ONE OF MY FAVOURITE early sci-fi films is Jack Arnold’s Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) in which the hero, Scott Carey, slowly begins to shrink after passing through a strange mist cloud. He shrinks so much that is eventually forced to engage in life-and-death struggles with a cat and, when even more diminutive, a spider.
At the end he becomes philosophical over his reduction, surmising that he may soon be as small as a single atom, that all size is relative and that any entity, whatever its size, deserves to be treated with dignity.
The film came to mind with the recent discovery (once a mere suspicion) that I am emulating Scott Carey. In short (sic) I am shrinking, too. The metamorphosis is not quite as dramatic as that of our hero but it is certainly undeniable.
The last time I was measured, many decades ago for a passport application, I stood 5ft 10-and-a-half inches (179cms to post-baby boomers). I thought this a pretty average height, so anyone taller than me I considered tall and anyone shorter than me I took to be short. In truth, I gave the matter, or my height, little thought,
I now calculate my height to be 5ft 9ins. Should I be in a crowd, I am aware that more males are taller than me and that whereas a taller female was once rare, there is now a fair-sized minority looking down on me (some things never change!).
Older male school kids are the worst: despite the ravages of junk food and a crumbling NHS, somehow by the age of 16 or 17 they are towering, hulking giants. I stand among them on a crowded Metro feeling like a bonsai tree mistakenly planted in a forest of tall oaks.
I assume my diminution to be the result of a shrinking spine, a normal development of the ageing process. Which might mean all of my generation are similarly subject to involuntary downsizing. Could that be true? Many of my friends are younger than me; I don’t mix with many old gits of my own age, so it’s hard to say.
I could try the direct approach, but the question ‘Have you shrunk, and if so by how much’ is an odd one that may be misunderstood and earn me a smack in the gob.
I could try inverse wall marking, measuring myself downwards instead of up but I find I have no appetite for that at all.
Being tall has somehow always been seen as an advantage. Film makers use every trick in the book to disguise the height of vertically challenged actors. Traditionally they would stand them on boxes and film from the knees up. For Alan Ladd, they dug a trench beside him, along which his (especially female) co-stars would walk giving the impression that the Ladd was much taller than the lady. Humphrey Bogart was a ‘titch’, but who would know it from his films?
It’s a strange fact that we do expect everyone famous, certainly anyone who appears regularly on television, to be tall. Imagine the shock of meeting a teeny-weeny Ghandi or a wee Haille Selassie (who was under 5ft.). Or how unexpected to hear that the novelist Martin Amis stands only 5ft 2ins high. Come to that, meeting the little old lady who is our Queen face-to-face might come as a shock: face-to-face is a woefully inadequate phrase to describe standing toe-to-toe with Her Maj (just 5ft 4ins or 162cms). Man or woman, you’d have to curtsy!
Some of these Little People probably wear platform shoes, hoisting them up a couple of inches or so, which is fine except they would never dare take their shoes off: like wearing a wig, ultimately such an artificiality creates insecurity rather than security. The maxim being the more you try to disguise it, the more ultimately it will draw attention to itself.
None of this should matter, but there are few tales of film-makers trying to make their stars look shorter except in the case of Sigourney Weaver who I read is (or once was) 6ft5ins. Can that be true? No wonder the aliens keep losing.
The spine has clearly not evolved with the rest of the body and I wonder why humans are the only creatures daft enough to try and walk standing fully erect (no sniggers at the back, please). No other primate does. This is one reason we suffer endless back pain which doctors are unable to fix.
This pressure on the spine probably explains shrinkage in later life. Thus, your correspondent, like all the rest, is merely a victim of an evolutionary blip.
Walk tall, I say. If only metaphorically.