Sunday, 29 May 2011

Buses and rickshaws continued.

Pict: steamy view of hotel pool and undergrowth

Pict:swimming in the downpour

Arriving at the end of the late monsoon season meant I experienced not only the torrential down pores with high temperatures, but I also suffered with the heavy atmosphere which was thick and sticky.  I became extremely appreciative of the efficient air conditioning in the bedroom. However, with the astounding temperatures and humidity in the bathroom, especially after having a shower, I was always anticipating a violent thunder storm in the hall, as two great air systems collided.
Pict: exotic wooden door in the hotel surrounded by plants and stained glass

Large hotels can often leave me feeling lost with their never ending corridors, open plan bars and self serving restaurants; I end up feeling more blind than I normally would.   Quite often hoteliers choose a room far away from the main hub, (us blind people like "quiet"  you know and, and it can take me a fortnight just to learn the route to the bar.  Heathers’ hotel was such a blessing, with the swimming pool, Bar and bedroom being in close proximity. Consequently, if I wished to do my own thing around the grounds, I could, without having to be guided from one part of the hotel to another.

Our friends' hotel (Mollys Retreat)was perfect for getting around, and yet despite the compactness of the grounds I still had to be cautious when moving around. Between the perimeter wall and the pool was a narrow path lined with sun-beds. When using my white cane, if I didn’t concentrate, I could potentially catch one of the beds and pole volt myself into the deep end! 

Pict.view of the swimming pool from the balcony, detailed wrought iron bars

Pict: back of bamboo curved chair- neat crossings of bamboo
Pict: vines climbing up the tree with lots of lush leaves
In the early evening I looked forward to sitting on the balcony and being surrounded by the sounds and smells of what was obviously an incredible country. The warm aroma of the vegetation and early evening wood fires mixed with the sounds of the frogs, Hindu Temple music and faraway voices.  My western senses were being enveloped by the Easternexperience, as I quietly contemplated what would be happening the following day.  
Pict by Steve: pretty lemon flower with petals like tissue 
Pict:lots of green long leaves together with light coming through the gaps

Visually, I really knew I was missing out on something spectacular, with the Asian ladies in their vibrantly coloured saris’ and the landscape with its vivid fruit, flowers and luminous green vegetation.  This was all described to me in detail by a captivated Christine, as we were driven through the countryside.  

Pict: Figs on a branch in the sunshine
 A car journey that normally takes an hour in Scotland, takes approximately three in India. This is mainly due to the busy and poor condition of the roads.  The driving was mesmerising as we never ever came to a stop. We continually seemed to be curving back and forth to the beat of the car horn, like some Indian snake, moving along the road. 
Pict by Steve: busy Indian street view from the car

On one particularly hot, sticky day we decided to head to one of the Indian hill stations where the air promised to be fresher and cooler. It was going to be a three hour car journey, short by Indian standards. My friend Mark, who is also blind, came prepared for the journey; talking books, head phones and lap top computer games.    Our white knuckle ride came to an end when we beat a rickshaw filled with 8 children, to the top of the hill. When we were passing them for the second time, they shouted ”how are you? My name is?” Impeccable English.

Pic: of a row of Risckshaws taken from life and change in an Indian village (Blog)

At the top we stretched our legs and took great lungfuls of fresh air.  But I was disappointed, it didn’t sound, smell or feel any different from the hill-tops in Scotland. 

Pict: steamy mountain top which looks like Scotland

I could have been anywhere in the world and as I wandered around over the hill and in best Scottish traditions the topic of lunch was raised.

 We made our way back to our driver and he drove us down to a Beer bar offering great food and a bottle of beer for the weary traveller.

Pict:Indian Cobra beer top

Going through the door I was hit  with the strong aroma of urine. I really did hope it was an Ammonia based cleaning product.
With noses twitching we reluctantly took our seats. Someone whispered in my ear. “Ian it’s not the cleanest.” Eventually someone came out to take our orders. The choice was vegetable curry, or vegetable curry. We all agreed, “Well, we’ll have vegetable curry then.” from the kitchen we heard the most incredible sounds of someone clearing their throat. “Hack! Hack! Hack! Spit.”. We shuffled nervously in our chairs as our lunch was being prepared. I heard the sizzling of the vegetables and then another whisper in my ear, “we can’t see out the windows too well and my chair is stuck to the floor with grease!  The hacking intensified, not only in regularity, but in volume too.

Pict: bowl of vegetable curry

We were waiting for about 30mins...our nerve broke, getting to our feet we made some pathetic excuse of running late for our driver, so had to go…NOW!. Apologising for wasting their time we offered way over the odds for the bill before heading for the door and to the safety of the car.  But where was the driver? I was frantically shoved into the back seat and Christine ran off to find him.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity, until the driver finally returned looking bemused that we had all been so quick. “We didn’t want to be late going home” we muttered  “lets go.” but wait, where was Christine now?., we still couldn’t go, and we had been spotted by the proprietor, who very graciously started to bring out the curry sauce and chapattis to our car! Where was Christine?, she returned five minutes later carrying crisps! Snacks encase we were hungry, but she was confused, why were we all passing soup plates full of curry sauce between us like an unexploded bomb? And why was no-one eating?  She got into the car made me stuff a chapatti into my mouth, and passed the plates back to the waiter. We asked the driver to step on it, and so we left the Beer bar far behind.    
It must have been the slowest getaway in history. Normally, criminals order the food, eat it, and scarper.  Not, order it, pay in advance, pay more than they asked! and then do a bunk. 

