Friday, 27 May 2011

Trainspotting and a boat trip on the River Thames

I couldn’t resist the heading as I am a fan of the books of Irvine Welsh.  His Edinburgh as some of the grit found in the earlier Ian Rankin novels, Iain Banks, James Robertson, AL Kennedy and less of the contrived Alexander McCall Smith.  Needless to say, all these authors are available on RNIB talking books.  My fascination with St Pancras is partly historic, though it is handy for a visit to Camden Town Hall, British Library and RNIB and a lot more comfortable than the construction site that used to be Kings Cross. 

The weather in London has been quite warm and, for me at least, with two ‘good vision’ days on Tuesday and Wednesday.  (We had a terrific downpour on Thursday and I got well and truly soaked.)  On my way back from a routine eye clinic I forgot to count the stations and realised I had gone past my ‘home’ station.  It was probably a case of too much information, as the announcements were clear enough but I was not paying attention.

I found myself at Willesden Junction, which has connections to London Overground and the Bakerloo line, and decided to go to Clapham Junction.  This was my first solo trip.  I used to use this station quite a lot from the 1970s, but have only used it in the company of others since I lost my sight.  I found myself on the revamped overhead walkway and when I got to the gates, asked the staff how to get to Waterloo.  I was told that the smartened-up walkway had lifts to the platforms and then taken to one.  On the way down, I was shown where the emergency button was - the one you’re not supposed to hit – and then put on the next Waterloo train.  Very helpful staff!

Waterloo Station is one I was familiar with, but again had never been here on my own for the last 10 years.  The staff at the gate indicated the next available ‘relay point’.  I got to the information kiosk and then the Travel Centre.  The purpose of all this was to get hard copies of the new timetables.  I know they are available on the web, but sometimes it’s nice to have a current timetable that you can hand someone to check, in case you’re fed up with a poor website or are bored with your screen reader. 

My train journeys were going quite well so I decided to see if I could make it to Greenwich.  I have done this before and for my first post you might recall some conflicting pointing from the railway police!  I got to Greenwich, found the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) platform and went one stop to Cutty Sark.  I managed to find the Greenwich Peer, which is a massive building site, and the ticket booth where I bought a ticket for Thames Clippers from Greenwich to Embankment (£2.80 with a Freedom Pass). 

Now here is a pleasant surprise: at the ticket booth I was given instructions on how to get to the peer for the Clipper.  Later I was commenting to one of the staff how good the instructions had been by the lady at the ticket counter, only to be told “I sold you the ticket!”  So well done Jessica (0174)!! (A sighted friend read out the details on the till receipt!) 

The Thames Clipper is well worth a trip.  Again, I have used it before with friends and was doing this one on my own for the first time.  It’s hard to describe what one actually sees, but I was aware of the changing silhouettes on my peripheral vision and going under the bridges, especially the stop near Tower Bridge.  At the Embankment, London Underground staff took me down to the platform and I knew my way back once on the Bakerloo line.

The next day I thought I would be more daring and tried out a totally new line on my own.  The old East London line extension recreates the North London Line link from Dalston Junction to Broad Street, but diverts at Shoreditch to South London.  This might sound very trainspotterish but I confess to being fascinated by railway architecture: bridges, especially the Forth Railway Bridge; stations, such as St Pancras; and junctions such as Crianlarich Junction.    (In the old days I had made very long train journeys in the USA, west Europe, the old Eastern block, southeast Asia and bits of Africa.)

I managed to negotiate Highbury & Islington on my own and changed at Sydenham and West Croydon to arrive at Sutton, where I had lunch and then came back on the Thameslink via St Pancras. 

You may well ask what is the point of all this.  I think this proves that with some attention by the transport providers in London, and the right amount of information and goodwill from staff and fellow commuters, a blind person can get around independently – or at least arrange to go somewhere on a whim without having to rely on others taking him.  This makes a lot of London accessible, provided you know what you want. 

So, many thanks to all, especially Clapham Junction staff, London Waterloo Information Centre, a fellow passenger at London Bridge, Thames Clippers staff, London Underground Embankment, London Overground – particularly Highbury & Islington – and Sutton railway station. 

Regarding communications, I’ve had problems with a revamped Twitter interface with JAWS 12 update.  This is beginning to be as nightmarish as a Google predictor, though I have just discovered Msgs (it says Alt+3 - note for anyone using JAWS) on mobile twitter. 

