I recently read Danny Baker’s autobiographical book Going to Sea in a Sieve. It’s quite a good read – I did laugh out loud a few times, especially at his tale of what happened when he went to see the musical Hair, and he had a brush, literally, with a naked male dancer. Danny is a few years older than me, so I was able to relate to many of the events he mentioned from his childhood, like foraging for Guy Fawkes’ Night bonfire wood, attending his first football game with his dad, and getting his first tracksuit.
While writing of his school days, Danny tells of the time a nurse came to carry out Ishihara tests to see if he, or any of his classmates, suffered from colour vision deficiency (CVD), or, to give it its more common name, colour blindness. I remember having these tests too, and failing miserably. I’m sure you are familiar with the Ishihara test; the pupil looks down a scope at a slide made up of many coloured spots in which a number is hidden. I went into the test confident that I’d do well. This is pretty much what happened.
“What number do you see?” the nurse said as I peered down the scope. I could see nothing but a mass of randomly coloured bubbles. I gave it a shot.
“Three,” I said.
“It’s a nine,” she said, “Next slide.”
“That is a seven,” she said, adding, “This is not a guessing game, you know. If you can’t see the number, just say so.”
And so I had been introduced to my first affliction.
In his book, Danny reveals that he hoped he would turn out to be colour blind, as he saw it as a sure-fire way to attract sympathy from girls. He was so determined to succeed in this that he deliberately gave wrong answers in the test. The nurse soon found him out, and he completed the test correctly with a perfect score. After I was confirmed to be colour blind, far from attracting sympathy from anyone of either sex, I was deemed a weirdo whose life must be like one long Charlie Chaplin film. Of course, colour blindness is nothing like that at all. I can see pretty much everything the same as other people.
But the condition does come with its irritations, the main one of which is that some people, on learning that I am colour blind, will hold up objects and ask “What colour is this?” (It’s a bright yellow tennis ball, and that’s a blue water pistol. Oh, and this is a red pool ball inside an orange sock that I will clout you with if you ask any more daft questions).
Out of curiosity, I recently took an online Ishihara test to see if I would fare any better than I had as a child. I did very badly. My girlfriend, Lucy, did the test with me and, apart from freaking out when she viewed one slide that had no number on it, she reeled off the numbers like a bingo caller. Where she saw a 27, I saw a pea omelette. Her 84 was a bowl of Skittles to me. I could only make out two numbers from twenty-four slides.
Despite this, my CVD has not caused me any real inconvenience or grief. As a youth, I was often mocked for referring to the purple pool ball as blue, and I was once disqualified from applying for a job on the railways because perfect colour vision was a pre-requisite, but that’s about it. In fact, my CVD almost came in useful one night when I was busted by RoboCop’s TV Licence checking twin. I tried to make out that, because of my CVD, I was unaware that the set I had was colour. The guy wasn’t having any of it.
As I type this, I am wearing red jeans and a pale blue T-shirt with darker blue writing on it. As I can see all of this, you might be wondering how CVD affects me at all. Well, I was recently using a computer drawing application and I selected a colour to fill a shape. If my life depended on it, I could not tell if the colour was green or orange. It looked green, but the more I stared at it, it took on an orangey look. It was quite frustrating.
And it is with an orange and green tale that I shall finish. In concluding his piece about colour blindness, Danny Baker refers to a caller to his radio show who’d had his afternoon at the football ruined by his CVD. There had been snow on the pitch, and the referee had opted to use an orange ball. This was fine, until the ball went into an area where the snow had thawed. To this colour blind spectator, every time the orange ball went against the green background of the turf, it vanished before his eyes. It was like a live action spot-the-ball competition.
As for the spotted image at the top of this post, those with normal colour vision see an 8, those with red green colour blindness see a 3 and those with total colour blindness see nothing.
I see a 3.
You can take the Ishihara test yourself here: http://www.colour-blindness.com/colour-blindness-tests/ishihara-colour-test-plates/