Small Town Inertia

Documentary & Portraits by J A Mortram

Market Town : David : Postcards from the black

I’d met Eugene in the street a couple of years ago. Her style standing out, looking like every woman I remember as a child in the 1970s. We would stop and talk whenever our paths crossed in town, until late last summer when Eugene disappeared.

For months I would ask the few people I thought might know if all was well. No one knew a thing. No news. No news. Then one afternoon during a casual chat I asked again if anyone had sight or sound of Eugene and was told her son had been involved in an accident and was blinded as a result of the trauma. I was more than shocked.

The little I had learned of Eugene had never included the topic of children and to learn that she was indeed a mother and now involved in this awful tragedy, at 86, dismayed me terribly.

Weeks later I saw her coming towards me in town. Behind her, holding the belt of her winter coat, was a tall man. Both were braced against the wind. I realised it was Eugene and her son. We spoke and as I learned more, I realised that her son, David, was a figure I had seen around town since I was 12 or 13, and suddenly these two were thrown together in my mind, two seemingly separate figures now placed together.

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David at home December 2012

David had been very active. Walking, cycling. My memories of him were his always cycling past me as I would walk into town. The summer before last the bag he was wearing over his shoulder had come loose, entangled in the front wheel of his bicycle and he had been thrown over the handlebars, face-first to the road, breaking his upper jaw and neck in two places. “I was choking on the blood,” he told me.

“In the ambulance they got a bucket and it poured out of my mouth… so much blood! I could still see then… right up until I fell into a coma.”

David was taken to the hospital; bones mended, wounds healed, but the obstruction of a feeding and air tube in his mouth prevented his being able to alert nurses or doctors that his sight had vanished for almost a week after awaking from the coma.

“One of the strangest things is waking up from a dream. In dreams I can still see. I can see everything. I wake and feel I can still see for a time, then the black seeps in and I realise I am awake and in darkness again, where the reality used to be filled with sight, now my dreams are. Where sleep was without light, now that’s my waking life. Everything is upside down. Now being awake is like the dream. My awake nightmare”

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“It’s black when I get up it’s terrible really because it’s dawn but it’s pitch black for me so it’s pretty dreadful. I wake up and no longer feel sleepy and if I didn’t have a talking clock I wouldn’t know what time it was, I wouldn’t know if it was dawn or anything.The worst part of it I think is just before you’re going to get out of bed first thing in the morning and you’ve got to face another day and you can’t see a thing. It’s pretty frightening really. You have an inclination to not want to get out of bed at all and just stay there as you’re sort of safe in bed as there’s not much that can happen to you there.

“I was always working outdoors, I never worked inside. I worked on farms a long time back and it was mostly laboring work, very physical work. I didn’t mind the work but Mother used to mutter and say that it was demeaning and that sort of thing but it did not really bother me doing that sort of work. Mother used to complain and nag me a bit about it though.”

“I suppose I would have done something else if I could have done but sometimes you don’t always get a choice in life do you? Once you start on a path you’re not allowed to come off of it, you’ve got to do that, stay on that path and if you don’t do well, that’s it, there will be some sort of to do.
People just say ‘You’re this and you’ve got to do this, you be this now and must not be anything else don’t they?’.”

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David brushing his teeth in the kitchen sink before embarking on his daily walk.

“I get up and have to find my clothes and put them on, I’ve sort of got used to doing that. Then I come down stairs and usually my Mother gets down here a bit before me, I get up for around 8am and she gets up a bit sooner and I have some cereals, then a shave and brush my teeth. Then I’ve got this brick that I lift over and over again, for my hands and arms to try and keep some strength in them so I don’t get weak.”

“Then usually I go out the front of the house and go up and down with my stick to try and get some exercise and fresh air. I go out there for about an hour to an hour and a quarter depending on the weather. I come back in again and sometimes I have a lay down for about 20 minutes then we have something to eat, that depends on what we have got. Sometimes it’s just a bit of toast and some cheese or if Mother’s been into town and got some sausages and beans then we have some sausages and beans. You can’t eat them on a plate too well when you can’t see so I put them in a high bowl so then I can eat the beans with a spoon and stick a fork in the sausages, hold them up and bite a piece off that way.”

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Getting ready putting layers of warm clothes on.

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Mentally preparing himself to venture and brave the world outside the safety of the front door again.

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“I’d be happier really if I could walk somewhere more secluded and I could do the same thing but without any people watching me do it. I feel humiliated but I want to be out in the fresh air and there’s nowhere else and no other way to get it.”

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“When I go out the front of the house for my walk I just follow the walls so I can touch the bottom of them with my long stick. When I reach the end of the houses where the shingle is, I can feel the shingle with the stick, I’ve got to know the feel of it, so then I know I’ve reached the end (of the row of houses) and I turn around and come back, all in all it’s about 100 meters. You’ve got to keep touching the walls and the edge of the pavement all the time so you know where’s safe to avoid the road and all the cars.”

