“Well what then?” 3 weeks, 2 engagement rings and 1 diverted flight to Birmingham

For the final time this year, a month ago Kieran boarded a plane headed for southampton, to come and stay at mine for a week. This get-together had been planned almost a year in advance with the announcement that Kevin Bridges, a comedian we both love, along with our good pal Josh, and all saw 3 years ago for the first time in Hereford, was releasing new shows for a new tour and just so happened to be playing the Mayflower southampton the following November. What an opportune event, we thought, for the three of us to get together again and have another funny night out, also giving Kieran an excuse to come down to Southampton and stay with me. Whilst he’s been working for Northumberland county council as an IT apprentice, his opportunities have obviously been limited to come down and stay here so any excuse he gets is a good one; not that I mind flying up to Newcastle each time but it’s not fair on his parents to have me at theirs all the time.

Unfortunately, our flights back and forth are usually dotted with little hiccups, like lots of turbulence, severe weather warnings and the extreme issue of the time the special assistance member of staff left Kieran’s luggage in security and this error was only realised when he asked the cabin crew on board his flight if his luggage had been stowed. We’ve never had anything quite as serious as this time, though, and I pray we don’t for any flight in the future, either. As planned, Mum and I left for the airport around 9:15pm on Wednesday 14 November to pick Kieran up. His flight was due to land at 9:50pm, but from many previous experiences Mum and I were expecting it to be in early, around 9:30, so we wanted to be there in plenty of time just in case. Oh if only we’d known…

On arrival at the airport, Mum commented, in that throwaway way people do, that it was pretty foggy. I thought nothing of it; until we got into the airport terminal and Mum saw the arrivals board… Flights were delayed. At that moment, it was only the international ones so naively I just thought everything was fine. Then, more and more flights appeared as delayed and not only delayed but diverted to either Birmingham or Exeter. Then I started to worry, but only a little. The panic thought of “Christ, what do we do if Kieran is diverted?” Popped into my mind but I didn’t think on it, presuming everything would be fine. Because why wouldn’t it? Why wouldn’t it, indeed! For ages, the Newcastle flight displayed no further information. Usually, it starts by saying on approach and then changes to landed. But there was nothing, just the delayed expected time of arrival. Then, the Manchester flight changed to diverted. Then, we started to panic. What would we do if Kieran was diverted? Would there be special assistance arranged for him at the other end? What if there wasn’t? Would the airline put on transport to bring the passengers here? What if they didn’t? Mum had work the following day and I was already aware that it was getting later and later. Then, Mum went to speak to a member of staff, mainly because I hassled her to go and ask what would happen as we had a disabled passenger due in on the Newcastle flight who would need assistance if they were diverted. When Mum came back, her answer was final: the Newcastle flight had been diverted to Birmingham, we were being sent home, there would be special assistance in place for Kieran and Birmingham were putting on coaches to ferry all diverted passengers back to southampton. All we could do was go home, wait for communication from Kieran and come back to the airport to collect him. I was panicking. Mum was calm. I rang Lesley, then John, then Lesley again. I wanted them to know what was going on but that we were going to stay up and wait for news of when Kieran needed picking up. Originally, we thought we might come back and just sit it out at the airport but the member of staff Mum spoke to said there would be no point, that the earliest the Birmingham coaches would be in was 2am. Lesley wasn’t quite as calm as Mum but almost. We agreed to keep each other informed of any developments we got so that everyone knew as full story as possible of what was going on.

Not long after Mum and I got home and explained what was happening to Dad, I looked on the Birmingham airport website and saw they’d updated and that there was now an estimated time arrival for the Newcastle flight. I sat with my phone waiting to hear from Kieran. I knew that once I’d heard from him, heard him tell me he was ok, I’d be able to stop panicking so much. Thankfully, he text quite quickly; lots of swear words, but it was communication. Not long after, he rang me and told me all he knew, which was even less than I did. He told me he’d keep me updated and I told him Mum and I were sitting up waiting on news. A little while later, he confirmed he was on a coach and heading south. The coach’s sat nav predicted they’d arrive around 1:30am, which was a lot quicker than Mum and I had expected. So we just sat and watched tv to keep ourselves awake, waiting on news from Kieran.

At 1:30, with me checking Find My Friends for updates every 10 minutes as I hadn’t heard back from Kieran, Mum and I headed for the airport. We were quite shocked to find that there was no staff whatsoever to be found, no one there to direct arrivals or waiting friends and family. In the end, Kieran’s coach didn’t pull into southampton airport until gone 2:30am. Mum and I were so relieved when Kieran got off the coach and we were able to take him to our car and head for home. It was after 3am by the time we climbed into bed.

Naturally, after the night we’d had, Kieran and I had a very long lie in on Thursday morning. He didn’t even stir when Mum, Dad and Tamsin started moving around getting ready for work and school and I barely registered it. Eventually, we got up for showers and breakfast 11:30. The Weetabix and cups of tea provided some much needed energy and I found myself feeling sorry for Mum, who started work that morning at 9 and wouldn’t finish until 6. We spent the next couple of hours relaxing, until about 2 when we started to get ready to catch the bus and meet Josh in town. We met Josh in town for 3 o’clock and as agreed, headed straight for the jeweller’s. it was engagement ring shopping time. After Kieran proposed 5 months ago, we’ve been looking for an opportunity to buy rings but as we’d only seen each other once between the proposal and now, the opportunity hadn’t really presented itself. But no time seemed better than this Thursday afternoon and Josh was more than happy to guide us to the shop and wait while we chose our sparkles. It didn’t take that long, actually. Coincidentally, it didn’t cost half as much as Kieran and I predicted, either, as we’d caught the shop on a good day when there was loads of offers on. Not that that mattered, obviously. In the end, Kieran chose a white gold band with a little cluster of diamonds in the centre and I chose a yellow gold band with an intertwined wavy line of diamonds across the top. We were both really impressed with the customer service given in the shop, especially the amount and variety of rings they let us feel and try on before we chose. They were also quite mindful that we wanted something tactile rather than aesthetically pleasing given that neither of us could physically see the rings. Obviously, we know they’re pretty; they wouldn’t have given us ugly rings but to us it was much more important that they felt nice rather than looked it. Once we’d purchased, the lady who’d been serving us made us put on the rings, Kieran doing mine and me doing his. It felt really special to walk out of that shop with a ring on my finger, a ring that symbolises that Kieran proposed, I said yes and one day we’ll be married.

Afterwards, we headed to Yates for some food before the comedy show. Not quite the romantic destination most couples probably go to after getting engaged, but hey, it suited us. I had scampi and chips and Kieran had a mighty stack burger. We ended up sitting in Yates for absolutely ages, long enough for Josh to have pudding and us to get the feeling we’d outstayed our welcome. When we thought we probably should go, we headed to The Mayflower and I collected our tickets. Then, we went next door and had a drink in the pub. We still had ages before the show. When we went back in, we were shown in to the accessible waiting area and once doors opened, were guided to our seats. As he was 3 years ago when we first saw him, Kevin Bridges was amazing. I don’t think I really stopped laughing the whole way through and am definitely looking forward to watching the show on DVD at some point. Afterwards, Josh made sure Kieran and I were on the right bus before heading home himself.

On Friday, Mum and Dad had taken the day of work because Tamsin had the day off school and we were due a trip to the cinema. Recently, the second instalment in J K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts series, following on to the Harry Potter series, had been released and after clearly loving everything Harry Potter and very much enjoying the first Fantastic Beasts movie, I wanted to see this one in the cinema. On Wednesday, while at Nan’s for dinner, I’d had to try and contact CineWorld because there had been much confusion about whether the film was showing with audio description. I’d decided that I didn’t really want to see it unless it did have AD because I knew I’d miss crucial details without it. By Friday morning, it was still unclear whether it had AD or not but some people had replied on Twitter saying that the film had been made with an audio described track so there was no reason why it shouldn’t have it. So, we stuck to our original plan of heading to Whiteley, having breakfast and then going to the cinema to see the film. We went to the Harvester for breakfast because Dad had really enjoyed it there last week.It was a buffet-style breakfast and I didn’t really think it was very nice. Afterwards, we headed to the cinema and after having to get the staff to check whether the film was showing with audio description, as they tried to tell us they didn’t know and it was the first showing so they couldn’t check, it turned out it did have it, so everything was fine. I was a little miffed about the fact that they tried to fob us off by saying they couldn’t check yet, but soon chilled out once we were in our seats. Thankfully, the audio description worked well and I was so glad I’d been insistent about getting it because there would have been so many little but important details I’d have missed without it. Obviously, despite the fact that nobody reads these blogs, I’m not going to ruin any storylines or give the big ending away but I do recommend it as worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of anything J K Rowling has produced in the past. I wouldn’t say its anywhere near the quality of any of the Harry Potter series and I wouldn’t even say its quite as good as the first Fantastic Beasts, but I’d still say its worth a watch because it continues with the magic, even if it does scramble your brain for days afterwards. I felt bad for Kieran because he didn’t really enjoy the film at all and hadn’t been bothered about seeing it in the first place. But he didnt seem to mind that much.

Once the film was finished, we popped to Tesco and the card shop before coming home. Not long after we’d got home, it became clear why Mum had wanted the shops; she gave Kieran and I an engagement card and big tub of Quality Street chocolates as a congratulations present from her, Dad and Tamsin. Before she went to work, Mum cooked chicken and chips for our tea. It was nice. Kieran and I spent the evening watching series 2 of Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father. We’d watched the first series at Kieran’s sometime last year and I’d wanted us to watch the second series together since it had been released. It was very funny.

On Saturday morning Kieran and I had a little lie in while everyone went out but got up just after 9 o’clock to shower and have our Weetabix breakfast. When Mum and Tamsin came in, we all went out to Whiteley and had Nando’s because I’d wanted to use the birthday present Kieran’s sister, Rebecca, had bought me; a £20 Nando’s gift voucher. Kieran and I had our usuals, mine a double chicken lemon and herb wrap with peri salted fries and no lettuce and his a double chicken burger with peri salted fries. While we were ordering, the cashier asked if I wanted any extras in my wrap and when I enquired what was available, I couldn’t resist pineapple and cheese, however weird that makes me to have had it with lemon and herb sauce. She told us, as we’d used his loyalty card for points, that next time Kieran ordered he had a free appetiser coupon to use. Curious, I asked what appetisers Nando’s offered and one of the options was fried halloumi sticks with a tomato dip and I really wanted to try it, presuming dit’d be like mozzarella sticks, so Mum added some to our order. As it turned out, my assumption had been totally wrong; halloumi was nothing like mozzarella sticks but still rather nice. The tomato dip it came with really complimented it well but we all agreed that the sticks were too salty, that when Nando’s fried them they really didnt need to do it with salt. Otherwise, they’d have been delicious. The rest of the meal was, though, and I discovered that pineapple and cheese really goes well in a lemon and herb wrap. Ive made my favourite Nando’s meal even better. Everyone else really enjoyed, too, and this time Kieran’s hot sauce was hot.

That evening, we babysat Tamsin because Mum was working and Dad had a friend’s surprise 50th birthday party to go to. We had a bit of drama when the toilet became blocked, overflowed onto the bathroom floor and started to leak through the ceiling onto the kitchen floor. After ringing Mum, she rushed home to make sure everything was ok, was able to unblock the toilet and we decided the water must have just got through the light fittings or something because it had stopped dripping by then and everything was back to normal 10 minutes later when Mum headed back to work. Of course, there had to be a drama when I was left in charge…

On Sunday, we had another lie in but got up not long after everyone else. I went to Tesco with Mum to buy everything we’d need for a roast dinner while Kieran started work on my old Toshiba laptop, which we were going to turn into a computer for Mum and Dad to use if ever they needed one, seeing as their proper desktop was knackered. We ate the roast dinner, pork with all the trimmings, before Mum went to work and then spent the evening watching The Chase Celebrity Special Judge Judy and the first episode in the new series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, which we both commented was very weird with just Dec and no Ant.

Monday was another lie in while everyone else got up and ready for school and work. Josh came over at 4 to drop off his overnight bag and then we headed into town on the bus and had KFC in West Quay. Then, we made our way to The Mayflower Theatre again for our second scheduled comedy show, Dara OBriain. I hadn’t felt particularly keen about this one but had wanted to go because both Josh and Kieran seemed keen on seeing him. My earlier feelings were confirmed during the show when I didn’t enjoy him anywhere near as much as I usually have all the other comedians we’ve seen. Not that he wasn’t funny, because I could appreciate the humour in his performance, but he just wasn’t my kind of comedian. The boys seemed to really enjoy the show, though, so I was glad about that. Afterwards, we went to the bus-stop and waited for our bus, which took a while as we’d just missed one. But it didnt take that long to get home so that was good.

Tuesday was a bit of a lazy day, with all of us having a lie in before dragging ourselves out of bed, showering and having breakfast. Kieran worked on Mum and Dad’s broken computer and my laptops, trying to get everything up and running for Mum and Dad. I spent the afternoon packing for our flight to Newcastle the following day and Josh left around 4:30. After he’d gone, Kieran and I watched Gogglebox and The Last Leg recorded on Sky. Once Mum and Tamsin were home, Kieran ordered Chinese for everyone. He’d said he wanted to after buying Mum flowers to thank her for staying up so late to get him from the airport and as a kind of apology because she’d had to go to work the next day and continue as normal even though she was tired. I’d said he really didn’t need to do that much because of course Mum was going to stay up and go and get him; what else could she do? It wasn’t his fault. But he wanted to thank her. The flowers had been on the kitchen side when she’d come in, a delivery from Moonpig, and she seemed pretty pleased although she kept telling Kieran it wasn’t necessary. When we ordered the food, we didn’t tell her Kieran was paying and pretended I was. We ordered a mountain of food for everyone to share: curry chips, Hong Kong style sweet ans sour chicken, special fried rice, house special chow mien, egg fried rice, mini spring rolls and a portion of mixed balls which we think included prawn, chicken and pork. The food was very nice and everyone ate as much as they could manage. We watched two episodes of I’m A Celeb with Mum.

