Walking up to Bibi’s, I felt a vague sense of foreboding: the lights were off, the doors closed and the windows covered in cloth. It looked like I was going to a wake, not a dinner. Inside, Bibi’s had been rearranged into small groupings of tables and the darkness was broken only by small, twinkling candles placed about the room. The room was full of guests, blindfolds in front of them, waiting for the event to start. Honestly, I was worried what I had got myself into.
The event in question was part of Three Blind Mice’s entry into RWE npower’s ‘Future Leaders’ competition, which focuses on sustainable living. Hence the darkness and blindfolds. Each participant in the dinner was expected to eat their meal blindfolded, in an attempt to make us more aware of the impact of electricity in our lives, and how we adapt to change. How, in this case, would you cope with eating a dinner in the dark?
The dinner started out without blindfolds; the participants sat around chatting in the candlelight, luring us into the sense that this wouldn’t be so weird after all. After Saskia, one of the organisers of the event, gave a brief speech, we put on our blindfolds and entered the fray. At first, it was a bit disconcerting, as it was difficult to tell if you were talking to a person or just talking in their general direction. There was a lot of awkward fumbling around the table, with all of us attempting to find our way by touch. Just as I got my bearings, Saskia announced that if tapped on the shoulder you had to take your drink and she would lead you to a different seat. Naturally, I was tapped on the shoulder. Being blindfolded, it turns out, does not help a person’s coordination, and I ran into Saskia three times, spilling wine everywhere, before I was safely ushered into a seat.
Sitting at a table blindfolded was just a lot like Freshers’ Week: you converse in voices a bit too loud with people you won’t be able to recognise on the street tomorrow. In a way the blindfolds were oddly freeing. It doesn’t make a lot of intuitive sense, but because I couldn’t see anyone’s face, and no one could see mine, I felt no threat of judgement. Thus, the conversation went to strange places quickly, which was honestly the best part of the evening.
I feel like you can tell a lot about a person’s character by the time it takes them to give up on using cutlery while trying to eat blindfolded. For me, it was about four minutes into the starter. After a couple of minutes of blindly stabbing at what I later learned as a tomato and mozzarella salad, I gave up on civility and started eating by a hand/cutlery hybrid. I thought this worked quite well until I realised there were no napkins.
By the time the main course came, I’d figured out that it was really easy to cheat by looking down the blindfold. This exercise in adapting to change now became an exercise in willpower. Nevertheless, I closed my eyes and blindly began eating my dinner, some sort of ragout concoction, and promptly missed my mouth with the fork.
Eating blindfolded didn’t really get easier, everyone just got less bothered about politeness. During the first course, we waited until everyone had been served to start eating, ascertaining with frequent questioning whether or not someone was missing a meal. By main course, I think we tacitly agreed that there really wasn’t any point in waiting, because you couldn’t tell either way. Fake politeness simply wasn’t necessary. The scraping of cutlery became less frequent as well, as we all discovered the difficulties of blind cutlery use.
By the time dessert came, we were all happy, full, slightly drunk and friends in a way that only happens when you can’t see each other’s faces. The spirit of the evening was camaraderie; we had all struggled together. In a way, it was sad to take off our blindfolds, the once dim candlelight now startlingly bright, and face reality again. The evening was meant to enlighten our understanding of the impact of electricity and power on our lives. While I think it achieved that goal, it was just as enlightening to observe how blindness influenced the interactions between all the participants. As Saskia said, ‘darkness can make you see in a new light,’ but not always the light you expect.