Student on the move

In last week’s blog, I began to tell you about my time as a visually impaired law student at what was then the Polytechnic of Central London and is now the University of Westminster. Let me pick up where I left off…

Having been to boarding school, I was used to looking after myself. I had been changing my own bed sheets at school since the age of seven and I was accustomed to being away from home. I think this all helped to make the transition from school to college less traumatic than it was for some people.

Finding my way around was still a real challenge, though.

The Law School itself was not too difficult to navigate. The canteen and library were on the lower floors but from there on up all the floors were laid out identically. When I started my studies, the corridor walls were white while the tutorial room doors were dark blue, which made it relatively easy for me to distinguish them. I simply had to count the doors along the corridor to the room I needed. In my third year, however, they painted the doors a light mushroom colour which I found much more difficult to see. Fortunately, by then I had got a feel for how far along the corridor each room was.

The lecture theatre was on the 11th floor and the lift only went to the 10th so I did have to do some stair climbing. This was a bit slow with crutches, but not insurmountable.

If I had to go far outside the building, I used a wheelchair. I think it is to my friends’ eternal credit that I was never tipped out on our way back from the pub last thing at night. On the other hand, I did make a convenient carrier for stolen goods and a purloined salt and pepper set would occasionally be concealed about my person.

One of the disadvantages of being at a central London college with widely scattered facilities rather than being on a campus is that you regularly have to travel long distances from the hall of residence to your particular faculty. I couldn’t use the Underground without a lot of help but, after advertising, I did find fellow students with cars. As I had been issued with a parking permit, a benefit normally restricted to staff, they got the perk of being able to park in the Law School car park and I got a lift to and from my place of learning.

It was a good system, but I still didn’t manage to get a lift every day. I had to hire a lot of taxis and minicabs in the course of getting my degree.

College Daze

I have written a few times about life at school but I don’t think I’ve talked about my experience of higher education.

I studied Law at the Polytechnic of Central London, which is now the University of Westminster. As well as my visual impairment, due to my arthritis, I was walking with crutches at the time. This meant I couldn’t carry a long cane either for mobility use or to indicate to others that I couldn’t see. As you might imagine, this complicated my life a little.

I was allocated a room in a hall of residence in Marylebone Road.

You may have seen the concrete jungle opposite Madame Tussauds. That monstrosity housed the School of Management and the hall of residence. The latter was 21 storeys high and in high winds people on the upper floors could see ashtrays and mugs move across their desks.

I was originally given a room on the 15th floor but when it was mentioned that in the case of fire the lifts would be turned off, I pointed out to them that I would never make it out of the building. They then moved me down to the 5th floor. I explained that, in the event of a fire, I still wouldn’t be able to get out of the building alive. The Law School’s answer to this was to warn me in advance whenever there was going to be a fire drill. No one ever answered my query as to who was going to warn me in advance when there was going to be a real fire!

I shared a galley kitchen with 11 other people. There were six girls’ rooms on one side of the building and six boys’ rooms on the other, with a common room in the centre.

I will come back to the kitchen in a moment.

On the first night I plucked up courage, knocked on my neighbour’s door and asked if she was going to the canteen for breakfast the next day and, if so, could I come with her. She said yes and the next morning off we went. I did eventually learn my own way there although it wasn’t easy. You had to go down to one of the lower floors, up some stairs, and across the area linking the hall to the School of Management. This last sometimes contained moveable stands displaying students’ work, which conveniently served as unexpected collision hazards for visually impaired students like me. (I seem to recall exhibitions of work by the students on the photographic arts course, so perhaps they were housed there as well as the management students. I can’t remember!) You then had to go upstairs again and, finally, you came to the canteen.

It was all of a bit of a trek and after a while I started getting my own breakfast. I did use the canteen sometimes in the evenings though.

The Law School also had a canteen. Obviously, I couldn’t identify the food on offer or carry a tray so, if I was on my own, I just turned up at the counter and one of the staff would help me. They were really good about this.