Wednesday meant the day to fly up to Newcastle and stay with Lesley and John had come. Beforehand, we went with Dad for lunch at the Red Lion Wetherspoons in Bitterne. I had a Hawaiian pizza, Kieran had a BBQ chicken burger with chips and Dad had his usual of an all-day breakfast. Kieran had a pint of beer, Dad had unlimited coffee and I had a pint of coke. We all enjoyed the food, especially me as I hadn’t realised before that Wetherspoons served pizza and had been wanting to try it for some time; I mean, it wasn’t the best pizza I’ve ever eaten but it was nice, the size of the plate and just over £5. You can’t ask for more than that. Afterwards, I had the pudding I’d been wanting to try for ages, the cookie dough sandwich. It’s a cookie dough layer with filling of salted caramel sauce and ice cream and it was delicious. Very sweet and rather large, but lovely.

At around 10 past 5, once we’d double-checked we’d packed everything, it was time to head for the airport. Dad and Tamsin dropped us off at the assistance waiting area once we’d checked in and went to pick Mum up. We had a bit of a wait as we were very early for our flight, which was due to take off at 6:45, but that didn’t matter. Once we were through security and about to board the plane, we discovered that the member of staff at the check-in desk hadn’t put Kieran and I sat together on our boarding passes. Not only was this a bit annoying for us, it makes things more difficult for the cabin crew on our flight. Dealing with one assistance passenger is usually enough hard work for them without having them seated separately. As we spoke about it in the queue waiting to board, a man standing nearby must have overheard and realised he’d been seated in one of the seats beside either Kieran or I. He kindly offered to swap seats to make it easier for us. So we boarded the plane, each following a special assistance member of staff. Only when we were in our seats did we realise we were still sat apart, Kieran on the window seat on one side of the aisle and me on the other. As I’m not the best at flying, this didn’t help settle my nerves as passengers filed on and we prepared for take off. There was nothing to be done about it, though, these were our seats and I’d just have to firmly put my earbuds in and ignore the world for the next hour. I wasn’t happy about it, though, and from the texts I received from him just before we had to switch our phones off, neither was Kieran.

Thankfully, we reached Newcastle soon enough and were quickly on the mini bus. But we didn’t head straight for the terminal building because there were other passengers on board waiting to fly out of the airport so we had to wait for them to board their flights before the bus took us back. By the time we reached John in arrivals, the time the flight had made up by being early to land was lost. Once we arrived at John and Lesley’s, we had sausage, mash and peas for dinner and spent the night watching Master Chef The Professionals and Family Guy.

On Thursday, we were up early as Kieran had to go to work. I had a cup of tea, toast and a banana for breakfast before spending the day doing uni work and watching East Enders. Lesley had left some sausage rolls in the fridge so I had one of those for lunch warmed up in the microwave; it was very nice.

When Kieran came in from work, we watched Young Sheldon and The Big Bang Theory downstairs. Rebecca and Darren came round with Wilson, their rather gorgeous German shepherd puppy, who immediately took a fancy to my slippers, socks and jean hems. Those jeans never will be the same after his needle sharp teeth, even though he was only playing. After they’d gone, Kieran and I went upstairs for a lie down and a cuddle. For dinner, we had a chicken and rice in a tomato sauce dish. We watched more Young Sheldon.

On Friday, I got up when Kieran did for work. Lesley took him to work and went shopping. I wasn’t feeling great so didn’t do uni work and watched East Enders and Holby instead. Not long after Lesley had come back with the shopping, she went to get Wilson as Rebecca and Darren were working and it was nicer for him to be round with us instead of being on his own. He really liked nipping at my socks and trousers. Lesley’s parents visited. Lesley made ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Lesley went to pick Kieran back and not long after he was home, Rebecca came to collect Wilson. After she’d gone, Kieran and I went upstairs for a nap.

Kieran and John had a prawns with spaghetti dish that John had made and Lesley cooked ravioli. We watched Have I Got News For You, Gogglebox and The Last Leg.

On Saturday, we had a long lie in. When we eventually got up, Lesley made us sausage sandwiches for brunch. We had Sky Sports on with the football updates showing. Later, we went out to The Commissioners for drinks and Rebecca walked Wilson down to experience a pub environment. After she’d left, we walked to Sambuca’s, the Italians I love to go to up there, and had a meal. As usual, I had my favourite tuna and garlic pizza. Before, a cheesy garlic pizza bread was ordered as a starter to share and it was lovely. Kieran had a steak jambalaya which he said was very nice. When we got in, we watched I’m A Celeb and then Match Of The Day.

On Sunday, when we eventually got out of bed, we watched Motor Racing and Judge Judy downstairs. Lesley cooked roast chicken and beef with all the trimmings for lunch and Rebecca, Darren and Wilson came round. We had ginger sponge and custard for pudding. Once Rebecca and Darren had gone, Kieran and I went upstairs; he did some bits on his laptop that needed doing and I just had a lie down. Later, Lesley made us cheese and onion toasties and Kieran got us a cup of tea each. We started watching Gavin and Stacey on BBC IPlayer.

On Monday, Kieran aencouraged me to stay in bed while he got up early to go to work and as I’d been feeling rubbish on Friday and thought it was because I hadn’t slept well, I decided to stay where I was. I couldn’t afford to have more missed uni days with another assignment deadline approaching. Kieran brought me a cup of tea in bed before he went off to work. At 9 o’clock, I started watching I’m A Celeb on my iPad and got up for a shower 10 minutes later. When I went downstairs, I made myself a cup of tea with the one cup machine they now had. When I went to the cookery awareness course run by my local blindness charity, they’d had one of these but I’d felt like it was just a lazy way of not teaching people to use a kettle. However, I’ve always struggled using a kettle; I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to line it up right on the lip of a mug and have ended up pouring boiling water everywhere on the majority of occasions I’ve wanted to make myself a hot drink. Fancying a cup of tea now, I decided to swallow my pride and use the one cup machine. I refuse to use the kettle in someone else’s kitchen, not wanting to make a horrendous mess. Even if I tried to clean it up after, it’d either not be all cleaned up or would result in some soggy tea towels. Although Lesley had made it quite clear she didn’t mind, even offering to get me a travel kettle out which is easier to pour, I didn’t want to take that chance. After checking with Kieran via text how the one cup works, I put my mug, with teabag already in, under the spout of the one cup and pressed the button. As the tag line promises, in less than a minute I had a full cup of boiling water. Although I’ll work on making my own hot drinks from a proper kettle when I can, having this one cup thing at Lesley and John’s made me so happy, making cups of tea mess free whenever I fancied. I don’t care if I should put more effort into making tea the conventional way because at the end of the day, this machine meant I could make tea without worrying. It makes me want one for our kitchen at home. I looked on Amazon and they’re not very expensive so I’m thinking of buying one.

That night, we had gammon, new potatoes, peas and a parsley sauce for dinner. I discovered I don’t like parsley. We watched Newcastle vs Burnley where Newcastle won 2-1.

Tuesday was a similar day, with me staying in bed while Kieran got up for work, him bringing me a cup of tea before he left and me getting up about 9 after I’d just started watching I’m A Celeb for my shower. Lesley had left me a sandwich for lunch and I took advantage of the one cup machine being there. I watched more I’m A Celeb, East Enders, The Apprentice and Paul O’Grady’s For The Love Of Dogs on my iPad while doing uni work. When Kieran came home, we went upstairs for a cuddle and came down later for dinner, which was fish cake, chips and peas. Kieran put The Big Bang Theory on Netflix and we watched that for a while before watching an episode of Gavin and Stacey that was showing on Gold.

On Wednesday, Kieran worked from home. We had sandwiches for lunch and I watched I’m A Celeb and East Enders while working on my assignment. For dinner, I had a jacket potato with a chicken Kiev and everyone else had jacket potato with chilli. We watched some of the Liverpool vs PSG match on the TV and listened to some on the radio while Master Chef was on. Upstairs, Kieran and I watched more Gavin and Stacey.

Kieran had his apprenticeship tutorial on Thursday which meant we got a bit of a lie in. While he was out, I finished my uni assignment, making a new record for me: the first assignment I’ve actually submitted on the deadline day; mine are usually submitted well before deadline. Afterwards, I watched I’m A Celeb, Paul O’Grady’s For The Love Of Dogs and The Apprentice. I had ham sandwiches for lunch and then changed mine and Kieran’s bedding with the clean Lesley had left out for me. Later, we had sausage, chips and beans for dinner and watched Master Chef and Young Sheldon.

Friday meant it was Lesley’s day off again. We had sandwiches for lunch and then went to Morisons, picked Kieran up from work and went to Rebecca’s. Later, Rebecca came round with Wilson for dinner. We had John’s turkey meatball and pineapple curry, which we hadn’t had since I first stayed. As it was then, it was absolutely delicious and I hope it won’t be so long until I have it next time. After Rebecca left, we watched Have I Got News For You and Gogglebox.

We got up earlier than usual for a Saturday the next day because John and Kieran were going for haircuts. When they got back, Lesley cooked us bacon, waffles and toast, and scrambled egg for me, for brunch. We spent the afternoon upstairs listening to Sky Sports news for the football updates. When John came back from the football, we went to The South Beach, their Local pub, for a drink. When we got back, I ordered takeaway for everyone; Lesley had a donner kebab with salad, John had the same without salad, Kieran had a chicken and donner kebab and I had tuna, sweet corn, pineapple and garlic stuffed crust pizza. We shared a portion of mozzarella sticks. We were given a free bottle of fizzy and a cheesy garlic bread because we’d spent over a certain amount but neither of these were used. We watched some videos on YouTube and then The Last Leg.

On Sunday, we made up for getting up early the previous day by having a long lie in. We shared the leftover cheesy garlic pizza bread from last night for our breakfast. Later, Lesley cooked stewing steak with mashed potatoes and veg for tea. Lesley was watching Strictly Come Dancing so we went upstairs.

On Monday, I spent the day catching up on I’m A Celeb, East Enders and Holby on my iPad. I had a corn beef sandwich for lunch. That evening, I had a jacket potato with chicken Kiev for dinner. We watched The Last Leg again because John had fallen asleep whilst watching it on Saturday.

Tuesday was a similar day, with me catching up on I’m A Celeb and East Enders, doing uni work and having a corn beef sandwich for lunch. John cooked Kieran and I fish cake, chips and beans for dinner because Lesley was working late. We watched Manchester City vs Watford (3-2), Master Chef and Family Guy.

Kieran took the day off the next day because it was my last day up north. Lesley was also working from home so we had Wilson round for the day. We had sandwiches, mine cheese and Kieran’s chopped pork, for lunch with smoky bacon crisps. Later, Kieran’s grandma popped round. Then, Lesley took Wilson home and went for her hair appointment. John got us dinner from the chippy and we both had fish cake and chips. At 7 o’clock, we left for the airport. As usual, saying goodbye wasn’t nice but it felt ok because we’d already talked about when we hoped to meet up. Now, a week later, that is all arranged and booked. I’m flying back up to Newcastle in January to stay for 10 days so that I can celebrate Kieran’s birthday with him and so we’re together on our 3rd anniversary.

As always, massive thanks to John and Lesley for having me to stay, putting up with me in. Your house for so long, the food out and lovely home cooked meals in; for the fun, the laughs (even when the jokes aren’t funny) and the stories. I’m looking forward to coming back in January.

But of course, as always, the most I have to say is to Kieran. Thank you: for coming to visit me even though every time you use Southampton airport there seems to be an issue; for letting me come to stay; for my sparkles that I adore and that mean so much to me; for putting up with me even though I often do your brain in; for the surprise headphones that are still in your cupboard because I didn’t have enough room in my bag; for the cuddles; for the endless fixing of pretty much all the tech in my house; for putting up with my weird issues; for wearing the sparkles I bought you; for being my person; for choosing me all that time ago; for the best almost 3 years of my life; for everything we’ve thought of for our future; for everything we’ve already got so far; for my first solo holiday this year, our couples holiday, that you persisted with even though I wasn’t sure and was negative, that turned into such a great week away; for putting up with the long distance although it sucks; for perseverance’; for your love; for being you; for everything you do. I can’t thank you enough, clearly, because this list gets longer every time I write it. But we’ve had a great other year this year, a great 2018 despite it’s ups and downs, and I’m sure we’re going to have a great 2019 and all the years we’re lucky enough to share that follow. Thank you for proposing back in June and making me the happiest person alive. You know I didn’t expect you too but am so more than happy that you chose to. I can’t wait for our future together, whatever it may bring. I love you so much and am so grateful for everything we share, from our 2 and a half years of amazing friendship and on to our almost 3 year long (so far) relationship. I couldn’t have been more blessed that day when our IT teacher asked you to help me out with my computer. Here’s to us and our future. And here’s to my best person!


Mobility Update: My Guide Session 30 and the news I’ve been waiting for

Last week, while I nervously anticipated the phone call from Guide Dogs following my Guide Dog assessment the previous Thursday, the phone call that could either put me on the waiting list for a guide dog or set me back to square 1 again, it was time for another My Guide session with Jenny, who had just come home from her cruise holiday. As I had the cookery course on the Thursday, we’d agreed to meet on the Tuesday instead. Clearly, as so much had happened in the week she’d been away, we had loads to catch up on. I wanted to hear all about her holiday and tell her all about the assessment she hadn’t even known was happening. Luckily, we were doing the route to CommuniCare, the place I’m soon to start volunteering at, and that means a bus journey into the city centre, a welcome opportunity for us to chat away.

