Mooning over my Dog!

Tanvir Naomi Bush Uncategorized 7 Comments

Dear All, photo: ‘Solstice Dog 2010’ (c) T Bush 2010

Grace is three today! A winter solstice dog and especially for her an eclipse! a moon eclipse. There was a total eclipse of the sun on my 30th birthday on the summer solstice a few (okay..more than a ‘few’) years ago….freaky huh? Anyway she doth love the snow and eats as much of it as she can reach but working in it is not possible as there are now no defined kerbs and everything smells different and a dog just can’t concentrate dammit!

So we are safely holed up in Radsock for the Xmas week and want to wish you all a warm and loving time of it. Sending love to my cousin who goes into surgery tomorrow, to all my family and friends dotted around the world and to all the wonderful people who check in on me from time to time on this ‘ere blog. It has been a pleasure writing for you this year!

Keeping this short as I am sure you are all busy mixing cocktails and trying to work out cooking times per kilo for the turkey you have weighed in pounds. More soon but now there is the season finale of CSI: Miami to watch (research you know….purely research..cough cough..)

Much much love and be careful out there,

Tanvi and Grace.

Tripping

Tanvir Naomi Bush Uncategorized 14 Comments

The woman is blocking my path, thrusting the wheelchair at my legs.
‘I don’t need a wheel chair,’ I tell her for the second time. ‘I am visually impaired but there is nothing wrong with my legs.’
She is having none of it however. Here in Philadelphia airport the disabled Are Assisted In A Wheelchair, dammit!
‘It will be faster,’ she says. . She is pretty solid and behind her is a rattled looking security guard. Behind me the passengers are getting restless I submit..and here’s the rub. It IS a lot faster. Barbi for that is the wheelchair pimping woman’s name, puffs along at the speed of sound whisking me through customs, baggage reclaim and back into the departures. Everyone is terribly nice, talking to Barbi over my head as if I am a well behaved child. I get a ‘well done’ when I hand over my passport. I wonder if I should drool in gratitude. Barbi, in spite of my protestations and constant pointing at my fully functioning legs, transfers me into the back of a peeping electric cart driven by another hugely fat woman who does not look as if she would be capable of walking herself.
I am taken all the way to my gate and off loaded. The seat is uncomfortable and dirty and there is an hour until we board. I ‘undisable’ myself. I will not remain in my prescribed seat. I will not be good. I stalk off back down the shiny corridor passing the fat lady in the electric cart.
‘Are you alright?’ she yells confused as to where I might, cane a-swishing, be heading.
‘I am going to find a bar.’ I yell back over the peeping. ‘I might actually NEED you to pick me up after the amount of Bloody Marys I shall be imbibing.’
‘Oh my Lord!’ wails the woman as I grin wickedly and narrowly avoid walking into someone’ luggage.

I spend two days in New York holed up with my cousin and her two small children in their apartment in Manhattan. My cousin is in agony. Problems in her spine are causing nerve compression and the pain is truly excruciating. Nonetheless she is still having to run a busy nursery and kindergarten, look after her two small kids and generally ‘cope’ with life in the Big Apple until her surgery. She is now on extremely high doses of pain medication and has been advised to keep nipping at the vodka (the last remaining weapon against nerve pain) until her surgery

