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Posts tagged ‘dyspraxia’

The Hazards of Travelling – Adventures on the Autoroute

I’ve just returned from a short trip away and very enjoyable it was too. A hop across the Channel (or under it in this case), a few nights in a favourite little town and “le shopping”. But somehow it is not possible to escape everyday life especially if, like me, you are a bit of a dork.  Let me explain – I’ve always been clumsy,  especially when tired and I find myself doing things that seem quite logical to me but apparently are rather odd.  Sometimes incomprehensible to others who live outside my dyspraxic brain.

Now, I have spent a long time learning French, partly as I travel there a lot but also to prove to myself my French teacher was wrong when she wrote on my school report I would never be able to speak the language, let alone write it.  I have the Open University to thank for my eventual success by the way.  Their beginners courses are terrific and I am ridiculously proud of my Certificate in French, especially as I failed my “O” level seven times.  I can get around just fine, read the local paper (the equivalent of The Sun but hey – it’s a start) and chat to people I meet without causing them to roll on the floor hooting with laughter.  But all language is a code and every code is subtly different.

So, on the second evening we took the fast way back to the hotel, down the Autoroute.  Arriving at the barrier I inserted the card, only to have it spat back at me.  I tried again, with the same result.  We pulled off into a convenient layby and I went over to look at the machine and there was a large illuminated picture of a button with an arrow pointing towards it.  “Assistance”, it promised.  I tapped it but nothing happened.  I pressed harder, then held by thumb on it – still nothing.  After a break of several minutes when I hopped around avoiding other motorists who kept hooting and muttering some rather hurtful things I tried again, only to realize the picture was just that – a picture of a real button that was located right over the other side of the machine.

I pressed it and after several tries an irritated female voice squawked at me.  By now I was sweating and it was a struggle to understand the terse French issuing from the speaker.  My mastery of the language began to desert me as I tried to explain my predicament.  Following instructions I put the card in again, still with no success.  Suddenly a small opaque window lit up on the machine.  More squarks, increasingly impatient, told me to put the ticket into the window – and here the difference in languages becomes painfully obvious.  “Into” or “up to”.  There was a slot at the top and I dutifully posted my ticket through.

There was a hideous grinding sound and then one of those pauses.  “Where is the ticket?” the voice demanded.  Babbling and almost incoherent, I tried to explain I had posted it into the window…  Of course, there was a camera on the other side and she would need to see the ticket, verify my journey and then let me through.  Only I’d skipped that stage and consigned my evidence of payment to the shredder too soon.  With my last few words of  French I pleaded with her.  “Madame, please – it is 2 euros 60.  From Boulogne – 2,60.  I’m so sorry – please – I have the money ready…”  There was another pause and then the barrier lifted.  I swear it gave a sigh of exasperation but that may just have been Madame.  “Merci!  Merci Madame!”

We drove off into the sunset but as we left the booths I noticed the CCTV camera tracked us past the barrier and realized this had all been caught on film.  Well, I have a nasty feeling I am going to feature on the “Most incompetent drivers” reel at the next Toll Booth operators Christmas party.  I guess it is rather funny looking back but I’m not keen to repeat the experience any time soon.  I have a shiny new Atlas of France and intend to navigate away from the dreaded toll booths in future.  Hey, I’m dyspraxic so I have no sense of direction and no visual memory.  What could possibly go wrong?

 

 

 

 

In praise of libraries

I am a fan of libraries. Big ones, little ones, those wonderful book buses – show me a library and I find myself smiling. I owe my professional life to libraries – really. Without access to books I would not be writing this today. I would never have worked as a lecturer, survived the education system or become a writer. Libraries have been a lifeline for me.

I began to read very early, partly as I was bored, I think. I have dyspraxia – a form of spatial dyslexia – so I did not walk until after my third birthday According to my mother, I sat in a corner and shouted until someone brought me what I wanted – often a book of some kind, which at least kept me quiet. Then I went to school and the fact I could already read caused some consternation but I had a very smart teacher who pointed me to the Book Corner (remember those?) and, once I’d read everything there, let me sneak into the hall and take books from the Junior library. I was in heaven.

Then it all went wrong. Moving up to the second year Infant class, my new teacher (who’s name, fortunately, escapes me), decided I was not really reading at all, just showing off. She gave me the prescribed “reading book” for the term (!!) and asked me to read aloud. I couldn’t. I still find it hard and when I do readings and signings I practise for days beforehand. Aged six, I had a terrible stammer and half-way down the first page I burst into tears. Suddenly I was stuck with just one book for the term and until I read the whole horrible text aloud to this woman, I was barred from even the Infant library, let alone the now-forbidden Junior shelves.

On returning home that afternoon I told my mother I was never going back to school again. A remarkable and intelligent woman, she put me on the back of her bicycle and we made our way into the nearby town centre. Here I was signed up for the children’s library and given two pink tickets. Surrounded by more books than I had ever seen in one place, I agreed to go back to school – and keep my under-aged reading habit a secret.

That library kept me sane, in the midst of the crushing boredom of the second year Infants. By the time I was ten I’d consumed the Junior library too – dyspraxic, remember? So I never played out unless forced. I couldn’t skip, or catch a ball or even run without tripping over my own feet so I read – and read -and read. For my tenth birthday the local library staff gave me a quick test (to see if I really had read everything) and presented me with one illicit, precious grey ticket for the Adult section.

I wish I could go back now and thank them, show them all what a difference they made to my life.
I hope we will somehow salvage our library system and keep it safe, to pass on to the next generation of young readers. Yes, I’m a writer and I have a vested interest in getting them hooked on books but somewhere out there is a child just like me. I want them to have the same chances I had.