July 20 2018 70th birthday of Stewart Timms (1948-2012)
My first glimpse of Stewart was a little blue-eyed baby. I was just tall enough, aged 4, to peep over the edge of the carry cot from which he was smiling up at the world.
Within a matter of months, the family realised that Stewart was hard of hearing, as was our older sister Janet. I sometimes acted as Stewart’s ears and interpreter outside the family until he went off to the Royal School for the Deaf in Birmingham at the age of 7. We were always close and looking out for each other after that, even when we spent long periods apart in different cities or even different countries.
Stewart was always a great inspiration to me, particularly in how to deal with the big challenges in life. He had more of those than I did, and I learnt a lot from his strength and resilience — and how he managed to find ways of developing his athletic, artistic, and even dancing, talents despite hearing and sight ‘problems’ as he called them. For example, after we trained for me to guide him round a half marathon race, I was injured and couldn’t run. So Stewart went ahead and raced alone. He could just make out bobbing heads in front of him to find his way.
Stewart probably started going blind sometime in his twenties. It was a huge blow when his visual impairment became obvious in his early forties, but his strength, determination, optimistic nature — and guide dog — soon had him adjusting to his completely upturned life. He was very lucky in his wife, Valerie, who was also a very strong person, having also coped with deafness and other huge challenges in her early life. Her support, and ability to become Stewart’s eyes, were a key part of their wonderful love story.
I have aimed at sketching a little of Stewart’s and Valerie’s memorable lives in these poems:
We call you Stewart after your maker.
Your smiling face, transparent,
shows the world just how you’re fashioned.
Thin but strong, your wooden limbs
embrace the glass which reflects
the skillful craftsman
whose dream grew like a tree
into a living monument.
He couldn’t see your final beauty.
Now, like him, you’re a watch tower
with sightless eyes
a tree we won’t cut down
refuge for our memories
of his caring and carving
joyful moments in our lives.
He smoothed and polished
rough edges off our feelings.
His hands could find the grain
that lead him like rails
on slightly bumpy journeys
to far distance places.
Mahogany transported him
he never visited.
Teak’s oily touch
and leathery smell
with memories of
he created long before.
He felt his way
of antique wooden desks
to all except
One man sits with a kettle drum
he thumps to set a beat
for tinkling tambourines
castanets and cymbals.
Electric keyboard now
glissando from an autoharp
a whistle like a bird.
In all twelve instruments
their inexperienced users
can’t see what they are playing
or hear the sound they make.
My brother keeps on pulsing
life into his drum
which resonates on his skin
amplifies his smile.
A tall man in a bouncy castle –
we all hold our breath.
My brother, after losing his sight,
is now defying death.
We hold his guide dog, Denver,
which barks with all its strength.
Then the watchers leap to their feet –
Stewart’s measuring his length.
He flicks his arms, and stands straight up,
a natural airborne athlete;
Next jump, he does a backward flip,
But still lands on his feet.
Stewart’s face shows everyone
that for a moment, he’s enabled.
Deaf since birth and sightless now,
he’s made a family fable.
All Stewart’s life was in that act
of leaping for a while –
soon to tumble back to earth;
then he would bounce and smile.
Valerie, deaf since birth
urgently needed to drive
after her husband went blind.
The sign-language class she taught
included a driving instructor
who planned to sign for deaf learners.
The two swapped private lessons
together planned a way
to sign with all eyes on the road.
Both made such rapid progress.
that lesson 5 had both relaxed
until a sudden shower of rain.
Unable to wipe the windscreen
Valerie nudged him to help,
then guessed he was asleep.
She pulled into a lay-by
angrily punched his shoulder.
He woke with a start and a smile.
There’s the wiper control he signed
your driving is so good
that I relaxed completely.
You’ll pass your test first time.
Val’s anger morphed into laughter—
repeated when his words proved true.