Update: (4/6/11)

The following are excerpts of a conversation I was having with @defarrington on the Guardian blog regarding the new hybrid buses that are to be introduced in London in the next few years.  As a blind person, I am concerned that we may not recognise a silen vehicle as a a moving vehicle, especially if we listen for traffic noise in making a judgement about when to cross the road.  I don't have a guide dog so can't speak for those who do, but I've had a couple of near misses with careless drivers who reverse illegally into a road and you just don't hear them.

As a blind person, one has got used to hearing the whine of the current diesel buses. I am concerned that a hybrid bus will go into silent mode at the apparent whim of a GPS signal, thus removing a sound 'signpost' or warning for people like me. We might think that the bus has stopped when in fact it might still be moving. I've had a couple of near misses with hybrid cars, especially when they reverse in silent mode.

@defarrington’s reply :
They're engineering an exterior noise for the bus when in electric mode. Most electric cars have them and they'll soon become law in the EU and US.
No need to worry.

Thanks - but it's still scary. Is this noise rule widely known? I will try and raise this at a transport liaison group. We've had problems with the top market hybrid cars and their drivers! Green doesn't always mean safe - or polite and considerate.

@defarrington’s reply:
The noise rule isn't yet law, but I believe it's on the way.
I'm currently using a Nissan Leaf battery car which has an exterior noise mode.
Worth bringing up with TfL.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Afternoon in St Albans, Hertfordshire

*** update 12/11/12

3 November 2012

It was a bright Saturday and with good light we decided to make an afternoon trip to St Albans, check out the market, have lunch and take a few photographs.  I was looking for a straw hat, I’d been lucky in St Albans before.  Though the hat stall only had winter stock, there was a book sale so we didn’t leave the market empty-handed.  Over the years I’ve been several times to the Little Marrakech restaurant at 31 Market Place.  It’s on the right hand side going towards the Abbey (downhill).  A two-course lunch is only £8.95 (drinks extra), the service is good and the food has always been delicious.  We passed by the clock tower (don’t ask for the time) and a photograph of the said tower appears below:

 The Clock Tower
St Albans

We then went to the St Albans Abbey and with much of the foliage having disappeared from the trees, there were some nice shots of the abbey in the mid afternoon sunshine from the south-west.

View of the abbey from the south-west
November 2012

View of the abbey from the west
November 2012
After a wander round the abbey, we had coffee and cake at the refectory.  This is a very pleasant place to sit and relax.  There are 2 gift shops nearby with a lot of Christmas merchandise.  I was interested in the St Albans salter, a reproduction of which is available in one of the displays. 

We were just in time for Choral Evensong.  This lasted about 40 minutes with a visiting choir.  It’s only the second time I’ve ever gone to a choral evensong, the first being in Coventry Cathedral in 1969.  I was very unsure of the ropes, but sitting facing the rose window, the sound was very good and much better than is usually heard on the broadcast of choral evensong on Radio 3. It may be that the broadcasts are made from a relatively filled abbey or cathedral, but from where I was sitting there were very few in the congregation. 

 The Rose Window in the north transept
St Albans Abbey
November 2012

It being the Office before a Feast day (the abbey was celebrating a hybrid All Saints/All Souls the next day) there had been a procession and on catechising some friends, it appeared that the dean of the abbey was dressed in a cope and there would have been incense as all the altars were being censed.  This, in retrospect, would explain some metallic noises as the clergy disappeared from my view for a few minutes.  It was an interesting experience.

St Alban’s Abbey has a lot of attractions for a visitor and is very relaxed with helpful staff.

Travel information:  Day return (round trip) with a disability discount is £4.90.  Companions will get a third off their ticket costs.

*** end of update

Now and again it’s a good idea get out of London, especially if the weather is good and the sky is not overcast.  My vision varies from the ophthalmic between 2 and 3 fingers.  This is how it is defined in what passes for an eye test.  This is a standard definition for disability living allowance (DLA) purposes.  Putting it simply, this means I can’t read at all – not even with the aid of a magnifying glass – and so large print is also of no use, or Braille, as I lost my sight 10 years ago.  What I can see depends on how overcast the sky is and believe it or not the level of lighting in some buildings.

One town to the north of London that I know quite well is St Albans.  I have been there frequently before I lost my sight and since, even on my own.  The town is relatively easy to navigate and has many good restaurants, shops and sights to visit.  It was one of those “let’s go somewhere” days, so on Thursday I went with a friend who is sighted and we got the train to St Albans.  The town centre is a longish walk up a hill from the railway station and you will need to ask for help when you get off the train.  Make sure it stops at St Albans – some of the railway companies terminate services at St Albans, but you could find yourself ending up in Bedford or even further north. 

