Saturday, 21 March 2009

Battling Genghis Khan

It’s been a funny old week. That bloody lorry I talked about in my last post was still deafeningly loud behind me and making things a little sticky. I’ve been a little....self obsessed. A little elbows and angst. A little more irritable then, say, Genghis Khan.

To distract myself I try to be useful. I volunteer to help a PhD student with his research on the correlation between visual impairment and depression. He is a gangly, morose young man dressed in dark brown with some ghastly shiny tie. I smile brightly and the brightness is absorbed into the brown shirt like ink into blotting paper. No wonder this kid is an expert in depression.

First off I have a hangover so the obligatory eye tests are dazzling and make my head throb. The grim-faced young man is used to doing his research on the elderly and so puts me through a dementia test – ‘because it’s the rules.’

‘What day is it?’ he shouts. ‘What month? What year?’

‘Well. I know its spring.’ I twinkle, batting my eyelashes. Turns out he has no sense of humour and I nearly get my dementia box ticked.

An hour of daft and intrusive questions later and I stagger out. I have the impression that he has already decided on his thesis results even with a year still to go. He thinks that visually impaired people are usually depressed and therefore think they see less then they can. He gives the impression that we are all fakers and wasters of the precious time of optometrists. He has not taken into account the vagaries of different eye diseases, the effect of light and serotonin, the differences between degenerative, chronic and constant. How on earth is he allowed to be so blind?

Midweek and I head off to London to support my lovely photographic charity who are recruiting more blind and visually impaired people for a workshop. In my head I have a picture of myself and the other visual impaired facilitators, a cosy darkened room and a slide show but as it turns out there are no other VI facilitators; just myself and the photovoice organiser, M.
Upstairs 20 blind and VI people have crowded into a room that is too full of sunlight. I can’t do my talk in my sunglasses though and by the end of the near two hours my eyes feel stretched and swollen. But we win. Even though I think my off the cuff wittering is shouty and confusing, even though no one can see the slides because it too bright and they are too blind, it doesn’t matter. People are fascinated, enthusiastic, energised. Everyone wants to sign up. A great success! I want a hug, a bunch of flowers, applause, a check.

Instead I get Kings Cross at rush hour and a cold walk home. This of course makes me dwell on the fact that I have just done an 8-hour day for £13 train ticket and a bowl of soup. My ‘up’ crashes down. Bring on Genghis.

Well you get my point. The week ends with me howling to my homeopath. ‘I fell like bits of me are dropping off!’ I wail. ‘As my sight is taken so is my sense of humour, my femininity, my self-respect. I am graceless, tongue-tied. I am disintegrating.’

He writes this all down and strokes his beard.

‘Did I do this?’ I ask. ‘Am I making this happen – somehow making myself blind? Its all my fault isn’t it.’

I realise I sound ridiculous. I stop wailing and get the giggles.

He writes this down too nods, tuts and in a wizardly manner opens a heavy, leather bound tome and begins to expound on a potential remedy but actually I feel better already from just being allowed to howl.

I walk home in the glittering, spring light, noting the daffodils on the edge of Parkers Pieces, the shy wave from a toddler on the back of her mother’s bike. The looming lorry falls behind; its engine idling and I feel a weight has lifted.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Trucking Sight.

You may recall that I had a hospital visit just before my trip to Lusaka and they said I had lost more vision. They meant ‘losing’! Holy shit people! I went out a couple of times last week and was completely off balance. Bits of pavement missing, people emerging magically in front of me, invisible cars. This all gets a little unsettling when trying to have ordinary conversations with people in cafes or at the supermarket. One doesn’t just turn desperately to people and share .

‘I must apologise for my twitching and is just that I seem to be losing my sight rapidly on a daily basis and it is so terrifying that I feel like I have a massive juggernaut truck thundering up behind me and I can’t escape. I am sure you understand.’

No that would never do. Instead one says things like;

‘Thank you I’ll have a mocha.’ Or ‘Please would you assist me with the self scanning machine. Its rejected my bean sprouts.’

It is the fear though – that articulated lorry screaming down the road towards you – that comes from knowing something as precious as sight is leaching from your life and there is nothing to be done but swallow hard and buy more magnifiers. I presume the terrible fear is there too for those of us with other encroaching disabilities. I have a wonderful friend with MS. We talked a little about that monster truck we can see if we look over our shoulders. We both came very quickly to the conclusion it is best, for the moment, not to look, just to keep running.

Just an aside about hospitals. If you have to go in for anything I would recommend dressing as a consultant. I did so the other day and got marvellous treatment. Power dressing gets you both attention and respect. (Although perhaps the stethoscope was going a bit far…I ended up doing a ward round.)
I once had an ongoing battle with a terminally rude, distant and seemingly bored ophthalmologist. I could never be sure he was giving my eyes full attention. I won the battle by wearing a red push up bra and the lowest cut soft ruffled black top I could squeeze into. At close quarters I could watch the cold sweat dripping from his forehead as he desperately tried to keep his eyes away from my sumptuous bosom (trust me on this one). To prevent a potential sexual harassment case he was forced to concentrate and focus on my eyes at all times. I actually got a coherent and detailed eye exam as opposed to the usual cursory dismissal. Small victories and potentially unethical but I couldn’t think of any other way of getting the little sod to do his job properly.

