Stevie Wonder is a hero of mine. "Time is long but life is short," he once told the Guardian, alluding to that very irritating fact about time: it's all relative. Take school. The minutes fly by when you're outside on break, sharing Richmonds before coating yourself head-to-toe in Lynx (because that will definitely mask the ashtray aroma, and not just smell exactly like you've had a fag and then, weirdly, decided to cover yourself in deodorant). However, as soon as you get back inside and pick up a protractor, the seconds turn to minutes and the minutes to hours, and you're suddenly acutely aware of your own mortality, The End screaming towards you in a tsunami of sin, cos and tan symbols.
That's why I've always tried to live by that mantra of Stevie's. Aware that we all have a finite number of years on Earth, I found ways to break every reasonable rule my mother set for me when I was younger. I almost put her in an early grave when she caught me, a blind nine-year-old, riding my brother's BMX at the skate park. And I'm still very much the same now; last year, I skydived and took on the third highest bungee jump in the world, all in the space of a day. "You're out to kill me, boy!" screamed my mother down the phone.
With all that plummeting towards the ground at high speeds, you might think that clubbing for a young blind student like myself would be a walk in the park. You would, however, be mistaken. I'm not saying I don't have a screamer most nights, but I've had to craft a number of techniques to help me negotiate the unique problems I face in this oh-so ablest world. Here, I've gone and written them all down so you have a read.
For most students – blind or sighted, sober or shitfaced, wearing a fucking waistcoat to a nightclub or not – this is the highest hurdle to clear. The good thing for most is that pre-drinking in halls in a great social leveller: you're all as wasted as each other, and so equally as likely to mess up when it comes to keeping your composure and stringing together enough words to convince the judges at whatever kangaroo court you're queueing up for that you're in a fit state to enter. Their judgments are often quick, their decisions irreversible. "Fuck off and don't came back," means you're not getting in all night, even if you go back and try again with a hat on.
For me, the hurdle is slightly higher. Acting sober is not the primary concern of a blind clubber; from experience, I know that, upon first sight of me and my eyes, the decision has already been made: "He's definitely a no." Waiting in line is like waiting on death row – I know what's coming. Thankfully, I'm now well-versed in how to handle the situation.
"Go to a hospital or go home, mate!" the bouncer barks.
Presenting my ID, I gently explain that I have a visual impairment: "Don't judge a book by its cover; I'm not as fucked as you think I am." He snatches my ID and glares at it. My eyes, at 1AM on a Saturday, are the same as those in the photo (this, of course, would also work for sighted people if you just got really, really drunk before taking your ID photo). Defeated, the judges are forced to reverse their decision.
Without access to any visible drinks lists or prices – and because asking busy bar staff for an itemised rundown of everything on offer is a proper dick move – I avoid my favourite, gin and tonic, for fear of immediately ridding myself of whatever's left of my maintenance loan. My policy is simple: go for vodka and Coke – it's usually the one on special offer.
"£5.50 please, darling."
Drink already poured, it turns out the vodka and Coke is not on offer whatsoever. I walk out to the smoking area and find my mates, all of them drinking £3 gin and tonics. I weep at a world that has let me down.
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After forcing myself to drink every last drop of my bank-breaking, gag-inducing drink – because you need a bit of fire in you're belly if you're spending seven hours shaking your limbs around near strangers – I, like anyone else who goes to a nightclub, will head for the dancefloor. I can't get too carried away, lest I lose my friends, but that gets increasingly hard when you've had a few and the DJ starts dropping red hot bangers.
Picture an oversized blind man in a furry poncho flailing around on a dance floor designed for the sighted. That's pretty much exactly what it looks like when this happens.
POST-DANCE STRESS DISORDER
I stop for breath and reality strikes: I've lost my friends. Conveniently, as someone with a visual impairment, my sense of smell is heightened – I can usually sniff my friends out whenever I lose them. So I weave through the moist mass on the dance floor, knowing exactly what to look for: a distinctive mix of Persil washing powder, Paco Rabanne, Marlboro Menthols and sweat.
My nose rarely fails me, but it does tonight. Thinking I've tracked Zak down, I go for the hand grab. To my dismay, the hand I've grabbed is too rough to belong to sweet, supple Zak. I've just grabbed the hand of someone who, I can only imagine from the tone of his voice, shares at least four Britain First posts a day on Facebook. "Good point," he writes beneath it: "Makes you think."
"You're fucked, mate. What have you been taking? Your eyes look loopy."
A derogatory comment about my eyes; my life no longer hangs in the balance. I've developed a method of dealing with these kind of remarks – a method that can also help me out of situations I'd rather not be in. I take his hand again.
"I haven't taken anything. I am blind."
He starts stuttering. "Oh shit, sorry. I feel so guilty, mate – is there anything I can do to apologise?"
"Yes, I'll have a gin and tonic, please."
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THE SMOKING AREA
I take my apology drink and walk out to the smoking area, still in search of my friends. Someone belts out my name: "Allan!"
I wander over, quickly realising that it's not my mates I'm standing next to. I ask a few questions in a bid to decipher who it is I'm speaking to: "What did you do this morning? How were lectures? What were they on?"
Ah, it's a philosophy student.
"Who are you here with?" I ask.
"Oh, just with Melissa and Sadie"
Then it hits me: I've been speaking to someone I profoundly dislike for a whole five minutes.
I cart off and finally bump into my friends. I tell Jamie to "sort me out", which by now he understands to mean: "Roll me a cigarette because I'm too blind to do it myself."
POSING FOR PHOTOS
This is always a worrying process. I simply stare into the distance and hope, when the shutter closes, that I'm looking in the right direction. The next morning, I check Facebook to see if I've been successful.
The music winds down as the sun rises and the birds start flirting with each other. By this point I've lost everyone I came with at least three more times, which I suppose is actually a pretty universal experience for anyone ingesting entire pints of cheap vodka in a dark room. I normally give up after scouring the club a couple of times, leaving my friends to locate me at the end of the night, ready to head back to halls and throw up until my morning seminar.
Next time you see someone with "loopy eyes" galloping around the dance floor, it may well be me or another blind clubber. I know we're not common, but we do exist. Treat us well, because otherwise you'll end up feeling guilty and buying us drinks all night.
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