I remember one particularly cheerful guy – I think his name was Bernard – who was great. One morning I turned up for breakfast in the canteen and, as far as I could tell, seemed to be the only person there.

“Hello beautiful,” he said.

I turned round, thinking that someone had crept up behind me, before realising that it was Bernard addressing me from behind the counter. In those days, this sort of banter came without consequences. I didn’t mind. His cheerful demeanour was reassuring to me as one who very much needed his assistance.

I said that I’d return to that student kitchen I shared with 11 others…

I am amazed we didn’t all suffer regularly with salmonella. Piles of dirty plates would sit in the sink, sometimes for days. I once had to sit on the floor to stir my scrambled eggs because there was literally nowhere to put the pan down.

One day, one of the boys came into the kitchen whilst I, the blind girl, was trying to cook on the inadequate oven, and asked me how to boil an egg. He must have been truly hungry.

Somehow, we all survived!

Schemes for the Deaf

Over the years I have had a variety of jobs and one of my favourites was working for something called Schemes for the Deaf.

Yes, you did read that correctly.

During the 1980s, when unemployment was rife, the government here in the UK created a nifty way of getting some of us jobless folks out of the statistics. They created “community programmes”, which were short-term contracts doing useful work in the – yes, you’ve guessed it – community. One such programme in the area I was living in at the time was called Schemes for the Deaf.

The aim of the scheme was to enlighten the public about the problems faced by hearing-impaired people and give them tips on how to communicate. Those of us working for the programme were given training in communicating with deaf people and in presenting our message to the public and off we went.

We worked in teams and went into schools, shops, and anywhere people would have us.

I loved the school visits. We mostly worked with children in the 7-9 age range and they were fantastic. They would cotton on quickly to the fact that I couldn’t see and I would often find a small hand in mine and a child would guide me across the classroom.

Each member of the team did a different activity with the children. Mine was holding up a poster showing lots of different things happening, all of which would generate sounds a deaf person wouldn’t hear. There was a helicopter, a bird singing, a telephone, an alarm clock and much more besides. The children would sit on a mat in front of me and have to pick out all the different objects, actions and events on the poster which would make sounds they thought couldn’t be heard.

The teachers said watching the children interact with me was an interesting exercise in itself. Normally the children would simply have pointed to things on the poster, but they soon realised that this wouldn’t work so they had to describe what they were looking at. I felt that in this way, as an unplanned consequence of my involvement, they were not only learning about sound and deafness but about sight loss and the need to communicate effectively.

I should perhaps say that I am using the term “deaf” because that was the term that was used at the time. In any case, we weren’t trying to give small children a nuanced understanding of disability. Today, however, we would usually say “hearing impaired”.

Okay, lecture over!

We often did return visits to the schools and the children would give us pictures they had drawn of our visit. This is when I discovered that a little confusion had arisen through having a blind lady talk about deafness. I still have some of the pictures the children gave me and below my image they have written things like, “Someone came to talk about deaf people. It was a lady. She was blind.”

The work was hugely enjoyable but, in the way of so many jobs at the time, it wasn’t long before we were made redundant. In their desire to get us into the world of work, the government had taught us an important lesson: how to survive having your job taken away from you.

Still, I am grateful for the time I spent on the scheme because I enjoyed it so much.

Inclusion

How accessible are churches and other places of worship?

I’m not just talking about physical access, for all that lifts and ramps can be very important for those, like me, who have mobility problems. I’m talking about whether, once inside those places of worship, you can participate in the activities that go on there alongside able-bodied people.

I’m talking about inclusion.

One important area of my life is church. What I’m going to say may apply to places of worship of many faiths but I can only speak from my own experience here.

An important element of the Christian faith is the written word. If you happen to have a printed bible handy, just look and see how many pages it contains. It’s probably a single volume with around 900 pages. Now let me tell you about my braille bible. The New Testament alone is in five very thick braille volumes. I do not possess the entire Old Testament (I have a mere thirty volumes) because in my previous house I had nowhere to put it all. I could probably find space in my current home but a braille bible is so huge, I would still have to store it in various different parts of the house.

