After 18 months of not seeing her, last Thursday with my good pal Josh I boarded a train headed for York to visit Imi. This time, there were going to be a lot of new experiences involved. Firstly, Imi now lives in student accommodation, so we were off to stay with her in her own little flat. Secondly, she now has a new guide dog after the lovely Laila retired last month and Imi was rematched. I’d be lying if I said meeting newbie Sam wasn’t one of the highlights I was looking forward to most. Obviously, seeing my sister and spending the weekend with two out of three of my best friends was the best part of it all. But an excitable wet nose and wagging tail waiting to greet us the moment she was out of her harness and off lead in the flat was definitely a highlight. First, though, we had to actually get to York. Considering there had been widespread disruption on the railway over the last few days due to flooding, this was no simple task. Thankfully, despite a half hour delay, we arrived safe in York at just gone 3pm. Luckily, Josh and I Had come well prepared with plenty of food and drink to keep us feeling fresh throughout the journey. Never missing an opportunity to indulge, before Mum had dropped me off with Josh at the entrance to Southampton Central that morning, we’d nipped across the road to Costa, where Mum had treated me to a medium white hot chocolate in my travel mug and a trillionaire’s shortbread, which is a festive twist on the usual millionaire’s shortbread they sell, this one with white chocolate on top instead of milk and the added treat of honeycomb pieces. Both of these definitely made the first part of the journey much more enjoyable. Much to our surprise, neither Josh nor I put our earphones in once during the journey. The previous evening, I’d downloaded extra Audible books just in case the 6 hours I had remaining on my current read weren’t enough to cover both the journey there and return. As it turned out, I didn’t listen to a minute of the book the whole weekend.
Arriving in York a little later than expected, Josh and I hung around on the busy platform, him keeping an eye out for anything that resembled Imi. A few minutes later, Josh spotted green hair going passed us in the other direction and shouted to Imi, quickly following after her and catching up. Imi introduced us to her new PA Lara, who guided us back to the car and drove us back to Imi’s new flat. The first thing that struck me about the place, considering it was student accommodation, was it’s size! It had a large living room area, hallway, decent sized kitchen, spacious bathroom and large main bedroom. The reason for this, Imi explained later, is because it’s meant to house a few students rather than one. As Imi’s has a guide dog and carers, though, it made sense for the university to offer her the whole flat. As soon as I was sat on the makeshift bed come sofa in the lounge, Sam, Imi’s new and rather gorgeous new black lab retriever guide dog, came bounding in to meet us. After checking with Imi that I was ok to do so, I made a huge fuss of Sam, who seemed thrilled to have guests. The first thing I noticed about Sam, too, was her size. In contrast to the flat surprising me with how big it was, I was amazed just how little Sam is. Imi had told me when she’d first been matched with her how tiny Sam was but I hadn’t thought she’d be as small as she is. Despite her size, she has boundless energy and enthusiasm and as we sat there resting after our journey, one thing that I realised quickly was how different Sam is to Imi’s now retired and rehomed guide dog Laila. For one thing, Laila was much bigger and for another, she was much more relaxed, calm and quiet. Sam certainly makes her presence known whereas with Laila sometimes you almost forgot she was there. Obviously, she was equally as gorgeous, just in a very different way.
While we got acquainted and started nearly 18 month’s worth of catching up with Imi, Lara offered to cook us dinner and my favourite when visiting Imi, quorn spaghetti bolognese. It was very tasty and although I hadn’t really been that hungry after munching through my packed lunch for the majority of the journey, it was very much appreciated and filled me up for the rest of the evening. After she’d finished doing everything she needed to, Lara headed home for the evening. Not long later, Imi’s dad Mike arrived to dog sit for Imi while we went out to see Lucy Spraggan perform live. Imi booked a taxi and we left for the venue, The Crescent working men’s club, around 6:30 to get there in plenty of time for the scheduled doors open time of 7pm. We were actually there early and the doors to the event room didn’t open til passed 7 so we sat in the bar to wait. While we were there, Imi and Josh went up to the merchandise stall they’d spotted where Imi paid £9 for a festival-style ribbon wristband and a set of stickers. When the doors opened, we queued up with the other people waiting to go in and had our hands stamped to show they’d checked our tickets. Once inside, a member of staff pointed us in the direction of seating. Josh had emailed previously to ask if we could reserve seats and the staff had said it would be no problem. I’m glad we were able to as I don’t think I’d have liked to stand for the whole concert. Before Lucy performed, there was a young female support act but unfortunately the crowd were too noisy talking and not really paying attention for us to really hear and appreciate her. Thankfully, during Lucy’s set, the crowd mostly quietened down, except for clapping and cheering, so we were able to fully enjoy her music as we usually do. When her latest album was released earlier in the year, I was disappointed not to enjoy it and fall in love with it the way I have with her previous releases. However, hearing her perform many of the newest songs live gave me a much better appreciation for the depth of them and made me like them much more than I did before.
