Whoopee, it’s party time! Some folks enjoy them, personally I don't! But it’s a giving time and one must make an effort. Having done so, I hope a few fellow white caners gain something from my recollections.
My aversion isn't an entirely Blindy thing, it’s as much an inability to engage in small talk. For me, the fun always seems too compulsory and those that I reckon would be the most interesting are usually buried in a crowd at the other end of the room. It’s a proven fact that interesting people don't need to mingle at parties. Conversely, mingling is a given for lesser personalities if they want to feel involved at social dos.
Party navigation for me is a bit of a no-no. Tapping away through a chattering mob, glass in hand, sloshing pinot tends to dampen the party spirit. The safest plan for wallflower Blindies is to get anchored in a corner. However, once there, you're at the mercy of the well-meaning lurkers (WML's). These aren't evil folk, they just seem to have some sort of social mission, and an elderly old Blindy in a corner must seem like a fair target to them. Such folk think I need attention at all times and it’s difficult to convince them otherwise.
Those close to me have long held the opinion that I'm anti-social. Personally, I prefer introspective but at this time of the year even elderly curmudgeons must make concessions and give ground. Years of discarded resolutions have taught me that it's best to aim low in defence matters. So, when it was decided by the majority that it would be good for me to get out and about, it didn't seem like such a big deal - a couple of glasses of red, some finger food, a quick season’s greetings all round and home in time for the eight o'clock news!
On the day of my 'coming out', I began to realise how ill prepared I was for compulsory jollity. Unlike the parties of my teens, these days it seems, it’s important to be seen as 'presentable' in the eyes of others. I couldn't see the logic of this and said so. ‘It’s a party for goodness sake!’ A slightly dishevelled old geezer adds diversity and I might get taken for an academic or something. Plus, since I wouldn't be able to see the result, it couldn't be that important. Pushing 80 I'm no Mick Jagger and tarting me up for public approval strikes me as a waste of effort. Nevertheless the pensioner-chic tracksuit pants got swapped for neatly pressed shorts and the old Polo shirt went in favour of a pinstripe job that hadn't seen the light of day for years. Once done, it was agreed I looked 'fine', whatever that means.
The choice of cane was left to me and quite rightly so, it’s a unique Blindy thing, not some sort of accessory to go with the get-up. I have two of them: no. 1 is an elongated walking stick that I use round the house for basic navigation and whacking innocent obstacles; no. 2 is your standard issue long cane model, best suited for crowd work; it’s a Blindy's ID badge and acts rather like a human broom, clearing the path ahead.
On arrival, my host had a brief fumble with the handshake and melted away, leaving his partner struggling with the logistics of how to offer canapes to a Blindy. She solved the problem by offering me directions in a voice that indicated I had a hearing problem as well. As part of my defence strategy, I made a few wide sweeps with the cane which convinced her it was safer for all to keep me seated and semi-isolated.
I was practising my introspective look when the first lurker struck. “Can I help you with anything?” she chirped. I was tempted to say ‘the toilet’, it’s a good card, but I didn't want to play it this early. She kicked off with the usual, "How much vision do you actually have?” and managed to include, "I just can't imagine what it’s like!”, before ending with the totally condescending, "I think you're amazing." Two more of her clones followed with roughly the same spiel leaving me convinced that WML's could do with a new scriptwriter, and even the eight o'clock news would be more stimulating. I've always felt that discussing sight loss casually is pretty much a dead-end street. It’s much better confined to professionals, at least that way you get a two-way conversation.
The party is over and I'm back in the armchair (mission control), nursing a single malt and contemplating the year ahead. I reckon it'll be a big year for science. I bet those guys come up with all sorts of nifty stuff for use down here once they've finished with Mars. For Blindies it’s looking pretty good: 'Access for all' is finally being taken seriously; R&D is on the up; they're making canes that can 'see', then bleep to warn us of obstacles; and other boffins are working out ways to bypass the optic nerves. Who knows what's next; the bionic eye? My armchair analysis suggests that it’s going to be a year of achievement and celebration. But, for those involved, if you are planning on throwing a party to celebrate, please don't invite me!
Born in the UK, our ‘white-caner’ columnist, retired Dunedin antiques dealer Trevor Plumbly, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa more than 15 years ago and now lives in Auckland.