Tuesday 31 May 2022

Dyslexia blog - Dyselexia is not a special power


The art of being invisible and dyslexia

So earlier today I spoke to Eddie Nestor on BBC Radio London. I had called hoping to discuss the forthcoming Mill Hill Music Festival and give it a plug. I failed miserably. Eddie got me onto the subject of dyslexia and I went into one. What really got my goat was that Eddie stated that we should consider dyslexia as a special power. This is one of the things which annoys me more than anything. The only gift dyslexia gave me was the realisation that I had to work three times as hard as everyone else just to keep up. People say "hard work never did anyone any harm" but when you are constantly struggling to do things that everyone else find easy it is just totally demoralising. I still have nightmares about being in school. As an August baby, I was the smallest in the class. Being the 'thickest' as well was no fun at all. Teachers did not give special dispensation for dyslexics in the 60's and 70's. No extra time to do exams. No extra help. Just work your guts out, do your best and celebrate if you managed to scrape a "C" grade. Reading? Couldn't do it properly until I was 12. Writing? Probably was 13/14 before I really got the hang of it. Long division? I'd probably still not be able to do it today if my sister Valerie had not spent a whole day going through it. Eventually it twigged and I became quite good at maths, but it was struggle and I realised that my teachers simply had no idea how to expain anything.

You may think it's odd that someone who claims they have all these problems has written a blog with over 8 million published words? What happened? As I told Eddie, I had a couple of moments of revealation. The first was my old physics teacher at FCHS, John Shuttler. He sat down with me and explained that the only person I was going through an eductaion for was me. It had never occurred to me. We then discussed English. I had no interest.  I saw Shakespeare as gobbldygook and blokes in silly costumes. He said "You like Joni Mitchell? Don't you listen to the lyrics?".  He then explained that Joni Mitchell would never have been a singer/ songwriter without a good command of English. I went home and read some of the lyrics on an album I had. I realised I wanted to write lyrics like that. All of a sudden, having a proper vocabulary, using English properly and appreciating the beauty of our language was important. The next moment was not from a teacher. It was sitting in a cafe in Camden Town. In walked Mr Ian Dury. A spikey and mardy individual, walked in for a cup of tea. I was with a mate. We aspired to be in a band. We tried to strike up a conversation with Mr Dury. He simply said "Go and get yourself some guitars and start a band, don't sit around here thinking about it". 

It really was that simple. That was exactly what we did. I was lucky. My then songwriting partner had a brilliant command of English. I was simply full of anger and angst. Between us we crafted a set of very powerful and complex songs. I've always said that Punk Rock saved me. It gave us ugly, spotty, unsporty, thickoes permission to be ourselves. We  could form bands and make music. Prior to the punk explosion, it all seemed to be about being a virtuoso player. Punk said that great songs are three minute bursts of enegry and it didn't matter if you didn't play it perfectly. It gave us permission to try.

The truth is that the permission to try is the greatest gift of all. Whereas the school careers master had suggested mowing the lawn for the council, we not only started dreaming of stardom with the band. We not only started a band. We needed to rehearse somewhere, so we started a studio. We needed to play gigs, so we started promoting our own gigs. We were sixteen years old. I found myself suddenly in the middle of the local music scene, someone who made things happen. I'd grown in confidence and my educational performance had improved. The only problem was that, for me, it wasn't fit for purpose. 

No one taught me how to run a business. No lessons explained the intricacies of the music industry. Nothing could prepare me for the shark infested waters we inhabited. I was lucky in as much as my Dad was a hardnut who prepared me for lifes murkier waters, but when you have to deal with complicated legal contracts, that sometimes have words you don't understand, this could be difficult. My Dad did give me one piece of advice that was incredibly useful. He said that if a legal contract has a word you don't understand in it, that is probably the most important word. They make it difficult to understand to keep lawyers in a job. He said "Always look them up and make sure you don't get shafted because you were too lazy to check". At school, I never thought words are important. Many a musician has been well and truly shafted as they didn't read contracts or understand what a word meant.  That is why words are important and not understanding them is not a superpower, it is a massive hindrance.

I've felt my whole life has been like the mythical greek character Sisiphus. The Gods gave him the task of having to push a boulder up to the top of a hill. Whenever he reaches the top, it rolls down the other side and he has to start again. Dyslexia is a bit like that. Sometimes, you smugly think you've finally managed to cope, then you realise that you've filled in a from wrong or an application. I've done this too many times. When I flirted with the idea of going to University, I applied for Bedford College, a female only University. I can't count the number of times I've ticked the vegan meal box on travel arrangements in error, bought useless crap on Ebay as I misread the description. 

I've misread people's CV's and totally baffled them by asking questions that bear no relation to what they've actually written. Any success I've had is down to bloody mindedness and a refusal to quit, even if it means working three times harder than everyone else. Is that a bad thing? It is from my perspective. I know too many people who are successful and have not really had to try too hard at all.  Of course, they have their own challenges that they keep quiet about. When I was building our studios, I largely financed it by working as a freelance IT consultant. I kept very quiet about beung dyslexic. I made a career of doing the jobs other people didn't want, the boring stuff on old, legacy systems that everyone else saw as being old hat. It was in part because it had been hard enough learning it in the first place, I couldn't stand the challenge of newer technology. It was a, for a long time, a successful strategy. When firms can't get the staff, then you earn good money. In many ways, that is the path to go. Do the stuff other people don't want to do, work your nuts off and don't let anyone else knock you back. 

I'm now a father of three children, none of whom are dyslexic. I have five siblings, none of whom are dyslexic. It makes me wonder and question myself. Was I dropped on my head as a  baby? Did I suffer brain damage at birth? Am I the milkmans? I was talking with my sister about DNA tests. I am genuinely terrified that I will learn I'm not who I thought I was. Am I alone? As a child, I always felt oiut of place. I think I walk into a classroom and tell the teacher who was dyslexic, purely by where they chose to sit. For me, it was always as near to the door as possible as this made me feel secure, but not in the first two rows of desks as you'd get asked questions there. The more in the peripheral vision of teachers you are, the less stress you got. I've spoken to many dyslexics who all tell me the same thing.

 So there you go. That is why I get cross when people say dyslexia is a special power. I hope, having read this, you know why any dyslexic my age thinks this is a ridiculous suggestion. I just hope any kids at school suffering dyslexia feel a bit different to me. 


About my dyslexia blog

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 33 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. 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.

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