Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Blind Steering The Blind

I was watching the TV film "Scent of a Woman" the other night. Al Pacino played a depressed, blind, retired army colonel.

Looking to experience the good things in life just one more time, before he blows his brains out with his service automatic, he takes a sighted youth with him to a Ferrari dealership in New York.

Convincing the hackneyed salesman that he is a man of means, Pacino gets a test drive for the boy, in a new open-topped, beast of Maranello.

It doesn't take long before a sightless Pacino is in the drivers seat instead, with the boy coaching him through the quiet backstreets of the Big Apple.

It took me back to an experience I once had, on a canal boat carrying blind school children.

Initially feeling awkward and full of pity for the children with their disability, I was astounded and impressed by their skills in other directions and their great sense of humor when it came to dealing with their loss of sight.

One memorable moment involved one of the teenagers, who was an accomplished trumpeter, playing "My heart will go on" from the Titanic film, as the vessel lowered in an emptying lock. 

It wasn't long before they convinced me to let them steer.

We devised a system where a lifting ring on the deck served as a "marker" for their foot.

If the tiller was above their foot, then the rudder was amidships.

With midships as 12 o'clock on an imaginary clock, they would respond to my instructions of 2 o'clock for 60 degrees of port helm and so on.

I will never, ever, forget their faces when we found an open stretch of waterway, which allowed us to open the throttle up or their sense of achievement when they managed to wind the boat without me having to touch tiller or throttle.

Nor will I forget the face of a passing boater. When hearing the sound of his approaching engine, one of the children shouted across to him "sorry about the wash - I'm blind"...  

This is the link to the Ferrari driving sequence:

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