Olive in the Sky with Diamonds

“Picture yourself in a boat on a river.”  It’s a famous start to a famous song that is fast becoming an anthem for my daughter’s complex little world.


The first of three revelations surrounding the song was the clarity with which Olive said the title. “Dad? Dad! Can we have Lucy in the sky with diamonds on?”

One wee ‘Olivism’ is that her speech was delayed as a toddler.  It’s quite common with children that have a visual impairment from birth.  Makes sense.  A fuzzy world of blocks and blobs is harder to talk about.  And all that visual information in faces that helps us piece together language, it’s just not there. But as she figures it all out, the talking comes.  At the grand age of 4yrs now she mostly won’t shut up!

That said, to pull out a whole sentence of her own with words from a song title, one that’s not exactly ‘The wheels on the bus’, was pretty impressive.  Olive does that.  She impresses you.  It comes with the subtlety of bird song and the power of a flame thrower…boooof!

Y’see, Olive has a great secret.  She knows what her world looks like and no one else does.  We share a house and a life, but our worlds are perceptively different.  She has to conform to our world because ours is the one that everyone sees.  Majority rule and all that. Her world is different, seen differently and lived in accordingly.

It makes a magical mystery of our relationship.

Revelation number two was how she listens to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  When she listens, she’s looking, too.  Not any place in particular, but you can feel her brain building that ensemble of music and image and bonkersness.  It changes her demeanour.

I think she knows that the song doesn’t make any sense, but that in the senselessness sits the world as it appears to her.  A world where all the labels don’t always match up, so switching a few around makes no odds. A world where the dimension of sound is more than accompaniment.  It’s the walls and floor and ceiling of things.

I may be boiling this up into something that it’s not, but I have spent years watching Olive.  Specifically watching her see and not see things. Watching all that she does around those experiences.  And when she listens to that song, she does a heap more than listening.

In doing that, she helps me ‘get’ her a little bit more.  The ‘wheels on the bus going round and round’ and the ‘marsh mellow trees and marmalade skies.’ What’s the difference?

I know that John Lennon says the song title came from a little girl who drew him a picture. When he asked what it was she said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds’.  That may have been a retrospective rebuff to everyone saying the song was an homage to acid [LSD = Lucy, Sky, Diamonds].  I mean, there’s no doubt The Beatles were pretty wired when in Sgt Pepper land, but the story fits for me.  It’s more than just a ‘trippy’ tune.

And if there was a little girl who drew a picture and called it so, there’s another little girl who continues to draw upon it. Lennon was just the tour guide, the chaperone between imagination and childish reality.

The third revelation is a reminder: by stepping outside of normal things, wondrous discoveries are inevitable.  I can read a mountain of words about the intricacies of Cerebral Visual Impairment [CVI] and worry myself dumb about all it entails for my daughter.  Equally, I can put on a song describing a world that nearly exists and watch her soak it up. Somewhere between those two extremes, amongst the jangles and beats, I understand more of what’s going on.

And without understanding, where would any of us be?

As you may know, the RLSB is a UK charity that helps children overcome the challenges of visual impairment.  You can read all about their great work and make a donation to help change children’s lives here.

To drop yourself into a world that looks a little different, here’s the lyrics to a wonderful song:

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers
That grow so incredibly high

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore
Waiting to take you away
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds