You know I'm not that kind of doctor; so, at the age of sixty-two, is this a disease I have just invented for myself? How does it go? Well, whenever there are three or four objects - five at a pinch - I can learn 'em - that is, distinguish one from another. Like if a magician comes on stage with an apple, an orange, a pear, a large lemon and an unripe peach, and starts juggling them - the mage is also a juggler, btw - and when one of the pieces of fruit, suddenly while they're being juggled, turns into another orange, and there are two oranges juggling about, I'll remember which of the others has gone and go, like, “Oh, that's clever. Very clever, indeed. What's happened to the apple?” Yessir, I can manage a plate of fruit...
...as well as anyone; I'm just trying to establish a credible base line here, the average quota of Shredded Wheat. Three, four, even five points of reference are all doable in the everyday course of affairs. And also like most folk, I can push the boundaries, if I put my mind to it. I've never been on a TV gameshow, but if I ever had to remember: the toaster, manicure set, matching his'n'her beach towels, upright vacuum cleaner, guide to the round towers of Ireland, oven glove, a garden fork, signed and framed photograph of Idris Elba, the volleyball ball and Rubric's Prism as they passed, one-by-one, in front of me on the old conveyor belt, I'd probably manage seven or eight out of ten, perhaps all of them with the ghost of Brucie helping me out. One less than three, though, is where I start to have serious problems.
Well, not all that serious. My brother recently had a tumour - about the size of a small Manhattan – removed from his brain. I found him as his bed was being wheeled back onto the ward... and, I'm sure you can picture the state of him, he was pretty groggy. But he knew me alright, gave me that faint, Calamity Jane smile of his. No recognition problems then. I stood down after an hour, returning later on, when I asked if he'd had any other visitors in the afternoon. Yes, of course, he said. Who? Oh, you know, he said... but the names wouldn't come. There had definitely been one or two, besides his wife and myself. I gingerly posed a likely moniker. No, not him. Then another. Nor her. It was, you know... Yeah, no probs. I get you, Man. Sorry to put you under pressure. I'll turn out the lamp now and stop pulling the old Gestapo routine. We talked of other things. But later, in the evening, back from the hosp, I ask his old lady who visited my brother while I was away? It was only the most obvious one, his oldest, best drinking friend & partner in crime. I guess my bro' pretty much knew who the visitor had been, must have been, just couldn't manage the name. The proper noun. Christ, that's a big owl thingie, isn't it, when the name of your best man won't come out of your blasted gob? Though it's not actually what I'm on about here. Binary Dyslexia ain't no surgical thing, just positing the comparative.
No, I gotta problem with the number two. Do I turn left here, or make a right? Does this terminal take the red wire or the black? How d'you spell the Cagey One, discreet or discrete? Is it the 80 bus or the 82 for my brother's flat? Now, I've just come back from Liverpool, where he's doing fine (touch wood), so the bus numbers are pretty fresh in my mind. The 80 is for Catherine St and the 82 is for Aigburth Rd. But, say I go back in a coupla months to check on him and I'm standing in Hanover St (in town) having just alighted from the airport coach and headed for Toxteth not the Dingle... which is it, the 80 or 82? I'll be standing there racking my brains while one or other of the buses goes past and blowed if I can work it out.
We evolve strategies for this kinda thing. When we are teenagers, a great array of mnemonic devices helps us out in the examination halls of life. Our minds are nimble and not-fussed, there is no shame because we don't forget stuff like best friends' names or where to put apostrophes. Our very fingers & thumbs remember them for us. But as we age, little mistakes become fossilised, some perceptions thicken up and turn slushy in the deep freeze of time, eventually growing into icebergs that undermine our cherished unsinkables. So we are caught out like fools on gameshows or This Is Your Life: husbands who don't seem to know which side of the bed they sleep on, wives who swear to God they have never visited the town where they first fell in love.
Of course, some of this is straight denial. A lifetime spent trying to forget inconvenient facts catches up with us. These are the billion brain cells we have strangled with regret and embarrassment, or shot down with alcohol or Nembutal. Now they resurface with dumbo smiles, the elephant in the bedroom that always forgets.
Anyhow, I'm not looking for company on this one, I only needed one disease to call my own. But, then again, I wonder if anybody else recognises this? Back in the Yuke - this time with a hire car - I've just pulled out of the EasyWheels parking lot and there's a kinda lane that snakes round the arse end of the airport before it turns into an ordinary suburban road. This gives me a few moments to distinguish between windscreen wiper and indicator. Then there comes the shock of binary: looming at the end of the lane is a roundabout. Actually, not a big roundabout; just one that drains off the sudden surges in airline traffic they get and avoids the need for lights. But there is terror in it for me as I approach the simple turn. Left or right? Which is which, for god's sake? My hands clutch the wheel, knuckles gleaming white with fear. I search for hints on the road itself, but there are no other vehicles. Looking down at the tarmac, white lines are shooting underneath the bonnet... I have gravitated into the centre. In the closing moments I do a quick calculation. I'm at the wheel on the right... shouldn't be driving on this side, then... so hang a left?
