One of the oddest things about New Zealand is the incredible enthusiasm most people have for 'getting away'. Given the size of the country, it’s pretty tough to get really far away from whatever moves you to flee the nest several times a year. I tend to be a bit cynical about it all really. It seems to me that most people getting away from 'it all' want to pack most it of 'it all' in the car with them, before heading off with thousands of fellow motorists in an endeavour to find somewhere as unpopulated as the city or town they've just abandoned.
Prior to my sight problem, I found this spasmodic nomadic frenzy hard to adopt, it just seemed that the packing and travelling induced more stress than the stress you were trying to get rid of in the first place.
These days I am excused from the annual search for sea and solitude on compassionate grounds. Apart from blindness, I have a condition known as 'chronic grumpiness', which prevents me from doing anything I don't enjoy. But even the most afflicted must travel from time to time and, in that event, I hope the following tips will help fellow sufferers and their travelling companions.
Pack frugally, you don’t need the fripperies that others can’t leave home without. Remember you're not going to a fashion show. Think small and essential - it saves you from the 'have you seen my' scenario which involves frantic searches for stuff you probably didn't bring in the first place.
Always, always pack two pairs of glasses. If you need more than that, stay home! It’s just not going to work for you.
When flying, I usually adopt a confused and vulnerable attitude at the airport terminal. This usually puts the ball firmly back in the airlines court. They don't want you clogging things up, so they prefer to stick you towards the front of the plane, which is handy to the toilet and the exit door. It’s a win-win situation for everybody. After all, who wants an aisle seat with some old geezer with a weak bladder bumbling up and down in search of the loo? Being close to the door is also a plus. Boarding a plane is a pretty ordered affair, but when it comes to getting off, it always seems as if a civilised stampede is about to happen. For everyone’s convenience and safety, I'm better off out of the way. And of course, it gets me to the baggage claim early.
On arrival, if you become separated from your companion, don’t panic. It’s not like being stranded in the supermarket. Airports have lots of people wandering around looking for someone to help, so try to look bemused and isolated. Do remember to practise this at home, it’s important. The routine serves two major purposes; it enables staff to parade you through the concourse on a sort of "see, I found one!" victory lap. Secondly, and more importantly, your helper has powers akin to Moses, regardless of gender or official trappings, they part the waters of procedure without breaking step. For you, procedure does not exist. You and your baggage don't need to stand in line. You breeze past immigration, passport control and airport security with endless lines of ordinary travellers gazing on enviously.
Past that, relatives whisk you outside and prop you up against the car in the ‘no waiting’ area whilst they go back for the baggage. The parking attendant, whose basic instinct is to slap tickets on anything with wheels, becomes your friend and guardian until the baggage is loaded and watches you safely drive away... ticketless.
Generally speaking, buses and I don't really click. This is more my fault than theirs. The problem is mainly that they know the system and I don't. For them, destination means some bloody great garage out in the sticks and bus stops are just minor irritants on the way. For me, destination isn't quite so prescribed and easily arrived at. Put simply, the 'operator' (what happened to drivers?) knows his route and timetable. Sure, the timetable is posted for all to see, but you need a microscope to read it. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the public transport authority, I feel that buses should be treated with caution or avoided altogether as far as the elderly and poor sighted people are concerned.
Travel, I have decided, is not for me. Fighting fellow motorists for 12 yards of forward progress, battling winged insects for food, or trying to convince airport security that owning a keyring Swiss Army Knife doesn't make you a terrorist are barriers for those unable to embrace the joys of the 'status quo'. Personally, I like 'it' far too much to go to the trouble of getting away from it at all.
Born in the UK, our “white caner” columnist, Trevor Plumbly, a retired arts and antiques dealer and former owner of Plumbly’s Auction House in Dunedin, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa 15 years ago. In 2008, when sight loss put a stop to the antiques dealing, Trevor and his wife Pam relocated to Auckland to be closer to family.