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“There’s not much I think about when I go for my walks as I can’t see anything, I just hope all the time that there’s going to be as few people as possible come along. I feel very self conscious and kind of humiliated because I can’t get about like other people and I have to go about like this and I don’t like it but it’s either I do that or I don’t get any exercise for my legs or ever get out in the air. I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

“Sometimes there’s a lot of cars that drive along here and a few months back there were a few quarrels as people were saying they could not drive up on the pavement because I was out there but they are not supposed to driving up on the pavement are they?, they are supposed to stick to the roads.”

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Returning to the front door of home.

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Warming up by the bar heater with a cup of soup after the mornings hour long walk.

“It’s (blindness) really affected the type of things I think about. There are no new images coming into life for me now, all the images I do have are in my head and are from before the accident so I suppose I get further and further out of date with the images in my mind. I find myself remembering more memories as I have no new things to see.”

“When you are able to see new things you keep adding them to your memory but when you don’t see anything new anymore you’ve got no visual experiences to make these new memories because I’m never going to see anything ever again.”

“All my new memories since I’ve gone blind are dark, black and just the sensation of having to feel my way around in the dark or just other peoples voices. I’ve no idea really what people look like, my mind just kind of makes up an image. I don’t know why but I just sort of see someone and make up what another person might look like. These imaginations probably have nothing to do at all with what the person actually looks like. That’s how I experience other people now.”

“I think a lot more about the past now than I ever used to, when I was a boy. I don’t necessarily remember incidents more places where I used to be. More memories of places than of people. I see pictures in my mind when I remember. The images in my mind are lighter in my mind now as all I can actually see now is blackness and when I think back everything is lit up so my memories are a lot more vivid.”

“It’s all in my mind of course, nothing to do with my sight but when I visit my memories there is a light in the darkness. What happens is nearly every night I still dream and there is light then. I can see the daylight when I’m dreaming and then I wake up I’m blind. Whatever time of the day it is when I’m awake it’s always night now.”

“It’s a terrible thing in a way because when I dream I don’t know I’m blind, I’m seeing and I’m not blind when I’m dreaming then I wake up and I’m me again and I’m blind. My dreams are a pleasure but when I wake up it’s so much worse. It’s always a shock when I wake up from having a dream and it hits me again – I’m blind.”

“It pulls me down. The dreams when I wake from them they seem to make everything blacker, the darkness that I see now feels so much blacker. I can see the daylight in my mind when I remember something but it’s all in my mind, I’m not seeing it but in my dreams the light’s right in front of my eyes, not in my mind, there’s just no darkness at all when I dream.”

“I very seldom used to ever dream before the accident but since I’ve been blind I dream almost every night. The strange thing is when I was a boy I was always in the country, when I worked on the farms it was always in the country now all the dreams I have are in and of the country, I never dream of being here in Market Town, ever. I remember the fields as they were back then, the summer time, harvest time, being outside and everywhere is filled with sunshine.”

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“I was born in 1955 and I guess the time I lived as a small boy then wasn’t really that much different to what it had been like in the 1930’s. I mean the cars might have got a bit more modern I guess but the thing of it is back then there were still a lot of cars from the 1930’s on the road too. People used to economize more, make things last, you’d have to as you couldn’t borrow money as easily back then as people seem to do now.”

“There wasn’t as many of these loans and that type of thing back then so people would have to make things like their cars last a lot longer if they could do, if they were still going well. There is though a big difference between then and now, especially the technological differences for people. There’s all this stuff now but poverty is still just the same really. All they do is care about making these gadgets and things to be used in every day life and make a lot of money out of people but they don’t ever care about peoples living conditions as there is no money to be made in that is there?. It’s all about money now.”

“All the heating we have is these bar heaters. It was very cold last year and the year before. There is no central heating in the house. The gas fire used to work but Mother had that disconnected years ago because you have to pay a standing charge on the gas and she was paying the standard charge on the gas and on the electricity too so figured have the gas disconnected and just used the bar heaters to save money.”

“It’s getting so cold at night now, that’s why I have all my coats, I lay one over my body when I’m in my bed and one over my feet then tuck it in under my legs and feet with my stick to try and keep the draft out. It’s the cost of things though, the heating everything is so expensive these days.”

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“When I was first blind I was told that there was being developed these glasses that were sonar and these would make an image on these glasses and there would be this picture over layed upon that and you would have these two receivers place upon the back of the tongue somewhere, on these nerve ending on the back of the tongue and those nerves obviously go up into the brain and the receivers would then transmit the images up into the brain.”

“I heard they had already tested this on some blind people, sort of guinea pigs and it worked in so much as they could actually see a certain amount indoors with a distance of about 6 or 8 feet I think it was and they could make out things like their furniture I suppose and they could make out their hands, or rather virtual images of them. So this all helped them in the house and making their way about. I’d heard it was going to be released in the public this year but I’ve never heard any more mention of it. I’m not sure if any of this would have worked upon me anyway though as supposedly I had some brain damage too as a result of the accident but I think to myself that sort of invention really might be able to help many other blind people wouldn’t it?.”

