Gatehouse Books - Literacy & ESOL specialist. Need help? Email or call us on 01925 267778

'Only Biscuits' by Linda Virgo

Back in my day, that word, dyslexia, wasn’t even known or spoken about. That old saying that you’re never too old to learn – well, my goodness they were right, but sometimes I felt very lonely and frustrated over those years as I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t read. It hasn’t been easy, and I always wished that dyslexia would just go away. Now I can laugh at it all as I can finally read, but it has been quite a journey. I want to share my story because I want people to know that there is help – you just need to be brave enough to reach out! I am the proof!

I found going out particularly frightening. I think I was so afraid of people. The family dog helped because she would get me out. I was scared to strike up a conversation in case I said something wrong. Every time someone knocked on the door – like a salesman – I would just stand there and buy something. If I didn’t, would he think I was stupid? Sometimes I would buy rubbish, but nothing new there😊.

I felt sorry for my children. I was good with money so that was no problem, but what about all the things I couldn’t read? One day, I went shopping with my son and he asked to join a swimming club. “Do we need a form?” I asked. “Well, I don’t know, mum, you should know this?” I felt guilty – I should know. I also fostered and although I think they must have had a hell of a time of it they have told me that the house was full of love, warmth, affection and support – which is all that matters – and I definitely tried to always give plenty of love! So, perhaps I didn’t do such a bad job after all.

One day, I wandered down to the shops to get some bread as I knew what bread looked like! An old lady stops me and asks me to get her some shopping and hands me a list. I just stood there and then said, “I’m so sorry but I haven’t got the time.” I felt so embarrassed. I wish I could help her! I thought to myself – don’t be a coward and go and see her. So, I did. She was very kind and offered me a cup of tea. I started to explain, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get your shopping, but you were going to give me a list and I couldn’t read it.” “Oh love, don’t worry about that,” she replied. “Is there anything else I can do for you that doesn’t involve reading?” The old lady giggled “No, but I do like your company so sit down and let’s have a chat over a cup of tea.” “If I show you what I want, can you get it for me?” She encouraged me to remember the name and how the letters looked. I went to the shop and there in front of me was the packet! Hurray for that – I won’t have to ask anyone. I was pleased as punch. The cashier said, “Only biscuits?” It was not only biscuits for me – it was such a big moment. I will never forget that pack of chocolate biscuits!

You can’t believe how many words there are in our everyday activities. Words are everywhere and when I was cleaning up the house I used to look at the tin of polish and think “I really hope this is polish!”

I have always been shy and didn’t like going out as I have always been embarrassed especially going out to have meals as I couldn’t read the menu. I used to make excuses like I had lost my glasses. When things landed through the letterbox, I used to cringe, and I would wish that I could read!

This one day, I asked my dearest friend if she could help me to read. “No, not really,” she replied, “I think you need proper help.” “No one can help me.” I laughed, “I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere. I’ve been trying all these years!” I used to write by copying books, but I had no idea what it said!

One day, we went uptown and stood outside Wallace House looking at a poster in the window. “There’s someone who can help,” she said. Here we go, I thought, they will laugh at me! I will be too embarrassed. I was terrified, and I really didn’t want to go at all. We went in together and it was closed…phew! I had got away with it 😊. On the way home, she said – “we are going again!” “I can’t, I just can’t – I will make a fool of myself.” “Just go and try,” she replied. I mustn’t let her down and so I went in. My heart was pounding! I didn’t know what to say or do. The lady was so nice. She asked me my name and then asked me to write something. I had been practising my name, so I was feeling confident. I stated that I had trouble reading and wanted to send my children birthday cards.

The next Monday, I started at the Access Centre. I walked there and then turned back and then suddenly something came over me and I knew that I wanted to read – even if it was just a little bit – just one word or one sentence. I must go in. Everyone was so lovely, kind and friendly. They wanted to help. I explained, and I felt brilliant. For the first time in my life, I was doing something I really wanted to do! I had to do this – and they made me feel – well, I’m struggling to find the words – that I could do this!

I like chatting away now – perhaps because I was so frightened to speak before. I was silenced. At last, I have my voice!

I have managed to look after my children, pay off the mortgage and keep a job for all my life. At last, I can now read a book, a menu and go on a bus! It is nice when the post arrives, and I can pick it up and read without the sense of dread. I’ve accepted that there will be good days and bad days, but that is okay as I have strategies in place to cope. More importantly, I can buy my children birthday cards.

Learning to read has made me independent. It has given me courage and I hope my story gives you the strength to ask for help!

Copyright 2024 Linda Virgo