The vodka-nipping bodes well for me of course but I soon realise that even I, with my Lusaka trained liver, can’t keep up with the constant martinis and still manage to keep fully focused on the small ones. On day two, we head to Philadelphia to my cousin’s folks for help and thanks giving.
These are the smalls.
They look cute don’t they? Adorable in fact. Do NOT be fooled. The little one on the left can go from Zen Master to Monster in under 10 seconds. In Philly they go from riotously sweet to..well …..just plain riotous and at one point the lad, Ben, sets off the burglar alarm which triggers a phone call from the police. In an effort to make them calm their rampaging it is decided to try and string out the police situation.
‘Oh now look what you’ve done.’ shouts his mother. ‘The police are on their way! Now you will have to go to jail.’
‘Its not jail, Mummy, its ‘juvie,’ Ben corrects her.
‘I won’t let them take you!’ Zen Monster shrikes turning into a tiny Bonnie (of Clyde fame). ‘I won’t let them take you alone! Quick lets go and hide!’
This is rapidly getting out of hand and their granddad stomping downstairs, ringing the door and pretending to be a policeman only adds to the hysteria. They hole up upstairs, barricading doors, recruiting mercenary teddies and making catapaults out of pacifiers……
We all reach for the vodka..
Later, amongst other outings, we take the kids to a Chuck E Cheese restaurant for a treat. For those of you who may not heard of a Chuck Eeeeagh Cheese it is a pizza serving amusement arcade. Little children are given tokens and set free within. Our hands are stamped on entry so that we can’t try and sneak off without taking our children (and vice versa). It sounds like it should be sweet but the whole place smells funny; of anxious sweat and old nappies and the kids, loaded up on coke, run from game to game without pausing to put down their pizza.
My poor cuz, recently back from an MRI scan at the hospital, sits opposite me in the far booth, watching her son licking the mirrors on the merry-go-round..
‘You know Chuck E Cheese is a rat?’ she muses.
A rat running a children’s restaurant. Indeed, at one point a thin person in a large rat mask and hairy gloves comes out of a hole in the wall and dances with the exhausted staff before throwing hundreds of prize tickets into the terrifying crowd of seething sugared up children and scampering away.
(c) Ben Edlizt
Luckily it isn’t all Chuck E Cheese. We escape in the evenings and there is sushi and cheese fries, delicious Cobb salads and the boil in a bag turkey and pie at Thanksgiving. All in all it is a manic but wonderful week. I love my cousins. They are all so smart and funny and so full of love for each other. They are exceptionally generous and gentle too. And the smalls, when good, are very very good. . The Zen Master is a marvellous cuddler and Ben gives me this work of art before I go. (I suspect it is a portrait of me after spending an hour at Chuck, E. Cheese)
(pic: Suzie and Irv in Philadelphia (c) T. Bush)
I arrive back in England to my icy flat and no dog and for a moment the heavy cold silence weighs me down. I even consider putting on the children’s channel and watching SpongeBob Square Pants all night…but then I remember Chuck E Cheese ….and I breathe a guilty sigh of relief…

Hedging Bets

Tanvir Naomi Bush Uncategorized 7 Comments

‘Well, YOU’RE obviously not blind,’ grins the woman at the end of the bench. We are at the vet and Grace is still in her harness. I am not sure quite how to respond. It always surprises me how the assumption on seeing a person whose eyes are apparently undamaged, who is without a helper and who isn’t actually feeling their way along a wall is that the person albeit with cane or guide dog, is fully sighted

‘Actually I am..well not blind.. but visually impaired.’

I am staring right at her which is always a mistake. I should really roll my eyes wildly in my head; stumble up to her and run my fingers over her face. At least a small eye twitch…but I haven’t the time to ‘do blind’. I have nice make up on. I did my own mascara. If I twitch I’ll smear it.

She looks doubtful ‘Oh, really?,’ (This must be in case I am not sure.) ‘I thought you were training the dog.’
I do my required two minute spiel about tunnel vision and she nods enthusiastically, all green-wellied lady of the manor politeness. Slones are not an endangered species in Cambridge. She has come in to see if the hedgehog she rescued yesterday has recovered. It had seemed a little ‘off’ which is the polite word for ‘run over’. The elderly receptionist assures her it has been doing fine
‘I’ll just pop into the back to check…but I sure you can take it home.’ The woman apparently releases homeless hedgehogs in her expansive garden.
‘I have plenty of room,’ she snorts happily.

The receptionist comes back rubbing her hands, embarrassed. ‘ Err…would you believe it..the poor thing has expired.’

Expired? I think, imagining a tiny bar code and sell by date on the little hog’s tummy. At that moment the vet comes through looking his usual dishevelled stern Germanic self.
‘Her hedgehog’s dead,’ says the receptionist a little desperately.

‘Ah.’ The vet blinks Prussian-Blue eyes from behind his glasses. ‘We must do better next time.’