(An aside: years ago when I worked at the RNIB braille production unit in Goswell Road, we used to gather round a tea trolley twice a day for a break. Many people have never experienced this delightfully old-fashioned custom. It was a great opportunity to chat and we would regularly muse on various issues relating to braille and sight loss. I remember one day that we had a discussion about how much space you would need for the Gideons to leave a braille bible as well as a print bible in every hotel room. We envisaged guests having to climb over vast piles of books in order to get into bed!)

But, yes, braille bibles are really big and cumbersome, multi-volume works. You can imagine the problems this causes when I want to take a bible with me to church. When I attend bible study, I only take the appropriate volume along with me. When I take my turn on the reading rota and read in the service, I copy the reading out beforehand and just take the braille print-out with me. This is far preferable to heaving a large book onto the lectern.

Of course, this kind of participation can only happen if there is good communication. I need to know the bible passage well in advance.

I remember the first time I read the lesson at my current church. I was solemnly escorted to the lectern on the platform. It took me a while to get there! (These days I read from a lectern on the floor of the worship area.) Once I was at the lectern, no one could see me at all, because I am so short. (Neither I nor my escort realised there was a step to stand on for just such occasions.) The congregation knew I couldn’t read a print bible, so when they heard a disembodied voice ringing round the room, many of them assumed, I discovered later, that I was reciting the reading from memory! The illusion was shattered when I started reading from the lower lectern, however, because everyone could see that I actually had a sheet of paper with me.

That’s a little about the challenges of bible reading for the visually impaired, but what about hymn books?

Many churches these days no longer use hymn books, instead projecting the words of the songs onto large screens. This solves some problems but creates new ones. It makes it easier to introduce new songs and does away with the business of handing out hymn books and tidying them away at the end of the service. Not everyone can read ordinary print, and large-print hymn books can be heavy and unwieldy, especially for elderly people with arthritic hands. The use of screens can help solve these problems and also leaves people free to raise their arms or clap their hands, if they are worshiping in churches where such practices are the norm.

The words on the screens still have to be big enough for everyone to read, of course, and the screens have to be positioned so that everyone can see them. If they are not raised sufficiently high, you may not be able to see them if you are behind someone who is much taller than you are. My brother-in-law tells me that in his church, there was a lady with bad arthritis in her neck for whom it was very painful to raise her head to look up at words on a screen. You have to choose your text and background colours carefully, too, because some combinations are very hard to read.

Frankly, though, if you are visually impaired, screens are not much help.

In our church, we have a printed order of service which is also projected on a big screen at the front. This is where I am very lucky. Not only can I read braille but I have the means of braille production. I am sent an electronic copy of the service in advance and I can braille it during the week, along with the hymns, so that I can fully participate in the service on Sunday. I do possess a braille hymn book but it is in eleven volumes so I prefer to copy out the hymns and take single sheets. I have a large collection by now so often don’t have to braille any new ones.

My ability to braille documents enables me not only to take my place on the reading rota but also to lead bible studies and chair meetings. As I have mentioned in this blog before, braille is essential for these activities. I can braille notes for a bible study and I have the agenda, minutes and any relevant reports literally at my finger-tips in meetings.

Whilst I am pleased to be able to play my part in church life – and, with access to braille and assistance from fellow church-goers, I hope to continue to do so for many years to come – I am aware that not everyone is so fortunate. What about those older people who, when they can no longer see the screen or read the admittedly large-print order of service, find themselves unable to join in?

I don’t think there are any easy answers to these questions but we should keep asking them, always making sure we consult those most keenly affected. We need to listen carefully to their answers.

Access

Not everyone was happy when the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act came into force here in the UK.

The Act states that public buildings should have “reasonable adjustments” made for the benefit of disabled people. The social commentator Rod Liddle was vehemently opposed to beautiful old buildings being mangled, as he saw it, by the inclusion of lifts and ramps. He saw no reason why someone in a wheelchair should not have to go to a back door and press a buzzer or be lifted bodily out of their wheelchair and carried into, say, a busy restaurant, in front of the other customers.

