Jonathan Godfrey, National President 

I depend heavily on my computer to get a lot of things done but I really do not like having all of my life constrained by what I can do with it. Most of the time spent on my own involves my laptop whereas most of my time when I can forget all 21st century technology involves spending precious time with people.

I’m starting to be more aware of something that is affecting me, and as I tell others, I discover I’m not alone. Online environments are often necessary but are also demanding a lot of my energy. I find online meetings and classes much more tiring than face to face ones; I seem to be forced into communicating with more and more people using my computer; and due to lack of use, I don’t have a reliable landline at home or at work anymore. I check stock availability for supermarkets by looking online too. It even looks like I can’t start a new hobby without spending a bunch of time online, checking prices across town and doing comparisons with online stores.

I have had some experiences of late looking online for products which have left me feeling shut out and bereft of the information I need to get on and enjoy my new hobby. That said, I have also had some amazing interactions with people, both real face to face people and some by way of an email exchange.Page 9 of 32 I’m willing to bet that most of you who have tried to purchase something online have found the product descriptions woefully inadequate. Has the store just taken a photo of the item and decided you can read all the information on the back of the packet? Does the photo even show a sighted person what could be read if they had the item in hand? I suspect that some blind people only buy items they have a high degree of familiarity with, or take an occasional punt on a new product even without the details they’d get in store. My closest supermarket does the photo thing for a lot of products; so do major hardware stores; so do many of the major big barn retailers across the country. They seem to be allowed to get away with not passing on all consumer information even to their sighted customers.

However, often a description isn’t enough and I need to get my hands on some things to see how they are used. Are they too fiddly, too flimsy, or utterly useless unless I find a sighted person to help me set them up. In the end, I have to make a phone call or pay a visit

So, back to my new hobby. I’ve managed to get to a few stores to see what they actually sell; one key store’s website is actually very 20th century and does not list any products at all. That antiquated business model was the store that had the most things I needed to put my hands on to understand so the trip was worth it. However, their prices are on the high side so purchases were made sparingly. This led me back to the second-hand market, online retailers and thus the joys of inadequate product descriptions.

I’m the annoying TradeMe customer that asks people to write descriptions. 

I ask them to actually take measurements (using real scientific units), and then asks for more specifics on the suburb I must travel to so that I can estimate the cost of the taxi versus a courier. My interactions have frequently gone unanswered, but a couple have worked out very well indeed. My work for Blind Citizens NZ takes me to Wellington often so I’m making purchases down there as well. I bought three large bottles (five litres) off one bloke having a clean-out of his storage unit; our email exchange and chat were so pleasant that he’s just sent me another message now that he’s found a fourth bottle. I expect to pick that up in a couple of weeks’ time.

OK, you’ve been told my new hobby could be expensive and involves five litre bottles (glass by the way, not plastic). You may have guessed already or have found out via an email list discussion, but for everyone else, I’ve started making wine and beer at home. I am still investigating the merits of a home distillery unit, none of which are on sale in Palmerston North. My interest initially came about courtesy of another hobby (gardening) and the consequential glut of fruit that falls off heavy- producing feijoa trees. Having realised that I need my children’s help to eat my way through the harvest from four trees, I had to think quite seriously about the problem I’ve made for myself by planting sixteen more feijoa trees at the farm. Last year’s first go at feijoa wine was pretty successful so we’ll do that again in the next month or two. My apple tree at home feeds the family; we’ve dehydrated it, frozen it, juiced it, and even eaten some without processing of any kind. We still have surplus though, so cider season is also soon upon us. By the way, making cider vinegar is really easy; I will never purchase it again in my life. I’ve worked out how to process 15kg of plums in three days too.Page 11 of 32 The by-products of all of this fermentation are good in desserts and smoothies.

“But Jonathan, how do you read the hydrometer so you know how much alcohol you’re brewing?” I don’t. I currently rely on sighted assistance for that. I have also had a really helpful response from an online Australia-based customer care service. I noticed on their website they said that if I could not use the pdf recipes, I should email them and a plain text copy could be sent to me. In my email, I mentioned being blind. In my second email, I pointed out that I couldn’t read the hydrometer. The helpful response to that included a link to a product description and a YouTube video, as well as to a shop that sells the product in New Zealand. That’s great assistance from a beer-loving aussie! I’m keen to get one of these gadgets because it will talk to my phone, and my phone talks to me. But my internet searching has told me there currently isn’t one in stock anywhere in New Zealand. I will continue to rely on sighted assistance for a while it seems.

Embracing new technology is what has helped keep me efficient and effective in my work, and actually also in my fun time too. My new hobby could prove very expensive if I didn’t shop around a lot, including using online stores and the second-hand market. Being able to ask people questions and get my hands on things has proven crucial to get this new hobby and the feijoas off the ground.

People are essential to me for my enjoyment of life; in fact, there isn’t much I really like doing completely on my own. I chose a profession that links me to people; I chose to start a family, and I do tend to choose hobbies and pastimes that end up bringing family or friends into that hobby/pastime too.Page 12 of 32 My conclusion is that this man is not an island. I strongly suspect that the most successful blind people aren’t completely self- reliant; they have a need to work with other people to get on in life. Is this independence? Yes and no. I am currently interdependent on others for much of what I do and I’m totally OK with that.

I need to work “with” people to bring out the best in me. P.S. my next intellectual challenge is to work out how to fill a bottle to within 40mm of the top without wasting any of the liquid coming out of the fermenter. Will I do this on my own one day? Who knows.

PPS by the time you read this, the last of the 2023 feijoa wine will have been consumed. There was not enough to share.