Sunday, 14 August 2011

Half-price Senility Kits

As a child I was dyslexic, though at the time I'm not sure the term had been invented. It took me ages to learn to read. All my children have suffered from the same problem, so I suppose I may have inherited it from them (Joke).
One amusing consequence was that I often read things that were not there. This did happen when reading books, but in that case it is easily corrected by the context of the rest of the page. Billboards on the other hand are a different issue. Driving past in a car, I see words on a wall and my brain comes up with some totally ludicrous phrase. I've learned not to swerve, or even attempt to look again. Usually I just manage to laugh and ignore it.
Give me some examples, I can hear you say. Actually, that is very difficult because some other brain mechanism kicks in to ignore the whole thing. I laugh, but I can never remember what I am laughing about. This is a logical mechanism, and, no doubt, some sort of learned response. What is the point of remembering something that is obvious nonsense? It is almost as though my brain has evolved some kind of sense checker, like a spell checker in a computer.
Spell checkers are a wonderful thing for dyslexics, but they did not exist when I was learning to spell. Predictive text is something else. The iPad I am typing on at the moment has an amazing knack of producing words that I certainly did not set out to type. Proof reading has to be twice as good.
Now that I am older, a lot older, I have developed enough habits to keep on top of the dyslexia. However I am now going deaf and a similar phenomenon is becoming apparent, I miss-hear things that people say. David Lodge has written a whole novel around this (Deaf Sentence, Penguin) Actually I thought the book a bit on the self indulgent side with rather too many clever literary bits that seemed to be included just to show off. I will confine myself to just one blog post.
Last night while reading and watching TV at the same time, I heard a special offer for "Half price senility kits." My brain had already started to consider what on earth could be in such a kit before the error checking mechanism kicked in. I had got as far as wondering whether this was a kit to make you senile, or help you deal with it; when I realised that they had said "Half price cinema tickets." There are, of course, those who might consider the two things to be the same thing.
Unlike the circumstances of most of my previous funny dyslexic mistakes, this time I was reading on the iPad, so could immediately make a note. In the morning it still seemed amusing, so blogging seemed the obvious thing.
Although I remembered this particular miss-hear, I usually find that I forget them. It seems as if the brain really does have self-censoring function, spotting it’s own mistakes and forgetting them. I can see some survival advantages in that. Responding to mistakes is probably a sure way to get you killed in the long run, whether that is visual, auditory or cognitive errors. Miss-reads are a bit different in that most of the early ones probably take place in school, where there is a significant pressure not to look foolish. That would add a social stimulus to learn on top of any long term evolutionary effects.
All in all, a half-price senility kit may be worth snapping up, but you wouldn't tell your friends.


  1. Song lyrics have the same effect on me. Does anyone else think that Whitney Houston sings 'Climb every Woman' ?