The joy of the spoken word ... on tape

MACULAR disease, (loss of central vision by degeneration of retina (www.maculardisease.org.uk) caused many unexpected hazards.

Unsteady feet and loss of balance are embarrassing, inability to recognise old friends’ faces lead on to conversational failure.

One never knew how much listening depends on watching friendly lips move.

Inevitably, the ability to drive a car is lost, less grievous is the fumbling inability to read and instruct a lazy computer. Converting the screen to white words on a black screen and increasing the font to 16 helps.

Most grevious of all is the dimming printed page, no newspapers, no Radio Times, no menus, no hymn books, no jokes on the backs of matchboxes, no books.

But stay, help is at hand.

In Amble we have a progressive, well-organised public library. Our thoughtful librarian Hilda has reserved four bookcases for the partially sighted.

Five hundred large-print books are helpful unless your eyes have lost too much focus. If so, there are eight shelves of audio books to choose from. Considerately, these are placed in the light of a large window and offer a comfortable chair for browsing.

Here we find 100 titles on compact discs and 60 volumes of tapes. (For either of these choices you will need either a Philips cd player, available at Argos for £30 or a Sony Walkman tape recorder at £18). Or, of course, either can be played, more publicly, on domestic hi-fi decks.

Unfortunately, in this predominately digital disc-age, tapes are considered obsolescent. Unfortunate, because in terms of loading, pausing, stopping and re-starting, tape is easier to bookmark than disc.

Now available from Morpeth library is the new high state-of-the-art MP3 reader.

Incredibly small (9x5x1cm), ready loaded with, for example the whole of Bridesehead Revisited, it has a simple on-off switch and free earphones. This is simplicity itself.

All three methods produce a clearly audible text, expressively read by the likes of Penelope Keith, Jeremy Irons, or Stephen Fry.

A word of warning, listening in is so comfortable that there is a risk of falling asleep, mid-track.

Each loan is available for three weeks at a charge of £1.20 with concessions.

Northumberland libraries hold a stock of 10,000 audio texts in 36 branch libraries. These are all catalogued alongside their printed version and easily sought out to order on line (www.northumberland.org.uk) for delivery to your home library.

It is impossible to imagine what more thoughtful assistance one could wish for from a friendly service offered so close to home.

For more information about the wealth of service offered, look for the colourful package of clearly printed leaflets “Welcome to your library” available at the reception counter, or ask Hilda.

John West,

Bay View,

Amble