Personal Space

Particularly at this time of the virus, the lockdown and the need to keep our distance, personal space has jumped up the agenda. I grew up never even thinking it was an issue.   

As well as having very little sight, I am also short-sighted. This means I have to put my nose to it to have a chance of seeing anything in the way of detail.

Some years ago, an understanding professional friend mischievously introduced me to a girl who was nearly blind but with long sight, not seeing things near to her.

So I moved in close to her and she retreated fast. My friend laughed. ‘So you two are just not compatible’ she sniggered.  But we did become good friends fairly soon afterwards.

I learned the hard way that personal space is a powerful weapon in the way we interact with each other much later when I was about to leave The Royal London Society for the Blind. My services were no longer required there and I sat down at a long table expecting the school governors to sit in their usual places near to me.  But they sat together at the far end, the bastards. It was like having a dagger thrust straight into my emotional being.

Of course, they were and are not bastards. This was just another notch on the learning curve  of life’s experiences.

Now I am older and deafer so I need to be close at hand to both see or hear what is going on and that is the very  thing I am not allowed to do. The other day we were in the local garden centre buying greetings cards; a difficult task for someone who can’t see what the heck is on the card. The assistant was so helpful but she kept edging away during the conversations as she was doing her level best to describe each card. I must have been half asleep mentally because in the end she had to say that she was trying to keep her two metre distance from us. I could only wake up and apologise and then it was all fine except that I could no longer hear her descriptions. But, what the heck;  We came away with some cards possibly very suitable.\

Guide dog – Poor sight and poor hearing

It’s a great way to get out and about and keep fit but you have to be very alert and realise that you are often significantly unaware of things going on around you.

Your routes are mapped in your head  and, even with a bit of useful vision and hearing, the number of clues available to you is limited and often fleeting. a park looks the same apart from a big tree, particular slope in the path, or a building. Likewise streets tend to look the same apart from a brightly coloured house, bus shelter or zebra crossing. Its very easy to get thinking and forget where you are.

Not hearing your dog: Your dog might make a low noise when beginning to be distracted by an approaching dog;  it might be chewing something and you don’t hear what is happening. Your dog might be looking at a bird or squirrel instead of concentrating on the job and you don’t see this. It might stop for a good reason, an obstacle, but it might be distracted and you can’t work out the difference. So your response might be inappropriate and lacking understanding what is going on in the dog’s mind.

People and obstacles in your path: I tend to say hello to people in general and when they respond, I know where they are on the path ahead but I never know who they  are even if friends or family. But getting precise whereabouts of people and sounds is more and more difficult and my biggest worry is trampling on little children  and yappy dogs ahead underfoot.

The weather: Although my hearing aids  are wonderful. The wind is a dangerous sounds distraction especially crossing roads. I have walked in front of an almost silent electric car coming out of a side road and I rarely hear  cars coming into the side road I am crossing from behind me which is potentially dangerous.  Bikes and e-scooters  are a nightmare and they come close and fast. Icy roads are a huge safety hazard if you have a strong dog.

On the good side, I love night walks which I have never been able to relax and enjoy before having a guide dog.

The dog as an icebreaker: Since having a guide dog, I find myself chatting to far more people out and about and there is a certain dignity with a fine dog which you don’t get to feel with a long cane. I can walk far quicker and with more confidence than was possible for years in the park and around town and recently staying in a large and challenging hotel was a breeze compared to the old days. I was shown to my 17th floor room amongst the maze   just once and, ever afterwards, I was always taken right to my door from the lift with a furry trusted creature poised under the handle of the  correct door to my room.

Dog training experience:  on my course, 2 of the 6 trainees had poor hearing as well as sight loss and the staff are very able and understanding as dual sensory loss trainees are the norm, it seems. It goes without saying that, for dog lovers, the guide dog brings regular joy and companionship especially where lives could be isolated and lonely.

