Touch tours

In my last blog post, I waxed lyrical about the benefits which the audio-description of television programmes, cinema films and theatrical performances has brought to those with visual impairments. I also mentioned that there have been other exciting developments which provide improved access to the world of live theatre.

Let me tell you this week about my favourite of these: the touch tour.

Many theatres run touch tours and invite visually-impaired show-goers to arrive a couple of hours before curtain-up and actually walk around on the stage. It’s wonderful! You’re allowed to handle props and costumes and even, sometimes, to meet cast members, who kindly give up their time to participate.

The audio-describer will also be there to introduce themselves and tell you a little bit about the show so you can understand the context before the performance starts.

I have experienced some great touch tours. Wearing the crown on the set of David Greig’s Dunsinane was amazing! Walking up and down the street scene in Richard Bean’s One Man, Two Guvnors, opening all the doors of the houses, was like playing Wendy houses for grown-ups. You should have seen the grin on my face!

Sometimes the information I gain from a touch tour proves indispensable for understanding the nature of the performance I will later experience. That was certainly the case with War Horse. I would never have been able to visualise the puppets from a verbal description. It was also a great privilege to touch the horse puppets and have their operators explain how they worked.

Whenever there are stairs on the set, I always have a strong urge to climb them. I think there is a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk impulse in me that makes me want to find out what is at the top. On the set of Brian Friel’s Translations at the New Theatre, Oxford, there was a rustic stairway going up to a hayloft. The organisers of the touch tour refused me permission to climb this on health and safety grounds. Spoil-sports!

(Another great part of that set was the floor. It was made to look like rough ground in the countryside and it felt rough too, creating a good impression of the atmosphere they were aiming for.)

I did a little better when I went to see Twelfth Night at the National Theatre last year. In addition to the thrill of chatting to actor Tamsin Greig, I also got to explore the production’s fantastic set. It was in the form of a revolving stage, divided up into a series of different “rooms”, including a chapel, and one with a long table. The best part, though, was the garden, complete with topiary and a fountain.

Later on, various actors would jump into the fountain at different points during the play. Thanks to the touch tour, though, unlike most of the audience, I was in on the secret: despite the actors’ cries of shock, the water in the fountain was actually kept pleasantly warm.

But I was talking about flights of steps… The set for Twelfth Night included a magnificent staircase which I found completely irresistible. The helper nearest to me kindly “turned a blind eye” (if you’ll excuse the expression) and I duly went up a little way. The stairs were very steep so I didn’t venture too far. It did help me appreciate how hard the actors were working, though, as they ran up and down them during the performance.

I was also fortunate enough to have a touch tour of The Mousetrap at my local theatre, the Wyvern. This came about because I am a “theatrical landlady”, providing accommodation for actors and stage crew who come to put on shows here in Swindon. One of the team involved in this production was lodging with me and, when they heard that I was going to see a performance, they arranged for me to have my own personal tour of the set.

This turned out to be a wonderfully detailed recreation of a 1950s living-room. The wall-panelling was skilfully reproduced and the period sofa was actually very comfortable. (I know, because I got to sit on it!) They even made sure that the Christmas presents were wrapped in the right sort of brown paper and string.

Possibly the most fun part of the tour was experiencing the snow machine. The stage crew turned it on for me and let me feel what is was like to be in a fake snow story. The flakes were feathery light and melted very quickly.

Family and friends who have accompanied me on these tours have loved them too. If you ever get a chance to go on one, do take it!

Audio Description

Do you enjoy watching telly?

I do and, yes, I do “watch” TV. Please don’t feel you have to alter your language when speaking to visually-impaired people. We “watch” TV; we “see” our friends.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’m going to tell you about how I watch TV.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to watch a detective programme without looking at the screen but, if you have, you’ll have discovered that it’s very difficult to follow the plot. For most of my life, my family gallantly explained the action to me in various TV detective series, thrillers and comedies.

