Pavement Dwellers and Broken Canes

We have all been travelling in cars or buses when they have suddenly and without warning juddered up and down due to a pot hole in the road. The horrible sink holes that develop due to wear and tear that the councils never seem to get round to fixing. I am sure you can all name a few roads that, when you drive down, feel like you are on a small rollercoaster but without the same level of excitement.
I can think of one that, when my friend Dave and I were training for a tandem bike ride, felt like I was being attacked with a large metal pole in a place you don’t want that feeling ever. The bumps were at times so harsh you wonder why on earth you are making this journey and why on earth the tarmac Gods haven’t come along to save you from this incredible discomfort caused by the decaying roads. But at least drivers have the comfort of suspension and decent seating. The bike on the other hand was quite the opposite.
But it isn’t just roads that have this issue. Pavements are very much the same. As a visually impaired man that walks everywhere due to the lack of driverless cars, I notice this increasingly prevalent problem more and more often as I am meandering through the streets of Cheltenham. It could be a tree root, it could be just the fact the pavements have been poorly maintained. Whatever the reason, there is more often than not an evil little blocker that is just waiting for my cane to feed into its obstructive and sometimes destructive brickwork torture.
The problem is: I am a quick walker; not quite speed walking, but if you are in front of me and I don’t spot you then I may well bruise your ankle. Not on purpose, but sometimes these things just can’t be helped. When you walk quickly you have less time to react and your Moses stick is sweeping the ground in front of you at such a pace that when the dodgy terrain decides it wants to attack you, that’s it, you’re stuck. Your roller ball hits the obstruction, the pain goes shooting up your arm, your wrist is jarred and somehow you are a pace or two ahead of your cane. Your shuddering arm waves backwards trying to correct the error but for some reason your legs decide not to stop. Then with one swift wave of your magic wand of mobility, you straighten back up and boom, there’s another crack and the same predicament falls on you again.
The state of the pavements has caused me to bend and break more canes than I care to remember, and lord only knows how many times my balls have broken clean off mid walk. I wouldn’t mind, but I already carry enough things around and carrying a spare roller ball in my pocket may well look a bit odd given the size of them.
Wouldn’t it be great if everything was tarmacked? That lovely smooth run you get every now and then. It’s a bonus when you do come across the lovely, non-interrupted bliss that is a tarmacked pavement. Only to find it was merely a few feet of heaven before you’re back on the cobbles. Like giant braille dots slowly tearing the muscles in your wrists to pieces and bending the aluminium rod that is guiding you, into an un-collapsible and eventually un-useable pointless piece of metal.
The morale of the story is: it isn’t just roads that are in a poor condition and need sorting. Many pavements are as well, and we non-driving pavement dwellers would appreciate a bit of a fix up too.
That’s it for now,
Until next time

Pavement Dwellers and Broken Canes

A VI Man’s Driving Dream Realised

It was a cold and wet day in early March, a day I had been looking forward too for quite some time. Since losing my sight I had wanted to experience the thrill of driving one last time. Of course this was never likely to happen. So I learnt to deal with the fact that I would never drive again. But then one day I was introduced to Mike Newman. Mike is officially the fastest blind man in the world on four wheels. He holds the land speed record for driving a car reaching speeds of over 200 miles per hour and also over 140 miles per hours in a truck.

I first met Mike at one of Insight Gloucestershire’s events held several years back in Pittville Park in Cheltenham. The event known as Bark in Pittville Park saw the charity hold an annual fundraising event featuring things such as dog agility shows, all sorts of activities for children, sponsored walks and there was even a flyover from the Red Arrows one year. No mean feat for Insight to put such an event on. Mike was invited to come along to promote his new organisation Speed of Sight. Turning up in the two of the nicest cars I had seen in person I had to go and have a look. If memory serves, he had a BMW and I think a Jaguar. It was some time ago so I could be wrong. After spending some time talking with Mike about his ideas for his new charity I knew one day I had to get involved.

Speed of Sight was Mike’s brainchild, its purpose is to give disabled people of all ages and abilities the chance to experience driving a motorised vehicle. For many this would of course be the first time they would have done so. For me, I had taken lessons in driving before losing my sight at the age of 19.

The concept is quite brilliant and after speaking to several of the people who took part on the day that I attended, you can tell the sheer overwhelming joy they had experienced. On our way into the pit lane from the car park, my friend Pete and I were approached by a fellow visually impaired chap who couldn’t contain his excitement with the fact he had just been able to drive a car around a race track. A feeling I imagine he never thought he would have experienced since losing his sight again and I feeling I have no doubt he will ever forget. I had all of this excitement to come.

It had been raining most of the day, we were in Wales, and I am told this is not unusual for the area. It was windy, but it was exciting. After a bit of a wait due to some unforeseen circumstances it was finally my turn. I was about to drive for the first time in over 12 years.

