I'm not clumsy, I just forget where my feet have gone.

I was never going to make a tightrope walker, I've been tripping over invisible toads for as long as I can remember. With that peculiarly elegant way of lifting one foot then trying to lift the other before the first has come down, pegging a nose at physics as they somehow meet in the middle and over we go.

I have become very adept at not falling all the way down though. If I could combine this ability with proper elegance and a centre of gravity, then I might have been a small, fat ballet dancer, or at least been able to ride a bike.

I can fall off the pavement, twist as I go and land on one foot with the other raised behind and up, one hand out to hit the road and the other one gripping my phone so at least one of us will make it. Or trip up stairs and find a way to lunge slowly towards the next step so that I have just enough time to stop before I smash my teeth, my nose poised to nudge the stair.

When I was very small, I liked to climb and was discovered in the upstairs window, sitting with my legs swinging out into the air, one hand holding the window (relaxed though, as if I was sailing down the river on a slow boat) and the other hand waving at the growing crowd below. I had no sense of danger then; because I was happy, I was also safe. I had to be distracted until my uncle could sneak up behind and grab me (thanks, Uncle Tom).

Now that I'm old enough to know what it could mean to fall up or down stairs, to fall into the road, to be eaten by the escalator (one of these days it will get me, I know it), I try to be careful. I travel like a little old lady sometimes, one foot, then the other, trying to remind myself that one foot should always be on the ground and that it's a good idea to know where the other is going next.

I have a little student who is also clumsy and a bit delicate. We often laugh at ourselves, she disappearing off under her chair when she only wanted to pick up a pen and me trying not to fall off after her as I help her up. She likes me to high five her when she gets something right but she has to chase my hand. When she raises her little hand and comes towards mine, I discover I am dodging her - not a very kind reaction to a small girl who wants to celebrate.

Finally, she told me off and I realised what I was doing. I explained to her that I was such a bad aim that every time she wanted me to high five her back, I was afraid of missing her hand and smacking her in the head. She thought this was hilarious. So we've worked out a system where I hold my hand still and straight and accept her high five without moving. She knows I'm part of it, she knows why I don't move and I don't have to fish her out from under the table after.

As for the rest, it's just best to be aware of what you might do or not do or do in the wrong order. If your feet are against you, try not to stare at them all day as you might walk into people. If you need to hold important handrails, do not grab them and hold on as if your very life depended on it - it's weird and you have to remember to let go at the end before the escalator belt takes its chance.

If you fall off pavements into the road, then feel free to little-old-lady-walk until you are at the other side. There is no point trying to act like a person who doesn't fall off pavements in the hope that it will come true.

When people make fun of you for tripping, or, more likely, tease you for not doing something you know will end in tripping, let them. If their feet always behave, they won't have any idea what it can be like expecting ground and finding fresh air instead.

And lastly, if you see an open window, do not sit in it. My Uncle Tom is a lot older now and not very good at sneaking.


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