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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 25

As the title of this post says, this is my 25th My Guide session update. But before all that, this post is going to talk about the meeting I had with Guide Dogs; at this current moment as I’m writing this, it’s Friday the 7th of September 2018 and almost 20 to 8 in the evening. At 10am this morning, the service delivery manager for my local Guide Dogs mobility team plus a fairly new GDMI and a gorgeous trainee Guide Dog came to my house as I’d contacted the team to ask to meet with the service delivery manager to discuss the process for me reapplying for a Guide Dog. After being deemed unsuitable back in March therefore marking the 3rd time I’d been unsuccessful in applying for a dog, an appeal took place and following the appeal I was given some advice of actions to complete in order to potentially be suitable for a dog in the future. In March, it was decided that I wasn’t suitable due to the way I interacted with the dogs on the further assessment day, took instructions from the GDMIs and put those instructions into action with the dogs. My vocal commands and praise were also criticised for not being in the right tone of voice or spoken in the right way to motivate the dog. And of course I was crushed; but I also agreed with them to a point. Maybe not at that very moment when I got off the phone to the senior practitioner who had given me the news that yet again I’d been unsuccessful. This time it was worse, though. She used the word “unsuitable” and in my head that felt like a full-stop, end of story, never. I’d worked so damn hard to get to that point but it still wasn’t good enough. Despite everything, i still hadn’t done enough to fulfil their necessary expectations for a future guide dog owner. Of course I was gutted. Beyond gutted if you ask anyone who spoke to me about it around that time. I felt like the door had been firmly slammed in my face. But that’s turned out not to be the case. With the input of the service user representative and the service delivery manager for my local team, I’ve had some support and advice to make the right decisions for my future regarding a dog, which is what lead to the meeting today. A lot was said. I was given new criteria which any potential applicant needs to meet in order to be considered for the waiting list. This criteria is used during the assessment process, still the mobility and guide dog assessments which I’ve done before, to ensure applicants are suitable. The service delivery manager promised to send the criteria across to me via email so I could read it myself but went through it there and then with me to give me some insight. Sitting there listening to her list things I’d need to be able to do in order to be suitable for a guide dog and ticking each and every one off in my head as an “i can do that” was the most amazing feeling in the world. The one about interacting with the dog in the right way is the only one I’m worried I could fall short on expectation for, not because I can’t do what they want but because nerves and worry might hold me back on the assessment day from showing my best side. But I’m determined this time, more determined than ever that I’m going to show my best commanding voice and my best happy cheery pleased praising voice at the right times so that I demonstrate I could be a good guide dog handler if only I’m given the chance.

We also discussed my routes and the leaps and bounds of progress I’ve made with Jenny’s intervention and the service delivery manager seemed very pleased with what I told her. One of the criteria is that you must be able to work your dog for 30-40 minutes at least 5 days a week. Nobody will ever understand the pride and relief it gives me to finally be able to say I meet that criteria with an ever expanding range of routes. Never did I think the day would come! Unless somehow during my mobility assessment the instructor finds fault with the length, complexity or variation of routes I have could that potentially be a problem. But I can’t honestly see that happening. I have more than enough 30 minute walks and now several that are much longer than that, one that’s even double. Of course, its not up to me if I meet the required standards and criteria but this time, for the very first time ever, I’m feeling much more positive about things, about my chances and the potential for it to go right this time. Fourth time lucky, perhaps?

However, there’s always a thundercloud trying to ruin my happiness and blooming positivity and today that comes in the form of some unknown person thinking they have the right to talk about me behind my back and stick their 50p worth in where its really not welcome. I mean haven’t I had enough battles over the last 7 years I’ve been fighting for a Guide Dog? No, according to someone, apparently I haven’t. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be writing about this but its my life and my right to be angry. Nearing the end of the meeting, after we’d done a lot of positive talking and I’d had plenty of fusses and cuddles with 14-month-old lab/retriever trainee Ezra, the service delivery manager dropped a bombshell I wasn’t expecting, another hurdle for me to climb, another punch to dodge. An anonymous member of the public has written a letter to guide dogs outlining their reasons why they strongly urge Guide Dogs not to give me a dog. This letter was received last month and portrays me as a terrible person. It is very nasty, hurtful and infuriating. Infuriating because its utter lies. The things the person claims about me are totally untrue and fabricated nonsense. I think my angry responses, however much i tried to remain calm, showed the service delivery manager and GDMI exactly what I thought of the letter. Thankfully, as it is anonymous, it won’t have a huge impact on me when I reapply. As long as i can demonstrate that i meet the relevant criteria set out to me today and show the staff everything they need to see in a potential applicant, that letter doesn’t matter. Just like the person, whoever they are, doesn’t. I have a ton of people supporting me with this, and every other, application and one hateful person isn’t going to stop me. Ive been fighting too long to let one person’s opinion faze me, especially as they didn’t even sign the letter. Whoever you are out there, if you read these blogs, know you aren’t going to stop me. I also want you to know that all those things you accused me of doing to any potential dog I’d never do. No dog would be left for hours on end by itself in my care. No dog would be locked in a cage for punishment. No dog would be given up on because I couldn’t be bothered to persevere. No dog would be over fed treats or given junk food; I’m not that irresponsible. I may be many things but I’m not stupid and would never be cruel to an animal, especially an animal I’ve thought a third of my life to be entitled and suitable for. If and when I get a guide dog, I’m going to be out working that dog every single day, unless I’m poorly or theres a family emergency. Ive worked so hard and for so long to throw an opportunity of having the mobility aid I long for away. I will do whatever it takes to become a guide dog owner and once I’ve achieved that goal, the dog will be looked after to the absolute best of my ability, with the support of the guide dogs team and all my friends and family. Ive got a whole army of people to support me so I know I;ll be fine. Just how I am now writing this. Because look, yay! You achieved your aim. You made me feel angry, hurt, sad, betrayed, low, worried and down. But I’m better than someone who doesn’t sign such a letter. I will be a guide dog owner one day and it’ll be because a guide dog team deem me deserving and suitable, not because I’ve fooled them into believing I’m the sort of person who should have a dog. Ive not got any dodgy motives in wanting a guide dog at all. I desire a guide dog because I’ve seen the improvements having a dog by my side has on my mobility, wellbeing, confidence and determination. Having a guide dog would make me a better person. It’d give me the confidence to go out there and achieve my goals. It’d give me the confidence to be the person I want to be with a furry companion by my side. What other motivation do I need? And why else would Guide Dogs want to give me a dog? They don’t just hand dogs over to anyone. I’d have had thorough tests and checks to ensure I’m going to care for any dog’s welfare appropriately. Why would I sabotage that? Yes maybe my motives as a naive 14-year-old were immature and wrong. But I’m an adult now. I understand responsibility. And i understand what it means to have a guide dog and be a guide dog owner. What more can I say? You aren’t going to hold me back. I’m going to reapply. Send as many letters to guide dogs as you like. After all, its them who decide whether I’m suitable. But don’t worry, they’ve considered your input so thanks for giving them something else to doubt me about. I’ll just fight that extra bit harder to prove you wrong. And I hope, if you’re a genuine person who thinks they’re protecting the welfare of some defenceless dog who might be given to me, that in time you’ll see that actually I’m also a genuine person just trying to live a full and happy life the only way I know how and that all I offer a dog is a full, happy, well loved and looked after life. If not, please take your hate elsewhere. I’ve got enough challenges to deal with without you adding to the pile. But thanks for making the journey even more eventful. I guess it’ll just prove to guide dogs how determined and dedicated I am to being the applicant they’re looking for.

Before they left, the service delivery manager urged me to read through the suitability criteria before applying and make sure I was happy with everything. She said it’d be emailed to me shortly. I wasn’t expecting that shortly to be today! The email was in my inbox by the time I checked after coming home from a lovely afternoon out with my friend Josh, enjoying lunch in Yates and pudding in Sprinkles. Although of course I want to rush ahead and reapply right this second, I’m going to spend the weekend reading and rereading the criteria until I’m totally satisfied with it and even know it by heart perhaps. Then, if I’m feeling like it, on Monday I’ll have a chat with the service user representative who has been brilliant and invaluable this last month. If she agrees, I’ll go ahead and reply to the email with the criteria saying I want to move a step forward and reapply. Then, I guess the process will start over. After chatting a lot with the service delivery manager and GDMI today, and of course cuddling Ezra, I really think this time could be my time, my opportunity to grasp firmly with both hands and not hold back on. Obviously, by the time this post is finished and published online, I’ll have written about my 25th My Guide session and possibly reapplied. I’ll write about that then. I just want to end this bit by saying how lucky I am to have such an amazing My Guide volunteer to be partnered with. Today, Jenny and her husband explored the city centre to work out which route would be best to learn to the new office I’m going to be volunteering at very soon. They worked it out and Jenny text me to say there’s now a plan in place for next Thursday. She really does go above and beyond where my My Guide sessions are concerned and I couldn’t be more grateful that she’s partnered with me.

As I write this now, its 9:15pm on Thursday night a week after my meeting with the service delivery manager and GDMI from Guide Dogs and today Jenny and I practised the route to the place I’m going to be volunteering, hopefully, for the first time. It was much simpler than I expected and after walking it, twice, I’m so much more grateful for Jenny and her husband checking out the route before we attempted it ourselves today. There are only two road crossings and no big corners or anything. The road curves around in places but theres no over-complicated things to remember. However, because its me, I’m still estimating its going to take me ages to learn it. The walk is only 15 minutes each way with a half hour bus ride each way. So in total it’ll take me roughly an hour and a half in total to travel to and from my destination. Really, I’m quite happy with that and although the walking part of the route is quite short, I’m much more comfortable with that than some lengthy complicated route for my first attempt at working in an office environment, even if it is just voluntary. I got a bit frustrated with the big pelican crossing that I have to use because theres push buttons on either sides of both tactiles but irritatingly only one on each side has a spinning cone and none of them have audio cues. If the poles don’t have the spinning cone to announce when its safe to cross then they should have noise. To have neither, even though the opposite side of the crossing has one, isn’t really right. I don’t know if its breaking any rules or laws or anything because on either side of the road one of the poles does have some kind of announcement to show its safe to cross. But shouldn’t all the poles have something? I don’t know, it just annoyed me. Its another thing to remember, which side of each crossing’s pole actually has the thing that’ll help me cross safely.

