The eyes have it! By Trevor Plumbly
This month will see me reach my 80th birthday. It is, for me, a time to reflect on my place in the scheme of things. What’s concerning me is that the ‘we know best’ lobby won’t give up, and I reckon they’ve been shoving campaign leaflets in my letter box.
As a result, someone in the family must have found something like the ‘How to be a happy blindy’ app and suggested that my path to contentment lay in getting out and about more. I wasn’t present when the vote was taken; indeed, I wasn’t even aware it was on the order paper. I’d be the first to admit that I’m no longer front bench material but that shouldn’t make me a candidate for the party knacker’s yard. There’s been a bit of back room stuff going on of late and I reckon decisions are being made without me. I’m not imagining this; there’s murky stuff going on here! ‘Trevor’ often gets demoted to ‘He’, electronic appliances now need a minder and the TV remote, the ultimate symbol of domestic authority, is now only available on request.
Out and about sounds great in theory, but for me it’s a complex business and I hope the Cabinet allows for my input before making further executive decisions. The committee has voted to put ‘out there’ as a strong recommendation and in line with that I ventured out, and now offer my report for consideration. The research clearly shows that ‘out there’ is far too confusing to be enjoyable for the more sensitive blindy.
Some do the footpath stuff well, almost aristocratically, striding along, swishing away as if they’ve got an inherited right to a bit of the pavement; we less confident tread more carefully, for us the threats are out there and every step without incident is a victory of sorts.
I thought Ponsonby Rd would be a great place for a trial run: interesting shops, cafés and, of course, pedestrians. It would have been nice to feel comfortable ‘out there’ but it wasn’t: it was a daylight nightmare. There were the eerily silent e-scooters, the texting troops barrelling along, eyes glued to their pacifiers, little dogs had leashes that doubled as trip wires, bigger ones regarded my cane as a threat and responded accordingly. At first I thought I could blend in, but trailing three feet behind a white cane ruled that out.
Lands and survey
I found the ‘shortest distance between two points’ equation didn’t work ‘out there’. Progress was complicated and when I encountered an obstruction, the theory became even more useless. When a threat approached, I used a sideways shuffle and pause manoeuvre, the theory being that, if it was moving towards me, it could dodge round and, if it wasn’t, I could tap past safely. For the most part this worked fine, but in high traffic too many shuffles disorientated me; A to B became alphabet soup and I froze.
Research and development
Opinions vary on what’s the best technique to use when you get stranded like that: I personally prefer the freeze option, but the mobility guru at BLVNZ rejected that, saying that the accepted practice was to ‘form a strategy’. I’m not big on strategies, especially when half the population of Ponsonby is swarming round me anxious to do their own A to B thing.
Once in the ‘freeze’ position it was obvious I needed help, but ‘guiding’ is a pretty complex business. There’s lots of stuff written about the correct method, problem is most folk haven’t read it and make their own rules. They’re a mixed bunch with differing attitudes to blindies worthy of a varsity thesis, but not being an academic sort of bloke, I’ll just offer a summary.
To keep things simple I’ll break helpers into two groups. The ‘officers’ are devotees of the ‘we know best’ and ‘let’s get you sorted’ school. For guiding they use the ‘plumbers’ grip’, clamping on the forearm like a pipe wrench and twisting it to indicate direction changes. Like drill instructors, they bark out orders like, ‘left here’, ‘kerb’, or ‘tree’, warning of everything from road works to lolly wrappers in tones that suggest I might be deaf as well as three parts blind. These are not people to be toyed with, they have a mission and, once completed, they brush aside thanks and dash off, presumably in search of more human distress.
The ‘thin icers’ are all hesitation, almost as if they need help themselves. Their’s is the ‘courtly grip’: they lightly place their hands on your forearm as if inviting you to join in a formal gavotte. Their vocals range between murmured encouragement and the sort of parental urging directed at a toddler on his first bike ride without training wheels.
The ministerial report
I did come across a few gems out there: being asked for driving license ID by a bank teller who, after spotting the white cane, mumbled ‘Oh sh*t!; hilariously being told to ‘watch where you’re bloody well going’ by a courier driver and the wonderful homeless man who felt that I was incapable of getting in the car without his help and encouragement.
As a result of my research I’ve reached the conclusion that anyone out there is more than welcome to help themselves to my share of ‘out there’. As you’ve probably realised, ‘out there’ doesn’t appeal much to me; there’s enough confusion indoors without going out to look for more.
I will refer this paper back to the select committee in the hope they realise fresh air is also available from my porch, in the safety of a sitting position. `