St Albans Cathedral is well-worth a visit and having climbed to the town centre, you have to then go downhill to the abbey or cathedral.  It’s well-worth going with friends, as there are many interesting features in the cathedral itself.  One of my friends usually insists that I can distinguish between the different types of architectural features and materials of construction in buildings old and new.  To some extent, this friend has taken me on a touch tour outside the buildings with the full-scale example and not just a tactile model inside.  Both these methods make some architectural topics accessible for blind people (incidentally, the same friend insists that I compare and contrast the quality of concrete in some modern developments.) 

After that, a nice lunch at the Cock Inn where I had a pickled mackerel starter followed by a salmon risotto.  Incidentally, I was asked if a spoon would be useful in handling the risotto.  This has echoes of a church asking me if large print would be helpful.  So top marks to the kind waiter.  In fact, the risotto was so well formed I could manage with a knife and fork, though anyone who knows me will know that I use my fingers quite a lot in handling food.

We then went on to the Museum of St Albans* in Hatfield St.  I’ve been there before, when they had an exhibition of Stanley Kubrick memorabilia and even an Oscar on display.  The exhibition made one feel like being on the set of a Kubrick movie, with sound, lights etc.  I remarked how much I enjoyed this to the staff at the museum, and they said that their current exhibition was a photograph collection about St Albans itself, but there was a fairly short film which I might find useful.  The film was, as it summed up the history of St Albans from Roman times through the pilgrimage, focussing on the shirne of St Albans, the power of the Abbey, the independence of the town, the dissolution of the monastery and the rise of industry and commerce and the railway. 

What happened next was a pleasant surprise when one of the staff was chatting to me about an installation by a local artist called Aviva was being installed and if I would like to have a preview.  This was a real delight and being taken round the installation while it was being done and meeting the artist herself proves that this museum and Aviva were not phased by a blind man walking off the street.  Thanks very much to the staff at the Museum of St Albans and remember this might have been their first review!  It certainly gets 5 stars.

Later on, we worked our way back to the Abbey, which has a free admission policy, though you are encouraged to leave a donation.  I think this is a better idea than having an admission charge, as it means that people like me can drop in to experience some part of the cathedral without having to go through everything in one visit. 

St Albans is worth many a visit.  If you go on a Saturday, there is a large market and there are shopping areas tucked away from the main streets.  I haven’t been to the  Verulamium, though I did try to find it on my own but unlike Theseus in the Labyrinth, I didn’t have kind Ariadne to hand out the thread to retrace my steps.  I have a good idea where it is and I will have to take a longer reel of cotton the next time.

One word of warning: there is a huge development programme taking place on this Thameslink railway line, with much station improvement and reconstruction.  You would be best to call one of the rail helplines or check one of the rail information sites.

The staff at St Pancras are excellent at guiding you at the appropriate point and will call ahead for help on any of the services operated from St Pancras International.  The underground station staff are also available and the people at the gate will direct you or arrange to take you from station to station and to the onward connection. 

On a social note, I am making a few friends on Twitter and have started commenting within some forums.  I am finding some of the new technology bewildering, but have struck up a few conversations with some blind people and those in organisations.  One tweet that has impressed me is that of the journalist David Aaronovitch, who has been having some eye operations and has discussed them on Twitter.  David tweeted today:

Getting very fed up with being partially sighted. Makes me feel tetchy and vulnerable. Obvious point, but really have taken it for granted.

I think David sums up what it is like to have suffered sight loss.  I certainly hope he recovers.  For some others life is not so easy and we go through various phases of anger, self-pity and the usual why-me.  These, of course, don’t help but after a while you do realise that it is a sort of bereavement and, like a bereavement, you have to get over it.  It’s not very easy.  Some people can be very untactful, some extremely kind and willing to share their experience.  Such an example is my architecture friend, who rather than explain and wave hands will ‘insist’ on asking me to compare and contrast lumps of masonry and some carved features.  So if you see me pontificating with the aid of the whitestick on rag stone vs. concrete, you’ll know!

*The Museum of St Albans
Hatfield Road

St Albans

Friday, 13 May 2011

The kindness of others

The response to my first post was very interesting.  To some extent some friends have been probably searching for both the blog and the tweets.  I’m not sure of some of the tweets. 