After the show finished, we headed out into the entrance area of the club and Imi ordered us a return taxi back to the flat. When we got in, we headed straight for bed as Mike was already settled down for the night. Whilst getting ready for bed, Imi attempted to take of the festival wristband she’d bought and worn during the show. But it wouldn’t budge. Josh and I both tried to loosen the stopper and help her free her arm, but with no success or even progress. In fact, after several minutes of us all attempting to get the thing off, it had tightened painfully on Imi’s wrist and was cutting into her skin. After yet more frustrated attempts to get it off and quite a while later, Imi miserably admitted defeat and did the only thing left to actually release her wrist from its tight grip and took a pair of scissors to the ribbon, snipping herself free. As the wristband had cost £5, she was mightily disappointed that it was now useless, basically just a torn piece of ribbon and a plastic stopper. When we looked, we saw that the stopper had an almost netting-like inside, which when twisted around the ribbon had become caught and stuck in, impossible to release. This is where the title from this post comes from; for quite some time after freeing her wrist, Imi kept exclaiming “£5!”. While she’d been attempting to undo the wristband, she kept saying “it’s cutting off my circulation!” and it was at the point that her hand was starting to change colour that she realised she really had no other choice but to cut the thing off. Once she had discarded the ribbon, using it to tie around the neck of Laila the namesake cuddly toy dog, she had a look through the stickers in the pack she’d bought and realised they weren’t really anything special either, especially not worth the £4 she’d paid for them. She confessed she’d only picked them because she’d assumed they’d be the cheapest item available…
The following morning once we were all up, Imi made us breakfast: shreddies for me, toast for Josh and a nut cereal for herself. We watched a bit of Jack Whitehall Travels With My Father on Netflix. Later, we headed out on a walk that took us through the university campus and on into the main town centre of York. Before we got to the busy shopping area, there was a quieter street where we stopped at a little cafe called Osborne’s for refreshments. We all had a Diet Coke each, Josh had a chocolate brownie and Imi and I had a slice of banoffee cake each. It was absolutely delightful and one of the nicest pieces of cake I’ve had in a long time. While we were there, Imi arranged with her guide dog instructor, Richard, to meet her a little later on near Costa. Although she finished her training and she and Sam qualified as a guide dog partnership a week earlier, Richard’s involvement didn’t stop completely and they were still monitored to ensure everything was still going well and so Imi could discuss any worries or queries that arose. Before heading to Costa, we went into the busier part of the town centre, where the Christmas market was in full swing, and browsed in the York Ghost Merchant shop and Lush.While Imi went out to practice a route with Richard observing, we sat in Costa; I had my beloved white hot chocolate and after loving it so much on the train the day before treated myself to another piece of trillionaire’s shortbread while Josh just had another coke. When Imi arrived back a little while later, she told us Richard had offered us all a lift back to her flat in his van as both she and Sam were tired and had worked hard enough for the day.