Mum and John arrive from a brief jaunt to New York. John had just run the New York marathon and bested his previous time, which considering he had only just started training when I saw them in France a couple of months ago is remarkable. All hail!

I once made the mistake of asking him about sports shoes. ‘I can’t remember if I over-pronate or ..you know the other…but what running shoes on the market would you recommend? Structured insoles? How about resprung layering with sweat resistant technology..?’ I had wittered in my best athletic sounding jargon. He had raised a baffled eyebrow. Turns out he wears ‘trainers’, the older, the more used to his feet, the better.

Between them (Mum and John, not the trainers) they still, in spite of marathons jet lag and lugging of baggage, have more energy than Ritalin-deprived, 10 year olds on Tango and spangles. They pile out into my garden chopping, sawing, weeding, mowing and generally saving its life. They rearrange my furniture, put lights up, clean the loo. Although Grace and I can only hunker down under a table and watch all this, I am very, very grateful. The lights in the kitchen make a world of difference. I might actually try reading a recipe book for once I say dancing around. I might even stop eating out of the saucepan and put things on a plate now I can see what they are. Grace inspects the garden and is surprised to see that her dog run is still there, now that the nettles and bind weed have been cleared. She is even more excited to find she can, when no one is watching, now sneak all the way around it and poo secretly in the grass around the back. Image: Grace (c) T. Bush 10


The week ends with my boiler going on the blink but more importantly with the release of the wonderful Aung San Suu Kyi. Nervous joy greets her, everyone glancing over their shoulders for the guns. What has the regime got in store next you can almost hear them thinking. Why now? Is it real? Safe?

We wait and see.

Death in waves.

Tanvir Naomi Bush Uncategorized 6 Comments

Well I finally handed in my MA manuscript last week. It was a huge relief especially as last week had been a terrible mess. The cold I mentioned in my last blog had grown worse and worse until I was finding it hard to stay out of bed for more than an hour at a time….the hour being just enough to get to the shop or to stumble down to the riverside so that at least Grace could bound about in the glorious autumn sunshine. Mostly I shivered and coughed, eyes and nose streaming, trying to proof read and edit…I lie. Mostly I slept and my dreams were crazy and sad.

I dream I am a little girl in a hut near the sea. A man comes in and wakes us all, tells us to come outside quickly. I am small and having to carrying a basket and the sand is hard to walk on. It is very early in the morning but warm although it is oddly still, no wind, grey light reflecting from the white sand. I hold on to the back of my mother who is bent over, gripping, along with the rest of my family, to an outcrop of seaweedy rocks. Behind us a wave is coming, hundreds of feet high and although I can’t hear it , I hold my breath like one does when about to go underwater, waiting for the monstrous silent wave to come smashing down ….but there is no crash. I open my eyes..peek…
..and then I am a teenage boy in a makeshift hospital. I see my brother. Across is my father, an Indian-looking man with bandages on his legs. He is saying, smiling and crying at the same time, ..’It took all the women…but it left me my sons..

(I thought it was just a fever dream. A few days later, in the news, I hear about the tsunami in Sumatra. I wonder about that still… )

Then, on the Wednesday night my sister calls to say that Mark has died. Mark J was my friend, the older brother of a childhood buddy in Zambia. He was a lovely, handsome, gentle farming (he didn’t farm ‘genltes’..I mean he WAS gentle..and he farmed too..) man who spoke fluent chiNyanja and was a serious fundi of all things ‘Zambian bush.’ He played guitar, drank whiskey, loved to jitterbug (and had once pulled me, back then a rather stodgy teenager, onto the dancefloor and thrown me skywards and spun me around until I was dizzy and besotted.)
A few weeks ago he went to collect wages for his farm workers and a gang held them up and robbed them, shooting, for no apparent reason, Mark directly in the head and chest. And even then..and even then ..he clung on for six weeks undergoing extreme operations in a hospital in SA but his injuries were too much.
Violent death makes bloody rents in the world. People stagger listlessly, confused by the news, unable to know what to say to each other, to the close families left behind, the parents, the children, the partners. Those rents don’t heal like tears from other deaths. They go on bleeding for a long, long time. They make us feel shabby with helplessness, angry and weary.
Edani Bwino mzanga, wrote his frind Miranda. Travel well. She posts a photo of Mark on Facebook. He is smiling hugely, all blond hair and teeth, the afternoon sun golden on his face and the big blue sky fading to evening behind him.
But there is good news too at last. Two friends have bouncing baby boys, an Oscar and a Josef! And also, on Thursday, in a different hospital in SA, my Dad is given the thumbs up and a 99% all clear after a follow up check on his stem cell treatment. He flies back to Lusaka immensely relieved. He’ll have to go back again in three months but for the moment it is all realy pretty damn wonderful. As promised I have a rather dodgy photo of his rather dodgy bonce. His hair truly is growing in a Mohican on top and all curling backwards on the sides… pics don’t quite do it justice! Its hysterical!
I decide to send Dad a photo of Grace and I cheering him on. I go to C, my 90 year old buddy and show her the ‘countdown and click’ technique that can help visually impaired people take pictures of moving objects. She takes several great shots including this one of Grace and I leaping around in her garden in the glorious afternoon sun. Life is so precarious and precious isn’t it?

Overcast

Tanvir Naomi Bush Uncategorized 2 Comments

Oh hell! I said I would post at the end of the week…LAST week! I am very sorry. I have STILL been faffing around with my MA manuscript. Had another deadline on Friday and now have another two week extension!!
Don’t get me wrong. I am VERY grateful for the extra few days especially for help with the proofing. It’s just that the pressure has been full on for quite some time now and I am a little grouchy with it all. I try to be working by 7am and then with odd breaks for naps, gym, (note photo of me looking like Eastern European wrestler and the hell hound) feeding, walking dog, am basically just glued to a smoking computer all day every day. Sometimes I will sit for hours with nothing happening. Each sentence feeling like Velcro being ripped out of my hair and although I love writing this book some of it is tough. Bad things happen. Death runs over the pages

Thank god for the internet! I can sneak off to read the papers, check email and rifle through other people’s days on facebook. I love face book. Right now on my home page there are a series of photos from a friend who found a huge snake in his shower. We are all waiting – him rather anxiously I should imagine, for someone to identify it. Looked venomous to me. Another pal is just back from a poetry slam in Midlands. Someone else offering a house sit in a chateau in France. My brother has a cold and is back from Amsterdam. My mum and sister pickling and jam-making. Another friend moans about Zambian women and their addiction to Sugar Daddies. Someone telling the world they love their mother. Music. Ridiculous short videos. Blogs and events and more. When you are stuck in a room for days at a time other peoples’ lives are so very fascinating!

I have been warned about privacy. Someone could sneak in and steal my identity. Gawd imagine the poor sod.
‘heh heh heh.. I’m in. I’m her. Quick into the bank account…eh? For heaven’s sake! It’s empty. This is ridicu…ow! F+++! I just walked into a tree! And what the hell just happened to my love life? I have been on less dates then a piece of old chewing gum stuck under a desk circ 1989. And exactly HOW bad am I at maths…? Eeesshhhhh….didn’t see that bike. That really hurt. Well I guess at least I get a gorgeous dog. Hang on…why does everything smell of fox poo…?’
Etc.
So good luck to ‘em. (and yes I DO know that isn’t exactly how it happens.)
They would also have to contend with situations like last night. After a long and rather fraught journey from Bath (I had a cold, Grace had wind and the train carriage was over heated and VERY crowded. Not a good mix!) we arrived in a torrential icy downpour. By the time we had got to the barriers at Cambridge stations everyone was soaked. The queue for the taxis was horrific and I know from experience that without a copper around to help me enforce my human rights, not one of the taxis was going to take a wet dog anyway, so Grace and I had no choice but to hoof it. And it rained and it rained. By the time we got home I couldn’t get my keys out of my handbag because my hands were frozen and even Grace’s tail was slightly less waggy.
This was the face I was wearing by the time we got into the warmth…. scary hey?!
Needless to say the cold was worse this morning and both Grace and I have spent the day indoors wrapped in several layers and mostly horizontal. Better now though. Nothing like a duvet day!

On the Dad front: he has been doing really well but his knees are giving him a bit of jip and he has to go back to SA in a few days to double check on everything. The most marvellous thing has happened to his hair though…it was so excited to be growing back it seems to have set out in three different directions. Up on either side and all along the top. It is a mixture of ‘Last of the Mohicans’ and Elvis. I will try and get a photo. Right. Enough from me. I am not going to have a break and watch bad TV and get an early night. Or watch good TV and have a late night. Or combinations there of. More soon.
T x

Grovelling abject apologies!

Tanvir Naomi Bush Uncategorized 2 Comments

Apologies…I am alive and well but struggling with MA dissertation deadlines. Thank you everyone who read and commented on my last post! Such a pleasure to get such powerful feedback.
Much to tell you…only right now I have to pull a novel out of my …. head and so am being more than a little hopeless. Will post properly later this week.
Tanvir

Holey Vision: The Grumpy Girl’s Guide To Surviving Sight Loss

Tanvir Naomi Bush Uncategorized 16 Comments

This speech was given on Saturday 17th September 2010 to the National Talking Newpapers Convention in Peterborough.
Good evening! First a disclaimer: this post supper instructional talk will include flashing images – for me that is not for you…also a little blurring and distortion. There will be strong langugue and it will certainly contain nuts.
Also please note that all opinions expressed are those of the author. Other visually impaired or blind experiences may vary.
To be frank I was initially a little bamboozled about what to speak to you about this evening. After all you ‘read’ the newpapers so you are already going to be pretty au fait with current affairs and am sure will know more than I about any events, remarkable breakthroughs or such in the visual impairment charity sector.
So I thought I would fall back on what I know best. To talk about what it like to find oneself visually impaired; how one is forced to adjust and reinterpret the world. Hence my title:
Holey vision: the grumpy girl’s guide to surviving sight loss.
I have – just in case this gets picked up by Women’s’ Weekly or Cosmopolitan broken it down into five top tips.
The first top tip in surviving sight loss is obviously
1) Don’t bloody lose it in the first place.
It is not just that sight is very useful for getting around the sales in Primark or finding a gap in the crowd at the bar at last orders ( in fact finding the bar) it is that ‘blindness’ is one of the great taboos of disability. ‘Eyes are the windows of the soul’ after all. We are suspicious of people who hide their eyes, shade them in sunglasses or won’t look us in the face. In some cultures eye contact is so powerful it is deemed dangerous and extremely rude to stare at one’s elders or ‘betters’. Most of us feel understandably that eye contact is an essential part of communication. To lose it, or to have one’s eyes disfigured in some way by disease is almost like being ‘branded’ as different….
And then think of all the connotations of blindness in terms of langugue, mostly negative; blind rage, blind fear, blind ignorance, blind faith. In mythology blindness is often associated with in-sight or physic ability, Tireseas, the Fates. More recently with supernatural hearing ability like the comic figure Daredevil, or extra sensory awareness like Geordie le Forge in Star Trek.
But mostly let’s admit it, it is associated with vulnerability, weakness and of course, absolute dependency. To be blinded is to be somehow punished, foreshortened, diminished. You ‘weaken the pack’, become a burden and still in many cultures including this one, are relegated to the bench of life, no longer a player, no longer expected an active part. . When given a diagnosis of a degenerative eye disease, it is not just the fear of losing one’s vision that cripples. It is the fear of losing one’s identity.
I was 21 when I was told I had a disease I still can’t spell, retinitis pigmentosa. After several rather gruelling tests the ophthalmologist patted my knee and said ‘Good luck. You have five to fifteen years of sight left..possibly.’
That was it. He couldn’t tell me how it would happen, how it would feel, he didn’t warn me of all the possible side effects, the other conditions that sneak up when your eyes become weakened. I, like many people in this situation, was left to find things out for myself.
