Open Uni: K118 update 23/01/2016

It seems ages since I last wrote a post about my studies so I thought I might as well do a quick update now. When I wrote last time, I think I’d just received my first TMA score back, a surprisingly high grade of 88, my highest score so far. Since then, the second assignment has been submitted and returned, Christmas has been celebrated and we’ve almost sailed all the way through the first month of 2017. My 2016 was incredible in my personal life and for my studies. When I started studying with The Open University, at the time towards an Open Degree because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I never imagined that I’d pass my first two modules within a year and be headed for Level 2 study by the time the second October rolled around. Of course, if I hadn’t changed my mind and degree path, swapping from the Open to a Health and Social Care degree, I’d probably be well on my way to completing my first Level 2 module and starting my second Level 2 module now. But obviously I wasn’t happy. In fact, the Literature module I’d chosen to start studying last October was making me miserable, more miserable than I’d been with any of my other study material so far. So a change was in order. Health and Social just seemed the right way to go, especially as I’d loved it at college and enjoyed the introductory module which I’d only just received my pass grade in. Not long after I discovered I’d passed K101, I started studying towards K118, Perspectives in Health and Social Care, the second Level 1 module recommended for a Health and Social Care degree specialising in mental health, the pathway I’d decided to head along. Apparently, Perspective in Health and Social Care is also the recommended follow-on module to K101 so it seemed sensible not to rock the boat any further than I already had.

As my 88 score suggests, I’m loving the new Health and Social module. It is widening my studies in Health and Social Care nicely. As soon as I’d finished with the first assignment, I dived head first into the second, already being a month behind and having to request two extensions for the first two assignments. I received the results of my second assignment the day before Christmas Eve and was absolutely thrilled to have boosted my highest score ever to 95. I have mo idea why I’ve suddenly had a massive boost in grade but I’m really pleased with it and I’m hoping to continue my lucky streak with the rest of the work for K118. If I can come out with a really high grade for this module, it’ll add to my decent score for K101 and make my Level 1 section of the degree a sturdy base to jump from for Level 2. According to some of the students on the Facebook groups, Level 1 doesn’t actually count towards your finally score for your degree but I figure that the higher I can get for Level 1, the better place I’ll be in for Level 2. At least if the overall Level 1 score is high, I’ll definitely be able to pass on to Level 2 without any hiccups.

Since Christmas, I hadn’t really worked that hard. But as soon as I came home from a visit to Blyth a week and a half ago, I’ve worked every day to get up-to-date and ahead with the Study Planner. I wouldn’t be so bothered about getting ahead usually but I’ve been informed by Seeing Dogs’ mobility instructor that I start training a week today. Obviously, I’m very excited and nervous all at once and also a little worried about my studies. I know they are going to have to take a massive backseat for the next couple of months while I train, hopefully qualify and build up a relationship with my new dog. She’s coming to stay with me on Friday for the weekend before our training starts next Monday so really I have until Friday to get as far ahead with my studies as possible. The third assignment is due for submission on the sixteenth of next month, right in the middle of my training, so I’m doing my best to have it finished and submitted by Friday morning. I don’t know yet what time Zena is due to arrive but know that if it is in the morning, I won’t have much time for work. There’s a possibility that I’ll be able to work around training, but I’m aware that the training could be very intense and tiring so I don’t want to take any risks with getting behind again with work. I certainly cannot miss a deadline for an assignment and refuse to ask for another extension. The first two were only necessary because I started the module late, which was my own choice, and I don’t really want to make it a recurring theme throughout this module. I only had one extension last year and that was when an assignment for each module’s deadline dates were the same day. One of the assignment was the exam so I needed that time to concentrate on the exam rather than the other a little less important assignment. I received good results in both so an extension was the right thing to ask for at the time. My tutor granting me extensions this time was the right thing too because I was already far too behind to catch up by the first and second submission dates. The extension has allowed me to focus on both assignments and work hard towards the great results I’ve received. My two highest grades so far whilst studying! When I transferred back to Health and Social Care from Literature and changed my degree pathway, never did I think it would work out as well as it has so far. Obviously, it could all backfire badly on me and everything could go downhill from here. But 88 and 95 are a really good start to this course and, despite the sometimes reluctance to spend time learning, I’m still engaged in what I’m doing. Sometimes other things preoccupy my mind and sometimes the information in the online activities goes well over my head, but overall I’m enjoying it a lot. That is definitely increased by the two grades I’ve received so far and the knowledge that I’m aiming towards something solid now. I’m aiming towards a degree in Health and Social Care which will hopefully enable me to get an apprenticeship or job in some kind of social work setting, helping me struggling with their mental health problems. I’m not sure how I can help or what kind of job I’ll end up with but at least this degree actually has something it’s tailored towards. In the end I realised that although the Open Degree might demonstrate that I’m flexible in what I can do, it may also suggest that I’m indecisive and won’t stick to anything long-term. I’m hoping that the Health and Social degree will show the complete opposite: that I really want some kind of career helping people struggling with their mental health and that I’ve worked hard towards achieving that. Even if I don’t end up in that area of work, at least I’ll have the degree behind me to support further applications. And at least I’m enjoying this area of study. Maybe next year when Level 2 is tough and I’m trying to do two modules side by side because they only start once a year I’ll have a different attitude. But I’m hoping to hold on to this positivity for a Health and Social degree.

In working towards my hope of behind super ahead by the time Zena comes, I’ve caught up with the Study Planner activities and looked at the assignment question. It is split into four separate questions this time, adding up to 1000 words in total. The first two questions are 300 words each, followed by a 250 word answer and a 150 word answer. I’m really pleased with the fact that I’ve managed to finish one of the 300 word questions, including referencing and the correct formatting. I’ve also started the 250 word question, which includes the need for a screen shot of a website. My IT skills still haven’t developed as far as I’d like them to and so I had no idea what I was supposed to do to get this screen shot for the assignment. I asked Kieran for help, knowing he’d know what to do, but after a search on my laptop for a print screen key, we came up empty handed. I still have an old Braille keyboard given to me by my IT teacher at college and Kieran told me which key it would be. Thankfully, that was the end of our print screen problems. This afternoon, I managed to start on the print screen question. Also, over the last week I have finished the first question of the assignment, too, so I only have two and a half questions left as well as one week’s worth of online activities. As I’ve been managing to do a week’s worth each day, roughly, I’m hoping it won’t take long to do the last week’s worth. Also, the remainder of the print screen question doesn’t seem too tricky so I’m hoping to have that finished soon as well. The fourth question asks you to write 150 words’ worth of advice to anther student about how to avoid plagiarism and I’m hoping that won’t be too tough. The other 300 words’ worth that is left relies on the final week’s worth of online activities that I haven’t yet completed. As long as I can find enough material to help me write an answer to the question, I shouldn’t have too much difficulty in finishing that part of the assignment, either. So, fingers crossed, I may even be able to finish the whole lot by sometime on Friday, my deadline before dog training. If it runs over, I’m hoping it won’t be by much and I’ll have enough time to round everything off nicely before my full focus becomes my new furry assistant.


“Please don’t mount my sister in front of me”…

Over the last week, I’ve crammed more into my daily life than I have in the last month. Another meet-up has come and gone and again I want to write about it, especially as the gang was fully reunited for an evening.

Last Wednesday, Kieran boarded an early flight that brought him into Southampton Airport at around 10 am. Just like last time, Dad and I were waiting there to meet him and were slightly happier than last time because we’d found a free car park. Usually, the airport parking costs over a fiver, so finding free parking was an extra bonus to the day.

Kieran was slightly later off the plane than last time. I think it must have been a full flight; either that or Southampton’s assistance staff weren’t doing a great job. They were better than last time, according to Kieran, because the person who brought him out to us actually guided him properly. From our experience, the staff at Southampton have no idea how to guide a blind person. They aren’t dangerous but they don’t use the preferred sighted guide by elbow method that people are taught to use. However he was guided, he arrived in the arrivals hall without problem and with his suitcase, ready for a week’s stay at mine before Christmas. The moment we met up, I was smiling. As of that moment, Kieran and I have managed to see each other at least once a month for every month this year. Seeing as we live at polar ends of the country and he was working for six of those months, I think that’s bloody good going. If we can manage half of that next year we’ll be lucky. I’m incredibly glad that for the first eleven months of our relationship, we’ve been able to see each other once a month. Distance is difficult at the best of times, especially when six months previous to the beginning of our relationship we spent almost every day of the last two years together. But we’ve managed it, and that makes me happier than anything.

Dad had decided that before he took us home, he was going to take us for breakfast at one of his favourite little cafes in Eastleigh. To begin with, Kieran insisted that he didn’t want anything to eat and would just have a coke because he’d had a sandwich earlier that morning. But eventually we persuaded him to have something and he settled for a bowl of chips. I insisted that he should have something to eat because we wouldn’t be eating until about 7 pm that evening. I chose a pesto, cheese and tomato baguette. This was a risky move for me because I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it because of the pieces of tomato. My hope was that there would be more pesto and cheese than tomato and I’d be able to cope. Thankfully, that was the case and I managed to pluck out the bits of tomato I came across. The pesto and cheese combination was rather tasty and I remember thinking how I need to have more pesto in my diet. From experience with Imi, pesto pasta is one of the nicest meals and pizza topped with pesto is delicious. But I have to rely on visits to Imi for my pesto fix because nobody at home will eat it so we don’t buy it. Dad enjoyed his breakfast and Kieran munched his way through the chips so breakfast was a success.

On our way home, we popped into see my Great Nan, who seemed pretty thrilled to see all three of us and agreed that she would definitely come down to ours for Christmas dinner. This is a result where she is concerned because for as long as I can remember she’s refused to go to anyone’s for Christmas dinner. She even relented and agreed to come to Nan’s for the Boxing Day festivities too, saying that she didn’t want to upset us all by declining the offer. After that, we headed home. Dad didn’t have much planned for the day. He didn’t even need to collect Tamsin from school because my grandparents were taking her to my cousin’s Christmas performance in the evening. So the only thing that was scheduled was Mum coming home from work later on. Kieran and I spent the afternoon lounging on my bed having a cuddle and catching up.

On Thursday, we went to Nan and Grandad’s for roast dinner. They picked us up on their way from collecting Tamsin from school. Nan had offered to cook a roast as a little Christmas celebration for Kieran as we aren’t spending Christmas together and Nan wanted to give him her little sack of gifts. It was quite early when we got to theirs and as we wouldn’t be eating until at least six-thirty, the time did seem to drag by a little bit, especially as my sister hadn’t brought her headphones with her, meaning we had to listen to all the videos she was watching on her phone. Kieran and I were both trying to preserve phone battery, too, as we hadn’t brought a charger with us, mainly because Nan always gives a funny response whenever you ask to charge something in her house. It probably has something to do with the fact that Dad now lives there and uses up a lot of electricity. I don’t doubt that their electric bill has increased quite a lot since he moved in last year.

Before Mum and Dad came in from work, Nan gave Kieran his Christmas presents. She’d only bought him toiletries, chocolates and some socks, but it was nice that she included him in her people to buy presents for list. The liquids, like the shower gel and shampoo, have to stay at mine because Kieran couldn’t take them back on the plane because of the restrictions. As Kieran said, though, it saves me from having to buy him new supplies when his current ones run out.

When Mum and Dad did come in, we all sat down to eat together. Nan had cooked roast chicken with all the trimmings and it was nice. Afterwards, she’d bought an eat and mess cheesecake for pudding, which I really didn’t fancy after the big dinner I’d eaten. Kieran and Mum both said it was tasty, though, but very sweet due to the massive chunks of white chocolate in it.

Friday was a quiet day. In the evening, though, Mum and Dad took Kieran and I out to Hedge End to Pizza Hut for our last date night of the year. We’d agreed on Pizza Hut again as Dad had suggested it and we’ve loved all our Pizza Hut dates before. We were hoping to be served by the same waitress we’ve had the last two times as she’s been really great. Sadly, we were served by another lady who, to begin with, didn’t seem quite as friendly as our usual lady. It took her a long time to come and take our food and drink orders. Eventually, we were able to order. Kieran had a pint and I had a refillable coke. Then, we decided to partake in a deal Kieran had received via email that meant we each got an individual pizza, starter and drink for 15 pounds. This meant that even though we were ordering more food than usual, the bill would be considerably cheaper — not that that is a consideration when we’re out on date night because money is not even worried about. Date night is about going all out and spoiling each other to celebrate what we have. As well as all the items in the deal, we also ordered a bucket of fries to go alongside our pizzas as we’ve loved them previously. We both ordered the same pizza, the Texas meat meltdown, because we absolutely loved it last time. The other BBQ pizza that we’ve had before is nice, too, but we both really fancied that one. When our starters arrived, Kieran tucked into his chicken wings and I thoroughly enjoyed my cheesy garlic bread. As Kieran pointed out when the waitress had moved away, after I’d quickly remembered to add the fries to our order, I hadn’t asked for bacon and cheesy garlic bread, which is what we’d had before and what I’d meant to ask for. It didn’t matter though because the cheesy garlic bread minus the bacon was yum. As we were finishing our starters, the waitress came back to tell us that our pizzas were ready so did we want them then or did we want to wait. I quickly said we’d have them then as I thought that if we left it, they’d either go cold or be put underneath one of those heat lamp things and dry out. I’m glad I chose that option because the pizzas were absolutely gorgeous! They were so freshly cooked and really hot. As we ate our pizzas, we realised that the fries hadn’t come out. When the waitress came back to check that everything was good with our meals, Kieran explained this and she said she’d bring them out straight away. They came out, piping hot, and were delicious too. Because of the delay to bringing out the fries, the waitress said she’d taken them off our bill. They were that much nicer because they were free.

