I thought myself somewhat unlucky that the first time that I ever appeared on the front page of a national newspaper I was unable to read what was written about me.

I could make out the picture of myself, looking bewildered and scared in the supermarket, but the words meant nothing to me.  The letters were just shapes that meant nothing that my brain could believe in.  Frustrated, I ripped the paper in two and went to the kitchen to read the labels of tins and packets.

The truth was, I knew exactly what the papers were writing about me: that I had a strange illness which had left me unable to read everything except barcodes.  They probably mentioned that I was found sobbing in the soup aisle, crazed and confused.  In a separate paragraph they probably tried to explain it all in layman’s terms with a snazzy diagram.  I felt like a freak show.  When I held a tin of soup in front of my eyes I could study the zebra stripes and instantly tell that it cost 48p, a useful skill perhaps but not at the expense of being able to read words.  As I turned stripes into prices I made a little, ‘beep!’ and chuckled, though I felt like crying.

I grabbed pen and paper and tried to write down some letters like I had done every day for nearly twenty years but I was unable to create anything other than a series of black lines of varying widths.  I grabbed the pen with two hands and tried to wrestle it into a curve, trying desperately to recreate one of the letters of the alphabet that I knew was stored away somewhere inside my brain.  I read what I had managed to create: “£1.59.”

That was my lowest point.

Over the next few days more and more people came forward with the same complaint and I was no longer alone, no longer a freak.  It was now the illness that was labelled a freak – a freak epidemic that had hit an estimated fifty thousand people across the country.  As time went by my disability became less and less debilitating.  Instead of being used merely to hide prices in, barcodes were now embraced as a modern communication tool and specially made books and even newspapers were printed entirely in barcode form to cater for the fifty thouand of us.

Indeed, the second time I appeared on the front page of a national newspaper, I was shown reading their first ever barcode edition.


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