Belfast Telegraph

Saying we're shorter now seems like a tall tale to me

By Robert McNeill

Despite all evidence to the contrary, over the years we're getting shorter not taller, according to a new study.

Many of you are hopping about and shouting: "That cannot possibly be true. I demand an explanation!"

You're right to make such a difficult demand. And let me follow up my bombshell opening sentence with this controversial news: I'm of average height. That is to say, somewhere between 5ft 9 and 5ft 10.

I don't know how they work out average height, including children and the very old, but sometimes I walk into a pub and cannot see above anyone's shoulders.

To be fair, I think this is a phenomenon of capital cities. As soon as you leave Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh or London, you find the citizens have mutated into midgets, who keep trying to headbutt your kneecaps.

But by and large, the evidence of one's naked eyelobe in major cities leads one to believe that young people, in particular, are shooting up at an alarming rate, on account of the abundance of fruit increasingly available since the end of the Second World War.

In Edinburgh, for a while, there was a race of ridiculously tall beings stravaiging about. One night, coming home from a cultural evening of inebriation, I stopped to micturate against a tree. And it turned out to be a divinity student.

But these super-tall people seemed to disappear overnight. Sure, there are still many tall people about. But not these 7ft efforts that loped hither and, with a fair wind, yon. I now believe they were from outer space.

Closer to home, the claim that we've become smaller has been made by an anthropologist at the Emory University in yonder Atlanta, Georgiashire. Anthropology is the study of heights.

Amanda Mummert says modern humans are 10% smaller than our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and that we've downsized, as it were, on account of the switch to farming. It's the farmers! They've made us all wee, the swines!

The switch from hunter-gathering to farming was arguably the greatest change of lifestyle in human history, comparable to moving from PC to Apple, or from frying to grilling.

I'm glad we switched to agriculture. I'd have been pretty good at the gathering - doesn't sound much to it - but hopeless at the hunting. I'm squeamish for a start, and suspicious of meat that doesn't come in a cellophane-wrapped carton.

Then there's the element of skill involved. Skill and me have never been buddies. I'm more of a dreamer, d'you see?

According to the same study, our brain size has also decreased, a phenomenon observable among cyclists and other savages.

Be that as it may, height is doubtless a handy thing. Women prefer it. As usual, I never got this. When I was younger, lassies would often say: "Oh, I fancy him much more than you. Look how tall he is." And I'd say: "So what, at least I've still got all my own teeth."

But having all your own teeth seemed to count for little with the female of the species. Even wearing high heels didn't improve my chances any.

My own feeling about the anthropological research is: what goes down must come up. And that's what's happening now.

We got smaller and are getting taller again. At the end of the day, it's no big deal.

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