Friday, 26 October 2007

Friday after the funeral

Teelo’s funeral was in Lusaka yesterday. They played reggae and handed out roses. In Zambian tradition it was an open coffin and everyone who saw said he looked peaceful. In fact Mrs. T, known for her acerbic and bitter take on life commented later to her daughter ‘There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him to me, ‘ in an aggrieved tone that implied he might be faking. His great friend Mu did the eulogy and my father sent a text saying the church was packed to the gills.The wake took off right after the cremation and I imagine is still going on.
I lit candles and played Marley and danced and cried in the dark drinking too much gin. Later I spoke to C, his ex, on my mobile for hours. Vodaphone are going to love me.
Today I am hung over and resemble the weather which is grey and soggy. My old moggie is at the vet having her liver scanned. She has obviously also been at the gin. I refuse to even contemplate she may be too sick to come home so I will need to go and pick her up this afternoon and I still want to get to the gym to get rid of some of this podgy melancholy.
Tomorrow I go to London, to a Zambian restaurant on Southwark Bridge to drink more (good god!) in honour of Teelo with those of us who couldn’t make it back to Lusaka.
I am inarticulate and miserable so less said better.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Car crash takes my friend away

I was going to write about the golden light of autumn this weekend, about a friend’s new baby and about some quite funny stuff that happened last week…but a man was killed on Saturday night and his death changed everything.

This man was about 6 foot but taller with the huge matted dreadlocks that he had been growing since he was in his 20’s. They were showing a little grey but not so you’d notice. He was what he would call, with his explosive laugh, a ‘goffle’ a coloured man, mixed race with roots in Scotland and Zambia. He had been born in Ndola a mining town in Zambia but I am not sure what his Dad did there. I know he was a bright kid and a charmer even back then. I know he always dreamt of ‘the big time’ but wasn’t sure what that really meant for him. He was an excellent actor even as a youth and a self taught artist. He ran his own graphic design business but he still dreamt of something bigger. He could have been a film star- he had the charisma. In fact it was charisma, this huge bear like personality that made this man a central hub of my community. He was a self professed bullshit artist, he was a barfly, he was a womaniser and he was occasionally a bully but he was huge hearted and warm. Strangers and old friends flocked around him. He was the life and soul of every bar he commandeered.
He always told the story of meeting his first great love C. He says I introduced them..but I think he actually came over to our table to rescue us from being hassled by some ridiculously inarticulate Boers (I mean Boers, not bores..although they often do mean the same…) Their relationship, always stormy sometimes to the point of typhoon, resulted in the beautiful I, now 4 years old and smart, speaking a mixture of Danish, English and Nyanja.
In the last couple of years he had met another beautiful Scandinavian, P, and they had just had a little girl…I think she must be 3 or 4 months now.
He was my friend. He was my brother in arms. He drove me to distraction with his boozing and irresponsibility; he suffered from bouts of depression that made him withdrawn and cruel but always I knew, we all knew, that if we needed help, company when we were in our darkest times, we could just call him and he would drop everything and come over. I know he loved me. I know he loved all of us, his friends, his family unconditionally. It was his true gift this great, almost childlike love of us, of good times, of Zambia. His death, a car crash on Saturday night, leaves a hole that will never be filled. Everything changes.

My heart goes out to all of those in Zambia preparing his funeral for Thursday. I know that their hearts will hurt as much and more then mine. There is so much more to write about my friend, about his kindness to me, the times he got me through, the times we fought, the times we screamed with laughter but right now I just want to say how much I will miss you. You crazy Rasta. I hope that wherever you are they have Mosi on tap and sunshine, so much sunshine, my dearest old friend.
Teelo Ross

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Incidently the vets...

I have had a couple of notes of support about this blog and I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Baring one’s soul (and in my case, my teeth) is only possible with your help, feedback and criticism.

Yesterday a dear pal, D, popped by for lunch and was kind enough to help me out by driving the cat (with the off purr) and I to the vet. The vet’s waiting room is so much more exhilarating then the doc’s. People turn up with motley collections of creatures on leads and in cages and usually spend much of the time leaning over said creature speaking in baby talk. People ,and English people at that ,actually talk to each other at vets…the doggy people usually shriek at each other - mostly about anal glands and mange. Cat people are usually quieter and looking a little guilty. Cats will have that effect.
My pal and I having spent much of our early lives in Zambia where pets lives were usually quite short, tragic and bloody due to cars, snakes, rabies, parasites, starvation, infighting need I go, on are always slightly bemused by the cult of ‘pet’ in UK. We nearly fell off our seats having overheard the receptionist talking briefly to a vet about the impending testicular cancer operation ….on a hamster! The luck of birth eh?

Sunlight had found my corner and I had forgotten my baseball cap which blocks glare so I was a little blinded and just enjoying listening to D telling vastly inappropriate jokes, the most repeatable being:
'A cat and two dogs go to a bar in the Green room at the National Opera (I am embellishing here D..) and ask for a drink. The bartender apologises and says that the bar is reserved for composers and musicians… The animals look at each other with a sigh and then the first dog says
‘I Bark’
The second says
'I often Bark'
And the cat says
'And I’m de Pussy.'

