Gavin, my son, recognised that my ‘ramblings’ during those early months would be of interest to those confronted with the same or similar problems and indeed those lucky enough not to be.
Having downloaded them from my website he, with the help of Chrissie Gordon, put them together to form a book: "I'm Beginning To Forget What I look Like" which is now published and available (via www.lulu.com and www.amazon.com), in both printed paperback and as a download. (All proceeds will be given to various charities for the Blind).
There have been plans afoot to make it available as a talking book. Playback Magazine’s volunteers have now transcribed the book onto both tape and CD and, for a small donation, this is can be obtained by email request from email@example.com
I have included one or two extracts which I hope you might enjoy and perhaps might whet your appetite for the whole book.
After a lifetime of intensive commercial enterprise, what happens when the world is suddenly transformed from lightness to the dark?
But Allan, now blind, has not bid farewell to the busy life. Armed with high-spec voice recognition software, he has written his thoughts on his life's work: 'Eight Hours Reflection On A Working Life'.
It tells the highlights, the achievements, and the know-how he has attained. And though blind, he shows that while this is a great impediment to future progress, his story is one of fortitude and determination.
His description of how his life has changed provides a humbling insight for the sighted.
Jennifer Cunningham, The Herald
Chapter 1 (extract)
It is Wednesday morning; it is the closing months of the year 2005. I am told it is a bright sunny morning. I am sitting here at my home situated on the seafront of a loch in Argyll, alone because my wife, Joyce, has gone to Glasgow to a charity luncheon. It is morning but it is black. Why? Because I am completely blind. I am letting my mind wander over past events and regretting that I never kept a diary. I am always impressed with people who keep diaries. Either they have bad memories or have a sense of history and the confidence that what they are doing in the present will be of interest to others in the future, or they are politicians who have failed to make much impact on life and think this is their last chance to leave a legacy behind.
I have been totally blind now for one year or more and I am having to accept that this terrible situation is permanent. I am hating the present and fearing the future, so I let my mind drift back to earlier times - to the last after-dinner speech I gave in public. It was some eight years ago, at the Royal College of Surgeons in Glasgow and the chairman introduced me with the following comments.
Allan Campbell Fraser, F.R.S.A., F.I.C.Mgt, F.IoD. is Chairman and founder of one of our largest property development groups, and is a non-executive Chairman of various development and investment companies. He was directly responsible for the planning, funding, construction and letting of some 40 industrial estates along with a large number of commercial developments, throughout the UK, amounting to property developments of total value well over £400 million.
Allan Fraser acted as an adviser to the Heath, Wilson, and Callaghan Governments, as a member of the Industrial Development Advisory Board, and earlier gained extensive experience of the Scottish property, development and construction industries by serving as a surveyor with professional practices and major national and international companies, including the Government Industrial Estates Agency.
An influential authority on the development of high quality, high specification, energy efficient office accommodation, Allan Fraser has acted as a consultant to clients in both the private and public sectors of the economy, and has been a regular contributor to broadcasting and the national press.
His hobbies are sailing, salmon fishing, and oil painting.
The speech was very well received, great applause; I was on top of the world, our world, which I first entered on the 10th October 1931, being the youngest of a large and, in many respects, exceptional family...
Allan Campbell Fraser
How would you cope with complete loss of sight? In a moving interview, Allan Campbell Fraser, a company chairman, shares the story of his new life with Jennifer Cunningham.
The Westergate and Northgate office developments in Glasgow are landmark buildings. But Allan Campbell Fraser, the man behind the Company which built them, DCI, will never see them, or any of his once-extensive property portfolio, again.
Two years ago he lost his sight, becoming one of the 5% of blind people with no sight at all – with no perception even of light or darkness. His description of how his life has changed provides a humbling insight for the sighted.
“I’m not good at this blindness,” he says, sitting in his house in Strone, Argyll. “When I was in business, I wanted things done quickly and one of my comments was ‘single-mindedness of purpose as opposed to a diversity of interests’, which was very pompous – but now that applies to me. Whenever I stop concentrating, I am lost. If I move to a door, and don’t straighten up from the chair and angle myself properly, I walk into a wall. And that applies in all sorts of things. When I talk to people, I miss the little nuances such as somebody smiling or tossing their head, so I’ve got to concentrate to compensate for that.”