There was an interesting blog on the US elections in the Guardian by Mehdi Hasan about the need for a left Democrat to help in the triangulation of Obama.  I don’t know what you thought, but I entered my first political # tag debate and had some very interesting responses from John McTernan, who writes in The Scotsman.  We were exchanging remarks within this forum about concepts such as ‘blue Labour’ and ‘red Tories’.  We both thought the labels were a bit daft.  Funnily mine are a bit daft as, though I can just about differentiate blue and yellow, red and green look much the same to me.   The use of colours in politics is even more daft.  Anyway, thank you John McTernan for engaging and being patient when I lost the odd message.  

It’s been fun on Twitter and I can see why it is so addictive; but I think it’s ideal for blind people who use words very carefully, if not telegraphically, as sometimes it puts a strain on the kind friend who types up the meat of the blog and has to suffer blogger, the internet and a certain supplier of software.  

I was telling people about my trip to the National Gallery last Saturday and even someone in the Art world couldn’t imagine a blind person being shown the sizes of the coffee cups in such an imaginative way.  I think we all agreed that the very kind treatment to a blind person must be in both the training and the DNA of the organisation.  Our discussions reminded me of a very pleasant trip I made by train to Chichester, West Sussex, in the south of England last summer.  Again, a kind friend filled in a voucher which I found on a Transport for London (TfL) disability website.  This was a special offer which needed minimum planning and no penalty for a no-show.  This is ideally suited for some of us who often miss a connection or get in the wrong part of the train or even the wrong train.  

In Chichester, I went to the Cathedral and had a fantastic visit without pre-planning as they had a tactile model of the building and someone explained items which I could find for myself or if I had wanted I could have joined a tour.  When I came back to the entrance I was asked if I had enjoyed the trip and had I made anything out of the Chagall window.  To be honest, I hadn’t ‘noticed’ the window but was taken back and could make out some of the colours with the help of an interested volunteer at the Cathedral who it turned out was a Reader in the Church of England.  So top marks to Chichester Cathedral. 

My other illustration of an act of kindness was in Pallant House in Chichester, which has interesting art collections and some fascinating bits of furniture you can actually touch!  Again a very kind receptionist staff found someone to explain parts of the museum and even took me to the restoration area with all the pieces of art in storage being cleaned and catalogued.  This is a case of another gallery not being phased by a blind man walking in off the street, who is familiar with some aspects of the art world but lacks the insight into the ‘form’ of the work.  I did say that I was interested in logical things for the blind and you will be pleased to hear that I have a few trainspotting tales to tell.  I am closing this post a big thanks to all my friends who somehow put up with unexpected ‘demands’ to do something and while they might raise an eyebrow, they are patient and kind, as are to be fair many who run some of our private and public sectors.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Blind faith : faith for the blind : articles by the blind

Update: 1/1/2012

I returned to St Martin in the Fields on Ascension Day 2011 (Thursday) and was welcomed even though I had turned up well over an hour before the door opening.  I did have some seating in a reserved area and found the service very interesting.  Dr Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury) was by then making a series of what would turn out to be politically controversial statements (to some).  By the end of the year, Dr Williams was talking more politics and not preaching, while certain members of the cabinet had discovered religion (conveniently) while shedding much of their political theory for the odd soundbite.  Various themes on this original post can be detected through my blog for 2011.  There are hints of some progress regarding blindness awareness, though also some shockers.  I've yet to decide whether to name and shame but there are some professionals in some churches, retail, health and public services who may be requiring shock therapy, counselling and blindness awareness training.  Watch this space!  Happy 2012, if you're on this page!

** end of update

Update #1 10/5/11 is used as verification in a move to avoid spam tweets.  Some churches and organisations and even internet churches use this.  While appreciating that this prevents the unwashed entering their church, it also acts as a gate-keeper in preventing blind people from accessing the website facility.  If I had the time, I would make an audio recording of what a website sounds like to a blind person.  Below is the email I have sent to the verification company.   

For web designers it is much easier if you allow sighted and blind people to click the audio ON, rather than have audio play and disrupt the audio navigation.  I only have one set of ears!!!! 
I am a blind person and have tried in vain to use assistive technology (JAWS 12) using Windows.  The validation by audio does not work at all, as I listen to the audio message, my screen reader was not in the edit box.  I don't know who designed this, but it certainly is not blind friendly.  The numbers which are read out are against a lot of background noise which may be in order to stop voice recognition spam, but given the fact that you are excluding blind people is surely an offence against human decency.  Take note!
end of email.

