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I seem to go in for gradualism with my complaints, going through a period of slow deterioration, which in a sense helps you to adapt and make the most of your condition. In the late (19)70s I had eye problems — cataracts & complications — and finished up having four operations over a three year period. As you surmised, I earned my living as a designer, so increasing blindness seemed something of a catastrophe during that time ...
I worked for the Guardian group in Manchester, in charge of a department made up of two design studios and a copy group; as my sight got worse, I was able to delegate designing work and concentrate on management, using my secretary's eyes.
When I fully regained my sight, it coincided with a particularly busy period at the papers, and I was rushed off my feet in the couple of years before my retirement. Looking back, the time away from work, recuperating from the operations, was ultimately helpful in extricating myself from all the daily routines and decision making, and helped me adopt a more laid back attitude to problems that arose.
Encroaching blindness meant giving up painting and drawing, missing art exhibitions, made reading and writing a labour: when I reached the stage of asking little old ladies to help me across the road, I was almost ready to give up. I recall l had a frantic period trying to catch up with all the books I'd meant to read but not got round to... and ultimately found most consolation in the record collection I'd built up.
Then everything changed after the final operation — like you say, it's a reprieve. Suddenly, there's so much you want to do, want to catch up with. You live intensely in the present, rather than leave things for an uncertain future.
With me, now I could see what a mess I'd made of paintings done when I was reduced to peering at the canvas from a mere three inches away (while poking myself in the eye with the brush), I was all set to resume work. However, the demands of the job kept me away from the easel in the rush to retirement, and then when I became a leisured pensioner there's been so much to fit in the time available that I've not yet got around to painting again.
I blame it all on that Jim Burns. He attracted me to his writing classes years ago and diverted my energies to wild literary ambitions. Which reminds me of an earlier stay in hospital, while fighting for King & Country, duly documented and read out at one of Jim's sessions. OK, maybe I should have stuck with the painting... ■
Letter to Kevin Ring of Satori Books/Beat Scene, February 1996
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