An eating disorder

April 22, 2024 Trevor Plumbly

In pre-Blindy days, life was pretty comfortable. I was a reasonably successful auctioneer and antique dealer in the family business in Dunedin, strolling towards retirement. The retinitis pigmentosa diagnosis of likely blindness changed things; suddenly, future plans and living arrangements needed closer attention. More than 20-odd years later, I'm now a fully 'paid up' Blindy, though, like most, not totally sightless.


It’s fair to say I've got a bit cranky in recent years. Age will do that, along with the threat of complete sight loss. Those beloved of verbal tinsel describe the process of increasing blindness as a 'journey'; it’s not a bad word, but it does infer a willing destination and tends to skate over the frustration and disappointments along the way.


During my 'trip' I've met a lot of folk associated with sight problems, some dedicated, some delightfully inspirational, others sadly entrenched in the concept that dealing with blindness is a serious business. Like most Brits raised in pre-PC times, I reckon poking fun can be healthy, even where disability is concerned.


Forking hell


An increase of mishaps involving stained clothing, along with the proven fallacy that 'I can manage', has forced me to accept that a change of diet is needed if I want to continue to eat in public. It isn’t the quality of the food or the presentation, it’s the mechanics of the thing. The stuff's perfectly OK left on the plate, but when I try to eat it, it seems reluctant to accept its final destination, preferring instead my shirtfront, lap or the tabletop. Being blind, I'm unable to visualise my colourful creations, but I doubt that my efforts to emulate Jackson Pollock on a white tablecloth adds to anyone's appetite or artistic appreciation.


My new diet required a degree of thought, with the food’s texture overruling its taste. I considered seeking advice from other Blindies about this, but who needs to share failure! My basic problem is that I like the wrong cuisine and unfortunately in my hands, basic cutlery doesn't stand a chance against pasta. Italian food is intensely conversational, which I find mildly depressing – while fellow diners twirl and stab, pausing to chat with the stuff halfway between plate and palate, I grub around my dish searching for something edible to safely transport. The odd slurp may be perfectly acceptable in polite circles, but I'm convinced that folk with low vision should not eat spaghetti in public.


Home is the haven for the messy eater, a place where anything that fits on a plate may be considered finger food. But some things have had to go. Among the most mourned is the lightly poached egg, the bastion of the British breakfast ritual before muesli became compulsory. The inability to accurately stab the yolk with a finger of toast underlined the seriousness of my sightloss. Meanwhile, deep bowls are replacing plates, knives represent accidental self-mutilation and I'm having flashbacks to wearing a plastic bib.


At present we are in the experimental phase and thus far fish and chips, soup and toast, pies and burgers have been approved, for consumable ease rather than health reasons. Rejected are steaks (too risky), noodles (too slippery) and pizza (burnt fingers). In striving to strike a balance between my junk-food addiction and my wife Pam's plan for me to live forever, I've cut down on the alcohol, increased the exercise, even started having fresh fruit for breakfast, but temptation is always there (thank God!), mostly in the form of fried-egg sandwiches. With a couple of those tucked away, who cares about the mess, longevity or even blindness?



Born in the UK, our ‘white-caner’ columnist, retired Dunedin antiques dealer Trevor Plumbly, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa more than 20 years ago and now lives in Auckland.