Inside the world of the blinkies

My white stick has never been the same since the children used it as a snooker cue and bent it
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Few phrases fill me with as much gloom or have me reaching more speedily for my Walkman and earphones than "ladies and gentlemen, your keynote speaker this evening is...". Fortunately I have those cunning little earplugs the size of Smarties that slip discreetly into my ears under my hair so that no one, not even the person sitting beside me, could possibly suspect that the expression of grave concentration on my face comes not from listening to the chairman of some multimedia organisation extolling the merits of global communication but from the new audio version of Endurance, the harrowing account read by Tim Pigott-Smith of Shackleton's ill fated attempt to cross the Antarctic in 1915.

Few phrases fill me with as much gloom or have me reaching more speedily for my Walkman and earphones than "ladies and gentlemen, your keynote speaker this evening is...". Fortunately I have those cunning little earplugs the size of Smarties that slip discreetly into my ears under my hair so that no one, not even the person sitting beside me, could possibly suspect that the expression of grave concentration on my face comes not from listening to the chairman of some multimedia organisation extolling the merits of global communication but from the new audio version of Endurance, the harrowing account read by Tim Pigott-Smith of Shackleton's ill fated attempt to cross the Antarctic in 1915.

I've probably listened to more talking books during keynote speeches than the speaker in question has had hot rubber-chicken dinners. Austrian friends with whom I was staying one summer took me at great expense to a new production of King Lear at the Salzburg Festival which had had rave reviews. They forgot to tell me it was in German but luckily I had a cassette of Simon Callow reading The Inimitable Jeeves in my Walkman. I meant to switch off when they put Gloucester's eyes out because I was interested to hear what the German for "out vile jelly" sounded like. But I forgot. Once I'm in Bertie Wooster's wacky world of vicars, maiden aunts and breezy chaps called Bingo wearing spats I don't remember anything.

I tell you this only because last Tuesday I went to one of those posh dos at a even posher City company in which the keynote speaker turned out to be a writer who makes me laugh almost as much as P G Wodehouse. The keynote speaker was Sue Townsend; the posh do was the Royal National Institute for the Blind annual award ceremony to honour the dozen or so organisations and individuals that have been especially helpful to all those people whom Miss Townsend cheerfully and unceremoniously referred to as "blinkies".

Before you gasp, as many of the audience did, at this shocking display of non-PC insensitivity, I should remind you that three years ago Sue Townsend, creator of the inimitable Adrian Mole, was herself registered blind as the result of diabetic retinopathy. Now that she can no longer read, she told us, her husband has to help her with her novels, and though he is incredibly patient she does sometimes wonder if he isn't drawing surreptitious doodles of his wife with a noose round her neck.

It was a terrific speech. Sue Townsend was chatty and cheerful and a great deal less sorry for herself and inclined to complain than I am, but then I've been a blinkie for seven years longer.

One of the gardens at this year's Chelsea Flower Show was dedicated to Moorfields Eye Hospital, and as the only blinkie on the Moorfields fund-raising committee, I was asked to represent it. "You'd better take your white stick and try to look authentic," said my husband because I rarely use it. A white stick is a scary thing. Take it out and people fight to help you to cross roads that you don't want to cross or put you back on trains that you have just got off. I feel sorry for the blind golfer whom everyone accused of cheating, because they thought he could see more than he could. I know the feeling. If you're blind people expect you to look like a blinkie, either with a guide dog pulling you or your hands held out in front of you like Lady Macbeth sleepwalking. I'd rather have a stick, though mine has never been the same since the children used it as a snooker cue and bent it.

The Moorfields garden was refreshingly unlike the usual touchy-feely smelly affair full of red salvias and orange marigolds most people equate with blindness. I can't stand bright flowers and quite a lot of flower scents. My ideal garden would smell permanently like the perfume department at Harvey Nichols.

The garden had a sculptured reflecting pool like an eye, a few metal leaf-shaped sculptures and a lot of grass. And no smells. The best thing in it was Professor Peng Khaw, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon specialising in glaucoma who, when it's built, will be working at the new Moorfields Children's Hospital for which the committee has been feverishly working to raise funds.

The best RNIB award on Tuesday went to Arsenal FC for helping partially sighted kids to play football. It doesn't matter for people past their shelf life like Sue Townsend and me losing their sight. It's only children that really need help. Yes, of course this is an appeal. Send your donations soonest.

Comments