Thursday, 24 January 2013

Dyslexia blog - Power, control, hiding and the art of running away

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.

I witnessed an incident today which put in sharp focus something which has been nibbling away at me for years. If you hear the word, teacher what do you immediately think? Is the image positive or negative? What about if I said Police officer? What if I said charity worker? The view society holds of teachers is generally a positive one. It is a profession which you study and receive qualifications to join. Similarly the police force. There is a training regime and and a process of assessment. What do both professions have in common? They both exercise a degree of control over people. A good teacher and a good police officer will make a massive difference in the community. Sadly bad ones cause huge problems and issues. The question is, who do they create problems for? The answer is perhaps not as obvious as you may think. The answer is that they create problems for us all. So you may ask, how does a teacher who fails little Johnny who lives in Grahame Park with his mum, when you are in your gated mansion in Totteridge? Well there are several ways. If little Johnny doesn't get on at school, he won't get a good job. Just suppose little Johnny is dyslexic and highly intelligent. Just suppose his under achievement is the result of lazy teachers not recognising his dyslexia and giving him the help he needs to achieve his potential? Little Johnny might just get angry, mightn't he? Little Johnny might just get excluded from school, because his anger and frustrations get the better of him. Now maybe, just maybe, one could argue that if a child at school is behaving in a way that seems rather irrational, a bit of time could be spent trying to get to the bottom of why he is violent, abusive or disruptive? Sadly however, it is far easier just to kick him out. So for arguments sake, little Johnny is fourteen years old, with time on his hands. Mum is out at work. Little Johnny starts hanging around with some older kids.

Now this is the good bit. All of a sudden, little Johnny finds a way to feel a little less different from his peers, a little less angry. He finds that all of a sudden he's not rejected and laughed at? Sounds good doesn't it? Little Johnny for the first time in a long time feels a sense of belonging. Would you begrudge Little Johnny those feelings. He's been miserable and angry for so long now, are you so cruel as to snatch the feeling of happiness away? Well if you are Mr Police Officer and you catch little Johnny hanging around with a bunch of older kids who are smoking weed, yes you probably will. You will probably surmise that little Johnny, who has been excluded from school and is now shoplifting to get money to buy some weed is a bit of a naughty boy. So Johnny ends up with a criminal record. That makes it hard for little Johnny to get a job, as if things weren't bad enough already. And how does little Johnny feel about teachers, how does he feel about the police? The lines are drawn. So little Johnny, ten years later is Big John. Now Big John doesn't take any shit off anyone. Big John is hard. Big John has been inside a couple of times. Big John is not a man you mess with. Big John is a bit of a psycho, but he's alright if you want to score a bit of puff, just don't get on the wrong side of him. If you are lucky and you catch big John in the right mode, he might open up. You might find that he's got a piercing intelligence. Then all of a sudden, he goes into one. Why? You were sitting in the pub, having a pint. Your mate comes over and shows you the front page of the Sun. It is hilarious. You show Big John and for no reason at all he goes mental.

And so yet again the Police are called. Big John has gone beserk in the pub. He's arrested and goes back inside. Why did he flip? He was sitting there having a nice drink? Was it all of the drugs in his blood stream? No one said anything? He disappears and you don't think about it. Big John comes out of prison after six months and finds himself homeless. It is a harsh world and merely to survive takes its toll. He's big, bad, dangerous and unpredictable. He is your worst nightmare. He'll rob you given a chance. He'll rob your house. He doesn't care about you. You are rich, you are comfortable. Your teacher didn't victimise you. The Police don't hassle you. People don't look at the floor when you walk into your local pub.

Big John sleeps on the streets. He feels safer there. It is a life of sorts. He's met the teacher, they have failed him. He's met the Police Officer, they hate him. Now he meets the charity worker. He despises them. There they are, holier than though. They give him breakfast, with a patronising grin. Like the teacher and the policeman, if he upsets them, he's out on his ear. But then he needs a bit of warmth, a bit of breakfast and there is nowhere left to go. The teacher couldn't break little Johnnys spirit. The Police Officer couldn't tame Big Johns anger, but now, twenty years down the line, he's old John. He's only forty six but he looks twenty years older. A life of rough sleeping, drugs, drink and violence have left its scars.