Jenny and I have agreed to continually practice the volunteering route until I’ve mastered it. The sooner I’ve learnt it, the sooner potentially I can start my voluntary role. We practised the route twice today due to its short length and on the second run recorded the landmarks I can use as pointers on my Victor Reader Trek. Another irritation was that there were considerable road works not far up from the bus stop that I have to use. This meant for a little stretch of the pavement Jenny had to guide me out into the road and safely around the obstruction. Thankfully, she said that the workmen seemed to be getting through the work quite quickly so I’m hopeful it might all be finished by next week when we try the route again. I really hope that I can start retaining directions from this route quickly so that it doesn’t take too long to learn it and we can go back to practising my longer routes. But for a first attempt I think things went really well. Here’s hoping next week is even better.

Open Uni: the start of hopefully my final year of study

So today is Thursday the 13th of September and, after checking the website last week, I discovered that both my level 3 Open University module websites for this academic year opened today. After coming home from learning a new route during another My Guide session, which I’ll be writing about soon, I started up my laptop and sat down at my desk to start what will hopefully be my final year of OU study. How I’ve managed to get this far and where the time has gone since I started uni I do not know. But somehow I’ve already sailed through day one of my final year of study.

My first task once I’d gone on to the websites for my modules, KE322 young lives, parenting and families and K314 approaches to mental health, was to go into the assessment section and check the dates for all my assignments for the upcoming year. Then, I opened my calendar app on my phone and added all the dates in, making sure I have alert reminders set for all of them. Then, I read through the instructions and guidance for both modules’ first assignments. On first reading the instructions for KE322’s TMA01, I was immediately terrified. Half the task was to make a visual presentation of data. This meant using PowerPoint, something I’ve never ventured anywhere near before. Thankfully, I suddenly noticed the link that said “alternative assignment for students with a visual impairment” and when I clicked on it, the dreaded visually pleasing task was gone, replaced by making your own table or graph to display your data instead of the visually pleasing version. Ive already asked Kieran for his support with this as I also have never made my own table either. Sounds trivial, but tackling new computer tasks still terrifies me and having Kieran there to talk me through it step by step makes it so much easier. To be fair, I could almost safely say that without having Kieran’s support as a friend at the beginning and now as my fella I wouldn’t have had the confidence to even apply for the Open University. His support with the IT task I’ve struggled with over the last three years have been absolutely priceless and I wouldn’t be embarking on my third year with levels 2 and 3 safely passed behind me without him. Thankfully, the assignment is only 1000 words and only worth 10% of my overall continuous score so the table won’t need to be massive and even if its not great hopefully I can make up for it in the second part of the assignment, the report that talks about what you’ve outlined in the table and the sources you’ve used for your data. On top of the table technical challenge, my other weakness will also be tested in this assignment with the research element involved with finding the data you need. But I managed to do well with the research needed for last year’s modules so hopefully my good fortune will continue this year.

I’ll be needing that good fortune again for the first assignment for K314, in which you have to use a case study you’ve studied to find out what mental health support services are available in your local area. Thankfully, you’re able to use quite a bit of material from the learning guides for this assignment and I’m hoping that’ll grab me a few marks seeing as its actively encouraged. Again, though, I’m just hoping my researching skills prove good enough for me to find enough good quality supporting material for this assignment.

Although the websites are open, the modules start date isn’t actually until 6 October. But I’m going to take full advantage of the fact that the websites are available and the activities are usable and get a head start on studying. That way, I might be able to make a better go of both of the first assignments than I’m currently predicting. Plus, the K314 assignment is 2500 words and worth 25% of my overall continuous score. So to be honest if I don’t do very well with KE322’s first assignment but get a decent score for K314’s, I’ll feel much better than if that scenario is reversed. With the KE322 assignment only being worth 10% of the score, if my score is low it won’t have a huge overall affect on my end pass grade. But that wouldn’t be the case for the 25% assignment. Obviously, I’d be even happier if I manage to snatch decent scores for both assignments but we’ll have to see how it goes.

Another bonus with my assignments this year is, like last year, hardly any of them clash over the two modules. Only both 4th assignment deadline dates and the end-of-module deadline dates clash. This should hopefully mean that I have enough time to complete all the assignments to a decent standard without getting too stressed and flustered or running out of time.

After only a short day for my first day back, tomorrow I’m diving in and starting hopefully the first learning guides for both assignments. I have nothing else planned tomorrow so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to spend the whole day getting both first learning guides under my belt. Next week, I’m hoping to get started at least on the 25% assignment. As I don’t yet have a tutor for either module, if I come across any problems with progressing towards writing or completing my assignments, I won’t have anyone to ask until tutors are allocated and introductions are done. But I’m hoping that, with the clear guidance provided online and my previous experience from last year’s modules, I might just be able to manage it. If nothing else, I might be able to source a load of research material to use once a tutor has answered all my questions. To be honest, I think I’d be silly not to take advantage of this extra time before the module begins. It certainly can’t hurt, even if I don’t get much assignment work done.

The fact that this should be my final year of study still feels strange in my mind. As long as I manage to complete KE322 and K314 to decent standards, I’ll be graduating this time next year. How that is even possible I do not know. Although my time at college now does feel like a lifetime ago, it doesn’t feel like yesterday that I was choosing the OU and an open degree, which a year later morphed into a health and social care pathway. The fact that I already have two thirds of it under my belt and passed with pretty decent scores really is unbelievable. If I am graduating this time next year, it’ll really take quite some time to sink in that its all over and I’ve actually done it. Obviously, if this year doesn’t go as well as I’m hoping, I could be redoing a level 3 module next year instead. But after how well last year went studying two level2 modules simultaneously, I’m optimistically hopeful that this year could go just as well. Even if I don’t match the good scores from last year, as long as I pass with relatively high marks, I really don’t mind. As long as those marks lead to me achieving an Open university health and social care degree by this time next year, nothing else matters. Of course, it wouldn’t be a crime to have another year of study after this one. After all, its not like I’ve got a guaranteed career in mind and employment lined up. Ive only got ideas floating around my mind and those aren’t crystal clear yet. But I don’t think i could commit myself fully to another year sat at this desk studying. I feel like its time for me to move on to the next chapter in my life after this year. And I knew I’d feel that way, too, and that’s why when I first started studying with the OU I wanted to do two modules per year. I know how long my patience and perseverance lasts and as I only ever started doing this because I wanted it to propel me into work and I had nothing else to do, my dedication and motivation was never going to last forever. But at the start of my 4th and hopefully final Open University year, I’m feeling refreshed after a lovely long summer holiday and optimistic about my chances of doing well this year. So my days are going to be full of online learning guides, forums, emails with tutors flying back and forth and tons of assignment writing. There isn’t going to be much time for anything else but I hope I still manage to cram other aspects of my life, such as visiting Kieran and continuing to learn new routes, in around my studies. Im an OU student, yes, but I’m also a distance learner who has the rest of her life to live. But here’s to one more year of studies, one more load of assignments, one last push towards the end goal.

“Lets go!” Another visit up North

So a week ago I got home from another visit up North to see Kieran and as usual I want to write about it. Note: for anyone, if anyone reads this, who wonders why I write these rambling random accounts of eating food and watching TV whenever I go to see Kieran or he visits me, I write them because I enjoy writing them. I know they’re utterly pointless and sometimes make hardly any sense, but I like writing them and I like documenting things I enjoy. Clearly, I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and his family, even if all I write about is eating and watching TV, and therefore I’m going to write about it. I couldn’t care less if nobody reads these posts or what anyone thinks of them. I started this blog over three years ago so I could practice my touch typing skills and to ramble about whatever was on my mind. I also wanted to document the important moments in my day to day life and also things I enjoy. So here it is, another ramble about my time in Blyth.

Unlike many of my previous posts about spending time with Kieran, this one won’t be as well written or have as much in it. That doesn’t mean to say there won’t be just as many words as usual… everyone knows I can ramble on about nothing at all and have thousands of words. After all, what else is this whole blog? But the main reason I don’t have as much to write is because I didn’t keep up with writing my notes while I was away. Usually, each night I’ll add the day’s happenings to a file on mine or Kieran’s BrailleNote Apex which I’ll then use as reference when writing these posts. But this time I wasn’t as vigilant as usual and at times forgot to update my notes; actually, at one point I was a fortnight behind on notes. But together racking our brains Kieran and I pieced together what we did, therefore I still have a post to write. It might not be 100% accurate and might have as much TV in as usual, but I still want to write it regardless.

On Thursday 9th august, after a day out shopping in Basingstoke with the family, we headed to the airport so I could catch a flight to Newcastle, to Kieran and family. It had been two months to the day since we’d seen Ed Sheeran and Kieran had proposed, so a day short of two months since I last saw him. A meet up was definitely due. Plus, I’d never visited Newcastle in the summer before and as Lesley and John were going away on holiday and Kieran would be house sitting, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and join him. Unlike the majority of times when I’ve flown up North, this time there wasn’t any kind of weather warning in place! Actually, the journey was pretty smooth for the entirety of the flight. As always, I had my earbuds in to block out the horrendous noise of the plane. Since first starting to fly to visit Kieran, I’ve got much better with the actual flight and can relax much more now I use my earbuds which obliterate most of the sound around me.

At the airport, John and Kieran were waiting to meet me. In the car on the way back, we had the radio on and Kieran and John were joining in with the commentators on the sports channel debating things about Newcastle. I found it quite amusing. It at least took my mind off John’s crazy driving. It’s not dangerous, just rather fast…

When we arrived, Lesley was making dinner. We had pasta bolognese and it was delicious. While we ate, we watched QI and afterwards Lesley and John watched Hebburn so Kieran and I went upstairs as we were planning to watch it from the beginning later on in my stay.

The following day, Kieran worked from home and Lesley was home anyway as Fridays are her day off. I had a banana for breakfast and then went with Lesley into Blyth to do a bit of shopping. On our way back, we popped into see Rebecca which meant I met her new puppy, Wilson, who is extremely cute. For lunch, we had chorizo and mozzarella paninis and they were lovely. Kieran finished working around 4:30, by which time John was home from work. We had garlic chicken Kievs and chips for dinner and watched the latest Keith Lemon program and Ramsey’s 24 hours in hell. I’m not a massive fan of Keith Lemon anymore; when I was younger, I went through a phase of enjoying Celebrity Juice but quickly stopped liking anything else Keith Lemon did. However, I quite enjoyed the Gordon Ramsey program. I’d been recording them on my own Sky box at home but just hadn’t gotten round to watching them yet. After everything was tidied up and the car was loaded, Lesley and John left for their little holiday. They were off to spend some time on a boat before heading to see Lesley’s brother. A little while later, I decided to order dessert from my favourite takeaway place ever, Buzz Bar. Kieran had a Ben an Jerry’s fudge brownie milkshake and mars bar cake. I had a Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough milkshake and galaxy caramel cheesecake. We shared a portion of mini doughnuts with salted caramel sauce. While we indulged, we watched 8 out of 10 cats does count down and mock the week.

