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24 October 2014

Would you dine in the dark?

Would you dine in the dark?

"I know that God values people above all else, which is an inexpressible comfort to me." Amaris Cole meets Darren Paskell, the blind waiter who refuses to be held back by disability.

Darren Paskell is registered blind. He can just about see enough to detect sunshine, but no more than that. He doesn't let that hold him back though. He thinks nothing of "traversing London's transport infrastructure", saying his blindness generally has more of an impact on the strategy employed toward completing an activity rather than the initial activity choice itself.

Working is an enjoyable piece of stability in Darren's life. He works part-time at the famous Dans le Noir (in the dark) restaurant in Farringdon, London. He explains the concept: "Our customers are treated to a complete dining-in-the-dark experience and are served by blind waiters, though our chefs and bar staff have plenty of light to assist them."

The restaurant believes dining in total darkness creates a sensory experience, helping visitors to re-evaluate the perception of taste and smell. Darkness also kills shyness, its founders say, encouraging social conviviality.

Most customers are understandably nervous to begin with. "It's quite disorientating to find yourself in a room with no idea of your surroundings and many of our dinner guests have never been physically guided anywhere by someone else before," Darren says.

"However, the vast majority take it in their stride. Many tell me how liberating they find the experience of just being able to talk and eat with their friends without worrying about how they look or appear to others." Eating with cutlery proves difficult for some, but very few will give up eating altogether, Darren tells me. "A waiter is always just a call away."

But have there been any accidents? "I once completely soaked a gentleman's suit as I went to clear away his dish as I failed to notice the full glass of water he'd placed right in the middle of his otherwise empty plate. However, I have now served more than 2,250 guests, so the chances of any of my future customers being soaked by me should be relatively slim," he promises.

For Darren, faith gives him a chance to accept many of the challenges he faces. "Somehow, anything may seem a little less daunting when we find ourselves facing our future with company.

"It's quite disorientating to find yourself in a room with no idea of your surroundings and many of our dinner guests have never been physically guided anywhere by someone else before"
"I can't say that my faith has proved to be an intrinsic instant answer for everything. What I can say is that I honestly don't know how I would have remained where I am without God's support. Any man (never mind deity) who chooses to listen to my regular ranting frankly deserves my respect," he said.

Being brought up a Catholic, Darren has always been aware of Christianity, but began tentatively seeking faith during sixth form.It took a chance encounter with three students on a train station platform to finally demonstrate how eagerly Christ was seeking him.

"Being only two months into my first year at Royal Holloway University, I was still learning my way around. One early Saturday morning in November, I found myself alone with three people at Egham train station," he said.

"When the train pulled in, my three fellow passengers kindly offered to guide me on board. We got chatting and discovered we were all heading to Brighton; a 90-minute journey with plenty of time for conversation. When I heard that they'd just spent the night taking part in a 24-7 Prayer night, I was intrigued. I asked them about their church, and they told me about The Journey Church and invited me along. This was back in 2007 and I've been there ever since."

As part of River Church, an Alliance member, The Journey will shortly be celebrating their 10th birthday, and have recently become responsible for a community centre facility at the heart of Englefield Green, offering after school clubs, regular drop-in sessions and access to citizens advice services such as debt counselling.

And what are Darren's dreams for the future? "To be working full time, maybe with a new family, but hopefully a little wiser having eagerly embraced more of life's surprises."

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