I wonder if he would feel quite so sanguine if it was happening to him but the point is this is not just about physical access. It’s about human dignity and the message society is sending out to disabled people.

There used to be a BBC Radio 4 sketch show called “Yes, sir, I can boogie” which included material by disabled writers. One skit had an able-bodied person turning up at a theatre. The theatre-goer is outraged to be told he can only see the show if he is prepared to be winched up in the service lift and sit at the back of the auditorium. It made the point nicely. This is the sort of thing disabled people have put up with for years.

Access is not just a question of physical obstacles. For those of us with sensory impairments, there are other issues as well. Someone with a hearing impairment may need a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter or a hearing loop system.

Visually-impaired people need … well, what do we need?

Some buildings thoughtfully provide braille labels on doors but if you don’t know they are there or where to look for them, you will never find them. I’m certainly not going to feel around doors in strange buildings, assuming I can find the doors, on the off-chance that there are braille labels!

If there was a national standard for braille labelling in public places, it might be made to work effectively.

If, for instance, all doors were routinely labelled and those labels appeared, say, near the door knob each time, it would help some visually impaired people to navigate their way around. For example, it might make it possible to find a hotel room independently. Because the whole building is often unknown, however, some visually impaired people, myself included, would need more help than this. I would prefer a sighted person to guide me around, certainly in the first instance, and, if the stay was short, quite probably the whole time. It can take a while to learn your way around strange premises.

A problem that particularly affects visually impaired people is large, open-plan spaces.

At Swindon railway station, for example, there used to be a taxi rank virtually outside the front entrance. You now have to cross an open area to get to it. This is not helpful and is potentially dangerous as cars are coming and going all the time. I always book assistance and so have a member of staff with me but more mobile and independent visually impaired people who would have been able to get a taxi without official help in the past are now more dependent and at much greater risk.

Even the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) comes unstuck sometimes. I attended a course at their headquarters in London a few years ago. When the course was over, I was put in a chair in reception while, supposedly, a taxi was call for me.

After a long wait, I decided to approach the reception desk to ask what was happening. Where was it though? I had to cross a huge open area, head for the general sound of talk and hope for the best. I was not impressed.

I feel, therefore, that when architects, developers, building managers and whoever else this responsibility falls to, are thinking about access, they should consult with a wide range of disabled people. They will need to be flexible and to understand that we are individuals. What suits one visually impaired person may not suit another and they may need to include a variety of solutions.

Of course, no one is expecting every building to perfectly fit the needs of every single disabled person, but more could be done.

We should continually strive for inclusivity, even if that means doing things differently sometimes or taking a leap of imagination to try to understand how it feels to be treated as a second-class citizen. After all, no one wants to be consigned to the service lift of life.

Handle with care

I belong to a number of internet groups for visually-impaired people. There has been an interesting discussion on one of them recently, namely: How much physical contact is appropriate when a sighted person is trying to guide you?

It all started with an item on BBC Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour” programme. I didn’t hear it myself but I gather that a visually-impaired woman was saying that some sighted people had touched her inappropriately when assisting her.

Now, I have never had this happen to me. I have known of physically disabled people being taken advantage of by some taxi drivers in this way but the particular incident I have in mind took place many years ago and I would like to think things have improved since then.

However, it is a useful discussion to have.

I think that most of us who have grown up visually impaired are accustomed to higher levels of physical contact than sighted people would expect to experience on a daily basis. In fact I have had sighted people be reluctant to take my hand in case “someone got the wrong idea.” It isn’t always clear who “someone” is but it would never occur to me to worry about that sort of contact.

The fact is that contact is necessary. If I want you to guide me somewhere, I will need to take your arm. If I visit a physiotherapist and they are demonstrating exercises, I need them to actually show me what to do. In my Yoga class, I am quite happy for my Yoga teacher to manipulate my arms, say, to show me how a particular movement is made.

