4 good hints when you need it most…

The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.”

Psalm 138:8

A jolt from my past. I lay under the duvet and placed the bulky braille book next to me. My room was tiny but very nicely furnished. I could hear the underground Metro run during the day and short part of the night. The brick walls would vibrate and the dull shudder would go through the building. The trains stopped at midnight but resumed at 5 o’clock in the morning. All of us ‘trainees’ shared this West London house. It was our great getaway from Brighton. We loved the fact that the Staff who worked here were all very connected to St Dunstan’s. One need not feel embarrassed about being blind.They had seen it all.

Our Land Lord had a great Greek wife. She was an outstanding Chef. She would go out of her way to be kind to the new blinded men. I had come up to do a show in the West end. Many of us did this as it gave us a needy break. I would return to Brighton after the weekend. Before I left Brighton, I found myself packing a braille novel into my luggage as I wanted to get used to the idea of reading before I fell asleep. I have always managed to do this and felt I should pick up on this fabulous habit.

My Braille reading progress was slow but steady. There was a pronounced upward curve. My sensitive fingertips were becoming accustomed to the angle and the way of holding the Braille book. All I had to do was develop those stubborn ‘neurons’ and shortly with more practice I would master this ‘dotty’ language.

A jolt from my past.

Then, I heard a strange noise coming from the lounge on the floor below me. I decided to get up and investigate. The commotion was coming from the Television which was displaying some foreign news. It was early morning in a wet London. The television panned on Hundreds of excited People who were running amok. They were firing their weapons into the air. But this time not in anger, but in absolute joy!

Then, the newscaster informed the viewers that the Zimbabwe election results were out. What I was hearing was the new nation expressing its new sovereign hope. The ‘ZANU PF’ had trounced all the opposition. I had forgotten about this event and suddenly I felt as if I was caught off guard. There was no one else in the lounge so I leaned forward and turned the Television set off. “What a nasty practical joke!” I turned around soberly and walked slowly to the stairs back to my bedroom.

It was 17th April, 1980 and now my Bush War was truly over. We not only had lost the Bush War but we did not even have a country. This was the last time I let my emotions rule my loyal head.

  • Don’t hanker over the past.

Define your goal and make sure your new objective is clearly illuminated in your mind, your heart and your soul. Getting off to a slow start. I had been blind for about 6 months. The blast from the ‘RPG (ii) was about 18 inches in front of my head. My unprotected eyes did not stand a chance, my head, face, and hand took a real battering. My left knee was badly injured. All of this was as a direct result of where I had sat in the Landmine Protected Vehicle. I had inadvertently climbed in behind the Driver and he and I were the only two survivors.

Strange how you cannot influence your fate? My post-operative physiotherapy, each week I would go two or three times to the Physiotherapist. I needed her to help me get my left hand and my left knee working. But if you thought I was adapting to my new blindness you were wrong. Losing such a vital sense like sight plays havoc on your mind. One minute you are up and the next you are down. My nights were better than my days. But the long, dreary days were a huge chamber of horrors. Every small land mark in Salisbury would painfully bring back colourful memories of when I once could see. When I say see I mean see perfectly. I literally pined away for my lost independence.

An important letter: I received the news that I would be off to St Dunstan’s for the Blind in Brighton, England to complete my rehabilitation Therapy. It stated that I would leave after Christmas in the New Year. I would be amongst other active injured Soldiers who too had lost their eyesight. Since 1915 St Dunstan’s had trained over 7500 blinded men. They had an incredible track record and they knew blindness from a trauma perspective. St Dunstan’s was founded by the Newspaper Magnate Sir Arthur Cyril Pearson Baronetcy of St Dunstan’s, who himself was blind due to glaucoma.

  • Train yourself to make decisions.

Our whole life is one of good decision making. The way you get better at making good decisions is from learning from your bad decisions.

Twin Brother Stirling and Diana making their life long decision

My daily routine: Every day without any excuse I would practice Braille. I had six ‘Ping Pong’ balls in an egg carton. You may recall the egg carton which held six eggs? This was the ideal shape of a full ‘braille’ cell. A full braille cell has 6 dots. Braille is a system which you read with your fingertips. Why your fingertips? Well, they are the most sensitive part of your hand. Unless you regularly lay bricks or work with cane. The way the many dots can be easily arranged can accommodate our printed English alphabet. My task was to read these dots which were as large as a ‘Ping Pong’ ball. Once I had conceptualised them then we could reduce the size. This was indeed a very clever plan. Mrs Barbara Burrell who ran the Bulawayo based Barbara Burrell Home for Aged blind would visit me at 11.00. Her husband Bob Burrell was a Superintendent in C.I.D. Barbara would show me more Braille contractions. At this stage they seemed never ending. Then, I would repeat this to her and she would show me how to ‘write’ on a ‘Braille’ machine. My braille typewriter had only 6 keys. I would use these braille sheets to practice my reading for the rest of the day.

