Monday, 27 January 2014

Dyslexia vs Ignorance - an unequal battle

For those of you who have read my dyslexia blogs before, you may wish to skip this paragraph as it is just the background. If you 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.

Not for the first time and not for the last time in my life, I find myself staring down the barrel of the gun of ignorance of dyslexia. When I was a child at school in the 1960's, dyslexia was called by another name. It was called stupidity. I have recounted all manner of humiliations and privations as a result of not being able to read words or sentences in a linear fashion. As I hit my mid teens, I developed a coping mechanism, which enabled me to progress from having a reading age of a 7 year old at age 12, to pasing 9 O levels and 3 A levels aged 18. The journey took me though two secondary schools and a whole host of new and exciting ways to be belittled. I only came out of the closet as a dyslexic to the world a couple of years ago through this blog. I always felt that I had to hide my dyslexia and try and convince the world I was tough and hard. I felt that to admit any weakness was the first step on the road to ridicule and damnation. Deep down inside me, there is a fear that all the things I have achieved will be stripped away, people will sing "He's a thicko" when I walk into the room and my wife, my children, my job, my music and all of my other achievements will disappear in a puff of smoke when people realise that I am a moron. Better therefore to pretend I'm a genius and hope no one notices. I sometimes have a dream (or is it a nightmare) where I log onto my blog and the 1,211,000 hits have gone and no one has read it ever. It has all been a delusion. In my dream I turn on the telly to see all the other Barnet bloggers on the Jonathan Ross show talking about Barnet and I realise my life as a blogger was simply a sad escape from my lonely world on my own in my bedroom. In my dream I am wracked with self doubt and self loathing. Then I wake up and I am usually disorientated to be in the real world, a world far nicer than the fantasy world my mind plunges me into. 

But here I am, in this world, with my family, my business and my blog with its 1,200,000 hits. I often wonder why on earth so many people have bothered to read it? It is truly staggering for a dyslexic to comprehend such an achievement. It is the sheer scale of this that feeds my self doubt and makes me doubt myself and sometimes my sanity even more. Why do people read the Barnet Eye? It is not particularly well written. Shakespear and Tolstoy would have no competition from me. It covers subjects which are largely mundane such as Barnet Council. Why? I continually ask. The answer can only be because this blog, however badly, fills a huge gap in the local media. In short, I believe that the the success of the Barnet Eye (and the other blogs) is a direct result of the failure of the local press to properly cover the issues of living in Barnet in 2014. A journalist on the Barnet Times tweeted last week about the number of hits they get on their website, but for a well established local paper, that is delivered to every home in Barnet, I felt it was actually a very poor show. Whilst the Barnet Eye gets maybe 1/10th or 1/20th the number of hits, I am a bloke on my own spending half an hour a day blogging. The Barnet Times has a team of paid full time journalists. It also has properties for sale & all manner of other things. There is a huge readership of their coverage of football and people will always go to them with stories. On their website they have the top twenty stories in order of number of hits


  1. Pupils dig up 500-year-old cannonball in school allotment
  2. Meeting over school location
  3. Davids 'did only good' for Barnet
  4. Dentist awarded for going 'above and beyond'
  5. Hollywood stars descend on Barnet to film new movie
  6. Andrew Flintoff to launch cricket academy in Barnet
  7. Man jailed for preparing to sell £41,000 of drugs
  8. 'Cheeky and curious' baby wins modelling contract
  9. Labour Councillor Ansuya Sodha defects to Conservatives
  10. Man sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering lover and hiding body in suitcase
  11. Developer ordered to tear down 'Swiss Chalet of High Barnet'
  12. Northern Line suspensions as new signalling system installed
  13. Student therapists providing vital help to people with learning disabilities
  14. Plans to open new primary school revealed
  15. Student's work to be played by Prince William and Kate's wedding organist
  16. Barnet swimmers await England fate
  17. CCTV images released after bank card theft
  18. Cats Protection opens new charity shop
  19. Ashton: I don’t see how it can work any better
  20. Police cordon outside Artsdepot related to alleged sexual assault
It is interesting that only the 9th most read story is what we could define as abut politics. Schools, football, Crime and celebrity stories are clearly far more popular with the readership. I've always had a lot of time for the Barnet Times. In the early 1980's in the days of Kevin Black and Clarence Mitchell, they were always highly supportive of my band. Under the editorship of Phil Crowther, I got into blogging writing a blog on the Times website. Interestingly enough, had I published this list any time between May and October 2008, when my blog on the Times was running, you'd see at least two or three of my blogs featuring prominently most days in the top twenty. For a while, people started looking at the website specifically to see my blog. Having access to the Times  group website, I could see how many blog hits my posts were getting and it was impressive. Not impressive enough to persuade Mr Crowther to retain the blog when the local Conservatives started to turn up the heat, but impressive enough. Sadly, for reasons I cannot comprehend, no other blogger on the site, with the exception of the late and sadly missed Dennis Signy had the same impact as this dyslexic numpty.

