My Reading Life: Lela Patterson
I really enjoy reading books and love all sorts apart from horror, although if they’re only just a bit scary or have a dark trend to the story I don’t mind. I can deal with a little bit of horror but I don’t like gory stuff, blood and guts and that.
I read about four or five books a month, so that’s at least one a week. I’ve been blind since birth so I get them in Braille which I started learning when I was about four or five years of age. Now I’m an avid reader: I can read them for hours and hours and hours.
I’ve just finished reading a fantastic fantasy novel called The Dragon Keeper by the American writer Robin Hobb. It’s Book One of the Rain Wild Chronicles, named after the river in the story which is called Rain Wild, although I don’t know if the second book in the series is out yet.
The main dragon is called Tintaglia and she’s obviously laid eggs in the past and these sea serpents have come out. But they’ve stayed in the water too long and by the time they’ve started to come out of their cases they’re deformed. Here’s a little sample from it to show you the style of the book.
“He wants to be the leader of the dragon keepers, so he just asks as if he is. And hopes everyone will fall into line. It’s so infuriating that some of them do. The truth is no one was put in charge among us. We’re all free to do our own jobs. But Greft is very good at causing discord among those who refuse to concede to him. Like Tats and Me.
“Usually Tats and I get along very well. Then Greft came along and he just seems to enjoy making trouble and manipulating people. Sometimes it seems if he can’t force us to do what he wants he focuses on making us as miserable as possible.”
My all time favourite books are the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and then the vampire romances in The Twilight Saga books by Stephenie Meyer come a close second. They’re both pretty similar as they’re both fantasy and have sold millions and millions of copies.
I’m currently reading a novel called All The Light We Cannot See by another American author Anthony Doerr and absolutely loving it.
Here’s a sample of the writing just to give you a flavour: “What mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father recreated in his models… None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what may be the most complex object in existence; one wet kilogram within which spin universes.”
I’ve just asked the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the RNIB to put a load of books on my list. Basically you phone the RNIB and if you’re a member they’ll put books on your list for you. Before the COVID pandemic you’d get books in the post but after you’d read them you had to return them by mail.
But now they’ve upgraded their library and they make books which are more sustainable: they’re recyclable and they split each volume into two parts, A and B to make them easier to read. When they send them to you now you no longer have to send them back, you can donate them or recycle them. So I’ve donated The Dragon Keeper to Cardiff and Vale College.
I don’t like audio books as much. When I try to listen to them I tend to fall asleep too quickly because I can’t take in what they’re saying, whereas if I’m reading a Braille book and tracking along, I know what it says.
Things to know
I want people to know they can approach someone who’s visually impaired. I think people can be a bit awkward, don’t know how to approach a blind person, thinking are we going to offend them by doing something we shouldn’t.
The thing is if you don’t ask someone what you can do for them you won’t be able to help at all. For example when I started volunteering for charities they’d ask what I needed, what help I would need, so I’d ask for help when travelling or being guided to an unfamiliar place.
Don’t be afraid to ask blind or vision-impaired people questions. I remember once walking with my nan, my auntie, my cousin and her baby son, Rowan along the street and there was an old lady passing us.
I think she saw my white cane and she asked me “Are you blind?” and I said yes and then we struck up a conversation as she knew someone else who was blind. I can’t speak for everyone but in my case I’m like an open book. I’m honest, open and love talking to people and promoting disability awareness.
There is something called Living Streets Cymru which campaigns against congested roads and cluttered streets and a BBC producer called Michelle Finney got in touch and I ended up talking for five minutes about the subject to Jason Mohammed on BBC Radio Wales.
I’ve also been on BBC Wales news, on Cardiff TV and on Bro Radio in the Vale and once had a long interview on the Voice of Islam radio in London as well.
I’d like people to remember that blind and vision-impaired people use pavements too. It can be a big issue. For example when I was going to the bus stop I bumped into someone’s motorbike which was parked on the pavement.
It had an alarm on it and so every time I bumped into it the alarm would start screaming. It wasn’t intentional as one I day I had a chat with him and, fair play, he moved it.
I’ve usually had positive experiences with people although I have had some bad ones online with people trolling me, telling me that basically that I was a liar, that I wasn’t totally blind but I’ve blocked them now.
This is an exciting time for me. I’m starting my studies in Cardiff and Vale College in September, so I start on Tuesday the 6th. I’ve already been through the transition period and my nan’s helped me apply for a student grant, a Welsh Government Learning Grant – I had one last year as well – so I’m happy about that.
I’m keen to see what I can get in terms of qualifications. I’m going to be studying Level 1 Vocational Access and Work Skills. It’s a practical course where we’ll be going shopping, doing some cooking, gardening and so on – there’ll be a mix of things that we’ll be doing and of course learning how to get into work.
I can walk to the bus stop and back, or least I could until COVID and the lockdowns as I’ve forgotten the route so I need to refresh my memory of it with somebody. If I can get there I can catch a bus into Barry town or go to Cardiff.
If I’m meeting a friend I get them to meet me off the bus. I’ve even gone on the train once: if you show them your bus pass you can get a third off your train ticket.
I wouldn’t say I’m confident travelling around. I’m okay once I know where I’m going, then I’m totally fine. I may need prompting if there’s someone with me I know but apart from that.
I always take my white stick with me. I have a lot of vision impaired friends, although they’re more independent than I am.
A little bit about my life
I’m 25 years old and I live with my nan Janet and my sister Amy in Barry. If it wasn’t for living with my nan I would be living in care. I’ve been with my nan for thirteen or fourteen years now. I was living with my mum who is totally deaf but there were obviously communication problems. I’m lucky my nan took me on really.
When I was younger, I will admit and I’m happy to admit I used to hate being blind, absoutely hate it because when my sister had people calling for her I used to sit there and turn to my nan and ask why is no-one coming to see me? Why is no one calling for me, the one who’s always on the sidelines? But again I think it’s a lack of awareness, people don’t know how to approach you, especially children.
But now I’ve got a few lovely mates, from Gladstone Primary School and what used to be Bryn Hafren Comprehensive. In Bryn Hafren there were a lot of PE games I couldn’t do and I wanted to do geography at one point, and dance and art but it was too hard and I had to be withdrawn from them.
I’m motivated to make my own mark in the world, so that when I leave this world, when my time on earth eventually ends, I want to leave a really positive legacy. Some can leave a negative mark on the world, can’t they, whereas I want to have a positive impact and change the world for the better.
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Thank you for sharing your experiences Lela, I love books too and have a house full. I’m getting old now and kind of worry what will happen to them all. When I was young I used to meet a young blind chap on the train from Blaenau to the Junction and we would sit and talk as the old train rattled along. He travelled miles on trains and I would meet him on the Cambrian line to Shrewsbury sometimes… Good luck with your studies and I hope you make some good friends, I did when I went to Aber as… Read more »
Would be great if your radio friends helped you to record a podcast. You are so personable a lot of people, seeing or not, would relate to you and your experiences of everyday life. You could do a great book review programme. If you go on Goodreads, there are agencies which send you the new releases free to review for them online.