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.

“A turd the size of Disneyland Paris”

Another lovely time has come and gone and so, even though I’m a little late in doing so, I’m going to write about it. On Wednesday the seventeenth of May, Kieran boarded a plane and flew down to Southampton on the late flight from Newcastle. Again, I stayed into babysit Tamsin, who was in bed, while Mum collected Kieran from the airport. He was coming down to stay because it was soon to be my birthday and he had arranged to go to a festival on Southampton Common with Josh. Also, we had booked to see Jon Richardson at the Mayflower Theatre that Thursday evening. It had been booked for months and we were all very much looking forward to it. Thankfully, Kieran’s plane didn’t land early like last time so Mum was there in time to pick him up. 

Unlike usual, Thursday wasn’t a particularly lazy day. Normally, on Kieran’s first day of staying, we hardly do anything. Of course, with the comedy show that evening, there was already plans for the day. We managed to fill the rest of the day with bits and pieces, too. Our usual breakfast of Weetabix and tea was nice, as always, and once we were all tidied up, I decided to take Zena out for a working walk. I wanted to try as hard as I could to keep up Zena’s work while Kieran was staying. Obviously, I’d much rather spend all my time with him, but Zena needed to be worked, too, and I didn’t really fancy any judgmental comments from anyone about how much work my dog should be doing and how lazy I was for not going out. She didn’t work very well, though; I only went to the local Co-op, which is about a twenty-minute walk there and back. Not a big walk but a decent route to keep Zena’s concentration. That part of the plan failed, anyway, as she hardly concentrated at all. But I was glad I’d taken her out for a working walk all the same.

 

After that, Kieran and I agreed to watch Jon Richardson’s Funny Magnet comedy DVD on my Ipad to prepare us for our evening. For dinner, we’d agreed to order a takeaway as we were meant to be meeting Josh around seven o’clock. As Mum doesn’t usually get home until between a quarter past and half past six, I knew there was no way she’d be able to cook us something in time. Anyway, the takeaway we were ordering from had mozzarella sticks so there was no way I could resist. In the end, Kieran decided on a cheese and bacon burger with cheesy chips and I settled on a portion of donner meat and chips. Alongside our meals, we added a cheesy garlic pizza bread, onion rings, mozzarella sticks and doughnuts to share. We had a can of fanta fruit twist each. The food was delicious; I hadn’t tasted such nice donner meat in ages. The kebab van to which I go when I want donner meat sometimes burns their meat, making it crispy. But this meat was so nice. The chips weren’t bad, either. Kieran’s burger was pretty big and he enjoyed it very much. We both picked at the sides we had to share, eating as much of them as we possibly could. There was plenty left over when we were done, though, and again we commented that whenever we order takeaway we get far too much. Eyes bigger than our bellies wasn’t really an appropriate line, but words to the same sentiment would have worked.

 

When Mum arrived home, we were already ready to go. She drove us to the theatre, where we met Josh for the show. I’d checked with Josh several times beforehand and the theatre had agreed that I would be allowed to take Zena to the show. I don’t really like leaving her with anyone. Even though they’re my family, it’s hard to trust anyone to look after her, especially as I’m trying to stick to the rules as closely as I can. To a lot of people, she’s just a cute and very affectionate dog but to me she’s the guide dog I’ve been desperate to have for years. I don’t want anything to go wrong. Plus, exposing her to atmospheres such as those at a theatre is good for both of us as a partnership. Once we were inside the theatre, Josh navigated us to a standing area, where we’d been told it would be safest to be with Zena. Beforehand, when Josh had mentioned it to me, I’d assumed that I’d just stand with Zena and the boys would sit in their paid for seats. But they both stood with me. The show was great. Jon was hilarious. We were all laughing pretty much constantly throughout. To begin with, we all stood up at the rail and I made sure Zena led down in the space behind us. But eventually our legs were aching too much and we sat down on the carpet with Zena, who was very happy with the sudden company. Every now and then, we stood up for short periods of time to listen, laugh and applaud. Each time, though, we ended up sat back down on the carpet. I felt very guilty that both boys had aching bones; after all, it was my fault for insisting that I bring Zena with us. But neither of them seemed to mind. If they did, they didn’t let on to me even once, and I appreciated that.

 

After we’d come home and I’d let Zena out to do her business, Kieran and I headed upstairs, with pints of water to drink, to watch some more comedy. During his show, Jon Richardson had mentioned his once flat mate Russell Howard several times. This had made me want to watch one of his DVD’s. So we watched the one with the strange name, Dingledodies, which was also hilarious. While we watched, I ate one of the doughnuts we’d bought with our takeaway, feeling a bit hungry. It was nice to have had such a nice evening with Kieran and Josh. It only happens when we manage to get together, but it’s always great.

 

Friday was a lazy day. We filled the day time with watching Judge Judy and The Chase and in the evening, once Mum was home, she cooked us lasagne and chips. While Mum and I caught up on East Enders and Red Water from the previous night, Kieran watched The Big Bang Theory on his phone.

 

Thankfully, Saturday was a little more active. In the morning, we watched Gogglebox, The Last Leg and more Judge. Then, when she was ready to take us, Mum drove us into town and we went on our first Nando’s date in a little while. Kieran chose the double burger with hot sauce, sides of spicy rice and peri salted chips and a beer and I had my usual of a double lemon and herb wrap with peri salted chips and a refillable coke. Unfortunately, the waiter was quite slow in serving us and I was concerned about how much time we had because Mum was just browsing the shops in town waiting to collect us so that she could then drive to pick Dad up from work when he finished at five o’clock. Although there may have been time, I declined Kieran’s offer of dessert. One day, I am going to have their frozen yoghurt like I say I will every time we go. While we ate and chatted, Zena led down underneath the table in the space free beside me. She was fairly well-behaved and I was pleased.

 

When we were home, we watched more Russell Howard, this time Right Here Right Now and Wonderbox, both of which were very funny. Kieran had some prawn cocktail crisps, which made Mum very happy as he’s the only one who eats them and we had a bit of a back log of them, while I had some sweets from the cupboard that needed eating. After the comedy was over, it was time for a serious film. Kieran had told me, after he’d watched it with his parents, that I needed to watch I Daniel Blake because I’d like it very much; he was also quite sure that it would make me cry. It certainly fulfilled that promise. The story tells of a man who has a heart problem and therefore can’t currently work. He’s desperate to go back to work but is told to claim benefits. It shows of the struggles faced by anyone contacting the DWP and how hard it is to be granted benefits. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to claim benefits and live comfortably on them certainly needs to watch this film.

 

Sunday was the final day of the Premier League, which meant a lot of football. Before the football started, we watched even more Judge and some Come Dine With Me. Then, it was football time. While I listened to commentary of the Liverpool vs Middlesborough match, Kieran listened to the Sky Sports commentary, which updated you on all the games going on. During the football, Mum cooked us a very nice spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread, which we ate in the kitchen with our earphones still in, glued to the commentary. Overall, there were 37 goals and afterwards we watched Chelsea lift the trophy and John Terry’s send-off. I was pleased, too, because Liverpool had won their game by three goals to nil which meant that they were securely in the top four of the Premier League.

 

After all the football, we watched a bit more Come Dine With Me before going downstairs and watched The Super Vet with Mum. After that, there was a count down of the greatest eighties movies on Channel 5. This lasted for three hours so we didn’t get to see all of it because Kieran wanted to watch Match Of The Day upstairs, during which I fell asleep.

 

Monday was a really hot day at 21 degrees but I managed to get out to work Zena for a little bit. On our big route to the local gym, I managed to get to the library corner, which is before you turn on to the main road that leads up to the gym, before turning back to come home. We were both really melting by the time I got home. While I’d been out, Kieran had been updating both my laptops; Windows 10 had a big update and that sort of thing is probably beyond me so it’s just easier and better for everyone if Kieran tackles it. To be fair, he offered. Out in the back garden, I groomed Zena and gave her a wash in the warm water and oil mixture a friend advised me to use to keep the really strong doggy smell she seems to have at bay. When Mum came home, she cooked us beef and caramelised onion and minted lamb burgers with chips and spaghetti hoops for tea. I didn’t like the beef burgers much and think I may have liked the lamb ones better. Kieran said both were nice. Afterwards, we watched East Enders and then The Chase before going to bed.

 

On Tuesday, we awoke to the news that there had been a terror attack in Manchester at a concert. When I awoke around four in the morning and saw the headline, I woke Kieran and told him. We were both very shocked. For the majority of the day, we watched the news headlines to see what was going on. It was incredibly scary and upsetting news, especially as the amount of casualties was confirmed and their names and ages were released. To think that those people had just gone to a concert to watch an artist they loved and had consequently lost their lives as they were leaving. It was heartbreaking as a lot of them were young people, many under the age of sixteen, and some were parents coming to collect their children from the concert. The only humbling thing about it was to see how the emergency services and general public had reacted minutes after the first panicked calls had come from the scene. The way England responds to terror attacks is incredible. Since then, a concert has been held to show that the country, and indeed the world, is standing together in the face of terrorists and that with their evil crime they haven’t accomplished anything, except for a country pulling even closer together.

 

In the evening, Kieran offered to buy everyone pizza. We bought two medium pizzas, potato wedges, BBQ chicken wings, garlic bread, cookies and coke. Everyone tucked in while we watched East Enders followed by Holby and then Wentworth.

 

Again, Wednesday was another hot day but at last I managed to take Zena on our long working walk to the gym and back. We really were melting by the time I got home. We didn’t do much for the rest of the day but when Mum got in she cooked us chicken nuggets with chips and spaghetti hoops. We all watched the Manchester United vs Ajax Europa League match.

