Our Travel blog
We’ve spent a few days holed up in Cambridge for family matters and a bit of a post festival recharge. I mention this as, searching for something else in the belongings we have stored here, I chanced upon a memory stick and found some notes I’d written a couple of years ago. As there’s not much to report apart from Alison's friends and family being wonderful company and Chuckie the budgie keeping us amused I thought this was a golden opportunity to shoehorn it into this blog. But first some background:
A couple of years ago we did a bit of a compressed tour of the UK, starting in England, hitting Scotland, then Wales, all in a week. We imposed ourselves upon Alison’s friends in each location and they were all saintly and generous with their time. Although I had met them all before it had only been briefly at functions and I was a little rusty on matching faces to names. Alison’s promised set of revision flash cards never materialised so I was left cheerfully greeting lovely warm people and subtly interrogating them to find their place in Alison’s extended family of colleagues, ex-colleagues, folks she knows from church and people she met once in Tesco’s and is now God parent to their children.
In Edinburgh, I was armed with the names of our hosts and a mental picture of their faces. We were greeted at the door of a charming house by a wonderful gentleman who bade us welcome, made tea and served biscuits, showed us around and, as Alison seemed relaxed and he was most amiable, I assumed we were in the correct house and set to work assembling clues to their relationship to one another. His wife returned from work, hugs and felicitations were exchanged and we sat down to a fine meal and cosy chat around the fire.
We eventually retired and lay in bed reading when I had to admit defeat, leading to the following conversation:
Alison: “What a lovely evening”
Me: “Delightful, charming people…Alison darling?”
Alison: “Yes dear?”
Me:”Err, who exactly are these delightful charming people?”
Once explained, mental pictures rearranged accordingly, and secretly hoping I was never tested on the finer details, we had a wonderful time with them. It turned out to be much more illuminating and moving for me than I’d ever have anticipated. What follows I’ve written up from notes I made at the time.
Chatting around the fire one evening the subject turned to the traits we have in common with our children. I casually mentioned the poor handwriting, spelling and unusual writing stance I share with my two adults sons, making light of it as I always do. After some gentle questioning I was referred to a website about Dysgraphia. It’s an interesting and sobering read; one that makes sense of experiences from my childhood. Here is a handy definition:
“Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder, characterised by the inability to write properly. Dysgraphia in fact refers specifically to the inability to perform operations in handwriting. It could be described as an extreme difficulty with fine-motor skills…It is very important to recognise dysgraphia as soon as possible, before it impacts on a child’s self-esteem. “
I’m not making a self-diagnosis. I have no idea if I or my children have it. It seems pointless, except maybe out of academic interest, to find out now. I’ve always tried to park my school days as something I had to endure, a kind of extended initiation into adulthood that I’ll thankfully never have to repeat. My education was characterised by under-achievement. By the time I got to secondary school I’d found I could fade into the background and drift around largely undisturbed by the powers that be. In spite of that, since leaving formal education I’ve done okay. I found that you could work for a living and learn what you needed to know for the job, and not, for example, about ox-bow lakes, the periodic table or bloody algebra. My children did well at school but had the constant spectre of the handwriting and spelling police looming over them too. We have all become experts at coping. Stoicism could be our middle name – if we could ever be relied upon to spell it correctly that is.
But some experiences do linger and lying awake in the dim light of an early Edinburgh morning I reflected on what I’d read and my battles with low self-esteem and depression.
The biggest benefit for me, and I guess for my children too, is the computer. Having no need to write longhand has been a revelation. I've moved from avoiding writing to actually enjoying it. Maybe some of my grammatical quirks persist and I make more use of the spell checker than most. In fact for me it is close to the greatest invention ever. Just behind the record player and ahead of chocolate. (Close though, don't despair chocolate, we're still friends).
I also want to pause here to pay tribute to Alison who proof reads and improves everything I write. (Except this paragraph because if I let her see it she would remove it out of modesty). And I do mean everything I write; I’ve found shopping lists that have been gently corrected. She has also found it within her considerable resources to provide me with more nurturing and encouragement in just a few years than formal education ever did, which was supposed to be their job. I’m not blaming teachers. Education is characterised by political interference and the dictates of fashions and trends that they have to conform to. I do though wish some teachers had remembered why they were in the profession and taken a few minutes to think about children as people rather than slightly damp sacks of meat to be processed, squeezed into a nylon uniform and stuck behind a checkout until they retire.
Occasionally I still ponder the 'what if' questions. Maybe with the right support I'd have made more of my abilities and collected some decent qualifications at school, perhaps made it to university. But with hindsight I'm not sure I'd have wanted a different path to the one I chose. What I would have changed is the attitude of my teachers and parents, the humiliations and the stress of not understanding why I couldn't do what was required and, assuming, indeed being told, that the fault was mine.
Dysgraphia is just one of many conditions that can go unrecognised and children and students with them often don't stand much chance of getting the support they require. This needs to change but I fear it won’t in our education factories where conformity, obedience and exam success are prized over individuality, the arts and personality. Again, that’s not generally the teachers fault and I could name one primary school teacher who did more for my two offspring than she’d ever get credit for by the politicians and authorities who measure success by grades and not genuine learning and growth.
To reiterate I wrote this without a diagnosis and don’t claim any specific condition but if you are interested in knowing more you can try www.dysgraphia.org.uk.
And on that slightly glum note we'll get back to writing about our travels, Alison's ability to make friends in the unlikeliest of places and my struggles with the skills needed for basic survival, starting tomorrow when we hit London.
Thank you for stopping by and reading our blog. If you don’t know who we are, what we are doing and you're wondering what this is all about you can read up on our project here.