I’m still not feeling over enthusiastic or happy about the voluntary route. I don’t know what it is about it but I’m just not comfortable with it like I feel with the Woolston and school routes. Maybe it’s because I’ve got so used to learning lengthy routes that now I’m doing a short convenient one it just doesn’t sit well with me. It could also be because there are so many obstacles in my path along the journey and so many things my cane snags on along the inner shoreline of the route. Because the majority of the Woolston and school routes are walking in a straight line, I don’t need to follow the shoreline with my cane constantly. But as I’m still only just getting used to the voluntary route, I keep my cane close to the edge mostly to reassure myself of my precise location. I’m hoping that, in time, as I get used to the route and hopefully comfortable with it, I’ll be able to anticipate the snags and not need the constant reminder of where I am. Hopefully, as I get more familiar with the route, I’ll become more comfortable with it. As it’s actually quite a vital route, in that it’ll get me to the place that’ll help me gain vital employability skills, I really need to like it and get to know it well. The Woolston and school routes, although useful to have in my route availability and choices, were only learned so I could get out and about more and because Guide Dogs said in order for me to be considered for a dog I needed more lengthy routes. As I’ve learned them, especially the Woolston route, I’ve grown to realise how nice it is to have a long stroll to get somewhere rather than taken the 15-minute bus there. Obviously, I’m not sure I’ll be saying that when it’s pouring down or we’ve got fierce winds.

Despite my uncertainty surrounding the route, Jenny seemed very pleased with how our two attempts went. We calculated that we haven’t actually practised the route in a whole month and I still managed to retain quite a lot of the direction and crossing places. Annoyingly, there was roadworks going on around the pelican crossing, cutting off one of the control poles, which happened to be the one that has the spinning cone that allows me to cross safely. We fixed this by Jenny prompting me when it was safe to cross; but if I’d been on my own I’d have had to hope for a kindly member of the public or listen for the slow in the traffic in front of me and take my chances that the lights had changed when the cars were still. This, of course, is risky as just because the cars are still doesn’t actually mean that the lights have changed and it’s safe to go. This is why all pelican crossings should have both the audio cue and spinning cone, so that if one option is unavailable the other is there as backup.

To be honest, even I noticed on the second attempt of the route that I was remembering things slightly better. I’m hoping that, when we practice it again this week, things will come back to me even more because there will only be a week, rather than a month, between the attempts. While we were on the bus home, I discussed with Jenny how we can make the best of the time during our sessions. After my Guide Dog assessment the previous week, I’d become more aware of how I really need to practice navigating around southampton city centre independently. Last week, I’d got horribly lost during my assessment and if it hadn’t been for the patience of the instructors and me not freaking out, I’d have never got back on track. I need to be more confident with the routes I don’t use as regularly independently, such as navigating around town and getting to my pharmacy and doctors surgery. Jenny agreed that when we practice the CommuniCare route we can add a bit on and practice around town too. I just want to be confident with all my routes so that if anyone springs going somewhere unexpected on me, like the instructors did by asking me to navigate around town on a weekday afternoon, I can be completely confident in the knowledge that I know what I’m doing and where I’m going. I know Jenny can help with that. After all, I wouldn’t have got anywhere near this far pursuing my Guide Dog application without her patience, consistency and support. I owe the phone call that came the following day to Jenny and I hope, although I’m rubbish at saying it in person, that she knows how unbelievably grateful I am for her.

As I’ve hinted, a phone call came the following day, a phone call I’ve been dreaming of for at least the last seven years, since the very first time I applied for a Guide Dog. It didn’t come quite as quickly as I hoped, though; they kept me waiting all Wednesday. In the morning, Dad and Tamsin, who was on her school half term, and I went into town and did some Christmas shopping. Then, we popped to Bitterne for some bits and pieces. Then, we headed to my grandparents house because they’d asked Dad to paint their decking. I spent the afternoon moving from the chair at their little table in their kitchen, to the side door doorstep, to pacing up and down waiting for the phone call. Then, at exactly 3:44pm, my phone started to ring. By this point, I’d started to wonder if I’d remembered right, whether they’d actually said they’d ring and tell me Wednesday afternoon or not. Obviously, this was just my nerves kicking in as I know case review happens Wednesday and that they ring you to tell you the outcome afterwards. I should know, I’ve been rung after two separate case reviews in the past. But no phone call in the past was like this one. With shaking fingers, I double-tapped with two fingers to answer the call and put the phone to my ear. It was Guide Dogs calling and the lady who did my Guide Dog assessment the previous Thursday. She asked if I was OK first and then she said it: We’ve put you on the waiting list”… She then went on to say she knows I’ve been working for this for “a few months” and asked if I was happy. To be honest, I was shocked, stunned, astounded, amazed. But not in the usual ways I am when Guide Dogs phone. This time, it was for all the right reasons that I could barely get any words out, that my eyes had misted over and that my hands were shaking even more. I thanked her, told her of course I was happy and thanked her again. She didn’t tell me any more information than that, just that I have been placed on the Guide Dogs waiting list for my very own furry companion and guide. All that dreaming and scheming and planning and hoping is over. I AM ON THE GUIDE DOGS WAITING LIST FOR A DOG! I AM GOING TO GET A DOG IN THE FUTURE!

As soon as I disconnected the call, all my family members in the house were there, waiting. They’d seen me start this journey so long ago. “It’s good news,” I muttered, “I’m on the waiting list.” And the cheer went up. Then they started asking questions. Was I happy? How long would I wait? What else did they say? Why wasn’t I looking/sounding happier? I didn’t have many answers, other than they hadn’t said anything else or given any indication as to how long I’m likely to wait. As soon as the noise calmed down a bit, I phoned my Mum. She’s supported me, along with most of my other family members, throughout this journey, since I was a little 14-year-old with a faraway dream. But she didn’t answer. So I rang the next person who needed to know, the one who’s helped me in every choice and decision I’ve made with Guide Dogs. My sister Imi answered almost straight away: “Yes?” She asked expectantly. “I’m on the waiting list,” I tell her, in what I realise isn’t the ecstatic tone she’s expected all these years. But I’m just so shocked. She squeals, tells me that it’s brilliant, which of course, underneath the disbelief, I know it is. We chat for ages, until my VoiceOver tells me Mum’s trying to get through. I tell Imi I’ll ring her back and call Mum. When I tell her, she can’t believe it either; she swears and has her happy voice reserved for really great things. We chat for a little while and I know she feels like me, overjoyed but disbelieving and relief. The fighting is over. I haven’t got to argue with anyone any more. Ive proved myself. Ive got on the waiting list because I’ve shown them I’m suitable, deserving and that a dog would have such a massive impact on my future. After Mum has hung up, telling me how proud and happy she is, I ring Imi back and we analyse everything that was said like we always do. We talk about how I’d started to get unsettled when the call hadn’t came but how that should’ve reassured me because the bad news phone calls are always made first, or that’s how it seems. After all, I should know that. We talk about how it probably wont be the quickest wait ever and I joke that, knowing my luck, I’ll probably wait three years or something now for my first match. Then, together we look at the dogs pictured on both the southampton and Yorkshire mobility teams facebook pages, talking about which names we couldn’t bear to have. I think I’m more open than Imi to daft names, because after all I’d take anything.

After Imi, the next person who needs a phone call is a man who’s supported me in everything since he first met me at 14. He was the best cricket captain I’ve ever had and a support I now couldn’t be without. I text him first and asked if he was available for a phone call. My phone buzzed with an incoming call and I told him. His joy matched that of my parents, possibly even overtook some of my family members. And it made me feel happier somehow. It made it seem more real telling people, made it true. It felt like a bad cheating dream where I was going to wake up and I’d still be waiting for the phone call. But I was definitely awake. Tiny and I agreed to meet in southampton soon and have celebratory Costa, because recently we both have a lot to be happy about. After I’d ended that call, I started sending out the text messages, first to Kieran and then to everyone else I knew would want to hear, to everyone that had supported me in some way along this really bumpy road. Unfortunately, Dad had already posted on facebook about it so Kieran had already heard. I was a bit disappointed because I’d wanted him to hear it first from me. Although I know Dad was only posting because he was so excited for and proud of me for finally getting here, it did bother me because I hadn’t even managed to tell many people. I texted Jenny, the lady who had been Zena’s owner after me, Josh, my friend Wayne who has a Guide Dog called Vince, my employment officer, auntie Clare, a lady who used to work with me at school and her family, Jemma and her mum, the service user representative who’d helped me so much and as my texts went out, messages of congratulations and joy came flooding in, everyone so happy to hear this news at last. Later, I put my own post up on facebook and in the social groups set up for anyone involved with Guide Dogs and the response I got was amazing. So many people so happy for me.

Honestly, though, I still don’t think it’s fully sunken in yet… It’s silly really because it’s something I’ve been dreaming of for so long. But I think because it’s been the goal for so long I never really imagined what I’d do once I reached it. It’s like I mentioned to Imi during our phone call, we’d never actually planned for once I’m on the list, it was always aiming to get on the list. But of course I’m happy. Overjoyed, super excited and still ecstatic, actually, even nearly a week on. I just can’t believe it’s really going to happen. Whether in the near or far future, I don’t know, but one day I actually am going to get a phone call from a Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor to tell me they’ve found a potential match. Because that’s the next step now and it’s just waiting. I hope it won’t be a horribly long and drawn out wait, but however long it takes I know it’ll be worth it. It already is. All that fighting and arguing and perseverance is already worth it, because I’ve achieved my goal, reached my aim. I AM ON THE GUIDE DOGS WAITING LIST. So from now on, I’ve just got to continue working on my routes, learning new ones and practice my existing ones. I hope that I’m allowed to continue working with Jenny until I get that phone call and even after I’ve got the dog to familiarise us with my routes. I don’t know how long our partnership will continue now I’ve reached my goal of going on the waiting list for a dog but I hope the powers that be see that Jenny’s help and support where my routes are concerned is still so important to me. Again, I just need to reiterate that I wouldn’t be where I am now, on the Guide Dogs waiting list, without Jenny and I’m so thankful to have had her support over the last almost year. I’m also thankful to the Guide Dogs staff who have been involved in this most recent application and in the little bit running up to this application. To the service delivery manager, mobility instructor and Guide Dog mobility instructor who have been a part of this application and have made the decision to put me on the waiting list, thank you. I’ll be forever grateful to you all for giving me this chance to prove myself and this opportunity to have the mobility and independence I’ve been craving for so long. Thank you for being so open after the appeal in March and being so accommodating to the ideas I had for making the assessment process more stress-free for me. Together, it’s obviously worked because you’ve now deemed me suitable for a Guide Dog, so much so that I’ve already done enough for you to place me on the waiting list. I can’t put into words what that means.

Lastly, to everyone who’s supported me throughout this journey, my gratitude is infinite. Imi, Kieran, mum, Tiny, Dad, Jenny, Jemma, Jemma’s mum, Yvette, Amanda, Wayne, Lacey and Grant, Nan and Grandad, Auntie Clare, Josh, the service user representative, Tamsin, everyone who’s supported me on Facebook and Twitter… absolutely everyone who’s ever supported me, I couldn’t have done it without you. To Tiny’s wife Nicola, thank you for spending hours on your birthday sat in my living room while we battled at my appeal. You and your husband, who I have so much to thank for, have helped and supported me more than you’ll ever know and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. For everyone who’s listened to me talk about Guide Dogs all these years. The support of everyone in my life during this journey is what has kept me going, what has fuelled my determination. In March, when they said I was unsuitable, I was ready to give up. But Mum, Dad, Imi, Tiny, Kieran and everyone else I spoke to about it filled me with confidence and support and urged me on, until I made the decision to keep fighting. Without them, I’d have given up the fight and wouldn’t be sat here now, ON THE WAITING LIST. Who knows how long it’ll take until I’m matched. But for now, the hard work is done. The goal is met. And the relief I feel almost overtakes the joy.

Mobility Update: Guide Dogs Guide Dog Assessment October 2018

Well, I really didn’t expect to be writing this post so soon after my last, where I spoke about how I’d been recommended for the next stage of the Guide Dogs application process, the Guide Dog assessment after passing my mobility assessment no problem. But I am. On Monday, I got a call from one of Southampton’s GDMIs to say that she and the lady who’d done my mobility assessment would be coming out on Wednesday to conduct my guide dog assessment. Naturally, I was astounded, in the happiest possible way. The GDMI said she’d be bringing a dog with her, a black Labrador retriever called Yogi, who’s 18 months old and has just started his advanced training with her. Apparently, he was a moderate to fast walker, very enthusiastic and eager to please. I was excited even more. The proof that they were going to bring a dog immediately evaporated some of the nerves I usually have surrounding anything involving short handle walks with Guide Dogs staff. They just make me super nervous and in the past that has ruined assessments. The idea that there would be an actual dog to walk with on the assessment made my confidence boost just slightly.

