In later years they offered me pen and ink, resulting in some fairly remarkable blottages on page and clothing, none of which resembled language. I never did learn to write properly, nor read, nor anything else much. The ink spread all over my fingertips, across the page and over the desktop, in what seemed to me a miniature version of the way the water spread from the breached dams in the aerial scenes of The Dam Busters which movie was all the rage at the time. But I am referring here to the photographs of the actual events in the book.
Every kid in the school had seen The Dam Busters except me. They talked about it all the time. The line spoken by the Australian Mickey Martin (played in the film by Reg Lye) when the training runs swept them too close over the trees—”This is bloody dangerous”—became a major catch-phrase amongst the boys.
I felt deprived and outcast. Then I found the book in the school library and read it determinedly. It was great but nowhere did Martin speak the line. But I didn’t tell anyone that. I just told them I had enjoyed the film as much as they had. They sometimes knew I was lying and said so, because often I quoted facts that weren’t in the film. “He never said ‘This is bloody dangerous,’” I retorted. It was meant to wound them but they laughed and walked away. Years later, I finally got to see the film and each time I’ve seen it since, I cannot avoid a twinge of embarrassment when Lye speaks that bloody line.
I was the class dunce—the one that made everyone else feel superior—and my essential introversion intensified with each passing year, driving me deeper, making me all the more persuasively the person they said I was. No one wanted to be my friend, and so no one was. I was left locked up in the world of vague thoughts and dull reactions, most or all of which was forgettable and so forgotten. And worst of all, as I battled on ineptly with my befuddled right hand, slowly my left began to lose its dexterity through lack of use until in the end the one hand was quite as uncooperative as the other.
Still I struggled on, and somehow got through it all, passing from year to year and class to class, largely due to teachers being profoundly sympathetic to my so-called disability. For if I never did manage to do anything right, expectations of me were so low that I could never really have done anything conspicuously wrong. In fact I hardly did anything at all.