There have been an awful lot of tall women in town today. I notice one, looming behind me as I stand watching the samba drummers joyously giving it their all outside Marks and Spencers. Resplendent in their paunchy purple t-shirts they probably couldn’t look any less Brazilian, but their smiles outshine anything the southern hemisphere might have to offer.
The tall woman moves off to one side and looks on, shifting from foot to foot, awkwardly, not in time to the music. She is really tall - properly tall, six-feet-six-inches-everybody-turns-to-look tall. I rather suspect she catches me doing exactly that as I take my eye off the drummers for a fatal second too long, and she moves on shortly afterwards, long thin unnatural legs making great strides.
I could tell you about her thin straight hair, her garish spectacles, her shoulder bag in the shape of a ghetto blaster, but why would I do that? All you need to know is that she is six foot six, and now she’s gone.
I spot another tall woman later on in the queue for the tills as I drift through M&S in a fruitless search for a coat that will suit the season that’s just about to pass. It’s fruitless mainly because the shop only has coats to suit the season that’s not here yet. This tall woman slouches towards the counter, self-conscious, as if her frumpy shoulder bag is packed full of bricks. She doesn’t want to be noticed; the cruellest irony of all, because at six foot three she has hardly any say in the matter.
I like to think I know something about the hesitancy of tall women.
Part of that is down to a sense of kinship with the awkward, because all my life I have been one of them. I have always walked as if I am apologising for something I haven’t even done yet, always stood like I am on the verge of making a break for it. As a child my family dubbed me Crazylegs Crane, named after the spindly sidekick who filled the unfunny middle third of the Pink Panther cartoons on TV, and the nickname stuck. My father is known to use it even now, when I’ve thickened out and would kill for a build like his.
Of course, what I know about tall women isn’t only down to that, it’s also because I am married to one. Six foot one in her odd-socked feet, even more in the heels she feels she can wear these days. I am deemed, at a mere six foot nothing, to be just tall enough for that. It runs in the genes, because she is the daughter of a tall woman too.
“How tall would you say your mother is?”
“Is? Well, she was five foot ten, once.”
That’s it in a nutshell; she was but she isn’t any more. My mother-in-law stands, walks, as if she is doing everything in her power to become three inches shorter than she really is. She walks, bent over, neck poking forward as if emerging from a shell. Hesitancy, you see, and like I said I know a bit about that.
That hesitancy was there too when I met my wife. Before I came along, she was engaged to a short and balding man. She could stand over him - never in heels, mind you, those were not allowed - and see the top of his head, and know that there was nothing growing there. It wasn’t the only place where things had ceased to grow.
When I met her she was painfully aware that she was tall, too tall, but she had forgotten that she was beautiful. She had forgotten so many things. And I know a thing or too about forgetting, too, because when I met her I was really a shell. I had forgotten things everybody should always know; that someone wants to see your smile, that in the right light, in the right pub, at the right moment you can still be captivating. My luckiest day was the day I sat with her, in the right pub, in the right light, at the right moment, and we began our adventure, remembering all those things together.
Some of my favourite moments are the moments, in train stations, in shopping malls and supermarkets, when I see her and she doesn’t yet know that I am there. It’s the closest I'll ever get - the closest I ever want to get - to seeing her the way a stranger might do. When I do, when I catch sight of her marching through the aisles, eyes flicking here and there, I don’t see the hesitancy of a tall woman, not any more. Instead I see the confident woman I started to fall in love with seven years ago. Even if she still plays with her hair without realising it.
I’m not for a second saying that that transformation is thanks to me, it’s not. It’s completely down to her; she did it, the credit is hers alone. But I was there throughout, all the time that it happened, and that is good enough for me.
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