 

Another hot day came on Thursday and Zena had managed to roll in something smelly so I had to wash her again. I used warm water with the oils in plus a squirt of baby shampoo. My hope was that the nice smell of this might take to Zena’s fur or at least remove the nasty smell she was wafting about. It was absolutely boiling in the garden, so much so that Kieran’s phone came up with a warning that it was too hot to continue functioning. In the afternoon, we finished off the Dominoes cookies and Kieran booked the table for six at Yates Southampton for my birthday the following week. After this, we watched The Chase. Then, Mum cooked us dinner of garlic pork (for me) and Chinese chicken (for Kieran) with mashed potato and carrots. We watched East Enders, The Super Vet and Red Water.

 

On Friday morning, a parcel came for me. It was flowers from Kieran and a big birthday balloon. The flowers were called unicorn dusted roses and apparently sparkled. They smelt lovely and the balloon was great. Generally, I’m not a big fan of balloons but the helium foil ones are fine. I booked a table for the two of us at Frankie and Benny’s that evening. Another date night was in order. Kieran said it was his treat and I felt a little guilty about that because I knew it would be expensive. They had a good deal on though where, if you bought two main meals, the cheaper one was free. In the end, Kieran and I ate like royalty. For a starter, I had BBQ loaded potato skins with cheese and bacon and Kieran had Louisiana hot wings. I had a peach iced tea and he had a beer. Then, for mains, I had mushroom ravioli and Kieran had spaghetti and meatballs. I had a side of a cheesy garlic pizza bread and Kieran had cheesy bacon chips. I had another iced tea because it really was that nice. The food was lovely and afterwards I couldn’t resist the warm chocolate brownies with ice cream, whipped cream and sauce. The menu has it as chocolate sauce but I asked if I could swap it for salted caramel sauce and they agreed. It was amazing! Probably one of the best puddings I’d had in a while. Instead of a pudding, Kieran chose a cocktail, which he enjoyed very much. I think it was the best date night we’d had in a while and the nicest food I’ve eaten in ages. The ravioli had been a risk because I wasn’t sure if it would be nice or not. But I was really glad I’d taken the risk; it was delicious and I know I’ll be having it again on another Frankie and Benny’s trip, along with those amazing brownies. The size of the plates that my ravioli and Kieran’s meatballs came on were unbelievable. We definitely ate more food than two people really should eat in one evening.

 

Saturday brought the festival that Kieran and Josh had bought tickets to go to together. It was on Southampton Common and I felt bad because the traffic was bad in Southampton that morning so we were late in meeting Josh at Southampton station. Thankfully, we managed to get the boys there in time.

 

The following day, Josh and Kieran came back to mine at around four and told me all about the great time they’d had. It seemed to have been even better than they’d anticipated and it was really nice to hear about everything they’d done and how much they’d enjoyed it together. After Josh left, I went downstairs to have cheese and leek pasta while Kieran had a shower. Then, we watched the film I Give It A Year, which I hadn’t seen before and Kieran recommended. It was very funny. After that finished, we watched Gogglebox and Micky Flannigan’s Back In The Game. While that was on, midnight came and went, meaning it was my twentieth birthday. Kieran gave me his presents of a new Sky remote branded with the Liverpool crest, a lovely bracelet to replace the one he’d bought at Christmas that had broken and a mug which says `everything is better with a dog`. I loved them all, especially my bracelet as I’d missed wearing the one he’d bought before. The new one looked a lot stronger. It’s metal and although the strands of it are very thin and fragile, it seems to be held together well and I’m hoping it will last a long time.

 

In the morning, we went down for breakfast where Mum and Dad gave me the presents they’d bought. Kieran and I spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out how my new Apple Watch charging stand actually worked. It had come in several pieces which fit together to make it hold the charging cable and charge the watch in nightstand mode. Eventually, we figured it out. After showering and dressing, I made sure Zena was comfortable in her little room with a full bowl of water, her Nylabone and her new Kong teddy bear, named Jim by Kieran. Then, we all bundled into the car and headed for Yates where we were joined by Josh, my grandparents, my aunt and cousin for my birthday meal. I had a southern fried chicken wrap with curly fries and a coke and Kieran had a loaded stack burger, which literally contains everything, with curly chips and a beer. Mum had bought me a pick-and-mix birthday cake which was shaped like a cupcake but the chicken in the wrap had made me feel a little queasy so the cake was far too sweet to eat. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, though. Before the wrap made me feel funny, I had fancied the toffee apple crumble from the menu so am determined to try it another time when we go to Yates again.

 

When we got home, we watched a bit of Judge Judy before changing channel to watch the brand new series of The Chase. ITV had stopped it about a month earlier and it had outraged a lot of people. But I was very happy it was back. Afterwards, we watched Pointless and then more Judge. While I had a bath, Kieran watched The IT Crowd and Family Guy through the chromecast. Downstairs, we watched East Enders, diabolically awful Britain’s Got Talent and then Can’t Pay, We’ll Take It Away. Overall, it had been a pretty great birthday. I’d been spoiled with lovely gifts, including those that had come from afar from Imi and Kieran’s family, and spent time with some of my favourite people.

 

Tuesday was another lazy day. We watched telly during the day, including Police Intercepters and The Chase. In the evening, I bought Chinese takeaway for everyone as Mum had said she fancied it the night before. We had: special fried rice, prawn crackers, curry chips, Hong Kong style sweet and sour chicken, chicken balls with sweet and sour sauce, mini spring rolls and a blackbean delight which included chicken, beef, pork and king prawns. Kieran chose the blackbean delight and prawn crackers, Tamsin wanted the chicken balls, I picked the sweet and sour chicken and we decided to share the rice, mini spring rolls and curry chips. When I was ordering the food, I asked Mum what she wanted but she just said she’d share Tamsin’s chicken balls. I was a little annoyed as it had been her idea to have the Chinese and I knew she’d normally choose her own meal; also, she didn’t end up eating much of the food, even though we had quite a bit left and Kieran had seconds. We watched East Enders, Holby and The Chase.

 

Of course, Wednesday arriving meant the end of Kieran’s stay. Two weeks had flown by so fast and I was sad that he was leaving, even more so this time because we really have no idea when we’ll see each other again. Kieran is waiting to hear back from the council where he completed his work experience trying to decide which part of the IT department he’d like to work in. They said they’d put an apprenticeship together for him and then get back to him on when he can start. I’m really pleased that the work experience is leading to something and that it will be paid work that can go on to his CV and hopefully lead to good career prospects in the area he wants to work in. It’ll be great for him to be working again as he really enjoyed his job in Worcester and the work experience he’s just finished. Sadly, employment means it’ll be harder for us to see each other. I feel very sad about that. We’ve done really well for the last almost year and a half and I only pray it can continue if either or both of us gain employment. It was quite easy when Kieran worked in Worcester because I could go and stay at the weekends once a month or so. The train journey to Hereford was quite a nice one. But I don’t think there’s any way I’ll be able to do that once he’s working in Newcastle. I wouldn’t expect him to do the same if I got a job here in Southampton because a weekend, although great, is a very short amount of time for quite an expensive flight. Although I’m not sure how we’ll manage it, I know somehow Kieran and I will find a way to see each other, however infrequent and short the time we get is. I’m sure that somehow we’ll make it work, hopefully with our parents helping out whenever they can. Most of all, though, I’m thrilled for Kieran; I’m glad he’s able to take a step in the right direction towards employment and the career he wants. I hope that I can gain employment or at the very least experience to boost my CV, too. It’s all steps in the right direction towards the future we want.

 

Before going to the airport, Dad took us to KFC so that we could have lunch. I was glad because it meant Kieran had had something more than just breakfast to eat before his flight. He’d fancied it the night before but we’d agreed on Chinese because Mum wanted it. I had a large popcorn chicken meal and Kieran had a mighty bucket for one which included chicken wings, chicken fillets and pieces of chicken with a side of gravy. We both enjoyed the food. At the airport, the check-in process was very speedy and they were ready to take Kieran through security straight away. It was a sad goodbye, but we really have had a great two weeks. I just hope the next time isn’t too far away. Long distance isn’t much fun but it’s definitely worth it for the time we get.