When we’d had enough of our pizzas, the waitress packed them into a box for us to take away with us. When she came back, she informed us that because of the delay in bringing out our food, they were giving us free puddings if we wanted them. I was already planning to have cookie dough, because it isn’t a good Pizza Hut meal if I don’t, and Kieran agreed to have cheesecake. He was already thinking about it but definitely decided to go for it because it was free. Again, the puddings were extra tasty because they were free. We went home full to bursting with pizza and pudding that night, another successful and delicious date night.

Saturday was the start of our crazy weekend. We already had panto planned for Saturday night and then a stay in a hotel with Imi and Josh interrupted by a Seann Walsh comedy show scheduled for Sunday. The arrangements for the stay in the hotel had been a bit of a nightmare as the comedy show was already planned and nobody was sure how we were going to make it work. Of course, we knew we had to because opportunities to see Imi aren’t regular, especially ones where she is driven down to see us. So, on Saturday evening after Dad had come home from work, we bundled into the car and headed for the Mayflower Theatre where we were meeting Josh and his mum for panto. It was Robin Hood featuring East Enders’ stars Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie, better known as Cat and Alfie Moon. They’re not in the show at the moment but have always been two of my all-time favourite characters so when Josh suggested that we should all see panto together this year and explained that it featured them, I knew that we just had to. Josh already said that his mum would probably like to go and I knew my Mum and Tamsin would probably enjoy it so we planned it for all of us. As Kieran was already coming down for Seann Walsh the following night, he didn’t really have much choice but to come to see the show too. Even though my ears were ringing for quite a while afterwards due to the almost too loud sound effects, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, even more so because of Jessie and Shane. There were so many East Enders references, which I absolutely loved, and the other characters were great too. Shane played Robin Hood and Jessie played Maid Marion, so it was great to have them as a couple just like in East Enders. The sighted members of our group enjoyed the 3d segment of the show, too.

On Sunday, Mum took Kieran and I into town so that we could have Nando’s before meeting Josh and Imi at the hotel. We’d agreed on Nando’s because we both loved it and have mostly had great service from them in the Southampton branch. We were seated relatively quickly and ordered straight away, declining the menu as we already knew what we wanted. Kieran had his usual double chicken burger with hot sauce and sides of spicy rice and peri salted chips. I had my double chicken wrap with lemon and herb sauce, no lettuce and a side of peri salted chips. Kieran decided to have a Portuguese beer and I stuck with the refillable coke, knowing I’d probably need the second and third helpings. As always, the food was great. I was really glad I had said no lettuce because it made the wrap so much nicer. The peri salted chips were good, too. Kieran enjoyed his burger and was glad that the hot sauce helped to clear his blocked nose.

Once we’d finished our meal, Mum came to get us and drove us to the hotel to meet Imi and Josh. To begin with, we were unsure whether we’d come to the right Premier Inn, but then Imi and Josh appeared. Imi told Mum she had gifts for her and Tamsin up in our room so Mum brought Tamsin, who was very excited to see Imi and Noodle, into the hotel and we all went up to the room. Quickly, Imi gave Mum and Tamsin their gifts and then they left us to it, with Mum offering her taxi services for that evening if we got stuck. Immediately, Imi offered everyone a cup of tea, which Kieran and I accepted, and set about making it. She’d bought a lot of supplies to see us through the evening. Once the tea was made, Imi and I headed to the neighbouring Co-op with Noodle because Imi wanted to buy something to eat. The Co-op really is next-door to the hotel and Imi had no problem finding it. She chose a wrap, some satsumas and a couple of bottles of diet coke. Back at the hotel, Kieran and Josh had made themselves comfortable on the big double bed in one of our two adjoining rooms so we settled in around them. Not long later, we decided to swap presents, doing our mini Christmas that we’d planned. We’d all bought each other really nice gifts. I was really pleased with mine from Josh and Imi. The only strange part of our mini Christmas was that Kieran and I weren’t swapping gifts. We’d put our presents to each other in the post because there was no other way to get them to each other. Imi bought Josh a massive make-up set, which she immediately opened and insisted on painting his nails. Josh refused as he was working on Tuesday and there wasn’t a clear nail varnish in the set. So then, to try and encourage him, I let Imi paint my nails in the natural colour. I never have my nails painted because I chew them but I like having it done because it’s a funny feeling when the varnish is being applied and it smells lovely. To make them set quicker, Imi made me run my hands under the cold tap in the bathroom. Her trick seemed to work because not long later my nails were dry and the varnish was completely smooth.

At around a quarter past six, Josh said that we needed to get our stuff together and head out for the comedy show. We had to walk to catch a bus which would take us to the Nuffield Theatre, about a half hour ride from the hotel. It felt weird leaving Imi behind in the hotel and I felt sad that the comedy show clashed with our time with Imi. But there was nothing we could do about it. We all like the comedian we were going to see and the tickets were booked and paid for. The walk to the bus-stop was pretty speedy for our three-man train because Josh wanted to make sure that we arrived in time for the right band. The bus ride to the theatre was fine; there was auditory announcements on the bus and they were different to the ones I’m used to on the First Bus services I’ve used before. These announcements were spoken by the Daniel voice that we’re all so used to from our screen readers. It was funny listening to him tell us which stops we were approaching along the way. Once we reached the correct bus stop, Josh guided us both into the theatre and to our seats no problem. As he’s volunteered at the theatre for over a year now, he’s very familiar with the layout and also the other staff who work there, a few of which he said hello to on our way. The warm-up act for the show was a one-liner comedian. He was funny, but one-line jokes aren’t really my thing. He had some good material, though, and was definitely a good warm-up act. Seann himself was brilliant! We were all laughing throughout the whole show and at one point Kieran and Josh started a clap where they only clapped once and that circulated around the audience for the rest of the show, making everyone sound very sarcastic in their response to Seann’s jokes.

Back at the hotel, Imi was waiting up for us. It took us a little while to figure out the lift, and only managed to get up to our floor with the help of someone else. The boys couldn’t get into the room, either, but Imi came and opened the door, laughing at us for our incompetence. For the rest of the evening and the majority of the night, we munched our way through the snacks we’d bought and chatted about all sorts. At one point, Imi, Kieran and I were laying on the big double bed and Josh was on the sofa/single bed when Kieran and I were having a hug. Imi came out with the hysterical line `please don’t mount my sister in front of me!` which, as it was the politest offering we had, has been taken as the title. The other option `Dickhead!` didn’t quite seem appropriate, especially as I’ve refused to use similar titles in the past. It was almost five in the morning by the time we fell asleep. Josh curled up under a single duvet on the sofa bed and the three of us snuggled down together on the big bed. Imi seemed quite content curled up beside Kieran and I, even if it did take me about half an hour to actually lay on her pillow rather than underneath my chin. Nights like these happened a lot at college and it was nice to share the experience again. Some of the conversations that late at night were hilarious, including naming certain parts of the body Mildred and Derek and Imi taking an earring out and deciding it was a little mouse. Despite my persistence, she refused to put the earring back in and placed it on the bedside table. Whether she actually remembered to pick it up in the morning, I have no idea.

The following morning, we ate pringles and had cups of tea for breakfast whilst packing up the room. Imi’s dad had said that he wanted to be on the road no later than eleven am because they had the long trek back to York. As Imi packed, she let me have a little play with her brand-new Braillenote, HumanWare’s recently released BrailleNote Touch. I am very jealous that she has this device as it’s amazing and the next generation in Braillenotes, a massive step forward from my beloved Apex. However, I’m really glad that Imi managed to get funding for it because I think it’ll benefit her hugely. She’s already in love with it so that already shows. Sadly, at around ten thirty, Imi’s dad had packed up the car and it was time to say our goodbyes. With tight hugs and promises to see each other soon, we went in separate directions. I’m hopeful that, if I qualify with Zena in the new year, I’ll be able to go and visit Imi at her foster house again with hopefully the boys joining me.

We’d agreed to walk into town and get some lunch. We decided on Burger King because we were all tired from the time we’d just had and it was simple to get to. Both Josh and Kieran had bacon double cheese burger meals and I had a six chicken nuggets meal. The cashier offered to bring it over to us, which was helpful as we were laden down with shopping bags and rucksacks. When the food was brought to our table, Josh headed off and filled our paper cups up with fizzy from the machine. Then, we all tucked into our food. I don’t think I’ve had their nuggets before, but they were lovely, much nicer than other fast food places’ are. The boys seemed to enjoy their burgers, too. Afterwards, we headed for the bus. Josh wasn’t entirely sure where the no. 11 bus-stop was and my directions weren’t the clearest so we ended up wandering around town looking for no. 11 bus-stops. In the end, Josh looked it up online and found the bus-stop that I’d been trying to direct him to. We went to it and he realised how my directions made sense. The no. 11 bus has auditory announcements so getting home was no problem. There is always a little worry when you first get on the bus whether the announcements are going to be turned on. Thankfully, they were and we reached my bus-stop in no time.

We’d all decided to have showers so as soon as we were home, I set everything up and got Josh a spare towel out. While Kieran and I had our showers, Josh watched the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special on Netflix. He’d been disappointed because at his new flat they haven’t yet got wifi so he hasn’t been able to watch it. By the time we had all had showers, the Christmas special was finished and we decided to continue watching Gavin and Stacey, going on to series three. By the time Josh decided to head off and catch his bus, we were on the last episode of Gavin and Stacey. I decided to put The Royal Family on after it because we’d started watching it when I was at Kieran’s and I wanted to continue watching it. As I was tidying up around the room, I realised that Josh had left his socks behind. Quickly, I sent him a text, hoping he hadn’t yet caught his bus, and he came back to pick them up. This was all pretty amusing because last time he stayed he left – T-shirt behind, which I’d only just given back to him.

Tuesday was a lazy day. I was feeling quite ill with a cold and aches and pains, I think brought on from lack of sleep from the night before and the air conditioning in the hotel. Kieran and I drifted in and out of sleep all day, catching up on what we’d missed Sunday night. Then, when Mum came in, we ordered a Chinese for the three of us to share. Kieran had had the idea on Saturday night, saying it would be nice if we joined together and bought Chinese for the three of us. It was lovely! We ordered eight dishes and it cost 30 pounds. I had curry chips, Hong Kong style sweet and sour chicken, special fried rice and mini spring rolls. Kieran chose satay chicken and had a portion of curry chips too. He shared the rice and mini spring rolls. Mum chose a mushroom chow mein and shared some of the rice, spring rolls and curry chips. Owe all thoroughly enjoyed and ate until we were full. After our food, Mum gave Kieran his Christmas present that was bought for his stays at ours. Countless times, I’d suggested to him that he bought a pair of his pyjamas from home, which he rarely wears, down to mine so that we Mum needs to do the washing he has something to change into. But he’d hadn’t gotten round to it. So for Christmas Mum bought him a pair of blue checkered pyjamas. Funnily enough, in teenage romance stories that I’ve read, all the boys have worn blue checkered pyjamas. It made me smile because now Kieran has a pair. They fit, too, which is an extra bonus.

Sadly, Wednesday had arrived and it was time for Kieran to prepare for his flight home. After we were showered and dressed, we headed downstairs and set up the George Foreman for our breakfast. We’d agreed on fish fingers and potato waffles because it was better than Weetabix and I wanted Kieran to have proper food because his flight. The fish fingers and potato waffles went down nicely with our giant mugs of tea. While we ate, we continued our audiobook reading of `Him and Me` by Jack and Michael Whitehall, which we’d started the previous afternoon when we’d not been sleeping. It is a highly entertaining book and I intend to continue reading it during the Christmas break, when I can actually take time off from studying to enjoy a book. Grandad came right on time at midday and we hurried to get ready for our trip to the airport. The trip to the airport turned into a bit of a nightmare. Grandad didn’t know where the airport was and it took the aid of Google Maps on Kieran’s phone to get us there. Even then, we had quite through the train station to get to the airport because we’d parked on the wrong side.

Thankfully, once we’d made it out of the train station, the airport was in sight and once inside, Grandad found the Flybe check-in desk with ease. The lady there checked Kieran in, gave him his boarding pass and pointed us in the direction of the special assistance desk. An assistant immediately came to help Kieran. Quickly, we hugged and kissed goodbye, realising there probably wouldn’t be another chance, and then headed in different directions. Grandad had thought that the toilets and security were in the same direction but they weren’t so we didn’t get another chance to speak to each other.

I spent the rest of the day with Nan and Grandad and as we were heading for the shops, I saw a tweet on my phone from Kieran, ranting about the useless assistance person who had helped him but left his luggage in security and held up the whole plane. Thankfully, Kieran was reunited with his case and they were away. He is going to complain, though, because that shouldn’t happen.

So it really was a busy week and a really nice last meet up of the year. More are planned for the new year. My flights are already booked for a week’s stay in Blyth in January to celebrate Kieran’s birthday and our year anniversary. Then, in April and May we already have comedy shows booked and we’re hoping to fit other trips in around that. It was really lovely to spend time with three of my favourite people. Panto and Seann Walsh were great and all our meals were nice. Spending the night in the hotel with Imi was an extra special part of the week, despite our struggles to arrange it.

To Josh: Thank you for arranging Seann Walsh and the panto; for your insistence that we meet up with Imi; for your great company. It was really good to see you.

To Imi: Thank you for your hilarity; for coming down to see us; for the lovely Christmas gifts; for putting up with us. It was so nice to have you in Southampton and to be able to have mini Christmas together.

To Imi’s dad: Thank you for making the trip from York to Southampton so that we could all spend time with Imi. Thank you for paying for one of the rooms so that it wouldn’t be so expensive for all of us.

