I felt I had hit a bit of a low when I experienced a prick of jealousy when my brother told me he and my sister-in-law were going to the vet to get flea powder for their cats!

Some visually-impaired people are having to go out to work or shop, or to walk their guide dogs, but I am effectively stuck at home. You can’t safely distance from others when you can’t see, and I feel that it would be antisocial to put someone else at risk by asking them to act as my guide. In consequence, apart from my mini-adventure going to the doctor’s surgery a few weeks ago, the furthest I have been from my property since the start of lockdown was to step outside my front gate with a bag of recycling.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I have a garden, so that I can at least get some fresh air.

It’s all very different from my schooldays, when I used to grumble heartily at being forced to go outdoors for exercise every day, whatever the weather. What was I thinking of?

Well, I know why really. No schoolgirl wants to pointlessly walk to a T-junction in the rain. The irony is that I would take that now, certainly if the rain wasn’t too heavy!

“What T-junction?” I hear you ask.

Let me explain, though you’ll have to wait till next week before I get to the T-junction!

When you go to boarding school like I did, you don’t have to travel to and from school each day. How, then, do the teachers ensure that their pupils get regular fresh air and exercise?

My school’s answer was to throw them out of the building every weekday morning between breakfast and assembly on what we all used to refer to as “garden ex,” “ex” in this case being short for “exercise.”

In practice, this meant wandering round the school grounds for half-an-hour. On cold days, we used to lurk in the boiler house or summerhouse but at least we got some fresh air on the way to and from these hidey-holes.

On weekday afternoons, we went on “walk” for an hour between lunch and the recommencement of lessons at ten-to-three.

This was also how we learnt mobility.

At the start of our first year, we went on “croc”, which was our abbreviation for “crocodile”. This involved pairing up and following a teacher for a short walk around the lanes near school.

We soon, however, embarked on learning different routes. We were each allocated to a senior pupil, who would teach us the way, and we would then be tested by a member of staff.

The first test involved walking down the back drive, following the grass verge (there were no pavements in our immediate vicinity), and then walking up the front drive of the school. We then had to do the route in reverse.

This is where I got into trouble.

This version of the route involved the additional challenge of crossing a road. We had to go to a certain point and then cross over and walk up to the entrance to the back drive. Back then, I could still see a little and when I spotted the opening to the drive I started to cross over to it.

I was summarily summoned back.

Crossing over as soon as I saw the entrance, I had walked diagonally across the road, meaning that I spent longer than necessary exposing myself to the potential danger of being knocked down. That was when I learned the important lesson of safety first.

Judith in California: Part 4 – LA & San Diego

Sunday in Los Angeles…

Dad investigated the phone book again and made a phone call. This time we attended a Presbyterian church. On that particular Sunday they were having a joint service with a Mexican church who met in the same building. The Mexican pastor was a delight. Looking at our serious Sunday faces he said, “Everybody smile, now!” It did the trick. We all smiled and lightened up.

After the service, whilst chatting with members of the congregation, we were asked if we’d seen the Crystal Cathedral.

“No,” we replied.

“Oh, you must go,” they said.

A map was produced and we set off, not knowing what to expect.

I don’t know if I can convey to you just how amazing it turned out to be. The cathedral is a huge structure made of glass with twelve fountains along the length of the aisle to represent the twelve disciples. It was built by the Reformed Church in America, but they sold it to the Roman Catholic Church in 2012. I’ve no idea what it’s like now, but they used to have magnificent dramatic performances at Christmas and Easter, with flying angels and massed choirs. What I remember about my visit is the way that the wonderfully clear Californian light made all the glass sparkle so brightly that even I could get some idea of the beauty of the place.

We finished our trip by driving down to San Diego, stopping off for the night en route at a Motel 6 in a place called Escondido.

We got out of the car and found ourselves next to an open-top car with a huge Rottweiler sitting in the back. We edged by cautiously.

“He’s just a puppy,” the driver assured us.

Really? Well, he was an alarmingly large puppy!

Later that evening we heard the man calling, “Put it down!” and imagined a small child or hapless member of staff dangling from its jaws.

