Search for:
Is it better not to be able to see the audience?

I am a star of stage and screen!

Well, no, of course I’m not, but I did have a boost to my ego recently. You may recall (well, you probably don’t, because you’ve got better things to think about) that I spoke to student nurses at Oxford Brookes University last year about what it is like to be a patient with a visual impairment. Apparently it turned out to be the most popular lecture on the course, so I got a repeat booking this year.

The format was the same. Helen Foord-Warren, the trainer, played the interview she did with me last year and then I came “live” onto Zoom to do the Q&A. As before, the students were really engaged and asked some great questions. After the students had left, one of the staff present said, “There were over 200 people on that call. That just shows how popular you are.” I was staggered. I think I was imagining around 20 – 30 participants.

I’m not saying this to make any claims that they were all queuing up to join because I was one of the acts on the bill. There are lots of reasons why people join Zoom calls. It did make me reflect on something, though.

I never go to the participants list when I’m on Zoom calls. This is partly because I am concentrating hard on what is being said and partly because I’m not confident that I would ever find my way back, so to speak. This means that I have no idea who is there unless they speak. As, generally, only a few of those present actually speak at any meeting, I don’t have a very clear idea of how many people are really there. What I wonder is, does it help not to know?

My father was a clergyman and, despite preaching all his life, he still got nervous before services. He would deliberately only wear his reading glasses when preaching so that the first few rows were a blur. It made him nervous to look into the faces of his congregation. My mother was always telling him to look up from his papers more when he was preaching.

My sister is a lay minister in the Church of England, my niece is a Baptist lay preacher, and I always seem to be addressing church meetings of one kind or another. It seems to be in the genes of our family to be able to stand up and speak in front of church congregations. I do wonder, however, if it helps if you can’t see your audience.

I particularly wonder this because my first appearance in a play was a disaster. I was six. I was dressed up in my beautiful fairy outfit. I was supposed to put a scarf round a snowman’s neck and say something profound like, “Here is a scarf for you.” When it came to the dress rehearsal I got stage fright and another girl got the gig.

I could still see at this point. The only audience at this rehearsal was my school class, but seeing them was obviously enough to put me off.

By the time I got to play an angel in a church play at the age of about 8 or 9, I was starting to lose my sight and I had no difficulty uttering the lines which completely escape me now. I could still see that there was an audience there, but I couldn’t identify individual faces.

When I got to my first school for the blind, I thoroughly enjoyed drama and that pleasure continued through to my secondary school, Chorleywood College.

These days, I am happy to speak in church and chair meetings and no longer get stage fright. Some butterflies sometimes, but that is normal.

So perhaps seeing the faces of your audience does make a difference. Perhaps not being able to see who you are declaiming to is actually a positive advantage.

The Recycling Maze

So you think that sorting all your household waste into different containers for recycling is complicated? You should try doing it when you can’t see the objects you’re sorting… Or the containers you’re supposed to put them in!

Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who can chuck all your recycling into one bin. That must be lovely. Meanwhile, the rest of us obediently separate our glass, metal, plastic and paper recycling and put each type into a different container as stipulated by our local authority. And it’s a two-stage process, which for me means endless bags in the kitchen and plastic boxes in the front garden.

I sometimes feel as though the only thing that grows in my front garden is recycling boxes!

I fill a carrier bag with glass and tin and, when it is full, carry it out the front of the house to empty into the orange box the council provided for the purpose. I also have a clear plastic bag hanging on my back door into which I put plastic recycling. The bag has to be transparent because the refuse collectors won’t take it if they can’t see what is in it. This I have to place on the street outside my front garden wall on the night before the collection.

Because all this is not enough, in addition I have a box in my office into which I put used paper and cardboard. When it gets so full that paper is spilling out all over the floor, I empty the contents into two boxes in my front garden. I have two boxes because I generate so much paper recycling, and this is partly because braille magazines are so big and bulky. They account for at least half my paper recycling output each fortnight.

Oh yes, and there is a wheely bin for everything else, plus a green plastic bin for garden waste.

Some years ago, I brailled a leaflet for Oxford City Council. This document gave information about what to put into which recycling bin and which days to put said bins out for emptying. I wasn’t asked to braille sticky labels to go on the bins and I wondered at the time how the visually-impaired recipient was going to distinguish the blue bin from the green and orange ones.

You might think, “Well, that’s easy, you just have to make sure you know which bin is which and keep them in the same position each week.”

Sadly, it isn’t that straightforward.

I have “assisted collections”. This means I don’t have to drag all my bins and boxes onto the pavement. The refuse people come into my garden and collect them. They are supposed to put them back where they found them.

You can guess what’s coming next, can’t you?

Do they put them back where they found them? Is the Pope a Baptist?

On a good week, the recycling crew put my recycling boxes neatly one inside the other and prop the lids upright inside the top box. This is when I’m profoundly grateful that colour coding plays no part in the process in Swindon. I only have to worry about separating the boxes, marrying them up to their lids and placing them in a row in front of my house.

Sometimes, though, the recyclers don’t bother to put the boxes together in this handy configuration. Instead, they sling the lids anywhere they take a fancy to and I have to walk gingerly round the garden, trying to locate them. Then I play “hunt the boxes” and, only then, can I put everything back in place ready for the next time.

I have to trust that the wheely bin and garden waste bin have been put back in their allotted spots as I have no way of knowing which is which.

Another slightly irritating issue is that, because my general rubbish bin is placed quite near the low wall between my front garden and the street, people passing by have a habit of throwing their pizza cartons and other rubbish into my bin. Now, this is better than them throwing their litter on the pavement, but the waste disposal crew won’t take anything that’s not wrapped up in a bag and I can’t tell what is lurking at the bottom of my bin. I can’t see it, and I have such short arms that I couldn’t reach in to find it in a month of Sundays. Fortunately, I have friends and family who can see and who reach in and remove the rubbish for me. They bag it up as required, though why rubbish has to be contained in this way when all the collectors have to do is tip the bin up remains a mystery to me.

I wouldn’t want you to think that I agonise over these matters day and night. I certainly want to protect the planet and so will continue to diligently separate the recycling into its constituent parts. Worrying about the boxes and bins is just another little niggle that stops my life from becoming too predictable and boring!