When You Can’t See the Stars

I left stupidly (like getting the first bus at 6:20am) early this morning. I’ve been waking up before dawn and struggling to get back to sleep. It’s Christmas Eve and those are usually very quiet.

As I left the house, I noticed the crone-like crescent moon hanging right in front of me, along with an orange blob which definitely wasn’t a star. I thought it was Venus but it was only when I pulled out my phone and opened my favourite astronomy app that I realised it was actually Jupiter.

Talk about feeling tiny. That little orange thing is a gas giant … that was so cool.

You see, on account of the blind thing, I want to love astronomy but lack the visual acuity to see anything. Even with the most powerful telescope, I just can’t make anything that far away not be blurry. I had a telescope as a kid and once just about found the Pleiades and was stoked (they’re my favourite stars, next to Sirius and Orion). I can navigate the common constellations by eye, of course, except that you have to be able to see the stars to do that.

Apps help. I keep wanting to buy a telescope, a really good one, and rig it up so that my phone can tell me what I’m looking at (using an app and the compass, it’s really easy to find and identify things). I find winter especially magical for star-gazing as the nights come so early/leave late and are much clearer which actually gives me a fighting chance, even if it’s cold.

Often, I find, it’s the little moments like this morning when the size of the cosmos really hits home. Technology just helps make that beauty a little more accessible to people like me, who want to partake but find it a tad challenging.

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Blogging Against Disablism Day (#BADD2016): The Simplest Things

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For the last three weeks, there has been work on the edge of my estate that has forced me to walk an extra fifteen minutes just to get the bus. I’ve been unable to get to the supermarket or carry more than a small bagful of food home (unable to justify the cost of an online shop which can be anything between £40 and £60). I found myself going to the supermarket at every opportunity, just to make sure I had things in the house that were edible because once I got home it took triple the effort to go anywhere.

I don’t have a car, I can’t just go anywhere, it has to be planned simply because of my reliance on public transport. Normally I make this look easy because I have a dozen bus timetables in my head and am very good at getting from A to B. This last week, though, has been tough: I got rained on (the cold, ice-spear kind) five times and had to walk Uni under a busy bridge with traffic (massive lorries) hurtling past. Then walk her into on-coming traffic because someone decided when the path was built putting a telegraph pole right in the middle of a very narrow thoroughfare was an awesome idea. I couldn’t go to Zumba because I was wary of walking a new and unforgiving route in the darkness and nobody seemed to understand my hesitancy. I couldn’t even find someone kind or able enough to give me a lift.

Oh and then one of the workmen questioned my vision—genuinally incredulous that I could see anything—and I just couldn’t be arsed to explain that blindness is, like most things, a spectrum. Darkness, for example, and places I’m not familiar with, make me very nervous, even with my canine companion. No one else seemed bothered because they had other options and cars, I found myself getting in ordinately stressed when the goal posts around finishing the work kept moving.

The work was supposed to be two weeks, that ended up being extended by another seven days, including a weekend. They finished Friday but left the top part of the passageway where the works were completed, sealed off, so I had to walk back from the next village. When I walked around to grumble at the men, I found the bottom unsealed, the men gone.

The reward for three weeks of stress?

An M&S Food which I’ve quickly fallen in love with for one simple reason: it frees me.

I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks that very few people understand blindness. They say they do but the little things, some of them dog related, other about me. If I need anything, I have to go fetch it, I can’t rely on a partner much less tie a list to the dog’s collar and send her off into the wild. If I’m sick, I have to walk to the doctor, I have to go and get anything I’ve run out of (and the nearest Morrisons is about 1/4 of a mile away, not far but I still have to carry stuff back).

I dumped my stuff and the dog, then physically moved all the crap they’d left behind in order to get through. I was furious and found physically dismantling the barricade incredibly cathartic, even as a bunch of feral children watched me because I was doing something uber-forbidden. I was going to get to M&S, regardless of any ‘footpath closed’ sign.

The new garage is double the size of the old one and allows me, for the first time in my life to be able to buy a fresh mocha first thing, to pick up a bottle of skimmed milk, some pasta or tomato puree. I can actually be mid-meal prep and able to get almost anything I might need and have forgotten to pick up, from vegetables to onions. There’s basic medications, fresh French bread and a back wall filled with all the alcohol I never want to drink. I can buy ready meals if I feel like it, for a comparable price I’d pay in Norwich but with the added knowledge that I can nip in on the way home and not have to lug shopping across the city.

It’s two minutes from my doorstep and I love it.

Yesterday, Mhairi called me and asked if I was in the city. The bus was due in fifteen minutes and I instantly told I could be there in less than an hour. It was wonderous being able to not have to mentally add on twenty minutes (and the weather was warm, so much so I had to take my jacket off). I’d just come back with a fresh coffee and the sudden freedom had dawned on me, it felt almost dizzying to just be able to do anything I pleased, to not have to plan or worry or walk miles to do a simple task. I enjoyed the day, including free running the dogs, all the more for having no list of things I needed, not places I had to go or things I had to buy before getting the bus back.

This, I’m sure, must be how non-disabled people feel every day. Able to go where they please, to do anything their hearts’ desire. I’m almost jealous of this assumed ease of living. It took me over an hour the other day to do a supermarket run and by the time I got on the bus home after twelve hours in the city, my arms ached from the things I was carrying, my milk warming in my bag that I could have bought on my way home, if I’d known.

Freedom to do something and the ability, they’re two different things.

I’m good at this but then I have to be, it’s a requirement of being disabled and living alone, forced to spend many more spoons than I sometimes have in order to do the little things. As I said to someone who asked me how I cope when I’m having a bad anxiety day, if I don’t go out, I’ll starve and that’s pretty good motivation.

Having somewhere, finally, on my doorstep might seem a minor thing, overblown by newness but having a place where I can withdraw money for free, buy dinner and be home within four minutes, it’s pretty much the best thing that’s happened since I moved to Dereham.

Because, for the first time, I have a freedom I never even realised my disability denied me.

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