Where do I start with this? One place to begin is to say how I understand why blind people mix with blind people. This is not the fault of the sighted, but neither is it the fault of the blind. Sometimes the gulf is too wide.
There are 2 million people in the UK with sight loss, though the number registered as blind is less than that – around 360,000. But you never see them at parties, do you?
That is because, for a blind person, parties are hell, where they feel their blindness magnified a hundredfold. The same is true of any social gathering of more than five people (the precise number is approximate and is open to a certain amount of negotiation).
So you won’t find many blind people in pubs, clubs or bars.
I navigate the world using sound. When I am with one person, what they say, where they are, how they are feeling emotionally, are all crystal clear to me. I can pick up so much information from a one-to-one conversation that people assume I am sighted, and I was able to work as a counsellor while blind. The problem was getting to and from the office, not recognising how people were feeling. In some ways it was easier for me, because I was not distracted by how people looked, or by the physical veils they pulled over themselves
One-to-one communication is like looking at the exquisite beauty of a single flower, to use a sighted example. I know what is in front of me, it is in sharp aural focus.
But at a party, the white noise is overwhelming. It is overwhelming in a crowded bar, it is overwhelming at the end of a silent retreat, when everyone is suddenly allowed to talk and there is a bursting of a dam of noise.
This is not a plea for things to change, or for things to be otherwise. It’s just me, sounding off about the panic in my chest that I feel when I’m in company, and all my bearings, geographical and social, have been swept away like sandcastles in a sea of noise.
I suppose it’s like a panic attack.
So, I need to apologise to the friends who were at my wife’s birthday party for my sudden disappearance, firstly in to the garden and then to sit with my dog on the floor in the study.
I felt so cut adrift that I cried.
Using the analogy of sight again, this is what it looks like when the noise and the panic start.
This is why structured interactions are so much easier, why blind people can give lectures or stand and talk before the House of Commons, as well as play guitars and weave wicker baskets.
But a party? Or a meeting at a railway station?
I will make my excuses and leave and hope you won’t be offended, as no offence is intended.