This was always a challenge and it became even more of one as my parents got older and filming techniques changed. Sometimes they would say, “Well, we would tell you what’s going on, but we don’t actually know ourselves. They’re currently creeping around in the dark!”

Over time, my parents’ ability to remember names also became less reliable and their commentary would often degenerate into something like this: “A man has just come into the room… It’s that one, you know… The one who was in the pub earlier with that girl, what’s-her-name…”

Or words to that effect!

Then a new system was introduced: audio-description. You pressed the appropriate button on your remote control and a soundtrack would be played with a description of what was happening on screen.

As I understand it, the additional soundtrack is created by amazing people who watch the programmes with great care and attention and note everything a viewer might want or need to know. They then write and record a script.

With audio-description, the visually-impaired viewer is told what is happening, what actors look like, what they are wearing, and, if they are reading a text, what it says. The commentators aren’t allowed to talk over the dialogue, so they have to get all this information in during breaks in speech.

The introduction of this system not only transformed watching television for me, but it also made life much easier for my parents as well. They no longer needed to remember who was who because the audio-describer would always use the correct names. They could also watch whilst doing other things, such as, in my mother’s case, knitting.

Which is not to say that they didn’t have the occasional argument with the audio-description. If the commentators got the make of a car wrong, my father would correct them every time they mentioned it. My mother, meanwhile, if the programme was set during the Christmas period, would say things like, “I would have described the decorations to you!”

Mainly, though, audio-description was a huge hit with all of us.

Sadly, my parents are no longer with us, but I still love detective programmes and am pleased to say that most of those appearing on prime-time TV are fully audio-described, as are many thrillers, comedies and documentaries.

And this wonderful invention is not limited to television. These days, it’s also often available in cinemas and theatres too. You are given a pair of headphones and you can listen to the audio-description without disturbing other members of the audience. In the case of theatres, there have also been some even more exciting developments to improve access for those with visual impairments, but I’ll tell you all about those another time.

I’m going to watch some telly now. I think I’m in the mood for a good murder mystery!

Eye droppers

I’m going to have a bit of a moan this time…

Have you ever struggled to open a child-proof container of pills? If so, you will know that the best solution is to find a child to open it for you!

Over the years, I have had to use eye drops of many different varieties. Most of them have been simple to use. You simply remove the top, take aim, and squeeze the bottle. Occasionally, though, the pharmaceutical industry catches you out.

Sometimes I have been dispensed a bottle in which you, the patient, have to make the hole the liquid comes out of. This involves trying to sterilise a needle as best you can, poking it into the top and hoping for the best.

If, like me, you can’t see bottle, never mind any instructions, it can take a while for you to realise that this is what you have to do. You can squeeze fruitlessly for quite a time before it occurs to you that it isn’t working.

Once you’ve found out what to do, you still have a challenge. You may be able to find and clean a needle, but you then have to make the hole. That’s difficult enough, but you also have to do all this without touching anything, because, if you do, the tip of the eye drop bottle will no longer be sterile.

Recently, I had another challenge. I was dispensed eye drops that didn’t seem to be working. When my sister came over to see me, I asked her to check them out for me. She read the leaflet and discovered that the drops worked on a pump-action mechanism. Not only would I never have worked this out for myself, but it isn’t as easy to us as it sounds . I have to hold a tissue, hold my eye open, guide the dropper to the right place and press the bottom of the bottle, all with only two hands!

I am gradually getting the hang of it but, surely, pharmaceutical companies should give a bit more thought to the needs of the end-user?

Braille production

I promised in my last blog that I would tell you a little bit about the practicalities of my work as a braille transcriber and proof-reader. Here’s a brief overview of how I do what I do.

Organisations and individuals commission me to convert conventional print documents into braille. They would like the braille version to work for a visually impaired person just as effectively as the printed version works for a sighted person, so I need to have a detailed knowledge of not just the content, but also the layout and format of the printed original. My visual impairment is pretty severe, however, so I can’t see or read the print version. I therefore work with a sighted personal assistant (PA) and it’s part of her job not just to read print documents to me, but also to describe how they are structured.