After we’d showered and got cosy in pyjamas, Imi read through the online menu of a local takeaway she’d recommended and we all chose food to have for dinner: Imi a stuffed crust margarita pizza, Josh a stuffed crust pepperoni pizza and a tuna and sweet corn with added garlic sausage pizza for me. Because of the deal we’d chosen, we also got two portions of chips, onion rings and two cans of coke. Imi also read out extra side orders and we agreed to add mozzarella sticks because I said they’re the best part of a takeaway. I was a little apprehensive about ordering the tuna and sweet corn pizza as I’ve tried it at some places before where it hasn’t been very nice. Obviously, the first place I ever tried tuna pizza was at my favourite restaurant up north, Sambuca’s in Blyth, where it is always delicious. But I’ve also had some takeaway experiences of it not being very nice at all. However, as it seems nearly impossible to order a tuna pizza from any southern takeaway, I decided not to pass on the opportunity here. I’m glad I didn’t, too, because the pizza was lovely, especially with the addition of garlic sausage. Imi and Josh seemed to enjoy their choices, too, and the sides were all nice. While we ate and until 10pm, we watched the live 2019 edition of Children In Need. Unfortunately, we all felt the show has gone downhill in recent years and although of course it’ll always be a very worthy cause needing publicity, we felt the entertainment factor of the show was nowhere good as it has been in previous shows. A little while after we’d turned Children In Need off, we went into bed and Imi put the audio described version of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging on quietly while we fell asleep.
The following morning, after getting up and having breakfast, we watched the Netflix documentary Pick Of The Litter, which tells the story of a litter of 5 puppies from birth to qualified guide dogs. It is based in the US and their Guide Dogs for the Blind system of training puppies to become guide dogs varies only slightly from their UK counterpart. The documentary was first added a couple of months ago and when I’d watched it then by myself, I’d been disappointed to find it didn’t have audio description. As plenty of shows now being added to streaming service immediately come with the option of audio description, not to mention the fact that this particular show was all about being blind, it surprised me that it didn’t have any. However, when Imi pressed play and checked the audio settings on Saturday morning, the option for audio description appeared and sure enough the whole program was described. Having now watched it with audio description, I think it’s even weirder that it didn’t have it in the first place. I missed so much the first time round that with audio description I was able to understand. More than that, there were vital little details displayed onscreen that, without audio description, I didn’t even realise were there. The show is an hour and a half long but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think even Josh did too, learning some things he didn’t know about the process of qualifying as a fully fledged guide dog.
In the afternoon, after Imi gave us the choice of staying in or going out and finding another cafe to have refreshments in, Josh decided it’d be better to get out for a bit and we all agreed. Again, we headed out through the university campus and onto the quieter outer streets of York town centre. This time, we went into a coffee shop called Bistro Guy. I had a glass of fresh orange juice and a slice of banana cake, Josh had something called curiosity cola and a chocolate brownie and Imi just had a curiosity cola until just before we left when she ordered a meringue to take away. On our way back to the flat, we popped into the nearby Co-op so Josh could buy supplies for the train journey home the following day.
When we were all settled back in the lounge, Imi put on the latest episode from Friday evening of Gogglebox. Afterwards, as I wasn’t feeling great with a headache, I got straight into pyjamas and took some paracetamol. When the headache started to lessen, Imi and I looked through all her newly acquired dog accessories as I’d been wanting to see quite a few of the items in preparation for getting my own guide dog in the future. Then, as instructed by Mike on Friday morning, Josh heated up one of the ready made shepherds pies from the fridge for Imi and I. Mike had left two to split between the three of us but Josh decided he wasn’t hungry so we just split the one in half between Imi and I. We spent the rest of the evening watching My Mad Fat Diary on All4.
Sadly, on Sunday morning we needed to get up and ready pretty quickly. Our train departed York at 11:40am so we needed to be up, dressed and in a taxi by then. Thankfully, we managed it no problem. Imi ordered us a taxi for 10:20 so that we’d be able to get to the station, have food and meet special assistance before the train was due and it worked out fine. The taxi got us to the station with nearly an hour to go before our train left so we went straight to Burger King and bought ourselves a meal each — Josh a cheese burger meal and coke and me a 6 chicken nugget meal, coke and cheese burger — before sitting in the available seating area to eat. Then, at the requested 20 minute prior to travel, we went to the assistance desk and waited to board our train.
