Viv is one of our members and kindly wrote an article for our Winter Newsletter.  There was so much information in her article that we were unable to print it in its entirety so we thought we would print the entire story here.

My name is Vivien Margaret Booth but family and friends call me Viv.  I was born in 1952 and blind from birth with only light perception which has diminished over the years, although I can see shadow.  My blindness was caused by being placed as a seven-month premature baby in an incubator where I was then given too much oxygen which detached the retina; it is also the cause of the wonderfully talented Stevie Wonder’s blindness as well.

I am the oldest of three children and have two younger brothers, both married so have multiple nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews.  I was born in God’s own country as I call it, South Wales, at Morriston, a suburb of Swansea. I attended a mixed school for the blind and partially sighted at Bridgend, now the home of the South Wales Police Headquarters.

There were no schools with special needs units as there are today but, in some ways, we were at an advantage because the classes were smaller, approximately ten to twelve pupils and, of course, the teachers had more time to tutor us.

My parents were travelling show people so I am a proud showman’s daughter and a Welsh woman and love to follow the rugby on Radio 5 Live.  I am very proud of my heritage; we attended most of the fairs of south and west Wales and I couldn’t have asked for a nicer, more hard working and close-knit community.  I am proud of my heritage.

My parents took a big step and made sacrifices when we moved to the Isle of Wight as they wanted us three children to have the advantages they didn’t and knew I would benefit the most if we lived permanently in one place because they knew that, as I grew up, I would be trained and obtain work more easily than if we had stayed where we were.  They also knew that I would be taught routes to enable me to conduct myself with a long cane as independently as possible which would benefit me.

Everyone looks out for each other and in all the years we have lived apart from family and friends from that community, the love and loyalty we feel for each other has never diminished.  We keep in regular contact and see them when we can.

My dad managed the amusement arcade on Ryde seafront for his brother who was a lot older than him when we moved to the Island and my mum ran her own gift shop.  Our house was above and behind it.

Though in a minority, I have heard prejudicial remarks being made about us as we have been referred to us as gypsies and the Ryde Mafia, but that is said in ignorance by those who don’t know the first thing about us.

I would like to pay tribute to Peter Venables, ROVI at Wight Sense, who taught me routes when I first started work as a telephonist at what was then Robinson Jarvis and Rolf, Solicitors in Ryde for over thirty years. This was an advantage to me after being tutored by Peter as he explained to me how a compass worked and then everything clicked into place.

I had wonderful colleagues and my switchboard had tactile indicators attached to them for my benefit instead of lights, then when the silicon chip came into its own, the board had a certain amount of voice control and was semi-automatic and would use speech.

Growing up on a fair ground was wonderful as we covered the same route, attending most of the fairs of south and west Wales between Easter and what we called the backend run, from October till the end of November, but when I was really little we had fairs to attend over the Christmas period, then the men of the family would work in the winter maintaining their equipment, such as stalls, rides and such and would also often take on casual work, either selling firewood as my dad did where he also worked for the GPO (General Post Office; now Royal Mail) delivering parcels.  Some of the young unmarried girls, such as some of my cousins, worked in factories and shops near to their winter quarters.

We lived in a caravan, or trailer as they are now called, though ours was more like a wagon, pulled by my dad’s matador lorry and when the fairs closed at 10.00pm and we were moving on the next day to another place, everything had to be pulled down and packed away so bedtime didn’t occur until the early hours and, of course, journeys were longer then as this was before motorways came into being.

We kids would travel in the car with Mum as Dad drove the lorry and some families who owned rides, like the dodgems as we called them, had to make more than one trip.  It was like living in a moving village as we travelled with the same families; everyone was known as auntie and uncle and when mum had her other children, when I was 4, they would often take me off and play with me to give her more time with them.

I loved sitting in the hot dog and candy floss kiosk with my auntie and was fascinated by the candy machine when it spun the sugar; her toffee apples were to die for!  Then hot dogs and burgers came on the scene, but the rule was, I mustn’t be filled up with rubbish in the mornings as I wouldn’t eat my dinner.