The link between the above examples is that I have chosen them. I have given permission for the physio and my Yoga teacher to touch me. I have usually said to my sighted guide, “May I hold your arm?”

What is not acceptable is for a sighted person to grab me willy-nilly without checking that I am okay with that. For one thing, to be grabbed unannounced can make you jump out of your skin!

(There is an exception to this. If I’m about to be run over by a bus, please grab away!)

Healthcare professionals are very careful these days to seek your permission before making contact and, to be honest, despite what I have said, if someone is genuinely trying to help, I’m not going to cry “foul.” But in any context, best practice when working with the visually impaired is still to ask whether we need help and, if so, what help do we need and how should it be delivered.

In other words, something like this:

You: “Can I help you?”

Me: “Yes please, I need to get on this train.”

You: “What would you like me to do?”

Me: “Please may I take your arm?

That kind of thing.

Some visually impaired people will have had trauma in their lives which may dispose them to react violently to physical contact, especially if it occurs without warning or permission. Others, I’m afraid, are just rude. Ignore the rude ones. Most visually-impaired people, though, are grateful for offers of help and appreciate being asked.

Which is not to say that these encounters always run smoothly. I was once on Paddington Station quite late at night and was trying to ascertain whether I was about to board the right train. The man I asked, however, was so anxious about missing the nearly-last train that he didn’t listen. Instead, he just kept shouting, “Is this train going to Reading?”

If he had calmed down, I could have told him that if it was the train I hoped it was, yes, it would stop at Reading. We could have helped each other. He would have been reassured and I would have been helped to a seat.

Still, life doesn’t always run to script. I think we both reached our respective destinations. I certainly don’t recall having to sleep on Paddington Station so I must have got home somehow!

Garden ornaments

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been using my blog posts to tell you a little bit about my garden and the trees and flowers it contains. This week, I want to talk about all those things which make a garden precious but which have nothing to do with plants.

I have mentioned before that I love statues.

I brought with me from my old house a cast stone model of a mole, and she now sleeps happily in the border of my new garden. She was named Doreen by my nieces when they were small. Why? I don’t know. You’d have to ask them!

I also must introduce you to Kevin.

Many years ago, whilst visiting – yes, you’ve guessed it – a garden centre, my parents and I came across the statue of a medieval monk reading a book. I very much wanted to snap it up there and then but my folks were not keen. Since I have had a garden of my own, though, I have been searching for a stone monk to go in it. Whilst Buddhas and statues of oriental religious men abound, medieval monks are hard to find.

One birthday, my sister handed me a heavy square box. Out of this I drew the statue of a monk. He was holding a bird. “Oh, it’s Kevin!” I cried, much to my sister’s bemusement.

Saint Kevin was an Irish saint who is said to have held a bird’s egg in his hand until it hatched. Why? Who knows? It’s an even greater mystery than the origin of the name “Doreen” for my stone mole!

I was thrilled, though, and Kevin has lived happily in various places in my borders ever since. He had to be rescued from his last location as he had become completely overgrown with foliage but he now resides in a clear spot next to my acer, where I talk to him while I water the garden. I also make a point of clearing the snow from his tonsured stone head during the winter.

Another lovely present was a collapsible coffee table which I can set up outside my patio door, if I ever want to sit in the nicely sheltered spot just there. It provides the perfect place to put down my coffee cup or glass of wine, depending on the time of day.

One September morning, however, I walked out with my table and walked into a huge cobweb.

And I do mean huge!

I waved my arms and legs about in a kind of mad dance and jibbered crazily. It must have afforded the neighbours an entertaining sight, but I absolutely hate spiders. The only down side of gardening for me is that you put your hand in a lot of webs and if you can’t see, you don’t know if any spiders are still there…

Brrrrrrrrrr!

But even my arachnophobia won’t stop me from loving my garden and spending time in it. Walking round it is a great way to clear my head, whatever the weather. It is cold and windy as I type this today, but I still went out into the garden first to think about what I was going to write.

