London In A New Light

Observatory

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The play ‘The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon contained a delightful Easter egg. After the curtain came down and the audience had risen and was putting on coats, the lead actor came back on stage and delivered the speech he could not perform in the play due to his autism. He manages it flawlessly, in full. It’s a triumphant moment.

Small moments of triumph are, I’m starting to discover, something that any disability of any level must involve. Since my eye operation I’ve been rendered effectively blind, because I had the same problem in the other eye to a lesser degree a year ago, but didn’t get that one fixed.

So, the first big blunder: It was raining hard when I left the hospital and there were no cabs. Three tube stops, I thought, I can manage that. It was rush hour, and I had to change at London’s most confounding station, Baker Street. Suddenly I knew how the boy in ‘Dog in the Night-Time’ felt when he hit a station for the first time. Noise, chaos, confusion, a blur of fast-moving primary colours and searing flashes, everything wavering and jumping out. I felt the ground sliding away from me and was forced to follow wall tiles by touch.

The secret was dropping my speed down to almost nothing and concentrating hard, but that caused people to slam into me. I’d broken tube law; I wasn’t behaving how everyone behaves on the underground, moving quickly and purposefully. When you walk differently to everyone else, you strip the cogs from the machinery that keeps everything turning smoothly. People on phones randomly careen into you without apologising or looking up. They’re not mean, just preoccupied and pre-programmed. On a bicycle you see the bizarre way pedestrians behave, strolling into cars and simply never noticing bikes. This year a cyclist killed a pedestrian and the press demonised the cyclist, but now I wonder about that judgement.

There was one other problem on the tube; change of pressure. When our train passed another one my head nearly exploded. Last night I walked to a restaurant in the dark. No light was much easier than conflicting light. But kerbs betray and shadows lie. Things that are three dimensional appear flat, and vice versa. Signage must as well be in Russian (actually not true; I have some Russian – signage is in hieroglyphics).

When Ken Livingstone was London mayor I disagreed with many of the things he did, but he made the South Bank of the Thames accessible to the mobility challenged, so that I was able to push my wheelchair-bound mother from Westminster to Southwark. There’s so much more we could do. London’s level of cycle deaths soared under the cycling mayor Boris Johnson and it remains unacceptable. London’s ancient road layouts will always be a curse, but so will its weather. In Europe one sees more elderly infirm people enjoying life simply because they can get out easily and safely.

For now, each day is a rather interesting chance to learn about how the brain processes information. The biggest curse for me this year – fairy lights. London does Christmas spectacularly well, with each neighbourhood designed differently. King’s Cross is covered in multi-coloured lights and they’re shorting out my cortex.

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10 comments on “London In A New Light”

  1. Stephen Morris says:

    Hi Chris,I’m sorry to read you’re still having problems with your sight.Get better soon,and merry Christmas.

  2. Peter Tromans says:

    Please be careful. If you have to move around -my feeling is that you shouldn’t- order a cab or a limo.

  3. Bill says:

    Chrissakes- you heard of Uber?

  4. Wayne Mook says:

    They are now a taxi firm. When we leave Europe I wonder if they’ll become a tech company again?

    I’m dyslexic and need to stop and study maps and signs before I get them, to do this you’ll notice in the tube, train stations and bus stations, places were the congestion stops the flow and you get a bunch of people not moving, also empty places or holes in the traffic (usually just to the side of an entrance) and certain maps/boards that are agreed by the crowd to allow people to stand and look. These oases are ideal to get your bearings and once you start looking for them it soon becomes second nature finding them. These little pockets are good to get a quick rest as well and to gather the thoughts. (The dyslexia is not so serious that I can’t read, although at times things make no sense but it causes problems. I’m good at looking at overall systems, it’s the details that become confused. So on the tube I know the directions and lines to take but then I struggle with the exact stop I need to get off. Some days are better than others.) Standing near buskers and beggars allows you to do the same thing, it’s surprising how they create a space around themselves. You can learn how to read and judge the flow of a crowd the same way you can read the traffic on a road.

    To be honest it’s all to easy to lose your independence by avoiding these places even if it is for a short time. A fear and worry of crowds can set if your not careful.

    Wayne.

  5. Denise Treadwell says:

    I understand completely, I recently have had sudden hearing loss due to infection. In a crowded environment, I feel confused and disoriented. I never realized how much I relied on my senses. I have always understood other senses would be heightened, but that is not the case for me.

  6. Peter Tromans says:

    Happy and Healthy Christmas to Chris and everyone!

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Don’t go out alone, Chris. Take a cab or someone’s arm, especially at night when all depth is confusing. Proper caution is life saving, not cowardice and you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Peter must be worrying himself sick.
    Wayne’s advice is excellent, especially finding the crowd holes, something which I’ve found useful in strange and/or crowded situations.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, and avoid situations where there are pressure changes. It puts the surgery at risk. I had a gas bubble maintaining pressure and found I could play games with it, making it move around, but small things amuse small minds.

  9. Brit Ray says:

    I can’t believe they let you leave the hospital alone like that. Scary account. Imagine if we had all lost you because you were blindsided by circumstance, like so many of your poor, doomed characters. Our cat, Pumpkin, doesn’t like me reading Bryant and May, because my barking laugh sends him leaping into the air. So this afternoon I gave him a break and saved the conclusion of Wild Chamber until he wasn’t around. Good thing, too. The quarantine episode gave my stomach muscles a real workout, and Arthur and Maggie having their bags searched at the museum almost finished me off. Good old Raymondo was, of course, a riot throughout. As always, I was beguiled by your beautiful, haunting scenes, intrigued by the historical oddities, and awed by your dazzling feats of imagination. Loved the way Arthur encounters the Queen at the end. I liked the G & S touches, too. Let me add that I appreciate your bringing all of our favorite characters together for a happy ending. Well, all except the poor pigeon. I hope to read in future books that he has recovered and is doing well. One last comment. I introduced one of my daughters to your books, and she was thrilled by A Full Dark House, which she happened to read right after we returned from London, where we saw Harry Potter at the Palace Theatre. Wow! The theatre itself–and the adaptations they made for the production–were the most exciting part. Now Vanessa has joined my husband Chris and me as one of your devoted fans. We all thank you for being you–in all your brilliance and humanity. (Even if you sometimes freak us out along the way.) –Brit,

  10. Joel says:

    I’m about to have one retina repaired; none of the hospital’s briefings mentioned light-dark visual issues, nor how much I’ll have to adjust pace etc until vision returns in maybe 2 or 3 months. I’d worked out the basics (loss of perspective) but not much more nor how to cope. The NHS still works – in part. They’re good on process but not recovery once you’re out of their direct care… Best wishes!

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