The next morning was also the only time my father drove on the wrong side of the road. It happened as we were coming out of the motel parking lot. Fortunately there was no harm done.

Once we arrived in San Diego, we took a boat trip round the bay and looked at some very expensive shops. We were initially puzzled by signs outside these emporia saying, “No strollers.”

“Does that mean we can’t even go in and browse?” we wondered.

It took a while before we realized that what they actually meant was, “No pushchairs!”

On the whole, we didn’t find the language barrier to be too much of a problem. We got used to the fast-talking waiters in diners who reeled off lists of salad dressings and different kinds of toast at top speed. Whether they understood us was a different matter. My father’s London accent was sometimes mistaken for an Australian one.

Before we left, we felt we should at least dip our toes in the sea. What you don’t realise when watching TV programmes set in sunny California is just how cold the Pacific Ocean is! It is also very rough, or at least it was at the place that we chose. We paddled in but were soon freezing cold and hardly able to stand up.

We decided to call it quits. It had all been a lot of fun but it was time to go home.

Judith in California: Part 3 – Los Angeles

Dad had never driven a car with automatic transmission before we visited California, but he eventually got the hang of it.

I had judged that, if my father started driving in San Francisco, he would be thoroughly acclimatised to American cars and American roads by the time he’d driven the hundreds of miles of coastal highway to Los Angeles.

He proved me right.

He might have been a nervous flyer, but he was not at all phased by the huge LA freeways with their multitude of lanes and endless lines of traffic. A former colleague of his from his days working for Bible Society was now living in LA. Dad looked up the address and drove us from one side of the city to the other one evening just to see him and his family.

And there were so many other things to see in Los Angeles!

Our first outing was to Universal Studios. This was great fun. We took the tour which, among other things, involved driving through a flash flood and watching the shark from “Jaws” jump out of the water nearby. I couldn’t see him, of course, but I did experience the spray from the flood!

Fay Wray shows Judith how to get on well with animals.

Following in the footsteps of Fay Wray, I had my photo taken with King Kong while I was there. We also watched an exhibition of the talented animals who are trained so brilliantly to act alongside their human counterparts in many films, and went to a show where members of the audience were invited to participate in the filming of a scene from “Star Trek”.

On another occasion, we made a trip to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where the footprints of many stars are imprinted for posterity in the pavement. We got a little lost at this point, however, and my dad, being a typical male driver, wouldn’t ask the way himself. Instead, he sent Mum off to enquire of two members of the LAPD. This  wasn’t a bad idea in itself but they appeared to be arresting a young man at the time and might not have appreciated being interrupted. Luckily they were of the laid-back variety of policemen and patiently stopped to give her directions before returning to the business in hand.

One of the highlights of the trip for my father was visiting the decommissioned passenger liner RMS Queen Mary, which is moored at Long Beach. He had travelled on her when she was in use as a troop-ship during the Second World War. Strolling round her in the LA sunshine was a very different experience for him. We sat eating ice-cream whilst a group of young women entertained us with songs from the 1940s. This helped conjure the atmosphere of that period for me, though perhaps not the 1940s shipboard life that Dad remembered.

Walking round gave me some idea of the size of the ship. It can be quite difficult to visualize just how huge these vessels are.

Judith in California: Part 2 – On the road

Having spent a weekend in San Francisco getting over our jet-lag, on Monday morning we called a cab to take us to the airport to pick up a hire car, or what Americans would call a rental.

The taxi driver was very chatty and, for some reason, he told us all about his exploits in his high-school orchestra. He had had the fun role of clashing the cymbals at the end of a piece of music and demonstrated what he’d had to do by taking both hands off the steering wheel, turning round in his seat and clapping his hands together.

Somehow, we arrived at the airport in one piece!

We were amused to see horoscopes and zodiac signs adorning the walls of the car hire office. Were they lacking in faith in their customers’ driving abilities and looking for higher assistance?

They took us to the car. My father, who wasn’t in those days accustomed to driving a vehicle with automatic transmission, asked for some instructions, so they showed him how to turn the radio on. Apparently no other knowledge was required. Off we set.

