Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #PotLuck – Thinking Aloud – #Blindness by Beetley Pete


Welcome to the series of Posts from Your Archives, where bloggers put their trust in me. In this series, I dive into a blogger’s archives and select four posts to share here to my audience.

If you would like to know how it works here is the original post: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-newseries-pot-luck-and-do-you-trust-me/

Our next guest is Beetley Pete… also known as Pete Johnson who blogs from Norfolk about a number of interesting subjects including life working for the ambulance service and his adventures with the lovely Ollie…This week a post that Pete wrote about an encounter in London with a man who was blind.

Thinking Aloud – Blindness by Beetley Pete

We were woken unusually early this morning, by someone repeatedly ringing my mobile phone. It is a standing joke that nobody ever rings it, unless they are trying to sell me something, or have the wrong number. It was an unknown caller, and they had left a voicemail message. My first thought was that it must be bad news, to call so early, so I played the message with some trepidation. It was a courier company, trying to collect a box from a Filipino lady called Marina. They needed directions to her house. So, a wrong number.

That had awakened me from a deep sleep, in the middle of an intense dream. I was back working in an ambulance in London, having a conversation with a patient I met a few times over the years. The dream was replaying a conversation I had with that man, and was like watching a video recording of us both, around 1986, as we were travelling to hospital.

We had been called to a man who lived not far from the base. We were given a diagnosis of unstable Diabetes, and told that the caller was a man in his sixties, who felt unwell with low blood sugar. The door was opened with a click by a remote button, and I walked in with my bag of equipment. I found the man dressed and standing, ready to go with us. He knew about his condition, and had already eaten a sugary sweet, hoping to hold off the problem until we got to the casualty department. As he turned, I was startled to see that he had no eyes, just short eyelids half-covering empty sockets. I had heard of this condition of being born without an eye, or eyes, but had never encountered someone it had affected. (it is called Anopthalmia, and is present in just 1 in 100,000 births.)

He put on some sunglasses, and I helped him to the ambulance. I had long been fascinated by the problems of blindness, but especially interested in people who had never seen anything. I wondered how he perceived the world, and whether it was true if other senses developed beyond the normal to compensate in any way. Having been sighted, then going blind later, is one thing. At least memory will supply some details for you to hang on to. But never having seen anything has to be a lot to deal with. As it is usual in an ambulance to discuss things not normally brought up in polite conversation, I asked him about it, and he was happy to talk about it, mainly because most people avoided the subject out of respect.

He was born in the 1920s, to a young single-parent mother. He used the old term ‘Out of wedlock’. Not only was her situation difficult, the appearance of a baby son without eyes was too much for her to cope with. She gave the baby away, and he was brought up in a home for unwanted children, later transferring to a residential facility for the blind, on the outskirts of London. He received a basic education, and was later trained in the use of Braille to read books, and use a specially adapted typewriter. During WW2, at the age of seventeen, he got a job with the Civil Service, as a clerk/typist, and stayed there until he retired, aged sixty. He told me he had never married, and never so much as kissed a girl. His pleasure in life came from reading books in Braille, and listening to the radio. He had never been to the cinema, or owned a television. I was keen to ask him about his perceptions, and also about the daily difficulties he had encountered, and still did.

Transport was an obvious issue. He had been shown how to get around his small flat, which had been provided at low rent, by the City Corporation. Also how to get to the nearest bus stop, so he could get to work. But he had no idea what number bus had arrived, and had to ask others at the stop. If there was nobody around, he would have to shout at the conductor, and ask the bus number. Back then, coins were distinctive, and banknotes issued in different sizes, so he coped alright with money. But he was annoyed that he frequently stepped in dog mess on the pavement, as he couldn’t see it. I had never thought of that. He had obviously adapted well, and as he told me “I didn’t know any different. That is how I live, because I had no option to do otherwise”.

I went on to ask about other senses. He said that his hearing was in the normal range, but his sense of smell was acute. He could recognise people by their individual smell, if he had already met them, and even tell different races, without hearing them talk. He remarked that my colleague was probably West Indian, though he obviously hadn’t seen him, and had heard few words from him. This was accurate, as my crew mate was from Barbados originally, though spoke with a London accent. He could judge someone’s height easily, from the direction of their voice, and whether or not he felt their breath on his face. I asked about if he could picture something in his mind, if it was described to him in detail. He said that the picture in his mind would be very different to what was being described, and it would be almost impossible for him to tell me what he saw in his head. He gave me an example, which I have never forgotten.

“Describe snow to me”.
I thought for a moment.
“It falls from the sky..”
He stopped me.
“I have never seen the sky”.
“Its white”.
“What’s white?”
“It has small flakes, like tiny crystals”.
“What are flakes? What are crystals?”
“It is cold”.
“I know that, because I have touched it”.
“It accumulates on the ground, looks like cotton wool”.
“What’s cotton wool?”
He held up a hand to stop the questions. He had made his point, and I understood.
I can feel the cold, and hear the crunching underfoot. I also feel it’s slippery when I am walking. But I can never picture it in the same way as you. That’s impossible”.

I wanted to ask many more questions, but we had arrived at the hospital. I had an increased respect for blind people, and had enjoyed a fascinating conversation.

I got to meet him a few more times over the years, and the second time I walked into his flat, before I had spoken a word, he smiled and said, “You’re the man who asks the questions”.

I was dreaming about that this morning, and wanted to tell you.

©Beetley Pete 2018

About Pete Johnson (Beetley Pete)

Hi everyone. For those of you who already know me, you will need read no further. For anyone else…

I retired in 2012, then aged 60, and moved from a busy life and work in Central London, to Beetley, in rural Norfolk. I thought I would start this blog to share my thoughts about life in general, and my new life in Norfolk in particular. My wife Julie is still working, so I am at home most of the day, accompanied by my seven year old Shar-Pei dog, Ollie.

My interests include local and global history, politics, and cinema and film. I also enjoy music; Motown, Soul, Jazz, along with many modern singers and styles.

After 22 years as an Emergency Medical Technician in the London Ambulance Service, followed by 11 years working for the Metropolitan Police in Control Rooms, it took some adjustment to being retired, and not working shifts.

Update.

I am updating this info on the 26th of March, 2019. Ollie is now seven years old, and is still a great dog to own. The blog has continued to grow, and I have now posted over 2,330 articles. I currently write a bit about films and cinema, mostly short reviews and suggestions; and I did write a lot of anecdotes about my years in the Ambulance Service. I have written a lot about past travel and holidays, and also about architecture. I post a lot about music and songs, those that have a significance in my life for one reason or another. Fiction has also become a regular feature, especially long serials. The core of the blog remains the same though; my experiences of my new life in Norfolk, walking my dog, and living in a rural setting.

Over the past couple of years, I have been adding a lot of photos, and they are always popular. I have had my blogging ups and downs; attracted some followers, both loyal and fickle, and gained a great deal from the whole process. I have written articles that were published on other blogs and websites, as well as trying my hand at more than 100 fictional stories. I am pleased to report that I have had two of these published in a magazine.

If you are considering starting a blog, I would suggest you give it a try. I really would. It may not change your life; but then again, it just might.

Get in touch with Pete

Blog: https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/beetleypete

My thanks to Pete for allowing me to delve into his archives.. I recommend you head over and do some delving of your own…plenty to read. More posts over the next three Wednesdays..