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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mobility Update: Guide Dogs Guide Dog Assessment October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Uni: K118 update 23/01/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 31 and 32

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 26 and 27

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

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

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

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

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

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.