Archive for August, 2010

And at the eleventh hour!

August 27, 2010

And At the Eleventh Hour!

My little red suitcase lies open on the green poofee in my front room. Yesterday it closed but somehow I have my doubts that today it will be as compliant. I run through the list of its contents in my head and consider if there is anything that I can take out. But as I am running with anxiety, that’s a daft question. My response to anxiety is to eat and over pack, both of which I am currently doing!!

“It’s just a series of train journeys” I tell myself, reaching for another chocolate rice cake. “Well I’ve got to finish them off or they’ll go stale sitting here not being eaten!”

I think about food and my next meal. Aside from being a vegetarian, my digestive system behaves badly when it encounters too much refined wheat and cheese. I’ve packed herby oatcakes and fruit and nut bars to keep me going. I’m just contemplating where to put the apples, the third ingredient of my survival food plan.

Honestly, you’d think I was going to theAntartic, the way I’m carrying on. But my strategy is to have something on me just in case I can’t get to find food. Seems reasonable enough, methinks?

It’s been more or less pissing down for the last two days. So much for my idea of trolling off in cream trousers, a tee-shirt and crocks! Such is my state of agitation that a considerable amount of energy was spent in digging out something else to wear. Dressed in jeans, I now sport some rather lovely tomato patterned plastic clogs (to match the long sleeved tomato coloured top I dug out) but whilst warm enough in London, I’m going to be boiling if the sun comes out.

And so much for the idea of marching down the road and getting on the bus! The pavements are waterlogged and I think it’ll have to be a cab to the tube. Oh well .

I’ve marked all the different tickets in Braille. I’ve printed out a helpful phrase or two and where I am trying to get to at each stage, just in case my French or Spanish accent is beyond comprehension. I’ve uploaded all the other useful words in French and Spanish onto my little voicenote. It mechanically repeats them back to me with an execrable accent! I can surely do better?

A friend of a friend of a friend has agreed to meet me at Paris Gare de Norde and get me to Austerlitz and hopefully to the info support people. But I’m on my own in Madrid! On the way back, the friend’s, friend’s husband (who doesn’t speak a word of English) will meet me at Austerlitz and take me back to Gare de Norde. I’ve put a call out amongst widely travelled friends and aquaitences about the possibility of meeting up with someone in Madrid on the Saturday 4th September I’m coming back. I have five hours to wait between trains. I’ve no idea if that will materialize and have decided that I’ll worry about that later.

Right now, I’m a bit tired. I kept waking up last night worrying about sleeping compartments and toilets! I often worry about toilets, having that pesky weak bladder and dodgy digestive system. guess I’m anxious because it is the unknown. I know that when I’ve done something, no matter how difficult it is, at least I know what I’m facing, when right now, I don’t.

It seems that most major rail stations on the continent have some kind of disabled passenger facility. In France it’s called the “accueil Handicappes” as “handicap” seems to be the acceptable word. In Spanish the word for “disabled” appears to be “minusvalidos”! more or less “invalid”. Whilst some lexicographically minded person might tell me the word has another kinder route, I can’t help hearing the English word with the stress on the second syllable and its meaning, without value.

Putting that unpleasant thought aside, I march across to the suitcase and firmly lean on it, as I zip it close. It is done. I am ready. Let’s go!.


Why do I lose punction when posting by email?

August 24, 2010

This a test. When I post from email, all accents and apostrophies go.i’m sending from the mob to see if it makes a difference.

The Right Words

August 24, 2010

Tuesday August 24, 2010:

I’ve just about dried out from a week in wet Wales.  I’m just back from a long weekend in slightly soggy Somerset and the Spanish rail trip looms large in only three days!  Eeek.  Between making lists of things I need to pack, I’ve turned my thoughts to phrases that might help in my travels. A run of the mill phrase book might meet the needs of the ordinary tourist, but I’m no ordinary tourist.  And anyway, I can’t read said phrase books and aint taking a lorry sized Braille one with.

I’m pretty adept at negotiating my way around most things in English, but the balance of command and request is very different across a language barrier.  How can I succinctly describe what I need clearly in simple language?

