Seeing things
Credit: Bernard Spragg

Seeing things

June 22, 2023 Trevor Plumbly

I've fallen into a bit of a rut lately, with recent developments on the visual front forcing a re-think about my grandson Sam's advice to take things more seriously. Up to this point I've never felt the urge to be an 'investigative' blindy; there's too much stuff out there and it keeps getting updated, so trying to process the bits that could benefit me alone seems like a never-ending journey. Remember the 'smart cane' and 'thinking specs’? Now I hear the med folk are doping mice to improve their vision. I'm sure that sort of stuff will lead somewhere but, like most things medical, the machinations of it leave me confused.


You may have noticed I'm not really of a scholarly bent. Bedsit life in North London aged 15 didn't leave much space for academic curiosity. But now, with the assistance of retinitis pigmentosa (RP), I'm given to occasional bouts of nosiness. During a reflective moment the other day, I was gazing somewhat pointlessly at a blank TV screen when I 'saw' a top hat – a black, shiny number that could only belong to someone of importance or worth a few bob. I settled back into the security of greyish-brown after it faded, only to get another visit a few days later – this time from a row of fairground clown heads with mouths agape and maniacally rolling eyes.


That’s no top hat; it’s a Bonnet

I decided these visions were best kept quiet for now. Not wishing to send the teenage font of knowledge on another flight of fancy, I opted for Occam’s razor – the simplest path must be the most likely. Ergo, the eyes had conked so the visions could only have come from the brain. That being the case, might it then be possible to edit things, delete the hats and clowns and tune into some good stuff? Closing my eyes tight (God knows why) I vacuumed my mind to allow room for selected images. Alas, much as I tried, 'Great Cricketing Moments' failed to materialise, as did the end scene from The Sound Of Music.


Over the next few weeks, I had a few more visits. The hat and the clowns disappeared, replaced by oddities like old-fashioned hand-written bank cheques and a neatly laid out mechanic’s tool kit. I quite liked the variety but found myself wishing the thing would conjure up something more practical, like winning Lotto numbers.


Despite the confusion, I began to feel special, almost chosen. But I reckon it’s always best to discuss stuff like this with insiders, since they've got this confidentiality thing that protects you from being pointed at in the street. So when the opportunity arose, I mentioned it to a professional. She let out what I took to be a knowing 'ha'. Not a ‘eureka!’ 'ha', more a 'this is an easy one' ‘ha’. She went on to say that I had Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS), which threw me for a bit. As a fully fledged blindy with years of RP behind me, surely I must be considered 'paid up' by now. So who the heck was Charles Bonnet and how come his syndrome is bouncing around in my attic?


Sensing my unease, she explained that the thing was relatively harmless and not uncommon. I was a bit deflated at having my uniqueness watered down, but on the bright side surely a syndrome was nicer to have than a disorder or complaint. RP's OK but it’s a bit boring, even if you've got it. Since few ‘sighties’ know about CBS, it has social value – sharing the experience could herald my rebirth as a celebrity blindy.



Despite academics rarely doing celebrity well, I did a bit of reading and discovered that Charles' grandfather was the first recorded case, when it was considered a mental disorder. Given Sam's questioning nature I decided not to dwell on that one. Besides, to gain recognition at street level, so to speak, I would need to draw from personal experience rather than historic speculation. Patterns and lights were the most common 'sights' and certainly there was a normality attached to them, but compared to top hats and clown heads, they're hardly topical bombshells. Google rubbed it in further by claiming I didn't even have visions anymore – I had 'episodic hallucinations'. That confirmed my belief that attempting to read beyond an overly fertile imagination generally leads nowhere – Google was chucking stuff at me I couldn't spell, let alone cope with.


Despite the work I've put into it, I've decided learned comment isn't really me. The dreams of voicing chatty little podcasts like An Evening with Trevor and CBS or Reflections on RP have faded along with CBS's episodic hallucinations. And it’s obvious I'm not optical-guru material, either. I was a reasonably contented blindy before the teenage inquisitor started rummaging around and I'm determined to get back there. Re-learning how to take serious stuff less seriously is the only way to go from now on.




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.