My mother expressed her concern fairly early on that Dad wasn’t adjusting his position on the road sufficiently to take account of the fact that she was on the side of the car next to the sheer drop down to the ocean. After a while he got the hang of that but decided to turn the air-conditioning on. The next thing we knew, water was pouring down the inside of the front windscreen. He couldn’t pull over so we continued to drive on while my mother delved in the glove compartment to find the manual, which she then flicked through to find out how to rectify the situation. Eventually everything settled down and on we drove. 

Photograph showing a driver's-eye-view of cars on a highway in rural California.
On the road…

We spent our first night in Monterey.

I had suggested we use the Motel 6 chain as I had stayed in them on a previous trip. Basic but perfectly acceptable. We discovered we were a “1, 2, 3”, which meant one room, two beds, and three adults.

The most entertaining aspect of Motel 6 was the vibrating bed. Usually, one bed in each room would, for the price of a quarter, start vibrating in a very untherapeutic manner. I would love to know if anyone has ever actually found this helpful, but it was certainly amusing.

The coastline was stunningly beautiful. From the wharf at Monterey we could watch otters lying on their backs in the water, their shellfish dinners on their chests, which they would then clasp in a paw and eat.

We sat on the beach at Spanish Bay, listening to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and soaking up the sun.

At this point my father broke a tooth on an apple, (newly purchased to replace the one confiscated at the airport). We decided not to try and get him any help as we felt that a trip to the dentist might turn out to be quite expensive!

At Carmel we lunched in a country park which, my parents assured me, contained miles and miles of spectacular scenery. We watched ground squirrels scurrying about and observed, with the bemusement of the British abroad, a small child attempting and failing to eat a triple-decker sandwich. Why had her mother given it to her in the first place? What strange customs these people had!

We also visited the Mission Basilica at Carmel where Father Junipero Serra once lived and worked. In the 18th century, he travelled much of the Californian coast, preaching to the native Americans and others, and establishing mission churches along the way. The church was lovely. Father Junipero’s quarters were very basic. He seems to have been a very humble and sincere man.

We stayed at Morro Bay that night.

I should mention a couple more aspects of our stays in Motel 6. I had warned my parents, great tea drinkers that they were, that they would not like American tea, so we brought our own. We also brought our own electric jug kettle so that we could have our customary morning cuppa before setting out to face the day. However, we found the low voltage of the American power supply made the boiling of the jug a long slow process. We also found that the position of the socket meant that it was necessary to balance the kettle on something so that it didn’t pull the wire out.

What handy object did we find for this purpose?

The Gideons’ Bible.

It served us well throughout our trip. We were intrigued to find that not only did occupants of the motel read said Bible, they also wrote comments in the margin. It was sometimes possible to follow an entire discussion by reading the notes and following instructions such as “but also read John 1:2 -5,” or words to that effect. Sometimes the trail would take you through huge chunks of both the Old and New Testament.

What better basis could there be for brewing a good strong cup of tea?

Judith in California: Part 1 – San Francisco

The lovely sunny weather we’re enjoying here in England at the moment is bringing back memories of past holidays. The one that particularly comes to mind is my second trip to the USA…

Many years ago, I used to work for the braille production unit at the RNIB. When the organisation moved this unit from London to Peterborough, however, many of the staff, including me, took the redundancy money and ran for the hills or, in my case, the United States, because I used my money to take my parents on holiday to California. I thought they would enjoy it.

We flew out of London Heathrow, appropriately enough, on Ascension Day. My father was not a happy flier and so it wasn’t an auspicious start when take-off was delayed. The laid-back American pilot assured us that said delay wasn’t because the crew were getting nervous, though Dad clearly was. After this unpromising start, he survived the flight quite well, but was then thoroughly alarmed by the plane’s sharp banking round some tall mountains on our approach to LAX. Despite Dad’s fears, though, the pilot brought the aircraft down smoothly and taxied us to the terminal without incident.