Now I was once quite good at languages. It even looked like I might be in danger of getting a reasonable grade at ‘O’ level in both French and Spanish.  Somewhere between mocks and the real thing, rather inconveniently I went blind.   It was difficult enough figuring out how I was going to take the English Language exam let alone how to manage a foreign language, so I didn’t. I did have an attempt at French again when I’d been carted off to special school but the result was a bit of a “nil point”

It’s too late to do a crash course, so the only thing left to me is to get pals who are reasonably competent at French or Spanish to translate the phrases I come up with. Then I have to commit them to memory and also write them on cards in case no one understands my accent!  Dear me …!

So huge thanks to Mikey (Spanish) and Eleanor’s son John (French) for their help!

From the comfort of my computer, I sit back and run the journey like a movie in my head.

Before we start on the wheres and the whyfors, in case my long white cane does not speak for itself, I’d better work out how to tell folks that I am blind.  So much for the social model of disability, I don’t have time to learn to speak of the barriers rather than the condition …. Oh er did I really say that?  Oh well, needs must, I guess.

The finer points of disability etiquette abandoned, I have to make the simple declaration of

“I am blind”

F: Je Sui aveugle (pronounced “a vœgl”) / je suis non-voyante

S: Soy ciega. (Pronounced soy thee ay ga)

or in case it’s thought that I might have any useful vision and thus be able to follow a moving blurring blob or see bright signs or lights.

“I am totally blind”.

F: Je suis totalement aveugle

S: Soy completamente ciega.

Oh but I soo don’t like that!  My toes curl and I feel a stubborn expression setting around my mouth. Can I explain what I need in another language from “le social model” or even los social model” perspective?  Oh, life’s too short!  Swallowing my pride I bow to the pressures of “le Medical model” or is it “los medical model”.

Returning to the point of the exercise, first things first, I need to find and get on trains and in taxis.   But before I even go there on the query of their location, I have to bear in mind that if I ask for directions, someone will give me them probably in rapid French or Spanish. It is better perhaps to request an action be taken rather than be told where something is and not understand the instruction.  So I must forget

“where is”

F: Où est …?

S: Donde esta?


“how can I get to …?”

F: Comment puis-je aller à …

S: Como voy a?

Rather I should be saying

“can you help me find”

F: Pouvez-vous m’aider à trouver …?

S: Me puede ayudar encontrar..?

Can you take me to …”.

F: Pouvez-vous m’emmener à…?

S: Me puede llevar a..?

In France, tickets often have to be verified by putting into a funny yellow machine on the platform.  If this is not done, the train captain might well kick me off the train. So I need to say,

“can you  help me verify my ticket please?”

F: Pouvez-vous m’aider à poinçonner (pronounced poin-sso-ner)

S: Me puede ayudar verificar mi billete?

And whilst I am wandering around the station, I might want to ask,

“can you help me find a member of staff?”

F: Pouvez-vous m’aider à trouver un membre du personnel?

S: Me puede ayudar buscar un dependiente?


“Can you help me find the customer information desk?”

F: Pouvez-vous m’aider à trouver le point d’information?

S: Me puede ayudar buscar la informacion?

I’ve got an absent-minded mad scientist of a mother. Picking up her abandoned possessions was something I did a lot of when I was a child.  Now Friends recount of how they leave various vital objects in places. I never do this; gathering up my belongings is now habitual.

The thing is, others often bare my belongings off. This is part of assisting me.  I have to curb my anxiety – for of course I can’t see if they’ve actually kept hold of my possessions. So it would probably be useful to be able to say

““Have you still got my suitcase?

F: Avez-vous toujours ma valise?

S: Todavia tienes mi maleta?

And in case I need to describe it,

“It’s a small red suitcase on wheels.”

F: elle est petite, rouge, et à roulettes

S: Es una maleta roja sobre ruedas.

Ooh is that a little note of anxiety I detect underneath the pathetic accent?  What? I’ve got to sound relaxed and comprehensible? Oh crumbs!

