06. Big Heads and Roller Skates Don't Mix



I was nine or ten years old when I realised I was top-heavy. It was the early-80s and I'd longed for a pair of roller boots. I mean, who didn't?! Mine were royal blue suede with silver stripes and orange wheels––a Christmas present, of course. I had built up my confidence by wearing them on our carpeted floors during the winter, and it was a couple of months before the weather was decent enough for me to try them outside. Inside, on carpet, I was a master. I kept my balance, I could push myself along without falling, and I had even mastered a little twizzly arm movement for a bit of a flourish. Outside... Outside there was no carpet to grist those wheels. Outside, the pavement of our newly-built housing estate was smooth asphalt and without resistance. I would gingerly wheel-step the entire length of pavement by holding on to every neighbour's wall, and then I'd do the same back home again. To be fair, I demonstrated great tenacity in my repeated attempts to skate. Occasionally, I'd summon enough confidence to let go of the wall and I'd imagine myself gliding as gracefully as Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu. In truth, I had about as much grace as an elephant...on roller skates. After the umpteenth fall I gave up. The roller boots were consigned to the back of the wardrobe and the neighbourhood breathed a collective sigh of relief, even if they did secretly miss the entertainment.


My mum was kind and told me that my lack of balance was because my 'big brain' made me top heavy, but I knew it was really because my gargantuan melon head (and tiny feet) made me fall so easily––nothing to do with the amount of squidgy stuff inside.


Speaking of elephants (as we were), one of the oft-repeated phrases in the children's TV series,Tinga Tinga Tales, is 'Big head, see, tiny brain!' and it belongs to Elephant. He is the sweetest, truest friend of Tortoise, utterly loyal and fun, yet Elephant isn't known for his smarts. Nor was he always the proud owner of a trunk, but that's another story. He can shake his head and make his brain rattle inside! In contrast to Elephant, Tortoise is very wise, a leader amongst the animals, and not afraid to step out and take risks. Even if he is a bit slow in getting there.


Like me, Elephant has a massive head which, to be fair, looks perfectly fine on an elephant. (Imagine a tortoise-sized head on an elephant's body... absurd.) And owing to the greater stability of a leg on each of his four corners, he is less prone to falling than me. (Even on roller skates an elephant would be more stable than I am.) My large head almost killed my poor mother when she gave birth to me, and it has been one of the many enduring physical characteristics I've inherited from my father. Like the elephant, my head looks perfectly in proportion with my now rather generous figure, but on my skinny nine- or ten-year-old body it made me look like a lollipop. A smaller head these days would leave me looking ridiculously like a bowling pin, so I'm grateful. I remember my dressmaking grandmother measuring me up for that year's smocked summer dresses and declaring that I was, and I quote, '22-inches all the way down.' Head, chest, waist, hips. And the wearing of a Salvation Army hat in days gone by meant that said hat had to be made for me since those off-the-shelf numbers looked like a pea on a mountain when plonked on my head.


I'd genuinely love to be able to tell you that having a large head has had its advantages, and because I'm all about spreading a bit of light, hope and laughter at my expense, I've been doing a bit of research. Turns out that whilst scientists believe having a larger head denotes greater intelligence, but not for the reasons one might assume, there's no evidence to suggest it makes you fall over! And whilst it is certainly true that, in individual cases, the size of your brain has nothing to do with how clever you are, there are rafts of evidence which demonstrate that bigger-brained people do tend to perform better at intelligence-related tasks. However, intelligence isn't about how hard the brain works but how efficiently it works. Larger brains have more neurons but there are fewer connections between those neurons, which means that information is transferred more efficiently. One author of a recent research paper said,


'Intelligent brains possess lean, yet efficient neuronal connections. Thus, they boast high mental performance at low neuronal activity.'

That basically means that people with high IQs tend, and I repeat tend, to have large heads with big brains, but that doesn't mean they are automatically smarter; it just means they have the potential to be smarter. But then so do you smaller-headed folks. Oh, and please don't take this as me saying I'm clever or smarter than other people because I have a large head. Honestly, that's not the case. I have never considered myself particularly intelligent, nor do I now, but if there's any kind of perceived genetic advantage then I'll take any and all I can get, especially because I need a reason for never mastering roller skating.


I'd love to be able to bring you some amazing insight or wise word about the parallels between a large head and some moral notion or other but, to be honest, I can't think of any. (Suggestions on a postcard please.)


In the meantime, I'll tell you what I do know. God has made me the way I am with a melon head and two small feet (although more feet might have given me more stability). And I have learned to accept my inadequacies by staying away from anything with wheels.


Safer for everyone.