To Kieran: Thank you for everything. For coming to visit; for continuing to pay for expensive plane tickets so that we can see each other; for the Christmas presents that I can’t wait to open; for the Nando’s. I can’t wait to see you again in January and for us to be able to spend your birthday and our one year anniversary together. I love you very much and I am really glad that our already amazing friendship has grown into this pretty incredible relationship. In January when we took the plunge, I’m not sure either of us thought we’d get this far. I’m sure the parents and other family members definitely didn’t. But hey, we did it! Fingers crossed we can continue to because you’re definitely the best risk I’ve ever taken, no doubt.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 12

Today Jenny and i had our 12th session together and it was a really good one. the biggest probleam I faced today was my Victor Reader Trek. Sadly, it seems to have some kind of technical glitch that means that orientation mode is behaving weirdly and the machine is powering off after a while and then not responding at all. this started yesterday when Dad and I did the route to Tamsin’s school. I was recording the route to the school, because the Trek doesn’t yet have it programmed in, and it just stopped working. I tried powering it on again, disconnecting the Bluetooth headphones and waiting a while to see if anything could resolve the issue. But it just wasn’t responding. So we continued with the route without its support. On the return journey, I managed to get it working again and for a while it was fine. But then again it did the same thing and I couldn’t get any response from it. When I got home, i plugged it into mains, wondering if the battery had somehow died. It had been at least 50% charged when I’d left home 2 hours previous, I’d checked. When it finally came back to life, I double-checked the battery situation and it definitely would have had charge before it stopped responding. Then today whilst out with Jenny, it did the same thing without warning. The only thing that made me realise it had happened was the fact that the Bluetooth headphones I had paired with it made the beep they do when things dissconnect. Today, the battery percentage definitely couldn’t have been the fault because it was 100% charged when I left the house. I noticed that the unit had become quite hot, too. Not dangerously so, but more so than it does even when it’s charging. So when I got home from the walk, I rang HumanWare. Thankfully, they’re sending me a courier sometime tomorrow to collect the unit, take it back to their main offices and get someone to fix whatever the fault is. It’s going to be strange without the backup of the device, especially if I need to use the bus. I relied on my Breeze on the busses as they’ve for some reason stopped using the talking announcements technology even though they have it available. Hopefully, my Trek will be fixed and back to me soon.

Anyway, back to My Guide. After yesterday’s progress with the route to Tamsin’s school, part of me was feeling optimistic about the Woolston route. I’ve been learning it a lot longer than the school route and although, as I mentioned in the last post, progress seems to have slowed with it, every week I do seem to be getting that little bit better with it. Well this week I really thought the route went excellently. Like the best I’ve done on this version of the route so far! As my Trek died quite early on, I was relying on my recall of the route to guide me. And it did really well. Nearly every turn/direction/crossing I correctly estimated. Every time I checked, Jenny seemed to be telling me that “yes, that’s right” and that made me feel really good. For a little while now I’ve been concerned that progress with the route wasn’t as much as I hoped it would be and today I proved myself wrong, thanks to a tech malfunction. Weather-wise it was quite nice too; a little breezy with sunshine. Jenny said there were even blue skies coming in even though some forcasts had predicted rain. Despite this, the whole walk was dry.

This week we did stop at Coffee Mac’s for a rest. Jenny had her coffee and I had a bottle of apple juice and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. I’d asked for banana cake as usual but they didn’t have any in. Excusin the pun, I really felt that was the icing on the cake to the week I’ve had. However, the drizzle cake was nice and the apple juice was refreshing.

Afterwards, we popped across the road to say hi to Dad. His shop was pretty cluttered with carpets and vinyl but things seem to be going well for Centenary Flooring and that’s great. who knew a little carpet shop could benefit so much from social media adverts?! But business is reportedly great thanks to the Facebook posts and I don’t think Dad and his boss could have hoped for more really.

The return journey was just as good with just as nice weather. I felt it went great and my memory served me well again. It really does take me ages to memorise routes so when I start to instinctively know where I’m going I take that as quite a victory…

While we were in Coffee Mac’s, I spoke to Jenny about a suggestion Imi put to me last week when I mentioned how I didn’t feel the progress of the route was doing as well as i’d anticipated; she suggested that, instead of doing the Woolston route every single week, I alternate between that and the school route as long as Jenny was happy to. Jenny seemed more than happy to do that so next week were off to my sister’s school and back. After doing the route yesterday with Dad, I’m actually estimating that if I did the route independently it would take an hour each way due to the need for me to wait longer at crossings to ensure I was doing everything safely. So it’s definitely a good length of route. It’s quite an easy route, too, mainly one straight road with a few side streets off it and a couple of turnings. I’m hopeful it won’t take me too long to memorise it. I’m hoping that rotating the routes might enable me to retain them both quicker. The gap between practising the Woolston one will test my memory properly and definitely being able to practice the school one once a fortnight will mean I’ll start learning it more. Although Dad will do my routes with me, he’s usually quite reluctant to as it has to be on his only day off each week and there’s other things he’d rather be doing most of the time. I think the fact that it takes two hours out of the day and it’s the same repetition every time we do it doesn’t really appeal to him either. So doing the school route with Jenny lets Dad off the hook. Every now and then I might try and convince him to come out with me to practice it and I’m sure every now and then he’ll agree.

So where routes are concerned things are looking very positive. I’m starting to really crack the Woolston route, which takes a worry off my mind because I didn’t think I was, and Jenny and I are going to start practising the school route every other week which means I’ll be really learning it, not once every now and again when Dad feels like it. I don’t blame him really because it isn’t much fun; but I do need consistency with my route learning.

Lastly, if you’ve been reading my posts about my mobility updates before now, you’ll know I went for an assessment with Guide Dogs on Tuesday to assess whether they felt I was suitable for a guide dog. I’m not going to talk in depth about the assessment here (publicly) because I don’t really feel it would be the right thing to do and I’ve been advised against it. All I will say is that it didn’t go the way I hoped and the outcome really wasn’t what I was expecting. If you do want to know more, I’m happy to talk about it over private message but I won’t be discussing it here. Safe to say I’ve been shocked but i’m bouncing back, just about. I’m going to cintinue with my routes regardless of the assessment because I’ve already started them and don’t want to give up now after all the effort I’ve put into them. Plus, I enjoy very much getting out of the house and walking for a few hours each week. Moreover, I couldn’t ask for a kinder better volunteer than Jenny to work with and know i can’t lose this opportunity to progress further.

So today’s My Guide session was very positive and a lot of good things can be taken from the session. HumanWare are going to collect my Trek for repairs tomorrow and I just feel relieved that I wasn’t using it and it died whilst on board a bus going somewhere because I could have really got stranded then. While it’s away, I might try out Microsoft’s new app, Soundscape, which seems to do similar things to the orientation part of the Trek. Of course, it was just my luck that Soundscape was released a few weeks after I’d ordered and received Trek. Even if I do enjoy using the app, though, and find it useful, I still like my GPS on a separate device to my phone, for battery’s sakes if nothing else. It’s just my personal preference. But it’ll give me a good chance to see what another service is like and how I cope without Trek altogether, having had Trekker Breeze since last June and the cross-over from Breeze to Trek smoothly only a month ago. Another thing to test my brain… Jenny and I have agreed to meet again next Thursday at 9:30 to head to the school. I’m really hopeful that learning the route with Jenny will mean I’ll soon mean I’ll have both the shcool and Woolston routes memorised and can move onto learning how to get to my grandparents’ house, which is next on my list. But who knows? I’ll just have to take it week by week and see how things go. PS: if there are any typos in this post, which I suspect there may be many, it’s because for some reason the autocorrect function wasn’t working on my Pages app on my Ipad.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 11

Unfortunately, due to the snow that fell over southampton and the majority of the country in the later part of last week, my 11th My Guide session had to be postponed until today. This wasn’t ideal for me as I wanted to get as many route learning sessions in before my assessment day with Guide Dogs next week. Sadly it didnt work out how I wanted. Luckily, Jenny and I arranged to meet today and have our 11th session this morning. Mostly, Jenny chose today because the rest of the week’s weather looks miserable. So at 9:30 this morning when Jenny arrived, i was dressed in my high-vis jacket with my Aftershokz headphones on and my Victor Reader Trek ready to go in my pocket. As I opened the door to Jenny, she informed me that actually, despite what the forecast had said, it was raining… but she said the sky looked quite blue and clear in the distance so thought we’d be ok to brave it.

We started the route with me setting my Trek to record. I hadn’t yet recorded the outward journey on it and was hoping the GPS would be a lot more accurate than the Breeze’s had been. Considering that the Trek is a much newer piece of tech than the Breeze the GPS in it should be much improved, which was one of the main reasons it sold itself to me. I loved my Breeze and it helped me learn so much of my routes so I’ve got high hopes for the Trek.

I seemed to remember things quite well on the outward route. When we got to the end of the promenade, I had the new crossing part of the route that we’d incorporated last time to practice. It felt a lot better than walking alongside the big drop had done. It isn’t that complicated either so I’m hoping it won’t take me long to memorise it as part of the route. I felt that I did quite well on the rest of the route, too. I seemed to remember the crossings, turnings and correct direction to walk in fairly well. Jenny did have to prompt me a few times and I was a little disappointed with the accuracy of the Trek when announcing my landmarks. It seemed quite off in certain places so that when it did announce one right when I needed it, I was more surprised than anything else. I knew when I bought it that it’d take a little while to get used to it and I’ve only been using it two weeks so I suppose this is that period…

When we got to Woolston, after getting a little soggy from the rain that didn’t ease up as fast as Jenny predicted, we found that Coffee Mac was closed. So we went over the road to say hello to Dad. I hadn’t really fancied a drink anyway and Jenny didn’t seem bothered about not stopping. We chatted to Dad for a few minutes and as we were leaving the shop my grandparents arrived with my great-Nan. Once I’d said a quick hi to them, Jenny and I headed off. As we crossed over at Lidl, Jenny said her husband had just driven passed us into the car park. So we stopped briefly to say hi to him. On the way home, I set the Trek to direct me on the return route as I’d recorded that last time. I felt the Trek did quite well. Only at one point did Jenny tell me I’d gone the wrong way. I think that could have been because we were mid conversation and I wasn’t paying attention as much as I should have been. It felt nice to be out walking again. It felt like ages since I’d done that route but I’m pleased with how things are going. It’s almost three months since I first started working with Jenny and we started learning the original route into Woolston. Everyone keeps telling me how well I’m doing and how much progress I’ve made but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. I would have liked to have been further ahead with this route by now than I am. I’d have learnt it completely by now If it’d had progressed as quickly as I’d hoped. But I can only work with what I have so far and so far its going well. I am learning the route slowly but surely. At least I don’t think I’m going backwards with it. Even if it is the tiniest steps of progress I’m making its still progress. And I feel like its going to be such a useful route when I’ve learnt it completely, especially if I do get a guide dog. I can imagine walking that route very regularly to exercise the dog and have a nice while outside. Also, it obviously leads to lots of places that might be useful to me. Although I can already get there on the bus and haven’t had any disastrous trips on that so far, I’d much prefer to walk it, weather permitting, because its good for me to get the exercise and especially in the summer months it’ll be particularly nice to be outdoors with the sea air about me and the sunshine beating down. Jenny seems quite pleased with how its going and has said we just have to iron out the little bits that are a little more difficult. I’m feeling confident that soon I’ll have those little niggles worked out and will be flying with the route. I’m really hoping that soon I’ll have it completely under my belt. I’d like to have it memorised and be attempting it independently, without Jenny’s input, by the end of this month. How successful I’ll be with that goal I don’t know. But its the aim I’m working towards currently.

So this time next week I’ll be with Guide Dogs for the further assessment. By the end of the day this time next week I could have the news I’ve been waiting for and working towards for so long. If it isn’t the yes I’m hoping for, I’ll continue to work on my routes until I get the answer I want. Because at some point they have to give me the yes I need. I’m doing everything they’ve explained is necessary to have a guide dog so there’s no reason really why I wouldn’t be eligible now. Maybe I’m still not until I 100% know my routes independently. But maybe i will be as the waiting list is so long and it’ll take some time at least for them to find me a suitable dog. In the meantime, I plan to continue learning more routes until I have them perfected. If I haven’t got all my intended routes 100% perfect by the time they find me a suitable match then I’ll cover the routes I currently have with the dog until I feel our partnership is strong enough for us to attempt new routes together. I don’t see why that can’t be a possibility. But of course it isn’t up to me. It’s all in the hands of Southampton’s guide dogs mobility team next Tuesday. I’m keeping everything I have crossed that I’ll get the answer I’m hoping for. Even though it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t get that response, a lot of me will still be gutted that Ive come this far and they’ve still said not yet. Of course, there’s still loads of progress to be made so not yet wouldn’t be the worst thing they could say. They could say “never” and that would be the worst thing they could ever say. But I know they can’t say that. Even if my sound asleep brain dreams up visions of them doing just that. Reassuringly, my sister has promised me that they wouldn’t have taken it this far to then say that. So I’m holding onto that. Until 3pm next Tuesday, I’m having everything crossed…

“Don’t tell my mother I’m eating salad, she might make me”

In the later part of last year, Kieran booked a holiday for the two of us, our first holiday together as a couple. It was a 5 night stay at one of the previously known as Vision Hotels, well-known amongst the blind community as a good place to go to get blindy friendly service and to have a nice time. Our package included the five nights in a double room, three-course meals each evening and breakfast every morning. On top of that, it included 2 trips; neither of us really knew what these trips entailed, but if they were included in the price why not. It cost £199 each for the package, which we agreed was a good deal for what it included. Kieran had heard many good reviews about the Vision Hotels whereas the ones I’d heard weren’t so glowing. So, as usual, Kieran was the optimist and I the pessimist, agreeing that if the holiday was a disaster we’d never speak of it again.