A tactile pastime

Last week I started to tell you about my garden. I thought I’d say a little more in this week’s post about the challenges and joys that it brings.

Visual impairment is no bar to gardening and there has been a Blind Gardeners’ Association for years. It is a tactile pastime. You dig a hole, you carefully insert a plant, and then you gently pat the earth round it again. After that you tend and water it.

In practice, when it comes to gardening, my arthritis has proved more of a problem than my lack of sight. I love planting, but a few hours of kneeling by the border digging holes leaves me in a debilitated state and I have to rely on my versatile PA to act as chief gardener in my stead.

Watering took some figuring out, too. I am not able to carry a watering can full of water so my brother attached a hose to the outside tap and I now walk round the garden, unravelling the hose as I go. Once I get to a certain point I have to retrace my steps and start again from the tap in the opposite direction, as the hose doesn’t quite go all the way round the garden.

I have a table and chairs, too (purchased at a garden centre, of course), and the hose has  a tendency to get caught up on these. I have to walk back, try to locate where the hold-up is and free the hose. Then I return to where I was before. Each time this happens, my unhooking operation is accompanied by much dark muttering and unladylike language on my part.

Despite all this, I love watering my garden and, as I go, smelling the scents of the earth and all my wonderful plants. I especially love warm summer evenings when the air is filled with the scent of jasmine, lavender, geranium and my Munstead Wood rose from David Austin Roses.

At times like that, I forget all the aches and pains, and the problems unsnagging the hose. My garden just seems “heaven scent.”

In the garden

Over the last two weeks I have taken you up in the air and travelling across New York state. This week I’m sticking nearer to home. In fact, I’m taking you into my garden.

I was very lucky to grow up in homes with wonderful gardens. They were big enough to run around in and play imaginative games. My mother was a keen gardener and made every one of her gardens beautiful. I loved the flowers and enjoyed listening to Mum talk about them, though very little of her abundant knowledge actually stuck.

When I first moved into my present house, the back garden was gravel, with a few stepping stones, a path to the back gate, and the tubs of a few favourite plants that I had brought with me.

The property had stood empty for some time and the local cats had come to regard the gravel as a giant litter tray put out for their exclusive use. This was thoroughly unpleasant – doubly so, as I couldn’t see what I was treading in. I eventually managed to tackle the problem, however, with a product called “Silent Roar”, which turned out to be made of lion poo. You spread it round the garden and the cats stayed away. It was dry and completely odourless to humans, but not to the more sensitive noses of all the local moggies, who thought that a very big cat indeed had been using their litter tray! Once I’d spread Silent Roar round the garden, they kept well clear.

The garden path originally included a huge stone step. There was nothing to indicate where it was and nothing to hang on to when you got there. I fell down it the first time I went in the garden, so something had to be done about that.

The tubs were also proving difficult to maintain and my plants were not thriving. I took advice from friends with gardening know-how and they explained that tubs were harder work than borders because you had to keep watering them.

That surprised me. Maybe tubs weren’t the way forward after all.

My flowers weren’t flourishing but an idea gradually began to grow. Why not have a “proper” garden with borders?

And, of course, a proper garden should have a tree in it.

I started to get BIG ideas.

A friend recommended a local family firm called Down to Earth who did landscape gardening, and I employed them to transform my gravel back-yard into something more pleasing.

They paved the majority of the space, which is not large, and managed to level off the huge step which I had fallen over. (You can’t even tell where it was now.)

I chose tactile paving so I would get some sensory interest from walking on it.

They also created two borders, one on each side of the garden, and put up a fence with attractive trelliswork.

The final touch was the addition of a stone circle in the middle of the paving, into which they planted a silver birch. I chose a silver birch not only because they are such elegant trees but also because they are supposed to attract the insects that bats eat.

Now I had my “proper” garden, I sorted out the remaining tubs, bought some hanging baskets, and started to plan.

This is probably where I got a bit overexcited.