Once I really took the wrong choice and drove for half a mo into some oncoming cars. Thankfully, it wasn't a public road, just the entrance to a holiday camp at Ainsdale (for Southport). The guard at the gate sussed me straight off, Guess who's been driving abroad? Where've you been, eh? Turkey? That'll explain it.
Here's another angle. My father was colour blind, couldn't tell the diff between red and green. He'd be changing a plug and would say, Eh, Son, which of these wires is red? Colour blindness musta been a widespread problem because sometime in the Sixties, they changed the earth wire to green and white stripes. But that was no Binary Dyslexia. Dad had no difficulty remembering that red or brown was live, blue or black was neutral and that green was earth. Funny how with AC current, live and neutral are interchangeable, anyway; but Dad would never have connected positive to negative - unlike me. I almost blew up a car battery last July. Nowadays even the terms give me a headache. Surely neutral sounds like it should be earth? The way they keep changing the goal posts should keep me on my toes. But it don't.
What d'you do with a door labelled Push or Pull? I have no difficulty in Blighty because the English words were drilled into me at a horrid school. But even in a country where I've lived for decades, being confronted with the words for Push and Pull still causes me to pause momentarily as I run them through the translation engine of my poor old brain. Yes, Binary Dyslexia is an infection of the learning process. I hate having to learn two new alternatives, like the way a tap has been plumbed in: which way d'you turn it for hot or cold? Or the way light switches are wired. Back home, you always flick a switch Down for On. But don't expect Down to mean On anywhere else in the world. At first I thought this was simple incompetence. As with plumbing, Hot taps were always on the Right, Cold to the Left, therefore if you have a single tap with a swivel lever, flipping it Right should still mean Hot and Left should be Cold. Right? Wrong! Sometimes, of course, it is incompetence: you flip the top right because it has a red spot on that side, then groan as the water grows colder and colder. But as often as not, Left means Hot to the local squires. So it is with electricity, Down is Off. Oh, except in the bedroom. Sometimes, you gotta learn everything anew.
What I'm really on about, though, is the anxiety. As an Englishman (that's a type of Brit) I have a great fear of looking like a fool. I just screw the cap on a water bottle and then hold it to my mouth. Cringe. The overture appears to end, and I'm the first on my feet to applaud. The conductor has not put her baton down. Shrivel up. In Turkey, it's the day you offer your neighbours desserts, so a young woman appears at the door with a tray of bowls. I take the whole flipping tray. Scottie...
But though I have coined the term, I don't believe I'm the only one suffering from Binary Dyslexia; and even on my worst days, when I have it real bad, I don't believe I have the world's worse case at all. At least, I still know what's right and what's wrong, still have some sense of good and evil, still recognise the difference between a cringe and a smarm, between a truth and a falsehood.
Here's a twist. You don't got the worst form of this disease if you know you have it. That is extra weird, because it means the very worst sufferers suffer nothing at all: it's those around them that get all the consequences. The carriers of Binary Dyslexia have no problem calling a spade a shovel, to them there is no difference between black and not white. They live in true monochrome and their world is an idyllic film noir in which they permanently play Bogart and Bacall. The folks around them drop like ninepins, and the world goes to hell in a bucket, but so what? They get all the benefits of rolling a two-sided dice with none of the anxieties. Heads they win, tails you lose.
No, the world's worst case of Binary Dyslexia is not exclusively anyone's, it belong to us all. We all know who's got it, even those of us who put him where he is. In fact, we can say say his illness is a collective phenomena we are all complicit in. Nowadays, who can tell Left from Right, right from wrong, plain wrong from Gee, that's rich? A Great Beast has slouched into view and is giving birth before our very eyes.
So what's the anti-dote, eh? What can we do to get this topsy-turvy world back onto its feet and set it toddling off again on the true learning curve?
It's like I said to my poor sib – who's a fighter - forget that neuro-surgeon's words, he don't know squat. You gotta rebuild your connections, get new synapses sparking & open up new channels. Even the doc admitted little baby brain cells are born every second. You gotta make conscious decisions, one after the other, reprogramme your mind, learn the whole darn show again from the start. Amnesia ain't a blind grope in the dark, no fumbling for pussy backstage or you'll get your hand bitten off. It's straight on into the cold clear light of perestroika, with riot police charging through the park. It's a new dawn breaking, red sky blaring, plenty of warning, and keeping your eyes on the ball.