Pict: Indian ornate metal padlock and bolt
                                     Masters of crime we aint. 

Trip Advisor for Mollys' Retreat

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Travel to India part one

Pict: of Indian Rooftop and coconut trees - looks like it has been raining

Where is our summer? It’s May and we should be having some decent weather by now. The last time I can remember being truly warm out doors is when we went to India In 2008. I had gone with Christine and some friends, one of whom Mark is also blind. The year previously I recall hesitating before booking the holiday and wondering if India really would be a good destination for someone who is blind to visit. 

The descriptions from other sighted friends had left me confused as they had described the congested, frenetic, bustle of the cities and towns, people taking their lives in their hands to cross the busy roads and of being surrounded by beggars and hawkers desperate to sell their wares just to survive another day.  

However, they also assured me that the country is host to smells, flavours and atmosphere in abundance, an exotic country, which would be a challenging place to visit.  What finally convinced me, was that we were to stay with a mutual friend who had moved from the UK and opened a small eight bedroom hotel in Kerala, at the southern most tip of India. This would bring a stable base to travel from and invaluable local knowledge. 
So getting there! Airplanes are boring enough when you can see, but imagine wearing a bag over your head, with a set of headphones which are playing white noise and you will start to appreciate  what it’s like for me. As for the on board entertainment, forget it! that’s normally inaccessible and requires me to continually dig Christine’s ribs to find a film with dialog I can follow.   So a 14 hour flight to India was going to be mind numbing.  My experience of flying as a blind person, divides into two categories. First: I get treated like an item of lost luggage being passed from one bored member of staff to the next. Or secondly:  I’m treated like a sickly child, overly pampered and slightly patronised. 
I’m pleased to say this wasn’t the case with Emirates Airlines. At every step of the trip I was met and assisted in a professional and adult manner. During the first part of the trip from Glasgow to Dubai, the Cabin crew took the time to explain the extensive on board entertainment console, with its buttons and touch screens. In all my experience of many years of flying, this was the first time that anyone had ever attempted to show the workings of the in-flight entertainment to me. The technology still wasn’t totally accessible, but I was able to scan through the radio and TV channels and bombard myself with vast quantities of comedy to take the edge off of my journey.   
Pict: of lots of green leaves in the sunshine
And…Just to put the icing on the cake, or Champagne on the ice, for my onward flight to India I was upgraded to first class!  I stretched out in comfort but oddly, the crew in first class were more bemused by a blind passenger than they were in Economy and kept looking to my partner for re-assurance as they found it difficult to communicate with me directly.  Does this say something about their training, or perhaps speaks volumes about how many blind people fly first class. Of course this is something I’m determined to rectify! This experiential India trip was looking good already and I hadn’t even landed!. 
When the aircraft cabin door opened and we stepped onto Indian soil, it was like being enveloped by a boiling wet blanket, as the sizzling humidity filled our lungs. The air was so wet and thick, I could have gathered up huge arm fulls of the stuff and posted it home. We were met by our friend Heather at the airport, whose unmistakable Sunderland accent rose above the cacophony of  Indian voices.  Shortly after getting into the car a silence descended, and I assumed that perhaps we were all a bit tired, but slowly, gasps, barely concealed screams of terror and car horns were filling my head. I couldn’t see what was happening, but I could hear trucks, buses and powered rickshaws driving all around us.  Welcome to India. Everything felt alive and we were being reminded of our imminent death!
Pict: busy Indian street by Steve
Pict: of Bus from car window by Steve

Mark and I agreed that we were lucky not to be able to see the potential carnage which surrounded us and the pair of us sunk down in our seats, and the let our senses soak everything in.

At the hotel, Heather had given her staff a mini disability awareness course. They were instructed; “Under no circumstances should you run to Mark and Ian’s assistance, as they like to be independent and find their own way. So even if you see them heading towards the swimming pool, or a table of glasses in the restaurant, don’t panic, just stand back they’ll be fine!.”   Aye-RIGHT! On a number of occasions I found myself teetering on the edge of the deep-end of the pool as I headed out for dinner.  Somehow, Mark and I were often strangely attracted to a table full of strangers who sat horrified unable to speak as we advanced slowly with our white canes… Only for us to via off at the last moment as we got closer to the clinking sounds of the bar.
Pict: Ian and Mark with their white canes making their way round the Pool, Sally behind

EXPERIENTIAL HOLIDAY! What was I thinking of, it was only the end of the first day and I was already exhausted. To be continued.. ….   