In preparation for our little break away, on Wednesday 7th February, for the first time this year I boarded a plane that took me to Newcastle, to Kieran and family for the first time in 2 months. Distance is a pain and other priorities don’t make the situation easier. With Kieran working and me trying to concentrate on uni work and my My Guide routes, it leaves not much time for us. Add into that that I’ve just become an aunt, to the most beautiful baby girl who lives in Stoke-On-Trent with her parents, big sister and brother, and its quite obvious I don’t have tons of time at my disposal. But I do my best. The flight this time wasn’t a particularly pleasant one. There was quite a bit of turbulence and for some reason we started our descent really early, over Birmingham, so it felt like we were falling for quite a while, a feeling I’m really not a fan of. The landing was pretty rough, too. We seemed to be hurtling towards the runway a lot faster than we should have been so when we hit the ground the pilot had to slam the brakes on a lot harder than usual. Soon enough, though, I was with Kieran and John and we were in the car on our way to Blyth. Comment: I must add here that I’ve never known anyone flick through tracks on an album so fast! In the time it took John to drive us from the airport to their house, which is considerably faster than most people, John skipped through all but one song on six discs of music! It was quite crazy. For once, my flight to Newcastle wasn’t accompanied by a weather warning, usually, there’s some kind of concern in place for my flight.

Wen we arrived, Lesley almost had dinner ready. We had a lovely lasagne with garlic bread. We watched an episode of The Chase before heading upstairs to bed because John and Lesley wanted to watch Silent Witness.

The following day was a lazy one. Lesley worked from home but Kieran went to work early, being picked up by a colleague who lives near to them. While Lesley worked in the dining room, I caught up on episodes of East Enders and Holby City on IPlayer on my IPad. Afterwards, I changed to Netflix and continued where I’d left off at home watching Benidorm. I’d started watching it not realising that a brand new series is starting on ITV next week, so quite a timely opportunity to start binge watching all the way from the very first episode all the way to the most recent. All 9 series! Really, I should have been cracking on with uni work, but I’d bought my big main laptop with me for Kieran to fix as once again I’d done something I had no idea what to break it. This meant that I didn’t want to risk packing my little 1kg laptop along with my hefty 2kg Toshiba and IPad. I thought it might be pushing the weight boundaries just a bit with all my clothes and other bits and pieces. This meant that although my Toshiba was present, it was currently useless and studying on my IPad was something I was hesitant to try out. For lunch, Lesley made me scrambled egg on toast, which was very nice. Afterwards, I decided I better try and do some uni work so tried doing it on my Ipad, using the OU Anywhere app and Safari. It didn’t go particularly well. I don’t know if it was just my stupidity where technology is concerned or if the website just is difficult on iOS.

Later, we had Kiev and Dauphinois potatoes, something I hadn’t tried before. They were very nice. Again, we watched The Chase and then went upstairs because John and Lesley were putting Silent Witness on. We watched Russell Howard’s Netflix special, which was very funny and posed possible titles for this post, which Ive since forgotten…

Friday was a nice day because it was Lesley’s day off and due to building work near his office Kieran had decided to work from home. This meant I had plenty of company. I watched Benidorm on Netflix on my Ipad for most of the day, feeling that trying to do more uni work on it when I’d found it so difficult was pointless. Rebecca came in before lunchtime so I gave her the moving in card and voucher I’d bought for her, which had arrived in a big parcel of essentials that morning sent by Mum. She and Darren were getting everything ready for moving into their first house the following week. Later on, Kieran had a sausage roll each which Rebecca had bought in for us. After he’d finished working, Kieran set about trying to fix his Dad’s computer. John was having problems syncing his iPod to his iTunes. Meanwhile, I got a call from an unknown number. Soon after rejecting the call, I suddenly realised it could have been Guide Dogs calling back about the case review they’d had concerning whether I could move forward with my application for a dog. I sent the number to Imi,who confirmed it was a Guide Dogs number but said it was from a fundraising branch in Gloucester. Then, not long later, my parents, who were on their way to Stoke to meet the baby, rang to say they’d had a call from the GDMI who’d assessed me in october asking for my contact details. Eventually, I convinced myself to ring the number back and it was indeed the GDMI with some very good news for me. The southampton team have agreed I’m ready for a further assessment to determine whether we all agree a Guide Dog is the most appropriate mobility aid for me. After talking to her for quite a while about everything I could think to mention, I rang Imi, who’d been waiting for the outcome, and we chatted for ages, her confirming my overall thoughts that this was very good news. By the time I was off the phone to Imi, Kieran had joined me in his room, doing everything he could think of to fix the iPod issue. We listened to Ed Sheeran’s album Plus on vinyl before heading out for a date night. Lesley and John drove us to Sambuca’s, my favourite place in Blyth, before going on to The Commissioners for dinner themselves. I had potato skins for a starter. They were quite nice but not like the potato skins I’m used to, the ones covered in melted cheese and bacon. Kieran had chilli prawns, which he enjoyed, and then a meat feast pizza with extra chilis. Of course, I had my favourite, the tuna and garlic pizza, and loved it. Kieran got a portion of chips to share but I wasn’t that keen on them as they were just like my potato skins. Lesley and John picked us up after we were done and we went back to theirs and watched Cats Does Count Down. Again, we went upstairs because they were watching more Silent Witness. We chose Frankie Boyle’s Netflix special to watch but fell asleep partway through it.

On Saturday, we had a cooked breakfast and watched some Judge Judy when we finally got up. Then, we went back upstairs so Kieran could start working through fixing my laptop. I did my packing for our holiday. Later, we went downstairs for dinner, which was Spanish chicken with jacket potato. We watched some Gavin and Stacey they were showing on Gold and then an episode of The Chase, Harry Hill’s Tea Time and Family Guy.

On Sunday, we got up early because Lesley was driving us to the Lake District for our holiday. John was supposed to be joining us but he was going to the Newcastle match later. On our way to the hotel, Lesley stopped to get Kieran and I McDonald’s. Kieran had a bacon McMuffin meal and I had a sausage McMuffin meal. This meant we both got hash browns, which are of course the best part of any mcdonalds breakfast. A little later, Lesley stopped to get herself a cup of tea. When we reached the Windermere Manor Hotel, somewhere after 11am, we were still far too early to check in so sat in the drawing room for a while. Just as Lesley was going to leave, the receptionist came and told us we could use our room now. A little while after lesley had left, a lady came up to give us a little tour of the hotel. We listened to the Newcastle and then Liverpool matches on my Ipad for the rest of the afternoon. At around 7 o’clock, we went down for dinner. We we read the menu and asked for our meal choices before being shown to a table. Kieran chose fish cake for starter, roast turkey with all the trimmings for main course and cinnamon and apple crumble with custard for pudding. I had the same starter and pudding but chose roast ham with a honey mustard sauce and all the trimmings for my main. We were offered a bread roll and butter and a glass of water before our meal, which was delicious. Although I’d been certain our evening meal was included in the package price, we hadn’t realised it’d be a three course meal. After we’d finished our puddings, we were then offered tea or coffee to finish our meal with. Kieran had coffee and I tea and we got a little chocolate mint on our saucers. Feeling very full, we went back up to our room and watched Meet The parents.

On Monday, we got up fairly early to be down for breakfast, which was from 8 until 10. No late lie ins for us… breakfast consisted of both cold and hot food with fruit juice and hot drinks. Neither of us opted for the cereal but had the cooked breakfast which consisted of bacon, sausage, hash brown, beans, mushrooms and your choice of egg. Kieran doesn’t like egg so didn’t have any but I had scrambled. The breakfast was very nice. When we were finished, we went back upstairs and watched Jeremy Kyle on ITV plus 1. Then we watched Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers before starting to read Kevin Bridges’ autobiography We Need To Talk About, which I’d read before but Kieran hadn’t. During the book, my phone rang and it was someone from HumanWare to tell me that the shipment of Victor Reader Trek units had come in so the one I’d put my name to was ready to despatch. After I’d made payment and finished the call, we ontinued listening to the audiobook until 5 o’clock when Kieran put the TV on and we watched The Chase, adverts and all!

At 6:30, we went down for dinner. Again, the menu was read to us and we gave our preferences before being guided to our table. That night, Kieran had apple and parsnip soup, chicken filet in a bacon and sweet corn butter with new potatoes, creamy potatoes, leak and cauliflower and ice cream for afters. I had cod goujons, the same main meal and then a warm waffle with chocolate sauce, cream and ice cream. I really enjoyed it all but especially the waffle. Afterwards, Kieran had a cappuccino and I tried a latte. I’m not a very big coffee fan because of the bitter taste but thought I might like a latte because its so milky. I did, after I’d put at least three sugars in! We decided to go to the bar for a drink afterwards. Kieran had a pint of beer and I a coke. When we were finished, we went up to our room and rang our mums. Then, Kieran watched Good Fellas and i went to sleep.

On Tuesday, we had the first of our two trips out so went down for breakfast earlier so that we could be in the reception area to meet the others at 9:30. Kieran had the same as the day before for breakfast, a full English minus the egg. I opted for the cereal first, having a small bowl of cornflakes. Then, I had a hash brown, scrambled egg, beans and mushrooms. When we were ready, we met with the rest of the group and boarded the mini bus. Kieran and I had a sighted guide each. We went to a little village called Grasmere. Kieran had been there before. We went for a little walk, on which I got soaked, and then went for a coffee in the garden centre’s cafe. Kieran and his guide went to the gingerbread shop Grasmere has and then we all climbed soggy back onto the bus and headed back to the hotel. When we got back, I needed to thaw out and warm up so snuggled in bed. We listened to mor of Kevin Bridges book for the rest of the afternoon. As a pre-valentines gift, Kieran had bought us two gingerbread hearts and they were so tasty. He’d also bought a tin of gingerbread to take home. We watched The Chase again before going downstairs for dinner. The routine applied again: choose our meal options from the menu which was read to us before being guided to our table. Tonight, Kieran had onion and potato soup, a beef and cabbage dish, fruit cocktail (fruit salad) and a coffee. I had cheese and onion quiche, a breaded fish dish, pancakes with sauce and a cup of tea. After, we went to the bar again and Kieran had a pint of beer and I had a pint of Strongbow, reminding myself that I don’t even like it… we went back up to our room and watched Kevin Bridges first comedy DVD A Story So Far.

On Wednesday, it was our second trip. We had breakfast the same and then met the group again at 9:30. This time, we went to a little village called Cartmel, which is famous for sticky toffee pudding. We went on a long walk around the village first before going to the famous sticky toffee pudding shop. Kieran bought a sticky toffee pudding and some sticky toffee sauce to take home and I bought a slab of homemade vanilla fudge for Mum and a smaller piece and a little bag of toffee for myself. Again, we went and sat in a coffee shop and then headed back to the mini bus to go back to the hotel. Again, I needed to thaw and dry out when we got back. We listened to more of Kevin Bridges’ book and then watched The Chase before going down for dinner. We both had mini spring rolls, pork stroganoff and chocolate fudge cake with chocolate sauce and ice cream. Kieran had a coffee and I had a cup of tea. The spring rolls were definitely my favourite starter of the week and the fudge cake was only just beaten to the top spot by the waffle because it was just that nice. In our room, I had a headache and we watched the Pordeau vs Liverpool match where Liverpool won 5-0. Then, we watched the news and Kieran watched some Family Guy.

On Thursday, we were able to have a bit of a lie in because we weren’t going anywhere. We went down for breakfast later than usual. Today, I had cornflakes, a full English, apple juice and a cup of tea. Kieran had his usual. Back in our room, we listened, and Kieran played along, to Pop Master before reading the remaining chapters of Kevin Bridges autobiography. In the afternoon, we watched some Jeremy Kyle on ITV2 before turning back for The Chase. Our final big meal of the week was nice. I had huge breaded mushrooms and kieran had chicken and potato soup for starters. Then we both chose the chicken and mushroom pie with new potatoes, dauphinois potatoes and lots of veg for our main and ice cream for pudding. We both enjoyed our meals but were a bit disappointed with the pie because, as Kieran remarked, it was “just chicken and mushrooms with a pastry hat”. It would have been nice if it had been a whole pie rather than just the pastry resting on the filling. In the end, we decided not to go for a drink in the bar, instead going up to our room. Kieran fancied a bath so ran one, having to spend a bit of time getting the water to come out right because it kept switching from the taps to the shower head. While Kieran enjoyed the bath, I started packing some of my stuff up ready for us to leave in the morning. Once Kieran was done, we decided on Chris Ramsey’s stand up show Is That Chris Ramsey to watch. It was hilarious.

Friday of course brought the end of our holiday. But despite my uncertainty we’d had a great time. We had breakfast and then went upstairs and packed. We listened to Pop Master again before gathering all our stuff and heading downstairs. We checked out and then went and sat to wait for Lesley, who arrived 5 minutes later. After she’d had a cup of tea, we set off. On our way, we stopped at a place called Brocksbushes farm cafe for lunch. Kieran and I had hunters chicken melt panini and quiche and a side of potato wedges. When we got back to theirs, thankfully the water was back on. John had had to call someone he knew from the Northumberland water board though. We went to see Rebecca and Darren’s new house but got there to find they weren’t in so just went home again. We watched two episodes of a funny Scottish show called Two Doors Down. Kieran ordered everyone takeaway: he had a tandoori special kebab which included tandoori chicken and donner meat with chips and I had donner meat and chips with a can of Doctor pepper. We watched two episodes of The Last Leg before going to bed.

