Following my last blog, I have been asking myself, ‘well why DO you write you loon? Explain yourself. After all you do tend to spend a hellish amount of time with what I call ‘writer’s block’ and other people might call ‘the television on’.’
Then it hit me. I write because of days like Tuesday.
Let me explain. (It’s a bit of a long read this one. You can skip to the ‘conclusion’ if you are in a rush.)
Tuesday could have gone either way. I had had a bad night and woken up grouchy but then wrote poetry on the train in to London. Not saying if it was any good (actually it was so horrible it made the pen leak) but this invariably means something interesting is going to happen. I rarely get that compulsive need to write verse. It needs a change in the weather, a metaphysical prod, an uncanny ‘click’.
So I was thoughtful when I arrived at Kennington and slid into my role as a volunteer facilitator. We (from the charity Photovoice) are running a series of photographic workshops for blind and VI people. We are in the 4th week of a new course but on this Tuesday three new people stood patiently waiting to join in. A tall Jamaican lad, blind from birth, a short, streetwise North African with his guide dog Frankie and a gentle Haitian-English man with his dog Bill. As everyone else was hyped up to go on a field trip I stayed in to work with the three new men.
The older man asks what is often the first question. ‘Why should blind people take photographs’?’ I roll up my sleeves and begin.
Over the two hours we explore the possibilities of communication between sighted and non-sighted communities, discuss language and how emotion can be conveyed through image and combinations of image, touch, scent and sound.
We discuss sight; our sight, how we lost or are losing it, what limits us. Then we explore the camera basics through touch and take the first series of photographs using touch and sound to establish the composition and I show them how to place the camera on heart, chin or nose (using the head as a tripod pivot) to take steady and simple pictures.
One of the young men remembers that when he had sight as a child in Africa he loved to watch the birds flying in the dawn skies before he went to school. The sound of them….
‘I want to take photos of birds,’ he says
We discuss British bird song. We discuss what it might be like to layer bird song with images.
The tall Jamaican lad, blind from birth says he would rather photograph lions. ‘But I also love the countryside,’ he says. ‘I want to photograph Kent.’
But then the day swivels on its heel. When the rest of the group arrive back glowing from an outing to the Imperial War museum, it is apparent that the three new men are too many for the course and will have to leave. There will be another opportunity in a couple of months but they have been so open with me, so enthusiastic and hopeful that it is a blow to us all. I am too angry and I wonder if my own struggle with my diminishing sight is causing me to become too emotionally bound up with the participants.
I glance at one of the group photographs the young African man took in the park. There I stand next to the others, a small odd-looking woman in my over sized glasses and daft cap, looking cowed and uncomfortable in the sunlight, handling my cane like a dead snake. A blind person in a group of blind people. For an inexplicable reason I am horribly shocked by the photograph, my perspective skews wildly and I realise that I am gearing up for a panic attack. I haven’t had one for over three years..not since trying to commute from Cambridge to Reading for work (nearly 4 hours each way) and eventually losing it at Paddington station.
My heart beats up high in my throat and I feel nauseous. Bollocks…if I am going to have to breathe into a paper bag I am NOT going to do it here. I don’t ask for help, can’t really. The rest of the facilitators are sighted, experienced Londoners and I don’t feel I have time to go into the explanations. I make my excuses (I wonder afterwards if I actually pointed at my own head and made twirling motions….wouldn’t put it past myself!) and run.
Just as I am becoming doubtful that I will make it to the tube I run, smack bang (literally) into the tall Jamaican and the little savvy North African with his guide dog Frankie.
Bizarrely they are going my way and gabbling happily, drag me with them into the depths of the tube station where a woman smelling deliciously of cocoa butter escorts us all into a carriage.
The two leap out a couple of stops before me, Frankie’s toenails skittering on the floor in his desperation to get out of the train and the anonymous crowds swell.