Original post:
In the end, I had to rely on a sighted person to see if I had a message and to verify visually on my behalf.  This is perhaps the equivalent of a 'sign post' for the blind in the middle of a maze, rather than at the beginning or the gateway.
This title was suggested by a member of the Obreption Collective.  They censored it for a post they were going to send to some delicate theologians, shrinking violets and pillars of the community.  The Obreption Collective has now been socialised to such an extent that they are no longer moderated by some of the press.  In this blog I can be myself, though I have a contract to be a mystery blind visitor, shopper and client at certain social functions, share holders meetings, AGMs, religious services and government and health forums and to report back.

I have been thinking of doing a blog for some time and having had some lessons from a local charity decided to take the plunge.  The catalyst for this blog was a dreadful shopping 'experience' at a well-known store in London, when not only was I referred to in the third person but the grammar was appalling; it was worse than Mr Cameron saying: "Calm down, dear." to Angela Eagle MP.  This was: "Sit him down there on the chair."  Reports of this encounter were mentioned in the under the title "Blind faith : faith for the blind : articles by the blind". 

Being blind, communication poses major problems and without the benefit of either receiving non-verbal communication or being able to give it, there are often some difficulties - many of them funny or even hilarious  and many, regrettably, confrontational. You might want to call it cognitive dissonance or even disinhibition, but that's what happens when you can't communicate.  Some blind people like to live in their own world, some like to act 'normally'.  As with many things, I verge on complacent agnostic to being a fundamentalist disability rights campaigner and - yes - agitator if hacked off by some jobs worth.

With the Big Society we are all encouraged to hope (EF Benson) that the third sector will pick up the slack.  Sadly, with a lot of management speak and bollocks, I usually take great offence when I hear the following expressions:

1  paradigm shift
2  I have to say
3  going forward
4  at the end of the day
5  any event - especially an insolvency event
6  through the pyramid
7  across the piste/piece
8  we're here to help
9  help point
10 customer service
11 any word beginning with 'e' such as experience, excellent, exponential, entropy,
    enthalpy, logarithmic (I know - that's not 'e'!)

As a blind person with a white stick, one ought not to be invisible to parts of the public sphere.  Some parts of the public sphere have employees, officials and figures of authority who are oblivious to the needs, wishes, feelings and communication ‘toolbox’ of blind people.  In future posts, I will be discussing the public sphere as it pertains to the arts, science, law, parliament, democracy, journalism, human rights, religion, discrimination, finance, commerce, travel, technology, etc.  My friends at the Obreption Collective have kindly asked me to discuss aspects of the experience of a blind person within the public sphere regarding religion, faith, theology, worship, and charitable giving.     

Obreption suggested some time ago that I ought to ‘test aspects of life in the public sphere to destruction’.  For starters, Obreption asked me to ‘road test’ the ‘sign posts’ in the Church of England, and suggested that I visit a few cathedrals, some parish churches and some variety of the Anglican spectrum from the Anglo-catholic extreme to Evangelical.  In other words, All Saints to All Souls with a bit of Alpha thrown in. 

One of the biggest problems for a blind person in visiting a strange parish is the ‘welcome’. Is the vicar or the PCC aware that blind people have problems with some aspects of worship?  For example, are you aware that the welcoming committee often stick a hymn book in the hand of a blind person without asking if they can see enough to read?  Believe it or not, I have been assaulted with more hymn books and bibles than I care to remember, even though my white stick is very visible. 

Also, do you use PowerPoint presentations, videos and high tech ‘material culture’?  If so, are you aware that some people in your congregation who cannot see may miss out on an important part of your ‘message’?  Without wishing to state that Jesus preached without the aid of PowerPoint and to people who couldn’t read, are you really offering discipleship to a congregation or is it all for show? 

An eminent neurologist has said that 50% of human information comes from vision.  In other words, those people who cannot see, cannot see ‘the Light’, do not really understand ‘Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light, like a little candle burning in the night’. 

On a more positive note, I was very pleased on one of my visitations (not Apostolic, but with the knowledge of an Archdeacon) to be greeted by the welcoming committee in a strange parish with a “We have large print copies of the service and hymns for today if that would be of any use to you.”  This is a nice ice-breaker and is much better than being ignored or having a wretched and useless book thrust in your hands. 