 

Zena update May 2017

Saturday 13 May

With some advice from John, today I bought a bottle of sunflower oil to add in small quantities to Zena’s meals. I explained to John how Mum noticed that Zena seems to have been struggling to poo recently and he suggested that I add a teaspoon of oil to each meal. The likelihood being that it would loosen Zena’s bowels and make the process much easier. In contrast, though, he warned me that the down sides to this may be that Zena’s fur becomes oily or developing a kind of dandruff flake to it. Neither of these would be particularly visually or textually appealing so I would really rather avoid them. However, anything to possibly aid Zena’s toileting routine. It still hasn’t really improved since during training. She still goes irregularly, although I’d like to think that she doesn’t skip times as much anymore. When it does happen, though, it still frustrates me beyond belief. I’ve spoken to everyone imaginable, asking for advice. The Vizsla community on Facebook came back with mixed advice, including those who felt the routine was too strict and turning the dog into some kind of machine. I can understand how, from an outsider’s perspective, it could seem that way so I, backed by the majority of the others who posted comments, tried to explain how vital the routine is. Another view, from my sister, was that I shouldn’t take the routine so seriously and shouldn’t feel that it dictates every other part of our partnership. She said that she doesn’t abide by a strict routine with her Guide Dog and there are hardly ever any poo hiccups whilst working. For a short amount of time, I tried her relaxed attitude to the routine, acting calm when Zena missed a time and trying to continue with our work. However, if she misses a morning’s poo, as soon as she is out in harness, she tries to go on the pavement or any neighbouring grass. John’s advice to this was to give her some sort of restriction which forms a type of punishment. His suggestion, which I tested during training, was to keep her on lead after taking her out of her pen when she’s refusing to go and make her lie by my side whatever I’m doing until I decide to take her back out to her pen and try again. If this is upheld, she should learn that if she doesn’t go to toilet when I want her to, there’s a consequence of her not being allowed to be free inside the house. She isn’t able to get to her bed, any treats, water or toys. The hope then is that she goes to toilet knowing that she can keep her freedom and in dread of being restricted. John said it’s me having all the cards, me having control; because if Zena gets control, she’ll use it in all aspects of our partnership, including her work. I put the oil on her food and she gobbled the lot down no problem, just like she always does. I bought some measuring spoons to pour the oil into to ensure I’m giving the right amount but even that is tricky. Trying to balance the spoon and then tip the bottle at the right angle, gauging how much is pouring into the spoon is just too difficult. The bottle is too full and spillage is guaranteed. So I’m going to have to trial other methods of getting an exact teaspoon from the bottle into Zena’s meal. My next idea is a syringe. If I fill a syringe with the oil and then slowly dribble it into the teaspoon, I can accurately gauge how much I need and put the remaining oil from the syringe back into the bottle. This should minimise spillage and make the task a lot easier. As soon as I find a syringe, I’ll be able to test it.
Monday 22 May

Last week was a bad week. We hardly went out at all for working walks. I didn’t manage to get to the leisure centre at all and that made me feel pretty rubbish. It probably made Zena quite restless, too. The weather was generally quite rubbish and then, when it started to improve, I started feeling awful. My stomach was bad, my skeleton ached and my head felt fuzzy. I didn’t feel able to work her. When it was pouring down with rain and the wind was howling, I didn’t think it was safe for us to try and work. The wind affects my ears and bucketing rain makes things harder. I explained my worries to John and he didn’t seem overly concerned. I knew I just needed to keep trying my best. On the days we didn’t work, I tried to play with her a lot with her squeaky toys. I didn’t want her to become bored and even destructive if she had too much energy. She didn’t, thank goodness. We managed to get out to the local Co-op on Thursday, but it wasn’t a good walk. At least it was something, though, I told myself. I vowed that I’d do my best to make this week better. The weekend wasn’t as bad as we went out so that Kieran and I could go on a date. Zena didn’t work but at least we were out. But today we’ve managed to go out. It’s 21 degrees outside and really feels it. While Kieran and I ate our breakfast, we left the back door open and Zena enjoyed racing around the back garden and basking in the glorious sunshine overhead. Our walk was good, too; one of the best we’ve had in a while, I’d say. There wasn’t much sniffing, she got almost every curb right and she stayed at a good speed. But it was boiling and we were melting. My plan was to make it at least passed the shop but hopefully to the gym. We sailed passed the shop and I was pleased. Sweaty, but pleased! We continued on to the library corner, which is where we turn to head up to the gym. I decided to return home. I was sweating a lot, Zena was panting and had slowed down considerably. I thought pushing on to the gym was asking too much. But I’m proud we got that far. It’s a big improvement on last week already. I’m hoping tomorrow will be even better. If not, I’d at least like to keep equalling today’s progress.

After our walk, I decided to groom Zena. Because it was so nice outside, we went into the garden and I filled a bowl with warm water and added drops of lavender and t-tree oil to it. This makes it and Zena smell nice. The scent isn’t so strong on Zena as it is in the water but it still makes a little difference to her fur. It makes my grooming process more thorough, anyway, and removes all loose dead strands of fur as well as any stains or sticky bits that have clung to her coat. She hates it but the benefit overall is good. It makes her nice and clean.
Wednesday 24 May

We had another good day today. The weather has been really hot all week and John advised that I didn’t do too many long walks in the blistering sunshine. Zena already tires herself out when running around the garden and comes in panting so I didn’t want to push her too car. However, today I decided to tackle the gym route again. After Monday’s success, I wanted something good to think about again and the rest of the week’s weather forecast told that it would be even warmer. So we went to the gym; on the first leg of the trip, there was minimal corrections needed and the walk was generally quite nice, if a little too hot. She got many of the crossings right and didn’t wander off down side roads or out into the main road. The return journey wasn’t as pleasant; I think she was all puffed out and fed-up with her task. I couldn’t blame her, to be honest, as it was boiling. But we got home all in one piece, with her seeming to be trying very hard to stay focused and behave appropriately.
Thursday 25 May

Today it was definitely far too hot for any kind of walk, working or otherwise. Instead, I took Zena, her grooming tools and a bowl of warm water, to which I’d added lavender oil, t-tree oil and a dollop of Jonson’s baby shampoo, into the garden to set about the task of making Zena smell better. She’d acquired a really stinky scent and I wanted to get rid of it as it seemed to be spreading around the house. With advice from someone on the vizsla Facebook page, I’d added the shampoo in hope that it would help erase the smell. Quite sometime later, when we were both rather soggy, I was finished. Half a new dog’s worth of fur had come out of Zena’s coat and she was smelling a lot fresher thanks to the oils and shampoo. The nasty scent was gone and we were both pleased the task was complete. It was so hot outside that by the time we headed back indoors, her fur and my jeans ! completely dry again. Thanks to the doggy deodorant blueberry muffin bought for Zena as a Christmas present from my sister, her coat really was smelling a lot nicer. Due to the hot weather, the doggy deodorant had dried out straight away, leaving the scent on her coat and taking away the opportunity for it to turn into a doggy stench.
Saturday 27 May

Whilst out shopping today with Mum and Tamsin, we had to go up on to the first-floor of a shop to get to what I wanted to see. Usually, when this situation occurs, we find the lift located somewhere within the store and use that to go upstairs. However, Mum wasn’t sure if this particular shop even had a lift. Instead of wasting time trying to find one, I said I’d use the stairs while they used the escalator. Guide dogs aren’t supposed to use escalators unless they’ve specially trained to do so. Even if Zena and I had been, I’d feel weary about using them considering the length of her claws. The idea of them getting caught in the moving staircase is worse than a nightmare. So Mum took me to the stairs and they used the escalator, which was directly alongside them. I picked up Zena’s harness handle and gave her the command. Off we went. The stairs had a platform break in the middle, which Zena dealt with confidently; she has to pause at the foot or top of any set of stairs in warning to me of what’s next. Then, once the command is given, she proceeds with me by her side. Today she stopped expertly at all necessary places in the staircase, both ascending and descending. As we’ve not done many solo trips up and down stairs, I felt this was quite a proud moment and definitely a good one in what has been quite a tough month for us. I was especially pleased because Mum and Tamsin were still in view and there were several other shoppers passing us in the other direction. Although Zena wasn’t giving me her full attention, there was no slip-ups in her work and she didn’t directly pull me towards anyone. That, in my eyes, is a success.
Monday 29 May

For my birthday, I’d asked my parents for several different things, giving them options, but one item was a toy for Zena. Usually, I’ll buy her toys from anywhere I see a good-looking one. However, the Kong toys are recommended by many pet owners and even by Guide Dogs themselves as suitable for a guide dog to have. Kong do a plush bear toy who has a squeaker in its belly and a knotted rope skeleton to reinforce it. They claim that this means it is stronger and will withstand a lot of rough play from even the toughest chewers. As Zena seems to have taken an interest mainly in soft toys, I thought the knotted rope bear would be a good next step with toys. Surprisingly, Mum bought the bear for Zena; she doesn’t like buying dog accessories as presents for me as she thinks it’s not really for me. But it saves me money and benefits Zena which in turn benefits me. As soon as I’d removed the packaging from the toy, I gave it to Zena. Immediately, she fell in love with it. Jim, as the bear has been fondly named, has slept in Zena’s basket each night since and I’ve even taught her to find him. When saying the command, `find Jim`, I can make Zena look and retrieve the bear. I thought it was a fluke the first couple of times she did it but now, each time I say it, she goes and finds her new beloved friend and either brings him to me or plays with him by herself. I’m really glad Jim is such a success, especially as she doesn’t take a massive interest in toys most of the time.

Open Uni: the end of K118

Amazingly, my third Open University module has come to its end. I can’t believe how fast time has flown since I quit the literature module and switched across to my second Health and Social Care one. The process of getting onto this module was complicated and full of hurdles, but as soon as I was enrolled and had contact with the relevant support staff, time started to fly by. I’ve just this week, a week earlier than the due date, submitted my EMA (End-Of-Module Assessment) and have started my very long five-month OU holiday. It seems crazy that the module is over already and that I have finally completed Level 1 OU study, for the last time! Of course, technically I finished Level 1 study in September after completing both K101: an introduction to health and social care and AA100: the arts past and present. But as soon as I decided to switch to a health and social degree in October last year, I made AA100 redundant. Despite the fact that I scored a decent pass in the module, it cannot count towards any of my degree for the simple fact that it is the wrong subject area. History, literature and art doesn’t count towards health and social care. But a second health and social care module has easily fixed that. Of course, it means that I’m now a year behind on the schedule I had for completing my Open University career. If I can complete two Level 2 modules in the next academic year and then two Level 3 modules in the academic year following that, it’ll only have added an extra year on to my journey. However, if, as all the advisers have warned, I’m unable to achieve that giant goal, I’ll be adding extra years on to my intention for each module taken. As job searching isn’t going too well currently, this may not be the worst thing in the world. I’m already feeling boredom creeping over me and I’m only five days into my five-month OU break so dragging the degree out while I hunt for employment might be worthwhile. At least I’m not sat around doing nothing. Even if this degree contributes nothing towards the employment I finally manage, at least I don’t yet have any worrying gaps in my CV. That’s when employers start questioning things and doubting your competence and reliability.