I had booked assistance because of my mobility issues and my parents were very grateful for this. They said they would never have found their way round the airport on their own. Fortunately, they only had to follow me in my wheelchair. Apart from my mum having to surrender her apple to customs, there were no dramas and we made our connection to San Francisco without incident.

Why San Francisco?

Because a friend of mine from college was living there. She met us at the airport and took us back to her house for a cup of tea (and it was real tea too, not the Americans’ idea of tea!).

I thought it would be a good idea to spend a weekend in San Francisco acclimatizing and recovering from the journey before picking up a hire car, so my friend booked us into a motel.

Photograph of San Francisco
San Francisco

San Francisco is known for its restaurants and we did have some excellent meals out. (I also recall eating KFC in the motel room on one occasion, but you can’t live it up all the time!)

The first place we visited was Fisherman’s Wharf. We bought clam chowder from  a street stall and ate it sitting on the kerb. Well, we were on holiday, so we were letting our hair down!

One day it rained but, no matter, we sheltered in the Cable Car Museum. Basically, this was a room under the streets where you could see the mechanism that powered what we would call a tram system. After trains and buses, trams were my father’s favourite thing. Mum and I just sat on a bench and let Dad revel in the excitement of looking at a load of cables.

My father was a clergyman and it was his custom to find churches for us to attend when we went on holiday. California was no exception. He searched the phone book in the motel, made a couple of calls and Sunday found us at the First Congregational Church.

We were warmly greeted at the door and had pink rosebud stickers affixed to our coats to show we were visitors. During the service, visitors were invited to stand up and it turned out that we made up a large proportion of those present. It was Memorial Weekend, when the dead of all wars are commemorated in the States. We were interested that candles were lit for members of the church who had died, but most of them were not military veterans but people who had died from AIDS.

That evening, we attended choral evensong at Grace Cathedral. It couldn’t have been more different from the studied informality of the morning’s service with the Congregationalists. This was worship on the grand scale: formal, liturgical and awe-inspiring. It was a wonderful experience.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Colour illustration of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party by Sir John Tenniel, from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".

Another week in lockdown. Another week in this strange new reality.

Perhaps it is fitting that my PA and I have been proofreading a braille transcription of Alice in Wonderland. There are no hookah-smoking caterpillars in my garden (as far as I know), but as I sit in different chairs around my table drinking tea, coffee or wine, depending on the time of day, I could easily be at the Mad Hatter’s tea party!

In some ways life hasn’t changed that much. I get up and start work at the usual time and keep to my daily work routines. On the days when I don’t have much work to do I try to spend the time constructively, keeping abreast of emails, talking to friends and family on the phone, and dealing with any church business that needs to be done now.

On the other hand, as I sit in my office, I am aware of how quiet my street is. I no longer hear the children arriving and departing from the pre-school across the road. I don’t hear the older children coming down this way at around three o’clock in the afternoon every weekday. The occasional family strolls past, no doubt out for their Boris walk, and I occasionally hear pedestrians exchange a word or two as they pass by.

On the other hand, if I sit in my back garden, everything sounds much the same. Families are outside enjoying the sunshine. I chat to my neighbours over the fence. I hear the odd car come and go. I have even noticed a few more birds singing joyfully, which lifts my spirits.

I am very fortunate. I got a grocery delivery from Tesco this week. I still have people assisting me with important domestic tasks.

Many visually-impaired people aren’t so lucky.

I have heard of shops refusing to allow visually impaired people to enter because we can’t see the markers on the floor intended to keep us six feet apart. In fact, keeping a set distance from others is well-nigh impossible if you can’t see where the other person is.

Many visually impaired people are still finding it difficult to get delivery slots with the major supermarket chains. Whilst it is great that some of these shops are offering allotted times to key workers and vulnerable people, these times are often early in the morning, when many of those vulnerable people couldn’t possibly get to the shops. Many of them have to wait for carers who might not arrive until lunchtime, and who are themselves dependent on public transport which no longer runs with the same frequency or reliability as before.

There will be a lot of visually impaired people who never leave their homes throughout this entire lockdown because no one can get close enough to guide them and they can’t practice social distancing without help.