Most of my work comes to me in the form of email attachments. When a new piece of work arrives, I print a copy off for my PA and save the file. We then go through the document together and she will describe the layout, with particular emphasis on the types of headings that it contains. In print, those creating documents can use a whole battery of tools and techniques to emphasize particular lines and words, including colours, different fonts and font sizes, underlining, italics and emboldening.

Braille is more limited. There is a hierarchy of headings, such as centred, justified on the left with a blank line above it, and indented with or without italics. I have to decide which will be most helpful in a particular document. This means thinking about how it will be used.

Will it be read at home, or in a business meeting?” Does the customer need to find certain items quickly?

If the print version uses lots of different coloured headings, is this just for the sake of a pleasing appearance or is there some other significance? Can this be simplified in the braille version?

Once I understand the layout of the original, I run the file, usually a Word document, through a translation program which produces a braille version I can read and edit on my computer.

I read through the translation line by line on my braille display. This is a tablet in front of the keyboard with pins which come up to form braille signs which I can feel with my fingers as I move the cursor through the document. I can edit the braille cells using the A, S, and D keys under the fingers on my left hand on the qwerty keyboard, and the J, K and L keys under my right, which become equivalent respectively to each of the six braille dots.

Technically, I should produce the braille document to correspond exactly with the print version, otherwise I am in breach of copyright. However, there are sometimes errors in the original and these become a complete nonsense if translated into braille. For example, there is a braille sign for the conjunction “and”. If the print version misspells this word as “nad”, a sighted reader will usually be able to recognise that this is a mistake and work out what the word should be. If you feed “nad” through a braille translation program, though, the output will not resemble the sign for “and” in the slightest and the resulting pattern of dots simply won’t make sense to a braille reader. Where there is this kind of error, I will correct the braille version, though I never change grammar, however poor it might be.

Once I am satisfied that the braille is correct and that it is a faithful representation of the original print version of the document, I run off a hard copy on a braille embosser. This is a noisy machine which embosses dots on both sides. I then collate and tag the document, or my PA comb-binds it, if required.

Another part of my job is proofreading material produced by others. I am the proofreader for  a charity called the ClearVision Project which produces children’s books in braille. They take print books and interleave the braille on clear plastic. This enables a visually-impaired child to read with a sighted adult and vice versa. I loved reading these books with my nieces when they were young. ClearVision also produce chapter books for slightly older children which my assistant and I thoroughly enjoy proofreading together. She acts as “copyholder,” reading the print while I check the braille. To make sure we keep as alert as possible, we take turns to read a page each aloud.

And that’s pretty much it. Do get in touch at if you have any questions or if there is a braille job that you would like me to carry out for you or your organisation. Over the years, an interesting variety of work has come my way, including transcribing into braille for a PhD student the communications between Mission Control and one of the Apollo space flights, and proofreading the braille version of the Little Oxford English Dictionary in a mere 40 volumes!

Joining the dots…

As this is, after all, the Swindon BRAILLE Services blog, I think it’s probably high time that I talked a bit about braille. I’ll tell you next week about how I actually do my job as a braille transcriber but let’s start this week with a quick explanation of what braille is and how it works. 

Braille is a tactile system of six raised dots arranged in different ways to form letters, contractions, word-signs and symbols. It was invented to help visually impaired people to read and write by the Frenchman Louis Braille, and there is a good Wikipedia article about him here, as well as a general article on the braille system itself. (As you can see, the modern convention is to use an initial capital “B” for Braille, the name of the man who invented the system, and a lower case “b” for braille, the writing system that he invented.)

The six dots are arranged in a block known as a cell and are numbered in two columns, top to bottom, so that the top left dot is 1, the middle left dot is 2, and the bottom left dot is 3. The right-hand column is then numbered as top dot 4, middle dot 5, and bottom dot 6.