(c) T. Bush 'Dad's cooking apron.'

Monday, 9 March 2009

Sticky Fingers

The kid is looking at me. The whites of his enormous eyes glisten in the gloomy room. He is three and beautiful. He has been picking his nose for the last ten minutes with one hand whilst squeezing a banana to gluey mucus in the other and is now looking for a place to wipe his fingers. He grins up at me with sudden gleeful inspiration.

My face must be a rictus of polite horror – a truly British expression- but I am counselling his mother, am midway through a complex problem and have no training in non familial toddler wrangling.

The child’s mother waves a hand vaguely in his direction murmuring something unintelligible but the child doesn’t even pause and I suddenly feel his small warm palms on my kneecaps. I close my eyes and thank various gods I am wearing jeans and have tied my hair back.

Sticky fingerprints are on every surface in the room including the computer monitor, my magnifier, the walls, the telephone and now me but its not the kid’s fault. We are in the dingiest counselling room in the Citizens Advice Bureau building . It is also the smallest. To be frank it has pretensions to be a stationary cupboard but the charity is desperate for space so somehow someone has squeezed in three chairs and a battered computer desk although the room is too small to actually pull out the keyboard from the sliding drawer. Two adults can barely fit – add a rampaging toddler and things will get sticky.

We are in the room for over an hour, opening the door every now and then to let in oxygen and allow the small boy to race frantically around the waiting room. Its been a long day. I have seen one other case, debt, but its complications took up the entire morning and this one is no better. Cambridge at the moment is a particularly joyless place. Debt, redundancy, domestic abuse, mental illness…

I slouch homeward and as I walk through the desolate shopping centre I note how people’s eyes slide away from others or rise in challenge and anger. I walk faster and stumble and get my cane out. The sky is low and grey, the light harsh. Crossing the road I feel as if everyone in every car is staring at me People are every where, looking tired, anxious and I am sick of the endless concrete, the smell of piss and old cigarette ash.

At home I look around my flat and make a decision. It is time to move again. I don’t know where and I don’t know how but I know another year here won’t work. Having made the decision I feel better. I take deep breaths and whatever it is gripping my heart lets go. I look down and notice the tiny sets of fingerprints on the knees of my jeans. Two perfect sets, five prints on each knee where the little boy came over and leaned on me, looked up into my face and smiled unaware of the grotty room, the distress of his mother, the tension in my face. I remember the smile now and it makes me grin too. I remember I am an idiot. That all this will pass and that if you look for misery you will find it. Sometimes ones perspective needs a good tweaking by a snotty, banana encrusted three year old.
Ta kid.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Mind Full of Windmills.

Was it a windmill?

I felt for the last month as if I was charging towards something important. I felt heroic, gulping down hope and inspiration, speeding like a bullet towards something huge and exciting just ahead….and then pooffff…. The thing I was chasing evaporated. I find myself scrabbling hard but beginning to fall slowly backwards into the pretty padded cell that is my life in Cambridge.
Jobless again.
Lonely again.

I miss the Zambian sky.

(c) T. Bush Lusaka Skylines

I stare grumpily out of my window at the very stylish ,squirrel proof bird feeder I have just erected. The squirrel (Dennis of course..little sod) has been running up and down it as if it is a squirrelly plaything. Now he is standing on top of it pretending to be King Kong, pounding his little chest and throwing all the peanuts at the wood doves. Squirrel proof my arse

My bleakness is due partly to the ear and chest infection I bought back from my trip. Its rather flattened me and I am beginning to smell faintly of amoxicyllin. It does not make me feel alluring.

It must be time to write another book.

Ok – as I am obviously in an non-witty blur of winge I shall instead direct you to the writing of the five people I would like to nominate for the blog award so sweetly passed to me by Val from Monkeys on the Roof. (Thank you again Val!)

In the words of the person who created it:"This award acknowledges the values that every Blogger displays in their effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values with each message they write. Awards like this have been created with the intention of promoting community among Bloggers. It`s a way to show appreciation and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."

So I nominate:
1. The bittersweet musings of NMJ
2. The hysterical and yet often moving travel blog from my mum the artist Ruth Hartley and her partner John Corley – 28 countries in 18 months and now a move to France!
3. The ebullient, charming and soul affirming Nao, the Tea Time Traveller,
4. My Cuz , Up the Hill Backwards, who has a ton of these already but still writes one of the funniest and most disgusting blogs ever about raising children in New York. Not for the faint hearted.
5. Tinku of tinku gallery who writes with such insight and intelligence about the intricacies of art and the cross-cultural experience.
You all rock!