Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Not Taking a Photograph of Wayne Dobson

We went to Weston-super-Mare to attend the Bristol Day of Magic and nearly did not attend. What does that mean you ask? Well, Jill and I decided to have a long weekend at Weston. On Saturday and Monday we would relax and enjoy Weston. On Sunday we would enjoy the Bristol Day of Magic. I felt great on Saturday. I did not feel so great when I woke up Sunday morning. No, not a hangover, I do not drink alcohol. It was going to be one of those days when my body was going to be as disobliging as possible. The tinnitus in my left ear was ringing particularly badly and my right ear, which is actually the weaker one, was making everything sound like I was under water. Great timing for an ear infection, I thought (an ear infection, gum infection or tooth abscess can make mild tinnitus not so mild for the time that the infection lasts). It was when I tried to get out of bed that I found out the full extent of my dilemma. I have had bone and muscle problems for many years. My knees, my back and my neck were working in unison to thwart my aim of going to the magic convention.

Okay I thought, when I walk, every time I take a step, it is like someone is hitting each knee in turn with a hammer; my back is refusing to straighten leaving me hunched like Quasimodo; my neck is arching backwards worse than ever. I do not care, I thought, I am a tight fisted Celt who paid to attend the convention and I am not going to let that money go to waste. So, I said to myself, I am going.

I have to admit I spent most of the day trying to avoid conversation with people because I could not hear most of what they were saying. When Jill would speak to me I would, at times, get her to speak directly into in my ear so I could hear what she was saying. I could hardly ask people I had just met to be so intimate as to talk directly into my ear, so when I did speak to anyone it consisted of me politely nodding and probably saying things that had very little to do with what was being discussed. I am sure I confused more than one person by saying the completely wrong thing in reply to something I misheard them say.

Fortunately, the lectures involved either microphones or the lecturers projecting their voice across a silent and attentive room of listeners; so I did not miss out on those events and can write about them another time. I did not take many photographs because I was concentrating more on how I was going to get through the day rather than thinking there’s a photo opportunity, and another, and another. In hindsight, I could and should have taken a lot more photographs. There is one photograph I definitely should have taken but did not; at the time I was too moved and personally inspired by the moment to think about using a camera.

Sometimes, conveying an experience in writing is not easy, especially when that experience is particular to our own personal circumstances. What is a big deal to us as an individual can easily mean very little to someone else. Well, here goes … at the Bristol Day of Magic I had got through the morning telling myself that after each next lecture, or whatever, that the pain was too much and I should throw in the towel and just go back to the hotel and skip the rest of the convention, including the gala event at the theatre in the evening. Jill and I ate lunch and I thought we would take a look in the hall where the dealers in magical goods had set up their stalls. Magic Books By Post had a stall there and I wanted to check for one particular book as well as be nosy about the stalls. Then I would throw in the towel and go back to the hotel.

In initially wandering around the hall we saw the stall for DTrik, the business owned by Wayne Dobson. As I walked past the stall, to my left was a man in a wheelchair. It was Wayne Dobson. I said hello. He replied and because all I could hear at that moment was a sort of under water version of the murmuring of all the people talking in the hall in one ear and monotonous whistling in the other ear I had no idea what he said. Therefore, trying to escape embarrassment at being cloth-eared by avoiding a conversation with someone that I did actually want a conversation with, I introduced Jill hoping she would do better. I have no idea what they talked about and we quickly moved on.

It does not seem much of moment does it? Nevertheless, for me, it involved a shift of perception that has helped me a great deal. I had known for years that Wayne Dobson has Multiple Sclerosis. I had also been aware that MS has taken its toll physically and he uses a wheelchair. Over the years magic magazines have included photographs and details of Wayne Dobson, so in meeting him he looked just as I expected him to look. But in that moment I realised that prior to it, whenever I had reason to read about or discuss Wayne Dobson, the Wayne Dobson in my mind was the Wayne Dobson of the very early 1990s - an animated, dynamic and versatile person full of energy and drive.

At this point you might be thinking that it only really just registered with me that he had MS; seeing is finally believing and all that. No, that was not it. As I have written above, I knew he had MS but I could not shake off the image of him from his time on television. Because I could not hear what Wayne Dobson said, I was paying attention to the other details we sometimes overlook. As Jill and I moved on, I looked back a few times to see him meeting other people, I noted the same things again and I knew I was not wrong. Prior to meeting him, I had unintentionally been right. He still is that animated, dynamic and versatile person full of energy and drive. The difference is that he appears to have found the courage or wisdom, or both, to stay being that person within himself despite a body made disobliging by MS. I have seen others fail in that. I doubt that I would be able to succeed if it were me.

And so, waddling along with my arthritic knees going click-ka-tee-clack, I was inspired to go the distance and attend the whole convention. Much later I realised I missed an opportunity to take a photograph of Wayne Dobson. I need some up-to-date photos for a second portrait of him for the project.

The next day, my back and neck were not so bad and my right ear had cleared. My knees were still giving me grief and I was fed up with the single note tune in my left ear. Even so, Jill and I had a nice day and we were home by late afternoon. It was at home that I thought of another reason why I should have taken a photograph of Wayne Dobson. Because - at home - are my neck brace, my neck stretcher, my back stretcher, an exercise gizmo, my crutches and more; I have learned to do without the crutches through sheer bloody-mindedness - which is not a good attitude to have to deal with such things. There are plenty of days when I feel my age of forty-five and have no trouble going about my business doing the things a forty-five year old man is supposed to be able to do. It is on the bad days when I feel about ninety-five that it would be good to have a photograph of when I met Wayne Dobson - as a visual reminder of the moment when I experienced a different, better attitude to my own long term illnesses.

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