Louis Braille was French and so developed his system to work in the French language. Today, there are many different national variations and, because I live and work in the UK, I will describe the version we use here in this country.

There are two grades of braille. Grade 1 is the alphabet plus punctuation. Grade 2 incorporates other signs as well.

For instance, in Grade 2 braille, there are combinations of dots representing frequently used words such as and, with, the, of and for. Each letter of the alphabet also stands for a word if written spaced from other words. Thus “B” stands for but, “C” for can and so on, through to “Z” which stands for as.

In addition, in Grade 2 braille, if you put a modifier in front of various letters, other words are formed. For example, “dot 5 W” stands for the word work. Dot 5 isn’t the only modifier, either. For instance, there are a series of words formed by placing dots 4 and 5 in front of a word. In fact, dots 4-5 in front of W create the word word!

Combinations of dots in the lower part of the cell often stand for punctuation. Thus, when all the dots used in the pattern which normally indicates the letter “f” are lowered by a row, the pattern instead becomes an exclamation mark. If, in addition, you put a dot 5 in front of this lowered “f” pattern, you get a plus sign.

I hope that this brief whistle-stop tour gives you some idea of how braille works. If you would like more information on Grade 2 braille, read the Wikipedia article on English Braille. It is mostly concerned with the version of Braille used in the United States, which is slightly different from that used in the UK, but some of the differences are briefly explained.

As a child, I was desperate to learn to read again, having lost my sight just at the point when I was discovering the joy of books. Thus motivated, I learnt the basics fairly quickly. I think I was reading age-appropriate material within a school term, possibly a little sooner. I was only seven years old, so my fingers were very sensitive. It can be much harder for older people or those with conditions such as diabetes, which affect sensitivity, to learn braille. When I taught at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) vocational training college, I found that people who had done manual work often had calloused fingers and found it almost impossible to feel the dots with which braille cells are constructed.

Taking the Bus

I recently visited an old school friend of mine in Cambridge. The most straightforward way to get there from where I live in Swindon is to go by bus. There isn’t a single through-bus that goes all the way, however, and when you have a visual impairment, changing buses can be difficult. I therefore persuaded a friend to drive me to Oxford so I wouldn’t have to change buses. She kindly put me on the Cambridge bus and off I went.

Everything after that should have been straightforward but, for some reason, whenever I do this journey, the supposedly “through-bus” mysteriously turns into a “part-way-through bus” and I end up having to change buses at Bedford.

Sure enough, when we reached Bedford, those of us travelling to Cambridge had to alight and get on a double-decker. I piped up that I would need some help accomplishing this. The lady from the bus company told me to wait and she would come and get me, so I stayed put and waited anxiously for what was going to happen next.

After a short while, she returned. She offered me an arm in the approved manner and guided me to the next bus, where she had put a ramp down for me so I wouldn’t have to negotiate steps. I was impressed.

She told the driver that I needed to alight at Parkside and off we went. Parkside is the terminal but, as my friend pointed out, the bus goes back to Oxford, so you do have to make sure you get off!

I was just a little worried that, by the time we reached Cambridge, the driver would have forgotten about me, but, no, far from it. He came to help me off.

I asked if he could see a lady with a guide dog waiting for me in the bus station. Unfortunately, a “helpful” member of the public had sent my friend off to the wrong bay and she was nowhere in sight. For a moment, I was completely flummoxed. What was I do?

I was very touched when the driver said, “Don’t worry, I won’t leave you until you’ve met up with your friend.”

These are the sort of reassuring words you want to hear in these situations and I can’t tell you how much of a relief they were to me. Eventually, with the help of mobile phones, some better informed members of the public, and the patient driver, we managed to find one another.

Travelling on your own when you can’t see can be an eventful experience and I will return to the topic on another occasion, but I hope this brief account will give you a taste of the kind of problems you can encounter and how wonderful it is when you come across truly helpful people.