On Saturday morning we had a really long lie in before going downstairs and having tea and toast for breakfast. Later, we went back upstairs and Kieran started fixing my laptop. We had Family Guy on the TV. We had dinner of chicken and chips with warm crusty bread and watched an episode of The Chase and then Ted 2.

Again on Sunday we had a really long lie in. I had a cup of tea, toast and a banana for breakfast. I started reading the Victor Reader Trek user guide properly on my laptop. Later on, we had dinner of mince and dumplings with mash and veg. We watched the Rochdale vs Tottenham FA cup match which ended 2-2. Kieran and John had some of the sticky toffee pudding and sauce Kieran had bought in Cartmel. Afterwards, we went upstairs and listened to Magic Chilled on Alexa.

Monday meant that everyone was back to work and because Kieran had fixed my laptop I was able to start catching up with the uni work I needed to do. I also caught up on the episodes of East Enders and Holby I’d missed, turning to Netflix and Benidorm afterwards. I had ham sandwiches for lunch. When they were on their way home, Kieran text me to tell me to get ready because we were going round to see Rebecca and Darren in their new house. We didn’t stay long, just for a chat and a look around their house, which they seem pretty happy with. When we got back, we went upstairs and watched Judge Judy and The Big Bang Theory. Our dinner was cornbeef and sliced potatoes. We watched some The Chase and then the Manchester City vs Wigan match which Wigan won 1-0. Kieran and I went upstairs and he sorted out my routes and landmarks on my Trekker Breeze so that I had a copy of them ready to put on my Victor Reader Trek once I got home.

Tuesday was my last day up north but it was a little different to most of my last days so far. Kieran was at work so we didn’t have a lie in or have a lazy day watching TV. Instead, I packed up all my stuff, did a little bit of uni work and watched more Benidorm. When Kieran came in, we went upstairs and had a cuddle. When it was ready, we went downstairs for dinner of sausage, chips and beans and watched an episode of Two Doors Down. Then, it was time to leave for the airport. At the airport, it took ages for assistance to arrive, meaning I got a few more minutes with Kieran. When they did come, we had to rush away because people were already boarding the flight. As usual, the goodbye was the worst part. As I’m yet to meet my new niece and need to work hard on my studies and learning my routes before this next assessment with Guide Dogs, I’m not sure when Kieran and I will see each other next. He’s working, of course, so can’t take much time off. Hopefully, it will be sometime soon. The distance is definitely the worst part of our relationship.

All the thanks as always to Lesley and John for having me to stay, putting up with me and looking after me. Special thanks to Lesley for driving us to Windermere and then coming all the way back to pick us up on the Friday. We wouldn’t have been able to have our little holiday without it so I’m very grateful. Hope I wasn’t too much of a pain and hope I can come back soon.

Of course, to Kieran, lots of love as always. Thanks for suggesting we go on holiday together and sticking with it even when I was being my usual miserable and cynical self. You were right. We had a great time and I loved that we managed to have that extra time together. It isn’t often any more that we get that long together and not often at all that we get any time just us so it was definitely worthwhile. Thank you for fixing all my stuff. I’m sorry I’m so useless with technology. Don’t know where I’d be without you. Don’t ever think i take it for granted because I never have. For the heart-shaped gingerbread and Rubius the monkey, I love them both. Not as much as you, though, of course. I hope it isn’t too long until we see each other again. I’ll try my best to be back up there as soon as I can, as soon as your poor parents are happy to have me… love you now and always.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 10

After a lovely fortnight up north visiting Kieran and family, which I’ll write about separately in my next post, I was eager to get back to my My Guide routine, especially with all the positive news I’ve had lately… In fact, things couldn’t be more positive right now and anyone who knows me well will know it takes a lot for me to have that outlook!

Firstly, I finally have my Victor Reader Trek! HumanWare rang me on the Monday of mine and Kieran’s holiday to let me know that the units were finally in stock so did I want to complete my purchase so they could ship mine out to me? What a silly question! Ive only been waiting months… But anyway, the purchase was made and the man on the phone said the package would be shipped out the following day using DPD. A little bit of me was sad it was arriving when it was considering I still had a whole week left up north. But that was quickly forgotten whilst enjoying our holiday. Today being my first My Guide session provided a perfect opportunity to see what the Trek was like. While I was with Kieran, he painstakingly copied all the routes and landmarks I had stored on my Breeze onto my computer so that I could copy them onto the Trek’s SD card as soon as I got home and them import them onto the Trek to be used while out and about. More about the Trek later.

The other excellent news I received came in the form of a phone call from the GDMI who assessed me in october following the scheduled case review where my progress was discussed. The southampton Guide Dogs team have decided I’m ready for further assessment! I couldn’t be a fraction happier about this if I tried, unless it replaced the nervousness and worry I have about the whole thing. The GDMI seemed full of praise and more than happy to answer my multiple questions. The whole thing felt incredibly positive, not at all like that assessment in october. In fact, it felt like I was talking to a completely different woman to the one who assessed me. I had to keep reminding myself that she was actually the same person. She seemed very pleased with the progress I’ve been making with routes, explaining that ideally a Guide Dog would have one at least 45-minute working period and another shorter, 20-minute-ish working walk throughout the day. I brought up the point that surely all Guide Dogs partnerships are different and not every single day can every single Guide Dog owner get their dog out for this recommended period of work. She didn’t seem to mind at all that I was questioning or debating with her; in fact, she seemed quite keen to have the conversation. We also discussed my worry of the routes to free run areas being pointless if I’m matched with a dog who I can’t free run by myself. The way I’m looking at it is I can always work the dog to the free run area and have someone meet me there to supervise the free run itself. The only definite issue would be if I had a dog who refused to continue on with a route that included the free run area without going to the free run space. Obviously this would be problematic because you wouldn’t be able to use that route and get to your desired destination without allowing your dog some off-lead time. This really wouldn’t be practical if you were in a rush or had a deadline to be somewhere and the only option was to use a route that contained a free run area. The conversation definitely gave me a lot to think about. The GDMI said that the purpose of the further assessment is for the team and I to decide whether a Guide Dog is definitely the best mobility aid for me. At this point, I gently cut in and assured her that I’m not going to change my mind. I wouldn’t have persevered this long or tried learning all these new routes if I wasn’t 100% certain I wanted a Guide Dog and that it would be an enhancement to my life. It really, really would. The GDMI explained that the further assessment would be a day at a centre actually working with guide dogs in all capacities. I’m assuming this means on harness as well as some of the more domestic things like grooming and play time. It sounds a lot like the assessment I went for in December 2011, when I was told that then wasn’t the right time for me to have a dog considering I only left the house to go to school and with my parents and was planning to go to residential college in the next 18 months. My aim this time is to not be so nervous and do everything they instruct me to with 110% enthusiasm. Talking in that singsong voice makes me embarrassed and self-conscious but I’m going to do my best to put that out of my mind for the assessment. I’m going to have to do my best with tone and pitch of voice if I want to be a guide dog owner so might as well give it my best shot at the assessment even if I do feel ridiculous. Yesterday, a letter arrived in the post containing the details for the assessment. It’s on Tuesday 13th March from 10am to 3pm in a part of southampton I’ve never been to. Dad’s agreed to take the day off to transport me there and then pick me up again when its over. Receiving the letter made me even more nervous than I already was about the prospect of attending the assessment. 13 March really doesn’t seem far away and I’m terrified I still won’t have done enough or be chirpy enough in my singsong voice or do something wrong that makes them think a guide dog wouldn’t be right for me. All I can do is my absolute best and that’s what I’ll give so if that isn’t enough there won’t have been anything else I could have done. As far as I’m aware, the two outcomes of this assessment are “yes, we think a guide dog is for you and think you’re ready to go on the list” or “no, we don’t think a guide dog is for you’. I’m hoping if it isn’t the first answer I might get “we think a dog is right for you but not quite yet so keep working on your routes and we’ll reassess you when you know them all independently”. I’m really hoping that my progress so far and the promise that I’ll continue learning routes if they put me on the list and while I wait will be enough for them. If I get a flat out “no we don’t think it’s right for you”, I’m told I can appeal if I feel I have grounds to appeal on. My Guide Dogs gurus, who I go to for all guide dog related advice, have said I would have grounds to appeal on if it was a direct no. This is reassuring because I don’t intend to take no for an answer.

Now for today’s session. As usual, Jenny arrived at 9:30 for our walk. With the Trek all ready to go, we set off. To begin with, I didn’t feel like I was doing a very good job at recalling the route. But as we got into it, things seemed to improve. The Trek wasn’t doing a great job at following the route I’d recorded on my Breeze so I cancelled it and walked without it, with Jenny assisting wherever necessary. We completed the slight adjustment we’d made to the route, crossing a road instead of walking along the path that has a huge drop to the left. It felt a lot better not even having to be wary of the drop and the crossing isn’t a difficult one at all. The rest of the route went relatively well. I noticed that the landmarks that had been copied from the Breeze to the Trek weren’t particularly useful. They weren’t being announced in the correct positions. Eventually, I decided I would just re-record the route and all the landmarks fresh so that it was more useful.

We stopped at Coffee Mac’s for our usual break. Jenny had her coffee and i had apple juice with a slice of banana cake. It wasn’t really a reward for anything – I just fancied a slice after how delicious it had been last time. Plus, I figured why not. If I have to say it was a treat, it was a treat for the good news about the further assessment. Again, the cake was lovely and I enjoyed the apple juice much more than I would have a hot chocolate. Afterwards, we popped into say hello to Dad. Then, we headed home, starting to re-record the reverse route from Coffee Mac’s. I noticed that some of the old landmarks were appearing but not consistently. I felt much more comfortable re-recording them and decided I’d start deleting some of the old landmarks later on. I felt that the reverse route went quite well and i was remembering much more of it. Jenny seemed pretty positive about how things were progressing, too, which was nice because its always good to have her support and know how things are looking from another perspective.

We’ve agreed to meet next Friday for our next session. I’m hoping that once we’ve re-recorded the route on the Trek, I’ll really be getting the hang of the route and maybe be getting to a point where I can do it without any input from Jenny, therefore independently. I’m also hoping that Dad and I will be able to go out next Wednesday and continue learning the route to my sister’s school. I’m hoping to pick it up quickly and then merge it into learning the route to my grandparents house. I think both will be amazingly useful routes, not only for their length but for the fact that I already go to my grandparents once a week on Wednesdays for tea, opening up an excellent opportunity to walk there independently. As for my sister, well shes only in her second year at that school so I still have plenty of time to use that route legitimately. To be fair, though, its just a good place to be able to walk to, especially as it extends to my grandparents house.

Overall, I think our 10th session went pretty well considering I’ve been away for two weeks and the new addition of the Trek and the little complications that brought. I think next week will be even better and I have a lot to look forward to with the upcoming further assessment with Guide Dogs. All I have to do is try not to get too nervous and worried by the day because I know what I’m like… I’ll be imagining all the worst outcomes and then on the day just constantly be thinking that its going to be a bad outcome when there’s a good chance it’ll be a good one. Keeping everything crossed that I’ll get my dream answer of being put on the waiting list. All I can do to get that answer is try my best. Try, I will.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 9

As promised, Jenny arrived at mine yesterday morning at our agreed time of 9:30 so that we could have our 9th My Guide session. although we usually stick to our once weekly session on a Thursday morning, this week that wouldn’t have been possible as I’m flying up to Newcastle to stay with Kieran and family for a fortnight from tonight onwards. kindly, Jenny offered to rearrange what would have otherwise been a missed session into happening two days earlier. that way, I only miss one session while I’m away.

I’m really grateful that Jenny did offer this as we had a great session – at least, we did after I got myself together! I almost left the house without my Trekker Breeze and once I’d quickly grabbed that, I almost walked away down the path without locking up the house… Safe to say those weren’t the brightest five minutes of my day! But once everything was done, we were on our way and things were going well. I remembered a lot of the first part of the route, getting from my house down onto the shore, a lot better than I have in previous weeks. I remembered where to turn, where to cross and mostly which direction I should be walking in. Once walking along the shore path, it becomes simple for quite a stretch: walk straight forward. Literally, that is all you have to do for quite a while. Next time I walk it, I’m going to time the part that is just a straight path. It makes up about 70% of the walk though. After the really long straight stretch, we then had Jenny’s least favourite part of the route: the little bit where on my left hand side there is about a two foot drop… Jenny worries that my cane might not find the edge before my feet do and to be fair it’s not totally impossible, especially with the angles I usually walk towards it. I’m not too fazed; I haven’t fallen off it and broken both my ankles yet. Although if I did slip off the edge, I’m sure that would be the painful result. After we’ve passed that little worrying patch, we’re onto crossing roads and actually getting into the shopping highstreet of Woolston. It doesn’t take a lot but there are a couple of busy crossings where I have to concentrate and be patient a lot. After that, it’s just the straight path of the highstreet and walking until I find the obstacle of Coffee Mac’s outdoor seating. It’s a good landmark, actually, to tell me I’ve reached our destination. On the way to that, though, today I walked into some scaffolding. There’s work being done to one of the shops near Coffee Mac’s so its unavoidable. Jenny had to guide me around it as one of the poles was diagonal and there was no way for my cane to find it before my face. A hazard of being a blind person I suppose. In Coffee Mac’s, because it was just so cold and because I felt things were going really well, I decided to branch out on my usual apple juice and accessorise it with a slice of banana loaf, my favourite type of cake. Plus, its got bananas in it, hasn’t it? Surely that makes it a little healthier! Right there I felt so cold that I didn’t care. I wanted cake so I was having cake. It was a good decision. The banana loaf was super tasty. They put nuts, I think walnut, in their recipe which adds a little extra flavour and texture to the cake. Usually, banana loaf is quite moist and a bit sloppy. The nuts added a bit of crunch and solidity to it. They were definitely a good addition to the banana loaf I’m used to. The slice was pretty generous, too, but I couldn’t help scoffing the lot. It was just so nice! I’m just a sucker for anything sweet.