The final TMA (Tutor-Marked-Assignment) of the module was particularly difficult. It took quite a lot of my energy to complete this assignment but it was definitely worth all the hard work as I achieved a respectable 76 percent. Alongside the TMA’s, there has also been three ICMA’s (Interactive-Computer-Marked-Assignments) to complete. As I said in a previous post, I was worried at the beginning of the module whether I’d be able to participate in these at all. My tutor explained that they were a lot like the quizzes throughout K101, except that the quizzes had been voluntary and the ICMA’s were not only compulsory but counted towards our final OCAS grade. Even though only a tiny percentage, it was still a little way to boost your grade. Also, it meant that if you did particularly badly with a TMA but got good grades in an ICMA, you had that tiny glimmer of hope that your OCAS would be saved a little. I was almost spot on about completing them, though. It was a bit of a disaster; several of the questions were diagram or graph based or had drag-and-drop features. These are totally useless to me and usually I’d just bypass them, hoping that my marks in the other questions would make up for it. In all three of the ICMA’s I got grades of 63 percent. The pass mark, for everything, is 40 percent so I surpassed that easily. To say that I didn’t answer all the questions for each assignment, I think I did quite well.

For the rest of the TMA’s, I scored pretty good grades. Chronologically, they are as follows: 88, 95, 65 and 76. I think the fact that the first two grades were very high and the final two a little lower reflects the difference in difficulty of the assignments themselves. The final two TMA’s were a lot harder than the first two seemed to be. However, I’m pretty thrilled with the scores overall. Even 65 is a good 25 percent above the necessary pass level. Also, they don’t go anywhere near my two lowest grades scored for other modules of 53 and 58. So it’s an improvement overall. I’ve just got to hope that my EMA can do the same. As long as I’m over the 40 percent necessary pass level, however, I’ll have passed the module easily. The calculator on the OU website predicts my OCAS (Overall-Continuous-Assessment-Score) as somewhere around 75 percent, which of course is pretty high and would be a good achievement if it goes through the moderators the same. If my EMA score could be close to that, I’d be thrilled. But either way, as long as I’ve passed the module, I’ll be happy and able to continue on to Level 2 with a solid foundation to my degree.

The EMA itself was quite difficult. It was split into two parts, an essay-style question and a non-essay question. When I first read through the assessment guidance, I was terrified. It looked impossible. But with the help of my tutor and the student Facebook support group, the aim of the questions finally came into focus. I threw myself into tackling the second question — the non-essay question — first because it looked a little simpler. The purpose of the question, to my understanding, was to take a website related to one of the topics studied throughout the module and analyse against a criteria we’d used to figure out the reliability of sources during our studies. As soon as I understood the question, I knew which website I wanted to analyse. My sister, Imi, writes her own blog. It’s become quite famous, actually, and has loads of subscribers. It has its own Facebook page and she updates it regularly. It’s called Upside Down Chronicles and mostly talks about her experiences with mental illness as well as some posts discussing her blindness. It fit the criteria perfectly as one of the main topics we covered was mental health and mental illness. I’m not sure how well I actually completed the question. I did what I thought the guidance was asking of us and met the word allowance easily. But I didn’t include any material from the learning guides and think maybe if I had my overall grade might have been boosted. But my tutor reassured me I didn’t need to as it was my own analysis.

The second question was a bit more of a challenge. The question asked us to discuss how combining the models we’ve learnt about with case studies used to back them up makes for a better understanding of the theory overall. We had to choose a model from each block, which made three models in total, and talk about the case studies that we’d studied alongside each one. Again, I felt like, eventually, I completed the question to quite a high standard. I felt like I addressed all of the pointers made in the guidance and did a good job of describing the benefits of combining the two, using evidence to verify my reasoning. But I guess I’ll just have to wait and see for result release day. The module website advises that our results should be available no later than the nineteenth of July. They have to have all the assignments marked and validated before they can release anyone’s results so I guess waiting two months for our grades isn’t a big ask. There’s thousands of students studying this module at any one time. I don’t mind, anyway. I’m quietly confident that I’ll have passed the module. My OCAS predicted grade suggests I’ll be fine. Unless I completed the EMA really wrong I’ll be fine. I’m quite sure I didn’t get it totally wrong.

So, another module over. One more towards my degree. Evidently, it’s not as far ahead as I’d hoped to be by this point when I signed up to be an Open University student. By now, I’d banked on being about to start Level 3 study. Clearly, I’m nowhere near that. But I’m trying my best and really I think that’s all I can do. Changing the degree pathway was my own choice but by the grades I’ve been achieving throughout this module, I’m quite sure it was the right decision regardless of the additional time it takes me to fully complete the degree. I’m just praying that Level 2 and Level 3 study go this well. If they do, I’ll be a very lucky girl.

Zena update: the last weekend in April

I’ve decided to continue my writing from the time of qualification and training, where I documented how things were going with Zena. Of course, we are now almost three months on from qualification so I’m growing in experience each day with Zena. The main reason for writing these pieces is so that I can see how things are going; I’ll be talking about the good and bad. I don’t intend to sugar coat anything. I will be brutally honest about our progress and my feelings on being a Seeing Dog owner. This is all very brand-new to me, having my own dog and also the assistance dog thing, so I want to be able to look back on my attitude towards it in weeks, months and even years to come to see how my feelings are evolving about it. Also, I feel that generally the stories written about guide dog ownership — and I write `guide dog` with lower-case lettering because I’m implying all types of guide dog and not just those from the major charity Guide Dogs — are very fluffy and warm and lovely. Usually, the awe-inspiring stories of people’s matching, training, qualification and then glorious ownership are portrayed, showing how the dog has miraculously changed the person’s life for the better, completely transforming the way they are. Now I don’t say this to imply that it’s incorrect, because I’m certain, as I’ve seen it happen for friends myself, that it definitely does occur. However, I think that the negatives and less beautiful details of the journey should be available for people to see, too. When only the luscious details are shown, potential owners aren’t given a clear precise picture of how things can go. Not everything about owning a guide dog is perfect, as I myself have definitely experienced. Some things, though, are the mind-blowing miracles they are portrayed to be. So in these Zena-related posts, I’m going to be talking about my highs and lows, whichever are occurring, mainly for myself but also in hope that a clearer picture of what can happen is understood. I don’t know yet, as I’m only mere steps into my journey, what kind of picture mine and Zena’s partnership will paint in the long term, and that’s why I want to write about it in small chunks, so that gradually I and others around me can get a certain understanding of the way things are going, whether they be good or bad. So, I’m going to start the story with events from a fortnight ago, when Zena and I were testing new limits as a partnership. On the Saturday, we attended a cricket match together and, on the Sunday with the new equipment of a Halti attached, we attended a comedy show at one of my local theatres. Here’s how it went.
Saturday 29 April

It was time for Hampshire Visually Impaired Cricket Club’s season to begin. Our first match was against Metro Devils at their home pitch at Highgate Woods in London. This meant a long day of cricket as well as a mini bus trip and a lot of behaving for Zena. I was nervous about taking her, not sure how she’d act whilst out in a big field being told to lay down and be good. For her, big fields symbolise free runs and off-duty time. Although she’d certainly be off-duty for the entirety of the day, she still had to behave herself. In addition, I’ve never taken her on a mini bus before. The closest thing we’ve done to that is going on one of the city busses once a week and she’s allowed a lot more space to lie down on those. After packing a rucksack that included everything we’d need for the day, it was time to put Zena to the test.

I was amazed, to be honest. When we first boarded the bus, she was a bit tricky about lying down exactly where she wanted to. But eventually she settled happily on the carpeted floor of the bus at my feet. When one of my teammates, who has a Labrador Guide Dog, tried to board himself, Zena made quite a racket, growling and barking at him. I felt quite embarrassed, actually; I didn’t want Zena to give people the wrong impression right from the beginning. Thankfully, she soon shut up and the majority of the bus journey was peaceful. Each time we stopped, though, she seemed to think it was time to disembark and stood up ready to get off. It took us over two hours to reach London, so there was a lot of ups and downs throughout the journey.

The first thing Zena did when we set foot on the grass was do a poo. I was embarrassed yet again. Thankfully, one of the ladies with us kindly offered to pick it up for me, so I was saved. Not that I was happy about letting someone else clear up my dog’s mess. But she is the wife of the man who had brought his Labrador Guide Dog along and I knew she understood, which was a little reassuring if nothing else. We set up base on the field near the cricket pitch and I sat on the grass, getting Zena to sit and lay by me. I wanted to let her off lead so that she could run free on the mass of space available to her but there was no way it was safe. There were other dogs about and a lot of blind people. The last thing anyone needed was Zena racing about all over the place. Plus, I couldn’t be sure if she’d come back straight away when I called her, even if I relied on the whistle to bring her to me.

During my time on the cricket pitch, I left Zena with the ladies — one wife, one mother and one driver/helper — who had kindly offered to watch her. This worried me as Zena seems to like pulling quite strongly on the lead and sticking her nose into anything she can. I just wanted her to behave for the ladies because it was nice of them to mind her for me. At one point during the game, one of the ladies took Zena for a brisk walk around the field. I was pleased about this because I think Zena must have been very bored just being told to lie down all the time. As the lady headed off with her, I called warning that Zena is quite strong on the lead and, when spotting something she wants to approach, adamant to reach it. The lady shrugged off my worries, saying she had plenty of experience with her husband’s Guide Dog. But when she returned, Zena quite firmly leading the way, I was pretty glad I’d at least warned her.

