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Posts tagged ‘dyspraxia’

Travelling more hopefully

As the warm weather arrived we began to travel more hopefully.  Despite our best efforts we could not finance a house before selling ours so the plan was to sell, put our stuff in storage, move into a rental property and then look for somewhere permanent.  Seemed a fairly logical way to go about it, especially as travelling to view anywhere was still banned so we were relying on the web to explore the housing market.

Now, I don’t know if you are aware but I am slightly dyslexic but very dyspraxic.  (That’s a form of spatial dyslexia.  I can’t follow instructions in a sequence longer than two steps and have never mastered left and right.  Hell, on a bad day I can’t do up and down and have been known to shut my head in a door trying to get through.)  So looking at the obviously idealized descriptions and photographs of properties in Ireland, I was under the misapprehension that Irish houses/cottages/bungalows were similar to properties in England.  They are not, but I didn’t really understand what that meant until much later.

The immediate difference that even I could spot was the amount of garden or land surrounding anything over 50 years old.  Most of these were “cottages” or “bungalows” and modelled on the same pattern. They were low, single storey buildings with thick stone walls and three, maybe four windows at the front.  A lot of them had “sheds” that more closely resembled stone outbuildings and these, we thought, would be very useful as storage for our stuff until we could get unpacked.  Generally situated out of town, they boasted anything from 0.5 acres to over 8 in some cases.  I had not the foggiest idea how big an acre might be but even I realized 8 of them might be too much for us to manage.

Alas, this inability to visualise actual dimensions sent us off on totally the wrong path.  These cottages listed two or three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and bathroom. The roofs of some were boarded and made extra space similar to the studio I had in Saltburn.  What I didn’t realise was just how small these rooms would be.  A bedroom 2.4 metres by 3.6 metres sounded fine but actually it’s barely large enough to fit a bed and a small cupboard. 

So we pored over the listings, looked at the prices and descriptions and then worked through the photographs and videos.  Now a number of the older properties had a distinctive style of decoration.  Very dark, brown and green (furniture, curtains, wallpaper and paint) and often with several beds in one room.  It was like peering into a time machine.  We scratched those off the list. Several of the videos were very illuminating.  I was particularly curious about one house where the camera flashed past a door on the first floor, giving a glimpse of several road cones blocking the entrance.  Not for us, we decided along with some we labelled “fixer-uppers”.  We were happy to wait and have work done on somewhere if it was basically sound and what we were looking for but some were a bit more than we were willing to tackle.

A bit more of a fixer-upper than we were looking for.

Still, there were enough hopeful prospects for us to think we would be able to find a suitable house without too much trouble, especially as we were cash buyers.  The pandemic had shaken up the property market with uncertainty over jobs making the banks reluctant to lend money.  At the same time there was a growing desire for personal space, inside and out, as the restrictions imposed by lockdown began to chafe.

Then suddenly it was over.  Lockdown was lifted and the country went into Tiers.  We were labelled Tier 2 – not as good as we hoped but much better than the restrictions of previous weeks.  Shops opened, people began to answer the phone occasionally and with the fine weather came a huge rush of visitors to our little town.  At the weekend we did not dare move the car from outside our house as it would be impossible to park even after a short run out for the dogs.  Saltburn had always been busy during the school holidays but it had never been as packed as it was then.  Our resolve hardened as we contemplated the likely impact of international travel restrictions stretching into the foreseeable future. We drew up a list of what we really, really wanted in our next home. 

Fewer stairs – yes, a garden – absolutely and off-road parking.  It’s a pity I didn’t check a few things, like actual room sizes compared to what we had – and was still full of stuff).  Oh, and what the Irish BER rating meant in real terms. But more of that later.  We were moving forward, trying to get the house ready for viewings as soon as we could.  We were optimistic about the chances of getting away before autumn as we began talks with solicitors, estate agents and friends.  And then the second wave hit and everything stopped – again.

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.