My brother and I spent a lot of time on the Internet searching out scented plants and, before I knew it, I was sending off for some.

I then discovered the joy of garden centres. I couldn’t go to one of these establishments without buying something or, more often than not, several somethings. The borders and tubs started to fill up. I had to get more tubs.

In short, I found I was my mother’s daughter!

USA

Last week I told you about my flight to the USA to visit my niece, who was studying in the small college town of Ithaca in upstate New York. I thought this week I would mention one or two highlights of the trip.

Sitting in my niece’s flat, sipping water after having just arrived from the airport, I could hardly believe that I’d done it. I had got there, and it was an amazing feeling.

Our first outing, apart from shopping, was to a parade which was the climax of a local festival. This was a fascinating event. Every institution and community group in Ithaca seemed to be participating and there was an abundance of colourful floats. There was a “Seventies” theme to the parade so many of those taking part were wearing Star Wars costumes which my niece described to me as they rode past.

The prize for the most unusual costumes, though, must go to those worn by staff and volunteers from the local family planning clinic who did an interesting line in dressing up as contraceptives. Somehow, I can’t imagine that happening in the Swindon Spring Festival!

A couple of days later, we hired a car and set off for Niagara Falls. It was a large vehicle which I had to climb up into, (I think I have mentioned that I’m quite small). On seeing a picture of it on Facebook, my brother’s comment was, “You didn’t have to hire Thunderbird 2!”

We bought doughnuts, my niece’s customary way of starting a road trip, and off we went.

If you have been to Niagara Falls, you will know that the spray fills the air for miles around. If you take a trip on the Maid of the Mist, the boat that takes you right to the foot of the falls, you run the risk of getting absolutely soaked, so they issue you with a plastic waterproof garment that feels rather like a large bin bag. I wrestled with this briefly before giving up and letting my niece dress me like a toddler.

How can I describe our trip on the Maid of the Mist? I said last time that sensation is important when you can’t see. Well, I got sensation! As well as the movement of the boat, there was the roaring of the falls – and they are loud!

Then there is the water. It’s everywhere. The air is full of it.

We got pretty wet!

It was all worth it though. What an amazing experience!

We stayed in a nearby hotel overnight and the next day visited an aquarium. This specialised in rescuing injured marine mammals, including visually-impaired seals. Yes, they are very prone to cataracts, apparently. The keeper had to make a noise to let them know where to come and get the fish. I felt a sense of empathy for them and was glad they were being cared for by such lovely people.

After that we returned to Ithaca, only to set off the next day by bus to New York City.

The journey takes four or five hours so we passed the time playing cards. My niece likes a game called Dominion. Prior to my arrival, she had found a US company which produces adhesive braille labels for various games and had sent for a set of labels for Dominion. Earlier in my stay we had spent a whole evening sticking them on the cards. Now we reaped the reward of our labours as we whiled away the hours playing several rounds of the game. It is quite  complicated, but by the time we reached the city, I think I was just about getting the hang of it.

We stayed at the Cornell Club. I had never stayed in a club of any kind before and it made me feel like someone in a P. G. Wodehouse novel. We had a huge room which boasted a sofa and a desk besides two large, and very high, beds.

My niece had arranged for me to have a touch tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or “The Met”, as everyone calls it. This seems to be the New York equivalent to the British Museum and we had a guide all to ourselves showing us round the Egyptian exhibits. I do like to get hands-on with a sarcophagus!

Later, we took a horse and buggy ride in Central Park. I leaned back on the cushioned seat and imagined I was a lady in a Henry James novel. The guide kept pointing out places where various scenes in films and TV shows had been filmed. I hadn’t seen any of them but, fortunately, my niece had, so I let her chat to the driver while I pretended to be a Victorian lady of leisure.

Among our other outings was a trip to have ice-cream and coffee on the East Side. This, apparently, is a trendy thing to do, so I put aside my genteel 19th century persona and, just for a while, pretended I was a cool dude instead.

It was all a great adventure and I thoroughly enjoyed my trip.