I have the most appallingly weak bladder. It’s got worse with age. I know I can’t go anywhere without knowing where the toilet is. Now there’s no point in asking someone to tell me *where* the toilet is, they’ll only go into a complicated load of instructions full of “gauche’s”” and “droit’s” and (you can’t miss its)

No, I need to ask them to take me to the toilet so I’d perhaps better ask

“Can you help me find the toilet please?”

F: Pouvez-vous m’aider à trouver les toilettes sil-vous-plait?

S: Me puede ayudar buscar los servicios?

That pressing need met, I now need to work out getting fed and watered. Oh and here comes the complications. I’m no omnivore; in fact I’m a bit of a picky vegetarian. Now I think I can manage

F: Je suis végétarienne.


S: “yo soy vegetariana”

I can even manage

F: je ne mange ni viande, ni poulet, ni poisson

In Spanish I know “sin carne, sin polo y sin pesche” (no meat, chicken or fish, though I’m not sure that’sthe right way to spell fish and fear I might declare a disinclination to eat peaches,which would be a shame as I like peaches!  )

I think I can manage to ask for cups of tea and coffee in both French and Spanish.

F: un café/ un thé sil-vous-plait

S: un café/ un te por favor.

I can order a beer in Spain but must be careful not to order a small toilet!

F:        une bière sil-vous-plait

S: Una cerveza, por favor.

All this is the fair of the average traveler, but what about the finer points of being guided?

Personal space is cultural. In some countries it’s ok to lay hands on someone before being introduced by a third party but in others it’s not.  I’m not one for having hands laid upon me (well actually, I can give you a list of who I’d like to lay hands on me but we’re not going there right now …), so I need to know how to say

“can I hold your arm”

F: Puis-je me tenir à votre bras?

S: Puedo tomar el brazo?


“Please remember we’re wider now there’s you and me”

F: Rappellez-vous que nous sommes un peu plus large à deux.

S: Juntos somos mas anchos.

At this point, I’d better learn the word for


F: Aie (pronounced “aye”)

S: Ay!


“oh that hurts!”

F: Aie, ca fait mal!

S: Ay que me duele!

And then unfortunately I might need to know how to say

“Oi if you walk me into another doorway, I will kick you!

F: Si vous me faite me cogner dans une autre porte, je vous frappe!

S: Si me llevas contra otra puerta, te pateo!

Or even

Please take your hand of my  bottom/breast (substitute as appropriate)!”

F: ne me tripotez pas!

S: No me toques.

And then …

“hey, where are you going?  Don’t leave me!”

F: Eh! Vous allez où comme ça? Ne me laissez pas!

S: Donde vas? No me dejas!

From thence, it is but a short meander to

“Help, I’m lost!

F: A l’aide, je suis perdue!

S: Ayudeme! Estoy perdida.


“I need chocolate!

F: j’ai besoin de chocolat!

S: Necesito chocolate!

“But I digress to disaster and being an optimist, I don’t “do” disaster, do I? I might want to explain my trip:

“I’m travelling by train by myself to Malaga and back.

F: je voyage seule, en train, allé-retour à Malaga

S: Viajo por tren sóla a Malaga y de vuelta.


“I’m going to sing on a mountain!”

F: Je vais chanter dans les montagnes

S: Voy a cantar en una montanya.

But before I get carried away with fantasies of babbling loquatiousness,I think I’d better mistress

“My French/Spanish(substitute as needed) is not very good. Can you speak slowly?”

F: Mon français n’est pas très bon. Pouvez-vous parlez lentement sil-vous-plait?

S: No hablo mucho espanyol. Mas despacio por favor.

And even,

“what did you say?”

F: Pardon?

S: Que?

And finally, I think I will definitely need to say,

“thank you for your help. I really appreciate it.”

F: Merci de votre aide. J’apprécie beaucoup”

S: Muchas gracias. Lo agradezco mucho.

And if I’ve made a friend,

“I’ve enjoyed meeting you!

F: je suis ravie de vous avoir rencontré!

S: Encantada!

So armed with all this, I’m off to practice dams la beignet(bath) where I practice most things.

Now is there anything I’ve forgotton?