Fast forward from 2008 and Phil Crowther to today. The News editor is Mr Martin Buhagiar. Now Mr Buhagiar is a fine chap and he has no qualms about publishing stories that upset the local Conservative bigwigs. He proudly posted this tweet to show that a couple of weeks ago his paper bravely took the Tories to task over a faulty sprinkler system

Now I have to admit I have a big problem with Mr Buhagiar. It isn't with his editorship of the Times, he works for a commercial organisation and they pay him, not me. I don't have to read his website or his paper, so nothing he writes really matters to me. No the problem with Martin is with his name. Nope, not Martin. Martin is a very nice name. I really like the name Martin as it is my middle name. Being a Roman Catholic, I was named after St Martin De Porres. There are only two things I know about St Martin De Porres, one is that he is black and the other is that he's the patron St of Lepers - A true saint giving his life for the most hated and feared of minorities, those with leprosy. I always think anyone with the name Martin must be blessed for this reason. When I was a kid my parents bought me a relic of St Martin, a small fragment of his bone and a statue. Sadly both have disappeared. No my problem with Martin is his surname. You see to a dyslexic such as myself, it is not only unreadable but unspellable. There are certain words that are pretty impossible for my brain to process, so it reorganises the letters in a way which seems more sensible to its own logic and rules. Therefore Martin Buhagiar becomes Martin Buhgaria. Now I know this is wrong, but it is how I read it and how I spell it. Now as my own name is unspellable for many non dyslexics, I can sympathise with how annoying Martin may find his name being misspelled. Unlike the lazy sods who are just too lazy to listen to my name, I have an excuse. I've always found words with lots of a's, i's and r's in especially hard. I've recounted several times how I once got the cane at St Vincents for spelling Train wrong, so what chance do I have with Buhagiar? Strangely enough, I didn't realise I was spelling it incorrectly until Martin posted a tweet ridiculing my spelling prowess.

Now when I first saw this, I couldn't even figure out what he was on about. So I forensically examined his name and thought "Sh*t I've misspelled it". Now my first reaction was to simply apologise. I didn't do it deliberately and so that would be the natural response. Then I thought "he must be aware I'm dyslexic and he's taking the piss out of me". Why do I say this? Because the first line of my profile on the Barnet Eye website says "Dyslexic punk rock guitarist, studio owner and author Barnet Eye blog. " Martin is a journalist and so it is his job to check his facts, get things right and know what he's talking about.  I am sure he's aware of the existence of me and this blog and what we blog about, after all the Times has knicked many of our stories. Then I thought "what right has he got to take the piss out of me, simply for having a disability which has caused me so much grief". He clearly has never struggled with English as he's risen to the post of News editor on a local paper. I wondered if he ever suffered the humiliations of having to insult yourself in front of the whole class when you were five years old, under the tutilage of a malicious teacher. I wondered if he was one of the kids who would join in the humiliation and call the names? As I sat there with ever rising anger towards him, I suddenly realised that I am no longer five years old and in a class where the teacher was organising the other children to bully me, because my brain is slightly different. Nope, I am 51 years old and I can look after myself. I don't need to feel belittled and humiliated by such a crass comment designed purely to wind me up over a well publicised disability. 

So I thought that rather than have a go at Martin on Twitter I'd sit down later and write a calm and rational blog explaining to Martin why it is not OK to ridicule anyone about their defects and problems. Now clearly Martin thinks that because I'd ribbed him about his name (mistakenly) sounding like a famous womble, he can have a go at me for being dyslexic. Well of course he can, I can't stop him if he so chooses and after I got over the initial shock at the crassness of the comment I thought "So what". But I really thought I should try and at least explain why he should think twice before lampooning people for their problems, disabilities and issues. Now before everyone in Barnet I've ever upsets thinks "We can wind him up about this, it's his achillies heel", think again. Of all the wind ups you could possibly pull, this is the one I have had most practice with and am least likely to get annoyed about. The reason Martin's comment irritated me was simply because he made it from his official work Twitter account and to be quite honest, I expect a little more from the editor of the local paper in his official capacity. So Martin, I'm not going to ask for an apology, though I will give one for misspelling  your name. I am simply going to ask you that you treat dyslexia as you would blindness, deafness or any  learning difficulty. By all means lampoon things I say that are stupid, incorrect or irrational. I just ask that you give some consideration to the fact that dyslexia is a form of learning difficulty and I for one do not believe learning difficulties are suitable subjects for belittling people. My life has been a battle between dyslexia and ignorance, my own and other peoples. All I ask of the editor of our local paper is that when he is acting as the editor, he shows a little self control.I hope that is not too much to expect.

I speak to many dyslexics who read this blog, especially the articles on dyslexia and it appalls me to report that the general feeling is that a large number of people steadfastly refuse to even accept that the condition known as dyslexia exists. The more I research the subject and the more I come to terms with my own condition, the more I realise that many people will suffer huge mental pain, indignity and suffering, until such time as people wake up to the fact that dyslexia ruins some peoples lives. I committed to write this blog whenever I came across any example in my life where I felt dyslexia was being used against an individual, be it me or anyone else. I am not going to take it and I really don't see why anyone else should.

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