She was great on the journey home, too. The ladies told me, and then Mum later on, that she’d been a `little angel`. That made me feel very proud. I’d been totally unsure how Zena would behave so that fact that she was getting that much credit was lovely. To know that she behaves herself with other people is reassuring, especially as I enjoy attending the cricket matches.
Sunday 30 April

Josh had booked tickets for the comedy show a while ago and originally the theatre had said that I couldn’t bring Zena as the seats we’d booked weren’t suitable. But when Josh asked again, they said it wouldn’t be a problem. They said that I could either try and lay her at my feet or, if that didn’t work, the staff would look after her in their office. I was hopeful that the first option would be the one that worked. Leaving Zena with strangers wasn’t a comfortable idea for me. Although they assured me they have plenty of experiences with guide dogs, I didn’t like the idea of her being with them and me not knowing what was happening for the whole show. Having her led at my feet during the show was definitely preferable. My parents had offered to drive Zena and I to the theatre to meet Josh but I’d agreed to meet Josh at the bus-stop in town. This meant that Zena and I could walk up to our bus-stop, get on the bus that would take us into town and then off the bus the other end where, hopefully, Josh would be there to meet us. Although it wasn’t a particularly long route for Zena, it was a little bit of work with a bus ride thrown in. She has to behave herself appropriately whilst on the bus so it was all good practice for her. Of course, as nobody was coming with us, it meant I was taking myself out to meet a friend for an evening out. I’ve never been able to do that before. Thinking about it, I know I very easily could have done just that with my cane probably several years ago. However, I’ve never really had the confidence to try it. But having a dog gives me the confidence. We walked to the bus-stop no problem and waited a little while for our bus. When it came, we boarded and the driver kindly offered to get out of his cab and take me to a seat. He also knew straight away that the audio announcements were turned on and working as they should be. Zena was really good on the bus, sitting by my feet. Usually, she likes to lay down on the bus floor but it usually means that she is stretching out into the aisle, getting in people’s way. It makes me feel awkward as I have to keep apologising to people and moving Zena out of the way.

There was also another first in this journey. For quite some time, I’ve been noticing that Zena pulls quite a lot on the lead. So her trainer and I agreed that I could try a Halti head collar. It fits around her nose and fastens behind her ears, with a clip that attaches to her collar and a ring to attach her lead to. It gives me so much more control over her and completely stops her from pulling. When I first put it on her that afternoon before going out, she absolutely hated it. She used her paws with all her strength to try and prize it off her face. But the clip behind her head kept it in place and soon she got used to the fact that it was a part of her equipment, just like the lead and harness are. Once off the bus at the other end, we walked just across the pavement to lean against a wall and wait for Josh. Usually, when Zena sees someone she knows, she frantically pulls towards them to get their attention. But the Halti completely restricts her from doing this. She couldn’t even move towards Josh to give her animated hello the way she usually does. It doesn’t hurt her in the slightest, just restricts her from doing the things that usually tare my arm off. When I’m being sighted guided by a friend or member of the family, Zena usually strains to get ahead or to the side or to anything that takes her attention. But when walking with Josh, she was by my side like she’s supposed to be. This was partially because Josh walks quite fast but a little to do with the fact that the Halti doesn’t allow her to pull ahead.

At the theatre, we took Zena in and she easily fit at my feet, even when fully stretched out. The couple next to us seemed to be keen dog lovers so were thrilled to have a guide dog beside them. I expected Zena to make noise during the show, whether that be her squeaky yawn or a bark at a sudden loud sound. But she was silent throughout the entire thing. Afterwards, we were able to meet the comedian we’d just been watching and she was thoroughly surprised that there had been a dog in her show. I was thrilled; that meant Zena had behaved perfectly. Waiting for my parents at the theatre entrance, I couldn’t help but marvel at how well the weekend had gone. Both the cricket and the comedy show had been a complete success, even with my furry companion by my side. That’s the wrong kind of sentence people hope to hear when you’re talking about your assistance dog. Usually, people talk about how amazing their dogs are, how they’ve changed their lives so dramatically in a matter of weeks. I don’t feel quite that way. She has changed my life in so many ways it’s unbelievable. But not in the miraculous way of I can go anywhere I feel like going to because of her. Route learning is still the hardest thing I have to do and for that reason Zena’s trainer is coming out to see us again to help us learn more routes to add to the few options we currently have. Whilst visiting my sister a couple of weeks ago, she commented that Zena doesn’t go directly to curbs and that it worried her because it’s one of the little things they should just do automatically. Zena’s trainer says that it may be because Zena doesn’t realise she has to work correctly in new places even though she’s wearing her harness. He said that the more routes we have under our belt, the more likely it will be that Zena will work appropriately in new places. Lately, she also seems very distracted in her work. If there is another dog passing, I can guarantee that Zena will pull in its direction, usually barking as well. Also, instead of dodging people standing on the pavement ahead, she will actively head to say hello to them. These two things alone are things that I really don’t want her to be doing, which is another reason why her trainer is coming out to help us. As well as physically coming to visit us, he is also giving me regular advice via telephone. To be honest, some of it completely boggles my mind but I’m trying to put all the suggestions he is giving into action. Usually, when he’s explaining something I could try, it doesn’t make much sense to me but when I put it into practice, it seems to materialise the way he’s explained.

“I’m a sad sandwich with grumpy bread”

After almost two months of waiting, last week it was finally time for Kieran and I to see each other again.  Since we became a couple in January last year, Kieran and I haven’t not seen each other for longer than a few weeks.  However, this time, for various reasons, we were unable to visit each other any sooner than now.  I’ve been trying to solidify my partnership with Zena, which has been a lot harder than I anticipated, and Kieran has been job hunting.  When he left in February, there was a possibility that he’d be starting an apprenticeship at his mother’s work place sometime in March.  That didn’t come off so quickly; instead, he is going back and next week starting some work experience which we’ve all got our fingers crossed will lead into a full-time apprenticeship.  I’m really hopeful that this experience could lead into something permanent for Kieran.  He’s worked really hard for all his qualifications and the job he had last year.  It would be really lovely if another job was on the cards for him.  But at last it was time for us to see each other again.

 

Last Wednesday, Kieran boarded a plane that flew him down to Southampton Airport where Mum was planning to meet him.  But Kieran’s plane was too quick for Mum.  He landed a lot earlier than schedule predicted and Mum had to rush to get to the airport.  Thankfully, she was soon with him and they were on their way home.  By the time Kieran arrived home, it was already about twenty past ten so naturally there wasn’t much else to do with the evening other than make sure Zena had done her business, thank Mum for picking Kieran up and head on up to bed.

 

Thursday was a pretty relaxed day.  We had no plans to do anything and no rush to get up and go anywhere.  Zena seemed quite content with the lie-in, too.  Usually, we’re up promptly at seven in the morning and out walking before midday.  But Zena didn’t seem bothered with the little holiday she was getting so far.  Eventually, we dragged ourselves out of bed and went to have showers, going downstairs to have breakfast afterwards.  Mum had bought us some sausages the night before so that we could get the George Foreman out and have sausage sandwiches.  I put three each on the grill and Kieran set the timer.  When it came round to it, though, I really didn’t fancy sausages so made myself a bowl of sugar puffs.  Kieran didn’t bother to butter bread for his sausages and just ate all six as they were.  We had cups of tea with our breakfast.  We spent the majority of the day lounging upstairs, watching bits and pieces on telly.  When Mum was on her way home, I decided to ask if she’d get us kebab.  Kieran offered to pay and we said she could join us.  But as she was paying and didn’t have much money, she only bought what Kieran and I ordered.  So when she got in with it, Kieran gave her the money we’d have spent on the kebab so that she could get some more milk and herself something to eat.  So while we sat and munched our way through our kebabs, Mum and Tamsin headed out to get what was needed.  Once Mum and Tamsin came back and we’d finished our food, we headed upstairs and continued our lounging on the bed.

 

Friday was a little more productive.  We started it in the usual way, with a lie-in, showers and breakfast of Weetabix and cups of tea.  Then, while Kieran started to watch Master Chef, I took Zena out to work her up to the Co-op and back.  It is only a quick twenty-minute route but it was something.  I didn’t feel like doing the hour-long walk to the local gym because I wanted to spend my time with Kieran.  Zena didn’t seem bothered, anyway.  Once we were home, Kieran joined me downstairs and I groomed Zena.  Her fur gets quite messy all by itself so regular grooming is necessary.  After I’d finished that, we headed back upstairs and watched some more telly.