Then, on Tuesday, the mobility instructor who’d done my mobility assessment rang. The GDMI hadn’t had all the details for the assessment so the mobility instructor needed to ring and confirm things. It’s lucky that she did because somehow there had been a mix up of dates. The assessment was scheduled for Thursday (today) at 2pm. As I’d already started arranging things for it to be the following day, I was a little thrown that it now wasn’t going to be then. But really I didn’t care. It was still this week, still not far away, still only a fortnight after I’d had my mobility assessment. For me, things have never moved this fast with Guide Dogs so I had no reason not to be happy and somewhat excited. Obviously, by this morning I was nervous as hell. Previous experience with these assessments showed I was no good at them. In fact, exactly a year ago to the day today I had my last Guide Dog assessment, which went terribly and nearly crushed me. Thankfully, today’s experience was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

The two instructors arrived at 2 as promised, bringing the adorable and very loveable Yogi with them. He’s definitely enthusiastic as the GDMI described. Also full of energy and very loving. He really has a lovely temperament. To start with, we had a conversation in the lounge where the GDMI asked me lots of matching questions. I found this rather exciting as I’ve never been asked all those questions before. Even at my Guide Dog assessment last year, we never got to that part. I got to specify all sorts of things: I’d be happy to have any breed/sex/coat-type dog; I need my dog to like working on busses and on routes ranging from 10-60 minute routes; I’d like a dog that is or could become comfortable on trains and planes; I’d be happy to start training with the smallest amount of notice possible; I’d be happy to train anywhere in the country. I also had to give my weight, height and describe what sort of walking speed I am. This is all matching criteria so that, if I’ve passed this assessment, they can start looking for the right dog to suit my lifestyle. Then, it was time to go out. The GDMI said she wanted to see my bus route into town and do a bit of walking around town, some with my cane and some with Yogi in harness. He was eager to get going!

So I walked from my house up to my nearest bus-stop and we caught the bus into town. The GDMI sat opposite me with Yogi, trying to encourage him to settle, while the mobility instructor sat next to me. Yogi has only recently started practising bus travel and was quite restless for our inbound journey. To be fair to him, the bus rattle like hell and was quite full of noisy passengers. When we got into town, I walked to find the pelican crossing I needed to take me into the precinct and on to West Quay. I struggled a bit with this. It’s been a while since I’ve been in town alone and I’m vowing after the experience today to practice it more. But eventually I got across the pelican crossing, with help from the mobility instructor, and walked into the precinct. There was some very noisy building work going on which was incredibly offputting and didn’t help my nerves much. But eventually we got to West Quay and Lush, the shop I’d chosen as my destination. Then, the fun part started. I was given the handle of Yogi’s harness and, with the GDMI holding onto the lead, off we went, back out of West Quay, back along the shops we’d already passed, around the corner and on into the lower level of West Quay and to a Costa, where Yogi effortlessly found a chair. We didn’t stay, though. We continued back out of West Quay, down the road, across the road and back up the road to the bus-stop, which, when instructed to find the bus-stop, Yogi not only found the bus-stop but found the bench seat in the shelter. After a lot of praise to Yogi, I let go of the harness and moved out into the open a bit more to listen to the bus. They didn’t make me squirm too much and told me when it was the right bus. We sat in the same formation as the outward journey, the difference being that Yogi was much better settled on this bus. He led down for the majority of the journey and didn’t seem bothered at all by the bus. It was a much quieter and less rattly bus.

Whilst on the way home, I asked if I was going to walk with Yogi or my cane once we were off the bus. The mobility instructor asked the GDMI who said I could walk with Yogi if I wanted to. So I jumped at the chance, getting off a few bus-stops early so we had a longer walk. Although I’d enjoyed the walk in town, I loved the walk home. The empty paths and easy road crossings made it a breeze, obviously helped by the fact that Yogi is awesome. He’s going to make a great guide for someone when he’s matched.

When we got home, the GDMI said that everything that’s happened today goes to case review, which is next Wednesday, and then I’ll be told the outcome. Unlike previous assessments, the final chat felt very positive. The GDMI repeated a couple of times that it’d been a good walk and even said that my vocal communication and praise for Yogi had been good. Before they left, I gave Yogi a big fuss goodbye. If he’d been a tricky worker, that would have made today much more difficult. But he was effortless and took to me very quickly, especially as he was a bit confused and hesitant to begin with.

Overall, I’m feeling super positive, which doesn’t happen often, especially when guide dog assessments are concerned. Now, I’ll be waiting and counting down the time until the phone call is due to tell me the outcome. Pass this and I can go on the waiting list for a dog. Fail, after how positive things seemed today, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll recover. Last time, at least I understood and felt it didn’t go very well. This time, the only things I feel I could’ve done better is not get a little bit lost, go with my gut instinct on directions and maybe slightly more talking to Yogi. But I basically talked to him for the entire journey and in a more uplifted and praising voice to my usual one. Ive never felt this way after any assessment with guide dogs and I really hope that’s a sign of the type of outcome I’m going to get next Wednesday. I’ll still be keeping my fingers crossed because you just never know until you’ve had the phone call but this time I really feel like Ive given it 100% my best effort. And I’ll say this, whoever gets matched with Yogi is a very lucky guide dog owner indeed.

Mobility Updates: My Guide Sessions 28 & 29 and my Guide Dogs Mobility assessment

Last Thursday, I had a pretty busy day. In the morning, I had another My Guide session with Jenny and in the afternoon, my mobility assessment with Guide Dogs. In addition, yesterday I had a further My Guide session with Jenny. Therefore, I have rather a lot to write about. I’m hoping it won’t turn into too much rambling. I’ll try and keep it as succinct as possible… Knowing me, though, that won’t happen.

So, last Thursday Jenny and I met at our usual time of 9:30 and headed out in the drizzle, our destination being my sister’s school. My thinking behind this was although I really needed to concentrate my efforts on learning the route to my new volunteering role place, actually I wanted to have a bit extra practice of the route, or part of it, that I’d need to do to impress the Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor that afternoon for my assessment. Although I was only planning on going as far as the gym at the furthest with them, considering that is about a 45 minute walk each way, and I know the gym route well, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra supervised practice run of the route to calm any nerves before my assessment. Strangely, I wasn’t feeling nervous, which isn’t like me at all when Guide Dogs are involved. I guess my pass rate with this part of the process being so high helped. Ive passed this assessment twice, only failing once back when I was 14 which really doesn’t count for anything. It’s the later parts of the Guide Dog application process that I’ve fallen short on in the past and have been working so hard to pass this time. But before I even get to prove myself in that area, I have to pass the mobility stage first.

The walk to the school with Jenny went well. It was rather wet thanks to the drizzle, but otherwise a pretty pleasant walk. Both the main roads were quite busy as usual and that can be a little unsettling when big lorries race by but I did ok. Getting to the school was no bother. I recalled the route fine and turned and crossed in mostly all the right places. Jenny seemed quite happy with how it went. Like everything, it just needs more practice. However, as the route went so well, it gave me that little bit of extra confidence for my assessment.

As arranged, the mobility instructor from Guide Dogs arrived around 2pm. Firstly, we talked through everything for ages, mostly my routes and how often I do them. I was quite chuffed that I was able to fill a page and a half’s worth of notes just about my routes. That certainly wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago, and especially not without Jenny’s support. It isn’t lost on me that I wouldn’t be in this position, reapplying again for a Guide Dog, without the help Jenny has given me over the last 10 months. I will be forever grateful for everything she’s done and continues to do to support me in my goal of being eligible and getting a Guide Dog. After we’d talked some more, it was route time. We agreed to go to the local Co-op first, the destination I’ve used for two of my previous mobility assessments with Guide Dogs, but if she felt she needed to see more from me, we’d continue on up the road to the library. I felt the walk went reasonably well. I wasn’t walking in a straight line but then that’s nothing unusual. I didn’t cross in front of moving traffic and I didn’t veer out into the middle of the road. Those are always two positives, although luckily I’m usually pretty good in those areas. I did keep veering inwards, down the side road. I always hit the kerb fine, just sometimes beyond the tarmac and against the grass verge. When I spoke to the instructor about that, she didn’t seem to mind and suggested that it wouldn’t count against me, thankfully. I found the shop entrance despite the fact that the shop has recently had a makeover and I’m only just starting to get used to it, having only explored it a couple of times. I spun around and we headed back the way we’d come, getting to the junction where I turn left for home or right to continue up the road, heading for the library/gym/park/news agents/school. But the instructor said she had seen enough and we could head back. Obviously, you can take that two ways: 1. I’d done a really bad job and she didn’t need to see anything else to know my mobility skills are awful or 2. (The option I’m hoping for) I demonstrated safe independent navigation and she’s satisfied to put me forward on the basis of what she saw and the discussion we had about my route progress.

When we got back to the house, the discussion was rounded up nicely. The instructor explained that unfortunately I had the worst day of the week for my assessment as case reviews happened on wednesdays. Although I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t get an answer sooner, really I was just glad the assessment was over and had seemed to go well. The instructor was lovely and really a breath of fresh air for me, after being assessed by the same person for my last few Guide Dogs assessments. Not that there was anything wrong with that person, because there wasn’t, but after all the upheaval with Guide Dogs it was really nice to see someone new, have a fresh perspective on my case. This lady seemed very open and honest, too, which was nice and seemed to put me more at ease for the assessment. I still felt like a fool out walking demonstrating such a silly little route, but as long as the answer is a positive one I suppose that doesn’t matter.

Then, yesterday, Jenny and I met for another My Guide session, changing our day from our usual Thursday to Tuesday because Jenny is off on holiday and I’ve got a cookery for blind people course thing to attend. Again, although I really should have focused on the volunteering route, I just didn’t feel like it. The weather was nice yesterday and we hadn’t done the route in over a month so I thought it was a good opportunity to revisit the walk into Woolston route. It went really really well. I only hesitated a couple of times and asked Jenny for clarification but where I did, the guess I made was right anyway. Doing a nice long walk and having a chat along the way was certainly a good way to spend a Tuesday morning. When we got into Woolston, I felt pleased at how well the route had gone. We went into say hello to Dad in his shop and not long after we’d arrived, my grandparents and great-nan arrived. It was my Nan’s birthday and the only opportunity I had to see her so it was nice to be able to wish her happy birthday in person. We left for Piggy’s not long after. Jenny had her usual coffee and I chose a peanut butter milkshake and slice of sticky toffee fudge cake. Both were very nice. While I was still eating, all the grandparents came in.

The return walk home went very well too. I feel that, if I was brave and tried hard enough, I could probably walk that route myself into Woolston now. I haven’t been daring enough to try yet, but hopefully at some point I will. I’m definitely really pleased with how my two main routes that I’ve been learning with Jenny, the walk into Woolston and the school route, have gone. Both of them I’ve nearly mastered now and in light of my mobility assessment last week, that really is good. As Jenny is away on holiday, we’re not meeting next week. Instead, we’re meeting the following Tuesday as I’ll still be busy with cookery that Thursday. When we meet up again, it’ll be full concentration back on the volunteering route but it felt really good to revisit the other two routes after quite a while of doing either and do them so well from memory. Although it’s taken me over 6 months to master the Woolston route, I’m still pleased with my progress because it’s the first really long route I’ve attempted and I actually enjoy walking it. As I write this, it’s early on the morning of Wednesday 10 October and somewhere around lunchtime today, I’m expecting a call from Guide Dogs to tell me the outcome of my mobility assessment after their weekly case review. I’m feeling quite confident that I’ve passed but there’s always the niggle in the back of my mind that I haven’t. By the time this is published online, I’ll. have written about the outcome below. Fingers crossed for the next couple of hours that Ive got positive news to record.

The phone call came just before 3pm. The lady who did my assessment last week rang to say that the team have recommended me for the Guide Dog assessment, the next stage in the process towards getting on the waiting list and actually having a dog. She explained that a GDMI, actually a member of the team I haven’t met before, and herself will be coming out to do the assessment and they’ll do it as soon as the two of them are free. I’m hoping it won’t be particularly long until the assessment, but I’m not going to be too impatient. We spoke about how, when I had the conversations with the service delivery manager, I’d explained that for the Guide Dog assessment I’d really prefer to have an actual dog to walk with when we have to practice the commands and things to demonstrate we’d be capable of working a dog. I find the short handle takes really forced and fake and it makes my nerves a thousand times worse than they are anyway. It really was nice, then, that when I started to mention this hope to the mobility instructor that she already knew about it and they’d be planning to bring a dog out with them to do the assessment with. In fact, the GDMI that is coming to do my assessment seems to have been recommended because she currently has dogs in training that I could walk with on the day. So I’m not quite getting a Guide Dog yet, but I’m another step closer to the eventual aim and the goal I’ve been working towards for so long. If I can pass the Guide Dog assessment no problem then I can go straight on the waiting list. I’m really hoping for a really positive assessment so I don’t have to go through the added stress of the further assessment, which I really found particularly horrible last time. The further assessment is the main reason why things got so messy and I really want to avoid that this time. More than anything, I want the instructors to put me on the waiting list because they really feel I am suitable and capable enough for a Guide Dog. I don’t want it to be a battle or a fight. Ive worked so hard to get to this point and I really want to show that, given the opportunity, I’d be a good Guide Dog owner. I’m not saying I’d be perfect because I’m sure I’d be far from it, but I’d give it 100% effort 100% of the time. Ive worked so hard to achieve this dream to then get lazy once its reached. Everyone has off days, sure, but I’d try my absolute hardest to ensure they were few and far between.

So next step Guide Dog assessment. I really hope they do bring a dog in training for me to work with because I really believe that’d improve my confidence massively and also take away some of the insecurity and embarrassment you usually get when doing the short handle walk. Plus, meeting and walking with a trainee guide dog should put me a bit more at ease and get me in a better mood simply because its a living breathing dog and it responds to my commands and vocal changes. Its so different from having a person on the end of that harness and I really feel that could make all the difference for me on assessment day. It’ll help too I think that the lady who’s just done my mobility assessment will be there but that its a new GDMI that I’ve had no contact with before. I think that little bit of familiarity from the mobility instructor but a new pair of eyes and perspective from the GDMI could really have a positive impact. I’m intending to make that the case, anyway. I truly believed that this time it’ll be my turn. Ive worked so hard to prove I can be suitable for a dog and will continue to work on that even years into any future partnership I’m lucky enough to have. Looking forward to extending that proof in my Guide Dog assessment, even though I know I’ll be a bag of nerves leading up to the day. I need everyone to keep their fingers, toes, eyes and even ankles crossed that this time it can be a success because that’s what I’m dreaming of. Ive got this far in the process before, it’s just the next hurdle I’ve always stumbled at. This time, I’m going to fly over it. At least, that’s the plan. Maybe by next time I update with my next My Guide session once Jenny’s home from her holiday I’ll have an assessment date. Here’s hoping…

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.