I’m not blaming anybody. This is a new situation for all of us and we are having to learn how to cope as we go along.

Next time you applaud the NHS – who certainly deserve our praise – just spare a thought for the kind friends and family members who are taking the time and taking the risks in queueing patiently outside shops in order to help their disabled friends and relations to survive.


Are you reading this in lockdown?

Wherever you are, it is likely your movements have been curtailed to some extent.

It all happened so quickly. Two Mondays ago I had a meeting here with two of my fellow church trustees. We started to discuss this new virus and declared that we wouldn’t rush to close the church down.

The next day people who had booked rooms at our building started to cancel. Next, speakers for our midweek meetings started cancelling.

I sent an email round the trustees with some options for when we would hold our next meeting. Within two hours of this, all the participating denominations in our ecumenical partnership – the Baptists, Methodists and United Reformed Church – all contacted us to tell us to shut everything down.

And so we did.

All the groups I am involved in and all the meetings I was due to attend, all gone, gone, gone.

It felt surreal.

So how is it in lockdown for a visually-impaired person?

In some ways I am lucky. I work from home and, at present, still have work, so my daily routine hasn’t changed that much. As you might guess from my last three blog posts, I spent the first eight days of the crisis trying to get all my specialist software working properly on my new computer and learning how to use the latest version of Microsoft Office. I didn’t have time to think very much about the virus.

Since then, life has fallen into a pattern of sorts. The big difference, of course, is that I’m seeing fewer people. My PA is still getting my shopping but rather than coming in to work with me in my office, she has taken home with her some print copies of children’s books that I am checking so we can proofread them over the phone or via Messenger.

My cleaner, who, I suspect, can’t afford not to work, is still turning up once a week. We make sure that we are hardly ever in the same room and she wears gloves the whole time she is here. At the end of her work, I hand her her cash in a money bag, to minimise the contact between us.

I did have an “interesting” visit to the doctor’s surgery, though. It happened like this.

I have to have regular blood tests. I received two text messages on my mobile phone the week before my latest appointment. One was a reminder and the other said, “Ring before attending.”

I tried calling the surgery the day before the appointment. I couldn’t get through, but I did manage to speak to someone first thing the next day. She told me that if I hadn’t been contacted by the nurse, I should come in. I duly called a taxi. The driver had spent part of the morning taking key workers to their places of employment around the town. Apart from that, he said, there was little trade.

We arrived at the surgery.

The driver kindly helped me in. There was a barrier of chairs preventing patients from getting too close to the reception desk. I called my name across the no-man’s-land. I was told to go upstairs.

Easy for you to say!

After I had explained that I was visually impaired, the receptionist came out from behind her desk and made her way around the barricade. She then guided me upstairs. I made sure I didn’t touch her skin when I took her arm, but she assured me she was wearing gloves.

The surgery was eerily quiet. The nurse called me in and tried to guide me in such a way that I hardly touched anything.

Afterwards, the nurse put a pair of gloves on me so that I was protected in the taxi home. She was concerned that I didn’t know what I might be picking up. She also kindly gave me two spare pairs to take home.

One of my regular drivers picked me up. I hastened to reassure him that I wasn’t wearing gloves because I was infectious and that it was simply a precaution. He took it in his stride but, like the other driver, told me how little work there was at the moment.

Apart from that, I’m home every day, grateful that I have a garden to walk out into to get fresh air and a change of scene. My heart goes out to those who don’t have this facility.

Given that we are all now so isolated, I am profoundly glad to be living in a time when technology allows us to still keep in contact. WhatsApp, the phone, email and Messenger are all helping me to keep in touch with friends and family. I also enjoy my niece’s weekly pub quiz, live from her lounge on Facebook on Monday nights. (The link is here. You’ll have to send her a Friend request, but make sure you mention that you’re a friend of her Auntie Judy!)

Our poetry group is going to meet on Zoom and I was able to participate in a church-related meeting on that platform yesterday.

What of the future?

Among other things, I am concerned that I will miss my chiropractic appointment, which is due next week but, as my grandmother used to say, “Worse things happen at sea.” (Why a woman who lived in Buckinghamshire, which is nowhere near the sea, was so fond of this saying, I simply can’t imagine!)

