As a child, Johnny Gardener led a double life.
By day, he was active and sport loving – but once night fell he would cling on to his aunt’s hand when he could not see clearly.
Johnny, now 60, has retinitis pigmentosa (RP). It causes night blindness, affects his peripheral vision and can lead to tunnel vision.
His aunt raised him after his mum died.
“She tried to shelter me from the worst of it,” he recalls. “I wore glasses at four, at 12 I found out I had RP.
“There was a lot of pretence on my part. Mates thought me short sighted. But you can only walk into a lamp post so many times before they know it’s not a party trick.
“I could play sport on a good day. I scored three goals by half time then the light deteriorated, and I couldn’t see the ball. I faked an injury.”
Johnny moved to Blackpool from Birmingham in 1995. He works at sight loss support charity N-Vision as producer of the Talking Newspaper – having started as a volunteer wiping cassettes.
“It helps me to know I help people,” he said.
His partner Carole Holmes also has RP and campaigns against shared space, pavement parking, and other issues affecting the visually impaired.
Johnny said: “RP affects us in different ways, so we help each other. It helps to have someone who understands.”
Dating held perils for teenage Johnny.
“The picture house was tricky,” he said. “I’d get lost coming back from the loo.”
He once went to a disco with one girl and left with another by accident.
“I grabbed the wrong hand – I tried to say it was a prank,” he added.
He worked as painter and decorator until he could no longer tell white from magnolia.
Skilled work followed assembling hydraulic beds, but Johnny struggled to clock in at the factory. He arrived an hour early every Monday in order to turn a corner of his card for the week to make it easier to locate by touch.
He would get a lift with a friend – but return to the car well before him.
“I’d be stood in the wind and rain and snow hanging around rather than let him see how much I’d struggled to get there,” he said.
“I was the great pretender.”
Mortgage paid, moving to Blackpool was the “best thing I ever did”, Johnny said.
He added: “I’ve got Carole, I’ve got a job, I can still get from A to B with my cane, and I have friends.
“A lot live alone. N-Vision is their only link. The Talking Newspaper and the café clubs are brilliant because they take the charity to the community.
“National Eye Health Week is great for raising awareness. My condition is regarded as incurable. But many more can be cured if caught soon enough.”
So his advice to others is simple: “Book that eye test.”