I sigh and prepare to be swept up in the mayhem of Kings Cross underground and then…
‘Can I help you ma am,’ comes a voice from far above my head. A huge man in a yellow jacket and collar radio offers me an elbow. It take me three confused seconds to realise the coco butter lady has called ahead for a ‘meet and greet’ and this monster is my escort. I can’t see the man’s face clearly in the low light behind my glasses but I note the tattoos that spiral up his wrist and disappear into his shirtsleeves. He is so big that the crowd don’t even try to squeeze around him but instead wait patiently behind for him, tanker like, to move off. I take his arm..well half of it. My hand isn’t big enough to get a full grip of his elbow. I feel like I am in a Shrek cartoon. We seem to float up to the exit
‘I’ll be fine now, ta’, I say and he kind of heaves me gently over the barricades and I am off up the steps to face the masses in the mainline station and I wince and..
‘Excuse me… may I help you? I actually work for RNIB and I couldn’t help notice you had a cane….’
A middle-aged man with a manner so neutral and insipid that he almost lacks an aura is at my shoulder. Again the crowd part around him as if he has a small force field. My mouth drops open as I thank him and take his arm. We are perfectly in time for the train and he plants me on the furthest carriage and almost bowing, scuttles away so as not to invade my space.
‘This is getting ridiculous,’ I think to myself and the various gods that seem to be carrying me home. ‘I was booked in for a panic attack 45 minutes ago…’
‘T is that you?’
A woman squeezes in next to me. An acquaintance from Citizens Advice Bureau. ‘What a bit of luck,’ she says not knowing the half of it. ‘How’s your MA application going? Anything I can help with?’
And so on Tuesday it seems, after a wonderful and terrible day I was actually escorted home by some marvellous series of (coincidence/ angels/ aliens/ Jesus/ Monkey god/ quantum event/ luck).
And to CONCLUDE, if I didn’t write this stuff down I would forget it. (well...what did you expect?) By the way if you just skipped to the conclusion you missed the bit about the naked couple at Elephant and Castle tube station…
Now about that award; As I mentioned it was Val from http://monkeysontheroof.blogspot.com/
Who awarded me the Noblesse Oblige. She writes from the Botswanan bush and her blog is so vivid and beautiful you might never need to go on safari yourself but just check with her every few days! Her work is a commentary on the harshness of beauty of the natural world around her. Fantastic stuff!
So here is the award speel!
This award is one of the more thoughtful ones that I've seen or been given. It's got a purpose behind it that really makes you think about why you're blogging and who has influenced you. And of course it comes from a blogger whose insights and work are creative and humbling.
The recipient of this award is recognized for the following: 1) The Blogger manifests exemplary attitude, respecting the nuances that pervades amongst different cultures and beliefs. 2) The Blog contents inspire; strives to encourage, and offers solutions. 3) There is a clear purpose at the Blog; one that fosters a better understanding on Social, Political, Economic, the Arts, Culture, Sciences, and Beliefs. 4) The Blog is refreshing and creative. 5) The Blogger promotes friendship and positive thinking. The Blogger who receives this award will need to perform the following steps: 1) Create a Post with a mention and link to the person who presented the Noblesse Oblige Award. 2) The Award Conditions must be displayed at the Post. 3) Write a short article about what the Blog has thus far achieved – preferably citing one or more older posts to support. 4) The Blogger must present the Noblesse Oblige Award in concurrence with the Award conditions. 5) Blogger must display the Award at any location at the Blog.
Phew! Right all done apart from my nominations. And they are (and in 3D –just like in Cannes!)
Tinku of Tinku Tales: http://tinkutales.blogspot.com/ for her exceptional dialogue on all things contemporary art and culture in Canada.
The Tea Time Traveller Nao http://teatimetraveller.blogspot.com/ for the beauty and the bees!
Susan from Stony River Farm http://stonyriverfarm.blogspot,com/ I am sure she has already been weighted down with awards but this is the blog to tap into if you are a would be writer. Warm and brilliantly informative and often exceedingly funny!
Ruh and John of Epicblogue http://epicblogue.blogspot.com/ A bit of nepotism here but this is my Mum and her partner's remarkable ongoing blog about their adventures in Europe and recent relocation to France. Funny, insightful and sometimes so dry it makes one reach immediately for the wine.
And that's all folks!