18 Oct 2013

Blind Sherlock and Dr Memory

Being blind or vision-impaired requires one to be extra observant. That’s right, a Sherlock Holmes type of character – detecting every little detail and honing one’s ability to pay full attention to the smallest of changes around you.

As sight fades, I am aware of how much I am gathering clues from listening, touching, smelling, tasting, feeling and observing as best my eyes can but above all, there is one undeniable device working over time in helping me to adapt to change.

It’s called MEMORY. I consider it to be a personalised computer app wired to my brain.

There’s an iPhone in my head

When one does not have the luxury of scanning with ones eye’s and has to rely on memory to update, store and retrieve data on a list, a menu, a program, a timetable, a website or a brochure there is one way to recall information without having to see it again – train your multi-sensory mobile operating system = memory!

Each one of us can train very specific brain cells to heighten the skill and function of memory and you will be amazed how much detail you can detect from your other senses – be your own super-sleuth and take note with your invisible message pad.

The key words here are How to train your memory.

We all have the capacity to tap into the left brain where the application of memory resides. When a person intellectually challenges their brain, the activity stimulates dendrite growth, and the brain accommodates the growth of these new networking-neurons that connect and proliferate, regardless of age.

So the good news for all of us is: memory is acquired, not retired

“Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night, and went to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend. "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

Watson replied, "I see millions and millions of stars."

"What does that tell you?" Holmes asked. Watson pondered for a minute.

"Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three and meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?"

Holmes was silent for a minute, then spoke,

"Watson, you idiot. Somebody has stolen our tent!" Anon

Quizzing Dr Memory

Trusting my memory from sunrise to sunset helps me to remain as independent as possible, going about daily life with confidence. As I do not see the contents of my wardrobe, Memory reminds me from old “data files”: clothes hanging in a regimented order, the texture giving clues, and memory recalling the colour described to me at the time of purchase.

But more important is the way memory assists me when I am out on my own in a chaotic environment tailored to the sighted. Memory instigates an internal monologue to remind me of important details in order to keep me safe:

Remember this kerb is usually flanked by a large puddle on rainy days, she says in a kindly way. Move a few inches to the right, just after that parked bus. Walk around that tree, you don’t want its overhanging branch to smack you in the face again. Don’t forget the council workers recently installed a telegraph pole in the middle of the laneway. Whoops, remember the new bin here. Yep, coming up to the house with the barking poodle so it shouldn’t frighten the living daylights out of you today. Aha, coming up to the spot where you will have to walk around the white vehicle that is always parked across the driveway. Just a little further, that’s right, past the clump of bushes on the corner, turn left. There’s the crossing with the lights that do beep. Here you go, sounds like the right tram approaching...

And on we go, Blind Sherlock and Dr Memory in a constant search for clues, sometimes scolding each other for missing an important sign of change of which Dr Memory promptly makes a mental note for next time.

This is why I look so serious when plotting a path through a busy city street; I can hardly afford to entertain any other random thought. It also explains why I can be seen talking under my breath on occasions, quizzing Dr Memory’s Memory.

Have You Seen My?


I am forever touching things wherever I go, Sherlock and Memory close at hand, tracking clues as we patrol the domestic precinct and often come across misplaced objects – mostly my partner’s – so Dr Memory jots it down: one wallet in the washing basket, one guitar capo by the kettle, one set of keys on the bookshelf, one pair of glasses perched by the bathroom mirror.

“Darling, Have you seen my...?” he asks, knowing full well the blind super-sleuth most probably has!

His request amuses me – and I forgive him, for he is the artistic type, the right brain sort of guy, random, spontaneous, focussed on the big picture, a risk taker, loveable creative, who complements my left-brain approach to life: logical, practical, reality-based and organised!

Hallelujah for mind maps

I love how one does not need sight in order to sing. A good ear, an awareness of tone and pitch and remembering every lyric in its sequence is ’all’ you need. My technique in remembering lyrics is like using a mind map of numbers and words, like sorting pieces of a puzzle – keywords act as the framework.

When I listen to the verses of a song, special words jump out as important elements and are snatched up by memory, on the prowl in search of the next key word to push into place until the song-puzzle has been solved and all the lyrics are in their correct order.

I also use my fingers to count the repetition of bars and set up a mind-map of numbers that correlate to certain words especially useful when singing songs layered with complex harmonies such as the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s Messiah.

Once upon a choral time…


In the serene seaside town of Narooma, nestled on the south coast of New South Wales, I appeared at rehearsals one Monday night to be warmly greeted as the youngest soprano for the Montague Choristers.

The choir consisted of dear retired folk all enthused by their director, Val Brown, and the new choir-chickie to the brood was warmly ushered towards the protective wings of the mature hens between the sopranos and the altos. It was a prime position and I soon felt right at home, allowing the clucky-musical hens to place me among their pecking order.

Their glowing admiration for my ability to retain lyrics and timing puffed up my pride and increased my singing confidence.

But on one night, while discussing whether to take their music folders on stage or not, the choristers were confronted with a very real problem. Liz from the “sops” pointed out:

“What about Maribel? She doesn’t have a book like us, won’t that look a bit odd on stage?”

“She doesn’t need one,” said Charles from the bass section.

“That’s right,” continued Liz, “if she doesn’t need a song book, why do we? If she can remember all the words, why can’t we?”

The room fell silent. No one wanted to abandon their beloved books – how would they remember their lines? It was an unthinkable thought.

I sat smugly on the border between the altos and sopranos as several members voiced their concerns.

“You don’t really need your books on stage,” I stirred. A soft elbow nudged my ribs.

“SShh,” whispered Liz with a giggle.

“It’s OK,” laughed Val, the choir director. “The choristers can take their books on stage. I have an idea that will keep everyone happy.”

On the next rehearsal, fellow-soprano Val, proudly presented me with a blooming marvellous solution to the problem. I now had my own Messiah ‘score’ looking exactly like everyone else’s brown covered book – except that mine was a gardening calendar complete with flowers for all seasons.

Come performance night, I held the brown ‘music’ book just like the other choristers, and sang merrily in harmony, counting bars on rigid fingers. Every now and then, I had to remember to glance down at the pages to look as if I was reading the same notes as the other choristers. Liz or Val would sneak a little nudge and whisper,

“Turn the page. We are in April…now May…June…”

While flicking over the pages in synchronised timing , colourful blooms of bright red roses, golden sunflowers and lush-lilac bushes potentially held my “gaze” until a jolt from Memory remindered me to keep singing.

At interval, when all the choristers had left their song books on their seats, I was taken by a naughty desire to swap over my brown-clad gardening calendar for a real song book. Val came over to her seat bringing her brother to meet me.

“Show Howard your ‘special’ book.” She grinned, expecting to view a photographic landscape.

I flicked open the book. Black music dots, quavers and lyrics.

Harold looked at his sister as if she were a little mad.

I felt laughter beginning to tremble under my fingertips and as I tried to keep a straight face, I suggested to a confused Val, “Why not show Howard your book?”

Lost for words, my embarrassed friend opened the song book and burst into a relieved laugh, “Oh, the flowers that bloom in the spring!”

“Tra-la.” I echoed and we claimed our respective music scores, locking arms and making our way to our seats on stage for the grand finale.

“When you sing with a group of people,

you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness

because a capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community.

That's one of the great feelings - to stop being me for a little while

and to become us.

That way lies empathy, the great social virtue.”

Brian Eno

© 2013 Maribel Steel

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