And then there is a squeak and sitting next to D is a very handsome man (hmmm – suddenly she ain’t THAT blind) with a large black and white kitten on his lap. (The squeak was from the kitten not the man). Just as we are getting into a conversation about the kitten’s obsession with your man’s (he was Irish) Dyson vacuum cleaner, I was called back to pick up my poor, old, one-toothed feline who had been subjected to something people from LA pay large amounts of money for. I also paid large amounts of money for it…vets are costly! (I wondered on the costs of the hamster having his ball removed….)

The receptionist kept making funny noises at me whilst I was paying. I wondered if she had a speech impairment but it turns out she was trying to communicate with my cat. My cat, who won’t be able to sit down for several hours, just looked at her with outrage and disgust.
Sadly never got the phone number of man with kitten and Dyson. (Seemed like a good combination to me…)

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Nodding off in the loo

I mentioned that travelling through cities is quite a challenge with limited sight and therefore a bit knackering, but I think today was a bit ridiculous even for me…. I had organised to meet a journalist at the National Film Theatre on South Bank. He wanted to interview me about a photographic workshop I did a couple of months ago specifically designed for visually impaired people and I thought I would then use the day to doss around some art galleries and perhaps extricate an employed friend or two from their offices for lunch. Unfortunately it was green bin day today so the walk from my flat to the station involved manoeuvring around hundreds of bins on narrow pavements and then having to run for a train. London wasn’t too bad as it was raining so less crowded. In fact I had three…count them..THREE offers of help on the tube. A record for me – although possibly slightly influenced by the fact I was wearing rather low cut top and heeled boots - half way though the interview..and its only 11 30am I suddenly lose my thread completely. I forget what I’m trying to say and begin to garble. Journo is a lovely chap and asks all the right questions and nods and looks fascinated which is a very useful gift and wraps up the interview and heads off. (Article will be in Daily Telegraph some point in this space. If you want to see any of the photos from the workshop you can go to the Photovoice website and links are there). Anyway, I think I better head to the loo and splash some water on my face to wake myself up a bit. I turn on the warm water and just nod off with my hands under the tap!! Literally, I swear, I fell asleep for few seconds in the NFT toilets. That is not cool. That makes me look like a junkie.
I also fell asleep on the train home and then finally crawled into the house and went to bed with my boots on because they were too complicated to take off. This being out of work thing is very exhausting….
It was much the same yesterday so I presume I am fighting off a cold or something but even so it is most frustrating. I need energy to utilise my eyes otherwise it is just like with a torch with low batteries…they are rubbish.

Just back from choir practice though and a couple of lungfuls of ‘ Say a Little Prayer for You’ and ‘ Down to the River’ did the trick. Now am sat with warm buzzing cat (her purr is a tad off) and warm computer and crossing fingers that tomorrow I can get through the whole day without nodding off like a granny

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Spike Lee did good.

Here’s the thing…documentary film is so important because it can somehow weave archive material, emotion, personal journeys and personal ‘truths’, passion and great spontaneity too. And they are so often about stuff we need to know about but could never begin to find out….to see, to feel on our own.
Documentaries don’t always tell the truth. To begin with there is the camera and then the person behind the camera, the producers, researchers funders yadda many filters..and eventually there is the extreme skill of the editor - but the real artistry of good documentary is that it can move us, make us quake in our boots, think, debate and potentially even get off the sofa and follow up on what we have just seen. All film needs to be sold to a broadcaster/audience so there is ALWAYS an angle. In a way a ‘truthful’ documentary is an oxymoron. That aside, I have just watched Spike Lee’s ‘When the Levees Broke’ a four-part ‘requiem’ about Katrina, New Orleans and the aftermath. There is no disembodied voice-over telling you what to think; just stories from every angle from the people who were there, wonderful composition, editing including archive that grips and carries you through.
It is a great doc and inspirational for any filmmaker. In contrast I am now watching S.W.A.T with Samuel ‘one act’ L. Jackson. ….well…my brain is full. By the way, if you are wondering, although I can’t really get much from a full screen at a cinema now (I can only see parts of a screen at a time and usually it is all too dark for my eyes to pick up detail….plus I get lost trying to find my way back from the loo and then after ages of feeling peoples heads to find my buddies will only discover the sods have eaten my popcorn), I can still see films on DVDs on my TV. Screen is smaller and I can get as close as I like. So there.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Murky Saturday

Today is difficult. Grey light with murky vision makes me feel claustrophobic; everything looks like its under dirty water. I only just got out of my pajamas and its lunch time and there is a pile of work to do...none of which I can assure you will be done. My sight is too tricky to go into town. Without being able to drive or ride a bike anymore one's world gets really quite 'local'. The only choice is to walk come rain or ...well, as this is England, 'not rain'. I am always considering how many crowds and how many major roads there will be and today...nope. Its not completely laziness. there is an element of self preservation. I make mistakes when feeling soul weary and when you are pretty blind those mistakes can cost you a lot more then just your pride.
Anyway - I am hoping England win the rugby this evening as beating the French usually ensures the general English gloom lifts across the nation and the word 'jolly' can be used again at least until the finals...
Meanwhile a poem. (Don't say you haven't been warned...)

