Sunday, 20 January 2013

Dyslexia blog - Give Peas a chance

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

Albert Einstein was dyslexic. He didn't speak at all until he was six years old. His first words were spoken at the dinner table. His mother put his dinner in front of him. She was astounded when he exclaimed "I don't like peas!". Shocked by the fact that not only could young Albert talk, he could say a perfectly formed sentence she asked "Why haven't you spoken before?" He replied "Everything was alright before".

Albert was not a star performer at school. It was only as he got into his late teens/early twenties that the true scale of his intellect became apparent. In some ways, I feel much empathy for Albert. I didn't speak until I was four years old. My first words were at the dinner table, I exclaimed, to everyones total amazement "I wanna piece of cake". I was quite good at physics as well, although I'd be the first to admit that I wasn't in Alberts league. I wanted to study physics at University until I discovered music and Swedish girls. I had been accepted for a place at Queen Mary College to study physics. At the interview with the lecturer, I'd had a fascinating discussion about Black Holes. I'd read an article in Scientific American a couple of days before whilst babysitting for my brother.

As it turned out, I didn't go to QMC. I met a girl and went to live in Stockholm. Whilst I was there I stopped doing all of the unhealthy things I'd been doing since I was fourteen and got my head together. I practised guitar every day for three hours, I read prolifically and I wrote songs. I didn't realise I was dyslexic then. What I did know was that I had finished with education. In some ways the six months I spent in Stockholm was the happiest of my life. It wasn't perfect, but what mattered was I was able to be exactly who I wanted to be. None of my new friends had known me as a child (unlike most of my mates at home). They all listened to what I had to say. Wheras most of my friends back in the UK's idea of a good time was to get completely mashed, this was not part of the agenda of my Swedish friends. As pubs were so horrendously expensive, evenings comprised of going to someones flat and talking. As everyone was sober the conversations were completely different to those I'd had with my mates at home.

At the weekends, we'd go  to nightclubs and see bands or dance. The Swedish music scene was not split into all the cliques and factions that the UK scene was. Nobody hated anyone else because of the length of their hair. At the end of the six months I returned, but I returned with a plan. I'd got in touch with a promoter and organised a tour for my band, playing some of the best venues in Stockholm and a few elsewhere. There was enough money to cover the costs and make a small profit. I had a month to get back, get the band rehearsed enough and get back out there.

A page from my band scrapbook, circa 1982 (me on your left)
As it was, the tour went well. The only problem was being cooped up with the rest of the guys caused a major fallout. Our drummer left the band in the middle of the tour. As I had the passports and tickets, I refused to hand them over unless he fulfilled his commitments. As it was he relented and we finished the tour.

When we arrived back, the plan was to use the experience to push on. I had a problem though. I'd borrowed money to get the band out to the gigs and spent too much of the income when I was out in Sweden. I owed money and was getting hassled to pay it back.

The problem I had was that the economy was in recession, the only skill I had was as a painter and decorator and there was not much work around. I got pocket money from letting out our rehearsal room. I applied for a few jobs, but one of my big failings is not being good at filling in forms. Several sarcastic employers looked down their noses and made comments such as "ah Mr Tichborne, I see you are female" as I'd ticked the wrong box. As the debts escalated, I blissfully buried my head in the sand. Finally it came to a head with a visit from some heavies. I'd given my parents adress, but I wasn't in. My father answered the door.

When I saw him there was a difficult conversation.

Dad : "Some guys came around looking for you"
Me : "What did you say?"
Dad : "They wanted £1,800 so I gave it to them"
Me : "What, that's nothing to do with you"
Dad : "It is when they come knocking on my door"
Me : "Ok, I'll pay you back as soon as I've got it".
Dad : "No you won't,you'll pay me £50 a week until you have cleared the debt. If you haven't got £50, you can come to the workshop and valet cars for me and I'll knock a tenner off the debt that week".
Me : "Alright"
Dad : "How much did you borrow off them and why did you do such a stupid thing"
Me : "When the band went to Sweden, I borrowed £2,000 to pay fares etc. As you know, we had problems. When I got back I had £1,600 - I've been trying to pay them back, but every time I can't pay the debt has just gone up".
Dad : "Why didn't you ask me?"
Me : "It's my thing, I didn't want to".
Dad : "You are an idiot, they'd have ended up breaking your legs".