Climbing into the car my heart had already started to pump faster and faster, nerves had taken over slightly but this would soon turn into adrenaline. I was familiarised with the controls, my helmet was put on and I was strapped in too the seat which felt like I was on the floor. Very low down, I had never been near a race car before let alone sit in one. I was now about to drive one. With my instructor strapped in next to me we had a quick check of the speakers and microphones and we were set to go.

The cars are dual controlled, my instructor sat to my left took control of the car to put us into the start position and then it was over to me. He ensured me he had control of the brakes which did help to allay my fears, I didn’t fancy crashing off course and aiming for the side barriers or rolling one of Mike Newman’s prised possessions. So with my new driving friend having a foot on the brake pedal and with my right foot primed and ready on the accelerator, we were ready to go.

Starting slow to familiarise myself with the track and for my instructor to fully understand my sight levels we were off. A sharp right followed by a quick left quickly followed by a long sweeping right picking up speed and building excitement as we progress further round the track all the while with my instructor calling ‘‘left, right and ease off’’. All the commands to ensure I knew what I was doing with expert precision. Then firing down the home straight and reaching speeds of near 70 miles an hour. The 0-60 speed was something I had never experienced before. Of course when you are learning to drive on the roads in a Vauxhall Corsa, the instructors are not interested in reaching such speeds.

We did lap after lap, I lost count of how many we covered, and I was getting too excited with going faster and faster with each lap. Then before I knew it, my time was up and I had to go back to my normal non racing driver lifestyle. But for at least one day, I felt like the VI Schumacher.

With many thanks to Speed of Sight and all of their volunteers for putting these events on. An incredible organisation that really does provide less able people with an experience they will never forget. I urge any of you with sight loss to give it a go. The thrill is quite amazing.


The Zebra Saved My Life

Some of my sight impaired friends may not know this but on the back of a lot of service vehicles such as delivery vans and lorry’s have stickers on the back that say how am I driving? They follow this with a phone number so that you can ring cousin Jimmy’s boss to let him know that my word you have never seen a corner taken quite as well as what cousin Jimmy did this afternoon by the roundabout next to lidl. Come on, you all have to admit no one in that right mind has ever done this. But the sticker remains none the less. I often feel like ringing the company and having a moan about cousin Jimmy as his hands were not at the 10 and 2 position. But the how am I driving idea to me breads so much more thought than just van drivers delivering sandwiches to the local Co-Op. For me I am constantly berating drivers stood there in the middle of the street frantically waving my Moses Stick at there  car not having a clue if they are paying any attention. You can only  imagine they aren’t. If they were they wouldn’t have turned that corner that quick and nearly run me down in the prime of my life on a zebra crossing. By the way zebra crossings are evil and should be banned. Effectively it is a stand off between me and the car on the road that I can’t quite see well enough. You never know when a car will speed round the corner startling me just like the jack in the box scaring the living daylights out of me when I was a kid. The stand off comes to an end when the guy in the car waves his hand at you but you can’t tell he is doing so because like my Moses stick would suggest my eyes don’t really work too well. So then he flashes his light which blinds me even further. Thanks for that cousin Jimmy. Then after a good 7 seconds of sheer panic at the zebra which is there to protect you, you step out. What does cousin Jimmy do, he revs his engine as he is fed up with waiting. I can’t blame him, that’s seven seconds of his life I just wasted whilst trying to protect my own life from ending. But it’s to late, you have made the first step. This turns into either rage or panic, you either turn and start shouting what are you doing you idiot, this is a zebra crossing and its for me to cross AARRRGGGHHH. Or you end up doing a stylish ballerina move that you have never been taught probably looking like a complete fool and end up back where you started all over again. Oh dear, sorry cousin Jimmy, your going to have to wait ten seconds now until I am 100% sure I can go. Yes, this time I am going to make you wait longer just because you made me jump out of skin.

Zebra crossings are not meant to be a place where you fear for your life but I have had so many experience of idiot drivers on the roads I choose to be as careful as I can. One of the only times in my life I am that careful. Crossing roads with sight loss is not easy, I will happily wait for ages whilst other people are walking casually across the traffic lights because they can see well enough to know a car isn’t coming. The reason I wait is I value my life. Drivers don’t seem to value theres all the time. This doesn’t go for every driver of course. But as I said, I have had a lot of near hit experiences and do not wish to have any more.

I appreciate I am not a driver and have never actually held a driving licence but I have taken lessons in the past, I have taken and passed a theory test and I do know a good deal of the Highway Code. So I drives me mad when I am stood on the crossing waiting to cross the road, and a car pulls up clearly knowing his vehicle will not fit into the gap left by the driver in front who is now stuck in rush hour traffic. So why indeed does the new car decide to enter the crossing box and block us poor pedestrians in? It annoys the hell out of me. I don’t always see it and when I ‘accidentally’ hit the car with my Moses stick, I am the one in the wrong. Sorry cousin Jimmy, you shouldn’t have pulled up there. If you didn’t, we wouldn’t have had this problem.

Thats it for now.

All the best


The Zebra Saved My Life