I have seen your details in the HardmanDirectory and thought that I would shoot you off a letter and see if you happened to have any dictionaries in stock at the moment. I am, well was, a showman (I grew up on the fairground) and it was not until I decided to leave the fairground that I thought about learning to read and write. So two years later I went to a college open day and said, “Look, I'm 18 years old, I can't read or write, can you help me?” The lady at the college said that they were holding English diagnostics at two o'clock and to come back then. So I went away and looked around at all the stalls for the various courses (using the good old trick of, “Ah, so what is this all about then?” So I knew what courses were what, as I didn't have a bloody clue what any of the signs for the courses said). I returned at two o'clock and sat the diagnostic (quite literally SAT the diagnostic as I had no clue what anything said on the screen – apart from "start". I recognised that as we have that on the control panels for the rides). I really did try my hardest, but to re-word a well known phrase slightly, it was extremely difficult when everything was “literally” a foreign language to you.
To shorten, what could be a story the “author” drags on forever, I waited about an hour for my results and then they were in! (I say that with emphasis, because even sitting here now writing this, I still cannot believe what happened next!) All the people that completed the diagnostics, myself included, were called into a classroom on the ground floor by this ridiculously stern looking lady. We all sat at the desks which were sat out 3 wide in a row backwards from the front of the class. One, by one, I sat and watched as she called people up to the front of the room, she gave them all a piece of paper and muttered something, all without using any facial expression that might put the potential student at ease. Then without warning, 5 students in she called my name. I got up out of the chair and approached the desk at which she was standing (it was probably at this point blatently obvious that I did not have high hopes of what was to come, but I certainly was not expecting this!) “Is this a joke D---!?” she shouted at the top of her voice. “You are working at the level of a 3 year old according to this, very funny, we clearly have a class clown here.” I tried to interject but she still continued, “Right everyone, D---- here appears to think that it is funny to piss about and make out that he can't read or write, he also thinks it's funny to make out that this diagnostic was completed by a 3 year old, well actually on 2nd thoughts my 3 year old daughter could have done better than that! Let this be an example to all of you, don't f**k about and act like kids, you're at college now, you're adults now so act like them. We don't take fools lightly here.”
Now I am usually extremely polite as that is how I brought up. But I will allow for this one slip-up given the cirumstances. When she had finished her rant I calmly said, “Miss, if you are quite finished, there is no clowning around here, I am from a family of showmen and have never learnt to read or write as I have been brought up travelling the country providing fairs for amazing, decent people like yourself, which I must admit that I have fully enjoyed my life, but I have always believed that there is something more to life. So I am here to learn, and from the sounds of it, you have got your job cut out, because I'm reading and writing at the level of a 3 year old.
Her face was a picture, and so were the faces of the other potential twenty students in the room. The principle of the college, and the tutor herself couldn't apologise enough and ensured that they would personally see to sorting out all my funding, and they sorted me out a learning support assistant. I started at the beginning and gradually worked my way up, and now years down the line here I am. I can string a half decent sentence together.
I do apologise for going off on a massive tangent, I was trying to get to a point where I could explain that although I had the college providing teaching and the courses, I had to rely heavily on charities like yourself for books and course workbooks, as I literally don't have a penny. (This was because my family turned their backs on me when I left the fair to find education, because my dad wanted me to inherit all the rides and take over the family business - but that in itself is a whole different story.)
So I believe what you do for prisoners is amazing. My handwriting was horrific and I just happened to mention it in passing to the charity, two weeks later I received a handwriting book in the post. I practiced and practiced for months on end, and now I am at a level where it is at least legible – my spelling needs major work though and has become my biggest pet hate, hence one of the reasons why I'm asking for a dictionary.
Again I am really sorry for rambling, I just hope that my appreciation for what you do comes across during the later part.
Yours faithfully, DK