And one day old John, will die. No one will mourn his passing. He will not be missed. His friends on the street are casual aquaintences, with relationships forged through necessity. And then one day, a bizarre thing happens. That patronising git with the phoney smile, who serves him breakfast says something. He mentions he's dyslexic and has trouble reading to another smug charity worker. The smug bastard. Old John wants to punch him. What right has he got to say something like that? Him, who sleeps in a nice house and helps out of a sense of "charity". Old John thinks to himself "C*nt, I'll tell him what it's really like". He waits until none of the other charity workers are around. "I heard you say you were dyslexic and had trouble reading". The smug bastard replied "yeah, I had a lot of problems when I was a kid, I couldn't read properly until I was twelve". Old John delivers his tour de force "Yeah, I can't read. I once glassed someone and took there eye out because they put a newspaper in front of me". The smug bastard doesn't look as shocked as old John expected "Yeah, I used to get really angry. I would hide or make trouble to get out of having to read". All of a sudden old John isn't old John any more. He isn't big John anymore. He isn't a threat anymore. He isn't trying to impress anyone or intimidate anyone anymore. He is little Johnny and for the first time in along time , someone has actually said something he can relate to. He says "Yeah, you really used to feel like that?" And the smug bastard says "I still do occasionally. If I get cornered in a situation, I sometimes find it hard to suppress my anger. Especially if I see authority being abused". Little Johnny responds "I hate the Police, they have it in for me". The smug bastard says "have you ever been assessed for dyslexia?". Little Johnny responds "What is the point, I can't read or write?" Smug bastard says "I didn't realise I was dyslexic until I was thirty one. When I found out about it, a lot of things became clear. I realised why when I was at school, I always did worse than kids I was cleverer than in tests". Little Johnny said "I never realised anyone else ever felt like that". With that Little Johnny walked off.

In case you hadn't guessed, I am the smug bastard. It may not surprise you to know that Little Johnny has had his name and details changed for the purpose of this blog. The conversation happened about six months ago. Little Johnny, having thought about it for a few months still isn't ready to address the issues. He has sworn me to secrecy about it, which I respect. He tells me he'll do something when he's ready. He seems a bit less angry and a bit more approachable. He will pass the time of day a bit more. For all I know, he may not be dyslexic. What I do know is that a) he's been in prison b) he can't read or write c) he's angry d) he's intelligent e) he's used crime as a means to support his lifestyle for a long time f) he has substance abuse issues. On a bad day he'll say nothing. On a good day he'll say four or five sentences. He won't say anything if anyone else is in earshot. He is one of many people who use the day centre who have problems. Of the 80-90 people I served breakfast to this morning, he is just one of a sea of faces, who'd lives haven't worked out how they had hoped. He is not the worst person there. He has never caused trouble. He is quite anonymous really and I'd not have guessed any of the story unless he'd told me the odd snippet. Much of it I've made up or embellished. I don't know when he was expelled or when he started taking drugs, I don't even know if it really did give him a sense of belonging. He isn't one for discussing his inner feelings. I can only guess. Maybe it just dulled the horror of the situation. The faded prison tats tell some of the story, the one liners tell a bit more. Perhaps one day, we'll have the whole story? I doubt it.

And what was the incident? After little John said his cursory two sentences, he sat down. Someone else showed him a copy of the Metro. Eden Hazard kicked a ball boy. The other guy said "Did you see what Hazard did?" Big John replied "Sorry I can't read, what does it say?" The other guy said "Oh, sorry, it says Hazard kicked the ball boy at the Swansea game because he wouldn't give the ball back". Big John said "thats out of order". As he said that, he caught my eye, for a millionth of a second. Recognition? Progress? who knows.

I have noticed something about dyslexics. We are very good at hiding and running away. We are in a constant state of denial. We are also extremely good at reading other peoples body language. I assume it is something we learned at school, as we desperately sought to avoid humiliation and punishment. The residual anger is perhaps the worst aspect (for me). I think it is a defence mechanism. Unlike little Johnny, I try and avoid violence as a solution, but I am not in his situation. How angry do you have to be to glass someone, rather than to confess that you can't read the headline on the Sun? How bad must you feel about yourself?

I am hoping that the incident today was a sign that things maybe are changing for old John. At the start of this blog, I asked what you may think when you heard teacher, police officer, charity worker? Old John told me a while back that "When I first saw you in here I thought you were a c*nt, but you are alright". If I have changed his perception a bit of charity workers, that is progress. 

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