Now you see it, now you don’t!

June 18, 2022 Trevor Plumbly

I remember when I first looked through a kaleidoscope; it was a magical thing that you pointed towards the light, rotated the end piece and all the shapes and colours exploded. I reckon my brain's going a bit like that.


I jab away at the keyboard but not much consistency or sense comes back from the text/speech replay. Proper writers call that a block, but I reckon it’s an unrecorded side effect of retinitis pigmentosa (RP). It’s quite demoralising really – I get a jolt of inspiration, thunder away, then listen to my efforts being reduced to the rubbish it probably was in the first place.


After an hour of that, I followed standard advice and took a break to analyse the problem. I decided it was due to dormant trauma from my youth that I now call 'Kaleidoscopic Thought Disorder' (KTD), which seems to have increased as my sight fades. Without visual assistance, the upper gears tend to slip every now and then, leaving flash thoughts to take over the main topic. However, mindful as I am of writing for a serious journal, I feel the bits that my ‘mental delete’ refused to process may be of academic interest.


Blind man’s bluff

Sight-wise, things aren't looking good (‘scuse the pun), so I decided to embark on an 'eyes-shut' course, to maintain the ‘I'm doing OK’ image. The first step was home mobility. I started with a slow shuffle, arms extended against doors, walls and such, but balance became a serious concern. Then, during a rest period, KTD hit me with Charles Blondin (1824-1897). This old boy crossed Niagara Falls heaps of times on a tightrope without taking a dive, so logic suggested if he could do that, I should be capable of making it to the loo from the armchair without injuring myself. I was doing okay till a surprise visit from the grandsons. No.1 said “Crikey! It’s the Ponsonby Zombie.” I didn't clearly catch No. 2's whisper but I'm fairly sure it included something like, “The old boy's finally flipped.” Once their version of the event circulated through the family, I felt that a less theatrical approach might draw a more appropriate response.


The best-laid plans…

Plan B was to 'trail' – simple but effective, at least in theory. KTD supplied images of old-time movie greats languidly trailing down staircases, fingers lightly caressing the banister, before landing without missing a beat. For a while I felt I was onto a winner. You place your hand on the nearest solid surface and trail, fingers doing the GPS thing, as well as solving the balance issue.



Elizabeth Taylor languidly trailing down staircases


But despite the benefits, the plan failed. For a start, retired antique dealers tend to hoard and there's usually little treasures dotted about on flat surfaces, which on contact morph into blindy landmines. The coup de grâce for that plan was the arrival of the painter. I bear him no ill will – he had a job to do – but it seemed to me he was quite determined to leave wet paint on all my 'trailing' walls. After what I believe they call a conversation, in the interest of harmony I opted for another rethink.


Functional furniture

From the security of the armchair, I developed Plan C. The 'shortest distance' rule was obviously not going to work, but if guests were present, the route to the loo needed to not attract undue attention – we all need to go at some point, but I didn't fancy making a spectator sport out of it. The scheme was brilliant in its simplicity, based on the 'ring road' concept of ‘why go through a problem when you can go around it?’ The sofa is one of those bulky leather jobs and once I made contact, I could use it as a sort of roundabout and trail along the back nonchalantly, perhaps pausing en route to chat and disguise my eventual destination. I'm happy to report that this continues to work well.


Being of sound mind and body?

To be honest, neither is exactly in showroom condition of late. Apart from the odd attack of KTD, the brain chuggs along reasonably well. Sight loss is of course a problem, but mainly mine. Coping with that is a personal thing; outside of writing this stuff I'm pretty reclusive – an old-school blindy, happily tootling round at the blunt end of the basic cane.


However, somewhat distressingly, I seem to have attracted attention from folk anxious to improve my outlook (sorry there I go again), including receiving a lot of 'scientific spam' recently. It’s well-intended, of course, but totally misdirected. I got one the other day about a bionic eye, one of which would be great for young blindies but I'm not sure about oldies. The things cost a few bob, plus there’s servicing, batteries and so on. Then KTD kicked in with the sillies: Can they be recycled? Will it be an open market? Could mine end up on Trade Me? (‘One elderly owner'). The constant intrusion's getting tiring, to the extent that I'll cancel blindy practice and take a nap.


Someone, Hemingway, I think, said, “I like sleep; it’s only when I'm awake that life gets complicated.” Wise words. I reckon the old boy might have had a touch of KTD too. Keep your kids away from kaleidoscopes – the novelty of visual distortions can seriously affect their thinking processes in their senior years.


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.