a scoop. In short, small is beautiful.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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