About two decades ago, I was working in Central London, and like many others, parked up on the outskirts, catching a Tube train to the centre, as even then it was death on parking. The trains I caught were inevitably crowded, with no, or little extra space; but strange to relate, when I boarded there was a circular space, about two feet wide, kept free around this one bloke. He was just another ordinary youngish man, dark hair worn short, medium height, dressed not in outlandish fashion but a serviceable pair of jeans, trainers, sweatshirt and thin travel top; but the reason why he was given such rare distinction of space in an otherwise overcrowded Tube carriage was quite simple. He had no arms. Hands, yes, but on the end of grossly-foreshortened arms, complete with elbows, about six-seven inches long. He was of course a child of the Thalidomide generation, when deformities were produced almost on a production line as the direct result of the mothers taking a ‘morning-sickness’ pill named Thalidomide.
I nodded to him, receiving a slightly surprised nod in return, and prepared to read my morning paper until the train arrived at my change station. I got off the Tube, followed by the stranger, walked along to reach the escalator, ascended to the exchange level, and prepared to re-enter another line, when this bloke spoke, “Erm, sorry to ask, mate, but can you reach my wallet? My wife’s put it in the wrong pocket, and the Underground staff are useless when someone like me asks for help!”
“No worries, friend; which side?”
He nodded to his right, so I slid my hand into his top pocket, found the wallet; located the season ticket in its case, and handed it back to this man, whose face held a wide smile. “I knew you would help without asking too many silly questions.” I raised one eyebrow. He continued, “You nodded at me when you got on board the train; which tells me that you see me as an ordinary man with a bit of a problem. As opposed to all the other bloody sheep who see me, then try and read every bloody advert on the carriage tops rather than embarrass themselves by seeing what is right in front of them!” I nodded in farewell as this giant man in a medium body walked steadily toward the exit, and then disappeared into the London morning.
I mention this tiny cameo of life because I watched a Mozart concert which had been recorded in Berlin, and the featured baritone was Thomas Quasthoff, a magnificent singer. His voice was truly superb, and the audience reacted accordingly. He has a vast repertoire, has also studied law, and has set views on much of German political life. The fact that his body is stunted, and his arms are virtually non-existent due to the same tragic use of Thalidomide by his mother, is, once you get past the visual impact, irrelevant.