“I sometimes get dreadful nightmares of drowning, which is apparently quite common. I’m told this can last for 10 years. After all, I’ve been seeing for many years – my brain has been working with signals from my optic nerve and now my eyes are not asking it to do anything. For a while I had hallucinatory visions, which is quite similar to someone who feels pain in a missing limb.”
“I have not seen my face for about two years and I’m beginning to forget what I look like. Also, my wife and children had faces and I’ve got to concentrate the whole time on remembering the last time I saw them. When I meet new people, I’ve never seen their faces. I have to take a lot from their voices. We still have a fairly active social life and I was at a function when some chap came up to me and said, ‘Hello, Allan I haven’t seen you for a while. I bet you don’t know who this is.’ Why didn’t he just tell me?”
Now 74, Fraser remains chairman of DCI and is determined to remain mentally active. “If I had not become blind I think I would still have been involved in developments throughout the country and this would be a marvellous time to be doing some commercial development,” he says.
Left completely alone for several hours for the first time while his wife, Joyce, was at a function in Glasgow, he began writing a memoir of his life. It was as an antidote to the feeling of terror that began to overwhelm him. He has led a stimulating life - as a member the Industrial Development Advisory Board he provided advice to the Heath, Wilson and Callaghan Governments.
Throughout it all, he had difficulties with his eyes. Fraser was born with congenital glaucoma and had a number of operations to relieve pressure on his optic nerve. He has had one eye removed - and, two years ago, had a cornea graft in the other one, which was rejected. A second was successful, but the retina was no longer functioning. It was a bitter disappointment.
“I think if I had been born today, I probably would not have had the same problems,” he says. “I managed to have enough sight for 70 years, albeit with glasses, and I was able to drive and do some ocean racing.” He also painted landscapes in oils, the last one being a view of Venice, and promised himself that when he got time he would take proper lessons. “That’s a great loss,” he says. “And I miss the ability to get in my car and drive.”
Having some sight, even if it is limited, greatly increases the opportunities open to a person. But there is help available - he praises Argyll and Bute Council, for instance, for providing a mobility trainer once a week. “He takes me for a walk and shows me how to cross the road. It is important if I’m crossing the road to make sure my toes are at the edge of the kerb at a right angle, so that I go straight across rather than going down the road. These little hints are vital. You have to learn to decide whether to walk along the inside of the pavement or toward the outside. It’s safer on the inside away from the traffic, but in some places there a lot of obstructions, like bins. Now, going one way I keep to the kerb and going the other way I keep close to the sea wall-but I cannot go somewhere I have never been before. I have to be careful that if I speak to someone, I don’t turn 180 degrees and then carry on walking in the opposite direction. I have done that twice and it’s quite frightening. My mind was quite clear about where I was going, but I was going in the wrong direction. I won’t make that mistake again.”
“Apparently, at two years, I am just at the beginning of coping with blindness. There’s a lot to learn and more to unlearn. I can’t make my way down the front garden because there’s only grass and no point of reference, which is a pity, because I used to enjoy going down to the shore. But my tactile skills are getting better. If I am at a table, I touch the person on either side of me - and also have a kiss with the girls as I go into a group. That tells you a lot. One plus point is that people are changing, but my friends get no older visually than when I last saw them.”
“There are two ways you can go. You can either say, ‘This is not worth the candle’ and crumble, or you can make every effort to be more mentally active: but it can be difficult. If people are talking about sailing or fishing, I cannot take part in the conversation, so I have to try to draw myself into it. Sometimes I ask them to describe to me what they are seeing. One person has told me that with taking the effort to tell me what something looks like, he’s actually seeing much more than he would have before.”
“What I did a lot when I had my sight was build walls. I built a sea wall to protect Gibbs’s point [the tip of a promontory jutting into Holy Loch], which might eventually have been washed away. I would have been out on the Salmon River in Perthshire where I used to fish in a syndicate. I’ve got rid of my boat although my son has a small yacht and I suppose I might go sailing again. A lot of people manage to do all sorts of things, but I am not at that stage yet. I suppose it might come.”
“If I had known I would become blind, I might have tried to learn to type or read Braille. I had no knowledge of computers so I can’t use a keyboard. However I speak to my computer and it types my words and it reads e-mails to me. In a way, it has become my new best friend.”
“I am determined to do everything I can. The blackness is frightening. If I am imagining things to be worse than they are, there is no sunlight next morning to change my mood. Most people find things are a lot better in the morning, but I don’t have that to look forward to.”
Jennifer Cunningham, The Herald, (July 2005)