The return journey went well. Jenny didn’t have to steer me around the scaffolding on the way back because my cane hit an upright pole so I was able to swerve out towards the curb to avoid it. The rest of the walk went well. I felt I mostly remembered turnings/crossings/the general direction well. There’s definitely improvement each week even if it is only gradual. Any is good. Route learning isn’t simple for me. I wish my brain could just remember a route after a couple of tries like some people I know. But it just doesn’t have the capability. A few years ago, I’d have said it was me being stubborn. I hated using my cane. Still do. But now I want to learn routes. I want to be able to get out and about to differing destinations so that I have a valid workload for a dog. Plus, its always better the more places you know to get to independently.

As we walked back towards Jenny’s least favourite part of the route, the ankle breaking drop, she had an idea to alter the route a little to make it safer. Instead of walking towards the drop. I go in a different direction and cross a road. This means I completely avoid the drop part altogether. One more crossing on a route where there are few doesn’t make much difference. The last section of the route went fine; the long straight stretch along the shore and then the few road crossings to my house. Most of the crossings and turnings at this point I remembered well too. When we reached my front gate, Jenny and I agreed to meet in two weeks from this Thursday once I’m home from Newcastle. I’m hopeful that although its in two weeks time, I’ll still remember most of the route quite well. We’ve been learning it a few weeks now so it shouldn’t all be lost on me. As of yet, I haven’t heard a whisper from Guide Dogs about the case review meeting. There’s of course the strong possibility that it hasn’t even happened yet. Hopefully, I’ll have heard something really soon. Things are going so well route learning that I’m hopeful the good news will continue from Guide Dogs too. But who knows? All I know is that I’m off to Newcastle for two weeks and don’t intend to think about routes for a second while I’m away.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 8

Since writing only 2 days ago, I’ve had some exciting news! As I said last time, Jenny contacted the leader of Southampton’s My Guide service to inquire whether the route we’re currently doing and the ones I plan to learn in the future would make me eligible for a guide dog. Ever since I very first applied for a guide dog all those years ago in 2011, their response has been that I don’t have enough routes and don’t go out enough independently to make up a workload for a dog. When I was a naive 14 year old, I thought this was ridiculous! I went to school every day, didn’t I? I could walk to the bus-stop and corner shop, too, if I wanted. And I’d even learnt how to get to my Nan and Grandad’s, then living in Woolston themselves, via a bus journey and some walking. Why on earth would they say I didn’t have enough routes or a big enough workload? I’d spent my whole six-week school summer holiday working with a mobility officer from Southampton’s sensory services, aided by a member of the Guide Dogs team. How could they say these things? In comparison, now I can see I was the ridiculous one. Yes, I did try really hard that summer and honestly, at the time, that was massive progress for me, a kid who didn’t leave the house unless I was attached to a parent. But it wasn’t nearly enough. I’m still yet to learn what is, but I’m much better prepared now, much closer to that target than I’ve ever been before. Anyway, the exciting news… so the leader of My Guide replied to Jenny’s request properly yesterday, to both of us. When a text message came through from her, I thought maybe it was just a little checkup on how Jenny and I are getting on. But she doesn’t need to check up. Jenny has given her full details on how we’re doing, my progress and my ambitions. She passed Jenny’s message onto several members of staff at Southampton’s Guide Dogs team, including the GDMI who assessed and crushed my world in October. They’ve agreed to take my case to the case review sometime next week to see if they can take my application for a guide dog forward. I couldn’t have hoped for anything anywhere near this good so soon into my work with the My Guide service. I predicted that perhaps I’d ask the leader of My Guide for some kind of review around my birthday or something. Not get one 8 weeks after I started working with Jenny. The case review meeting will take place sometime next week according to the leader of My Guide’s text. That’s really exciting! There could be plenty of outcomes of the review, but the main two options I think are either they’ll say I’m doing well but not yet far enough for them to be able to reconsider my application for a dog, or, they’ll say yes, I’ve done really well and they can reconsider my application now. If they reconsider my application and plan to move it forward, I’m guessing that means that they’ll consider putting me on the waiting list for a dog. But I could be wrong. Both my guide dog know-alls, Imi and Tiny, have both seemed quite positive about the text messages and the possible outcomes I could get. Imi, in fact, said she hopes I’m being positive now. I am. As soon as the My Guide leader text, i was imagining having a Guide Dog, being put on the list, having the yes answer… but perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. I guess I’ll find out next week.

As for today, Jenny had our 8th My Guide session, doing the new route for the third time, the second time me trying to learn it. I felt, considering everything, that it went really well. I feel like I’m picking it up really well to say its only the second proper time I’ve walked it myself. Jenny and I agreed that she’d have as little input as possible, just let me get on with it and only telling me if I’d gone the wrong way. Mostly I did well. Jenny only had to correct me a couple of times. It took about an hour to get there. As always, we stopped off in Coffee Mac’s for our little break, me having my apple juice and Jenny her coffee. She’s started asking me to see if I can locate a table once we’re in the shop and its quite easy to find the one we always sit at. As long as every time I go in there its free ‘ll be ok… we popped into see Dad quickly afterward. That entails me crossing the road and walking along to Dad’s shop. He was ok and we didn’t stay long.

The return journey went just as well, with Jenny correcting me whenever necessary. It felt longer walking on the way home but according to Jenny’s watch it was actually shorter. I know I felt more tired when I reached my front door than I did on arriving at Coffee Mac’s. it shows just how lucky I am to have been matched with such a good volunteer that Jenny offered to meet me next Tuesday to do our ninth session. I’m flying up to Kieran’s next Wednesday so will be away for our usual Thursday session. I really didn’t expect Jenny to say she could meet me on an alternative day but feel really grateful that she is. Hopefully, we can continue the good run we’re on with learning this route. Also, hopefully next week I’ll have news from Guide Dogs. But whatever the outcome, I’m just going to carry on. Of course, if they do say i haven’t done enough yet and need to carry on learning, I’ll be a bit disappointed that it isn’t a straight away yes answer. But my plan was to learn routes until at least May so if they ask me to carry on I haven’t lost anything. If its a yes answer, I’m so much more lucky than I thought I was. Maybe by the next time I write my next My Guide update, I’ll have the outcome.

Mobility Update My Guide Session 7

Last week’s session was a positive one. After changing the route, I’d been really concerned that as it seemed a lot shorter and less complicated than the one we tried first, Guide Dogs might not be happy with it. However, it is so much simpler so a lot easier to learn. I haven’t got it anywhere near fully remembered yet, but this week was really our first session of learning it so that isn’t a concern. Last week, we just tested out the route, walking the way Jenny guessed would work. But we tried out a few different things, meaning that we hadn’t actually done the full route properly. But on thursday we did. With my Trekker Breeze on and recording, we headed out on the new route.

As I’d thought last week, it is so much simpler than the first route into Woolston we tried. Jenny counted an approximate 25 crossings in total for that route and there’s only got to be 5 or so in this new route. That’s not me saying I want to take the easy way out, because I don’t, but it just seems daft to persevere with a route I was struggling so much with when there’s an easier option that will get me to the same destination with less hassle. Plus, the walk along Weston shore is lovely; it’ll be really beautiful in the sunny summer, if we get one. It is pretty much one straight path all the way to Woolston. I don’t even have to swap to the opposite side of the road or anything like that. But it still takes about an hour each way, which of course is still a fair walking distance and good exercise for me. Yes, the other route was more challenging and gave me more to think about, but the simplicity of this one isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Again, we stopped for our usual break in Coffee Mac’s, feeling quite pleased with how the route was going so far. Because of that optimism, I decided to have a little extra in the shape of a cheese and bacon panini to go with my apple juice. I kind of got fed up of hot chocolate – I’ve never been the biggest fan, only liking it occasionally – and the apple juice is healthier. But I was hungry and things were going well so I felt a snack was deserved. Jenny clearly agreed because she went for a toasted tea cake to go with her coffee. Sadly, I was disappointed with my panini. There was just something about it that tasted funny. I think next time we have a great session I’ll stick to my reward of a slice of cake. Jenny said she enjoyed her tea cake, though, so that was good.

The return journey was good, too. There a couple of tricky patches along the route but there nothing in comparison to the difficulties in the other route to Woolston. I’m certain they’ll be easily ironed out after a few weeks’ practice of this route. Another thing that reassured me that this route is a good choice was by my friend Jemma. She lives in southampton also, actually in the same area as me, and has a gorgeous German SHepherd Guide Dog. It just so happened that as we were walking towards home, they were waiting to catch a bus at the bus-stop nearer to there place that I pass on my way home. We stopped so that I could say hello and I told Jemma that I was in the process of learning the route into Woolston. She asked which way we go and we explained. It turns out that the new route is the route Jemma uses if shes walking into Woolston. This gave me huge reassurance because if she uses that route with her Guide Dog then Guide Dogs can’t object to me sticking with it.

Jenny has passed on my concerns about this route to the leader of My Guide, who replied and said she’d forward these onto the GDMI to find out whether the route would be good enough and also if I’m doing enough. Hopefully, they’ll get back to Jenny soon and we’ll have an answer. I’m hoping it’ll be a positive one after all the hard work I’m putting into learning these routes. Sadly, Dad and I couldn’t go out on our walk last Wednesday to continue learning the route to my sister’s school because the weather was just too bad. To begin with, we’d thought it could be ok, but then the wind really picked up and there was just no point in trying. I’m just really hoping that the weather holds off tomorrow so that we can get out. It’s not an over complicated route, either, but its still going to take me a few tries to learn it so the more times were able to get out there practising it the better. Plus, I’m flying up to visit Kieran and family next Wednesday evening for a fortnight so I’m going to miss at least one My Guide opportunity and definitely two walks with Dad. It isn’t a big deal, really, because I feel like I’m making leaps and bounds in progress but I’m impatient so for me any sessions missed I’ll want to make up for, the more sessions I miss, the longer it’ll take in the long run for me to learn these routes and therefore be accepted fo a dog. Obviously, visiting Kieran is important to. He’s my other half, my fella, and we don’t get that much time together considering the almost 300 miles separating Weston from Blyth. So I’ll take any opportunity i can to see him, even if that does mean sacrificing precious route learning time. Ive waited this long for a Guide Dog, I’m sure a couple extra weeks in the long term shouldn’t make a massive difference. As long as I get there after all this effort, that’s all that really matters. As the new Woolston route and the route to my sister’s school are both going well, I don’t think I’ve got too much to worry about. Plus, next week I have my employment support session and the lady is just going to follow me to the library this time. Then, as long as shes happy that I’m familiar enough with the route, next time I’ll do it by myself and meet her there. The library route isn’t much in comparison to the Woolston route, but doing it completely independently for a purpose is definitely a step in the right direction.

So everything is going smoothly and I’m making progress in all areas of mobility. Plus, people have been contacted to make sure that this time it’ll be a positive response after all my hard work. I couldn’t have hoped for things to be going any better. Hopefully, tomorrow Dad and I will make more progress with the route to my sister’s school and on Thursday Jenny and I will continue the process of learning the new Woolston route. Fingers crossed I have more positivity to report on next time…

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 6

Yesterday’s My Guide session was different to say the least. At first, Jenny and I were a bit dubious about how it would go as the ground was quite frosty and Jenny was worried it’d be too slippery underfoot. Thankfully, it wasn’t and we were able to continue with the session as normal. Except, it wasn’t a normal session. We changed the whole arrangement of things from what we have been doing to something SO MUCH BETTER!

If you’re up-to-date with my My Guide session post – which, if you aren’t, I don’t blame you, I just waffle on and this is more for my entertainment and satisfaction than anything else! – then you’ll know that since Jenny and I started working together we’ve been working on a route from my home into Woolston, the nearest little shopping street. Well the route Jenny picked out, we tested and I agreed on was quite complicated to say the least. Ive never been good at learning routes; I don’t know why, its just not one of my strong points. So this new complex route was definitely a challenge. A month into walking it by myself and we both felt I was making progress considering how much there was to learn and remember. But today Jenny suggested something else, something I wish we’d thought of before I stressed over the complicated route. There’s a much more straightforward and easy route into Woolston. Instead of approximately 25 crossings (Jenny counted), this is one straight road that leads into Woolston. It takes about an hour each way, we’re going to time it next week to get a definite time frame, and is so straightforward I’m hopeful I could have it memorised fairly soon. After last week’s horrible session, this was such a relief. Maybe its me taking the easy way out. But it shouldn’t matter. It’s still a lengthy route, although less complicated, and still leads me to the intended destination. Also, it means I get to walk for longer beside the shore, which will be glorious in summer. Jenny also spotted that there’s a stretch of green that could make a great short free run spot parallel to the route I’m walking.

It worried me a little, though. As its so simple, it takes less time to get to Woolston. Jenny suggested that some of this was probably due to the amount of time I spent judging if roads were safe to cross on the other route; its complexities made it naturally longer. I decided that I’d check the results of my Fitbit, which tracks steps, floors climbed, distance walked and active minutes, that night against previous weeks’ totals for our sessions. The results were quite different. Where usually its at least 14000 steps and well over 4 miles, nearly 6 sometimes, those results showed just over 12000 steps and less than 4 miles. I don’t know if its just because the route is less complicated; it must be because technically I’m still going from the same starting point to the same destination. I’m just concerned this could be a problem. Should I be focusing on the more complicated route because it presents a challenge and is definitely longer? Or is the fact that the other route is easier and more of a convenience, sadly making it shorter, more worthwhile to pursue? I talked this over with Jenny while we sat in Coffee Mac’s again, she with her coffee and me my apple juice. She tried to reassure me that, even if it was a bit shorter, the principle of the route was the walking thing and as I had the outward and return route it still took quite a long time so would provide a lengthy working time for any future guide dog. Looking at my Fitbit results, though, it looks as if the easier route cuts out quite a lot of mileage. I just can’t work out if that’s a bad thing or whether it shouldn’t be a problem. If someone who knows about these things could shed some light for me, I’d be greatly appreciated.

