Monday, 29 December 2014

Rog T's Dyslexia Blog - Who says that your school years are the best years of your life - part 1

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.

There is an old saying that your school years are the best years of your life. I often wonder if this was written by a dyslexic, because in my experience and that of many dyslexics the opposite is true. If I divide my life into three bits, before school years, during school years and after school years, I can safely say that during school years was truly horrible, whilst the other two bits have generally been pretty fine. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of great memories from school years, but absolutly none of them are to do with the educational aspects. The good bits generally came at evenings, weekends and holidays.

Now before I start to explain, let me first let you in on three things that conspired to make the challenge even tougher than it may already have been. The first one, you've probably guessed. I'm dyslexic. The second one is that my birthday is at the end of August so I was always the youngest (and often the smallest) boy in the year. The third one, only my close family know about (until now). I was what is called a "Blue Baby". That is totally unrelated to my lifelong support of Manchester City FC. It is related to Rhesus Disease, where there is a clash between your blood type and your mothers. Now whilst this really shouldn't have affected my education, it did in a big way as it meant I was six weeks premature and a rather unhealthy specimen to boot. So whereas I should have been born a Libra, in early October, I ended up on the cups of Leo and an August boy. This meant that I was effectively bumped up a year, with educational special needs.

So there I was. The smallest and stupidest boy in the class. I still have vivid memories of my first day at school. I walked into a huge classroom with hundreds (so it seemed) of kids in it. I was buddied up with Dale Malone, who was my age and lived up my road. He briefly gave me a run down. "He's **** *****, he's good at fighting, he's ****** ********, he's thick, she's **** *******, she smells, he's ***** ******** he's naughty, she's ***** *******, her brother is in Miss O'Donovans class". Whilst most of the class started in September, my mum thoughtfully held my start back until Easter. The good thing about this was I did two terms less schooling than everyone else. The bad thing was that when I joined, not only was I the smallest and the thickest, I also was an outsider as everyone else had their groups of friends. Whilst in theory the Easter start was a good thing, there I was, at school with no friends. This was back in 1967, so we didn't have pre-school. It was a whole new experience and I wasn't in the least bit socialised. Whilst I'm sure that none of my classmates were either, back in December, they had two terms of bonding. So what do you do, if you are the smallest, thickest member of the class and you have no friends. Well I had a simple strategy. I used to hide. I'd recce out the areas of the school, and work out where people wouldn't bother you. quite hard when you were in a large square playground, full of kids. I sort of figured out that the less interaction I had with anyone, teachers, other kids, playground assistants, the better. The rules are simple. Always make for the emptiest part of the playground, always ensure that there is an escape route (don't hide in corners), don't make eye contact with anyone. Don't put your hand up. Look like you are doing work, even if you haven't got a clue. Never ask for help. Never hand in your homework if you can possibly help it. Never say anything, because the less you say, the less chance that you can be ridiculed. That first term was the longest three months of my life. I have one fond memory of it. We made crocodiles out of cotton reels. I was proud of mine. I brought it home and it disappeared within a couple of days. Doubtless my mum threw the ugly object out. My friend Peter Conway, who was a friend until our late teens when we left school, took his home and it had pride of place on their Welsh Dresser until the day I last visited his house around 1981. Mine was simply chucked in the bin after a cursory "thats nice". It was simply a matter of seeing it through.

Our teacher was Sister Rosalie. She was the baby class teacher, a young nun who was nice. My sister warned me that they always have a nice teacher in the Baby Class (what we now call "reception"). But summer beckoned. The summer of 1967 was the longest summer in history, it lasted nearly 36 months and was bliss. My next door neighbours had two boys. One my age (Ricky) and one two years younger (Luke). Ricky had just turned up, Luke was Pre school age. Ricky, like me was an August baby and even smaller than me. We discussed Thunderbirds, we made dens from cardboard boxes. There was never a cloud in the sky. Maybe school had been a horrid nightmare? Then all of a sudden, my mum announced "It's September, you are back at school on Monday". The 947 days  of August 1967 had finished.