Now the thing about RP, is that it is genetic and if the docs can’t find any family history, you are labelled a ‘mutant’…gosh mutant! See how immediately sexy disability can be? Anyway as a mutant everyone’s prognosis differs. Some people lose sight quickly. Others in short dramatic bursts with long periods in-between. Some people only lose a certain amount and then ‘stick’ like in a poker game. But because you haven’t got a clue as to how your eyes are going to change and all you can hear s that word ‘blindness’ gonging in your ears like the knell of doom you naturally panic. And you insist that everyone around you panics also. The panic may continue for years and it’s at this stage you will lose many friends and even the support and understanding of some family.
I was diagnosed in 1993 and my progression was thankfully very slow. It wasn’t until 2004 that I was actually registered blind. And, in fact, until recently I also worked with a foot in both camps – sighted and non-sighted partly because I can cope, get around, bluff it in good light (although I am totally night-blind). I used to cause great confusion when I was still working as a documentary film maker in Zambia in the early 2000s by driving my crew around through the day and then turning up at restaurants and bars in the evening staggering out of a taxi with a signal cane. I once was accused of witchcraft..but that was after several beers and no one was seeing straight by then anyway.
If you can imagine you have an empty loo roll in your hand. If you squash it a little and then hold it over your eyes it leaves about 10 degrees of sight in the centre which is about my current amount. The eyes are photosensitive (which means I am blinded by sunlight and bright florescent and low-light/night-blind) and I am losing colour vision. My peripheral vision is gone –whited out in places and in other bits – where the incredible brain-eye magic happens – some of the world doesn’t exist at all. My eye insists there is nothing there.
This can lead to remarkable brief splurges of hallucination as my brain tries to make sense of what the eye is saying is empty space. The brain says to the eye ‘yeah..I see what you are saying..but there IS something there because it doesn’t make sense otherwise.’ And the brain fills in the gaps. With anything it can. I have seen polar bears shopping in supermarkets; often see people pressed up against the windows of their cars only to find the car empty when I get close. Cats…for some reason visually impaired people see lots of cats!
This is not unusual and different sight loss conditions can cause different hallucinations. Interestingly there is a condition called Charles Bonnet Syndrome which is usually associated with macular degeneration. Studies have shown that sufferers often experience almost identical hallucinations sometimes so brain splittingly realistic that they cannot go on with their daily lives. Often patterns or landscapes and creepily on occasion small children dressed in Victorian clothing. I kid you not! When I asked an ophthalmologist if Victorian children were seen by MD suffers from other cultures i.e. Africa he couldn’t tell me.
There is a great novel in there somewhere!
But as I mentioned it is rare for GPs or ophthalmologists to give you the heads up on this. Potential side effects of distorted vision are almost never discussed with patients and Ii have met several people who thought they were losing their marbles and were too scared to even approach their GP.
Which, talking of ophthalmologists, GPs and the like leads me to my second top tip.
2. Learn a martial art.
– because you are going to need it! It doesn’t matter how elderly or frail you may be– if you are beginning to lose your vision you are going to need to learn kickboxing or at the very least how to handle a taser. Because, as soon as you start needing a cane or a guide to get around, you are going to become a non-person to some people, invisible to some people, pitiful and actually a little frightening to others. Yes I said it. Sighted people are often afraid of blind people. It goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning- how blindness is somehow a thing of nightmares. The Day of the Triffids stuff! Endless darkness…..cue Twilight Zone music.
To counter their fear many sighted people- and I KNOW this because I WAS one- use the ‘does he take sugar ‘ approach when dealing with someone with a cane, guide or guide dog. They feel it’s ok to stare, to discuss the person loudly with colleagues, to talk over their heads. Once, whilst in dark glasses and with long cane, I was waiting to get on a train in London when a complete stranger, without a word, came up behind me, picked me up and dumped me unceremoniously in the carriage. Like a suitcase!
Either way, when this happens a quick upper cut or blast from a taser seems to work wonders. I would advise the same technique when negotiating crowds or trying to get attention in Addenbrookes Eye Hospital
I have actually invented a cane sword stick but I’m not allowed to manufacture it. Sigh.
Top tip 3: Remember that by becoming VI you see better than anyone!