The journey home went smoothly despite the almost hour wait in Birmingham for our connecting train and the replacement bus service from Southampton Airport Parkway to Southampton Central. In fact, during our wait at Birmingham we couldn’t have had lovelier assistance, from the nice man called martin who was rushed off his feet, and I was able to treat myself to a Costa — again a white hot chocolate and piece of trillionaire’s shortbread — which I enjoyed on the train. Getting into our seats on the train was a bit of a hassle as the seat reservation displays weren’t working and Martin obviously had to leave us onboard and exit before the train departed. Thankfully, Josh was able to locate our seats and the kind people who were already sitting in them without realising they were actually reserved vacated so we could sit down. Even so, the guard did pass on a message saying he was coming to help, which just shows how good assistance man Martin was at his job.
After a little uncertainty when the train pulled into Eastleigh and stopped for a few minutes despite this not being on the schedule, we soon arrived into Airport Parkway and after a few frantic minutes of trying to find it, were on our bus replacement service to Central. While we’d been on the train, Josh had looked at the bus timetable to see what time we’d need to be at the bus stop by the train station to get the bus that would take us back to mine. It seemed that we actually needed our replacement bus to arrive right on time or even a little early and our bus home to be running slightly late if possible otherwise we were going to miss it by a matter of minutes and have to wait half an hour at the stop for the next one. I wasn’t even able to call on my parents for help as Mum was at work. Miraculously, as we literally ran from the train station to the bus stop, Josh saw that the bus was already waiting there and somehow we’d struck lucky with a kind driver who saw us running and waited. For the first few minutes of the journey, all we could remark was how happy to be on the bus we were.
Although our weekend with Imi ended when we left York, Josh and I continued to spend time together once we were home. As his company is always appreciated and I knew I’d be tired after a long journey home, I’d already arranged it with Mum that it was ok for Josh to stay over and he seemed quite keen. Otherwise, we’d have parted ways once he’d ensured I was on the right bus at Central, which would have been fine as I know the route home on that bus. But neither of us had plans for Monday and it just seemed nicer for Josh to stay at mine. All we managed when we got in was to have showers and go straight to bed. We had an excellent time visiting Imi and meeting Sam and had been lucky with public transport but neither of us had slept very well over the weekend and train journeys are draining even if you enjoy them.
The following morning after we were up and had eaten breakfast, I set about the task of fully cleaning out the guinea pigs. As this is quite a lengthy job, I did feel guilty that I’d invited Josh round just to endure it. But he didn’t seem to mind; he spent the time finding music for us both to listen to on my iPad. When everything was done, we headed into town for some lunch and as Josh had a food voucher left over from last Christmas, he chose Pizza Hut. He went for the buffet while I had macaroni cheese with a side of fries and cinnamon sticks dessert as it all came in a deal. When it came to paying, it turned out Josh had £12 on left on the voucher after using some of it last time we’d gone to Pizza Hut with Kieran. Despite my protests, he insisted on paying for the remainder of the bill himself. I was very grateful. Afterwards, we wandered around Primark looking at all the clothes and accessories; Josh treated himself to a new pair of fluffy pyjamas. We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in my bedroom, until Josh decided to head home.
All in all, it was a rather splendid weekend. Visiting Imi is always lovely as we don’t often get the opportunity. Seeing Lucy Spraggan live was also great and I loved meeting Sam. Spending time with two out of my three best friends is always treasured and I hope maybe next time all four of us will be reunited with Kieran joining us. The last couple of days have felt strange being back home without Imi and Josh to chat to, and even more without Sam’s wagging tail enthusiastically whacking the wardrobe and anything else within range to greet me first thing in the morning. I don’t know when I’ll see Imi and Sam again, but I hope the 18 month gap that seems to be becoming a trend between times doesn’t continue.
Thank you, Josh, for being my travel buddy and assistant. It’s a much more enjoyable experience with you there. Thanks also for putting up with me cleaning out the guinea pigs on Monday and providing such good musical entertainment throughout. Thank you for the meals you’ve paid for during the weekend, it was much appreciated. I’m lucky to have a good pal like you.
And thank you, sis, for having us to stay, for such a lovely time, for putting up with my dog accessories oobsession without complaint, for the trips into York and for letting me fuss Sam so much; even if you don’t believe me, I would have held back had you wanted me to. It was so lovely to spend time with you and see you so settled and happy in your new flat. Long may it continue and I hope we see each other again soon.