As we had no plans whatsoever, on Saturday morning we had a lie in. Just as we were deciding to get up, Rebecca rang to say she was bringing sausage rolls round for us. Once we were showered and dressed, we went downstairs and Kieran cooked chips to go with our sausage rolls. We listened to the Newcastle vs Tottenham game. The sausage rolls were lovely, freshly baked and crumbly. Unfortunately, the Newcastle match wasn’t as good for Kieran as they lost 2-1. Durning the afternoon we watched Come Dine With Me and 4 In A Bed. While that was on, Kieran’s grandma arrived to check on us. She invited us for roast dinner at their house the following day before she left so we accepted. That evening, we ordered takeaway for dinner: Kieran had a chicken and donner meat kebab with chips, I had donner meat and chips and we got mozzarella sticks and garlic bread to share. We started watching Friday Night Dinner while we waited for the food to arrive and when we were eating. We’d agreed to start watching it from the beginning right up to the latest episode, which neither of us had seen yet as we’d been waiting to watch it together.

On Sunday morning, Kieran’s grandma picked us up and we enjoyed a lovely roast beef dinner with them. We watched the Liverpool vs West Ham match which ended 4-1, making me very happy with such a strong start to the season for Liverpool. When we got home that evening, we had the remaining two sausage rolls from Rebecca’s pack and the leftover garlic bread. It made a rather nice tea. We also started to watch Hebburn.

On Monday, Kieran had taken the day off. He cooked us bacon, sausage and hash browns for lunch. We spent the day watching Hebburn. For dinner, we shared Hawaiian and margarita pizzas. By the time we went to bed, we’d finished Hebburn.

Tuesday meant Kieran was back to work and up early so that he could be ready in time for his lift to work. I got up early with him and spent the day catching up on East Enders. Once I’d finished that, I started watching Our Girl from series 2. I’d recently watched the pilot and series 1 at home and thought, with all the spare time I had, I’d continue and watch the rest. When Kieran cane home, he brought with him lightly spiced potato wedges and onion rings to go with the breaded chicken steaks Lesley had left in the fridge for us. It made a rather nice meal. I was craving something sweet so was very naughty and ordered more Buzz Bar. Kieran had a galaxy caramel with flake milkshake and chocolate fudge cake with ice cream and I chose a dairy milk milkshake with fudge, a Malteser cheesecake and a galaxy caramel cheesecake for the following day’s lunch… we continued to watch Friday Night Dinner.

On Wednesday, I decided not to get up when Kieran did and had a little lie in. I had Weetabix for breakfast and then put the laundry on while catching up on Holby. After that, I continued watching Our Girl. When Kieran came home from work, we ordered another takeaway for dinner. I had donner meat and chips, Kieran had a fish cake, a smoky sausage and chips and curry sauce. We shared mini spring rolls and chicken nuggets. While we ate, we watched more Friday Night Dinner.

Thursday was a similar day with me staying in bed for a little bit while Kieran went to work. Just to say, the latest I actually stayed in bed was 9:30. I had toast and a banana for breakfast and spent the day watching Our Girl. That evening, Kieran and I had fish fingers, waffles and spaghetti hoops for dinner. We also watched the rest of Friday Night Dinner, including the last episode which we hadn’t seen before.

On Friday, Kieran worked from home so I had some company. Again I had toast and a banana for breakfast. I read some Kindle books while Kieran worked. For lunch, we each had a little pie and a sausage roll warmed up. I had a yoghurt and Kieran a packet of crisps. Kieran’s grandparents visited. That evening, we ordered Dominoes for dinner. I had a pizza with extra cheese, tuna, garlic butter and sweet corn toppings and stuffed crust. Kieran created his own pizza with lots of different meats. We shared cheesy wedges, the chicken combo box and a portion of cookies. We watched Joe Lycett that’s the way a-ha a-ha Joe Lycett and a Jason Byrne comedy dvd.

On Saturday, Kieran cooked us bacon and hash browns for me and the same with sausage for himself for brunch. Kieran listened to the Newcastle vs Cardiff match. In the afternoon, we watched Come Dine With Me and Kieran’s grandma arrived and did some tidying up. For dinner, we had a Chinese takeaway. As I wanted to pay and didn’t have any cash, we couldn’t order from Kieran’s usual place so he chose somewhere that had good reviews on Just Eat to try. I had Hong Kong style sweet and sour chicken and a portion of chips, Kieran had house special curry, fried rice and chips and we shared a portion of spring rolls. We were given prawn crackers free with the meal.we watched the boxing that was being shown on BT Sport and then a Dara O’Brian comedy dvd.

On Sunday, we again went to Kieran’s grandparents for a roast dinner, this time chicken with all the trimmings, where I discovered that I actually do like cabbage! I also tried a new pudding, apple and custard, which I also discovered was very nice. We spent the afternoon watching the football matches that were on Sky Sports. When we got in, we had the sausage rolls Kieran’s grandma had left the previous day for dinner.

Monday meant Kieran was back to work. I spent the day catching up on TV and reading books. I had my usual cheese wrap for lunch which I enjoyed. That evening, Kieran and I had chicken dippers and wedges for dinner and watched the Liverpool vs Crystal Palace game which ended 2-0 to Liverpool.

On Tuesday evening, Kieran brought home some garlic bread to have with lasagne.

Wednesday was another laundry day and Kieran had the day off and did the hoovering. We watched more Come Dine With Me during the day and some Judge Judy. Kieran cooked fish finger sandwiches and waffles for lunch. Ended up having a takeaway for dinner. I had a tuna, sweet corn and garlic butter pizza and potato wedges, Kieran had a cheese bacon burger with chips and we shared mozzarella sticks.

On Thursday, Kieran was back to work but John and Lesley came home around 1:30. Not long after they’d got in, Kieran’s grandparents arrived. Kieran arrived home not long after 5pm and Lesley cooked enchiladas with potato wedges for dinner. We watched Celebrity Master Chef and Judge Romesh.

Kieran went to work on Friday but I had Lesley and John for company. In the afternoon, I packed everything I’d need for a weekend away as we were heading to the caravan. At the caravan that evening, John went and got chips for dinner. Kieran had fish, chips and curry sauce and I had a large sausage with chips. We watched Judge Judy, Celebrity Master Chef and 8 out of 10 cats does count down.

On Saturday, we went to Cartmel Races for the day. Lesley took a picnic to share and it was a lovely sunny day so really nice to be outdoors. On the way back, we went to the Black Bull pub for a drink. We had the Liverpool Vs Brighton match on the radio on the way home and it just finished before we went in the pub. The score was 1-0 to Liverpool. Back at the caravan, Lesley cooked ravioli in a tomato sauce with chorizo for dinner, which was really tasty.

On Sunday, John went to the Newcastle game and we stayed in the caravan and watched Young Sheldon and the Big Bang Theory all afternoon. Lesley cooked roast chicken for lunch and we had a lemon cheesecake for pudding. Kieran listened to the Newcastle match and I watched videos on YouTube. When John came in and had his roast dinner, Lesley made cheese and chorizo toasties for tea.

On Monday, we spent the day watching Judge Judy and Jeremy Kyle. In the morning, Lesley made everyone cooked breakfast. By the time we headed home, it was after 6 and we had sandwiches for tea when we got in. Kieran and I went upstairs and I sorted my bag out so everything that needed to be taken home the following day was packed and everything that stayed there was on my now designated shelf in Kieran’s wardrobe. We spent the rest of the evening listening to music on Kieran’s amazon echo.

Tuesday was my last day in Blyth. Kieran worked from home. I had quiche and crisps for lunch and Kieran had cheese and beans on toast. Rebecca visited with Wilson, who had been on his first outdoor walk on their way round, and their grandparents also arrived. I had a really horrible headache for most of the afternoon and even though I’d taken paracetamol, drank lots of water and eaten lunch it still took ages to go away. That evening, Lesley cooked us chicken dippers, chips and spaghetti hoops. After dinner, I made sure everything was packed and then we headed for the airport, always my least favourite part of staying with Kieran, that i inevitably have to leave again. No matter how many times Kieran and I say goodbye, it never gets easier. But when we first got together we were both well aware that long distance was going to make up a big part of our relationship, especially when Kieran’s placement in Hereford ended and he headed home. But however hard it is, its always worth it. Again, I had another great stay with Kieran and family and am looking forward to next time, which is already booked! Kieran is flying down to stay with me for a week from the 14th to the 21st of November so that the both of us and Josh can go to a couple of comedy shows at the Mayflower Theatre, Kevin Bridges and Dara O’Briain. Then, on the 21st when Kieran flies home, I’m going with him to stay in Blyth for 2 weeks. By the time I fly home, it’ll be December and the count down to Christmas. So these three weeks will be our last time together before the new year. I’m chuffed that we’ve managed to see each other as many times as we have this year, especially considering Kieran’s apprenticeship and my uni course. Hopefully next year will hold just as many great visits.

To Lesley and John, thank you so much for having me. As always I appreciate it lots. Also thanks for trusting me in your house while you were away. I’m thrilled to say that I didn’t break the washing machine or tumble dryer and that the only casualty was a dinner plate on the last day… looking forward to being back up there in November.

To Kieran, of course thanks for inviting me up and putting up with me. I always love the time we get to spend together and having some time without parents is always nice. Makes us feel like a normal couple. Also, the two weeks we spent without your parents is the longest we’ve ever co-habited before and proves that we would survive in our own home. Thanks for doing all the cooking; although I braved the laundry, I didn’t trust myself not too break your mum’s lovely oven. Also, I didn’t shrink any of your clothes in the wash! I can do this independence thing… love you so much and can’t wait for more time together in November.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 24

After a rather long break, today it was time to get back to practising my routes. Since Jenny and I last met for a My Guide session, the whole of august has passed and e’re already racing through September. Soon, I’ll be back to Open University studies with no free time on my hands… but for now at least, I still have lots of free time. Unfortunately, our plans for today’s session had to change as I hadn’t heard back from anyone at the organisation I’ve applied to volunteer for so wasn’t sure if my application had been successful therefore meaning I had a new route to learn. Frustratingly, an email came through late last night replying to my question about my application to say that i have been successful and they do want me to start volunteering for them whenever I’m ready. Instead of contact Jenny last minute and rearrange our plans again, I decided to stick with doing the Woolston route. For one thing, its been a nice sunny day today so perfect for strolling along the shore and for another, I was having serious withdrawals from Piggy’s milkshakes!