At the time I was lucky to earn £60 a week painting. Some weeks I earned nothing. It was a disaster.  I had to earn cash fast. I had a girlfriend who'd been paying for me already. In desparation, I thought I'd see if there were any other jobs I could do. I went to Golders Green jobcentre. I ended up chatting to the girl on the training desk. She suggested doing a TOPS course. This was a government run scheme where you got £40 a week to study. She said that if I did a computer course, I was more or less guaranteed a hundred quid a week at the end. There were two options. Operations or programming, The programming course was 40 weeks, the operations course was 8 weeks. If I did this, and cleaned cars on a Saturday for my Dad, that was the £50 a week. With the tenner a week I was earning from the studio, I could have a couple of beers and the lovely Lorna would always buy me a few as she was sensible and had a decent job. Thing was I had to eat and get up there. I thought it was better to try and cut a deal.

So I went home and had what I thought would be a difficult conversation with my Dad.He'd not told my mum about our arrangement. I took him to the pub for a beer (I'd actually had a good week on a building site the week before and had a couple of hundred quid, from taking down a chimney in Golders Green).

I said "Dad, I've enrolled on a TOPS course. It's a scheme where I'll learn to do work in computing. It's an eight week course, with a more or less guaranteed job at the end. The trouble is that for the duration of the course, I'll only be getting forty quid. It is eight hours a day and I have to get to Euston. I can't pay you the £50. Can we agree £20 a week until I have finished and got a job? I don't want to ponce of Lorna, she'll buy me drinks but it isn't fair on her" I expected him to go bananas. He wasn't noted for being reasonable. His response surprised me. He said "Ok, you stick out the course, and clean cars on the Saturday and I'll knock £50 a week off the debt. If you jack it in though, that will be that".

For once in my life I worked hard. I found that much to my amazement, IT was something I could excel at. I got one of the top marks from the College. In the sixth week of the course, we were told that job interviews had been lined up. It was the big moment. The first interview was with the IT arm of an insurance company. On arrival, I was horrified by what I had let myself in for. The place looked like a scene from a Hammer Horror film. The woman who interviewed me kept speaking about how lucky I was to be getting an interview. Then I asked what the salary was. She looked down her nose and explained "It is not about your salary young man, it is about making a proper career". I persisted. She then replied "The starting salary is £2,360 per annum". This was a disaster. This was less than £50 a week. I responded saying that I wasn't prepared to work for that little. She informed me haughtily that as I was coming for an interview, I was in no position to make demands. The idea that I'd spent all this time on a course for nothing filled me with gloom.

The next interview was at a Software company. The lady from the insurance company had sent back terrible feedback. I was informed that they wouldn't be sending me to any of the "usual people who take candidates as I had an attititude problem". I was sent along to the software house, with two other candidates. These guys were geeks who lived and breathed computers, had micro computers at home (this was 1983, when only nerds had microcomputers). I felt like I was being sent to make up the numbers.

I was the third person to be interviewed. The chap who interviewed me looked like King George Vth and was very well spoken. He had a world weary look on his face, indicating that he'd rather be banging nails in his eyes than conducting another interview. As I knew I had no chance, I relaxed.

He said "Why do you want a job with us?"
I replied "Well I spent some time travelling and I need a job which is well paid and interesting, so I thought I'd try this".
He laughed "Oh, where did you go?"
I replied "I spent time in Scandinavia, I lived in Stockholm for six months and I toured around a few other places".
He said "That's a bit of a strange place to go, why did you go there?"
I replied "I met a beautiful girl and I just wanted to spend some time with her"
He laughed "Can you speak Swedish?"
I replied "I can get by, I can order a beer and things like that".
He then said "Why didn't you go to University? You've got A levels".
I replied "I wanted to do something a bit different and see a bit of the world".