“There seems to be no interest in that sort of thing, you know, this is the sort of thing I think they would be better of putting money into rather than the Paralympics you know which isn’t really having any effect or changing the way disabled people actually live their lives or improving their quality of life at all. I guess all these thoughts and news reports get me down more really as I used to have a little hope that something might come along that might improve things for me, even just slightly in the future but now I know there is no likelyhood that my sight will ever get any better well, it is depressing, it gets me down in the dumps.”

“The Government doesn’t seem to take much interest in these inventions even though they have been developed to some degree the don’t seem to take any interest in funding it any further or helping things and helping people and that’s what I can’t understand. They put all the money into the weapons and munitions and they’ll spend any amount of money to bomb countries, saying it’s important that they change the regime there because they don’t like some certain leader. Not only are people killed, many children are left as orphans, thousands of them very often and there is no caring about them, people get their legs blown off and end up in wheelchairs, many people are blinded through these bombs being dropped and the shrapnel and these cluster bombs and all that type of stuff so their life is finished and they have to live this dreadful lifestyle if you can even call it a lifestyle and what for? …just because there is an oil well there.”

“All the money that the Government spend on weapons and bombs could be spent on research and development for people with disabilities instead of being spent on bombs that cripple, maim and kill other people but instead of helping these people they just make more and more bombs, drop them and create thousands more of them.”

In this holiday season please consider donating to the Action for blind people charity.

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26 Comments

  • Anonymous

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    As you know Jim I’ve been following the developments of this story and now it’s complete but far from over, reading this in its entirety causes a lump in my throat. A truly heart wrenching story made somewhat a little easier to digest knowing that something good may come from this documentary.

  • J A Mortram

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    Thank you. It’s really a vast hope of mine that something, hopefully asap next year happens to help make David’s quality of life better.

  • Anonymous

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    Wow, so sad but really interesting. I love the photos also. I have shared this to my face book account, i’m wonder if i can share this on pinterest ?Love your work, thank you.

  • Anonymous

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    Don’t know what to say Jim. I’m quite vulnerable to these things mate. Pics are awesome, I can’t choose between indoors/outdoors… you’ve got THE EYE"… well, the fact that David could see before the accident is so hard, he knows how it feels and that makes things much worse for him… it’s like everything is upside down… dreaming is real, reality is black…and also love, apart from his descriptions, the critics on the system…but don’t wanna waffle much about that, we all know this world is sick and rotten inside.. Thank God there are good people out there too.. hope things get better for David asap. best.

  • This is not about books, exactly | Good Reading Copy

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    […] I’ve written before about Jim Mortram’s Small Town Inertia/Market Town photos. They’re at the heart of an ambitious and very human project, one that never fails to remind me what’s possible through unassuming, honest art. So many of us see and admire the results of his work on our monitors, but Mortram remains involved in the lives of the people he documents. The most notable instance of this is perhaps his effort on behalf of David. […]

  • Fjona

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    Hi Jim, I love the many layers of David’s story and his experiences and the way you’ve brought it together to provide a space to reflect on some key issues – disability, fuel poverty, isolation. All intermingling, so you sense the complexity of the situation people find themselves in. I like the way you back away from a neat tidy wrap up – by doing so, there is none of that contrived sense that you usually get from a typical advocacy story. People’s stories aren’t neat. And yet we feel the advocate in you through the care you choose to document with. Please thank David for sharing.

  • C. Woodgett

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    Thank you for sharing David’s story.
    I have lived in Dereham for 24 years and have often seen him before his accident walking and even biking to Norwich! My children when they were young always affectionately called him “The Walking man”
    Is there anything we can do for him?

  • R Ulanowski

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    I echo the thanks for sharing David’s story. I am one of those children that C. Woodgett mentioned. My husband and I are Christians and we have been praying for David this evening. We are living in Suffolk at the moment, but have many fond memories of David walking around town. He seemed to walk just for the love of it, it was so affirming to see. Again if there is anything else we can do… We will share this story with those that we know who live in his town. Your story inspires us to remember and help those who find themselves in darkness, for whatever reason. It’s not enough to think that it is someone else’s responsibility to help. We need to look out for each other. We will keep praying for him, and thinking of ways that we too can help. Thanks for your work, it is so important.

  • Jo

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    Astonishing images and a heart-breaking story which you allow David to tell in his own words. Truly noble work and I hope some good will come of it.

  • Brett

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    This is my first visit to your site (Bellamy Hunt shared the link today). Thank you for sharing David’s story. It’s heart wrenching, but also one of the best documentaries of a life-changing situation that I’ve ever read: both through your wonderful images and the way you tell – and let David tell – his story. Please thank David for sharing.

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Market Town : David : Postcards from the black