Claire Black: ‘I’m not tall, I know that. I just don’t like it when I have to know it in front of other people’

‘WHAT height are you?” I’m pretty sure that I haven’t been asked that question since I was wearing bat-wing sweaters and nursing a serious crush on Dee C Lee.

That I was asked it by a woman standing back to back with another (they were both in their 30s, they were both tall and yet they were still doing the push the crown of your head up as high as possible trick to add height and therefore win) only added to the confusion.

Fact is, I’m 5’3” and a half. If you tittered at the mention of the extra half inch then you’re not a shorty. If you’re a woman, you’re over 5’6”, if you’re a man you’re over 5’9”. That’s not a scientific calculation but I’ll bet you my tape measure I’m right. To you, up there, breathing the thinner, more rarefied air, half an inch isn’t worth mentioning. But to those of us who struggle to see at gigs, have to get every pair of trousers taken up and occasionally find ourselves sitting on a seat from which our feet don’t quite reach the ground, every millimetre, never mind inch, counts.

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It’s not that I ever do anything to augment my height. No high heels. No lifts in my shoes. It took me several years to get over a documentary I once saw where someone had their legs lengthened by having them broken and stretched apart over several agonising months by metal contraptions with screws. Terrifying.

It’s not as though I grew up under false pretensions either. It was always clear that goal attack was not going to be my position in the netball team. My dad was 5’8” and my mum was 5’6”, although she’s shorter now. Both taller than me, I grant you, but not exactly likely to produce offspring of Amazonian proportions.

But saying my height aloud made me realise it bugs me. And so does the question. “What height are you?” does not please me. “What height do you feel?” is a much more interesting enquiry. In my case, the disparity is at least three inches and the implications are much bigger than that.

I want to think of myself as being quite imposing, a person of some stature. At the very least, I don’t want to think I’m easily confused with one of The Borrowers. I’m not tall, I know that. I just don’t like it when I have to know it in front of other people.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that we’re spending Hogmanay with one of R’s dearest friends and her partner. She is 5’9”, he is over 6’. They have a two-year-old who’ll be taller than me by the time he’s three. She also wears enormous heels – R’s friend, not the toddler, he wears onesies. At the last party we went to, I was trying to be suave and amusing (she works in the film industry, I was overcompensating), when I caught sight of us talking in a mirror across the room. It was devastating. To hear me, she was bending over like a patient parent listening to their child telling them what they did at school that day.

So what am I going to do to cope at New Year? I’ve been looking up shorties on the internet to boost my morale. Yuri Gagarin – 5’2”. Dolly Parton – 5’0”. Picasso, Gandhi, Voltaire – none of them topped 5’4”. But it’s not enough. I’m starting to contemplate stilts – I could rock those, no?

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