So, at 9:30 Jenny arrived at my door and we headed out along the now very familiar route down to and along the shore into Woolston. I only hesitated in a couple of places and really feel I have the route cracked now because in the places I hesitated my instinct was right anyway. Next time we do the route, I’ll get Jenny to shadow me again like last time and try and hold back from checking directions with her even when I’m hesitating and instead go with my gut instinct because if I’d done that today I wouldn’t have asked her for a single direction and probably not gone the wrong way.

We stopped in Woolston to say hi to Dad and for refreshments at Piggy’s. Jenny had a coffee and I had a salted caramel milkshake. I also took a risk on a slice of chocolate fudge cake and soon wished I hadn’t. But it was ok because Jenny enjoyed my leftovers. While we relaxed, we chatted about what we’d both been up to during our break and I updated Jenny on my situation with Guide Dogs. When I came home from visiting Kieran last week, I wanted for a call from the southampton Guide Dogs service user representative for advice on how next to proceed. That conversation took place on Monday and she advised me to send an email to the southamtpn office asking to speak to the service delivery manager about arranging a time to discuss how best to proceed for me reapplying for a dog. I sent that email not long after getting off the phone from her and received a response yesterday to say that the service delivery manager wanted to visit me for a meeting either today or tomorrow. So I responded that either this afternoon or tomorrow morning would work for me as I have plans to meet my friend Josh tomorrow afternoon and of course the My Guide session this morning. This morning I received another email, from the service delivery manager herself, to say she would be visiting me tomorrow morning at 10am and that she’s bringing a GDMI (Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor) and a trainee dog with her. Of course I responded enthusiastically to this. I’m feeling incredibly positive about the whole thing all of a sudden. I feel really encouraged by the rapid response from the Southampton team as a whole and am hoping tomorrow’s meeting will be a positive one. If not that, I at least hope I get a cuddle with the trainee dog they’re bringing along. I’m really looking forward to discussing my next steps with the service delivery manager and I think having the input of a GDMI I’ve never had before could be really beneficial.

The return route home was equally as good. Jenny seems really pleased with my progress and we’re both chuffed at how much of the route I’ve retained even after not practising it for so long. As i said, next time we do the route I’ll ask Jenny to shadow me and refrain from asking for direction hints from her when I’m hesitating. I really think that really soon we’ll be able to put a big tick next to this route and I’ll be able to say I can do it unaided. But due to my upcoming volunteering opportunity, our efforts for the next few sessions are going to be focused on figuring out and learning the best route to the office of the organisation I’m going to be volunteering for. It involves a bus journey and a walk so although it isn’t lengthy walking like Guide Dogs asked for last time I applied, it’ll still be another regular route to add to my list. Plus, if its a bus journey combined with a walk there shouldn’t be a problem. If anything, it should be a bonus because I’m hoping to be doing it at least once weekly.

So all in all things seem very positive at the moment. Things are going really well with my routes and things seem to be looking up with Guide Dogs too. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much but I am feeling very positive this time around. Let’s just hope that feeling remains. After tomorrow I’ll know much more about where things are heading and hopefully my next My Guide post will be full of positive news.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 23

On Thursday the 2nd of august, my My Guide session was a little different to usual. Yes, we were still practising routes but this time they weren’t routes Jenny had taught me. We were consolidating my skills with the routes I already had before I started My Guide, all thanks to the hopefully positive news I wrote about in my last post. The reason this update is so late is because I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. From the 1st of august onwards, Dad was off from work; and from the 6th onwards, Mum joined us. Obviously, its the six weeks’ holiday too so Tamsin is off from school. This meant that days out were planned and we were off out all over the place. Then, from last Thursday (the 9th) onwards, Ive been up here in Newcastle with Kieran and family. Until today, Kieran has been home from work so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write my My Guide update. To be fair, there isn’t a massive amount to write, but here it is anyway.

After discovering that there is now a reopened get for me to reapply with Guide Dogs, I discussed my route situation with Jenny. This time, I want to doubly ensure that I’ve done just about everything I possibly can to please them before I reapply and my routes, or lack of, has always been a sticky point. However, since having Zena, learning routes with the help of family and then the arrival of Jenny, my route options have massively widened compared to what they were before. Once upon a time, I was barely able to get to my closest bus-stop, which is a minor two side roads and 5-minute-if-that walk away from my house. Now I have routes that take me nearly an hour to walk just to get to my destination. And the route possibilities are forever widening. But although Jenny and I agreed that this really is great and a massive improvement when considering what I’d have available to utilise for a Guide Dog workload, we agreed that its equally important for me to be able to effortlessly demonstrate that I know by heart the smaller and older routes I have. As I’m not quite as independent as I’d like to or should be, I don’t practice these routes as often as maybe I need to. So taking the opportunity to prove to Jenny that actually I can accomplish them independently and safely was definitely a good idea. I want Guide Dogs, when they next assess me, to see that my familiar routes are all but flawlessly executed. I want to prove how much my routes have flourished and how dedicated I am to building on the route knowledge I have.

So, after Jenny arrived, we headed out to walk my familiar routes. First, up passed all the bus-stops, across all the little side roads, even the one with the dodgy corner; then, across the road and round the corner to stand in front of the local library front door; back around the corner and across the road and then walking up parallel to the main road, crossing the three side roads and then turning sharply right and walking to the main entrance of the leisure centre/gym. This bit I got a bit wrong. I forgot that at the third curb edge I need to cross before turning sharply right away from the main road and up to the automatic doors. But with Jenny’s help I soon corrected this. After, back out of the leisure centre entrance and turn right to walk parallel along the main road again. I went all the way up the road and over the rather dangerous if you don’t do it right or aren’t paying 100% attention and to the front door of the news agents. To begin with, I headed passed the news agents and on as if I was going to Tamsin’s school. But in the end I decided I was too hot to persevere and turned back, retracing my steps back across the dodgy crossing and down the main road. But I stopped at the tactile markings of a crossing before the gym turning and headed across the road, taking myself into the park that I’ve landmarked as a prime spot for free running should I get a Guide Dog. This park was actually recommended by Seeing Dogs trainer John but had to be scrapped in favour of one I could be driven to with Zena as she was too distracted by its being there when we did the daily route to the gym. However, with a more focused dog and better trained me, I think I could take full advantage of that park’s placement for short frequent free runs during working routes or even as a destination for a working route. Once in the field, I walked down the length of the park, walking parallel to the main road again. Then, when my Victor Reader Trek announced that the third entrance to the park was approaching, I headed onto the tarmac and out of the park to the crossing that got me safely back onto the other side of the road and heading for home along the route I’d already walked.

Due to my own laziness, the routes actually felt somewhat rusty. I’m going to try my best to start getting out more so these easy and familiar routes feel fluid again. I’m also going to take advantage of my sessions with Jenny to practice those routes once every now and again, just so she can monitor my competency with them. She didn’t seem to have any worries with them, so I just need to practice them more. As I’m now up in Newcastle and due to Mum having time off, I’m now not seeing Jenny so having another My Guide session until the beginning of September. It really is crazy where time goes. When we get back to it, though, we’ve got another challenge to master. On the 1st of august, Jenny drove me into southampton town centre with a meeting with a volunteer coordinator that she’d organised for me. We’ve discussed many times my lack of work experience and frustrations with finding work or even voluntary posts that I feel I’d be capable of successfully completing. After finding a slot where an organisation needs a volunteer to speak to its clients and do a questionnaire to ensure the clients are receiving the right support and are getting what they asked for, Jenny thought of and recommended me. After speaking with the volunteer coordinator, I feel that actually this is something I might actually be able to do. They’ve said that I’d be able to complete it on my own personal laptop, meaning I could use my already set up screen reader, and the only other tasks are dialling phone numbers, talking to clients and taking notes answers to the questions to fill in the questionnaire. There are only two snags: 1. I don’t know how to get to the office; 2. I need to invest in a device that allows you to plug a standard phone into a headset through which one side you have the telephone and the other side you have your computer and therefore speech software. Even if I use my BrailleNote Apex to record the clients’ answers, I still need my hands free to type their responses and so this device is essential. The first problem can easily be solved thanks to Jenny’s generosity. We’re going to look into a safe and hassle-free way for me to get to the office and practice it until I’m confident. Kindly, the organisation have said the post will be open long enough for me to learn the route. This is very lucky because if they’d had a tight time frame for the survey needing to be completed the opportunity would have probably passed by the time I knew the route competently. Although there is of course the option of completing my volunteering on a Wednesday and using Dad as a taxi, as I’m using any volunteering I find as a gauge to what proper employed work would be like, having a parent taxi really isn’t part of the package I want. So, my next update could quite possibly be documenting our first trial of routes to my hopefully new voluntary role. My friend Josh helped by looking at the busses and seeing that there’s two potential stops for me to alight to then walk to the office. One is at the Itchen Bridge and the other is at the back of Primark. So at some point Jenny and I are going to go on a bus ride and figure out the best route to the office. Once I’ve successfully learnt the route, our sessions will go back to practising the routes I’ve already learnt. Until I’ve applied to Guide Dogs again and found out where I stand about getting on the waiting list for a dog, I’m not going to learn any more routes but make better use of my time by polishing the ones I have. Many people, including family, friends with Guide Dogs and Jenny, have agreed that the amount and length of routes I have should add up to a more than sufficient workload to at least start with. Plus, I’m continuing to expand on the routes I already have all the time and especially now I’m seriously starting to branch out with voluntary work with the aim of heading into paid employment in the near future, my routes shouldn’t really need to be questioned. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed I can pass in all the areas Guide Dogs assess for suitability. But for now, I’m going to enjoy my break away up in Newcastle and when I get home at the end of the month, I’ll throw myself back head first into learning and polishing routes.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 22 and some positive news, at last!

