May 2008

Latest News May 2008

Picture of Cathy leaning against a large stone pillar. She is wearing a white dress.


It is a funny thing sound.

As I sit here typing this entry it is all around me as it is with you.

If you pause for a moment, close you eyes and listen for a couple of minutes.

What do you hear?

When you open your eyes scroll down.
















Your list of things will, obviously, be different than mine but I hope you will understand the mass of information available to you by simply ‘listening’.

In some ways what you have just done for a few minutes is what I do all the time.

From my own point of view:

Picture of Cathy using her mobile phone with speech facility

Cathy using a speech enabled mobile phone.

I can hear the sound of my fingers on the keyboard, the hum of the computer beneath my legs, the small creak of the chair as I move looking for words to explain. At the same time I can hear Biscuit moving in her bed downstairs in the hall. I instantly know she has turned around in her bed and has settled with her back against the cupboard door. This makes a distinctive sound as her weight settles against it.

In the kitchen I hear the back door open and close, the click of the kettle being turned on, the rattle of two cups clinking together as they are taken out of the cupboard and then the cupboard door closes. Then follows the opening of coffee containers and the clink of spoons rattling in the stirring of drinks. I hear a pencil hit the floor and it being placed back on the work surface. I can see the events in my head.

Footsteps up the stairs tell me where he is by the creak of certain steps, the crossing of the landing causing further, and very different, creaks before the room where I sit welcomes a visitor with refreshments. The cup is placed on my left and I can orientate where it is by the sound of it landing. I reach for it slowly and find the handle. I sit back and ponder on sound and what it all means.

I must admit I don’t really think very much about sound. To me it just is.

But what has sparked this entry is a question which came to me about whether blind people have some form of ‘super’ hearing. Bernard has often commented on my ability to know what he is doing without words or sight telling me. We have talked about my ability to know his mood, frustrations and general ‘status’ without being able to see them and judge with my sight. This is all available to me through sound and the, sometimes, subtle messages it conveys to me.

In many ways the theme of this entry follows the common question many people ask when they feel they are comfortable enough to be able to delve into ‘what it means to be blind’?

It refers to a question which often occurs about what happens when you lose one sense? It goes through to the natural follow up question concerning the extent to which other senses are heightened to compensate for the loss?

Myself and Bernard have discussed this question a lot.

It was first sparked by his naturally curious nature about my sense of the world and how I extract meaning from it. We pondered endlessly about some form of definitive explanation or description of what I do in terms of understanding through sound. In the end I think we agreed on the fact that;

It’s not that blind people develop some form of ‘super hearing’ or bat-like radar (!)

What really happens is that blind people rapidly extract meaning from sounds to give them understanding. The same sounds are available to everybody who is reading this entry.

The difference is that, to me, all sounds have meaning. If you are sighted you do not need to decode the sound (usually) as you rely on your sight and this gives you a rapid ‘fix’ on events.

Much like any other extensively practiced skill you inevitably become better at listening and understanding the meaning of sounds. Bernard has commented on his own understanding of sound in the time we have worked together.

It is true that he can be in another room and he will now know what I am doing from the ‘sounds’ coming from the house. He has learned to ‘tune into’ them and he listens differently nowadays than in the past. His hearing has become more focused and he is much more ‘aware’ of the meaning of sound.

Such as it is with sound and being blind. You merely become more ‘aware’ of the sounds going on around you. It is not that I have better hearing, it is that I am better (usually) at rapidly extracting meaning and understanding from what I hear.

This is why for example, when I am in noisy environments, it can be very disorientating for a blind person as it leaves the person (often) unable to extract meaning from sound when there is a roaring wall of it.

Other events this month.

Picture of Bernard's sister Paula and brother-in-law Frank on their wedding day.

Bernard's sister Paula and her husband Frank.

I had a fantastic time in Ireland recently where I went to the wedding of Bernard’s sister Paula. Both she and her (now) husband Frank were very kind in all matters and the wedding itself was very beautiful. The weather was good and absolutely everything went off without a hitch.

Biscuit was decked out in flowers on her harness for the occasion (as befitted a young lady) and she looked as shiny as any guide doggie in the world. As always she behaved impeccably though-out the ceremony (curled up asleep under the pew). The flight over for her had been unusually stressful as the seats were by the the engine and the noise badly unsettled her; she shivered and shook all through the (mercifully) short flight.