1943 IN HOSPITAL

I had 30 small eye operations in the Wolverhampton Eye Infirmary before my 17th birthday. We used to joke it was my second home! On the occasion I am thinking of, I must have been around four years old but already I knew the routine well. No breakfast, eye lashes cut, A yellow medical-smelling stuff pasted around the eye, Atropine   eye drops making me very thirsty and a very nervous tummy. I learned the art of quiet resignation and focused my mind ahead to waking up safe in bed and having a warm drink. But, on this occasion, things went badly wrong. I woke up in a wet bed, my wet. It was worse: As I shuffled my legs and feet about, the top sheet ripped and I was utterly obsessed with the conviction that it was all my fault. My fault that the drugs had taken away my bladder control and my fault that I had damaged hospital property! In fact, all my fault I was such a bloody nuisance. I worried about it for weeks afterwards. Crazy, I know and I have no memory, of course, of any one being cross with me or blaming  me. 

Generally, my hospital experience was fine, a tribute to my parents ability to explain things and give that reassurance and love which enables a young child  to come through such traumas with confidence. A much happier hospital memory is of me and elder brother Dave driving around the hospital garden in our peddle cars the night before our operations were due. I felt like I was out on the main road in charge of a real car and the mask and the smell of chloroform were for a little time forgotten. .

Sister Burne was in charge of the  Children’s ward at Wolverhampton Eye Infirmary  for several years, always as I thought at the time. She was there for me as I lay on the operating table. I learned to relax and trust. As the mask was placed over my face and I was seeing multi-coloured sparks and counting down from ten to zero, she always held my left hand and gave that magic squeeze signalling that all is actually well. It’s never too late to thank her on behalf of myself and the other children she took care of. 

1944 ANGER AND CONTENTMENT

As a tiny child, I was sometimes  angry and sometimes very content. I hated having to chew and swallow things such as meat or tablets. That choking heaving feeling welling up from the stomach and involving the throat  is horrible and when you are held down and force-fed for your good, well you just have to kick and fight, scream and cry. Worried parents know you need meat and certainly that you must take the tablets professionally prescribed by the doctor who knows far more about stuff than we do. But my hatred of chewing fatty meat lasted well into my teens and I probably won more battles than I lost. I did enjoy well-cooked liver, corn beef and sausages, though because they required no chewing. I had lots of colds and ear infections so my      determination must have cause Mum and Ad considerable emotional grief.

On other occasions, I was lying on the floor often near a door, on my back and kicking and screaming like the best of them. It just seemed to come upon me and I have absolutely no recollection of the cause of this anger and frustration. When an attack had subsided, they still seemed to love me and all went back to the peace and quiet of normality., 

I also carry memories of contentment and delight. Before bed, I just loved lying on the carpet by the fire with my beloved Judy dog. She was warm and we were so close and cosy together night after night. Sometimes, the smell of her singeing fir aroused us to a realisation that the bliss had run its course again. Thinking about it, I haven’t really grown up because even now late in the evening, I lie on the carpet with my lovely guide dog Quigley and relive that private close man with dog relationship before turning in. 

1950 Realisation dawning

Not sure precisely just how old I was but I am sat in a very noisy dining room at school. Obviously too noisy because Matron calls for silence and we know we are in for the next ten or more minutes of silent boredom  when we want to be chatting to our mates. So I surreptitiously, unknown to everyone else so I think, gently touch Tony in the rib. ‘Roger, don’t be vulgar’ came the voice from out in front. Being the only Roger, it was a fair cop, although even then I did not think I was being vulgar. There were then several options open to her in charge. Hands on head, stand out in front, wait behind and miss what’s left of my playtime. I did not care; It was all part of the silly power charade game she played every day. 

The interesting take on it all for me at that time was how on earth did she know what I was up to below table level. I was beginning to understand that sight or lack of that sight thing which seems to have dogged my life and stamped itself upon me and my personality and doings. I was realising I had very little of it and grown-ups had lots of it. Or, at least most grown-ups. There were two teachers, one who taught braille and another who taught music. I sought of knew that the music teacher could see nothing and needed guiding help to get around the complicated environment of the school, big house and grounds. The braille teacher may have had a bit of seeing  and walked mostly alone but needed a companion sometimes. I had thought about sight matters on and off and seemed to have the idea that all would be sorted out as I grew up. But it was really the magic of being able to know what was going on across a room amongst a crowd of people and a multitude of happenings that exercised my wonder. How could Matron know about all of us at once? How and why could she pick on just one of us as earning her favour or her wrath? And she certainly had favourites: ‘Would any one like more toast, David’ I certainly remember her saying.