Saturday, 4 May 2013

Our laundry basket

was a wedding present to my parents. It must therefore be at least sixty-four years old, perhaps a little older.
It is showing its age a little but it is still a perfectly serviceable sturdy cane basket which would have been made by a "returned soldier" at the Royal Society for the Blind. 
He would never have seen his work, or at least never seen it clearly. The basket would have been made entirely by feeling the canes and threading them through each other. 
It is work which required strong fingers but those who did it could never read Braille. Their finger tips were simply too rough to feel the tiny raised dots on the cardboard sheets. 
Other men at the RSB made brushes. They spent their days with pots of glue and small bundles of bristles. They put glue on one end of the bundle of bristles and then fitted them into the holes on the brushes.
It is work which is no longer done here. Is it done in other places? Perhaps. Similar things are almost certainly done in "developing" countries where there are programmes for the visually impaired.
I was taught to read Braille by a man who transcribed music for the blind. He taught a small group of us when I was at boarding school. I think he was required to teach a certain number of people about Braille in order to meet the requirements for some qualification or other. 
I know I volunteered for the lessons and so did a couple of others. The rest of the group was undoubtedly drafted in. I know the boys in the group were not too keen. 
We were, of course, taught to read Braille by sight. I think everyone else in the group read it in the normal way - from left to right. I know I turned the sheets over and read it the way it would have been written - from right to left, punched out one dot at a time with a special awl. It was a long, slow process to fill even one page of the light cardboard being used. 
There are other ways of writing Braille now. I have a Braille font and I could, if necessary, write something in that font and somewhere a machine would turn it into Braille which could be read by touch. I admit I have forgotten the finer points of writing it, what most of the "contractions" (used to take up less space and providing faster reading) are and how to write the mathematical signs.
But, I once knew these things and what I have not forgotten is how difficult it was and how, as someone who loved and still loves to read, I wondered how people who could not see to read could possibly manage. The idea terrified me.
It was not until later I came across the men making baskets and brushes. They could not even access Braille and, even now, there is a much more limited range of information by other means if you are unable to see.
Someone asked me yesterday, "Why don't you get a new basket?"
No, I don't want a new basket. I hope it lasts for my lifetime. It is a reminder of how fortunate I have been. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I had toys laying about the house I found an old laundry basket in a shed. Now it is a place to put the goods being collected for the op shop.
I suspect it was one of the baskets made by the blind and suspect it will still be around after I am long gone.