“Thank you Jesus, for bringing Russell”

After what has felt like the longest four months, last Monday 27th May, Mum and I headed off to Southampton airport to wait for a plane to arrive from Newcastle, bringing Kieran down to stay. Since we last saw each other in January to celebrate his 22nd birthday and our 3rd anniversary of being together, things have been busy, so busy that I haven’t found time to arrange to visit him again. Obviously, as Kieran’s working hard being an IT apprentice and I’m still unemployed, it’s down to me more to make the effort to go up and stay with him so he doesn’t have to take time off work so often. And of course, I’m fine with that. More than anything, I’m able to take my uni work with me wherever I go so Lesley and John’s sofa is just a good study place as my desk in my room. But these last few months have been super hectic uni-wise as I’ve been working towards, and now completed, my final pieces of work not only for Level 3 but for my entire degree. I’m planning to write more about finishing uni when results come in, but safe to say it’s been an odd experience this last fortnight not having to sit down and dedicate every day to studying and working on assignments as I have the last almost 4 years. I can’t believe it’s all over and have found freedom strange so far. Thankfully, Kieran came to stay for a week and made it a lot more enjoyable. I mean, don’t get me wrong I’m enjoying spending my days cuddling my little guinea pigs and reading as many books as I can manage, which started with rereading the Harry Potter series of course, but having had something to keep me occupied almost solidly for the last 4 years means I’m a little at a loss for what to do with so much free time. So, having Kieran down was definitely a great way to use some of that time. By the time Kieran came through arrivals to us and we got home, it was already late enough to go up to bed so once he’d said hello to Dad and Tamsin, we headed up.

Surprisingly, on Tuesday we were up earlier than we usually are when we stay together and have nothing to do. Strangely, it wasn’t even because my parents had woken us up by putting Wave 105 radio on as soon as they got up for their usual getting ready for work and school routine. Once we were up, showered and dressed, we had our usual Weetabix and cups of tea breakfast. Then, when Dad and Tamsin came back, we all headed out to get some lunch. As Dad and Tamsin had already eaten, Dad took us to Gregg’s in Thornhill so we could get something to take with us up to Nan and Grandad’s; Dad had thought it’d be nice for us to pop up and see them as we had nothing planned and they’d like to see Kieran. In Gregg’s, I chose a sausage roll, bottle of doctor pepper and a caramel custard doughnut and Kieran picked a steak bake and a bottle of Diet Coke but didn’t want a cake or anything. Nan and grandad did seem pleased to see us, although the bungalow was already rather crowded as it was hairdressing day so auntie Clare was there doing everyone’s hair and auntie Jackie was round. As the kitchen was full, Kieran and I sat in the lounge and ate our yummy lunch, declining packets of crisps when Nan offered. A little later on, we left and once home watched episodes of The Chase I had recorded on my sky box. I also deleted all the unneeded episodes of Lorraine and judge Rinder that I’d recorded to use as background noise while I studied. We also stopped the series links for them and I was shocked my box had 90%+ free on its hard drive; I don’t think its been that free since I first got it!

When she got home from work later on, Mum cooked Kieran and I chicken garlic Kiev and homemade chips with spaghetti hoops for tea and we had mint choc chip ice cream for pudding. Upstairs, Kieran and I watched some comedy DVDs, Sean Lock’s Keep It Light, which Kieran hadn’t seen before, and Sarah Millican’s Control Enthusiast. At midnight, Kieran revealed to me that he and Josh had booked tickets for the three of us to see Russell Howard live in September at the BIC in Bournemouth and Kieran had paid for my ticket as a birthday present. Russell has been on my comedy hit list for a long time so I am very much looking forward to seeing him with the lads in September.

Wednesday meant it was my 22nd birthday, the main reason Kieran had visited, and so we were woken by the traditional ritual on anyone’s birthday, Dad going downstairs and turning on the CD player so that Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday blares loudly. We headed downstairs, where Mum had stuck up banners and sprinkled confetti on the breakfast bar, and while everyone ate their breakfasts I sat on the floor and opened the cards that had come through in the post, then Tamsin’s gifts and the big bag of gifts from my parents, which included the new 2019-20 Liverpool FC home shirt, a Pandora bead for my necklace to represent Peanut the guinea pig, The Body Shop and Lush bits, Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter T-shirts, a Harry Potter room of requirement sign for my bedroom and a pineapple-shaped soap dish for my lush shampoo bars. Afterwards, as we were all getting ready, Dad suggested that Kieran and I come with them when they took Mum to work so we could go for a mcdonalds breakfast. We agreed but I was disappointed Mum had to work and couldn’t come with us. In the car, I opened the birthday cards from Kieran’s family that he’d brought with him and found I’d been very spoilt again, with vouchers and money to spend. As we were driving my phone rang and it was my brother Grant and his girlfriend Lacey with my nieces and nephew calling to wish me a happy birthday. I’d already received a card written by my nephew with auntie on the front that morning that had made me a bit teary and hearing from them all too was really lovely. Once we’d dropped Mum at work, we headed into town and into West Quay for breakfast. Kieran had a cheesy bacon flatbread meal which came with a hash brown and drink, and he had black coffee I had a sausage McMuffin meal, which also came with a hash brown and drink, and I had a little bottle of milk. Later, once we were home, Kieran had a look at my laptop and Victor Reader Trek and sorted out my Audible so that I could listen to my books on my Trek. While he did that, a postman arrived, bringing lovely Moonpig flowers from Kieran. A little later and another postman delivered a big box of bath and shower luxuries from Imi.

In the evening when Mum got home from work, everyone started to get ready so we could go out for my birthday meal. Just before we left, I received a text from my good pal Josh saying he’d locked himself out of his flat and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to join us. But when we arrived, he was waiting outside the restaurant even though he hadn’t solved the problem. Nan, Grandad, Auntie Clare and Adam also joined us. I’d chosen Bella Italia in the town centre to go to as suggested by Nan the previous week. I remembered it had a lovely ravioli on the menu and was in a convenient place in town for everyone to get to without too much hassle. Kieran chose meatballs for his starter and a spicy meat pasta dish for his main. I had a slice of Adam’s garlic pizza bread and a couple of Mum’s dough balls as I hadn’t wanted a whole starter to myself and a meat pasta dish for my main. Sadly, we’d discovered that they no longer served either of the two ravioli dishes they used to have on the menu and hadn’t put any new ravioli dishes on. As I’d been looking forward to having ravioli and partially chosen the restaurant for the ravioli, I was a bit disappointed. I enjoyed my main, although it was far too big a portion and I left quite a lot of it. After we’d all finished eating, the table erupted into Happy Birthday singing and a white chocolate birthday cake chosen by Dad and Tamsin was brought out. Everyone except Dad, who thought the cake would have too much sugar in it for his blood levels, had a slice of the cake and it was delicious. Unfortunately, Josh had to leave just as the cake was being cut so he could catch a train to take him to Wareham to meet his dad so he had somewhere to spend the night; but Mum wrapped him a slice of the cake up in a napkin to take with him. He’d bought me some lovely birthday gifts — a sign with pictures of guinea pigs on and Peanut, Smudge and Hazel printed on it to hang on their cage; a lovely charm key ring with charms from the Harry Potter films on it; and a Pandora bead of a cat to represent Coco on my necklace. As he’d had such a disastrous night himself, I was very grateful to him for still making the effort to join us for the meal. I’d also been given a Body Shop voucher and box of Milk Tray from Auntie Clare, Uncle Dave and Adam and a Dove wash set from Nan and Grandad who’s card I’d opened earlier containing £20. All in all, it’d been a pretty great birthday and it reminded me, as all my birthdays do, how lucky I am to have such amazing family and friends around me. Not only the cards and gifts but the kindness, effort and love that went into the whole day makes me so grateful to have the friends and family I do.

On Thursday, everyone was out at work so Kieran and I were able to have a little bit of a lie in before getting up and having our Weetabix and cups of tea breakfast. While I sorted the guinea pigs cage out, Kieran sat in the computer chair in their little room and kept me company. I even managed to catch all three girls one at a time and bring them out of their cage for Kieran to stroke. Upstairs, we watched the remaining episodes of The Chase on my sky box. Halfway through, we ate the sandwiches Mum had made for our lunch. When she got home from work, Mum cooked us chicken pie, mash potato and baby carrots with gravy for our tea. Later on, we watched Gogglebox recorded from the week before and some Two Doors Down and Family Guy that was on TV.

Friday morning was similar to Thursday, with us getting up and having our Weetabix breakfast and me sorting the guinea pigs cage. Then, we got ready and headed up the road to the bus-stop, so we could catch the bus to meet Josh in town. When we arrived at West Quay, I realised we’d caught the bus far too early so Kieran text Josh to let him know we were already in town, just in case he was early too as he’s known for getting to places sooner than scheduled. As expected, Josh turned up two minutes later… we went up to Pizza Hut in West Quay because both the boys had food vouchers that had been bought for them as gifts to use up. Josh chose to go for the buffet but Kieran and I decided to use one of the offers currently on that allowed us to get a sharing pizza, two sides, two desserts and two drinks for a set price. For our pizza, Kieran and I did half and half with stuffed crust,with half tuna and sweet corn and half Texas Meat Meltdown. For our sides we chose cheesy garlic bread and fries. I surprised myself by being able to eat my whole half of the pizza. Usually when I eat at Pizza Hut I only manage a couple of slices before admitting defeat. While Josh had his second helpings from the buffet, Kieran and I ordered our desserts, me having my usual white chocolate and caramel cookie dough and Kieran trying the new cinnamon bites.

Feeling rather full, we decided to catch the bus back to mine and spent the rest of the afternoon and majority of the evening listening to music, catching up and having a lovely time. Josh didn’t leave until nearly 9:30, long after Dad had headed down the club and we’d started our child minding duties of Tamsin, who was just getting ready to go to bed as Josh left. Once he’d gone, Kieran and I watched Gogglebox and The Last Leg.

On Saturday morning, we got up and had breakfast and then, while Kieran set my Apple TV up in the living room ready for the football later on and watched some telly, I did a full clean out of the guinea pigs cage, which I have to do once weekly. As I cleaned, Mum came home with Tamsin, bringing KFC for our lunch with them. It had been Kieran’s suggestion after Mum had hinted at bringing Gregg’s back for lunch as he wanted to try the new “I love you bacon burger” meal and if we had KFC it meant everyone had eaten a decent or at least filling lunch. Our KFC branch had Kieran’s desired meal and I had a BBQ wrap with a popcorn snack box and iced tea. As I finished doing the cage clean, Kieran watched more telly, with Friends, The Simpsons and horse racing featuring. Mum found it rather comical listening to him shouting at the horses race but having heard it myself many times before I hardly even noticed.

At 6 o’clock, we put the Apple TV on and went onto YouTube and the BT Sport live stream so that we could watch the build-up to the Champions League final from the start. As the final was between Tottenham and Liverpool and would mean the 6th Champions League final Liverpool had won if they won, I wanted very much to watch. Not being able to remember the infamous night of Istanbul 2005 well myself, or any other big finals since then, I was hoping this final could be a personal success in my history as a Liverpool fan. Just before the football arrived, Kieran and I ordered takeaway for our tea for ourselves. Mum had already cooked Dad tea before she’d gone to work and although we tried to persuade her she insisted she didn’t want us to buy her anything to have later on when she got in, saying she might grab herself a kebab or something on her way home. Unfortunately, as it was probably a busy Saturday night for the company, our food arrived a little after the football had started, by which time Liverpool had scored their first goal. Kieran had a mixed kebab and chips, I had donner meat and chips, we shared mozzarella sticks and had a can of doctor pepper each. I was pleased that for once we hadn’t gone overboard with the food like we often do. We both enjoyed the food very much and it made for a nice atmosphere while we watched the football. In the end, Liverpool won 2-0 and lifted the champions league trophy for the 6th time. Sadly, the game was quite flat and not the magic that many Liverpool fans brag about from Istanbul. However, it was still a good game and a great night for my club, and a great night for me to be able to watch the match and have a winning final in my memory. Listening to the players, fans and manager talk afterwards just reminded me that however underwhelming the game had been onscreen, the achievement for the club was still great, even more so with the incredible season we’ve had and the unfortunate disappointment of losing the Premier League right at the last hurdle. As Dad and Kieran wanted to watch the boxing, which had started at 10pm before the football had finished, they switched the channel over and I headed upstairs so I could continue listening to the reactions to the game on the radio. In the end, Kieran stayed up watching the boxing with Dad and then both parents when Mum arrived home until 2am, by which time I’d long since fallen asleep.