 

As planned, when Mum and Dad came in later on, Kieran and I were ready to be taken out to Pizza Hut in Hedge End for our first date night in a while.  Unfortunately, Mum and Dad were caught up in traffic so we didn’t go out as early as we’d hoped to.  But eventually we were there.  We were hoping to be served by our favourite waitress, who we’re certain is called Clare, but she didn’t seem to be there.  We were served by a different lady instead; as soon as she came to us, we ordered our drinks, a beer for Kieran and a refillable coke for me.  The beer offer Kieran usually partakes in was still on, two for six pounds, so he decided on that again.  Once the drinks arrived, we ordered the starters we’d decided on, cheese and bacon garlic bread for me and hot ribs for Kieran.  He’d been considering between popcorn shrimp and the ribs but settled on the ribs, telling me he’d definitely have the shrimp next time.  I’d meant to only have cheesy garlic bread but when the waitress asked for our starters, I couldn’t resist adding the bacon.  Thankfully, the waitress gave us some of the hand wipes they have on offer with our starters.  The food was tasty; Kieran really enjoyed his ribs and my garlic bread was lovely.  It did leave a really strong garlic taste in my mouth and I wasn’t sure it was quite right.  We’d ordered our main with the starters, a sharing Texas meat meltdown pizza with stuffed crust.  To begin with, Kieran hadn’t wanted stuffed crust but by the time we actually got to Pizza Hut and were eating, he was hungry enough for it.  We also ordered a portion of fries because they’ve been nice each time we’ve had them before and it was date night so we were going all out on our meal.  Once we’d finished our starters, the waitress cleared away our plates and cutlery before bringing out our steaming hot pizza.  The pizza was delicious, as always.  But our fries were not brought out with the pizza.  So Kieran and I decided to wait it out and see whether the waitress brought them out a few minutes later.  However, she didn’t; when she came over to ask if everything was all right with our meal, there was no mention of fries.  So Kieran asked for them.  The waitress rushed to reassure us they’d be over as quickly as possible.  They hadn’t even been put in with the order so we were given freshly cooked fries not so long later.  They were boiling hot and a little hard to eat at first.  My garlic bread had made me fuller than I’d thought it would and I wasn’t able to eat nearly as much pizza as Kieran managed.  I wanted to leave room for a pudding because Pizza Hut isn’t Pizza Hut without a cookie dough pudding.  So once we’d eaten as much pizza as we could fit in, I ordered a salted caramel cookie dough pudding and Kieran settled on a third beer.  The cookie dough was piping hot and delicious, still my favourite part of a Pizza Hut meal.  The starter and main courses were nice but the cookie dough was perfect.  Kieran seemed to enjoy his beer, too.

 

On Saturday morning, Kieran and I showered and had Weetabix breakfast as usual.  The family were out as Tamsin was at karate.  We’d planned to go for a second date meal sometime in the afternoon to the Handmade Burger Company in West Quay.  Kieran had tried it in Newcastle with his sister and loved it so I’d agreed that we could have it for a date so that I could try it.  I was a little dubious about it, though, as burgers aren’t my most favourite thing.  But I’d looked at the online menu and decided there would be something I’d like.  Annoyingly, Mum and Dad seemed to have a million and one other things they wanted to do with their Saturday so we didn’t actually end up getting to the restaurant until gone four o’clock.  We spent this time feeling very hungry and watching a mixture of telly including Master Chef, Judge Judy and The Chase.  On arrival at the restaurant, Kieran asked for the Braille menu but the waiter helping us didn’t seem at all sure whether they had one.  Kieran knew from his previous experiences that each restaurant has a Braille menu on offer so insisted that they find it for us.  Of course, Kieran was right and was presented with a Braille menu not long later.  The waitress apologised, saying it probably wasn’t the most up-to-date version of the menu but that it was all they had.  As it was Braille and had been given to us, we weren’t at all bothered.  I decided on a Hawaiian burger — a chicken breast with pineapple, cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, mango salsa, mayo, lettuce, tomato and red onion — minus the mayo, lettuce, tomato and red onion and Kieran had a double cheese and bacon burger — two beef patties, cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, smoky BBQ relish, mayo, lettuce, tomato and red onion — which sounded like quite a mountain of a burger to me.  I had mine with peri seasoned fries while Kieran went for Denver fries, which are chips topped with cheese, BBQ sauce and pulled pork; his chips definitely required cutlery.  Kieran went for a beer and I had a peanut butter milkshake.  Both drinks were huge and my milkshake was wonderful.  Kieran very much enjoyed his beer too.  Our food arrived not long later and we tucked in.  To begin with, I really enjoyed the burger.  I had to eat it in sections, starting with the top bun and then the chicken, bacon, cheese and mango salsa portion.  The mango salsa was nice, but a little too tangy for me so I scraped it off.  Then, the burger was quite nice.  I can quite understand why some people decide to have their burger minus the bun because I’d have easily done without it.  Kieran ate his in stages, too, but enjoyed every piece of his, managing to eat it all.  He loved his fries, too, but I wasn’t convinced by mine.  I’d thought the peri seasoning would be like the peri salted chips at Nando’s but they were nothing alike.  The Nando’s salt is fine like regular salt but the seasoning on these were flakes.  Overall, I don’t think I’d go back there, especially as the bill was so high, because I didn’t really enjoy the food that much; I think I’d eat it again minus the bun and with different chips but I think I’d just rather go somewhere else where I enjoy the food more.  If Kieran really wanted to go back, though, I’d go with him.  Even if I didn’t like the food that much, the milkshake really was delicious.

 

When we got home, we were both very full of food so we curled up on my bed and watched Gogglebox and The Last Leg, which we had recorded from the previous night.  Both were very funny and afterwards we decided to continue the comedy with a Jimmy Carr DVD in preparation for the live show we were going to see the following evening.  Kieran chose Comedian and it was a very funny DVD.

 

Sunday was a pretty relaxed day.  We had our Weetabix breakfast before returning upstairs and watching more Judge Judy.  We didn’t have much to do with the day because we were waiting for the evening.  At four thirty, we put the football on as Liverpool were playing Crystal Palace and it was something to watch.  Not long after it started, Josh arrived.  Originally, he’d agreed to come over and meet Kieran and I so that he could take us on the bus to the theatre for the Jimmy Carr show.  He’d asked if he could hang out at mine for a bit so that he and Kieran could catch up.  In the end, though, Mum had said she’d drive us to the theatre and also cook us all a meal before we went.  She’d offered spaghetti bolognese but I said chicken nuggets and chips would do as I didn’t really fancy a big meal like that.  Both lads agreed to the easy food, too.  We chatted — well, mostly the boys chatted and I tried to take in everything they were saying — until dinner was ready.  Then, we all sat downstairs and ate our food.  Josh had said he wanted to leave at about six thirty so that we could get there in time.  So once we’d finished our food and six thirty came around, we all headed out and piled into the car so that Mum could drive us to the theatre.  At the theatre, we formed the train — Josh leading me, me leading Kieran — and headed inside, telling Mum to be there about ten o’clock to pick us up.  As soon as we were in the main entrance, a member of staff came across and asked if we’d like to go and take our seats so we followed her in.  The show started around seven thirty and was brilliant.  We were all laughing the whole way through and thankfully there was generally quite a good crowd so the atmosphere in the room was great.  I’m glad that I can add Jimmy to the ever growing list of comedians that I’ve seen live.  Going to the comedy shows with Kieran and Josh is great fun and I hope we can continue to do it long after our last scheduled show in May.

 

On our way home, Kieran and I realised we felt quite hungry and I wished I’d accepted Mum’s offer of spaghetti bolognese as it would have probably filled us up a lot more.  We decided to have some snacks when we got in; Mum had given Kieran a cream egg Easter egg and he took some prawn cocktail crisps from the crisp box in the kitchen as nobody else eats them and I had some Pringles and little Millionaire’s shortbread bites.  We decided to watch Hebburn, which is still hilarious no matter how many times I’ve seen it, whilst sitting up in bed sharing our snacks.  Although it was totally junk food, it certainly filled a gap and we felt a lot better afterwards.  We watched the first episode of Hebburn and part of the second one but they kept buffering on the wifi so we decided to quit waiting for it to work.

 

Monday was a mostly lazy day.  We watched more of Hebburn after downloading it on to my Ipad, eliminating the annoying buffering.  Whilst watching Hebburn, we snacked on Pringles, sweets and more prawn cocktail crisps for Kieran.  Also, I groomed Zena because her fur was all messy again.  In the evening, Mum cooked us a really nice meal.  We’ve recently been going to a newly opened local butcher’s shop and trying different things from there.  I had some garlic pork and Kieran had some Chinese chicken.  We had it with mashed potatoes, carrots and sweet corn.  Mum had offered us gravy but from previous experience I didn’t think it went well with the meat.  My pork was nice but we seemed to have gotten a fatty batch of it because there was more fat than meat in what I was eating.  Kieran really enjoyed his chicken, saying that the skin had gone nice and crispy and the seasoning from the skin had nicely soaked through into the chicken itself.  It was definitely good to have a meal that wasn’t junk food.

 

After our meal, Kieran retreated upstairs to watch the football.  Newcastle were playing Preston and if they won, they’d instantly be promoted to the Premier League; so it was an important game for Kieran to see.  Meanwhile, I sat downstairs with Mum and Tamsin to catch up on East Enders.  Two hours later, Kieran came skipping into the living room; Newcastle had won and were promoted.  It’ll make matches next season more exciting when Liverpool and Newcastle play each other.

 

Tuesday was another lazy day.  Kieran had Weetabix and I had sugar puffs for breakfast.  I’d meant to have Weetabix but it tasted funny when I made it so I changed my mind.  While I dried my hair and during breakfast we listened to Ed Sheeran’s new album, which both Kieran and I love a lot.  We’ve not listened to it together until then, though, and it was nice to do so.  Afterwards, we put the rest of Hebburn on and finished it completely.  While we were watching it, Zena ran around the back garden, thoroughly enjoying the sunshine.

 

Upstairs, Kieran helped me to choose and order Mum’s birthday flowers.  She’s celebrating a big birthday next Thursday and I find the Moonpig website an absolute nightmare to try and navigate so Kieran lending a hand was a big help.  He also offered to pay half the price of the flowers so that they could be from both of us.  So when it came to writing a message in the little card you get, Kieran signed it from both of us.  Afterwards, we watched more Master Chef before getting ourselves some snacks.  Mum had cooked us a quiche to have for lunch so we had that with Pringles and another Easter egg which we shared.  Once Master Chef was finished, we put more of The Chase on.