This post is going to be a little different simply because I have so much to write and I don’t want to go on and on forever… i know, what’s changed now, huh? But if I ramble on and on this probably won’tmake any sense and it’ll take away from how good the good news is…

As I said in my last post, a meeting had taken place arranged by my friend Jemma, who lives across the road from me and has German Shepherd Guide Dog Ollie, with the southampton guide dogs mobility team service user representative. Jemma arranged this after understanding and agreeing with my frustrations with my situation with Guide Dogs. Our hope was that the service user representative could at least shed some light on my situation. On this Monday just gone, another meeting took place in which the service user representative discussed with us her findings on my case. I can’t go into too much detail at the moment with what was discussed, but the investigation by the service user representative has led to their being a possibility that I can reapply for a guide dog soon. I’m not saying that means I’ll be successful in being suitable for a dog or that I’ll immediately be put on the waiting list, but there’s a new opening that means I can at least reapply. I’m also not saying that the service user representative is a miracle worker and can fix all cases that haven’t gone the way the service user wanted, because that’s certainly not her job, but for me she’s enabled my case to be opened up afresh so that I can reapply. If or when I do reapply and go through the assessment process again, I may possibly be able to go into more detail about why things have changed a bit where my situation is concerned but for now, that’s all I can say.

Continuing the run of positivity, this week my My Guide session went really well. Jenny made the suggestion that this week I take the leap and do the route solo, with her only shadowing me. Usually, while we walk our routes we chat. But being shadowed means you pretend there’s no one else with you. For the Woolston route, this was the first time I’d tried this. It made for quite a different route experience too. Usually, Jenny walks beside me, which means I can orientate myself on the path quite easily. With Jenny walking a few paces behind me, I had to focus more on where I was on the path. I seemed to zigzag even more than usual but Jenny said I seemed to orientate myself quite well. The route went really really well. I only spoke to Jenny once before reaching the Woolston high street and that was to check about a crossing at the end of Weston shore. Lucky that I did, too, because I was going to cross at the wrong point otherwise. Obviously, Jenny would have stopped me anyway. It didn’t take long to correct my mistake, though, and other than that I made all the right choices.

Reaching Woolston after only needing Jenny’s input once felt like quite an achievemnt and Jenny’s pleasure at how well I’d managed the route was really gratifying. Obviously, it’d have been even better if I’d done the route without any wobbles whatsoever but for the first shadow of the route I was quite pleased with myself. We celebrated with our usual stop in Piggy’s, me for a caramel milkshake and Jenny for her usual Americano with hot milk on the side. For a moment, she wavered and nearly tried a smoothie but in the end decided to stick with her usual. The caramel milkshake still didn’t beat my favourite, the salted caramel milkshake I had the first time I tried one off their mammoth list. During our drinks, we chatted through the developments with my situation with Guide Dogs and Jenny seemed really pleased for me. We also discussed my routes and how neither of us are particularly happy with the route to my grandparents house. Weaver made the decision to scrap the route simply because Jenny doesn’t feel that its very safe and I don’t feel very comfortable doing it. If we’d walked it a few more times I might have felt better about it but Jenny just doesn’t feel that its a safe enough walk for me to be doing alone. To be honest, I’m not massively disappointed. In total, its about 3 hours worth of walking and that massively exceeds Guide Dogs request for me needing a lengthy varied workload. Plus, there is an alternative in a bus route to their house that would involve a little bit of walking. I think it would have been a really complicated and time consuming route to learn as well. Although I liked it for the amount of FitBit steps it provided, that was literally the only good thing about it.

The return route from Woolston went quite well too. By this point, i was melting a bit. It was nowhere near as hot as walking to Nan and Grandad’s last week but it still warranted a shorts and T-shirt approach. Obviously, I was also wearing my bright pink high-vis vest over the top of my T-shirt to increase my visibility. Jenny seems to agree that it helps, especially when I’m crossing roads at points where car drivers may not immediately see I’m there otherwise. We’ve agreed to meet up next Thursday at our usual time and start consolidating my already learnt routes. We’re going to continue to learn the route to my sister’s school, potentially both ways round, and also practice the other routes I’d already learnt before My Guide with Jenny. At some point, we’re also going to learn how to get to my grandparents by bus, as I still think its a really important route to have even if it doesn’t meet Guide Dogs requirement for lengthy walking. Sometimes routes are just simply for convenience and the one to Nan and Grandad’s would be just that. There’s also the possibility that I might start volunteering for an organisation that one of Jenny’s friends works for. I’m going for a meeting to discuss this with Jenny’s friend on Wednesday and am really hopeful there might be a positive outcome. The post is phoning current clients of the organisation to discuss whether the service they’re being provided meets their needs and is what they’re wanting from the organisation. As there would only be phone and computer tasks within this role, there’s a very good chance it’d actually be something I’d be able to do. This of course has massive positive implications for me. It’d be getting me out of the house; it’d mean I have actual legitimate work experience to add to my CV; I’d be meeting and working with new people in a real work environment; and it’d mean another independent travel journey that isn’t just because I need to get out walking. Jenny says there’s a way to get to the organisation location via bus with some walking so it really sounds perfect for me. Keep your fingers crossed for Wednesday. Obviously, I’m immensely grateful to Jenny for arranging all of this and for thinking of me in the first place. Even if nothing comes of this its another thing to say I’ve attempted; but if something does, it’ll be ticking so many boxes for me.

So, as the title of this post says, there’s so much positivity in this post. Its practically overloaded with positive feelings and that, for anyone who knows me, doesn’t happen often. I’m feeling really good about things, especially as my routes are going so well and there’s a fresh opening with Guide Dogs Southampton for me to reapply and go through the assessment process of getting a dog again. That is definitely the best news I could’ve hoped for. There couldn’t be a better outcome than that. I’m just hoping it leads to the goal I’ve been aiming for for so long. I guess I’ll just have to do better than my best this time and hope it pays off. But for now I’m going to continue practising my routes and perfecting them just as much as I can.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 21

On the day my sister turned into a teenager, it was time for another My Guide session, this time a new challenge for me… last Friday, Jenny and I did a trial run of the shorter route to my grandparents house. Dad, after working out himself how long the route I’d proposed to their house would actually take us, had suggested that actually it’d be best for all parties involved if I considered his shorter route option. So after Jenny had driven around both route options last Thursday after our session, I’d agreed. Jenny had said that the route I proposed would be about 2.4 miles each way and take much longer than an hour and a half whereas Dad’s suggestion was around 1.8 miles each way and would be about an hour and a half if not slightly shorter. Of course, my brain was automatically thinking that the longer route would be better, would impress Guide Dogs more, would make for a better addition to my workload for a guide dog. But obviously I was being silly. A route that’s at least an hour each way is more than enough, and a route over an hour and a half each way is bordering on insane.

As the trial run of the route proved, Dad and Jenny were right; there was no way I needed to even consider the longer route. Also, doing the trial run also showed me what Dad has been trying to tell me for ages: that there’s a much quicker nicer way to get to Tamsin’s school. The trial route of the grandparents route takes me up passed the local co-op, my shortest route, and on over a train bridge. At some point, we end up walking up the road towards Tamsin’s school where, on the route to her school that I’m already learning, we usually walk down that road to the school. So, in effect, its a huge circle. From the school, we even backtrack along some of the route I’m already learning to her school to get to a pedestrian crossing. The road we need to cross is particularly busy and I don’t fancy just crossing it at a slight lull in the traffic and hoping for the best. The pedestrian crossing with spinning cone and beeping noise to alert me when its safe to cross is a much better option. It does lengthen the route a little bit but its worthwhile for the safety it provides.

The worst part of the route is the last main road which, at some point, I turn off to get to Nan and Grandad’s bungalow. It is crazy busy with traffic most of the time and the cars come whizzing passed at silly speeds. To make matters worse, the pavement is quite narrow, meaning that when a big lorry or van comes speeding passed its quite unsettling. On the journey to Nan and Grandad’s, the level of traffic made me seriously consider the possibility that there might not be a point in pursuing this route, however much I wanted to add it to my rapidly growing route options. Walking alongside that noisy busy fast traffic really wasn’t a pleasant feeling and it made me wonder if this route was going to be too difficult or unpleasant for me to persevere with. I didn’t voice this to Jenny at that point, too busy concentrating on where I was going and recording landmarks on my Victor Reader Trek, which was also successfully recording the progress of the new route for me. When eventually we turned off the busy main road, I felt very relieved and quite zapped of all energy. This route was certainly testing my resolve.

But once we turned into Nan and Grandad’s street, finding their bungalow was no problem. There’s one other person’s driveway and then the gated entrance to Nan and Grandad’s house. They provided us with much needed and very welcome refreshments of cold drinks and chocolate biscuits. At this point, I was still feeling very uncertain about the route. Those main roads really weren’t nice to walk alongside and there was a lot for me to learn with this route. But I was still determined to try; maybe the return route would change my mind.

It didn’t completely, but it made me feel a lot more hopeful about the route in general. The main roads didn’t feel quite so daunting on the return journey. Maybe I felt better because I was refreshed, I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t seem as difficult on the way home as it had before. Jenny and I discussed this as we walked. She suggested that it could be because the cars were coming towards us rather than rushing up from behind and racing passed. I suggested that it was because the first test of the route was done, I’d already walked it once. Even though it was only the first time I was walking the return journey, having walked the route the other way round already seemed to help my confidence. That doesn’t mean that the route isn’t still a challenge, because it definitely is. I don’t think its going to be a quick one to learn like the school one seems to be. I think its going to take a good while for it to start sinking into my memory. But I’m going to persevere with it. Having my grandparents house as a reachable destination can only be a good thing. Jenny and I did also talk about getting the bus to my grandparents to cut out some of those horrible main roads. Its an option of something else to learn in the future and would be a good alternative if it was pouring down with rain and I still needed to get to Nan and Grandad’s. having options of how to get there is also good. I already go there twice a week for tea as it is and sometimes there’s other days we visit too. If i was able to get there independently, it means I could visit if parents were unable to transport me there and obviously would make a good excuse to work a guide dog. Even if I didn’t do the return route, getting a lift home with parents, that’s still a good hour and 20 minute working walk for a dog, more than anything guide dogs have said a dog needs daily. If I did that twice a week on the days I visit them now, that takes out two days’ worth of working the dog, and that’s not considering if I had other things to do or places to go on those days as well. Take two days for grandparents an add the Woolston route, gym route, library route, school route and bus route into town and I’m sure that’s more than enough to keep a dog busy. That’s not to mention the little route to the local Co-op and the route to the decent free run on the way to the gym and the same along the shore on the way to Woolston. Additionally, that’s not even thinking about other routes i want to learn for the future, including getting the bus to Nan and Grandad’s and a journey to Southampton central train station that then takes me either on a long distance train to my brother and his little family or Imi or then onto the airport train station, across the road and into the airport itself to catch a plane to Kieran. There’s so many options. Ive of course also got the route from the main Woolston high street up to my doctors. And they’re all things I hope to be able to do independently and don’t take into account things I do at weekends with the family. I think that’s more than enough for a dog to be getting on with. Of course, I don’t have all those routes memorised yet. Woolston, Tamsin’s school and the grandparents’ route are still very much in progress, especially the grandparents’ route. I might be doing really well with the Woolston route, but there are still a lot of little niggles that I need to iron out. But as mine and Jenny’s working time together is unlimited as long as we both say so, we should have plenty of time to perfect them all. That’s my plan, anyway. We’re meeting again this Thursday and I plan to do the Woolston route again, mostly because the summer is still raging and its nice to walk that route while its hot and not so to do the grandparents or school route. Fingers crossed it goes well and those niggles start to reduce.