As everyone stayed up late for the boxing, nobody rose early on Sunday morning and I think everyone felt a little groggy. It turned out that Dad stayed up the latest, watching the whole boxing show until it finished at 4am. Once everyone was ready, we piled into the car and headed to The Dancing Goose in Netley to meet Nan, Grandad, Nan Olive, Auntie Clare and Adam for Sunday lunch. As Nan and Grandad were flying out to canada the following day to visit our relatives over there, meaning grandad will be away for his 80th birthday and Father’s Day, the family wanted to get all together to see each other one more time before they flew out. Everyone except Kieran, who wasn’t feeling too well, had carvery; Kieran had sausage, mash and peas. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals, although I was a little disappointed that they’d changed their roast potatoes since we’d last been because they used to be really lovely. They’re still nice enough but they used to have a really tasty coating on them. No one fancied a pudding so we just paid the bill and headed out, saying longer than usual goodbyes in the car park before all going our separate ways. Once we’d arrived home, I had to sort the guinea pigs’ veg and clean up their cage like I do every day. Meanwhile, Kieran put the Apple TV back in place up in my room. While watching Judge Judy, we ate a slice of my white chocolate birthday cake each. After Judge Judy, we watched back to back episodes of Come Dine With Me, Have I Got News For You and Ultimate Worrier.

Somehow, when we woke up the following day Kieran had already been staying for a week and inevitably that meant his flight home had come. Somehow, our time together always seems to fly by too fast, regardless of how little or long the stay is. We had a little lie in on Monday but were soon up, showered and dressed, sitting downstairs debating whether to have our Weetabix breakfast and order the Dominoes treat lunch we’d agreed on a little later on or straight away. Kieran decided he didn’t fancy Weetabix so we got some biscuits out and once we’d had a couple and started drinking our tea, we decided to order the food straight away. In the end, we didn’t stick to our previous agreement of just having bits and pieces because I fancied a pizza; so we got a half and half medium pizza, one half ham and pineapple and one half meat fielder. As usual, Kieran added extra tomato sauce and extra mozzarella cheese and I opted for stuffed crust. To that we added 7 chicken strippers, potato wedges and cookies. As our Dominoes is literally around the road, the food was delivered really quickly. While we ate, Kieran put Russell Howard’s Netflix special Recalibrate on for us to listen to. We’d meant to watch it the previous night but not gotten around to it. The food was lovely and Russell as always was hilarious. It was a nice way to spend our last lunchtime of this meet-up together.

Unfortunately, not long after we’d finished eating, the headache that had been minor earlier in the morning became really painful to the point where I took Ibuprofen really hoping that the pain would have dulled long before Kieran left so we could enjoy the last few hours we had together before his flight. Although we did of course enjoy our time together, listening to Magic Chilled and Kisstory on my Amazon Echo, I wasn’t so lucky with the headache. It didn’t start to lessen until we were getting ready to leave the house to go to the airport, by which time Tamsin had walked home from school to us and Auntie Clare had come to take us as Mum wasn’t able to take the time off work. Despite it being rush hour traffic time, we got to the airport no problem and Kieran was quickly checked in and directed to sit in the waiting area until someone from assistance could help. They came all too quickly, of course, and it was time for goodbyes. Although Kieran is already scheduled to come down in September for the two comedy gigs we now have lined up and I’m hoping to take a trip up north sometime in between now and then, it didn’t make the goodbye moment any easier. Nothing ever does. But the long distance aspect of this relationship was part of the deal when we decided to try in January 2016; you’d think by now we’d have it mastered and be pros at it. But it doesn’t matter how many times we say goodbye, it doesn’t make a difference. I still live in southampton and Kieran still lives nearly 300 miles away in Newcastle. However, the distance is never too difficult and always worth the sadness it comes with. We had a really lovely time this last week and I’m really looking forward to September and the comedy shows, and any other meet-ups we manage in between or after.

Thank you, Kieran, for taking the time off work and flying down to stay. Thank you for making sure you were here to celebrate my birthday with me; it wouldn’t have been the same without you. Thank you for the Russell ticket, the flowers, for fixing my tech stuff without complaint, for the food, the fun and the happiness. Ive loved having you down to stay, as always, and only wish it could have been for longer or not gone so quickly. I love you so very much and am already looking forward to whenever we manage to see each other again. Love you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 36

Last Thursday, Jenny met me at my house for our second My Guide session of the year. If you’re someone who’s kept up with my ramblings, you may have noticed that there hasn’t been a post documenting my My Guide antics for quite sometime and also that the title of this post is out of sync with the last My Guide post, way back in November of last year. This isn’t because I haven’t had a My Guide session but because I’ve been too busy — and sometimes too lazy — to write a My Guide update for quite sometime. Not because there hasn’t been anything to write about either, may I add. But now February has arrived and I’ve told myself to be more positive and proactive with life than I was last month, I thought I should write a post to update about what has been happening in my undocumented My Guide sessions. Ive named this post My Guide session 36 but honestly I can’t actually remember what number we’re at now, other than we’ve now had two sessions in 2019 and there was at least one before Christmas. So I’ve chosen 36 as the post before was 32 and added a spare session in for good measure just in case I’m forgetting at least one.

Before Christmas, I think in my last post I mentioned that I was getting frustrated with the route to my new volunteering office where I’d hoped to start volunteering ages ago but had been delayed due to the fact that the route wasn’t sinking in so I couldn’t get myself there independently as I wanted to. By Christmas, Jenny and I agreed that it was more important for me to actually start the voluntary role than to be able to get myself there independently. So, I asked my Dad if he’d be willing, on his days off, to drop me off and pick me up again a few hours later. I was keen to start as soon as possible now as I’d spent quite a long time putting starting off while I learnt the route. Dad was more than happy to be my taxi and consequently, I had my first experience of volunteering last Wednesday when I went to the office for two hours. As it went really well, I’m due to go back for another session tomorrow. Although it irritates me that I’m not getting myself there independently as I’d planned to by learning the route there with Jenny’s help, I really feel that gaining the skills and experience the opportunity offers me is way more important than adding another route to my list. Of course, it would’ve been ideal if I was travelling there myself and in time Jenny and I hope to continue working on the route so that eventually I am able to get myself there but the fact that I’m now actually volunteering has given me much more satisfaction than having another route under my belt. I kept the organisation waiting far too long as it was and am very grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me as well as their patience and adaptability. I’m really hoping that all future times I spend there will be as positive as last week was and again I have Jenny to thank for recommending me for the role and helping me organise and attend the initial chat to get things sorted.

Since we’ve abandoned the volunteering route for now, Jenny and I needed to work out what was next. In our last session before Christmas, we decided to just enjoy a walk down into Woolston. I was still practising a route, of course, so it wasn’t a waste of a session. The Woolston route is 99% under my belt now, and I only hesitated in two places when I practised it in December. After that, Jenny and I had quite a long break before seeing each other again due to the Christmas break, other arrangements and the fact that I stayed up with Kieran and family for 10 days in January. We met back up on the 24th of January, when we again walked into Woolston so that we could sit and devise a plan of what to do with our future sessions now we’d temporarily given up on the volunteering route. The walk into Woolston went well yet again and I only hesitated slightly in a couple of places. We went into Piggy’s Coffee Shop for drinks, Jenny’s her usual of an Americano with hot milk on the side and mine a salted caramel milkshake. Jenny was going to have a toasted tea cake but Piggy’s didnt have any. I had a cheese and ham croissant and it was lovely. While we warmed up and enjoyed our refreshments, we brainstormed ideas of what to do next, with me reminding Jenny of the other routes I’d been hoping to learn next and Jenny advising me to choose which I felt were the most important. In the end, we decided on refreshing my memory on the route to my doctors surgery and pharmacy, which I thought might have changed a little since I last did it as there had been building work there, and learning how to get to my grandparents house. As I described in previous My Guide posts, originally we tried to learn a walking route to my grandparents in the summer last year. But between us we’d agreed that the route was too long and too dangerous to pursue. Since, we’ve been focused on the volunteering route so haven’t been able to revisit other ways of getting to my grandparents. But there is other ways. I can get a bus, or walk, from my house into Woolston and then get a bus that takes me to a bus-stop near Nan and Grandad’s, from which there’s a short walk to get to their front gate. So, Jenny and I have agreed to tackle both new routes, as well as revisiting the Woolston and school walks I’ve already learnt. As both the grandparents and doctors routes lead off the Main Street in Woolston, I am able to practice the Woolston route each time we do those. At some point, I’ll just randomly do the school route just so that Jenny can ensure I’ve got it sussed.

So, after deciding on a plan, last Thursday we put it into action. As it was incredibly cold, with snow forecast, we caught the bus into Woolston and walked from there up to my doctors surgery. It’s a relatively short and uncomplicated walk from the main Woolston high street and didn’t take us long to complete. The only tricky patch is a particularly cluttered patch of pavement where I have to concentrate hard in order to navigate all the obstacles, including parked cars. When we got back to the Main Street, we decided to go for refreshments, but in a new place we hadn’t been to together before called Woolston Cafe. It’s very nice and cosy in there, which was a relief as it really was freezing outside; we’d even had a snow shower! Jenny decided to have a hot chocolate and I went for an Oreo milkshake. Jenny said the hot chocolate was nice and although my milkshake was too, I found it pricy for the size. Before heading home on the bus, we popped into see Dad quickly.

As the doctors route was so successful, this week we’re going to walk into Woolston and continue on to the doctors surgery. Jenny is also going to remind me where the entrance to the pharmacy is. Also, there’s the option of walking on the other side of the road, and using a controlled crossing to safely cross each time, to avoid having to navigate the cluttered patch of pavement so we’re going to trial this. I’m looking forward to seeing if it makes a big difference to the route. Either way, I don’t think it’ll be long until I have this route mastered. We’ve already decided that next week we’ll try the new route to my grandparents house. I’m really hoping it’s not too complicated so that I can start using it regularly.

So, as it did all last year, My Guide is going very well and I’m still very grateful to be working with Jenny. I couldn’t have hoped for a better match when I signed up to My Guide just over a year ago and am pleased Jenny and I are able to continue working together. I hope it continues for a very long time, until I’ve exhausted all potential route ideas. I hope we’re able to remain in touch afterwards, too, because I consider Jenny a friend even though our relationship is supposed to be purely a working one. I don’t think you can work with someone as long as Jenny and I now have and not become friends, unless of course you don’t get along. I can’t thank Jenny enough for all the help she’s given me over the last year and hope she continues to feel that our sessions are worthwhile so long may they continue.

“There’s hell on… Can’t tell you though”

On Monday 7 January, Mum finished work early and came home to pick me up and take me to the airport. It was time for another flight up north to spend some time in Blyth with Kieran and family. To begin with, although she’d left work in plenty of time, Mum was worried we weren’t going to make it on time as traffic was very heavy. But in the end, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was quickly checked in and across at the special assistance desk where a lady was soon with us and taking me through security. I had to be boarded onto the plane via the mini bus with the rest of the passengers for my flight as the plane was quite far away from the terminal. It was pretty awkward because I was already sat on the bus ages before any other passengers came on and when we were ready to board the plane, a member of staff had to move other passengers out of the way to get to me and board me first. As it had taken them quite some time to board everyone onto the plane from the bus, we were late taking off so consequently late landing in newcastle. John and Kieran were waiting in arrivals for me and had BBC radio 5live on in the car with the Wolverhampton vs Liverpool FA cup match commentary playing. Liverpool were already losing at this point and when we got to the house, the match was showing on TV. I always enjoy watching Liverpool on TV whenever I get the chance as we don’t pay for the sports channels at home so them showing on BBC 1 was a rare treat. It was a shame that we lost 2-1 though. While we watched, we ate dinner of jacket potato with chicken Kiev. After the match finished, we watched the cup draw before going up to bed.

The next day brought the main reason for my visit to see Kieran, his 22nd birthday, which he’d taken the day off for. We had a long lie in and after we’d got up and showered, I gave him his birthday presents from me and my parents. Then, he made us fish finger sandwiches and chips for lunch. During the rest of the afternoon, we watched very old episodes of Come Dine With Me on TV before Kieran’s grandparents arrived to wish him a happy birthday. John arrived home while they were still there and after they’d left he put Jeremy Kyle on. When Lesley arrived home, we all got ready and headed out to celebrate Kieran’s birthday joined by Rebecca and Darren at Porkies, a new steakhouse Kieran had wanted to try. I had a honey butter chicken burger with chips and Kieran had ribs and brisket with chips; everyone seemed to enjoy their food. When we got in, we watched the latest episode of Two Doors Down, a Scottish comedy program on BBC 2 that I’d watched some of the previous series of with them when I’d stayed before.

The following day brought one of the other reasons for my visit, mine and Kieran’s 3rd anniversary of being together. Where the last 3 years have gone, I don’t know, but they’ve been a great 3 years containing so much happiness for us both and I’m looking forward to all the other years we’re going to spend together. Kieran worked from home that day so we had a bit of a lie in. I did some uni work during the morning and at lunchtime, Lesley, who was also working from home, made us cheese on toast for lunch. In the evening, Rebecca popped round with her now huge German shepherd puppy Wilson. After she’d gone, Lesley offered to take Kieran and I out for something to eat so we could celebrate our anniversary, but eventually we decided not to bother. Instead, Lesley cooked us fish cakes and chips for tea and we watched episodes of The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory and Two Doors Down. When Kieran and I went up to bed, we watched some Friday Night Dinner before going to sleep.

Thursday was the first day I spent by myself in the house while everyone went out to work. I watched Hells Kitchen and did uni work in the morning. I had a Cornbeef sandwich for lunch and then watched East Enders and read a book on RNIB Overdrive. That evening, we watched more Two Doors Down and had gammon steak, new potatoes and peas for dinner.

On Friday, Kieran had his apprenticeship tutorial so didnt have to leave home as early as usual so we had a short lie in. It was also Lesley’s day off. I did uni work in the front room for a while until Kieran’s grandparents arrived and not long after they’d come in, Lesley arrived with Wilson. Later, Lesley made me a ham sandwich for lunch. That night, Lesley, John and Kieran had a hot curry John had made for tea so Lesley cooked me some chicken dippers and chips. We watched Two Doors Down and 8 out of 10 Cats Does Count Down.

