Dyscalculia is the mathematical equivalent and lesser known relative of Dyslexia.
And I am a prime example of a Dyscalculic.
Being no good with numbers (and that includes money) is only a small part of this trait.
Being confused by them, especially if they appear in sequence, is a larger and more significant part.
Lists of words are involved too.
It always made more sense to me to read a list from the bottom up rather than the top down and when I was younger I presumed everyone did the same.
At school when copying rows of sentences from the blackboard, I was lost the minute I looked back up to find the next line.
I would either repeat a row or miss one or two entirely.
Certainly the work I handed up to my teacher was not written in the order in which it was presented on the blackboard but I got away with it because of my beautiful handwriting. (My Dad, a man of visuals, who didn’t believe in the school system, taught all his children how to write in copperplate).
In more recent years I can forget about looking at the flight information boards.
They flummox me altogether.
I can stand forever under them searching in vain for my flight, my eyes leaping wildly from line to line but never in any systematic order.
Having a poor sense of direction also features in the Dyscalculic. You would imagine with all the bicycling I do that it would be a nuisance but luckily I enjoy getting lost and have found the most wonderful places in my hours of lostness.
And finally there is the poor budgeting skills which anyone who knows me knows I am to be despaired over when it comes down to the nitty gritty of managing my finances.
So as you can see anything connected to numbers or lists or money makes me dizzy, confused and uncomfortable and therefore I have no wish to win the lotto .
‘Well Just don’t buy a lotto ticket so!’ You might say.
Ah! but It’s not that simple!
I have this recurring and very lifelike dream in which I sleepwalk down to my local shop and buy a lotto ticket.
So I need to plan what I would do if my dream became a reality and I DID win.
I don’t have to think too long
In fact I don’t have to think at all.
I know straight away what I would spend it on.
I would buy a cafe.
The second year I cycled the Wild Atlantic Way, all those years ago, a storm hit the west coast just as I reached clifden and I took shelter in kings pub on the corner.
Sipping my drink, probably a guinness for strength and nourishment, I got chatting to a group of people my age.
As we cosily compared notes about our adventures and places we had been, our chat turned to describing the dinners we had made on our journeys.
Silence fell on the group as I described what I had fished and foraged for and the resulting stir fries I had made on my wonderful wok.
I presumed everyone did more or less the same, but it appeared they all had been opening tins or packets to sustain themselves.
As I described in detail a recent dish of moules marniere I had made just two nights ago, on an open fire and from mussels I had gathered at low tide, they began to drool and before long one of the woman in the group made a suggestion.
In return for a bed in the hostel upstairs I would cook for them some of the dishes I had described.
She ran the hostel and had the say.
Everyone agreed immediately and it sounded good to me.
My own plan of heading back out into the storm and finding a sheltered place to put up my tent had lost its appeal, plus I hadn’t seen anyone in the last few days and was ready for some company.
I was escorted by my new fans upstairs to the dormitory.
‘Choose a bed! any bed’ The owner urged.
I chose a top bunk beside the window, with a view down to Clifden harbour and climbing up I opened the window (I was used to sleeping in the fresh air) and nobody objected when a blast of sea air swirled around the room. (I suppose they didn’t want to upset the new chef or she might turn on her tail and refuse to cook.)
The plan was put in place. I would write down on a sheet of paper what I was planning to cook the next night and leave it on the kitchen table. Anyone interested in joining the evening meal would write their names down and leave out the amount they could afford and what they felt the meal was worth to them.
How innocent we were then.
No one cheated or quibbled or expected accounts to be kept and all I wanted was to be covered financially for the food
Some days I made a small profit and I added this to the next day’s list of ingredients and bought something extra luxurious.
Once I managed to cook a few lobsters (the cooking of which was not worth all the tea in china).
Everyone who stayed at the hostel put down their names. New people arriving were told of the system and joined in with gusto.
It was a full table every night.
Dinner was served at about eight and after the first evening, when I made a vegetable stir fry served with rice, I became more adventurous and abandoned the simplicity of throwing everything together in my wok and started using the sparkling ovenware and the new oven in the hostels kitchen.
Now I could really come to grips with my ‘friends of the earth cook book’ which I had brought with me (Along with Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for free’).
‘Freshly picked off the rocks from the local beach mussels’ cooked with onion, garlic, white wine and cream’ I wrote on the white sheet. ‘Served with brown rice and foraged salad greens’. No one talked that evening till they had eaten their fill.
The dish I most enjoyed making though was my blue cheese spinach souffle.
A cheese sauce made with danish blue cheese instead of cheddar was allowed to cool.
To this I folded in stiffly whipped egg whites and chopped spinach and popped the resulting souffle in the oven. I served it with twice baked potatoes (Bake the potato, cut off the top. Scoop out the insides into a bowl. Reserve the potato skins. Mix the potato insides with the left over( from the souffle) egg yolks, salt pepper and butter and spoon the mixture back into the potato skins. Put back into a hot oven for another twenty minutes.)
The table in the kitchen was a long wooden one weathered from years of use (I think it had been rescued from a convent refectory) I set it correctly with cutlery and glasses and placed candles (yes stuck in Mateus rose bottles), and a bunch of daily freshly picked wild flowers on it .
I gained an admirer.
I was never quite sure if his admiration was for me or my cooking . But whichever it was he became my assistant.
His name was Stefan and he hailed from austria.
He was very handsome but more importantly was prepared to head into Galway whenever I asked him to do so.
The journey of 50 miles on a bus that went halfway around connemara was no small feat.
And with the reed basket from the front of my bike, the shopping list and the precious money tucked safely in his pocket, he went off in search of the more exotic ingredients that the tiny town of Clifden lacked (Green peppers for example were only just making their appearance in the bigger towns.) I was indebted to him.
And while he was away I headed down to the shore in my raincoat to pick mussels off the rocks and gather rock samphire or buy some fresh mackeral off one of the fishermen.
The days flew by and Stefan and I worked side by side each evening producing dishes that delighted our clients and as we worked, we planned our future.
We would set up a hostel that provided evening meals somewhere in connemara and in our naive dreams we decided that the only people we would admit were those who had walked, cycled, come on horseback or with a push, hitched.
We would call it ‘The Pedal-Pushers Rest’.
But one evening about ten days into our food based relationship, while peeling the spuds, Stefan wept and informed me that he had to return to austria and do military service. His tears mingled with the peelings.
At this stage however I was getting cabin fever and was anxious to be back on my bicycle. But our lips had been wetted. We had got taste of the culinary and that taste has lingered.
For me at least.
There was one sad letter from stefan waiting for me when I reached home after finishing my cycle.
He wrote how he hated his new life. How He quivered in fear each morning. How he was made for the kitchen, not the army.
I wrote back but never heard from him again.
I hope he survived his time and it didn’t kill his culinary aspirations.
So yes if I sleepwalked to the local shop and bought a Lotto ticket and won the Lotto, I would buy a cafe.
Though I won’t call it The Pedal Pushers Rest!
but maybe something simpler like Stef an Stefan.
and you would all be welcome to come in and have as much tea or coffee and cake for free and sit and chat for as long as you wish or browse through the books that fill the shelves and the music will be eclectic and not too loud.
And I will have no intention of making a profit
Being Dyscalculic and all that.