It was the evening before I was due to make the dreaded return to work after the Christmas break, and I was already suffering from what I call the ‘Sunday evening ‘Songs of Praise’ feeling’. UK readers will know what I’m talking about here – it’s how you felt as a child, contemplating the horribly inevitable return to school at the end of a weekend, about the time that ‘Songs of Praise’ was broadcast on the television. All of a sudden, the lights in my living room flickered and I was plunged into a darkness which exceeded even my mental gloom. I suppressed a scream before stumbling to the cupboard under the stairs and locating my torch, which fortunately I knew was stored within easy reach, just inside the door. I stomped to the fuse box to discover that all of the switches were happily pointing to ‘on’ and practically sticking their tiny tongues out at me as they did so. I decided to refrain from resorting to computer helpdesk mode and switching them all off and back on again, and instead stomped over to the kitchen window, raised the blind, and saw… nothing. It was like a blackout during the Blitz, but fortunately without the doodlebugs. I wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or alarmed that my entire neighbourhood appeared to be out of power. Suspecting that it might continue for a while and unsure of how long my torch batteries would last, I went in search of candles and matches. My increasingly noisy growling stomach dared me to even think about presenting it with a cheese sarnie instead of a proper hot dinner and, after all, I thought, “how difficult can it be to cook dinner by the light of a couple of candles and a flickering torch?”
I rapidly discovered that it was more tricky than I’d anticipated. I dropped a handful of pasta, managing to miss the saucepan completely; narrowly avoided slicing the top of my thumb off whilst chopping a courgette; and had trouble in determining exactly when my veg was properly cooked, even when peering at it by the light of the torch. At one point I only just caught the pasta before the water boiled over, then proceeded to drop a fair quantity of it down the sink whilst draining the water. However, dinner was cooked, served, and eaten by flickering candlelight, as I metaphorically patted myself on the back and smugly informed my now silent stomach, “Told you I could do it!”.
When the lights suddenly blazed back on, about an hour later, causing me to blink and scream once more, I was somewhat dismayed to discover bits of congealed pasta on the kitchen work surface which I’d obviously dropped whilst serving up, scatterings of raw onion at the back of the hob, and blobs of melted candlewax welded to the kitchen worktop. I set about clearing up the mess, but – as is often the case these days – it caused me to wonder exactly how blind people manage with the business of cooking. So off I went to ask a couple of people…
A friend of a friend, whom I believe has been blind from birth, kindly got back to my curious questions with the response, “I do indeed cook but I can entirely understand why it would have been tricky with no practice at such things. There are indeed gadgets, but it would also be true to say that we humans are very adaptable creatures so there are all sorts of amazing ways to get around things.” Someone else, who rapidly began losing his sight from the age of 19, told me that he has a cooker and microwave in order to prepare easy and simple meals. He explained that it’s a case of trial and error but he finds it always better to cook for too long than not long enough. He also told me that he has talking kitchen scales, a one-cup hot water dispenser to make his cuppas, and ‘bumpons’ on his kitchen appliances. After further investigation, I learnt that bumpons are little raised rubber buttons which are self-adhesive on the back so that they can be stuck on to an appliance (for example, on the controls of a microwave) so that the person using it is able to locate the correct settings by touch.
This led me to have a bit of a rummage around online in search of further information. I discovered that the RNIB has a very interesting page explaining various things which blind or partially sighted people can use to help them with cooking, from basic tips on colour, contrast, and lighting, to talking microwaves, talking measuring jugs, and recorded labels to inform the user of the contents of a tin or its use-by date, for example. The RNIB page can be found at: http://www.rnib.org.uk/information-everyday-living-home-and-leisure-adapting-your-home/cooking. I was both fascinated and encouraged to read about the various gadgets which are available, although I also imagine that it takes a fair bit of practice to become adept at using some of them. Nothing beats hearing people’s experiences though, so if anyone reading this post happens to be blind or visually impaired, it would be great if you could tell me a bit about your experiences of cooking in the comments below… 🙂