On Saturday morning, we were up earlier than usual for a weekend morning because John and Kieran had to go for haircuts. When they got back, Lesley cooked us a fried breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, beans and toast for me and the same minus the egg and with fried bread instead of toast for Kieran. During the afternoon, we listened to the West Ham vs Arsenal match via Kieran’s echo dot connected to his big speakers in the dining room and then went upstairs and listened to the Brighton vs Liverpool match via his Google home mini connected to his other big speakers in his bedroom; the game ended with a 1-0 Liverpool win. We went back downstairs afterwards and watched Chelsea vs Newcastle with John, which ended 2-1. Then, we watched some of Wayne’s World and then watched more Two Doors Down.

On Sunday, we had a lie in before going downstairs and watching Judge Judy and some of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askiban. Rebecca, Darren and Wilson came round for a roast dinner of pork and chicken with ginger sponge and custard for pudding. We watched a Pointless Celebrity special before going upstairs so Kieran could do stuff on his laptop. When he’d finished, we watched some episodes of Mock The Week on Netflix.

Monday meant everyone was back to work and I did uni work. I also caught up on East Enders and some Holby City. I had a roast pork sandwich for lunch. In the evening, we had pork stroganoff for dinner and watched more Two Doors Down and a documentary called Prison on Channel 4, which was very interesting.

Tuesday was another study day for me, with a roast chicken sandwich for lunch. When they came home from work, Lesley took Kieran and I out and dropped us off at Sambuca’s, my favourite place to go for food in Blyth, so that we could belatedly celebrate our 3rd anniversary. It was our first date night of the year and the first for almost a year so it felt very nice to be out just the two of us and I feel very grateful to Lesley for both offering to take us out on our actual anniversary and then taking us out the following week. We had a lovely date night. I had my favourite tuna and garlic pizza and Kieran had a meat feast pizza with extra chili and a portion of chips. I had coke and Kieran a beer to drink and after we’d finished our main course, I had a warm fudge brownie with cream, ice cream and a flake for pudding and Kieran an Irish coffee. It was certainly a great way to celebrate our anniversary and we both felt very full when Lesley came to collect us. When we got in, we watched Hunted and some of the Newcastle vs Blackburn FA cup match, which Newcastle won.

On Wednesday, Kieran worked from home so he could spend some time with me. Originally, he’d planned to work from home the following day before I caught my plane home that night but as some colleagues would be out of the office on Thursday he wasn’t able to work from home as well. I spent the day reading a book on Overdrive. At lunchtime, Kieran made us sandwiches and got us packets of crisps, his pork and stuffing sandwiches with cheese and onion crisps and mine ham sandwiches with salt and vinegar crisps. When Kieran finished working for the day, we went upstairs for a cuddle and listened to music on Spotify. Later, we had sausages, mash, veg and gravy for dinner and watched Two Doors Down again.

Of course, Thursday meant my last day and while everyone was at work, I packed up all my stuff. I spent the day reading a book and doing more uni work as well as catching up on TV. When Kieran came in, we went upstairs and I made sure I’d packed everything and we had a cuddle. Then, we had dinner of fish cakes and chips with a glass of milk. We had time for another little cuddle before Lesley called and asked if we were ready to go. In the car on the way to the airport, John played some Madness songs from his iPod, which meant for once I actually recognised the music he’d chosen. However, we were soon at the airport, I was checked in and Lesley had phoned at the assistance desk as instructed to request someone come and help me. It didn’t take long for them to arrive to collect me and we were all saying goodbye again. Unlike the last few times we’ve seen each other and inevitably had to say goodbye at the end of the visit, this time I don’t know when Kieran and I’ll be seeing each other again. We don’t have another planned visit and I’m not sure when we’ll fit one in as over the next few months my uni schedule gets very hectic as my Level 3 courses reach their end and the end of my degree. Also, Kieran has now discovered that the council where he works are keeping him on as a Level 3 apprentice for the next 2 years. This is excellent news for Kieran and I’m so happy his effort and perseverance with his apprenticeship have paid off. Hopefully, it’ll lead to the career Kieran has been working towards for a very long time. At least, this is a very positive start. But I’m sure we’ll fit something in sometime soon.

As always, I had a great time staying with Kieran and family for those 10 days. Biggest thank you to John and Lesley for having me to stay and putting up with me. Special thanks to Lesley for taking Kieran and I out to celebrate our anniversary. I appreciate it more than you know. And of course thanks to Kieran, for inviting me up to stay so I could celebrate your birthday and our anniversary with you, so we could go out on a date night, so we could spend so much time together. Thank you for the most amazing last 3 years. Congratulations on being offered the next step forward in your apprenticeship and I’m so glad I get to share your journey with you. Thank you for the best times we’ve shared over the last 3 years of being together and before when you were just my best friend. You’re still the bestest friend a girl could ever have hoped for and not a day goes by when I’m not grateful to have you. I love you so much and look forward to all the times we’ll share in the future. See you soon, best person!

New Year’s Eve 2018

Somehow, the final day of this year has arrived. It is the 31st of December 2018 and tonight, at midnight, it’ll become 2019. Where this year, like all the other years before it, has gone, I don’t know… What I do know is that I’ve had a pretty great 2018, overall, and I wanted to sum it up by writing about it in this post, where I hope to speak about all the important things that have happened for me this year.

Firstly, in January, just after he’d celebrated his 21st birthday, which sadly I wasn’t able to spend with him, Kieran and I passed our 2-year-anniversary of being together. To make up for the missed chance of celebrating such a milestone, the following month I flew up to Newcastle for the first time this year and together Kieran and I went on our first couples holiday, driven there by his Mum. We had a fantastic time on our little holiday, much better than I’d anticipated. Of course, I’d been looking forward to the time away with Kieran but I’d been nervous about the hotel. Everything was great, though, especially the meals served in the evenings included in our package price.

A week before Kieran and I went on holiday, one of the biggest and most important things to happen this year occurred. As planned, on February 2nd, just before lunchtime, I became an auntie for the very first time when my brother’s first child, a beautiful daughter, entered the world. I’d been so excited about becoming an auntie since the first time my brother had announced that his girlfriend was pregnant but the emotions I felt on that day when I received the message to say she’d arrived were like nothing I’d ever felt before. Unfortunately, due to everyone’s circumstances, it took a further 8 weeks for me to meet my beautiful niece, when I boarded a train that took me to Stoke-On-Trent to stay with my brother and his little family and at last meet the baby. My parents, sister and grandparents had travelled up to visit the little family and meet the baby just after she’d been born but I’d already been in Newcastle at this point so unable to accompany them. So to finally meet her at the end of March was amazing. I’d been dreaming of the moment for ages but to finally cradle her in my arms was like nothing else in the world. Sadly, due to circumstances beyond everyone’s control, I’ve been unable to see my niece since that first time. She’s soon to be 11 months old, is crawling and talking. By the time I’m able to see her again, and even now, she’s a whole little person of her own, no longer a tiny baby who lies in my arms quite happily dozing for hours on end. I miss her terribly but unfortunately there’s nothing anyone is able to do to change things right now. My hope is that 2019 will bring lots of opportunities for me to see my niece, to bond with her properly and for her to know who I am. Regardless of what happens, I’ll continue to love her unconditionally and be grateful for those few days I spent with her when she was 2 months old.

In May, I celebrated my 21st birthday. Kieran flew down to stay at mine for a week so was able to celebrate it with me. We spent the day relaxing and in the evening went out for a meal with my whole family. The following day, the celebrations continued when we traveled to London to visit the well-known Madame Tussaud’s. sadly, I didn’t enjoy it as much as my parents had expected. But it was still a nice trip out and now i can say I’ve been there.

In June, my academic year with The Open University finished with my first end-of-year exam, the first I’ve ever sat. It took place at St. Mary’s stadium and due to my disability I was given my own room, exam officer and extra time. It wasn’t half as bad as I feared and once it was over, the joy of having months of summer freedom ahead felt great. I’d finished Level 2 study towards my degree and as long as I’d passed, in October I’d be moving onto Level 3, the final level and fingers crossed final year of my degree. I’d decided that, as studying two Level 2 modules simultaneously had gone pretty well, I’d give studying two Level 3 modules simultaneously a go too.

In July, my results were in. I’d passed both Level 2 modules with flying colours and had my ticket to move forward to Level 3 study the following academic year. So I chose my new modules, both 60 credit Level 3 modules, one with a health and social care theme and the other with a children and families theme, both subjects I’d be interested in working in for a career.

Talking of working, despite my continued participation with an employment adviser from the local council, I haven’t moved anywhere near to being employed. Thanks to a suggestion from Jenny, my My Guide volunteer from Guide Dogs, I’m hoping to start some volunteering in the new year with a local charity. Thanks to the local county council and my employment adviser, I was even funded the equipment I needed to complete the tasks in the job properly. I’d intended to start volunteering with them before Christmas but have been working on the route to the offices with Jenny. For some reason, the route hasn’t sunken in and I haven’t become competent enough with it to travel to the offices independently and start volunteering. As the route is taking so long to learn, I’ve decided that, in the new year, I’ll have a conversation with the ladies at the volunteering job and ask Dad to ferry me to and from the offices so that I can start volunteering. Although I wanted to get there independently, I think actually doing the volunteering is more important than putting it off until I’ve learnt the route. I don’t know how much longer that’s going to take and I don’t want to mess the charity around by keeping them waiting for me to be ready. Hopefully, 2019 will mean I’ll be volunteering regularly and fingers crossed be employed this time next year. My degree is due to end at the beginning of June and I don’t intend to be sat around unemployed for long. I’ll do whatever it takes to be working by the end of next summer.

Just after my university exams were over and I was a free agent for the summer, an extra special 21st birthday gift from my parents was fulfilled. On Wednesday the 27th of June, after getting dressed up in all the appropriate clothing and accessories and having a meal before we hit the road, it was time to go to a place I’ve been hoping I could one day visit. Mum programmed the post code into the sat nav and Dad drove us to the Warner Bros.. studios London, the home and creation place for the Harry Potter films I so love. I was wearing Harry Potter leggings, a Harry Potter t shirt, a Harry Potter sweatshirt, Harry Potter socks, Harry Potter Converse-style shoes and carrying my Harry Potter rucksack. Around my neck I wore my time turner necklace, themed from the third film, and the deathly hallows necklace themed from the last book. I had Harry Potter bracelets on and was so excited it was unbelievable. We had the most amazing day. When we arrived, Mum and Dad started taking photographs as soon as we got out of the car. As soon as we showed our passes, we were allowed in early and met by a member of staff acting as audio description for me. This basically meant that I held her arm and she showed me everything she was able to show me throughout the studios. Mum, Dad and Tamsin almost had to follow in our wake. She was great, though, ensuring they didn’t feel left out but making it quite clear her sole purpose was to make sure I had the best possible time and got absolutely everything there was to experience out of the visit. She got props out from display cabinets for me to feel and described everything in as much detail as possible. In the gift shops, I told her what sort of merchandise I was interested in and she let me feel everything that fit my categories. She remembered who my favourite character was, Severus Snape of course, and anything to do with him throughout the tour she made sure to show or describe. In the cafe, she left us for a bit for her quick bathroom and food break and I was able to try something I’d wanted to taste as soon as I knew it’d been created at the studios; butter beer. It’s the Hogwarts students favourite tipple and the way J K Rowling had described it in the book had always made me wish it was real. When I tasted it for real I was so glad it existed. If I had to describe its taste making comparisons to things I’ve eaten/drank in the past, I’d say butter beer is a combination of cream soda fizzy drink and butterscotch sauce. For anyone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth, butter beer really wouldn’t be their thing. But as I love everything sweet, it was right up my street. Visiting all aspects of the set was amazing and I hope in the future to go back again. Having the audio describing tour guide certainly made the visit extra magical and when Mum left her feedback online I made sure she mentioned how amazing our guide had been and how much of an improvement she’d made to our visit, especially for me.

June this year also brought an event that I’d been looking forward to since it’d been booked almost a year previously. Josh, Kieran, Imi and I met up in a hotel opposite Newcastle airport on Friday 8 June in preparation for the Ed Sheeran concert we were attending the following night at St James Park. We’d all been looking forward to it for a very long time and the following evening, Ed didn’t disappoint. He is easily the best performer I’ve ever seen and it’ll take a lot for anyone to overtake him. His support acts, Jamie Lawson and Anne-Marie, were both great too. The concert was pretty incredible. But what happened next when we got back to the hotel was even more amazing. As we were leaving the stadium, Kieran asked if, when we got back, he could have a word with me in his room. Obviously I agreed. So once we were back, Kieran and I went into his room. What he did next shocked me so much I nearly couldn’t answer. Kieran proposed. He said that although he knew we didnt have anything planned yet and it’d be a long time before any wedding took place but you just know when the moment is right to ask this kind of thing and if he didnt ask now then the perfect moment would pass. Obviously, I said yes. I didnt even need to think about my answer. I know we have nothing planned and still live almost 300 miles apart but that doesn’t matter. I love Kieran, he loves me and he wants us to get married one day. There was no other answer than “of course”. Afterwards, he rang both sets of parents to share our news. He’d said that although he didnt have a ring right now he’d get me one. He just didn’t want to miss the moment. I didn’t care about rings or plans or distance right there and then. All that mattered was that Kieran had asked me, Kieran wanted us to get married. I wanted that too. I wanted a promise that meant forever and he’d just proposed it. So there it was; Kieran and I were engaged, 2 years 5 months after we’d first got together. And although our parents seemed happy enough for us, their feelings didn’t come anywhere close to the elation Josh and Imi showed when we told them moments later in the next-door hotel room. Their happiness was certainly catching and somehow, what had just happened had outshined Ed Sheeran. A night that was already one of the most amazing I’d ever had had become the best night of my life.