Oh, and before you go, can I ask you a favour?

If a visually-impaired person asks you if this is the bay for the Oxford bus and you’re not sure of the answer, please don’t guess. Just tell them you don’t know. It causes much less trouble in the long run!

Making Introductions

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the day surgery unit at our local hospital in order to have a calcium deposit removed from my left cornea. My ophthalmologist hoped that this might let a little more light in, thereby slightly improving my sight. More on that later.

I turned up, as requested, at 12.45 p.m. and then sat around in the waiting room for five hours. The morning’s operations all overran and my surgeon didn’t start his afternoon list until 3 p.m. Naturally, I was last on the list! My surgeon could have cancelled the op but he was determined to carry out all the planned procedures, for which I was grateful. I had no desire to go away and have to come back another day.

My brother-in-law and niece were real stars, staying through the afternoon and looking after me. The staff at the day surgery unit also did their best to keep me informed. The nurse responsible for looking after the ophthalmic patients regularly updated me on what was happening, and identified herself clearly each time she did so. This is very helpful, because otherwise I would have had no idea who was talking to me.

I was eventually taken into surgery at 6 p.m.

I have touched on bad practice in the National Health Service (NHS) in previous blogs but I ought to give credit this time to some excellent practice in the way that staff worked with me as a visually impaired patient.

For example, the surgeon identified himself every time he came in the room and explained exactly what was happening. He also gave me several time checks so that I had some idea of how much longer I had to lie still, staring at one particular spot with a gadget in my eye so I couldn’t blink at an awkward moment. He kept saying encouraging things like, “You’re doing very well,” though, as my niece pointed out, it isn’t how I was doing that was the point. What you need to know in these situations is that the surgeon is doing very well!

When the surgery was over, a nurse carefully explained the eye-drop regime I needed to follow when I got home. She even took one of the ampules out of its box and let me feel it, to make sure I knew what I should expect to find, and to check that I knew how to open it.

All in all, despite the long wait, everyone looked after me very well that day. They guided me when I needed it, kept me informed and, crucially, told me who was speaking to me. This is definitely good practice!

Oh, and, no, I don’t think the operation has made any material difference to what I can see but, never mind. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

My Recipe for Success (or Disaster!)

People often ask me if I cook for myself and, if so, how I do it.

The answer is yes, I do cook for myself, and, of course, I’m happy to tell you all about it. I’ll even share my favourite recipe with you (see below!). First of all, though, I ought to tell you how I learned to cook in the first place.

My culinary career had a very doubtful start. I don’t know what they’re called now, but in my day, cookery lessons at school were known as “domestic science”, or “DS”, and we had a particularly terrifying DS teacher at Chorleywood College, the special school for the visually impaired which I attended during my teenage years. She was disabled herself and, because she couldn’t move quickly, if one of her blind pupils was about to burn themselves, she would shout a warning across the classroom. Unfortunately, she often shouted completely the wrong name, leaving the specified pupil confused and the endangered pupil still at risk. She would then get more and more angry and het-up as the pupil in danger failed to react to her warning.

DS lessons could get quite stressful.

Our DS teacher also had a morbid fear of waste. I can recall kneeling down, scraping spilled suet up off the floor with a teaspoon in order to put into an apple Charlotte.

The most alarming incident, though, was in my first-year DS exam. I cut my finger on a tin and was too scared to say anything. I washed my finger under the tap and dried it. The teacher’s only remark was, “Next time you cut yourself, don’t wipe your hand on the towel. It will have to go to the laundry now.”

No offer of a plaster!

Later, when I went to college, I shared a kitchen with 11 other students. Students being students, it was always full of stacks of unwashed crockery and I remember having to sit on the floor on at least one occasion in order to mix up my scrambled eggs because there was not an inch of free workspace on which to put the pan.

And at least when I was at school, we had braille markings on the cookers. At college, I had to cook purely by guesswork.

Some food did burn.

