Exploding volcanoes and spelling badly!

An accurate side-profile illustration of one of my primary school teachers walking like a zombie. This one — complete with demon hands — was disgusted with anyone who couldn’t tell the time. This is her payback

As a child, it took me absolutely ages to learn how to tell the time on a clock with hands (or what I like to call an “analogue clock”. A phrase which hasn’t caught on, but really should have). Did this matter? Well yes it did actually, it mattered quite a lot, because when I was nine years-old digital clocks weren’t everywhere and analogue clocks were, the bloody things. If you couldn’t tell the time on one then life was completely miserable. For this reason, I told the time by being shouted at. When someone shouted at me I knew I was late and what the time had to be. It was a simple system that never failed to work.

Not being any good at telling the time wasn’t such a big thing though, because at the age of eight or nine I started to produce paintings that were annoyingly good for a child of my age (looking back they don’t seem all that special now, but I’m not going to go into that. I don’t want to ruin the mystique). The best part was that they were also better than most of the teachers could do – something which was brilliant ammunition when you were utterly useless with all the other subjects. Painting was the one thing I could do, so I embraced it. Things took a particularly bad turn, however, when I entered an art competition at the end of one year.

I had chosen to do a painting of a farmyard. Let’s be honest, for most of the population, when you’re seven or eight, you don’t give a shit about the details, you just want to paint whatever comes into your mind at that one particular moment. Me, on the other hand, I loved the details. I spent a good few hours drawing the chickens and the pigs, and spent a similar number of hours doing the actual painting.

But here’s the thing…when I entered the painting into the competition, there was that very distinct feeling of having trodden in dog muck and being the odd one out in a very big way. Dog muck of the bright orange, especially foul-smelling variety, no less. A rumour had started going about, you see: I hadn’t painted the chickens and the pigs…my parents or some other devious accomplice adult had. Something which amused my parents, seeing as they’d always been hopeless at art. If I was them I’d have taken the accolade, but there you go, we are all different.

Conveying how hopeless they were to the Headmaster didn’t help. The school authorities — a complex mix of bearded and non-bearded evil individuals who seemed strangely genderless to my young self — were convinced that the painting was a fraud and that was that, I was outlawed from collecting a prize (there was no prize, I later found out, but it still cut me deeply). It seemed my non-existent art career was to remain that way, until a stroke of luck fell upon me…I was asked to paint a teacher’s portrait, which would be given to him as a leaving present! (I still have no idea who was responsible for setting my career back on track.)

As you can imagine I was thrilled. My reputation restored, things were looking up. Yes!

The problem is, ever since that day, and don’t laugh, and don’t think I’m being arrogant please, I have been plagued with the curse of being half decent at creative things. I call it a curse because a) it’s hardly brilliant for earning money and b) it seems to be a lot more common to be crap at drawing and painting than it does to be skilled. This means that people often say to me “Oh Chris, I wish I could paint like you or write like you, but alas I am stuck with my between 35 and 75 grand per-year boring job — I’d really much rather be creative”. What they forget – or what possibly doesn’t always cross their mind – is that they likely possess many more skills than I when it comes to many things in life which are favourable. Things which make everyday life a hell of a lot easier, for that matter.

Here are a few things which I find exceedingly difficult (mainly because of my Dyscalculia – the numerical equivalent of Dyslexia):

1) Reading maps. Just ask anyone who has ever been in a car with me. I am infuriating on so many levels. It really is quite hard to fathom.

2) Doing directions. Both giving them and following them. I forget the number of people who have fallen under my spacially-challenged sword after winding down their window. Actually, come to think of it, when I walk down the street in a place I don’t know, I usually have to keep checking behind me so I see the street in the way I will later when I make the return journey. If I fail to do this I will often not believe it is the same street. This surely gives me the shifty appearance of someone who is fearing for their life.

3) Still reading analogue clocks. Sometimes. I can’t even blame it on the drink as I can no longer drink.

4) Still doing any form of multiplication. The beauty of Dyscalculia is that you don’t ever improve at Maths. Thus, there is little point attempting to learn to do multiplication. It’s a thing of wonder in many ways. If I was just simply crap at Maths then I might be compelled to keep trying to get better.

Another thing is that some people seem to more and more fear writing emails to me – I know this because several people have told me they feel they need to try hard when doing so; harder than when they write to people who don’t do much work with words. You can see it in their writing…the concentration on the words, all formed much more neatly and with more thought than they might usually put into it. And to this I say: “please make spelling mistakes and please don’t worry about writing well or properly or neatly. I really don’t care. In fact I like it. I look forward to seeing typos. All I do is spend every day writing neatly and as well as I can. I want to see the writing of normal everyday people so please let me have it!”

Note: I should say that I have many friends who are creative and who can write really well. And can also do Maths. And who hold down good jobs too. And who can read analogue clocks well — even those evil ones which fashionably don’t have numbers on them. You can definitely say I am jealous of them…

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