I booked a taxi at 820, to take me to Sheffield train station. I assumed that this would be enough time to catch the 911 train to Manchester Airport. I’m sure you’re all getting very excited at the prospect of yet another gripping and dramatic tale about trying to get from Sheffield to Manchester. It was 840 by the time I received an automated phone call informing me that my taxi had arrived. It was 845 by the time my taxi had actually arrived.
My taxi driver was very talkative, and seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that I was very concerned about missing my train, and thus giving me no leeway with my flight. I’m not sure how the driver could be oblivious about my concern, given that I was frantically checking my phone and audibly willing for the National Rail app to report a ten minute delay on the 911. I was sighing, I was cursing, I was constantly checking the time. Yet all the while, the taxi driver attempted to engage me in conversation, seemingly unaware of my plight.
“so, how long have you been without eyes?” I was momentarily sidetracked. Suddenly I became distracted from my worrying about missing a train and a flight. I hadn’t really been concentrating on anything he’d said up until that point, and I had just been giving unconscious mono-tonal responses, endeavouring to still sound polite, even though I was annoyed at the driver being twenty-five minutes late, without an apology from him, and concerned about my flight situation. His jovial garrulousness was already testing my patients and tolerance, but I was just managing to stay on the right side of pleasant. I am rubbish at conflict, but this taxi driver was pushing me to the limit.
But now I’d been shook out of my automatic flat one-word responses to his chattering. At first I was confused by what the heck he was talking about. I started to worry whether he had a drugs problem or something which was causing him to hallucinate. He clearly wasn’t fit to drive. If he thought that I was without eyes, then goodness knows what other crazy things he was seeing on the road. Suddenly a missed flight was the least of my worries. Then I realised that he was asking me how long I’d been blind, but in a very unusual way.
Ordinarily I suppose I’d have instantly got what he was meaning, but I was so flustered that his question confused me. The taxi driver was not English, hence his unusual way of asking his question.
When I first went on tour to Germany, I was approached by a man who tried to ask me about my blindness, but he was unable to find the right words. He tried several ways to ask his question, and the three of us let him struggle on, enjoying his attempts to find the right wording.
“Your eyes … they are … er … having a rest? No, how do you say? Your eyes … they are drunk? No, no, er … How do you say … Er … Your eyes … they are … on vacation?” Eventually I stepped in and answered his question.
Personally, in most cases, I don’t mind complete strangers asking me questions about being blind. I am more than used to it. I am asked such questions probably everyday. However, most people will at least tentatively bring up the subject, and might say something beforehand like, “if you don’t mind me asking …” At least this acknowledges
the fact that I might not want to talk about it. It doesn’t bother me at all, but for people who have just lost their sight, they might feel sensitive about the subject.
A blind friend of mine, who has a similar view to me about being asked this question, had literally just got in the taxi, when the driver immediately said, “so how long have you been like that then?” She instantly knew that he meant “how long have you been blind,” but she was a bit rankled by his tone and manner, and was feeling a little mischievous. So she decided to pretend that she didn’t understand what he was saying, and began to talk about the colour of her hair. The taxi driver tried to but in and explain that he wasn’t referring to her choice of hair colour, but she just continued to prattle on about her hair for the entire journey, not letting him get a word in.
I really liked this way of approaching the situation. It wasn’t confrontational and she wasn’t challenging the driver, however she was challenging his preconceptions. This driver seemed to be working under the assumption that the most salient point about her identity was her blindness, and that naturally she would understand this and immediately know what he meant when he said, “so how long have you been like that then?” By pretending to miscomprehend his question and focusing on her hair, she is attempting to challenge his idea that being blind is the most fundamental aspect of her life. Obviously his question wasn’t meant to be insulting or patronising, but nevertheless, he clearly thought that it was perfectly natural to start a conversation with a complete stranger with, “so how long have you been like that then?” as if my friend was just expected to know that he was eferring to blindness and would be happy to enter into a discussion about it. Hopefully her approach might have made him realise that there was more to her life than merely her blindness.
This kind of questioning by taxi drivers can be especially embarrassing if you are with, for instance, a new girlfriend. I have been on a date with someone, and the taxi driver has immediately started up a conversation about my blindness, and has even said things to my date like, “so are you his carer then?”
I get asked the blindness questions by people so frequently, that I sometimes invent a story, just to keep myself entertained, after all it’s boring saying the same tired thing over and over again. The extent of my fabricated anser all depends on how inventie I’m feeling, or how gullable I think the person who I’m talking to is. And really, what’s the problem? They’re getting an answer to their question, which let’s face it, they don’t know it isn’t true, and I am getting some entertainment by inventing a story, rather than wheeling out the same old boring tale once again. Everyone wins.
I didn’t have the energy or concentration to invent a story, so I answered his questions on autopilot. I knew the format so well that it wasn’t difficult to do, and I already knew the line of questioning before it came.
“How long have you been blind?” “How did it happen?” “Is there nothing they can do to cure it?” and, “It’ll happen one day, they’re making all sorts of medical discoveries nowadays.” That is the basic format.
What happened next shall be relayed to you in tomorrow’s Dollop.