I loved going on the rides such as the Waltzer, Octopus, Twist Swing Boats, the Big Wheel and the Roundabouts but never liked the Dodgems.

I only remember one small fairground organ playing but when my parents were young there were plenty of them and I always loved hearing them talking about it.

I was only allowed to have rides though if it was quiet and there weren’t too many punters around and, of course, all the latest music was played from speakers attached to the roofs of the rides as we had to keep up with the latest songs so people would often gather outside the rides singing along until they could board them; what a lucky girl I was!

After leaving school I attended the Royal Normal College for the Blind, then situated eight miles outside Shrewsbury, Shropshire where the boys’ college was about ten miles from ours.

The welfare officers, as they were called then, told us of a boy who also attended the College lived on the Island, so my parents offered to give him a lift to college as they wanted to take me there themselves as I was new and that’s how I first met Eric Tuckwell, who has been a member of Sight for Wight for many years.

I did my CSE exams at school in Wales but took my ‘O’ levels at Shrewsbury and, originally, I was assessed for doing shorthand and typing but I couldn’t visualise the tabulation work involved when typing because, in those days, you had to work out the column work yourself.

I only found out that those with my eye condition can’t visualise space or distance so when my parents asked why they had never been informed, they were told it wasn’t the place of staff to tell them, which annoyed my parents as they always tried to help me as much as they could and it made sense to me, once I knew, as I have always memorised routes like learning a script which was the best for me as I have to learn everything parrot fashion.

I then spent three months in Torquay, Devon at an assessment centre and was rightly assessed for telephony and the rest, as they say, is history.

I trained at Pembridge Place, a college in London and that is where I met Liz, Eric’s lovely wife and the three of us, I am glad to say, have been friends ever since.

Fortunately, I was only home for a month after qualifying when I was interviewed for my job at the lawyers and got it which I was so pleased about as I didn’t want to spend any more time away from home.

As soon as Social Services were aware that I was born blind, my parents received a visit from a Welfare Officer who encouraged and suggested to them that they send me to a sunshine home for the blind.  They were residential nurseries taking children in from the age of 18 months up to 5 years old where they then attended the schools for the blind.

My parents absolutely refused to let me go as they said it was bad enough that I had to go away from home to school in the first place but was understandable and their view, quite rightly, was that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important because that is where they receive much love and understanding.

They were told the usual rubbish such as I would be mixing with other children and that I would be well looked after and their reaction from my wonderful sensible parents was, who would pick up an 18-month-old child in the night or whenever they needed comfort in the same way as a parent?  They never bothered us again!

It was sad in a way because, whilst I understand that for some families who may have been struggling, the friends I had at school who went to these homes always seemed insecure, always asking us if we liked them and were they our friends? I felt so sorry for them.

I developed a love for radio from an early age, listening to The Archers with Mum, in fact I don’t remember a time when I didn’t hear it; we would listen to Radio Luxembourg and then, when the pirate stations came, it was great.  At school, we would get into trouble for smuggling our transistor radios under the bed clothes and would listen to it on our headphones.  Mine got confiscated many times and I, like many of my friends, were always in trouble for talking too much in lessons about Motown, the Beatles and all the great 60s artists; what a great time to grow up in that decade! I was in the Beatles fan club and loved them.

I developed a love of reading which has never left me and I am also a sponsor of a programme broadcast on a station called Angel Radio, which you can get through Alexa, on the Internet and on DAB digital radio; it is based in Havant and covers the Isle of Wight, Hampshire and Sussex and everything they play is from the 1890s up to 1969; they feature comedy as well and receive no money from anyone; they raise their own funds by donations, PayPal, Pay to Play days where you can pledge as little as a pound or whatever you want for songs to be played of your choice.

As mentioned previously, I also love Radio 5 Live for the sport and documentaries, plus Radio 4 and 4 Extra for drama and good old Radio 2, plus local radio.

I love wining and dining out with family and friends, am a great follower for rugby union, plus all the Olympic sports and love attending quizzes when I can.  I also love going to the theatre and cinema, especially now that audio description is often featured.