So I was back at school and it was grim. Gone was the relaxed ambience of Sister Rosalie. We now had Mrs Munich. With the coming of September, the skies turned grey, it started to rain and rained for all 3,741 days of September 1967. However long August had seemed, the bleakness greyness of September was so much longer and more awful. We had to drink milk every day. It was lukewarm and smelly. We ate lunch in the school dinner hall. There'd be some vile reprocessed meat, two balls of watery mash potatoe and a dollop of cabbage, that they could smell in Calais. Lunch was conducted in silence. Sounds bad? I used to quite enjoy lunch, we got to eat a pudding and when it wasn't tapioca or Semolina it was quite nice. Chocolate pudding, with chocolate sauce, arctic role and best of all Rice pud with Jam. As I didn't like talking to people, it was no hardship to be quiet.

What was bad was assembly. This was overseen by Gabsy. Sister Gabriel was the Headmistress. Terry Nation, inventor of the Daleks had modelled them on Sister Gabriel. If we were naughty, there were three options. If you were lucky, you got the bat. If you were unlucky you got to stand up in assembly, go up on the stage with Gabsy and stand their with your hands held high in the air. And if you were really unlucky, you got totally humiliated in front of the whole school. One unlucky pair, a boy and girl were caught playing kiss chase, so had to have akiss in front of the whole school. Just to give you a flavour of the menace of Gabsy, she told us that she'd used to make kids stand with their hands on their heads on the stage, but a visiting nun had pointed out it was far more painful to stand with them in the air.  There I was, five years old, being subjected to tortures that writers in the Gaurdian denounce the US government for doing to Gitmo detainees.

As for Mrs Munich. She soon cottoned onto the fact that I was dyslexic. I misspelt train in my Daily news as TRIAN. She called me to the blackboard and made me write it out. I spelled TRIAN. She said "No, the I and the A are the wrong way around. Now write it again", so I did, exactly as I had the first time. I got hit across the knuckles with a ruler. She called me an idiot and then wrote it correctly on the blackboard. They say that Corporal Punishment doesn't work. This is a lie, I never spelled Train wrong again.

Luckily for me, fate dealt me a fortunate hand. My sister had won the Finchley Carnival Queen competition and had secured a modelling contract on the back of it. She went for an audtion for a Tizer commercial. My mum hauled the whole family down. Unbeknown to her, the advert required a family and when they saw us, they just gave us the job on the spot. My career in show business had started. Maybe this saved me. When the advert came out, all of a sudden  people were more friendly. My schoolwork didn't pick up, but I had something I was good at.

The downside? The nuns who ran St Vincents decided that I was a bighead, so I never got cast in any school play and every rebuke started with "You are not on telly now Mr Tichborne". The upside was that by now, I couldn't really give a monkeys about what the nuns said. I'd realised that the school was equally horrible to everyone, good, bad, clever and thick alike. So when it came down to it, we all suffered. Being good Catholics, we were all wracked with guilt. Except I wasn't. I sort of realised quite early on that spelling train wrong wasn't bad or evil. I didn't know why I was rubbish at everything (I only realised I was dyslexic in my 30's). I asked a visiting priest if it was possible to commit a sin if you didn't know what you were doing is wrong. This completely stumped him. He asked me to give an example. I said "well my dad says the Pope doesn't like the Dave Allen show. Suppose you put on the telly and it's on but you didn't know the Pope doesn't like Dave Allen?" (at the time I didn't know what the Dave Allen show was, but I'd heard my parents discussing it). The priest said "Does your Dad watch the Dave Allen show?" I replied that I didn't know, as I was always in bed when it was on. At which point he said "You should only watch programs your Mum and Dad say are decent". I realised he'd ducked the question.  That was pretty much what St Vincents was like in the 1960's. No matter what you did, you could never win.

To be continued......


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