I do however know all the individual characters flawlessly - I have 100% all the time on things like morse machine at 5pm where I have enough thinking time
Yeah, I know that one too well. Presented with a stream of Morse, I end up catching the last letter of each word, as that's the character with enough time after it for me to think in...
some of us really do need to hear the "words" and not the "letters".
Yep. Certain words get through easily; 5NN, DE, TU and CQ, for example. I've heard them often enough that they're like single characters.
I'm sure a search of the forum would turn up more than one thread asking for the Koch lessons to work with words, codes and callsigns rather than random letters...