 

That evening, Kieran treated us all to Chinese.  He chose chicken in black bean sauce and a tray of curry chips.  I chose chicken with cashew nuts and a special fried rice.  Mum asked for a mushroom chow mein and Tamsin wanted some chicken balls.  Kieran added prawn crackers and that made quite a full basket of food.  Kieran and I said that we’d share the tray of curry chips and special fried rice between us and anyone else who fancied them could have some too.  The Chinese was really lovely.  I had the chicken I’d chosen, some of the rice and some of the chips.  Kieran said his chicken was lovely and agreed with me about the rice and the chips.  Tamsin seemed to thoroughly enjoy her chicken balls and sweet and sour sauce too.  While we ate, Kieran listened to the Southampton versus Chelsea game and we had East Enders on the telly.

 

Sadly, today soon arrived.  We had to get up at the same time as Mum and Tamsin because Kieran’s flight was at ten past eleven.  So as soon as I realised people were awake this morning, I grumpily dragged myself out of bed.  Leaving days are always the worst, no matter how many of them we go through.  The idea of Kieran leaving is where the title of this post comes from; I said that I was grumpy and sad and grumpy which made Kieran say that I was a sad sandwich with grumpy bread.  It seemed a pretty good idea for a title for this.  Once I was up and getting dressed, Kieran reluctantly dragged himself out of bed and headed for the shower.  When we were both ready, we headed downstairs and I fed Zena before going to have my own breakfast.  We simplified it this morning, Kieran having toast and me having my usual sugar puffs.  Mum said that she’d take Tamsin to school and Dad to work before coming back to pick us up so that we could take Kieran to the airport.  We took this opportunity and used it to watch some more The Chase.  Kieran already had everything packed and there was nothing else to do.  At nine thirty, I took Zena out to do her business and we got ready for Mum to come back.  When she did, we all bundled into the car and headed for the airport.  Everything happened super speedy at the airport.  They printed off Kieran’s boarding pass and sent us to the assistance desk.  There, they said they’d take Kieran straight through security and to boarding.  So we hugged goodbye and headed in different directions.  Zena thought we were going with Kieran and tried to follow.  She seemed a little disheartened when I tugged her in the opposite direction.

 

It has been so lovely having Kieran to stay.  The additional bonuses of the date nights, takeaways, seeing Josh and the comedy show of course make it extra special.  But the most special part of the whole thing was spending time with my best friend after such a long time apart.  I guess two months isn’t really anything but it feels a lot when you’re almost three hundred miles apart in physical distance.  Talking each night doesn’t really come close to actually being together.  I’m looking forward to May a lot.  Kieran is coming down to stay for two weeks, encompassing our John Richardson comedy show and my birthday.  It’s going to be fun to see another comedian and to have Kieran here to celebrate my birthday with me.  So only three weeks to go and my love will be here again.

“You just needed to grow a pair”

I’m just back from an amazing weekend spent in Yorkshire with my sister Imi and her dad.  I really want to write about it as it was such a great time so I want to be able to reread this and remember how great it was in the future.  Plus, it was my first independent train trip successfully completed with Zena rather than a cane.  Even more importantly, it was my first time away anywhere with Zena by myself, without the help of parents and support of her trainer; although, if I’d have needed him, I knew John was only a text message away.  I hadn’t partaken in a sleepover with Zena before or taken her anywhere to stay overnight.  Even though this opportunity was taken so that I could spend good quality time with my sister, it was also a chance to test my ownership abilities and to see what Zena is like living away from home out of a backpack.

 

Before our trip, of course, I had to pack the right amount of belongings into a bag for Zena and I.  I needed enough food for Zena and clothing for myself to cover our two night stay in Yorkshire.  Despite the fact that I’d been thinking it through in my head since the day I booked the tickets, when it came to packing a bag and including all the essentials Zena would need, my brain turned to mush.  Quickly, I text Imi and asked for her experience in packing for a guide dog.  She’s been owner and mummy to Noodle for almost five years now and has worldly experience in looking after her.  As one of the best behaved and most lovingly looked after Guide Dogs I know, I knew I could count on Noodle’s teachings to Imi as an owner to be useful for me in this situation.  Obviously, I was over-thinking the whole thing; when I rattled off what I intended to bring for Zena to Imi, she reassuringly said that I seemed to have everything covered.  As it turned out, as usual I was being over cautious and packed far too much.  To be honest, though, I’m glad I over-packed our bag rather than not taking enough.  Carefully, on Wednesday morning I sat measuring out bags of food for each of Zena’s meals.  I needed five separate bags of the right amount of food for each mealtime that we’d be away for.  The previous weekend, Mum and I had gone into Tesco and bought freezer bags, the kind with the zip-lock top to keep the contents securely sealed.  Although Imi had just said `sandwich bags`, I had decided I needed those with a zip that would prevent any kind of spillage.  Train journeys are fretful at the best of times so I didn’t want to mount the additional issue of food spilt everywhere on top of everything else I already had to think about.  Although I’ve travelled many trips independently on train before, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Zena by my side rather than a cane in my hand.  I was hoping that I’d feel even more in control of the situation than I had previously.  I was worried about seating arrangements as the travel assistance people had promised that I’d be given an extra seat so that Zena could use the leg space to lie in; I was worried that the train would be so full that someone would need the seat and I’d have to make her stand in the aisle or something.  I don’t know what my rights are, as an assistance dog owner, to insist that I keep the seat for my Seeing Dog rather than allow a paying passenger to sit down.

 

Despite all my worrying, Thursday morning dawned and the day of our trip had arrived.  Zena made my morning that little bit more stressful by refusing to do a poo in her pen at her scheduled time.  As I had to go with Mum in the car so that Dad could take me to catch my train, I didn’t have loads of time to encourage Zena to go.  She probably picked up on the fact that I was pretty nervous and the tension in the atmosphere was probably what caused her to refuse.  But I had other things to worry about.  We needed to be on time for everything.  However, the fact that we were about to embark on a five-hour direct train journey up North and she hadn’t been to toilet did worry me a lot.  The idea of her being so desperate that she went on the train flashed in my head.  I had no idea what I’d do if that happened.  I guess I’d just have to act really incapable and hope that a member of the train crew came to my aid.  Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary.  On our way to the train station, we stopped off at a Tesco so that I could buy supplies for the journey in case I got hungry or thirsty.  I ended up coming out of the shop after purchasing two packets of star bursts, a packet of Jaffacakes, some BBQ Pringles, some Thornton’s chocolate brownies and a bottle of Doctor Pepper.  Why I thought I needed that much sugary rubbish I have no idea but it all sounded good to me at 9am on Thursday morning.  Once we’d dropped Mum off at work, Dad drove us to the train station where we went in, requested assistance and were told to wait in their waiting room.  Right on time, the assistance person came to help me board the train.  At first, they offered me two seats where there was hardly any leg room so I politely pointed out that there was no way my dog, who was definitely giving me the `are you mad, mum?` stare, was going to fit into that tiny gap.  So he helped me along the carriage to a table seat, which of course had masses of room for Zena, who seemed much more optimistic about this arrangement.  As the train pulled out of the station and I dug around for a star burst to settle myself in, I realised that I’d already made my first travel error; I’d left my unopened bottle of Doctor Pepper in the car.  Disappointed, I text my parents to ask them to put it in the fridge so that I could have it went I came home.  Not long after I’d got comfortable and had started to listen to music, the train manager tapped me on the shoulder to inform me that actually I was sitting in someone’s reserved seats and as the table seats are quite popular, he imagined that they’d be booked for the majority of the journey.  As I was travelling for three quarters of the entire train journey, he suggested that he move me to somewhere where I’d be less likely in someone else’s way.  I was a little put out by the tone he used, like I was in the way, but I can understand what he meant and he was trying to be kind about it.  He found Zena and I two seats that had more leg room than the original one the assistance man offered us.  Eager to be settled again, I just accepted, hoping it would be comfortable enough for my nonplused dog.  As it turned out, it was a much better seat choice for us both.  Zena was comfortable and I spent the journey munching on star bursts and listening to my Spotify playlists.

 

On arrival in York, I was more than happy to exit the train.  After a quick toilet stop, I was with Imi’s dad, Mike, and we were heading for the car.  Imi and I had agreed that Zena would go in the boot while she sat in the front with Noodle in the foot well until they’d been acquainted.  As they were going to be spending all their time together over the next couple of days, we needed Zena and Noodle to get along like a house on fire.  It took us a little while to get to where we needed to pick Imi up from her therapy session.  She had warned me the night before, whilst checking that I was good with a quorn diet during my stay, that she may be worn out afterwards.  I was good with that because, firstly, she couldn’t help it, and secondly, I knew I’d be pretty shattered after the train trip anyway.  It took us a little while to get to the train station.  I was quite surprised because Zena settled down without fuss in the boot of Mike’s car and didn’t make a single sound until she spotted Imi and Noodle heading in our direction.  Quickly, Imi clambered in the front while Mike loaded her luggage — and I say luggage because there was loads of it! — on to the backseat beside me.  We chatted about all sorts on the way home, mostly my journey and Imi’s session.  When we arrived at Mike’s, Imi set up the plan for she and I to head inside with Noodle and Zena while Mike carried our bags inside.  Although this was the best idea any of us had, I was still a little dubious about how Zena would react.  Usually, whenever she sees any kind of dog out and about, she frantically pulls in their direction.  Stumbling our way to the front door, I was glad when I was in the safety of the living room.  Once Mike had bought our bags in, he set about making us our first cup of tea of the weekend, the first of thousands, I think.  Once we’d settled in and finished our first cup, Imi showed me upstairs to the bathroom so that I could shower and change.  We’d decided to get clean and comfy before we settled down in the lounge before dinner.  While I showered, Imi took the two dogs out into the back garden.  She wanted to start collecting photos of our stay; we always have loads of photos when we get together but many more were required seeing as Zena was with us.  Many many cute pictures of the two dogs were necessary.  After I was done in the bathroom, we swapped places; Imi jumped in the shower while I was left on babysitting duty of the two girls.  During my turn in the shower, Imi had given them both a meaty treat from the bag of Pedigree Tasty Bites she had.  Zena had never had these before but it was quite clear she was already in love with them.  Both dogs edged further and further towards the bed, trying to stretch their necks towards the bag that was way out of their reach.  Thankfully, Imi was soon back from her shower the we were able to escape from the room with the tempting doggy treats.  We went downstairs, where we were treated to even more tea.  Zena seemed to decide that she wanted tea too, so I had to use my lead to attach her to the chair so that she wouldn’t dip her nose into it.