Communication with blind people can be very difficult, especially if your form of worship relies on visual prompts.  Smells and bells are quite sensual in Anglo-catholic churches though the statuary, furniture and huge fonts present obstacles and can often result in collisions and damage, and as a result can be intimidating.  On the other hand, the spontaneous nature of Evangelical worship and preaching can leave the blind totally out of it – though the sermons are usually of much higher quality than some of the mystic five minute homilies that pass for a sermon in some Anglo-catholic churches. 

Having been asked by Obreption to road test - that means, turn up unannounced as a blind visitor - two ‘high value’ churches today, I will make the following comments:

1)     St James, Piccadilly,  Rector Lucy Winkett (,

Having negotiated London Underground with the marvellous help of the staff and TfL (10/10), I walked from Green Park and wandered here.  I was totally ignored. The church had a few tourists passing from the market (shades of scourging The Temple) to Jermyn Street. Some kind tourist asked me if I needed any help and I commented about the philosophy of the blind seeking the Holy Spirit in a church, which may have raised a smile, but I wouldn’t know, would I?  I thought I detected a large vacuum cleaner at the eastern end of the building, so the church may have been preparing for an event.
2)     St Martin in the Fields, Charing Cross

Believe it or not, I wandered in here after a visit to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

St Martin in the Fields – National Gallery : compare and contrast
The National Gallery get 10/10.  I had walked in from Trafalgar Square and approached the desk and was asked: "Can we help you, sir?"  I said I would like to see a few Canalettos and was told that they only had a few on show in Room 38 and would I like someone to take me there and read out the captions!   I was then guided to the bookshop, where I bought a couple of postcards and went to the cafĂ© and enjoyed a coffee and a cake.  The staff there clearly understood my needs; when I had asked for a capuccino (though it was after 11am!), the barista handed me a small polystyrene and a large polystyrene cup to illustrate both tactfully and in a tactile manner, the options available (that is disability awareness training - others take note please).

In contrast, St Martin in the Fields doesn’t get much.  I did get to listen to an organ being tuned (I don’t think it was a piece of modern music by Taverner or Macmillan!)  I did hear a discussion by two obviously eminent designer pedants concerning the ‘immovability’ of the font.  Bits of the church were chained off.  I was totally ignored, given that this church has produced the new Bishop of Salisbury and a much acclaimed outreach programme, it is a bit sad to wander in at about 2:30 pm and to get the same treatment as St James.   Maybe they thought I was homeless, sick, but could they see and did they care?  There was even a lectern blocking an aisle and I picked up a flyer which, when read to me having got home, was a flyer for a performance of the Mozart Requiem by candlelight! 
Obreption has asked me to outline some of my stories which are true and you might even be able to check them:

  • the eye clinic in a well-known hospital which has staff who point, stick up notices announcing a two hour delay without reading them out to patients who go to the eye clinic because they have sight problems (could the National Gallery please offer this major teaching hospital some visual disability awareness training) and have opthalmologists who couldn’t give a toss!  
  • a well-known blind charity who gave a presentation to a blind group in – yes, you guessed it! – POWERPOINT! 
  • a high-society blind charity fundraiser held in a well known city wine bar lit by candle-light.  I caught fire and felt like a cross between Guido Fawkes, Joan of Arc and Brunhilde in the Immolation Scene from Gotterdammarung (The Twilight of the Gods); these are very religious themes with interesting politics and subtext.
  • the university which provided a question on cassette as an alternative format in which the question began “Look at this picture and describe the following …” The university, however, was contrite and I do not wish to republicise this.
  • a very well-known supermarket with charitable pretensions, political connections and even a nascent role in the Big Society: I had been guided there by security to the Help Point and the security guard was told: “Sit him down there on the chair.”  Not only did I have to say 20 Hail Marys, 20 Calm Down Dears – but I still went ballistic.  The supermarket has phoned up twice–so far–and are reviewing the video of the event.  It might be shown on YouTube … tell me if you see it.
  • British Transport Police (two of them) when asked for directions, both grunted and pointed in opposite directions.  I could discern this by the fluorescent arm bands.  The location: London Bridge, near Southwark Cathedral!
You can see from these average encounters in the public sphere that not all is easy for the blind.  If you think the above are hilarious and funny, then I will laugh with you; and if you enjoy telling these stories in a nice way in a comedy sketch I will not object - though a donation to the RNIB Guide Dogs and a blind charity in your country would be a good idea.