I have had a few setbacks throughout my life, as we all have, such as suffering from anxiety twice in my life; mostly when I was grieving for my parents and because of work problems where in the last year of working there, I was one of twenty three people who left, so I know I’m not the only one who found the situation difficult.

I suffered a heart attack six years ago, but I don’t let it bother me as I am on medication and life is what you make it; you only get out of it what you put into it.

I also have osteoarthritis in three of my toes and am mildly asthmatic but there is always someone else worse off and every day to me is a bonus.

I became adventurous when I was at college in London, travelling home on the train for the weekends; this was the first time I used the Tube, usually with a crowd of college friends; we never worried about anyone attacking us and it was much easier to travel on the trains then with assistance as there were always porters on the platforms, plus the guards who were all superb.  The London cabbies were also great too as when I came back to college on a Sunday night, it was late and I promised my parents to use them and sometimes they wouldn’t even take any money from me but I always insisted, as they supported many charities.

In 1981, I took the big step of flying for the first time, alone at the age of 29, as I wanted to go to America to meet my pen friends who later became cassette friends and flew from Heathrow Airport to San Francisco where I was met by my blind friend, Linda, also blind from birth, who came from that area but lived in Sacramento so she and her husband, who was sighted, took the trouble to do that and we used the Greyhound bus to go back to their home in Sacramento. I was made so welcome.  Linda and I then flew to stay with her Aunt Marge who lived in the San Francisco area.

Both of us took off on our own, visiting Alcatraz, China Town, Fisherman’s Wharf and walked all round Pier 39.  We were then joined by her husband where we went to see the great jazz singer, Lina Horne, in concert and met her; she was lovely.

Then I flew from the Bay area, as they call it, after also meeting Linda’s parents and visiting Berkely where we walked among the Eucalyptus and Redwood trees and flew to Los Angeles where I was met by another friend, Terry, who was also blind and her husband who was sighted where I stayed with them.

We saw a television taping of the popular show Benson, went to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and ate out at fabulous restaurants.

Then I met my third friend, Taletha, who was also blind and from Detroit, Michigan with her partner John, who drove her down as she wanted us to spend time together.  We stayed with friends of theirs who also made me so welcome. We went to Las Vegas for a couple of days and as Tee, as she was called, went to school with Stevie Wonder and as another of her blind friends was working for him at the time, we ended up at his recording studio and just hung out with Stevie, late into the night.

He was really lovely, brilliant at taking off British accents and said how he was amazed how white people loved the Motown shows when they first came over here as most of the audiences in the States were black.  He has never touched drugs and people around him are not allowed to use anything in his presence.

I went to see him at the NEC in Birmingham later and asked if I could see him although I thought he wouldn’t remember me but he did and I gave him a commemorative coin when we first met as it was the year King Charles married Princess Di.  What a wonderful time I had.

Also, I corresponded and met the lovely Sir Harry Secombe on a few occasions as he was a Swansea boy and, someone I knew from school, knew his brother who was a vicar in Swansea.

He once sent me tickets for my mum and I to see his show, The Three Musketeers in London which was really lovely; kissing us both and his wife Myra who was from Mumbles where we came from, knew my dad slightly as they used to dance at the same dance hall, so I met him at other shows as well.  He never forgot where he came from, just like the second Prince of Wales, Sir Tom Jones.

My friend Terry, her husband and I met up again last year while they were staying in London and my niece and sister-in-law came with me where we also met my nephew so I could introduce her and her husband to them.  It was so nice as she had good memories of staying with us and said she loved my parents and brothers.

I suppose, in conclusion, I would say that I have been extremely lucky, being surrounded by love and kindness and you always give back what is given to you, and no one should think that they can’t do this or that because you can within reason.

When I left work the Society (Sight for Wight) were really kind and helpful. Lesley, who worked there, then taught me new routes and I said I wanted to help in whatever way I could so was a volunteer for some time, helping with store collections and attending summer fairs at the Society where I, along with others, brought items to sell and I served twice as a trustee.

I’m not really political and, even though I was made welcome, didn’t feel comfortable but did my best at the time.