WRITTEN BY STELLA WHITELAW
People had been calling me Long Tall Sally for years, even though my name is Sarah. They also call me Sal and LTS. At this rate, I’ll be answering to anything.
“You’ll never find a husband,” said my mum in doom-laden tones.
As if I wanted one. All my friends are on the marriage merry-go-round, some getting on, some getting off, some falling off. I manage very well on my own.
At fourteen I was taller than my mum and the same height as my father.
Now I’m taller than him. He hates it when I put on heels.
So I come downstairs with bare feet and put on my heels in the porch.
Unkind boys, those totally without basic manners or a shred of human kindness, used to call me LP at school. This stood for Lamp Post. They fell about, laughing, shouting “LP. LP.”
Though clothes shopping can be a problem, my height does have many advantages.
I can see over crowds.
People rarely argue with me since they can’t focus that far up.
I can reach into unreachable cupboards. Mum makes use of this capacity of mine frequently.
I could be a model if I had a face to match.
Chiselled cheeks have escaped me, but I can walk fast. I have a wholesome, fresh-faced look. Maybe it will come into fashion.
Elderly ladies in supermarkets love me because I can reach anything for them.
“Is there any clover honey on that top shelf?” Mum would ask.
“My best hat is on the top of the wardrobe,” she’d say. “Can you reach it down for me, Sarah? I want to wear it to Natalie’s wedding.”
I had also been invited to Natalie’s wedding. Natalie is five foot nothing and as pretty as a picture. She was marrying her childhood sweetheart, Stuart.
I didn’t want to go to the wedding, standing there like a maypole in a flowered dress and hat.
However my parents were long-time friends of Natalie’s. They persuaded me to go.
I didn’t put on my shoes till we came out of the church.
What did it matter then? Only the steeple was taller than me.
At the reception, I stood at the back of the group photograph with my knees bent. It was uncomfortable. I wished the photographer would hurry up before I got cramp.
Photographs over, I almost collapsed.
“I’ve brought you a bar stool. Would you like to sit on it?”
It was a pleasant voice, sort of Liverpool accent.
“How kind,” I said, unfolding myself onto the stool. Life came back into my bent knees. My strappy sandals fell off. “How did you know?”
“I have the same trouble. I brought out two bar stools.”
I looked at him for the first time. We were eye level. He had deep brown eyes and floppy brown hair.
He was wearing a dark suit, but the grey tie was loosened, his collar unbuttoned.
“I’m Harry, the best man,” he explained.
“I’m Sarah,” I said. “People call me Long Tall Sally.”
“I’m sure it’s meant kindly,” he said.
“Short people are always envious of tall young women. I get called far worse names: scarecrow, lighthouse, wind farm.”
I had to laugh. Harry laughed with me. He brought out two glasses of champagne and joined me on the other stool.
“Tell me your troubles,” he said sympathetically.
“Work,” I said. “I can’t get any work. I’ve been to dozens of interviews. No desk is long enough to accommodate my legs. No counter is high enough. Staff feel intimidated by me and so does the boss. And there’s me, as gentle as a kitten.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Then I realised that I didn’t want a ceiling – I want the sky. I want to work outdoors. It was like shaking off a great burden.”
“I went along to our local garden nursery, my jeans tucked into Wellington boots. I could see rows of greenhouses, orchards and fields of plants. It looked promising. I knocked on the office door.
“‘Do you want any help?’ I asked.
“I know the manager. His name is Fletcher. He’s burly, weather-beaten, doesn’t say much. He asked if I could do pruning? I said, yes, I could.”
Harry laughed. “Yep – you could prune anything.”
“I worked there for a week. Fletcher showed me how to do it, where to cut, at what bud of growth, the angle of slice.
“I got wet, wind-blown, drenched, frozen, sunburned, dehydrated, exhausted. Usual British weather.”
“Fancy another glass of champagne?”
My mum had shouted at me every time I came home covered in earth and yellow dust lichen.
“Don’t you dare come in the house with all that mud,” she’d shriek. “Hose yourself down in the garden.”
Then I learned that I only got the job because of my height. One ladder had broken and a lad had fallen off the other.
There was a right time to prune and a wrong time. Don’t ask me which is which, but my days were numbered. The day came when Fletcher didn’t need any more pruning.
Harry came back with two brimming glasses. He was very tall. Maybe we were equal height, but I was not going to test it. I and the bar stool were best of friends.
“I had the same problem,” he said. “No one wanted to employ me because of my height. They thought I was some kind of freak. So I started up my own business instead.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said, the bubbles tickling my nose. “So what is it that you do?”
“I’m not only the best man but the photographer. You didn’t notice me. You were too busy trying to hide behind the back row.”
Harry, the photographer, was not laughing at me. It made a change.
“I need a new assistant, Sarah. My current assistant recently got married and is already pregnant.
“I need someone I can spot easily, who can walk fast, who has a wholesome, fresh-faced look and understands angles.”
“I could learn about angles,” I said.
“My business is called Long Tall Shots.” Harry grinned.
“I’m made for it,” I laughed.
“You’re perfect,” he said.
I really think he meant it.