This is perfectly true. It is the strangest thing yet most OBVIOUS thing– a visually impaired person starts developing skills of balance and manoeuvrability immediately. The slower the sight degenerates the more time one has to perfect these skills. All VI people use their remaining sight to the absolute utmost. ALL and I repeat ALL VI people are the MOST visual people you will ever meet. We have to be. Our lives depend on how we use our remaining vision! Think about it. If I just nip out to the shop in the evening I have to negotiate darkness, (remember- night blind), busy roads, aggressive car parking fiends, holes in pavements, black bins on pavements, drunks on pavements, low branches and more. In the shop there is florescent light blinding, crowds, small children on heelies, blurred aisles and then the check out. The sighted person just goes to the shop. Visually Impaired people go on a tour of duty.
Sighted people have forgotten how to see. To really SEE the world around them. You don’t watch anymore and I mean watch using your eyes and your ears and the hairs on the back of your hands, the back of your neck. To sense a vehicle through your trouser cuffs …! To feel someone coming towards you by the way the air bends around your cheek. .
Over the last few years I have taken up photography and have never had more fun than when teaching blind and VI people how to take photographs. How can we? they ask crossing their arms in an aggressive manner. We can’t bloody see.
But photography is not about a beautiful composition; it is about caught memories and snatched emotions.
A blind woman on a beach holds a new camera she has just been shown how to use. She asks a sighted professional photographer standing next to her what she should take a picture of. The sighted photographer says err..well what do you want to take a photo of..thinking the woman might say ‘the waves’ or ‘the sea’ but the woman says she would like to capture the way the sand grinds when the waves roll over it and the feeling of the seagull she can hear as it calls and its wings flap past and the sensation of the sun she can feel on her face and the energy of the leaping child with the dog she can hear and the sound echoing from the sea to the sand dunes…
And the woman photographer stops her and says you know..I have never really looked before.
That’s a true story folks!
After telling the VI/blind students this stuff and after guiding them around a camera, showing them how to use their bodies as tripods, their ears for focus the VI and blind photographers start experimenting. Taking photos of their families for the first time, of holidays and friends. They post pictures on facebook. They make cards and posters. They start experimenting they make art! It takes only a couple of lessons for someone who has never touched a camera before – who has been excluded from the visual world because of the assumption they won’t understand it – to engage again in ways more highly creative and inspiring and unusual than most sighted people.. It’s exciting stuff.
Ok I see time is ticking on and so I shall squeeze my last two top tips together.
No 4. If you are going to lose your sight…Lose the Guilt!
When I had to stop driving I wept. When it became too dangerous for me to even ride a bike safely in the street (and I live in Cambridge man..that’s a toughie!) I despaired. I felt so ashamed and I felt guilty as hell. Almost all disabled people do but especially visually impaired people who – like me- look sighted. No one believes us. We don’t believe us. We have to explain ourselves every day. No you see I look sighted but I only see in the middle..or yes I know I can see you now but you will be invisible when the light changes –…etc and on. Family members find it hard, friends find it hard and it erodes self confidence. SO many VI and blind people stay at home rather than face the constant challenges of both the environment and the people in it.
When I left work in 2007 I withdrew and began to feel more and more ashamed of myself for ‘failing’. Worse, I began to see myself as Disabled. As invalid. As useless. I began to really believe my life was over. In I was so sick of myself I took all my savings and went on a solo trek up several mountains in Nepal.
This may not work for everyone.. I admit it was a bit drastic…but it worked. I have never been more terrified or more exhilarated, lonelier or more intensely alive then when trying to negotiate a drop toilet in a shed in the dark that is held onto a mountainside by three nails and some barbed wire.
My thinking was that – if you feel dead anyway – what have you to lose? It cleared my head of my depression and I began to believe in myself again as a person who just sees differently not less. I am no less able. Just differently abled.

