Reading by Charlotte Bennie

Don’t know what you have till it’s gone!

With Christmas looming, I’ve plenty to do. Presents to track down; the annual Address to the Commonwealth, well, that sounds much grander than the Christmas Letter, to compose and recipes to scrutinise. All of which tasks make me grateful I’ve mastered enough Braille to select delicacies from Delia and am techno savvy enough to benefit from the assistance of the screen reader. Until it throws one of its tirravees.

But, even with a scanner transferring print into an accessible word file, a vast amount of print which others take for granted, is still denied. I don’t just mean this month’s edition of a popular magazine or the novels short listed for the Booker or Costa awards. In fact, many such things are available in a range of formats. No, I’m referring to all the everyday stuff I once read automatically, a process best defined as visual osmosis. Ranging from Special K squeezing all you need to know about diets onto the back of a cereal packet to those weirdly worded wee cards which decorate the newsagent’s window. Being the rural South West, these offer such things as laying pullets and ferrets ready to work rather than details anent the sort of services only familiar to naughty MPs.

It’s not that I want any ferrets and, as for the diet, well, for me, that’s just the way it is. Nor, do I particularly want to make the acquaintance of any politicians with low morals and vivid imaginations. However, as one who, in an earlier life, was an avid reader, I really miss spontanouity. Braille is bulky and I’ve yet to crack the tactile equivalent of skim reading. As for audio, once cables have been unfankled and ear plug inserted, there’s nothing more annoying than hearingthe the wee sod announce its battery needs to be recharged. I Books and Daisy players are marvellous, but they do have their limitations. Including having to tussle with the cat over the headphone flex. A good reason for investing in a set using Blue Tooth!

On a damp, dreich day, there’s something luxurious about sprawling the Glasgow Herald across the kitchen table, tackling the crossword with the assistance of a mug of coffee and the electronic anagram solver. Then, swapping such mental press ups for a detailed study of the local paper’s tales ofmayhem during Saturday night rammies; legs bitten, lugs mauled and an eclectic range of objects thrown around the main streets of our douce wee burghs. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, talking newspapers do a grand and excellent job but they can’t cope with crosswords and, no matter what, they present what is, essentially, a selection.

Every autumn, we attend the Wigtown Book Festival, just down the road. Over the years, my Guide Dogs have been tickled by Kate Edie, addressed by Denise Mina and complimented on their perfect behaviour by Scottish politicians and weel kent journalists. Once, I’d a conversation with a group of lassies; teenagers, all still at the school.
As we’d all just left the grand hallway of the County Buildings and were heading to one of the marquees, I assumed the lassies were enjoying the festival. Whatever they had been enjoying, it hadn’t been culture. Mind you, the cafe organised upstairs in the grand Supper Room during the festival, serves a mean bacon roll.

“No, we don’t participate,” was their response to my query. Most polite, not a trace of irony. And No one could have complained about their delivery. How shocking! I’m not recommending they attempt a study of the Victorian novel or a quick wheech through the Metaphysical Poets. All I’m saying is, reading’s fun; funwhich takes you to all sorts of worlds without moving your bahoochie off the sofa. And, fun which in the blink of an eye, quite literally, can be lost for ever.

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