I hope that, wherever you are, and whatever your circumstances you are remaining well and keeping sane. If you get really bored, you can always read all my past blog posts!

No internet!

When we installed Windows 10 on my PC, my copy of Windows Live Mail stopped working properly.

My brother suggested Mozilla Thunderbird as an alternative email program, and kindly installed it for me remotely using TeamViewer.

Needless to say, Thunderbird looks completely different to Live Mail, so I am having to learn how to use it from scratch. Fortunately, a friend who is visually-impaired uses this program, so she was able to help me learn my way around it. My brother also found a list of keystrokes for me, which has proved very handy.

At last, everything was working.

Then I lost the internet.

Well, my PC did. I could still converse with Alexa and use my phone, and my lodger was able to use her laptop, but my desktop machine just wouldn’t play ball. My lodger kindly spent a chunk of one evening trying everything she could think of to get it working again, but to no avail.

The following day I phoned my internet provider. They tried to be helpful but we kept coming up against problems.

“Is your router black?” they asked.

I replied, “Sorry, I’m visually-impaired. I think it is.”

“Is there a yellow wire coming out the back of it?”

“Sorry, I don’t know.”

“Can you trace the wire from your router to the computer?”

“If you could only see the mound of wires I have here! No, I don’t think I can do that.”

And so on.

In the end I thanked them for their time and rang off.

My next step was to call my local computer shop, who have looked after my IT hardware for many years now. My trusty local man came out and tried to sort out the problem.

Eventually, he said that my PC seemed to be connected to a public network. He changed it over to our own private connection and, for a few precious minutes, I got the internet back.

Then it went again.

Apart from those few minutes, I had been without the internet for three days by this point and I was getting anxious. Not only is it vital for work but it is also something of a lifeline.

On Saturday morning, lo and behold, the internet came back from wherever it had been sulking and all was well. My brother accessed my computer remotely for me and found how to change the connection from the useless public network to our own private one. Wonder of wonders, after he’d shown me how, I could even do it for myself.

Until today, that is, when I found myself lacking a connection again and tried to follow the instructions we had compiled at the weekend. Different messages were coming up to those we’d encountered previously and I couldn’t work out how to get to where I needed to be.

If you are reading this, then you’ll know that I did finally manage to get a connection for long enough to email this blog post to my brother-in-law so that he could publish it on my website. And if that all happened, then I can’t even begin to tell you just how relieved I am!

Driving me dotty

In last week’s blog I explained how updating the operating system on my PC to Windows 10 caused all sorts of problems for the specialist software I use to run my braille transcription business.

In particular, I had to re-install JAWS, the text-to-speech program which I use to read aloud documents on my computer. After we’d finally sorted that out, I hoped that would be the end of my problems, but it wasn’t, because I soon realised that Duxbury wasn’t working properly either.

Duxbury is the program I use for braille translation. When all is working as it should, I open the document to be transcribed, usually a Word or text file, run it through Duxbury, and what comes up on my braille display is a pretty good braille document. Pretty good, but not perfect, so I carefully go through it and create the appropriate layout and correct any braille errors.

I can do this because the braille is coming up under my fingers on my braille display. This is a tablet which sits in front of the keyboard and produces what is known as refreshable braille. This is formed by tiny pins which can rise and fall to create braille symbols under my fingertips as the screen cursor is moved along the line of text and down the page. It is a brilliant piece of kit without which my job would be very difficult.

I can edit in braille on the computer because while in Duxbury, the home keys on my conventional QWERTY keyboard – that is to say, the letters S, D and F under my left hand, and J, K and L under my right – operate as a braille keyboard, allowing me to write in braille, just as if I were using my manual Perkins Brailler.

This kit is expensive, but when I first started my braille transcription business, there were no government grants or subsidies to help pay for this type of software and equipment. In those days, I had to create the document in an early word processor called Word Perfect. I would then run the Word Perfect file through a braille translation program, print it off in hard copy, read it, note any errors, and then go back into the Word Perfect file to make my corrections. After that, I had to run the corrected document through the braille translation program all over again, and finally print it off for the customer.