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Thankyou to all of you who Responded to: don’t put your Shepherd on the stage Mrs…

Let me start by thanking all of you who responded to my request for feedback on whether I should keep Renton in my TV news reports or leave him out the picture.  I received quite a number of comments, and people also contacted me by Twitter and privately by email.
I think Terry summed it up perfectly when he asked me- 
“When you use a sighted guide to get to the place where you deliver your piece to camera, does the sighted guider stay in the picture?    Also, "When you use one of those terribly attractive long white canes, do you hold on to it while you're presenting?  If the answer to these two questions is "no", then I think you also know the answer to your question.”

Terry is correct. [He doesn’t hear that very often.] If I’m moving about in a film Renton is relevant to the story, as that’s how I move about. Just to have him in because it fills the frame nicely, is not good enough.

So, from now on, I’ve decided if I’m moving and I have Renton with me he’ll be in the film.  However, if I’m doing a piece to camera and I’m static he’s out. Plus if I’m interviewing someone and Renton is at my feet, he is out of shot, no matter how tempting it might be for camera people and editors to stick him in, especially, when I’m interviewing unattractive politicians and they need a shot of a handsome dog to add interest!

So, sorry Renton but your out, although it pains me to curb your acting roles, but you are dumped from TV unless you have an action shot.  

My god he’ll be asking for a stunt double next.   

Monday, 16 May 2011

Don't put your Shepherd on the stage Mrs Worthington...

Pict: Renton, Mary and Camerman Chas
For the last few years I’ve struggled with how I should portray myself on TV.  Clearly I’m blind and it is hard to hide that fact and nor do I want to, I continue to appear in my Reports to camera with Renton? 

When I had Moss I tried different approaches. Sometimes I would put him on film when I worked on a piece to Camera. On other occasions the dog would not be in view and it would just be me doing the interviewing.  As Moss moved towards retirement, I stopped putting him in at all, as I believed it distracted from the story. 
Now that I’ve got Renton, I’ve started including him in each of my films. In fact, he is in them quite a bit. And people always comment on the programmes...not for the content..but for RENTON! I’m concerned that people are more interested in looking at Renton staring at seagulls when I’m talking to the camera, than focusing on what the issue is I’m reporting on. 
Pict;graphic Ying and Yang

Is he distraction or attraction?
Renton is a very important part of my life, but he isn’t what defines me as me. Fundamentally he is a form of mobility. He’s not an extension of my personality. Nor is he some kind of co-presenter.
But..he is so handsome and full of life and maybe I should just accept that I have an unusual selling point, compared to all the other middle aged BBC Reporters(did I really say that?). Like it or not, viewers remember me because I have  Renton. is that important? 

So, the question is, do I put Renton infront of the camera?

I don’t have an answer. I’m not wanting to hear from you dog lovers saying, “of course you do, because he’s lovely.” that might be true, but what I’m asking is fairly fundamental in how disabled people are portrayed on Television. 
It’s vital that disabled reporters are seen as any other journalist not just some guy on the TV with a big dog. Is Renton in or Out?
I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts.   

Thursday, 12 May 2011

what do you think?

Guide Dogs UK alerted me to this story that appeared in the The Guardian newspaper.

'I'm blind. I want you to see what I'll lose if disability benefits are cut' - video

In a unique insight into a blind woman's life, Diane Marks, wearing a head-camera, shows how she will be affected by the government's proposed benefit cuts. Thousands of disabled people will march on Westminster last Wednesday to voice similar concerns  
It starts with an advert first. Click here

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Rentons secrets

Pict: Renton in his nest of Bluebells

Well, I'm learning a lot about this dog.  I never knew that he had such a strong  "nesting" vibe going on.    Renton has two favourite garden spots, the first one is by the hedge where he likes to gather all his toys and "garden finds" He has a fantastic Doggy Frisbee, wooden stick, favourite garden plant label..(hey who knew?) plant pots (he kindly takes the plant out first!) ball on a rope(which is like a ten tonne granite stone when wet..just about knocking him out when I throw it) and his fantastic Nyla bone that he got for Christmas
Pict of huge Nyla Bone

and the other  favourite spot is in amongst the bluebells where he likes to lay flat, hiding from the world, he thinks that no-one can see him but Christine says his ears give him away! This is a fantastic nest, well flattened and cushioned with newly blossoming flowers! 

Pict of flattened Blue Bells

Pic: what Renton sees from his angle..yes the photographer had to lie in his spot to get the perfect picture!
I've learnt another couple of things, that his Bowl is the size of the sink....

Pic: of Rentons huge food bowl being washed in the is so huge it could be a sink 

 ...and because he likes sitting In the plants so much he is suffering from Doggy
Hay fever...which makes him scratch so much the vet had to shave some of his fur off to get to a bit where he had chewed and chewed.....he is on medication now and getting better.

Pic: Rentons back with square piece of fur shaved off

oh and I was going to tell you something else, but...Renton?...where has he gone..? ah

He's brought out a Celebrity Super-Injunction.....
Pic: of Rentons' tail disappearing out of the picture