Normally as a blind passenger I am seated at the front of the plane but somebody made an error in the booking arrangements. We never realised the engine would cause Biscuit so much distress but now we know for future reference! Thankfully there are no lasting problems with her travelling by plane as she came home as good as ever (in our ‘normal’ seats at the front).

picture of cathy crossing a rope bridge at Go Ape

Cathy at Go Ape

I returned from Ireland to launch myself of various platforms at Delamere forest the Go Ape centre. Thumping my chest like a ‘Jane of the Jungle’ I gave Bernard various heart attacks as we went around the five section course. I even got Bernard to give a big girlie cry as he went off the long zip wire at the end. Being a male he didn’t want to but I convinced him to give me a girlie scream just to¬†keep me happy. It was a rather pathetic whimper he gave as he slipped off the platform rather than a full-throated scream; at least I heard something from him as he disappeared into the distance although I did think I heard something muttered about “women”.

In Touch Programme

It’s really interesting how the BBC Radio four In Touch programme for blind and partially sighted people has, this week, focused on the Chinese radio programme for blind and partially sighted people in China.

We talked about this a long time ago on this site (select here to go to page and then select China). It was our hope to be able to meet up with the programme makers. If you have been reading our updates then you may know this was to no avail. Both David Miliband and Tessa Jowell were unable to assist in our gaining entry to visit the Paralympics and the Chinese authorities do not allow independent road travel without chaperones. The chaperones full costs have to be born by the ‘user’ (petrol for their car which would lead us constantly, accommodation, food, time etc.). Thus we changed the route. Such is life.

We are really disappointed we could not visit China but often it’s not what you know but rather whom which enables things to happen!

The Bike Update (by Bernard)

Sometimes I feel bikes have been put on this earth to frustrate me. It’s getting personal. Nowhere is this more true than with the shifting of a stubborn bolt! My heart is in my mouth as I loosen bolts creaking with age and massive over-tightening in some distant previous life under the heavy hands of a previous owner. I’m sure Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor didn’t have to stress as much as me otherwise they’d probably end up looking like me!

My hands are sore with chunks taken out of the skin. Fingers ache and let us not talk about my knees which have definitely seen better days. After days and days on them beside the bike it has reminded – severely – of my rapidly approaching old age! What I wouldn’t give for a decent set of knees (and a few other bits as well).

I suppose it all goes with the territory of working on an 18 year old bike.

In my darker stress-filled days (which happen a lot lately) I wish it was shiny new and immaculate. A sensible (or richer) person would take some purposely kitted out bike. Then, lovingly, they would hand it over to a factory trained mechanic who would refurbish and work on every part to perfection. What I wouldn’t give for a handy Automobile Association or RAC person to be on call when I have a mechanical problem. In my fantasy world a factory somewhere would give me a phone number to call when the bike decides it has had enough. In this walled building would be a fantastically trained mechanic who would patiently talk me through solutions to our on-the-road- mechanical woes.

Me? I buy two workshop manuals and tins of WD40.

It has got to the point where I should just dip the whole bike in a bath of the stuff and leave it to loosen everything all in one go. It would certainly save a lot of time! But I soldier on with copious amounts of coffee and nicotine.

One bolt (in the exhaust system) snapped off and hours later I was still trying to get it out!

“It’s only a five minute job, I’ll be finished soon” was heard every now and then from the garage. Needless to say, it took far, far, far longer than five minutes.

Ahhh well, onwards and upwards as I always say.

Gaskets have been changed in every conceivable place where problems may occur. Old gaskets are carefully removed and the surfaces cleaned and polished before new gaskets installed.

Some parts are now so clean you could eat your dinner off them. Take for example the sump (pictured on the right). Accumulated muck was vigorously attacked until it gleamed and you could have your curry and rice in it now. While this is true, it’s not that I am a bike polisher (I am truly not). I prefer to ride bikes rather than polish them.

I operate from the principle of patiently (sometimes) cleaning everything so all of the oil tight aspects are gleaming andclean. It will enable me to spot any potential problems early – I hope!


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