Open uni: Results Day 2018

On Monday, a day earlier than expected, Open University results were released. I finished studies for this academic year at the beginning of June with my first OU exam. Leading up to the exam date, I’d been terrified, mostly that I’d forget all the information I’d frantically been trying to revise and partially because I expected the exams people to say on the day that I wasn’t allowed to use my BrailleNote. Without it, I’d have been thoroughly stuffed. I’d informed the special arrangements people that without a screen, nobody would be able to observe what I was doing on my BrailleNote Apex because it didn’t have its own screen and if they wanted to observe, they’d have to provide their own. When I arrived on the day and the lady observing my exam told me a screen hadn’t been provided, I expected to be told the exam would have to be rearranged, that we couldn’t continue if she wasn’t able to watch what I was doing. But nothing happened. I was allowed to proceed with my exam on BrailleNote and laptop as I’d instructed with no fuss whatsoever.

As I had special arrangements for the exam due to my blindness, I also had additional time in which to complete the exam. For everyone else, the exam started at 2:30 and ended at 5:30. Being given double time, this meant my exam started at 11:30 and I was allowed until 5:30. I was also entitled to a half hour rest break for lunch and toilet trips, both of which were very handy.

Even though I’d felt the exam went well and I knew I’d done a decent-ish job in my end-of-module assessment for K217, a little part of me had still been nervous leading up to exam results day. What if something crazy happened and I failed? Ive already booked onto my next modules for October, KE322 young lives, parenting and families and K314 approaches to mental health, and if I’d failed one of these level 2 modules then I’d have to resit the exam or end-of-module assessment before October to ensure I could start my level 3 modules as planned. For the 2017-18 academic year, many thought me ambitious for studying two level 2 modules simultaneously and why shouldn’t they be right when it came to results day?

So when news trickled in on Monday that results were in a day early, with trembling hands I went into the safari app on my iPhone and logged into StudentHome, the OU place where all your info is stored. People hadn’t been lying or joking. Results were in… I clicked on to the K240 module result page first, wanting to know the outcome of my exam after being so worried about it on the day. Pass! Overall examinable score: 85; overall continuous assessment score: 66. This all amounts to a grade 2 pass. So far, I’m not quite sure what a grade 2 pass is, but it sounds good. Feeling relieved and thrilled about the decent scores, I moved onto K217. Pass! Overall examinable score: 78; overall continuous assessment score: 75. Another grade 2 pass.

I’d done it. Really and truly passed. With more than pleasing grades. I could continue study in October with level 3 modules. The level 2 part of my degree was completed. That over ambition and dedication and perseverance had paid off. I’D PASSED!!! Somehow, I’d managed to study two level 2 modules simultaneously and come out with respectable passes. When I’d decided to take the plunge last May when signing up for these modules, I hadn’t honestly bee sure whether I could really do it, really study two modules simultaneously and come out unscathed and for the better the other side. In February 2016, I’d taken on another level 1 module alongside AA100 the arts past and present. By starting study of K101, I’d started my OU health and social care journey, which gave me a real taste for the subject area and has lead to me ending up here, now, with 4 health and social care modules passed, on my way to starting what I’m planning to be my final year of OU study in October. If I can work even harder than I have this year, hopefully this time next year Ill be sat typing one of these updates with a further two modules passed, the final two, meaning I’ll have my degree. Anything could happen in the next 12 months that could lead to me being unable to complete two modules simultaneously, meaning that I couldn’t collect a degree in a year’s time. But I’m really hopeful that I can manage it. This time next year, I hope to have loads of job interviews lined up, be heading into the world of employment, putting my study and education days behind me. But who knows? The one main barrier I see to me managing this goal is the workload for the level 3 modules. Ive already seen several students online giving others advice from experience of studying level 3 modules and saying that they’re quite tough, that you have to think for yourself a lot more and be proactive and use your initiative when completing assignments, much more than you do at level 2. But I’m up for the challenge. That, at least, must give me a good chance. In a year’s time, I hope to report yet again that my daring ambition has paid off. I don’t see why I can’t be lucky again. The shock of passing both my level 2 modules has worn off now but its spurred me on to do just as well next year. But for now, I’m going to continue to enjoy my sunny summer break and hope and pray that study isn’t too hard for me next academic year. For now, I’m just going to remain mighty glad I’ve managed to get this far. For the girl who wanted to give up study 3 years ago and run head first straight into employment, I think I’m doing pretty well as a student.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 20

After a week’s break while Jenny went on holiday, yesterday we were back to our usual time and place for another My Guide session, off to practice the Woolston route yet again. Last time I wrote, I said I was considering the possibility of doing the route solo or at least with Jenny just shadowing me and giving no hints about direction. But yesterday I just wasn’t in the mood. It wasn’t anything in particular that made me feel that way, I just didn’t fancy the added pressure of remembering everything. Plus, as there’s no progress with Guide Dogs, I don’t see any reason in rushing into doing routes solo when there’s really no need right now.

The outward route went well. I remembered things quite well, checking with Jenny at certain parts. There’s still little bits of the route that I need to persevere with practising. For example, walking along one road there’s a point where I need to cross to be on the opposite side of the road and for that I have to count 3 raised cement block things — at least that’s what they feel like with my cane — to know the exact point to cross. Before now, I was trying to rely on my Victor Reader Trek to announce the landmark at the right point instead of needing to count but it never quite gets it right. Similarly, when I’m almost home, on one of the last crossings before I reach my pathway, I walk up a slight hill and have to know the correct place to stop and cross so that I don’t cross and walk into the middle of the road. Although these are only minor things, they’re still things I need to perfect before I can consider doing the route solo. Perhaps next time Jenny and I practice the route I’ll get her to shadow me. We’ll see how I’m feeling.

We stopped to see Dad and popped into Piggy’s for refreshment, where Jenny had her usual Americano with hot milk on the side and I ticked off another milkshake from their list, this time the toffee nut milkshake. It was very nice. I also tried one of their triple chocolate cookies, which wasn’t too bad. On the way out, we popped in to see Dad and spoke to him about routes from my house to Nan and Grandad’s house. Dad had told me a long time ago that the route I’m learning to Tamsin’s school can be extended into a route to my grandparents house, but that the way I’m learning is unnecessarily long. There’s a shorter more convenient route but because I wanted to learn long routes for Guide Dogs, I didn’t initially consider it. But by using Dad’s version of the route, I’m learning a route almost completely separate from what I’m already learning and already know. I’m hoping it won’t be too much of a challenge. There are overlapping points during the route with other routes I have, for example the first part of the route walks up to my local Co-op, which was the first local route I knew. Jenny and I have agreed to meet next Friday morning at 9:30 to walk the route to my grandparents and see how it goes. Yesterday, Jenny drove both routes, the incredibly long one and Dad’s suggestion. The longer one she said was about 2.4 miles each way and Dad’s suggestion only1.8, which is still a rather decent walking amount. She’s predicting even Dad’s suggestion will take over an hour each way, but we’ll just have to see when we walk it for the first time next week. So as of next Friday, Jenny and I will be learning 3 routes simultaneously: the Woolston route, which I’m very close to mastering; the school route which isn’t complicated at all and I just need to practice every few weeks to keep fresh in my mind; the new route to Nan and Grandad’s house, which will hopefully follow dads suggested direction. If Dad’s suggestion of the route doesn’t go well and either Jenny or I aren’t happy with it, we’ll test my original idea for a route to the grandparents. But I really do feel it’d be better if they were 3 almost separate routes. The Woolston route is taking me 50-ish minutes each way, the school route is roughly an hour each way and Jenny predicts that this new route will be at least an hour each way if not more. This, surely, fills Guide Dogs need for me to have more lengthy routes. Even though that isn’t their issue any more, I’m still persevering with it. I’m determined to have a decent enough workload for a dog even if I am unemployed and a student who works from home. I know plenty of other Guide Dog owners who are unemployed and have qualified successfully so I don’t see why that should be a barrier for me. Plus, even with those three routes, there’s still others I want to learn, not to mention the ones I already know and the potential for new others in the future. Really, I feel I’ve got the route thing sussed, just as long as I learn them all…