It was a lovely route though, especially as the weather was quite nice. On the return journey it did get a bit windy but mostly it was nice. Before we headed home, Jenny and i popped across the road to say hello to Dad in his carpet shop. I’d told Jenny all about the progress Dad and I had been making with our Wednesday walks and she seemed pleased. While we’d been sat in the coffee shop, she had written down a list of all my known and potential routes. It’s becoming quite a list. For known routes we currently have:

Short routes:

1. Walk to local bus-stop, barely 3 minutes;

2. 2. Walk to nearby Co-op, about 10 minutes each way.

3. 3. Bus route to Woolston. Although of course this doesn’t involve much walking, only onto the bus from home (shown above) and off the other end to wherever I want to go e.g. coffee shop, Co-op or see Dad, I consider it as a route as before now I wouldn’t be considering things like that.

4. 4. Bus route into town centre/shops: again, dozens involve much walking but opens up lots of opportunities e.g. meeting a friend, going to a coffee shop, getting myself lunch;

5. 5. Route from home to library = about 25 minutes each way, I’ll time it properly when I do it next week;

6. 6. Home to Mayfield Park = about 25-ish minutes each way with a free run in the middle;

7. 7. Route from home to the gym/leisure centre = about 30 minutes each way, I’ll time it properly when I go next;

8. 8. Route from home to news agents = about 35 minutes each way. I’ll time it properly when Dad and I do our next walk;

9. Routes I’m learning:

10. 1. Route from home to sister’s school = about 45-50 minutes each way. Dad and I will time it properly next time we do our walk as last week was the first time.

11. 2. Route from home to Woolston (now changed to newer less complicated route) = 55 minutes to an hour each way. We only did a test run of this yesterday so wil record it to my Trekker Breeze and time it properly after that.

12. 3. Home to Nan’s = no idea how long, Dad estimates at least an hour each way. We’re going to learn this after we’ve learnt the school.

13. 4. Home to Victoria Country Park = no idea how long. Jenny suggested it yesterday and as it was Zena’s favourite free run spot and would create another probably long route I thought why not.

14. 5. Home to archery’s park = I’m not sure. We’ve started to learn it via the long and complicate route we were using but Jenny says there are several different ways to get there. There’s a possibility of eventually learning them all for variation.

15. 6. Home to Dominoes Pizza/Co-op = probably as long as the library route as they’re an extension of it, although I’m considering learning how to get there using part of the complicated route we were using.

16. 7. Home to train station to airport = no idea. It would be mostly transport but I think it’d be a handy one to have under my belt. I’d have to get my usual bus from home into Woolston, then another bus from Woolston to opposite outside southampton central statin. Then get inside the station, find a member of staff and be put on the train to southampton airport parkway station. From there, disembark and get assistance to take me the exit. Then learn from the exit, along the road and across into airport arrivals hall. This idea was planted by John nearly a year ago when I was training with Zena. Although it sounds complicated with all those steps it should actually be quite straightforward.

So there’s quite a lot to be getting on with. I’m sure I’ve probably forgotten some in that list. We discussed loads esterday and I wish I had an in-built notebook to record all thoughts. Jenny was taking notes in a book herself so if I’ve forgotten anything she’ll have it written down. I’m still going with the idea that I’ll inform Guide Dogs once I’ve learnt the route to Woolston and ask to be put on the waiting list for a dog and in the meantime, while I’m waiting, continue to work through that list of routes with Jenny that we’ve compiled. I feel that’s a reasonable request, especially considering how long the waiting list can be and my insistence that Jenny and I will continue working on more routes. By the time I hopefully get matched with a guide dog, I should have so many routes we’ll be too busy! I should at least have a much wider choice than I did with Zena. Really, I already do. And if that isn’t seen as progress and dedication, I don’t know what could be.

So next Thursday Jenny and I have our seventh session. We’re going to be working on the new and improved route into Woolston. As it is so simple, I’m feeling very optimistic about it. I just hope its simplicity won’t reflect badly on me. I still intend to use fractions of that old route, just not the whole thing to get to Woolston. In time, with learning fractions of it for other destinations I might even crack the whole thing into Woolston. It would be a good walking alternative to get there in the winter because our new and improved one would be quite chilly in the winter where its mostly open spaces. I’m really thrilled with these massive leaps we’ve suddenly made today. Its like one of those breakthrough moments and it couldn’t have come at a better time after last week’s disaster. But as Jenny said, its all learning and I will still be using parts of that complicated route so nothing was wasted. Hopefully next week will be even more positive…

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 5

My fifth My Guide session took place last Thursday. As always, Jenny and I set out on the route optimistically because things had gone so well previously. But this session was different. I don’t know if I wasn’t in the right mindset or if other things were on my mind too much but things just felt different. And they went from bad to worse with cars parking on pavements, my cane getting caught in bushes/behind poles and posts. I even misjudged a couple of crossings and slipped off the curb. I quickly corrected myself but that wasn’t the point; I don’t do these things. Even though I’m still having mobility sessions, they’re primarily so I can learn routes. By almost everyone who has ever assessed my mobility, I’ve always been complimented on having good long cane skills. It was always the lack of wanting to use them that was frowned upon. So these little niggles annoyed me. They’re nothing massive and its no big deal in the grand scheme really but its irritating to be making these mistakes when I feel so close to achieving what I’ve been working towards for so long.

The outbound walk was the worst. My cane just got caught behind and on so much. It was frustrating beyond belief. Add to that the cars parked on pavements and it made the whole thing pretty unpleasant. I admire Jenny’s patience and calmness. I’d have got fed up with me if I was someone trying to help. I was fed up of me being me! The cars parked on the pavements weren’t major ones. They didn’t block the whole path, they just made an inconvenience along my journey I could have done without. If there’s an obstacle on the pavement, be it bin, parked car or uncovered man hole or whatever it is, it makes you have to slow down and reassess everything. You have to work out which angles to carry on, whether the gap is actually safe enough for you to pass through and then how to manoeuvre yourself through the situation. Usually, there’s more than enough room but if not, you’ve then got to work out if its safe for you to venture out into the road, carefully skirt closely around the car and then get back onto the path. And if this is a main road then this can become horrendous and extremely dangerous. Thankfully, there was none of the worst case scenario situations for me on Thursday. That would have really topped off my bad mood nicely.

By the time we reached our little coffee shop in Woolston, I was thoroughly frustrated with the whole event. I just wanted to be indoors somewhere not having to think about routes or possibilities or progress. Because it felt like, even though I’d remembered a lot of the crossings, landmarks and turnings on the route correctly, we’d actually taken two steps backward in terms of progress. In hindsight, perhaps that feeling was over-exaggerated at the time. I feel better about the whole thing now we’re nearly a week on from it than I did at the time. It made me question everything, especially when the fact that Guide Dogs still hold all the power of my dream came to mind. Although I’m putting all this effort in and wholeheartedly intend to continue to do so, when I approach Guide Dogs again and tell them I feel I’m ready to continue with my application, that I’d like to be reconsidered as now ready and enough for one of their dogs they could so easily say no, I’m not ready yet, I still don’t have enough routes, the workload isn’t big enough, am I sure this is what I want? It’s crushing. The thought that I could make all this massive progress – because, for me, it really is huge in comparison to what I’m used to – and they could still say no… Most of the time I really have to put that thought out of my mind otherwise it gets me really down. The idea that it could be years until I get accepted for a dog hurts and makes all this seem pointless.

Jenny tried to boost my spirits by saying how good things were looking with the route. I just wasn’t feeling it. It was nice to still have someone else having faith in me, though, and the feeling that even if it felt rubbish to me, it still looked like progress to Jenny was good news. This is all thought of in hindsight, mind. By the time I reached the sanctuary of my bedroom on Thursday afternoon, I was wholeheartedly deflated and down about the whole situation. The return trip was better. Although, not long into it the wired Aftershokz headphones I have to use with my Trekker Breeze died completely. I never carry the extra external little clip on speaker with me because the headphones never fully lose charge. So I was caught out. I tried clipping the Breeze’s belt clip onto the collar of my coat and positioning the in-built speaker next to my ear. But it just made everything clumsy and awkward and I couldn’t hear the announcements the Breeze was speaking even then. Reluctantly admitting defeat, I switched it off and put it in my pocket, cursing myself for not charging the headphones. Unfortunately, with them there’s no way of knowing when their battery is low so its always risky taking them out. But their battery lasts such a long time that I always forget it must need charging at some point. Strangely, from then onward the route seemed to go quite well. I remembered crossings, landmarks and turnings well and Jenny seemed quite impressed, drawing on how I must be retaining most of the route well now as I wasn’t asking her for too many hints and the Breeze was unavailable to give me reminders. It felt quite good doing some of the route without my Breeze. But I wouldn’t want to be out often without it. The reassurance it gives is so comforting and having it there as backup should anything disastrous happen is such a support. Maybe I should be able to do it without the Breeze. But I don’t see why having that extra safety net should be an issue. I always make sure the Breeze has enough charge and only on stupid occasions like this do things like the headphones battery dying happen. The GPS signal is always clear enough for the Breeze to get an accurate enough reading and that’s enough for me. I don’t rely on it. I intend to have this route fully memorised before I even consider approaching Guide Dogs again. But having it as support and guidance if I need it is nice and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I wish I’d discovered Trekker Breeze sooner. Maybe then I’d have been further in this journey than I am currently. Maybe it’d have given me the confidence to learn routes and get out of the house years ago like I should have. Who knows? It didn’t happen.

Now looking back on the day in hindsight I can see it wasn’t as bad as I felt at the time. It is pretty disheartening though when things go wrong. Coincidentally, the night before it happened, I was talking to my ex cricket captain and constant adviser Tiny about my plans of making progress with this whole thing and he mentioned that I shouldn’t get too down if a bad session came along. I’m so glad he said that before it happened because it helped me get the resolve of “oh well, next session will be better and this isn’t the end of everything”. On Thursday night, I messaged Tiny, and Imi too, voicing my fears about Guide Dogs still saying no even after I put all this effort in and the feeling of knowing it might all be nothing despite my progress. Tiny’s response was the best. Although I struggled to agree with him on Thursday night I understand what he meant. He said that basically I needed to see the smaller goals and achievements in the whole thing as well as aiming toward my end goal of a guide dog. He had a point even if I couldn’t see it at the time through my disappointment at the way the day had gone. It made me think though. If I hadn’t been out learning a new route, what would I have been doing? Sat at home at my desk studying, most likely, just how I do every weekday. I wouldn’t have been in the company of a nice person, inhaling all the fresh air, being outside or having a drink in a nice little coffee shop with friendly staff. Those are the small blessings in this situation. But on Thursday it was hard to see how those things mattered in the grand scheme of things. And that point is still valid. The only reason I’m doing all this is so that Guide Dogs finally accept me as adequate and eligible for one of their dogs. It’s so I can have the independence I got a glimpse of when I had zena and none of the other positives matter. In the long run, if Guide Dogs were to decline my application again, I wouldn’t be looking back thinking “wow how lucky was I to be spending all that time outside learning a new really long route”. I’d be thinking “what a waste of time!”. I’ll forever be grateful that Jenny agreed to be my volunteer, that shes spending so much of her own personal time each week helping me towards my goal. But if that goal is never achieved, I won’t be glad I spent all this time trying to reach it. I’ll be gutted. Mainly because I spent so much time working so damn hard doing what they told me I needed to do for it then to be said not to be enough. How they could do that, I don’t know. But anything is possible and the fact I’ve not had a yes yet makes me cynical. Hopefully that cynicism will be wiped away after all this hard work and they’ll say yes straight away, acknowledging the effort I’ve put in which clearly shows how much I want a dog, how dedicated I will be to the partnership if only they give me a chance. I was dedicated to Zena. I was, just not many other people seem to see that. I tried 1000% my best with her. The whole thing just fell apart. The fact shes now living as a pet is testament to the fact I definitely made the right decision for both of us. She was miserable, I wasn’t safe in her care and eventually we’re both going to have our rightful places, she as a pet and I with a new dog who loves guiding and keeps me safe always. I just have to be positive, I guess. That’s always been one of my big problems. Always too miserable and cynical. Why shouldn’t Guide Dogs accept me onto the waiting list after this long route is accomplished? I’ll have done everything they asked of me. That’s how I need to think. A quiet confidence that this time, after all this work, it’ll all pay off.

