“I woke up one morning and put my bedside lamp on but the damned light didn’t come on.
“So I got up, went to the main switch and that didn’t come on either.
“I shouted to my youngest son ‘go and check the trips because all the electricity has gone’.
“He responded: ‘Dad, the lights are on’.
“Argh no, and that was it, gone. No more car, no more TV – I realised at that moment I was blind.”
These are the heart-breaking words of Nigel Pearcey as I sit in the living room of his new build Bromford bungalow in picturesque West Haddon, near Daventry. I’ll be honest, when Nigel answered the door I wrongly assumed it was a family friend because on first impressions the man standing before me certainly didn’t appear to be visually impaired.
Shortly before those upsetting words from his son, the former mechanic, driving instructor and Armed Forces veteran tells me that it was during a routine examination at a well-known opticians that a small bleed behind his left eye was first spotted. Doctors referred him to specialists at the Bradford Royal Infirmary but instead of injecting the back of his eyes to stem the bleeding, he was given an appointment for an ECU in four to six weeks’ time. By then, sadly, it was too late and the bleeding damaged both retinas irreversibly – it is a decision that Nigel is still adamant cost him his sight.
I’m slightly surprised as Nigel, as a tough Yorkshireman with a wicked sense of humour to match, opens up to me about the sense of realisation he felt when it dawned on him that the electricity switches hadn’t in fact tripped.
“A sense of panic comes over you – you think ‘blimey, this really is it. This is for forever’ and for the first and only time in my life I was actually ready to commit suicide,” the 67-year-old admits.
But this is far from a sob story or a tale of woe and if Nigel thought a plus side of being visually impaired was getting out of the household chores then wife Elizabeth quickly puts paid to that idea.
“He washes the dishes every night and if he misses something I get him to do it again. He might be blind but he’s not an invalid and can still feel when things aren’t clean,” she says jovially.
Yet it is some of the other stories I hear that take a moment for my own brain to digest and fully comprehend. Despite being blind, Nigel has set up his own online shop and writes website code, has hit the bullseye in archery and has even constructed the wooden shed in his garden, complete with a new felt roof which – yes, you’ve guessed it – he naturally climbed on top of to fit. Elizabeth shows me the photographic evidence as I sit there half in shock and half in complete and utter admiration.
Instead of focusing on what his change in circumstances meant he would struggle to do, Nigel joined the Blind Veterans Association who he says effectively taught him how to live as a blind person.
“I remember them asking me ‘what would I like to do in the future and what did I used to do’ and I told them that I used to write websites. Their response was ‘brilliant, well you can again’ and the rest is history,” he explains.
The charity, which takes Nigel and Elizabeth on coach holidays to other parts of the UK, taught him how to touch-type again and using specialist software he can now fully operate the dropship company he set up three years ago which sells home and garden products including toys, garden ornaments, jewellery, carpets and curtains.
“It does take me longer because writing HTML for example I have to listen to every dot and dash,” he adds, almost critiquing his ability as I sheepishly sit there and think to myself that I really should be able to write HTML myself.
Nigel tells me how he can still work out very faint objects through shadows but I am fascinated to understand how that translates into being able to work with dangerous tools such as hammers and nails to construct a garden shed from scratch.
“I’ve always had the drive to do anything that I want to do and I strongly believe that everyone can do whatever they want as long as they have the mindset and willpower,” he says powerfully.
“For the shed I simply start with one panel, feel around it to determine which way up it should be and then I just found an adjoining panel and started to piece them back together one by one.
“I put a couple of screws in loosely, and got all the sides up so I knew where everything was, and then I put the bolts in and pulled it all together. For the roof I slid each section up, one section at a time, and then moved it round into position – and then of course got up on the top and put some new felt on it.”
Elizabeth quickly interjects: “It was getting dark and he was still up there on that roof and I’m telling him that if he doesn’t get down I’m locking him out. But Nigel doesn’t care, once he’s started a job he’ll finish it and that’s exactly what he did.”
By this point me and Bromford neighbourhood coach Claire Richman are totally blown away by this inspirational couple as she explains how they will both play an integral role in bringing this new Northamptonshire community together after moving from Leeds at the start of the year.
“When I first met Nigel he told me the worst thing for someone in his situation to do is to let their partner take over everything. A firm believer in it’s not what you can’t do, but what you can which is a philosophy we try and instil in each and every customer. Hearing Nigel and Elizabeth’s story, this belief couldn’t resonate any more strongly,” Claire adds.
I say my goodbyes and tootle back up the M1 Motorway wrestling with my conscience on what I should now do first: learn how to code a website or build that garden shed that the other half has been demanding for so long…