Margot reminiscences by Donald Lang

Margot (Marguerite Stringer) was Donald Lang’s mother-in-law, and he wrote this about her.

The first time my path came close to Margot – and vice versa – neither of us saw the other in the crowd. She was in Sargood Private Hospital with a new baby. O’Rorke Hall just happened to be next door. When exams finished for the year the University students resident there celebrated. We never discussed that.

It was much later when I was shown a Braille keyboard/press? Most people know of the system of reading involving patterns of bumps that can be felt on a paper surface. The maker, then, had to position everything and complete the shaping process with hand pressure on a lever. At Pukenui Road. I learned that Margot was an essential cog in the mathematical education of visually impaired students. Braille transcription of any document can be finicky. The standard required by the Blind Institute was perfection. An error at the end of a page meant going back to the beginning, and being just as careful of the top of the page as on the previous pass.

Margot had the necessary grasp of mathematics and she had practised being meticulous in other things such as knitting patterns for many years. The next part of the story is, I would say, very Margot. It was inevitable that computers would get into the act. It was not obvious that a mature lady like Margot would take to the use of a computer to continue Brailling. In fact she was not ready for computers, but she was willing to use a computer in the correct manner to achieve a particular objective. A computer from several generations in the past of such things appeared in the sun porch at Pukenui Road. Several visitors were shown the magical sequence that was required for its use. She became nervous if anyone with computer familiarity started to explore what else was available in the beast.

She liked playing patience on the table but she was adamant that she would not do so on the computer. It was the property of the Blind Institute and she would not misuse it. Furthermore she was not about to become addicted. But she was very good at producing disks, which in turn produced Braille pages for the visually impaired. I think it was a next wave of technology that brought this phase to an end. If the books are now produced by word processing, the Braille can be produced almost at source, probably once only, and without a printed page.

After that chapter was over the computer was still with her. I suspect it eventually went from her place via the Blind Institute to the graveyard of such things. She refused to let the family give her a more up to date version. She had ‘done that’ and it was time to move on.

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