Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
Primary School, Cyprus,1961
was eight years old. It was near the end of lessons and time to hand
in our exercise books. This was a new method which our teacher had
devised. With our desks rearranged in squares rather than in
columns, books would now be stacked in fours from each group before
being collected up by a monitor and placed in a pile upon the
never found out why the teacher's attention had suddenly focused upon
me but here he was. He wanted to know what I didn't understand about
his new system. I said that I didn't know. The four kids on my table
now had to take back our books and begin again. He watched me as I
passed my book to the boy opposite me. “No, no, no!” he snapped.
I could feel my face reddening. I took back the book and passed it to
the person next to me. “Not him!” yelled the teacher. I began to
panic. The whole class was watching now. I took the exercise book and
passed it forlornly to the last of our quartet. Surely this must be
right? The teacher addressed the class incredulously. “ You see? He
still doesn't understand!”
passed the book diagonally across to the boy to whom I'd first passed
it. With that, the furious teacher pulled me out in front of the
class. I can't remember what he yelled but the next thing I knew,
he'd picked me up by my ribcage and was shaking me in the air. Now he
put me down again. He grabbed my exercise book and swiped me three or
four times across the face. It didn't seem particularly hard, but,
prone then to nosebleeds, I felt a thin trickle of blood from one
nostril. “Now sit down.” he said. The bell went. We all filed
out. I felt ashamed, numb and faint. I was a pariah, the class Jonah.
None of my classmates said anything to me. No one sat with me on the
bus back to the army base. I never told my parents. I thought that
they'd probably just say, “Well, perhaps you should have been
paying more attention.” That was what they did in those days. To
this day I don't understand what the teacher was trying to make me
schooldays were peppered with such events. What most led to trouble
for me at school, was not so much doing the wrong thing, as failing
to do the corrrect one. I did manage too, however, often to say the
wrong thing, having again failed to understand the general
requirements. This carried on well into early adulthood. There were
some things which I seemed to be good at, history, for instance.
Dates of battles. There was no one to touch me on them.
was good at running, especially cross-country and yet, hopeless at
all team sports. Football, for me, simply didn't compute. I was
forever being screamed at by team-mates for doing the wrong thing.
Many of these tribulations, faded after childhood, leaving only
traces of my old confusion.
driving lessons at 20 years old, however, I refused. I instinctively
knew that I could never drive a car. The prospect seemed scary and
I've never driven.
I've played music since my teens, gradually acquiring skills on a
number of stringed and keyboard instruments, it's irked me that I've
never mastered the drums. I've learned how they function. I could
even explain to you how a bossa-nova rhythm works. What I can't do,
is to play it on a kit.
partner, who for years taught children with learning difficulties
only broke it to me recently that I am dyspraxic. That wasn't all.
I'm still reluctantly acknowledging that I'm also mildly aspergic.
Reading up on the subject it's been enlightening for me to recognise
so many of my 'symptoms'. Only now, am I beginning to solve the
mysteries of decades, such as the one recounted at the beginning of
this piece. My condition, I've learned is, if not common, then not
discussed it with another musician, himself aspergic. He asked me,
“Did people get cross with you a lot, when you were younger – and
you didn't understand why.” I said yes. He nodded.
up on the subject was enlightening and at times, poignant. Aspergers
and dyspraxia may sometimes occur together. My discovery has
explained why I couldn't do certain simple things. It's explained
too, why I can skillfully recount long and complex jokes and yet take
certain others completely literally. And then there were all the
exasperated girlfriends of my younger days, who left me seemingly
inexplicably. I never understood what was required. For example, when
someone asks how you are, you shouldn't give them a fifteen-minute
run-down. You should say, “Fine, thanks,” and then ask them how
they are. It took me ages to learn that – about four ex-partners.
Nobody mentioned aspergers or dyspraxia back then. People just used
to shout at me, or hit me.
keep it in proportion,however. I seem to have fared okay. The other
morning, having reconsidered it, I asked our resident special-needs
teacher: “So, if I'm dyspraxic and aspergic, what does that
actually mean?” She replied, “It means you're a bloke.”
readers have encountered any issues within this feature, please don't
write in. I'm still trying to figure it out myself.