Sunday, April 27, 2008

Watch Your Back, Washy!

Learning Braille has been both a fascinating and frustrating experience. It has been a test of my memory, sensitivity and patience, made worse by the adventures of ‘Washy’. Washy is a cute wee doggy, around which all my Braille reading exercises are based. Unfortunately, he has become the focus for my frustration and one day, when I feel confident in writing it in perfect grade 2 Braille; I will write a fitting story about the little mongrel that will bring his chirpy tail-wagging to an end once and for all.

I decided to take the plunge into this weird and somewhat archaic language as I think it will give me another option in terms of communication. As anyone with a sensory impairment will tell you, communication is everything – I think the equation goes something like

Communication = information = knowledge + understanding = power + independence = self-esteem.

But, hey, I’m no psychologist. I do know that I’m getting increasingly fed up of squinting at screens trying to read ever bigger, brighter, higher-contrast letters. The words ‘dead horse’ and ‘flogging’ could be appropriately used, so I decided to invest in learning to use some nerve endings that aren’t, to use a technical term, knackered.

I’ve already fallen into the trap of referring to Braille as a ‘language’. Of course, it is not. Using Braille, I’m still reading and writing in English (or as near to it as I have ever managed). Braille is simply – no, not simply - a different way of representing that language – a different font if you like. Grade 1 Braille is pretty much a straightforward codification of our alphabet, so one letter of text is represented by one Braille character. A Braille character is a combination of one or more dots in a Braille cell of 6 dots, arranged like the 6 on a die.

Grade 2 Braille is where it gets really clever. Different Braille characters, or the same characters in different positions, are used to represent groups of letters, or even whole words. So, it’s not so different to the modern-day texting, if u knw wht I mean. But actually it’s much better, because it has very strict rules which leave no room for doubt as to what has been written, and some of the abbreviations can really shorten what needs to be written or read. Take the following sentence in normal text:

People have little knowledge and questionable understanding.

By my count, this has 53 text characters. In grade 2 Braille, it can be written in 15 characters. Not bad, eh? Admittedly, there aren’t many sentences that can be shortened this much, but it demonstrates how efficient Braille can be, which is just as well, because hard copy Braille is very bulky.

Having taken ownership this week of a new electronic Braille notepad, I felt very smug demonstrating my newly-acquired skills. Until, that was, my 12-year old daughter picked it up and showed that, just from helping me with my homework, she has almost learned grade 1 Braille without even trying. How annoying is that?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Beware, Penguin Crossing!

I’ve had enough of revealing parts of my somewhat chequered past. My retro has been well and truly spected and I have something important to tell you about an event that is yet to happen. No, I am no more insane than usual, and I have not started reading palms or tarot cards – I have trouble seeing the present, let alone the future! However, I can be fairly sure that this will happen one day, I’m just not sure when.

I will be making my way to work, or maybe home from work. My mind will be busy contemplating the usual fundamental questions of life, like why women like cushions so much. I will wait dutifully at the ‘penguin’ crossing – apparently that’s what they call the new low-level ones that are obviously much better for wheelchair users. I might amuse myself while I am waiting by wondering if my regular stooping to press the button at ‘penguin crossings’ will aggravate my lower back problem and eventually put me in a wheelchair.

Then, the sound of bleeping will tell my brain that it’s safe to cross. My brain, which I have been training for years to be wary of such claims, will be lazy and trusting. It may have been reassured by the sound of slowing car engines. I may even have managed a cursory glance at the traffic before stepping out into the road.

Of course, I will not have seen the cyclist, approaching fast towards the crossing. I won’t have heard the quiet fizz of the bike’s tyres against the road. Of course, he, and I’m pretty sure it will be a he, won’t use a bell, even if he has one. People don’t nowadays, and anyway, he won’t have time.

Then, just before our worlds collide, we’ll become conscious of each other. It will be too late to do anything about it. I might start to shout, but no sound will come out. Then, we will briefly become one mass of tangled limbs, steel and rubber. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll take the brunt of the impact, but I’m glad I’ve had all the children I want.

It will take several weeks, possibly months to recover physically. He will be saved from serious damage by his crash helmet and the cushioning effect of my spleen. Once my nerve damage has settled down and scars are healed, I’ll be back to normal, almost. I’ll joke about it with my friends. I might even write about it on my blog.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rich Pickings

Apparently, it has been noted by a reader of this blog that dog poop seems to make a regular occurrence. At least, I think that was the comment and not “it’s a load of dog poop”.

Should I worry about this? Is canine crap cause for concern? Hopefully not – after all, it’s only one person’s view. Having said that, he may represent 100% of my readership, so perhaps I should come clean about the dirt, and explain why doggy-do-do’s may have seeped deep into the recesses of my psyche, if that’s not too disgusting a metaphor.

The more plausible explanation relates to living with a dog with a dicky tummy for several years. Glen, my first guide dog, found his job quite exciting and this set his juices flowing. So, ten minutes into any walk we’d have to stop to ‘spend’ – a delightful euphemism you learn during guide dog training. So, I suppose Glen was a big spender, and boy, could he spend a few pounds in one go. That wasn’t too bad when he’d spend a nice lump sum – something to keep my hands warm on a cold winter’s morning. But if his tummy wasn’t quite right, he had a tendency to spend a lot of loose change.

A more traumatic reason for being apparently so full of the sticky stuff, happened when I was still at University, many years ago now, but the memory is still painfully clear to me. I was on my way to a special family meal at my girlfriend’s house. Keen to make a good impression with her parents, as I approached their house I remembered that, just the previous day, another visitor had unwittingly trodden dog dirt through the house. So, striding past the front garden, I take the precautionary step of checking the soles of my shoes. Precautionary or not, it was the last step I took, as a ring on my finger became attached to a buckle on my boot. With my girlfriend and her father looking out from the lounge window, I disappeared in an instant as I crashed to the ground behind the garden wall. Helped to my feet, I then entered the house dripping blood, but hey, at least no dog muck!

Surprisingly, they eventually allowed me to marry their daughter. So, at least I have someone special to share all this crap with.