As for my other issue with Guide Dogs, sadly there’s still no progress, to my ever mounting frustration. However, just yesterday there has been a development that makes me hopeful. My friend Jemma, who has the German Shepherd Guide Dog who I looked after once, is in the process of arranging a phone meeting with the service user representative from Southampton Guide Dogs Mobility Team. Jemma feels, and I’ve come to agree, that I deserve to be assessed by another team completely independent of Southampton and that Southampton aren’t treating me fairly. Ive fought so so hard for the chance to be a Guide Dog owner and I’m just not getting anywhere, being pushed back every time I think I’m getting close. Southampton aren’t prepared to offer any support or help with my challenge to learn how to interact and socialise with dogs and every avenue I’ve ventured down to try and solve this issue myself have been a dead end. Rescue shelters and grooming parlours won’t take me because I’m a health and safety risk or liability or whatever, I don’t personally know many Guide Dog owners locally and I’ve spent time with all the family dogs we have. I’m not alien to dogs. We have had two pet dogs plus Zena in this household alone. Even if I did get some things wrong on further assessment day and gave off some wrong signals, I know how to be around a dog, I know how to look after a dog and I even know some of the specialised commands and actions needed for a guide dog after my own experience with Zena and overhearing friends with their dogs. Its such a pressurised situation that I think I’m always going to be a nervous wreck with Southampton’s team until the day they give me the approval and praise I need to move forward with an application. But I don’t feel like I’ll get that, no matter what I try. Maybe there’s just too much passed history. Maybe my experience with Seeing Dogs is clouding their judgment. Or perhaps I’m just not the kind of applicant they’re looking for. If long waiting lists and being short staffed is secretly affecting my chances then that’s unfair but understandable. Obviously I shouldn’t be penalised if the charity are having issues internally, like full waiting lists and limited staff, but what can I do about it? I want to be on good terms with the Southampton team, I crave to be the candidate they’re looking for, I want them to be the hero’s who grant me a Guide Dog like they have for so many in the region. But every time I’m coming up against brick walls and I’m fighting so hard to overcome the barriers to them I present in being a competent Guide Dog owner. But maybe to them I’m just not fighting hard enough. Or maybe they think I;ll just never be suitable, there’s too many problems. I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. I’m hoping the service user rep might have some suggestions for me moving forward, whether that be persevering with Southampton or doing whatever I need to in order to be assessed elsewhere. As I’ve said, I’d like it to be the Southampton team because that’s the way things are meant to be, but i do now feel quite intimidated every time I have anything to do with them. There’s so much emotion involved for me and always the feeling that I’m not doing whatever it is they’re assessing right. Maybe that’s a result of there always being something else I need to get right for them. Maybe I’m not destined to be a Guide Dog owner. But I just can’t see that that’s the answer. With the support of friends and family, I looked after Zena really well. She had everything she ever needed and money wasn’t even questioned when it came to getting whatever she needed. As for our working relationship, I could have done things much better, I know that now. But at the time I tried my absolute hardest and I know I’d do that all again and much more if I was given another chance with a new dog. Plus, having the support of all the Guide Dogs trained staff, the network of Guide Dog friends I have and the online Guide Dogs community, there would always be someone to turn to if I had a problem, a wealth of experience and knowledge for me to take advantage of that just didn’t work with Zena. Obviously, there were still things Guide Dog friends could advise about with Zena and for those I’ll always be grateful. But having the full network of the entire Guide Dogs community at my disposal I know would help a lot.

But its all just dreams still. At the moment, I need to focus on learning these routes to the best of my ability. The Woolston and school routes are both going really well and I hope next week our exploration of the route to my grandparents goes really well too. If it does, it’ll be another one to add to my nicely expanding list of routes. This, of course, means that if I am lucky enough to be assessed by another team or Southampton reconsider in the future, I’ll have many more routes under my belt than I did last time I applied. All I can hope is that all these sessions help towards something and stand for more than just get in exercise, practising my long cane skills and having the opportunity to work with someone as lovely as Jenny. There was always a goal for all these routes and I really hope all my dedication, determination, perseverance and progress eventually leads to me achieving that goal.

Mobility update: My Guide session 19 and reflections, a year since Zena

Yesterday, a gloriously sunny but far too sticky Thursday, I had my next My Guide session. Today we walked the route into Woolston which I’m definitely now remembering really well. When I ask Jenny if I’m turning the right way or going in the right direction, her answers are always yes. I’m starting to consider the real possibility that someday soon I might actually be able to walk this route by myself. Next time we practice the route, Jenny is just going to shadow me rather than interacting with me to see how much I manage without her. Currently, I’m not too sure how that will go. I know I won’t get the nervous feeling I do whenever I’m out independently with my cane because I’m aware that Jenny is with me. I’m hoping that will enable me to keep a clear head and recall the route enough to not have to check with Jenny. Of course, the original plan for these routes was for me to learn them as thoroughly as I can for Guide Dogs to then inspect and declare me suitable and ready for a dog. Obviously, that’s now not the case sadly. But I checked with the head of My Guide today and Jenny and I don’t have a time restriction on our partnership. As long is our work is still benefiting my independence and confidence and Jenny is still happy to work with me, we’re allowed to continue. This was a big relief for me because I had a courtesy call to check how things are going from the My Guide team earlier in the week and the implication I got was that there was a limited amount of time that Jenny and I got together before they match her to someone else needing a volunteer. Knowing that we have as long as Jenny is happy to work with me or as long as I need her is so reassuring. Of course, if Jenny no longer wanted to work with me or had other commitments that meant we could no longer continue our sessions, I’d totally understand and respect that decision. But until working with Jenny, I never knew how much I’d gain from learning new routes. I still feel that the best way for me to do that is with the assistance of an open-minded sighted person who knows what they’re doing; but my perception of route learning has changed a lot since Jenny and I started practising the Woolston route back in December last year… I’m still utterly useless at learning routes quickly and I think I always will be but learning long routes isn’t as complicated as I first predicted. Perhaps its because the routes I’m learning aren’t particularly complex, I don’t know. But they are lengthy routes — much longer than anything I’ve attempted with my cane before — and yet I’m learning them, retaining them and being able to walk them the following week, asking Jenny for less prompts each time we attempt them. For me, that’s an achievement. Never did I think I’d be able to say that I’m currently learning two separate routes which are both take an hour there and an hour back roughly. I’m learning those routes simultaneously and we’re about to branch out even further… whilst enjoying our rest in Piggy’s Coffee Shop & Restaurant in Woolston, Jenny and I discussed expanding our routes to start walking to Nan and Grandad’s, which was the next route to be learnt on my list. I couldn’t describe quite how you get to their house from the point of Tamsin’s school that we’ve covered so far and so we agreed to ask Dad after we finished our drinks, Jenny’s an Americano with hot milk on the side and mine a raspberry milkshake. I’m determined to try all the flavours on their list. So far, I’ve tried salted caramel, butterscotch, white chocolate and raspberry; 4 down, 22 to go!

When we popped into Dad’s shop, he explained to Jenny how you get to Nan and Grandad’s from the point we’ve learnt up to and she said she’d check it out on a map later on and work out if it was doable. I really hoped it would be. Being able to walk or even get to Nan and Grandad’s independently would be great. It’s a proper destination with an actual purpose rather than just somewhere I know how to get to. Currently, we go to their house twice a week for dinner so it would be a great opportunity to work a dog. Getting back to me later, Jenny has discovered that just to get to Nan and Grandad’s it’ll potentially take an hour and a half and be about 2.2 miles walking. For my FitBit steps and mileage this is great news but I’d have been more than understanding if Jenny said she wasn’t prepared to undertake something like that or didn’t feel I’d be capable of conquering a route like that. On the contrary, we now have a date on our calendars for our first attempt to Nan and Grandad’s, planned for two weeks today. I’m excited about the prospect of a new route and really hope that my good fortune with the first two routes we’ve tried to learn will continue with the third. It would be such an achievement to say that I can walk to Nan and Grandad’s house and, like I’ve already said, such a useful opportunity to have.

The Woolston route went really well both ways and Jenny and I enjoyed very much our drink stop at Piggy’s, mostly because the temperature was rising and we needed a break. By the time I reached my front gate on the return trip, I needed more than a break… I was sweating buckets and knackered! But it felt like an achievement. In this sweltering heat I’d kept calm and carried on, as the saying goes, and persevered with the route even though I was boiling; to top it off, I’d done a good job!