  • The reality of a good routine.

We are creatures of habit. Make good, productive life long habits. Slowly and I mean very slowly the print memory in my brain was fading. I was now seeing things as if I had read ‘braille’ for a long time. First it started with my name. Then my girlfriend’s name. Then my street address and so on and so on. The famous red and white ‘Coca cola’ advert took on a new dotty ‘braille’ slant. I could feel myself gently punching in the ‘braille’ letters into my free left hand with the fingertips of my other hand. The daily highlight was that after each session we would have tea and scones. The new atmosphere in my lounge was absolutely electric. It was great fun and it tested me to the limit. All I had to do was get past the huge cultural date which was my birthday. I had never had a birthday as a blind person. Imagine a birthday in the dark? I felt so exposed thinking about this that I wondered how I would feel on the morning in question. Flat as a ‘Pancake’ I thought to myself. Then, one week after Christmas All things being equal I would be off to England. I was champing at the bit and could not wait any longer.

  • Rome was not built in a day.

You know the old adage that ‘Rome’ was not built in a day? That is as correct as it can be as ‘Rome’ was not meant to last for a day.

Derby and Jones Club: If you ever want to live in a great inland city you have to have lived in Salisbury, Rhodesia. The access roads were excellent, the city centre clean and well catered for and the traffic a breeze. But if you thought the City was good you had to meet its amazing people. Each Wednesday afternoon I would join some senior citizens at the ‘Derby and Jones’ club. My hostess was Vera Haywood a devout Christian. As we drove she would pray aloud and ask God for a good parking place. This I felt was over taxing his work as Salisbury always had good parking spots At the ‘Derby and Jones’ club I would play ‘bingo’, drink tea by the gallon and even have a dance if someone cared to play the piano. There were great snacks and sandwiches and very tasty cakes. Then out of the blue one elderly woman would ask me to dance. How on earth could I say no? As I danced with the old girls they would gently stuff my pockets with cigarettes and cash. If I danced twice with the same person I was virtually treated like ‘Prince Charming’! Even my new suit jacket had dollar bills in every conceivable pocket.

My first tentative visits to the ‘Derby and Jones’ club was miserable. I felt as if I was banished to a new planet. As I had no hair and my face was still a mess. My self-confidence was rock bottom. Yet, compassion and kindness eventually got through to me.

  • Do not judge love.

Love and kindness come in many shapes and forms. You cannot push love away just because you don’t like its messenger. What was more of a strange coincidence was that Stirling my twin brother rented the house from Andrew Haywood, who was Vera’s husband. Soon I would watch out for more coincidences along life’s way. You try it and see for yourself how many crop up?

Cheers to Love!

My last arrest as a Policeman: It was near midnight. Stirling was on a cricket tour and his wife, Diana and I were the only two in a very large Salisbury suburban house. The Bush War was still raging and the city centres in many a town were being targeted. Pane of glass break. I heard a huge pane of glass shatter. Then, some footsteps and some scuffling. I got out of bed and slid my hand along the wall to the door and out into the passage. I stopped and listened. No sound. I then went up the passage to Diana’s room. She was fast asleep. I woke her with a fright. “Diana we have visitors!” She and I had planned what we would do if we had any uninvited guests.

Diana knew how to use a revolver. “get the .38.” I said in a whispering voice. Leading the way. We both walked gingerly down the passage And came to a closed Dining room door. I opened it and let myself in. Diana would cover me. No one this side. Then we went to the curtain and we looked out. I obviously could not see out but Diana indicated to me and she said our neighbours were being burgled. Making that important call. Fumbling around I found the phone. I then dialled ‘21212’ which was ‘Control room’. The Member in Charge answered the phone. “Control!’, he chimed. He knew me and understood why I was whispering. It did not take too long to give him the details and my address. He would have a map of Salisbury on his Control room wall. 5 minutes later with the aid of Dog Section and the Salisbury Control Room all the arrest were made.

Twin Brothers in Uniform

7 bandits were rounded up. All the goods were retrieved. Fortunately our neighbours were not there and it did not get out of hand. No warrant card but a good arrest. I walked up and down with Diana leading me and spoke to the men on duty. The Dog Section lads put their german Shepherds back in their vehicles. Everyone was delighted with how it had turned out.

Just before I flew out for England I was given my monthly police magazine. The article had this curious headline. “Short on sight but long on loyalty!” I must confess, even this very day I am still on duty.

Garth Long

Blind Barriers

blindvet@gmail.com