Monthly Archives: December 2016

Christmas kindness and a criminal confession

I have a shocking admission to make.  It may be advisable for readers of a more delicate constitution to ensure that smelling salts are on standby, or at least a cup of hot sweet tea.  My confession is this: despite being an ardent admirer of nineteenth century English literature, I’ve never been able to get along with Charles Dickens.  I know… I know… [puts head in hands and sighs in shame].  In fact, my crime is heightened by the fact that I’ve never even been able to make it past the first few chapters of a Dickens novel.  Lord knows, I’ve tried.  I’ve attempted ‘Hard Times’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, and many more besides, but all have been cast aside with a frustrated sigh.

During my student days, studying a module in Victorian literature, the two lectures on Dickens were my only absences during the entire three years of my degree.  When gently asked by my English tutor if all was well, as she’d noticed my unusual absence, it probably wasn’t a great idea to admit that I detested Charles Dickens and that as I had no intention of writing an essay on him for either coursework or examination, I had felt that my time had been better spent in studying other authors.  She stared at me in consternation for a few moments but happily didn’t hold it against me.  I won’t go into the reasons for my dislike of the grandfather of Victorian literature as, after all, this is supposed to be a blog about retinal detachment, not literary criticism (although you might be forgiven for querying this if you read my blog post, ‘More than this…?’).  Bear with me, dear Reader, for I will get to the point eventually.  So said Polonius too, I seem to recall…

A few months ago I stumbled across the quote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”  Much to my amazement, it was attributed to none other than a Mr Charles Dickens.  “Oooo”, I thought, “I really like that concept!”  Personally, having been forced to deal with a life-changing eye condition on a daily basis, along with the constant worry of what the future may hold, I’ve found it very easy at times to become frustrated, low, and end up feeling generally useless in the world.  I suspect that this is probably true of many people dealing with a long-term serious health condition, regardless of what it is.  Additionally, as one prone to unwelcome visitations from Mr Pip, this sense of uselessness can, at times, be very much heightened.  Hence, I found Dickens’ quote to be hugely encouraging because basically it points out that there’s pretty much always something which can be done to make life a little brighter for someone else.  Even in the grimness of posturing there are potentially interesting conversations and ‘phone calls to be had, or dogs to encourage upstairs (have a read of Pondering Posturing, if you’re wondering what I’m going on about here).  I decided that I would make a conscious effort to remember this in my moments of gloom and acquired a simple framed print of the quote which now hangs on my wall as a reminder of this resolution.

When I came across a ‘kindness advent calendar’, the purpose of which was to encourage people to carry out a small act of kindness each day during advent, I rather liked the idea, and entered into the challenge with gusto.  Topically, being somewhat Scrooge-like about the whole ridiculous over-commercialised materialistic nonsense of Christmas, I regarded the kindness advent calendar as something of an antidote to these negative aspects of the festive season.  I’ve gone off-piste with the challenges and pretty much done my own thing, although I have used some of the suggested ideas as well.  My alternatives have included: donating books to charity, writing a funny poem to my sister (fortunately, she did laugh), baking shortbread to cheer up a colleague, posting a bottle of lavender pillow mist to a fellow insomniac, and many more besides.  I’ve found it quite satisfying – and occasionally challenging – to think of different things to do, and it has certainly offset the sometimes crippling feelings of uselessness.  Interestingly, the person who came up with the idea suffers from ME / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  In her blog, ‘make today happy’, she talks about incorporating acts of kindness into her daily life as a mechanism for aiding her recovery journey.  I think Charles Dickens would have approved.  Incidentally, after a fair amount of hunting around, I discovered that Dickens’ quote appears to come from his last completed novel, ‘Our Mutual Friend’ (someone please correct me if I’m wrong here).  I may need to locate a copy and have a last-ditch attempt at redeeming myself as a true fan of nineteenth century English literature…

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Christmas lights and wire cutters

I spotted the first sign of impending irritation on Sunday 27 November, as i was heading out for a chilly weekend walk.  A very long ladder set up against the side of one of the houses opposite me, with a man at the top, carefully tacking something along the edge of the roof.  At first glance it looked innocent enough, but I knew exactly what he was doing.  I briefly contemplated the idea of kicking the ladder out from underneath him or grabbing my neighbour’s garden hose with its handy power-spray and dousing him with freezing water.  I suspected that, although bringing a moment of personal satisfaction, such behaviour in this season of goodwill would probably be frowned upon by the majority of people.  So instead I simply snorted the same kind of snort expressing disbelief mixed with resigned annoyance which I’d used when I spotted a towering display of deep-filled mince pies in Sainsbury’s way back in September.  I mean, whatever happened to the twelve days of Christmas?  When did it become four and a half months of Christmas, for goodness sake?!  I have an annual competition with one of my friends as to which of us first hears the utterance, “Christmas is just around the corner!”.  I believe the record so far is late October.

However, I digress.  The point is that Sunday 27th November marked the start of the determined march of the Christmas lights of torture.  By nightfall that evening, it became dazzlingly clear that a number of residents along my road had joined in.  Okay, so maybe ‘torture’ is putting it a bit strongly, but they’re certainly hugely irritating.  I’m not the only one to find them so either.  Earlier today, a member of the online retinal detachment support group I belong to posted the following question: “Is anyone else  with RD completely annoyed by Christmas lights?  I used to love looking at Christmas lights and now they are just one blurry distraction.  :-(”  Another member of the group commented that for the first two or three years after her surgery in 2007, she was unable to look at Christmas lights for very long.  She went on to relate: I remember my family all going to pick out an ornament at a local Santa shop later that year and when I walked in (50+ trees lit up and decorated), I got dizzy and had to leave. I wasn’t close to 20/20 yet, both eyes were different rx and I had double vision, so each tree having 1000 lights on them was overload! I was pretty upset, as it was a tradition to go to that store and I felt like it was all over.

Just as any bright lights can be a challenge for many RD patients to deal with (fluorescent lights and those other horribly bright lights in supermarkets or some workplaces; car headlights, sunlight, bright computer screens… the list goes on and on), it’s just the same with Christmas lights.  I’m sure they’re brighter than they ever used to be, and the flashing ones are particularly irritating.  I genuinely think that the blue flashing ones are downright dangerous, as on several occasions whilst driving I’ve pulled over, thinking an ambulance was approaching, only to discover that it was just a resident with extremely bad taste who had decorated their house with hundreds of blue flashing fairy lights.  Therein lies another issue – taste.  What happened to the ‘less is more’ philosophy?!  Even before my RD issues, I was of the opinion that while sparing decorations of (non-flashing) white lights could actually be quite inviting and attractive; any more than this rapidly achieved the opposite effect of cheap ‘Santa’s grotto’.  Ironic really, as it must cost some people a small fortune in additional electricity each year.

The house just across the road from me now has bright blue lights lining the edge of the roof, a huge star beneath the eaves which flashes first blue then white, a giant multi-coloured flashing ‘Merry Christmas’ set high on the wall, a scribble of bright blue lights above the porch, and tiny red lights decorating a small tree beside the front door.  As if this isn’t enough, on some evenings one of the first floor windows lights up in slow flashes of red and green, as if some kind of psychedelic disco is in progress within.  When I’m driving down the road, I have to keep my eyes firmly focused on the opposite side, or it plays havoc with my vision.  Each time I drive past, I find myself wishing I’d indulged my original idea involving the ladder or the garden hose while I had the chance.  However, I have a cunning plan which involves wire cutters at dusk.  Just don’t let on that it was me who plunged my entire street back into respectable dimly-lit gloom on this chilly December evening.  I think I might go and polish off that bag of humbugs now…