It took us until November to get rings, the first real opportunity we’d had since Kieran’s proposal. He chose a white gold one and I a yellow gold one. They were picked because they were the ones that felt best on our fingers and the ones we were both happiest with. Having the rings felt as magical as the proposal and just further reiterated the promise Kieran and I had committed to each other. The rest of our lives…

As well as seeing Kieran for our holiday in February, at the Ed Sheeran concert in June and for my birthday, I also traveled to Newcastle to spend a couple of weeks there in august. Also, in November, Kieran came down to mine for a week and I accompanied him back up to Newcastle for a fortnight afterwards, bringing us to December. We’ve been lucky this year to have seen so much of each other, especially considering Kieran is still working full-time at his apprenticeship and I’m still studying full-time from home. The beauty of distance learning is that I can study anywhere, including at Kieran’s parents’ house.

Continuing our theme of seeing as many comedians live as we possibly can from the past few years, this year I’ve seen Shappi Khorsandi, John Bishop, Kevin Bridges and Dara O’Brien. Out of the 4 of them, I’d have to say John Bishop was my favourite. Not only was his show hilarious and one I’m now thrilled to own on DVD thanks to Christmas, but what he did at the end of his show will stick with me for a long time. At the end, as he announced that a special video of his family was going to be shown on screen, he said there was something he needed to go and do. I guessed that maybe it was bringing his children out on stage after the video finished so was shocked out of my skin when a hand landed on my arm and he asked how much I could see. When I replied with nothing, he started to describe the pictures showing on screen. John Bishop knelt beside me for the entirety of the short video and described every single detail of all the photos. I couldn’t believe what was happening and neither could Josh. We’ve talked and talked about it since and the following day after I tweeted about it, John himself replied saying it was his pleasure. Out of respect for the person he is and to remember the show by, I bought a fridge magnet and tour t shirt from his website and every time I wear the shirt I’m reminded what a truly awesome person John Bishop is. I mean, I knew he was before that show after all the charity work he’s done but that little gesture really meant a great deal to me. And I’m not saying the other comedians weren’t as great, because they’ve all been good in their own ways, but John Bishop just had that little bit of extra sparkle.

One thing I haven’t mentioned much yet is Guide Dogs. That’s because I wanted to leave it til last so I could write it all down properly, not that all of it hasn’t already been documented in this blog over the last year. In my New Year’s blog post last year, I wrote that one of my hopes for 2018 was that I’d be on the Guide Dogs waiting list, waiting for that phone call saying they’d found a potential four-legged match for me. As I wrote that last year, I didn’t honestly believe that a year later it’d be true, that it’d actually happen. After fighting for a Guide Dog for so long and having such a disastrous partnership from Seeing Dogs, however much I loved Zena, I think I’d started to believe it’d never happen. But on the 24th of October, after a turn-around in events I could’ve never predicted, I got that phone call from Guide Dogs; I was on the waiting list, at last! So this year I’ve a new hope for the next. It can’t be that I hope I’ll be accepted for a Guide Dog, because I already am, so it’ll have to be that I hope that this time next year when I’m rambling on writing this kind of post, there’ll be a four-legged furry companion led on the floor at my side, snoozing after we’ve come home from a harness walk, all qualified as a working Guide Dogs partnership. I know I could be waiting a lot longer than one year for a dog but I’m praying 2019 can be my year.

In an effort to make 2019 the year I get a dog, not that I can actually influence it, I’ve been continually working all of 2018 with my My Guide volunteer Jenny, who I was matched with late last year, on the routes I need to learn in order to have a suitable workload for a dog. As October showed, the effort, dedication, determination and perseverance this year has obviously paid off as Guide Dogs have put me on the waiting list. However, their only condition to me being suitable for a dog was that I continue to practice my routes. Further than that, I intend to learn new routes so that by the time they find me a match, I’ll be able to show them I not only fulfilled their condition but surpassed it. Not only that but I really enjoy mine and Jenny’s partnership. She’s a truly lovely lady and I’m blessed to have been matched with her and for her to continue to work with me. I’ll never be able to show just how grateful I am for Jenny’s continued help and support and for her enabling me to fulfil my wish of being on the Guide Dogs waiting list. Without her, I certainly wouldn’t have achieved that goal.

So here’s to 2018. It’s been a pretty damn amazing year for me and I’m just hoping 2019 can continue that streak. I hope my family and friends who I hold dear to me continue to be healthy and happy. I hope I continue to be blessed with good health, great quality of life and so many amazing people in my life. I hope 2019 brings good things for everyone I love and care about, and for everyone I don’t. I wish only good for everyone. I hope I graduate from the Open Uni with a good degree grade and hopefully find employment without too much fuss and heartache. I hope Kieran and I are able to see each other as much as study, cost and employment allows. And I hope I get that call from Guide Dogs. But above all, at least 2018 has been such a great year that’s given me so many precious memories. I’m looking forward to making many more over the next 365 days, which I’m sure I’ll ramble on about in this blog. Thanks to those who are still reading, I appreciate you. But I never started this blog or type out any of its posts for tons of readers. I write them because I enjoy it and because I love being able to document memories I want to cherish to look back on. That’s exactly what this is. Wishing everyone a happy healthy 2019. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 31 and 32

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had my 31st and 32nd My Guide sessions, both of which practiced the route to the location of the voluntary position I’m soon to start. I haven’t written about my 31st session because I didn’t feel i t was very positive. I kept snagging my cane on obstacles along the shoreline of the route and kept predicting the turnings and crossings wrong. As usual, the first run of the route was worse than the second, by which time things had started to come back to me.

Yesterday, however, things felt better with the route. Afterwards, I didn’t feel in such a bad and negative mood about things, despite the fact that Jenny and I both agreed I won’t be walking the route independently for a while yet. I’m not even remembering parts of the route right so there’s no way I’ll have the confidence to do it on my own anytime soon. It went better, though; I remembered things more accurately and didn’t knock into so many obstacles along the way. This week, though, there was something new about our journey. We were on a new bus service just launched on my estate. The Bluestar bus 17 has just been extended to our estate and further out the other way across the city. For years, we’ve only ever had First busses on our estate, with the First bus city red 11 running promptly every 7 minutes. Since the Bluestar was launched on Sunday, the city red has upped its frequency to every 5 minutes. As the 17 has been set at every 10, the amount of busses trundling around the estate is crazy. It was always pretty busy with the frequency of the city red but now busses practically chase each other around the estate. The crazy thing is that they both run the same route into the city centre. How both companies are going to profit from the changes, I do not know. Except for the fact that the 17 runs directly from home to the hospital and home to the train station, it doesn’t have much advantage over the city red. However, the busses are a much more comfortable ride. The seats are nicer, the drivers seem to drive more steady and the bus’s suspension doesn’t seem to vibrate every bump in the road the way the city reds do. They’re also quieter, meaning it’s easier to hear the stop announcements, which were on for our inward journey into town but sadly not on the way back. I did tweet the Bluestar help account on Twitter thanking them for a nice service but asking that they ensure they’re consistent with keeping the stop announcements on and loud. Hopefully, they’ll take note of the comment, especially as the service is so new and feedback must be important to them. I can’t say First are particularly consistent in keeping the announcements on, because sometimes they’re off, but they’ve got much better since I started independent bus travel. The is difference travelling on the 17 is that it stops on the opposite side of the road to the 11 when we need to get off. This means I need to walk parallel to where I usually walk on the other side of the pavement until I reach the tactile markings and can cross. Then, I’m back to the part of the route I’ve been learning, just a little further down the road. I liked this more as it meant I missed out a load of the obstacles along the shoreline. Jenny, on the other hand, wasn’t too keen as the crossing, although marked with tactiles, is incredibly busy, with lots of busses going up and down the road. It isn’t a pelican crossing either, so I don’t have the reassurance of traffic lights controlling the vehicles. But I felt quite safe. I could easily hear when there was cars or busses moving and when the were far away or still for me to cross safely. If I don’t learn how to cross safely, it’d mean that I’d have to always catch the 11 whenever I was going to volunteer to ensure I was on the right side of the road for the route. But I’m hoping Jenny feels happy enough for us to practice outcomes for catching either bus so that I have a choice. The 17s really are much nicer to travel on but of course the 11s are more frequent. As they run the same route, so there’s no more learning or adjusting for me, I’ll probably just catch whichever turns up when I’m waiting.

We met up on a Tuesday this week because Kieran is flying down to stay for a week from tonight onwards. Then, next Wednesday, I’m flying up to Newcastle for two weeks to stay with him. We’ve got quite a busy week ahead while he’s here and I just didn’t think I’d be able to fit My Guide in with everything else going on. We didn’t meet last week because Jenny was feeling really unwell; thankfully, she’s feeling much better now. Luckily, I come back on a Wednesday, meaning we can meet up on our usual weekday the following day and continue where we left off. As of yet, we haven’t done the wander around the city centre that I want to do just to refresh my mind after the disaster I had during my Guide Dog assessment. Obviously, as I got myself out of the muddle and managed to pass, it didn’t worry the staff too much. But I didn’t like that feeling of not knowing where I was or was going, especially in such an important and pressured environment as the assessment. Hopefully, if things go well with our next practice of the route and it doesn’t put me in too much of a bad mood, Jenny and I can go for a wander around town and I’ll know what I’m doing when I go into town independently again one day. But for now, I’m going to enjoy my break and time with Kieran and not worry about routes.

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 26 and 27

This morning, I had my 27th My Guide session with Jenny. Last week, we did our second attempt at the new route I’m learning which takes me from a bus stop in the city centre to the front door of the place I’m supposed to start volunteering with as soon as I’m competent with the route and have the right equipment. Last week, I didn’t feel the route had gone very well; I got stressed quite easily and wasn’t remembering much of it. Although only the second week of practice, it’s a much shorter and less complicated route than the ones Jenny and I have tried before so I had been hoping I’d pick it up much quicker. Apparently not, according to our attempts last week. As we had the week before, we caught the bus into the city centre and practised the outward and return route twice. But both times I just wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t feel like I was gradually improving. Plus, there are a lot of obstacles, such as parking meters, benches and electrical boxes, to navigate along the shoreline that I follow for the entirety of the route that keeps me away from the road. Either I kept bumping into them or my cane kept snagging on them. It gets quite uncomfortable after a while, especially when your cane keeps snagging on them and jolting your arm. I don’t walk particularly fast, but I’m not slow either, and at the speed I travel on foot its still quite a jolt if you’re stopped mid stride by your cane catching and staying stuck on something. But I just got on with it and tried not to grumble. As always, Jenny was much more optimistic than me, saying on the second attempt of the route she could see slight improvements.

Today, however, things felt much better for me, which reflected in my progress with the route. Last week, it had been quite a windy day, which never helps when I’m trying to be indepdently mobile as the sound messes with my ears and orientation. But this week it was a completely different story; the day was glorious with bright sunshine, a nice temperature and not even a fine breeze. Perfect weather! The route also went well right from the start. I walked less haltingly and at a faster pace because I felt more sure of myself as I went. I still had to ask Jenny plenty of questions, especially for reassurance that I was heading in the right direction, but things just felt much more positive with the route. Again, we practised both ways twice. We joked about how to a passerby me wandering to and from the same location must really make me look crazy and like I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing or where I’m going. We also said that having Jenny following me and not saying much while I’m concentrating must look like I’ve gained a stalker. Either that or the blind person is giving the sighted one directions…

By the time we arrived back at the bus stop the second time, I felt much more confident and hopeful about the route. I seemed to pick it up much better today and am gradually starting to remember things. My Victor Reader Trek wasn’t helpful, though; it kept freezing and shutting down, cutting off my GPS reassurance. Thankfully, both busses had the talking stop announcements on, which is incredibly helpful. I rely on them mostly to tell me where I’m getting off. Sometimes, they aren’t that reliable or even switched on so having the backup of my Victor Reader Trek, when its working properly, really is a bonus.

When we got back to mine, Jenny and I arranged our next few sessions. Next week, we’re meeting on Thursday as usual but the following week we’re meeting on the Tuesday because on the Thursday I’ve got a cookery course for blind people to attend and Jenny’s going away on holiday. Due to Jenny’s holiday, the following week we’re unable to meet. The week following that, we’re meeting on the Tuesday gain because I’ve got the cookery course again. I’m feeling much more positive overall about this volunteering route and am hoping that I’ll soon have it mastered. Just as soon as I do and have found a way to get hold of the equipment I need, I’ll be able to start volunteering.

Next week, I’m currently unsure about which route we’re going to do. This is because on that afternoon I’ll be having my mobility assessment with one of the mobility and orientation team from Southampton Guide Dogs. I’m feeling very optimistic about this as I passed the mobility assessment last time and have improved my routes loads since. But I’m debating whether to do the volunteering route just in case its stressful like last week. I need to be in the best mood possible for the assessment and be brimming with confidence. Also, I’m wondering whether to take the opportunity with Jenny to practice whichever route I choose to show the mobility person. That way, having practiced it that morning with Jenny, I’ll have that little extra seal of confidence about it. But I’ll see how I’m feeling. Obviously, whatever route I demonstrate on my assessment I’ll already know fully anyway so the little extra practice probably won’t make much difference. It might just give me that little bit extra confidence. So next time when I do a mobility update, I’;’ll be writing about the next My Guide session and how my mobility assessment went. Keep your fingers crossed for me…