A couple of weeks after the writing group task to imagine I was blind I was asked to collect and drive a blind person to one of our choir’s singing engagements. The choir is pretentiously called the Joyous Praise ‘Rockin’ Gospel Choir, which, apart from being a mouthful is a pretty big claim for a collection of Norfolk people, mostly white and many over pension age! We do our best, as they say. Anyway our musicians are a pianist, a bass player and often, for some songs, a drummer. Edward is our drummer on these occasions and plays a mean pair of African drums in sort of bongo style for us. We have a close relationship with an African drumming group and often play together.
For this ‘gig’ (see how with it I am or would be if ‘with it’ was a current phrase) we just needed Edward’s drums, with Edward of course and Edward is profoundly blind and has been from birth. He is in his late teens or early twenties, the former I think, slim and good looking. Dark glasses always cover his eyes. Apart from this you would not notice his disability. We had passed the odd greeting before but never really talked. His usual lift was not available so I was asked to transport him and his drums.
Five minutes before the due time I arrived at his house, a bit to tucked away for the accuracy of my satnav and Edward was waiting. I already had the drums in my car from the previous night’s practice. Being willing but clueless I asked Edward to just tell me what to do. He pushed me to his right side, caught my elbow lightly and said “OK let’s go.” He folded himself easily into the car, put on the seat belt without a fumble and we were off. At the end of the road he said turn left and the satnav ‘Sally Satnav’ said turn right. “Ignore it,” he said so I did and sure enough his directions got us out of the village on the right road.
“So, Edward, what do you do when you’re not drumming?” He replied that he was just finishing a course in performing arts but not, as I might have suspected as a musician but more about the technical aspects, staging, sound, etc. He went on to volunteer that he would be graduating in the next few weeks and had a job interview with the County Council to help people with disabilities to use technology. He was quite matter of factly hoping that being blind would be an advantage. He intrigued me by apologising for not having a white stick and relying on me as a guide. He said he only did it with very good friends or people like the choir, people whom he felt didn’t think that helping him was an imposition. I thought about this for a second and felt quite complimented. As we chatted I began to understand more and more what an intelligent young man he is and how well sorted about his situation. Though he had plenty of blind friends and acquaintances he seemed quite comfortable in the sighted world and confessed his main unhappiness had been a spell in a special blind residential school. He had not liked living in an exclusively ‘blind’ world and become quite depressed.
It was about an hour’s drive to the church where we would be singing and we prattled on with me feeling increasingly comfortable talking back and forth with Edward and me gradually relaxing out of the sadly avuncular tone I’m inclined to use with younger people. Once at the Church, or rather close to it, we parked and with the help of some other choir members who happily turned up at the same time we struggled round with the drums: Edward with a drum under one arm and his hand on my left elbow. I got him sat down in a choir stall and busied myself, returning regularly to let him know that I hadn’t forgotten him. I thought it must be a regular bind for him to be left in strange places and said so. He replied to the effect that it was just an inevitable fact. He asked if it would be in order for him to eat his lunch sitting in the choir stalls of the Church. I assured him that I didn’t mind. I was certain that Jesus wouldn’t and if anyone else did I’d think of a suitable parable. I stayed around whilst he ate just in case anyone did have a different view but it was OK.
Eventually we got sorted out for the performance. Despite the kind things said then and after it wasn’t good. I had a cold and was struggling anyway but the sound was all wrong: too little amplification for the soloists, too much for the bass and piano. Maybe the front of the choir could be heard but I was sure that I and the rest of the men at the back were wasting our voices. Eventually we finished to polite rather than enthusiastic applause and I wasted no time in getting the car and bringing it round to where there was a road access to the church. Getting the drums and Edward back in the car was difficult. It wasn’t Edward that was the problem. It was just moving the drums and stands through the throng of people waiting for the next event and then threading my way through with Edward: he seemingly so sure-footed as we dodged and weaved to the door.
Back on the road and inevitably the post-mortem, “Not good, Edward. How was it from where you where?”
“Not good Rob, too much bass and piano, my drums were almost drowned out and the choir needed more and better amplification. I could sort it technically but I’d need help with all the plugs and wires. Really we need better kit.”
We agreed something had to be done but quite what neither of us was sure. I know I had struggled with a cold, which didn’t help my already doubtful voice. I said so to Edward and he confirmed that he hadn’t even heard me. I remarked, “No change there then.”
“No, not true. I can usually hear your voice well. Your timing is very good.” I felt complimented despite the fact that probably my timing is the only good thing about my singing.
Eventually we made it back to Edward’s house to be met by his Mother who thanked me too much for taking Edward. I thanked Edward and his mother and assured them it had been a pleasure. It was. As I drove away I reflected that it had been more than a pleasure. It had been a privilege. I think being around Edward will always be a privilege.
Robert Winston McNaughton