While I was walking that route yesterday, I did a lot of reflecting. A year ago today, John, Seeing Dogs’ trainer, came in the early morning and collected Zena. For the previous 5 months, I’d been battling to maintain a healthy working relationship with the dog as well as bonding with her. This was made quite difficult by the fact that she didn’t engage with playtime and didn’t enjoy being groomed, even though she would stand there and let me do it. Looking back now, a whole year on since she left, I’m seeing things differently to how I did then and how I have done since. I don’t know if I’m looking at things naively now or I was then, but I can’t help how I think and feel, especially as my utter desperation for guide dog mobility and companionship mounts. Back then, I was gutted, lashing out and blaming whoever I could. Mostly, that meant the man I felt was responsible. Whether he was aware or not, all my anger at the failings of mine and Z’s partnership was aimed at him. I felt he hadn’t given us enough support, correction, direction and answers. As a first-time dog owner, this was valid and as a first-time assistance dog owner even more so. However, now I look at it differently. Our partnership wasn’t meant to be, that’s guaranteed. But was that totally his fault? I’m still unsure. Perhaps I’m clutching at straws in hope of a second chance. Perhaps I’m being too kind. Perhaps I’m placing the blame at my own door because I’ve realised, rightly or not, that I could’ve done so much more and better. I know a lot now that I didn’t then. I was stupid, thinking I knew all the ways of making the perfect dog, thinking I knew all the important guide dog rules to follow. I was an idiot. I’m not saying I got it all wrong because I don’t feel I did. But there was a lot that I did. My patience, for one thing, was definitely way under what it should have been. I expected things to be better than they realistically should have been for the stage of the partnership I was at. Maybe it shouldn’t have been the hellish 5 months I felt it was. But then every guide dog owner I’ve ever spoken to tells me it takes at least a year for you and your dog to form the right relationship, balance and trust. I thought things would have been easier and they weren’t. I thought I’d get more help from the charity who provided my guide and I didn’t. I thought the relationship I had with the dog would’ve formed better and it never did. But I should’ve been prepared. Thousands of guide dog partnerships with the best owners, trainers and dogs don’t work out. Why was I under the illusion that a dog from a tiny charity trying to do its best and I, with my non-existent personal experience, would work out? Maybe it would have if there had been more support or if the match had been better. Who knows? All I know is that sadly Zena and I didn’t work and even when she was matched and worked for a new owner, her work worsened and she was withdrawn from the partnership, being able to hang up her harness for good and move into the role of pet for new owners. Maybe it was the fault of the dog. She didn’t enjoy working and the breed wasn’t cut out for that kind of job anyway. Maybe it was the trainer and charity’s fault. Perhaps the wrong type of dog was trained. Maybe we were matched wrong. Maybe they didn’t put enough effort in where training and aftercare was concerned. Maybe the options for improving things weren’t good enough. Or maybe, just maybe, it was my fault: I didn’t persevere long enough; I didn’t give the dog long enough to try; my patience was too short with the whole thing; I wasn’t proactive enough and didn’t try to solve problems myself; I relied to heavily on the idea of getting 24 hour support and answers from the charity; my route knowledge was too limited and therefore the dog was bored in her work, it became sloppy and unmanageable and she grew to hate the harness; I rushed things and expected them to be better to soon. Looking back now, I can wholeheartedly say that if I had my time with Zena again, I’d try 100 times harder, I wouldn’t have let her go so quickly and if the same end had come for our partnership, I’d have accepted John’s offer of being replaced on the waiting list and waiting for another potential match to come along and trying again. At the time, I was so angry with how things played out and so determined that it was everyone else’s fault but mine that I thought the idea of considering another dog from the charity ridiculous. I thought I’d just be setting myself up to fail and receive more inevitable heartbreak. Looking back now, I wish I’d taken that offer. If not for anything else but to train and work with another John-trained dog and experience for myself whether the problems with Zena were recurring. If that had happened twice, I could’ve then gone on to Guide Dogs with a potentially more credible story of the charity’s faults for them to believe. Who knows? I made my choices a year ago and I’m still living with them. But the fact that I’ve now asked to be placed back on the Seeing Dogs waiting list tells me that I feel I need to give them a second chance. To be honest, I’m starting to feel it’s an option again simply because I’m getting nowhere with Guide Dogs despite my perseverance and dedication to try and meet their requirements. Really, I didn’t want Seeing Dogs to become an option in my mind and when I told Kieran, Imi and my parents they were all horrified, saying I was ridiculous and acting like a desperate irrational person. Maybe I am both. This whole situation is starting to make me feel kind of mad. Im second guessing every decision I’ve ever made about my mobility in any sense, either with Zena or with a cane. But the glaring fact that I preferred dog mobility even on the worst days with Zena is still obvious to me and guides me in the knowledge that guide dog mobility works for me if only I could make myself work for it. By that I mean having a big enough workload and the right attitude to tackle another partnership, especially if it had bad days like mine and Zena’s. I’m so determined to have a guide dog again, I can’t even put into words how much. I will continue to learn routes until I can walk every local street and will persevere with trying to find dogs to interact with in the hope that one day Southampton’s mobility team feel I’ve tried hard enough, shown enough proactive attitude and find me suitable. If John tells me he’s got a match before then then I’ll tentatively explore it. I’ll meet with the dog, walk with the dog and even train with it if I feel things go well enough. But there will be conditions and hesitancy if that ever happens. Obviously I’d struggle to refuse any dog anyone presented me with but I’d be cautious with John. Not necessarily because of him but because of my experience. I wouldn’t want to repeat my same mistakes twice. With Zena, I threw myself into the partnership, into her, before I even considered the possibility that she wasn’t the right dog, that things weren’t going to work out despite the glaringly obvious flaws in the partnership right from the very beginning. On the walk that turned out to be my matching walk, I remarked that I enjoyed the feel and motion of the dog by my side but that I though I’d need a slightly slower dog. Then, I’d been dubious about the breed when John said he thought she was a suitable match. Further, when she arrived with me, she had a pre-existing health problem, which John offered to stall the partnership due to. I was looking at the situation through rose-tinted specks, thinking that at least someone was giving me the chance, that any dog would do. But here were the first taletell signs that things weren’t right, that I should be cautious and careful before investing my emotions and money in this dog. But of course I didn’t. I threw my mind, body and soul into our partnership when it was never meant to be. Maybe no Seeing Dogs partnership and I aren’t meant to be. But as I shot down John’s offer of retraining, I don’t honestly know. My mind and my heart and my gut are in constant conflict with each other about the whole thing. It’s such a mess, and all of my own creation. Who’s to say that accepting a second Seeing Dog wouldn’t double that mess? On the other hand, who’s to say that I might spend forever truing to gain Southampton’s approval when giving John and Seeing Dogs a second chance might provide the thing I’m desperate for? The fact that I thought that before being matched with Zena makes most people think I’m nuts to even consider Seeing Dogs again. But I can’t explain the turmoil in my mind about it all. Some days, I think I’ve come to a reasonable conclusion and others my mind is spinning with ideas and questions and possibilities. Who knows what the right choice or answer is? Im sure plenty of people could give me their opinion and of course I always welcome and consider everyone’s thoughts. But I don’t think that anything anyone could say would resolve the turmoil in my mind about it all permanently. For a while, I might see that person’s point of view and agree with them. But then another perspective would float into my mind and cloud things. I don’t think there’s a right answer. I will continue to persevere with my routes and somehow try to find more opportunities to socialise, observe and interact with dogs. I will try to keep my aim focused on Guide Dogs; they will always be my first and preferred choice, just for the amount of support guide dog owners get and the reassurance that if things go wrong, there’s a whole community waiting to advise and support me. Plus, Guide Dogs are a huge, well-renowned and highly successful organisation and they are the main, and for some sole, provider of Guide Dog mobility in the UK. I want to be a part of that community. I want to be able to proudly introduce my Guide Dog. I don’t want to always have to explain about the little charity I got my mobility aid from and why I don’t have one from the main source like most blind people. But I feel like I’m forever fighting with Southampton. I think for some reason they are reluctant to accept me and hesitant to support me. I don’t know why. Maybe I just don’t meet their requirements and I’m not the right kind of candidate. I so wish I could be everything they’re looking for. I wish they didn’t have a single doubt about placing me on their waiting list, finding me a suitable match and me having a successful partnership with one of their dogs. I wish I could do something to prove to them that I’m 100% committed to being a guide dog owner and would give 110% go any partnership I’m placed in. I wish there was a way of making myself their ideal applicant. I’ve tried. I’ve tried so so hard. I’ve persevered with my routes and I’ve tried to find opportunities for me to interact with dogs so that my interacting and handling skills are what they’re looking for in a prospective guide dog owner. But finding those opportunities is so so difficult. Also, understanding in what way I need to improve those skills and knowing in what ways I need to act to be what they’re looking for is almost impossible. Yet they seem to be saying that they’ve given me all the direction they can, that I’ve got to be proactive and the rest is up to me. I’m just so baffled by it all. In February this year, I thought I was doing so well with my routes and on my way to Guide Dogs seeing that I have the determination and dedication to be a guide dog owner. Then, everything was blown apart in March when they gave yet more reasons why I’m unsuitable. Sometimes, I feel my brain must resemble scrambled eggs when I’m thinking this all through and I hope this post reflects that. To anyone who does think I’m mad reconsidering Seeing Dogs, they way I look at it is that it’s a much better choice than some of the ideas I’ve considered, such as buying my own pet to have in the house to take away my longing for a dog or buying a puppy to train up as a guide myself. Buying a pet would be pointless, however much the idea plagues me, and there’s no way I’d ever be capable of training my own guide dog, especially with the limited experience I currently possess. But these thoughts show just how muddled I am about the whole situation.

A year ago today, Zena wandered out of my life, walked away on lead by her trainer who seemed more than confident that she’d soon be matched with a new owner and doing a great job. A year ago today, I crumpled on the floor of the room in which all of her stuff was kept, after locking the front door shakily, and sobbed. A year ago today, I scrubbed out a food bin, folded up a crate and packed all my doggy essentials into boxes with a heavy heart, feeling 99% certain I’d made the right decision. A year ago, I was already considering phoning guide dogs, had already asked Imi how long I should leave it before making the call so not to appear insensitive or desperate. I thought I’d made the right choice and that better mobility lay ahead in the form I wanted. How wrong was I? Whether my decision about Zena was right or wrong, I know that I was fair in thinking that a year later I’d be in a better position to have another guide dog. How wrong I was yet again. I may be learning great routes that will be essential in keeping a young partnership healthy and interesting but that isn’t even relevant to my application for a dog, which is firmly closed for other reasons whichI don’t feel I can improve or erase. I knew how to get over the routes barrier and although I was stupidly stubborn to do it, now I see how simple it was. But the handling and interaction… I just have no idea. All the ideas I had seem to have fallen flat. But there’s no way of me being reconsidered without improving. And not knowing how to means I can’t. I thought I was an ok dog owner. Yes, I got plenty wrong but who doesn’t with their first dog? But I tried so hard. I’m not going to say I tried my best because in hindsight I really didn’t. But at the time I felt I did.

A year ago today, a dog who had complicated yet enlightened me in so many ways walked out of my life, because I wanted her too. She was taken away according to my wishes, nobody else’s. and now, I wish she hadn’t been. Until I have a new fulfilling partnership with a canine and can view this all differently, that’s how I’ll continue to feel about it, that I made a mistake, or few. Like I said, who knows what the right decisions were and what the right choices are now? All I know is that I’m scrambled, that I want dog mobility and that I’ll do anything to get that however I can. I’m sorry to anyone who has trawled through this mammoth amount of rambling, but that, inevitably, was what I created this blog for. It wasn’t for detailed accounts of my progress in life or times spent with my best friends, it was for long complicated ramblings that really should be banished to a secret hard drive somewhere but that, for some reason, I feel like publishing on my WordPress blog all about my ramblings. Jesuisfoole turned 3 on the 18th of June. When I wrote those first few really rubbish blog posts back in 2015, I didn’t expect to still be typing stuff 3 years on. But here I am! And weirdly, people actually read this stuff. Hopefully, one day I won’t be rambling on about how much I need and want a guide dog. Hopefully I’ll be writing soppy posts about how much the dog has enhanced and changed my world. I can keep dreaming. But for now, more mobility updates of me walking old and new routes. I will persevere. One day, surely all that perseverance and effort will lead to the end goal I’ve always had. Surely?

Zena is a crazy, hairy, energetic, bouncy, noisy 3 year old Hungarian wirehaired vizsla. Last time I saw her, she was 2 and hated a harness. Now, I’ve heard she’s loving life as a withdrawn Seeing Dog, living as a family pet. For her, I definitely stick by my words a year ago in knowing that I made the right decision. For me, as this post has probably shown, I’ll never be certain. I loved all 25kg of that funny girl and I miss her every single day. I miss her big basket, of which she only ever used a third, being at the end of my bed. I miss the rough nose sniffing in my ear. I miss the excitement at breakfast, dinner or treat time. I miss her love and enthusiasm for the only toys she was interested in, soft fluffy ones. I miss the pattering clatter of her paws on our laminate flooring. I miss the bark every time there was a strange noise, a knock at the door, a person walking by at night. And I miss the bad things: spending hours waiting for her to toilet; cajoling her into letting me administer ear drops; persuading her to let me groom her; being frustrated when walks went wrong; the pools of water trails her beard would cause all over the floor; the insistence to bark however much I tried to teach her not to. Mostly, I just miss having her here and everything that meant. I miss ordering dog food, going out even when I didn’t want or need to, buying countless accessories just because I could, giving her treats, having her follow me like a shadow, feeding time, bed time, grooming, rare playtimes, photo opportunities, feeling free. Zena gave me things I’m yet to experience again. She gave me the feeling of freedom and confidence my cane will never manage. Contrastingly, she made me feel more hopeless and down about a situation than I ever had before or have since. It was quite a rollercoaster of emotions and has continued to be since. Where it’ll end, I don’t know. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the partnership I crave.