The conversation lasted about half an hour. I thought "what a nice bloke". He'd humoured me and not sent me packing. The other two had been in and out in ten minutes. As I walked back to Euston, I pondered my knack of fucking everything up so royally. Why couldn't I simply focus on what I had to do, when I had to do it. I'd just been to a job interview for a Computer Operating job and spent half an hour telling the bloke who was interviewing me all about the Stockholm nightlife. In short, I was a class A idiot.

When I arrived back at the college, I expected the call. I expected to be told that they wouldn't send me out again as I'd embarrassed the college. Sure enough the PA announced "Bing Bong, would Roger Tichborne go to the placement office". I made my way. The careers guy sat me down and said "I have some good news. The company you saw this morning are prepared to offer you a job".  I was amazed. I asked "What is the salary?", now scared given my previous experience. He replied "The starting Salary is £6,200 per annum.

In 1983 that was a small fortune. I'd been skint for the duration of the course. I went home and told my folks I had a job. My Dad was delighted and gave me £20 and said "Take Lorna out and celebrate". I did just that. I started at the company a couple of weeks later. Everyone else was a graduate apart from the admin staff. I was given the sole responsibilty for looking after the in house systems. About six months later, I finally plucked up the courage to ask my boss why he'd given me the job. He replied "you were the only one with any personality. We have clients from all over the world coming here, so we need people who can fit in."

Within six months I'd paid off my debt. When I made the last payment, My Dad gave me back £400. He said "If you'd asked when you got back from Sweden, I'd have given it to you." That paid for a deposit on a flat rental.

There are many lessons I now take from the experience. The first is that my Dad handled having a diffucult situation well. We should all support are children, but not indulge them when they are stupid. The second was that my boss gave me the job on who I was. He wanted someone who he instinctively felt he could trust and someone who had a bit of experience of the world. After I joined I found that one of the firms major clients was a Swedish bank.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the firm. I only left when they were taken over and I was informed that "non graduates are not allowed to perform technical roles in the new setup". I left for a job on twice the money, so I didn't mind. A couple of years later, I had a curry with my Dad. He confided in me that he was amazed that I'd managed to do so well. He said he'd thought I was a complete idiot and had almost given up on me. He said he'd never expected to get the cash back.

And there is the third lesson. People sometimes surprise you for the better. They just need a chance and some support.

The fourth lesson is a harsher one. Never ever borrow money of anything that isn't a reputable organisation and never borrow money you can't pay back. I was lucky. Many others aren't. School had not prepared me for all of the challenges we meet in life. I hadn't even checked the interest rate when I'd taken out the agreement. I'd never asked what would happen if I couldn't pay it back.

The fifth lesson is the one for anyone with an interest in dyslexia. I had never dreamed I could hold down a job in IT. Firstly I thought you had to be clever (and I don't consider myself as clever). Secondly I would have been too scared to even apply if I hadn't been in dire straights. In fact if it hadn't been for the girl on the training desk at Golders Green jobcentre virtually telling me I had to do it and that I could do it, I wouldn't.

As it turns out, dyslexia is no impediment to working in IT. In fact IT opens up all manner of opportunities for dyslexics that were previously closed. Nobody would have ever read a single word I'd have written without the IT system that supports this blog. As it is, I've had over 800,000 hits on my blog. I still run a studio, it has grown into one of the most repsected studios in North West London, from its humble beginnings. My band still plays and I still occasionally do a bit of IT consultancy. I may not have emulated Albert Einstein in the Physics department, but he never set up a music studio which helped launch Brit Award winners Kate Nash and Amy Winehouse.

1 comment:

baarnett said...

"Never ever borrow money of anything that isn't a reputable organisation"

- With what we now know about the financial services industry, you would be hard pushed to find one, nowadays!