Jenny and I have another session on Friday. I’m glad I waited until today to write this so I was in a better frame of mind to put things into words. It would have been a very angry post if I’d written it on Thursday afternoon like I’d planned. Luckily, other things have been going well. Last Wednesday, Dad and I walked the route up to the news agents he’s been teaching me. I didn’t need any prompting or guidance. So that route is done. On the way back, we walked via Mayfield Park, the spot I’d predicted would be great for a free run. I wasn’t wrong. It was perfect. I think, once the dog and I had a solid partnership, I’d even be able to take it for a run by myself. The park is enclosed and I’d be able to walk in a straight line along the perimeter of the park while the dog was off lead and get to the exit safely. Ive tried it with dad. So I’m really happy with that route and its been completed a lot quicker than I expected. In addition to that, today Dad and I tried a new route. It was to my sister’s secondary school. We’ve already tried one way, that takes you up and over a train bridge. But, although this way was longer, it was so much easier. It’s an extension of the gym/news agents route, which is great, and the new additional part isn’t complicated at all. After a few tries, I’m positive I’ll have it figured out and memorised. It means that, if I wanted to, I could meet my sister from school. More than that, its another at least 45 minute each way route that I know. This one even has a decent destination. Its a win win all round. While doing that route, I realised, as an extension of that, I’d be able to learn how to walk from my house to my grandparents’ house. I was planning to learn the bus route there with Jenny after we’ve finished the Woolston route but Dad says he can show me the route on foot. If I can memorise that, I think I’d learn the bus route as a backup. More and more possibilities of routes seem to be opening up and its such a nice feeling, especially as the more routes i have the happier Guide Dogs should be about my eligibility and commitment for a dog. It’ll all take time, I know, but progress is more than steady even with the blips in my fifth My Guide session. There’s the chance that my sixth could be the best yet. I guess I’ll find out Friday. For now, though, I’m going to stay positive. After the progress I have been making with the Woolston route and the leaps and bounds Dad and I are making with our routes, I can’t be disappointed. In fact, things are going better than I hoped. Fingers crossed everything stays positive.

PS: I’ve fixed the glove issue. Ive discovered that I can wear the fingerless gloves I have with the flap pulled over making them into mittens and its still almost as safe using my cane. I don’t lose much sensitivity at all and, best of all, my hands keep toasty. See, silver lining in every rain cloud…

“Can I tell you something?”

I was the girl who knew absolutely nothing about computers and he was the guy who knew everything about them. We were put into ICT skills lessons together. Why he was tasked to do skills lessons in the area he was clearly flying in is still a mystery to me. But they were compulsory to everyone so he had no choice. I was way out of my depth. I barely knew how to power on my trusty old Toshiba laptop, let alone complete the tasks set on the worksheets by our teacher. She quickly figured this out and, one Friday afternoon when I was desperate for my Gmail account to be linked to my laptop, she set this super smart guy the task. To his credit, he didn’t complain once. To begin with, he told me what I needed to do. Go to this place, that setting, enter that etc. But I had no idea what keys to press let alone these unknown parts of my computer he wanted access to. Tiring of my inability in the area he was so competent, he slid the laptop out from under my hands, pulled my earphones out of the socket and plugged in his own. His fingers tapped crazily fast over the keyboard and less than an hour later, by the time our lesson finished, my Gmail was up and running smoothly.

That’s how it started. After that, whenever I had any difficulty with my laptop. Which was practically every lesson, the smart lad who knew it all would be told to sit beside me and “help” me. He helped me, that’s for sure, by taking the bloody machine out from under my hands and fixing the problem. In fact, the teacher knew he knew so much and that the tasks set to the rest of us were pointless for him that she basically set him the task of teaching me how to use a computer. Whether he wanted to or not, he had no choice. In the end, though, if he hadn’t sat in the seat beside me at the beginning of the lesson, by the end of it he’d have wheeled his chair over next to mine, usually to fix something minor on my PC, but sometimes to talk to me. By the spring term, he didn’t sit anywhere but next to me and he didn’t do any of the tasks we were supposed to, just Fixing everything I needed fixing, showing me how to do things I needed to know how to do. But more than that, by the spring term, he’d become my friend, a friend I looked forward to spending time with, a friend who would bring BBQ Pringles down to my college room on a Tuesday night as payment for us to have him there. Not that he knew, but that was far from necessary. As well as being my IT buddy, he was Josh’s media pal. They’d struck up a proper friendship before I even knew who he was and it was already clear to me, before I even realised it, that this lad was going to be hanging around a lot.

And he did. 4 and a half years later, he’s more than the best friend I’ve ever had. Two years ago today, in a hotel room in RNC’s Gardner Hall, we changed our lives without even knowing it. It had been his 19th birthday and Josh and I had travelled up by train to see him. Oh how excited I was! I hadn’t seen him since october when he’d got his special Cisco award. I’d been the proudest best friend in all the world that night, listening to them up on stage promising him the world and explaining to the audience how much he’d achieved. He was amazing, and gobsmacked apparently. But it all started way before that night in Gardner, when poor Josh was feeling so ill from all the fast food and fizzy drink we’d consumed. It started long long before anyone else knew it did, in our first year in fact. It started just before I got engaged to another. Not anything serious or that makes me a terrible person. Just a feeling that this IT guy was someone special, someone important who deserved the world. But he wanted a girlfriend. So I tasked myself to finding one, wondering why on earth I was doing it. But I did it anyway. He was happy for a little while, until he wasn’t and he was sobbing on my shoulder. From that day onward, we were friends, really friends. It seemed I’d repaid him for all the IT support, not that I ever could.

Then there was the summer term of that first year, full of sunshine and laughter. Friday afternoon and the three of us running through the college campus, the boys singing MCFly or Busted and me laughing so hard, wondering how I’d managed to get such amazing friends as these. Then, the Friday before the May half term and my 17th birthday, he came to me with a box of Maltesers. Despite the rules, we sat in our weekly Friday afternoon IT session that week and scuffed our way through the whole box.

The second year brought changes for us all, four became three when our sister from another mister had to go to a place none of us could get to. The only thing that kept us in touch was the letters, oh how we wrote them, on the bright yellow paper in size 36 bold font. He and I were feeling the harshness of long distance relationships, mine almost a year old and his barely begun. But it gave us a further connection. We spent many an evening complaining about distance. If only we’d known then! And Josh, poor Johs, received the backlash of most of my misery of being at college; because everyone knew it was the last place on earth I wanted to be. And yet the both took it, Josh retaliating as much as he could manage and our loyal friend staying with us both through it all, even when we weren’t talking to each other. He could have told me to get lost, god knows he should have, but he never.

We spent Saturday and Sunday mornings, of course way after 10am, sleepily drinking cups of tea. He’d make sausage sandwiches on the George foreman or I’d put fish fingers in the oven and we’d have them in sandwiches. Or if we were feeling brave, we’d go to the college canteen and have a risky cooked breakfast there. Many afternoons, we’d be in my college room, him sprawled out on my bed and me sat at my desk, his IPod on shuffle, complaining about distance, the bad food, the rubbish water pressure in the showers. Many many Friday and Saturday night the three of us spent in one of our rooms, eating takeaway and watching some kind of comedy. We met up every lunchtime, forming a little queue Josh then him then me, noting the awful radio station playing and waiting to take our lunch of a jacket potato with rubbery cheese and not enough beans, if we were lucky. We celebrated each other’s birthdays, ate each other’s food and generally loved each other’s company, even if Josh and I were arguing.

But I was waiting to leave and that last day didn’t come soon enough in my opinion. That last Friday, I wore my T-shirt the boys had bought me for my 18th, a bright yellow thing, in homage to Imi’s bright paper, bearing the phrase “shiny happy people” which had been our group nickname for a long while, since his dad made a comment that stuck. I went through the day, saying all my goodbyes and regretting that I hadn’t appreciated this more, had been in such a rush to go home to my fiancé. After I’d left my last lesson, IT, we all got ready and headed to Hereford’s branch of Yates where we ate good food, chatted about all the fun we’d had and took our final college photo together, in which my shiny happy people T-shirt is proudly displayed. Then, when we were back at college, after the boys had paid for my meal insistently, the snuck duvets and pillows into my big C floor room and bedded down on them, using blankets to keep warm. It was our little sleepover, our last night, our final time of being the shiny happy people, students at the royal national college for the blind together. I was leaving and it was too late to change my mind. But as I lay there in my bed, talking to those boys about anything and everything that had happened in those last eighteen months, I really wish I could have. Right then, I wasn’t desperate to be home with my fiancé. Right then, I wanted to pause time and not let tomorrow come. The only thing that was missing, that would have added sparkle to our night, was Imi. But we’d fixed that by catching a train to York and spending her 18th birthday with her.

Then, Saturday morning had arrived, my parents and fiancé were there, all the belongings I’d been packing into bags for the last eighteen months were packed into the boot of the car for the last time and I was saying my last two goodbyes. Josh, I was sure I’d see again. We lived in the same city. But the other one, he who’d become the best friend I’d ever had, he who’d fixed all my problems, been by my side through everything those last two years, he who’d held me when I cried and laughed the loudest with me. I wasn’t sure. He was from the north, after all, and I the south. So as I hugged him goodbye the tightest, I wondered for the millionth time that morning why I’d been in such a hurry to leave.As we drove away, me wondering if we’d ever have times like those again and if I’d be able to see my best friend again, two text messages came through on my phone, one from each of the boys, both telling me how much my friendship meant to them, how they were sad I’d left and that they missed me already. But his was the one that had me secretly wiping tears away, that had me saving it in my notes to look back on. It was the loveliest sweetest most thoughtful message he’d ever sent me. And in that moment I knew we had to keep in touch, he’d begged me to in the message, and see each other again.

And we did. In September that year, he sent me a text message, another one, that was to change our friendship irreversibly, that changed all my future plans, everything I’d based my life on. The text simply read: “Can I tell you something?” And so I replied, “Of course”. And so he did. That I was lovely and that, despite everything, his feelings were more than friendly. I knew he was with his parents at the caravan and that he’d had a few to drink. It was late on a Saturday night and I was with my fiancé and his mum at theirs. I needed him to be 100% sure about what he was saying before he said it. So I told him thank you but that we should talk in the morning if, then, he wanted to continue the conversation. He did. We did. He told me that he’d felt that way sometime but that of course I was engaged and happy and he didn’t want this to change our friendship, he just wanted me to know. And I knew. In my response, I told him so. I told him, if it was allowed to love two people at once, then I undoubtedly did. But I told him he needed someone better, a good person who could give him the whole world. I told him he deserved happiness like no one else I knew. But that of course that person couldn’t be me. And he said he understood and would we still be friends. Of course we would, I told him, there was no way I was letting him go. But that afternoon I had Imi on the phone. I’d told her in frantic texts what had happened. She clearly thought I was mad. She knew things I hadn’t acknowledged yet. She knew I loved him without me even having to confirm it. But I told her I was happy, had plans and wasn’t changing anything. I told her he and I would remain friends, best friends. But she didn’t believe a word of it. And deep down, neither did I.

Then october came, his award, the happiness. But the awkwardness too. We hadn’t seen each other since he told me “something” but we’d been quite in touch, calling regularly, him fixing my many IT problems so regularly we were hardly not in touch. We’d been texting daily, more than we ever had before. When he’d returned to college as a mature student in September, my only feelings were hope for him to be amazing and being gutted, utterly gutted, I couldn’t be there with him.

And of course, then January 8th arrived. Our train ride to Hereford, our reunion, his birthday. It was amazing, so good to see each other again, so good having all three of us together again, the shiny happy people reunited. We ate fish and chips like we used to many Fridays after IT, we gave presents and we went to their bar. That was where everything changed. Imi, who had gotten thoroughly frustrated with my situation, as I’d been increasingly more miserable since September, had me agreeing to send messages that changed us. That Sunday, after tearful hugs goodbye and promising I’d sort everything, I was on a train home with Josh in a whirlwind. And 2 days later everything was sorted, although not nicely, but sorted. And we were a couple. He my fella.

Now we’re here, 2 years on to the day we rearranged everything. It’s been a crazy two years, but the best two years. We couldn’t have expected it to be this good. I never expected to be this lucky. We’ve had many date nights, watched countless movies and comedies and TV shows. We’ve bought mountains of presents, train and plane tickets. I left college never even thinking I’d see him again, let alone dreaming I’d have stayed at his parents’ house as his girlfriend 5 times. But I have. That guy who walked into IT and continues to fix my never ending tech problems has changed my whole world. And I couldn’t give a toss what anyone else thinks. I don’t care if this is soppy or cliché or too much. I don’t care who reads it. Because I love him. He is, undoubtedly, the best friend I will and have ever had. He is kind and smart and funny and all the things I’ve ever dreamed of in a partner. He puts up with me when I’m miserable or grumpy. He puts up with my stupidity with computers and has done far longer than anyone else ever has. He treats me like a princess even if he doesn’t know it. And he is all I’ve ever wanted. He makes me the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m prouder of all his achievements than I’ve ever been of anything. We’ve had our moments in these last two years but thankfully there haven’t been many and we’ve always fixed things. I believe we always will. And I’m not an idiot; I of all people know couples have their problems, their differences. But he’s been there for me through absolutely everything. He supports me always, especially when he knows I’m wrong. He’s taught me so much, least of all the use of a computer how he was tasked so long ago. He makes me smile when no one else can and makes things better when everyone else can’t. He gives me strength at the worst times and praise at the best times. He, without even meaning to I think, has become my rock. I can rely on him whenever I need and he almost always has the answer. We may be 8 miles under 300 miles apart most of the time but he is always with me and despite how difficult distance is, and believe me when I say it is, its worth it for what we have. And it always will be. He always will be.

Kieran what more can I say. You’ve been my fella a long time and my best friend even longer. I will always support you in the choices you make and am here for you should ever you need me. I love you more than I can say and am so glad I took a chance on us. You’re the best risk I nearly didn’t take and I will never regret how we did things, however much of a mess I made at the start. We’ve had the best first two years and I’m betting on many, many more. But even if we don’t, you’ll always be my best friend, the one who fixed everything before I even knew it was broken with one simple text message. Well, my person, can I tell you something? I love you. I loved you then, love you still; always have, always will. Thank you for the best times. Thank you for the hopes and dreams. I’m looking forward to it all. You are my army, fighting my corner always, and I will only ever be one call away, still falling for you. Happy two years.