Looking back on that era, I think, “What a waste of time and paper!”

You can also see why I value Duxbury and why I was so keen to get it back up and running again after I installed Windows 10.

The first thing we needed to do was uninstall the previous installation of Duxbury. That’s where the fun started.

We couldn’t do it.

The installation process kept asking us for codes we didn’t have. We urgently needed to contact the manufacturer.

Two problems there.

Duxbury Systems, who make the braille translation software, are based in Westford, Massachusetts, in the USA. That means that they are four hours behind the UK at this time of year.

And the other problem? It was a Sunday.

On Monday, I allowed them time to wake up and then emailed Duxbury Systems. They emailed back that all would be well now.

It was evening by this point, so my brother in Leicester was back home from work and able to help me out. He used a program called TeamViewer to remotely access my computer and together we tackled the Duxbury installation process again.

We were soon asked for our licence number. This was printed on the side of the box the software came in, which is fine if you’re sighted, but left it absolutely inaccessible to me.

I used my mobile phone to contact my sister-in-law on Messenger (is this sounding familiar to regular readers?), and held the software box up in front of the camera on the phone so that she could read the number aloud to my brother, who was sitting next to her, operating his computer.

It took a lot of fiddling about with the phone camera and the box, but we got there in the end.

So, that was well, best beloved (a Kipling reference there), but then we were asked for a reference code. Fortunately, the good people of Massachusetts were still awake and at work, so I was able to email them. They wrote back and, guess what, we should have de-activated Duxbury before uninstalling it. No one I had spoken to had mentioned this before.

Oh dear… Return to Go, do not collect £200!

We did manage to get Duxbury back up and running eventually. Did everything else run smoothly after that? Hah! I’ll tell you the rest next week.

Rescue from the death of JAWS!

If you’re a PC user, you’ve probably been running Windows 10 for ages but I have come to the party rather late in the day. It had to be done, though, so a couple of weeks ago my brother kindly helped me load the operating system onto my PC. It all seemed very straightforward and I thought at first that everything was running normally.

Ha! I wish! It turned out that JAWS wasn’t working properly.

JAWS, which stands for Job Access With Speech, is the software which runs the speech and braille applications on my computer. In theory, the program converts everything on the screen to speech. So, as I move the cursor through, for example, a Word document, JAWS will read it aloud to me. I can also navigate through a document letter by letter so I can find errors and correct them. JAWS will even read punctuation if I place the cursor over the relevant symbol. I also use it for reading emails as it is quick and easy and saves my joints, which get a lot of stress while reading braille.

I said that, in theory, JAWS can read everything on the screen. To do that, though, you have to be able to move the cursor onto every part of the screen and I have often found that this is easier said than done.

Sometimes, for example, when I have a problem reading a document, I ask my sighted PA what is on the screen and she says, “You need to get to the column on the left.”

Documents like that pose two levels of difficulty for me. How do I know that there is another column on the left and, even if I do discover its existence, how do I get to it?

I’m not saying that someone with more technical expertise than me couldn’t make JAWS reach the parts that other programs cannot reach (which, for those of you too young to have been watching UK TV ads during the 1970s, is an oblique reference to a famous beer commercial), but it can be very frustrating when I can’t do what a sighted person viewing the screen could manage so easily.

That said, JAWS is a great asset and, despite its annoying robotic voice, I find it invaluable.

So, how to get JAWS up and running again following the belated arrival of Windows 10?

First, my brother and I had to uninstall JAWS. That was interesting because it was at that point that we discovered that I already had not one but two versions of the program on my computer, so one had to be deleted.

We then re-installed the other version and restarted the computer. We waited with, literally in my case, baited breath, to see if JAWS would start again.

I shouted “Alleluia!” when the robot voice announced “JAWS Professional,” and we all breathed again.

So that was it, then? Everything running perfectly on the new operating system?

You’ve got to be joking! After that we had to sort out Duxbury… But I’ll tell you about that next week.