Dry Erase Marker. (on losing my sight in 2004)

My eyes are being sucked slowly by sickness,
Gobstoppers going from hue to blue
To black.

I want you to give them back.

My horizons are broken into jags of jigsaw,
My mountains have bite marks
My seas are squeezed;
And all the time,

While the trees strike my face and
Traffic is a game for card sharps,

I am desperate to breathe.
Colour is oxygen and light becomes
My bread and wine.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Parkour for the blind!

I was thinking of parkour today…you know the crazy wonderful sport of urban ‘running’ where you jump and run and do remarkable physical feats whist dashing from a to b in a city. The opening stunt sequence of the last James Bond had a parkour sequence – the stuntman was an original parkour ‘choreographer’. ( I must also recommend the fabulously daft but exciting French film 'District 13' which has mind-blowing parkour sequences….
Anyway and yadda yadda… I was thinking that I would have loved to have tried it when I had more sight..but actually then I realised that a lot of us VI (visually impaired) people would probably be damn good at it as we already have to plan and judge and think on our feet- fast and as far ahead as we can vaguely see each time we head out the house. I, and many with tunnel vision, learn to manoeuvre with huge blank spaces in the world. . One has to make a guess and a damn good one about those tricky blank spaces before one walks through them and that is more complicated the more people and 'urban furniture' ( hip am I? Well not a lot obviously if I am still using hte word 'hip') one has to walk around , over or through. .. only aterwards you may feel the whoosh of the car you didn’t see, or knock into the edge of a stairwell you didn’t quite see…great for adreneline junkies! But that is why one gets a tad weary when trying to travel through London or figure out how not to get run down when crossing a 6 lane main street in New York. Yup, all us visually impaired people are doing parkour brilliantly everyday..just very very slowly…….Truly extreme sport …If you ever wanted a rush try taping your eyes half shot on your way into work next week...

I am so happy that Doris Lessing got the nobel prize for literature! At last that cynical, sharp and searingly intelligent writer has been recognised. I met John Thaw the actor in Zambia once, on the film set of Michael Raeburn's version of Lessing's 'Grass is Singing'. I was very little but I remember I told him I wanted to be an actor and he wished me well. Turns out he hated every minute of the shoot in Zambia and swore never to go back again... I am sorry about that.

My Mum and her partner are on their way back from volunteering in Shanghai at the Special Olympics. We are all in dread of the thousands of digital phtos but looking forward to the stories! In the sailing the Brits won bronze, and gold!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Introduction to my first blog!

I have Retinitis Pigmentosa. This may sound like the Latin for some exotic garden plant but unfortunately is actually a genetic disease that causes the cells in the retina in the back of the eye to give up the ghost in varying patterns with no fixed timetable and often several side effects..the most annoying one being eventual blindness. Right now I have a very limited tunnel of vision which blurs and distorts occasionally during the day depending on light and stress. My peripheral sight, what’s left of it is a white out. Additional blurring is due to a secondary condition called macular odema which is extremely annoying but at least comes and goes unlike the RP which kills the cells and then leaves them lying around like a load of old garbage blocking the remaining view.
For some RP comes swiftly. It can blind a man in under a year but for many lucky sods like myself it is slow allowing us to adjust with each little theft of vision over tens of years. It plateaus and stays still for months, years and then can suddenly change again. You never know how it will be when you wake up each morning so there is no schedule for complete sight loss just a dull plodding dulling of my favourite sense.
I am not a hero. My failing sight does not make me able to hear whispered conversations at 50 paces, kill 100 thugs with only my karate skills and a length of curtain rail nor does it make me pale and interesting. It pisses me off. I rage RAGE against the dying of the light (to entirely misquote Dylan Thomas). I covert others ability to still drive , to cycle, to jog, alone and independent in the golden evening light, to just wander to the city centre without anxiety and planning. I sometimes can’t bear to be with my friends who move with such sickening ease through my murky world. Compassion I scream in fury at myself. Be F***g Compassionate! But its hard and more and more I find I have been home alone for days and days. Time has passed and I have used every excuse not to face the world. Not to fall arse over tit in the world.

I hold my fear and fury close to my chest and stick it under my bed when I go to work or out with others but it is always there when I come home; a little yet monstrous ball of grief and terror with teeth. I refuse to be a ‘disabled woman’, a middle aged blind woman. To refuse to accept this growing part of me means I am constantly fractured, torn and confused but it also means I have freedom and resilience and can dream without the weight of potential blindness on my back.

So there it is...the beginning of my blog to which you are very welcome....just to note that with this blog comes the unfortunate potential for gobbets of self pity and winging to infiltrate the general claptrap for which I apologise in advance and will do my utmost to avoid. Also, this is not yet set up to be visual impairment accessible which is ironic but I am a complete luddite and anything technical will have to be done by someone else so apologies tto the VI readers. I will sort it out soon!