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“Brown Hazelnut Eyes”

Many years ago when I was still at university I joined a small group that participated in reading to the blind. It was made up of very lovely people, I recall them all being friendly and enthusiastic. They loved books and enjoyed sharing the stories found within. The individuals we read to varied in their blindness, some had been born without the ability to see whereas others had suffered a deterioration with age or illness. At the time I was already time poor with the distance to university from the abattoir that I was working at, not to mention training but there was a purity in those who ran the readings. I don’t remember a great deal about many of the sessions other than the expressions by some as they read and were read to. I do remember well one incident while reading to a young man the sentence, “brown hazelnut eyes.”

It was not uncommon to read words or scenes in a book that are visually dominant. Often it is the go to means of description for a writer, how a thing looks. The young lad, I was reading to wanted me to describe, ‘brown hazelnut eyes,’ to him. Hazelnut could be understood as far as taste, feel and smell went. Even in its attachment to other things, such as treats and the process of cooking. Brown on the other hand stumped me, I was unable to describe the colour. It was one thing to describe objects that were brown or even what I may personally associate with brown. It did little to say, ‘mix all the colours together and you get brown,’ either.

In the context to the story that I was reading, I answered him by saying, “eyes that would have tasted like chocolate, if you were into eating eyes.”

“I like chocolate.”

“So do I.”

Most of us like chocolate, and I’m sure that we also appreciate brown hazelnut eyes as well, in the right context off course. Years later I would learn of the Redwall series of books, written by Brian Jacques. He wrote the books for the children at the Royal Wavetree School for the Blind. His writing was in a manner of vivid description. A former truck driver and delivery man, Jacques approached writing with the intention of telling stories that could be appreciated by those who can see and those who could not. His fantasy universe is filled with intelligent animals that span various historical periods focusing on the animals of Redwall Abbey and the outlying lands of Mossflower Wood.

The Jacques writing style was original and distinct, born from the intention to embrace a perspective that few appreciate. Written by a man who did not come from higher education but instead lived in the world of the commoner, where the grassroots of life could be seen and described in a vibrant manner. A world where little things and beings matter and such moments are not forgotten. I wish that I had of known about the Redwall books when I was volunteering all of those years ago.

If I did I would have been able to share in with the hunger inducing Fennel and Celery Stew with Hazelnut Dumplings or perhaps the addition of Hazelnut to goatsmilk cheese as those in Redwall so enjoyed. Far more delightful than merely attaching hazelnut with chocolate. Though, in my defence I likely had just gorged on a jar of Nutella the night prior.

What I did come to appreciate is that even though, I at the time may have been stumped by a sincere question, a far more talented mind and a great writer had already laid out the ground work. As for brown, perhaps it’s also defined by what we associate it with, dirt, mud, grime and the wood of trees. Seemingly derogatory definitions, or rather integrity of the wood, hard work earned by the grime and mud, the stew beneath a garden bed. Modest things. The colours of the working class, the common, just like Brian Jacques once was, of modest origins and means of which many more colours may grow. But then again, chocolate is still pretty damned nice too.

March, 2024

Published inAll Articles and EssaysBook ReviewsMiscellaneousPhilosophy, Society and Liberty