Of course facing ones fear has to be done everywhere. It can be about getting from Kings Cross to Paddington in rush hour. It can be about getting home from a party late at night. It can be about buying milk from Asda during half term holidays. As I said Visual Impairment can be very exhausting and it’s OK to factor this in, to be kinder to oneself, to say NO to some things and to say yes to others.
Top tip 5: Never Give Up and Never Surrender
Keep a sense of perspective and always a sense of humour. I was thrilled to learn that there was tactile pop-up pornography being developed for the blind for instance. I can’t to see that being read on a train!
I am happily getting used to the constant wolf whistles and shouts of ‘hello beautiful!’ now…the fact they are directed at my guide dog Grace is beside the point…we are a team. Ehem.
There is always another way. It is just that sometimes we are pulling on the door handle when actually it requires a gentle push.
I’d like to end with a quote. In 1957 Josei Toda, a brilliant Buddhist peace strategist said:
Without opposition there is no growth. It is hard to argue with that logic. A state in which we are free from problems or constraints is not happiness. Happiness is transcending all opposition and obstacles and continuing to grow.

So from this grumpy girl looking for happiness I wish you a very good night.
Photo: Lang Tang (c) T. Bush 2007

A French Toast!

Tanvir Naomi Bush Uncategorized 3 Comments

Weather has changed and just like that, like the bran dust, the single, sour little cranberry and the oat debris in the bottom of the luxury box of muesli, summer is nearly over.
‘Fleur’ (c) T,Bush 10

I escape to France for a few days to see Mum and to raid her library on African flora and fauna as I have decided that the heroine in my Zambian thriller is able to survive on the streets of Lusaka by sourcing edible fruit, mushrooms and insects. As I don’t know my fungi from my fruit fly I thought I best do some serious research.
This is a photo of French Moonflower (Daktura) which also grows in Zambia and is used as a hallocenogenic poison!

Bet you didn’t know there was such a thing as a ‘snot apple’ which grows wild on the edges of fotball pitches..? (Bet you didn’t want to either..)

The trip starts at 2am on Tuesday I finally start packing a ruck sack. By 5am I’m at Stansted standing –without Grace who is on dog holiday with her mates- unable to see any information boards clearly or any staff. Everything is a blur of exhausted families and confused students flying home. I stumble into a secure area which is the only way to get any attention and am escorted firmly to the ‘disabled peoples holding pen.’ image from internet
I tell the bored, young woman who is sitting behind the desk calmly ignoring the frantic signals of an expiring Indian grandma on a nearby bench, that I have tunnel vision and she starts laughing so hard she goes purple. When she catches her breath and the tears of mirth stop rolling down her face, she shares the joke. ‘You are like a horse!’ she shrieks and brays with laughter again. I look for a brick to kill her with but short of westling the zimmer frame from the dying Indian lady I am bereft of weapons and anyway am too tired to be trouble. I am led away to the plane still seething that horses don’t HAVE tunnel vision. It’s the blinkers that…etc etc…
However by midday I am on a beach stuffing my face with moules frites and sangria with lovely mum and Silent John..who is much less silent now he has cats, Really! Two small delicate yet ferocious pretty beasties, Topaz and Arthur. Who knew?!
Above: Topaz
Right :Ruth under the fig tree.

9C) T. Bush 10
I solve the problem of having forgotten all my school girl French by keeping my mouth full of food and wine for the full four days and on my return am a little worried to feel the plane lurch to my side when I sit down.
Left Ruth gardening (c) T. Bush 10
But it was all well worth it! I loved seeing Mum and John and the new place. They have already made, what was a run down old cottage and cattle shed, into such a gorgeous home.

Magnifique!
Right:John and Arthur in the garden. (c) T.Bush10

Now back in UK I squint for endless hours at my manuscript – 40,000 words to be in at the end of the month. I have all the words but , to misquote some famous wag, just not yet in the right order. Grace too is back after a fabulous break with her buddies and has had to be cajoled with treats and promises of riverside walks back into harness. Her expression as she drags me along says quite distinctly ‘You seem a trifle heavier then last week…?’

Blast..back to the gym again.