Life changed for the better for me, though, when eventually I got access to a microwave. My cooking difficulties have always exacerbated by my arthritis and my inability to hold heavy pots and pans. A microwave situated on a convenient working surface allowed me to shunt containers in and out without bending, which was a terrific boon. Even better, the containers themselves were made of much lighter materials than conventional cookware. There were no naked flames or red-hot cooking rings, either, so, although I still had to be careful, especially when it came to avoiding scalding myself while lifting the lid off a newly microwaved dish, over all I was much less likely to burn myself.

And then, best of all, someone invented the talking microwave. That’s right, you can get microwaves that talk to you. You open the door, and it says, “Door open.” You opt for full power and it says, “Full power.” You set the timer for 5 minutes and it says… Well, you get the idea.

Armed, then, with a talking microwave, and with help and encouragement from my mum, I gradually got my confidence back. Together, we adapted recipes to make them more manageable, sometimes virtually re-writing them. Chicken and tomato risotto became prawn and pineapple risotto… It’s a long story!

(I think it tastes delicious, though, so I’ll give you the recipe at the end of this blog.)

Nowadays, I have a talking combination microwave and convection oven, which is wonderful. It even has an English accent! I also use talking kitchen scales and a talking measuring jug.

I do still have to be adaptable, though. I try to keep different types of tinned goods in separate places, with soup on the left, chickpeas on the right, and elastic bands round mince so I can distinguish it from stewing steak.

It mostly works, but sometimes the system goes wrong. If I open a tin and get a nasty surprise, I may have to quickly change my mind about what I’m going to have for dinner!

I also find it frustrating when I drop food on the floor. Radishes and tomatoes have a nasty habit of rolling away. I may talk about the frustration of losing things another time but, take it from me, even though an item may be quite near you, if you can’t see it, it might as well be on the other side of the room.

So there you have it: with the aid of experience and the help of technology, I do cook for myself. It’s true that I still sometimes cut and burn myself, but who doesn’t? It just goes with the territory. I’ll admit, too, that I’m not very ambitious. I do a lot of one-pot cooking and eat a lot of pasta with veg, or rice with veg, but I don’t go hungry and I do actually enjoy cooking now.

Oh yes, that recipe I promised you… Here it is!

Prawn and Pineapple Risotto


  • 7 oz frozen prawns, defrosted
  • 4 oz rice
  • Tin pineapple chunks
  • Tin garden peas
  • 1 onion
  • 3/4 pint fish stock
  • 2 oz sultanas


Place the onion, rice and some oil in a bowl. Microwave on high for 3 mins.

Add the pineapple chunks and stock. Microwave on high for 6 mins. Stir and microwave on high for another 6 mins. Stir. Microwave on high for 3 mins.

Add the peas and prawns. Microwave on high for 3 mins. Stir. Cook for another three mins.

Stir in the sultanas and serve with grated Parmesan, if desired.


In this week’s blog, Judith Furse explores some of the myriad difficulties facing the visually impaired shopper and shares some poignant and amusing memories of the shopping experience.

Do you remember shopping on the high street?

You bought meat at the butcher’s, fish at the fishmonger’s, and fruit and veg at the greengrocer’s. I can recall shopping with my mother when I was a child. As my sight deteriorated, I found I could still identify the shops we visited by their smell. Even the wool shop had its own individual perfume, sweet and moist, like opening the airing cupboard at home and sniffing the fresh laundry.

This technique was all very well, and vivid enough to my childish mind, but it wouldn’t be much help in a modern supermarket. Supermarkets present a particular challenge to the visually-impaired. These days, when I go to the Co-op, the only aisle I can reliably identify by its scent is the one containing cleaning products.

Many chains do offer assistance to visually impaired shoppers, which is a great idea in theory, but not always so wonderful in practice. One visually-impaired friend of mine gradually came to realise that the person the store had allocated to help him shop could see perfectly all right but couldn’t actually read, which made selecting products somewhat tricky!

It can sometimes be useful to take examples of packaging with you so that the helper can easily see what you want. It is easy to forget names and brands when the information isn’t constantly being reinforced by seeing them.

Then, of course, there are shopping centres.

These often consist of large stores with glass fronts. If you have only a small amount of sight, all the stores look the same and finding the entrance can be nearly impossible. Most shops are self-service, too so, unless you have a helper, you are at sea in a maze of rails and shelves.

Shopping for clothes has its own problems. You have to find someone to assist you whose judgment about colour and style you can really trust. I have heard of ingenious visually-impaired people who snap garments on their mobile phones and send the pictures to trusted friends and family. I prefer to take my long-suffering support worker and friend with me. She patiently helps me sift through rails of outfits and tells me honestly what she thinks when I try the clothes on.

It’s nice when she says, “Oh, that looks good on you, Judy,” but probably even more helpful when she tells me firmly, “That really doesn’t suit you at all!”

Internet shopping has been a great help to those of us who find physical shopping difficult, but it still has its limitations. For example, where clothes are concerned, I like to touch them before making a purchase. If I don’t like the feel of the material, I’m not going to enjoy wearing the item of clothing. Then again, however well styles are described on line, it is still incredibly difficult to visualise them accurately. What you imagine you are buying, based on the description your read on the Internet, is often very different from what turns up when your purchase finally arrives.

What I mind most, though, is not being able to mooch around shops, browsing the merchandise. My visual impairment means that I never have the experience of something catching my eye in a shop window, or of chancing upon that unusual gift in a craft shop somewhere. This might seem like a small matter, but it is a surprisingly poignant loss. I should like, therefore, to salute my friends and family who, over the years, have tried so hard to ameliorate this loss for me.

But let me finish with a funny story.

Back when I was a teenaged schoolgirl boarding at Chorleywood College, we used to hold illicit midnight feasts in the dormitory from time to time. On one occasion, we decided to go a little “upmarket” and, among other things, include cucumber sandwiches in our menu. One of the visually-impaired girls in our form was despatched to buy the ingredients. She entered a shop in the village and was surprised to be greeted warmly and offered a chair. She sat down.

“So, how can we help you?” she was asked.

She started to suspect that something was not right.

“This is the greengrocer’s?” she asked.

“No, we’re an estate agent,” came the reply.

Sport and Drama

Learning to ice-skate and stepping out onto the stage for the first time… Judith Furse continues her account of what it was like to be a young child living away from home at a special boarding school for young people with visual impairments.

We had the opportunity to participate in a number of sporting activities at Linden Lodge School. I learnt to ice-skate.

At my first lesson I was too terrified to let go of the rail until the teacher left us and my friend Debbie, who was a proficient skater, persuaded me to go round with her. She skated backwards, encouraging me step by step until, without realising it, I found I’d skated round the entire rink.

After we came off the ice we were allowed to spend our pocket money in the café. We sat at the tables, chatting over cold drinks and biscuits and feeling very grown-up.

Perhaps my most vivid memories, though, are of doing drama . The headmaster at Linden Lodge, a Welshman called Mr. John, had a true thespian’s voice and always made good use of it. He loved drama and put on a play each year, with the scripts written out for the cast in braille.

My first role was quite humble. I played a fairy with very few lines.

My big break came in a play entitled “The Magic Seashell.” My friend and I starred as two girls who, while playing on the beach, find – guess what – a magic seashell. This leads them into an underwater adventure in which they rescue Neptune and his daughter.

I loved it!

I loved being in the imaginary world created by the scenery, costumes and lights. Oh, and Mr. John played a Welsh whale who came from that village with the very long name*. I suspect that he created the part just so that he could say the name!

Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games and it wasn’t easy having to leave home, but the braille education I received at Linden Lodge School enabled me to read and learn again, and that meant the world to me.

* The village is called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. According to Wikipedia, this means “St Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the fierce whirlpool of St Tysilio of the red cave” in Welsh.