 

Eventually, we agreed on quorn sausages with sweet potato chips and veggies for tea, of course accompanied by copious amounts of tea.  After we’d eaten a rather nice dinner, we fed the dogs theirs.  I was a little worried about whether they’d actually eat their own food or find each other’s irresistible.  Thankfully, with Imi and I stood between the two of them as a kind of human barrier, we managed to make sure that they ate their own food.  It also seemed that Zena was intent on making sure that there was no food or water left for Noodle.  After she’d emptied her own bowl and Noodle had wandered away from hers, Zena darted in and licked the bowl clean.  I think Noodle had made sure she hadn’t left any remainders for the taking, but Zena couldn’t miss anything.  Then, she darted in front of Noodle to take her fill from the water dish, which meant that she emptied it and then waited for more.  That was when Imi and Mike discovered the disaster that is Zena’s beard; she splashed water all over the kitchen floor.  Thankfully, Mike didn’t seem too fazed by Zena’s mess and we were all soon comfortable in the lounge again.  Eventually, we settled on watching Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, one of our all-time favourite films from our younger teenage years and a major bonding point from college.  While we watched, I took charge of Imi’s BrailleNote Touch, HumanWare’s new note taker for the blind.  It is supposed to be the massive upgrade to the BrailleNote Apex that I’ve loved for years.  However, it doesn’t seem to be the machine I’ve been dreaming of for years.  It is a combination of the Apex and an Android tablet, supposedly having the force and power of Android behind it.  Unfortunately, it’s so full of bugs and problems that it’s pretty frustrating to try and use.  I much prefer my Apex to it and even though I haven’t spent a long time trying to learn how to use the Touch, I know I wouldn’t love it like my Apex until it has had a lot of updates and fixes.  Imi had asked me to update it, but I had to wait for the battery to be charged to at least 20 percent before I could perform the update.  As the battery had been completely flat when I’d tried to turn the device on and seemed to be charging at snail’s pace, I was in for a long wait.  One positive to that, of course, meant that I could enjoy the film and conversation with Imi and Mike, which was highly entertaining, so much so that the film took doubly long to watch than the run time says it should.

 

At bedtime, Imi let the two dogs out into the back garden and we hoped they’d do what they needed to before we headed upstairs.  Once upstairs, we decided on Come Fly With Me on Imi’s Ipad to send us off to sleep.  No sooner had she pressed play on the first episode than had Imi fallen sound asleep.

 

The following morning, we got up, dressed and then headed downstairs.  Once Imi had let the girls out to do their business, Mike offered us breakfast of tea and croissants.  After we’d eaten, I checked on the Touch.  It had fully charged overnight so I updated the voices and fixed the incorrect time before putting it to sleep.  At around eleven thirty, we decided to head out.  Our only plan for our time had been to take Zena and Noodle for a free run.  Imi packed a rucksack of bits and pieces we may need and I took my little shoulder bag.  On our way out, we posed with the dogs both in harness for Mike to take some photos to add to our album.  Then, we were off.  For the first part of the route, both dogs worked, Zena walking behind Noodle and actually working quite well.  I’d expected her to be an absolute nightmare as working so close to another dog and human would surely be overwhelming for her.  As I’ve said, she’s usually pretty erratic around other dogs and as Imi was becoming ever more familiar to her, I thought she’d act how she usually does when I want her to work around any other member of the family.  But she was almost perfect.  I say almost because she was absolutely useless at finding curbs.  But we made it safely to the little convenience store where Imi bought us snacks and drinks to take with us on our little adventure.

 

Our `little` adventure turned into an almost 8 mile walk through some really gorgeous scenery.  I don’t need to have seen our surroundings to know it was beautiful.  As soon as we were away from the road, I put Zena’s play collar, bells and all, on and we let the two girls free.  They ran off eagerly, happy to be allowed to be dogs.  Zena doesn’t get many free runs at home, so this deluxe free run with a brand new friend was an extra special treat for her.  It was pretty special for me too.  I love spending time with Imi but spending it walking through lovely open spaces in the country chatting about whatever came to mind was amazing.  I love long rambling walks with no hurry to go anywhere in particular.  Zena seemed to love it, too.  She and Noodle ran and frolicked with abandon, checking every now and then that they were still with us.  Imi snapped countless pictures of them to add to our album and some pictures of the two of us as well.  About five kilometres in, Imi found a patch of ground for us to sit on.  She laid her coat of it and we sat to eat some of our snacks and take a lot of much needed liquid in.  For snacks we had crisps, chocolate brownies and star bursts; I had a Doctor Pepper and Imi had a Ribena.  As we headed off again, we encountered a couple with a horse called Rodney.  He wasn’t a very happy horse.  Imi and I backed away with the dogs on leads and stood facing in the opposite direction to Rodney and his humans while they tried to maneuver him passed us.  Neither Imi nor I like horses much so this was a bit of a nerve racking experience, especially as Rodney didn’t seem keen on moving on.  Once he was gone, we hurried the dogs on in the opposite direction and we were soon far away from him.  The rest of the walk was thankfully Rodney free and by the time we were working the dogs back to Mike’s house, we were all tired out.  Once indoors, after discarding our muddy shoes on the front doorstep, we let the dogs drink as much water as they wanted.  Then, we settled in the living room for what we hoped would be a long relaxing rest of the day.  Both dogs all but threw themselves down on to the carpeted floor and pretty much refused to move for the rest of the day.  After a quick check, I discovered that I’d walked over 18 thousand steps, my brand new record for one day on Fitbit.  No wonder the dogs were snoozing.  While we rested our aching feet, we watched a film on Netflix called Tallulah.  It’s a Netflix original about a teenage girl who lives out of a van with her boyfriend.  When she stumbles into a hotel and is asked by a neglectful alcoholic mother to look after her toddler, she stays.  It seems as if she is only staying so that she can take some money and any valuables in sight, but when the mother comes back and passes out almost instantly, Tallulah gets out of there as quickly as she can, taking baby Madison with her.  The rest of the film is all about how Tallulah pretends that Madison is her daughter and the daughter of her ex boyfriend.  She goes to his mother’s house and lives there temporarily, soaking up the atmosphere of food and care.  But eventually the secret is out and Tallulah tries to run away with Madison.  But Madison has a fever and Tallulah takes to a hospital, hoping for treatment.  There, the police arrive and arrest her and the baby is handed back to her real mother.  The film ending is a bit of an anticlimax as the last thing we see of Tallulah is her being arrested and the last thing we know about Madison is that she is back with her mother.  I wanted a better ending than that!

 

That evening, we decided to have quorn bolognese for dinner.  During our walk, Imi had asked, hypothetically speaking, if I had a gun to my head what would I choose, takeaway pizza or homemade quorn bolognese? As we’d planned to have Burger King the following afternoon at the train station before my trip home, I thought the bolognese option was the better.  As much as I love a good pizza, with Imi is the only place I get quorn bolognese and I absolutely love it; there was no way I was passing on that golden opportunity.  Obligingly, Mike made us the most delicious quorn bolognese, which we both devoured hungrily.  After our lovely long walk, we were both ravenous.  The bolognese certainly fixed that.  For the rest of the evening, we chatted about all sorts whilst watching Friday Night Dinner.  Whilst watching, I sat and sorted out Imi’s Kindle Fire.  Almost two years ago, we both decided we’d quite like one and after I’d bought one for myself and liked it, I asked Kieran, Cameron and Josh if they wanted to club together with me as an extra special birthday gift for Imi’s eighteenth.  They agreed and we bought the yellow Kindle Fire.  Her reaction on her birthday was priceless; in fact, she hit me rather hard, but it was a happy response despite the ferocity.  Unfortunately, at the time when we bought the Kindle Fires, the Voice View speech software wasn’t at its best.  It has since been improved and is a lot better than before.  However, this put Imi off and she didn’t fall in love with the little yellow machine the way we’d predicted.  Before Christmas, I sold my yellow friend because I wasn’t using it enough and Imi had found a different Kindle that looked a lot better.  It was just a reading device without all the extras that the Fire offers and a lot thinner and lighter than the Fire.  So we both took the plunge and bought one.  I liked it but didn’t like how you had to connect a bluetooth device every time you wanted to use it because it didn’t feature its own speaker.  I should have known before I bought it that that drawback would frustrate me beyond belief.  Checking that Imi still had her yellow friend, I sold the newer Kindle and asked if I could buy her Fire from her.  She was more than eager to get rid of it and insisted I didn’t pay her for it.  So during Friday Night Dinner, I sat and erased it from her Amazon account, adding mine to it and setting it up as new.  I updated it so that the Voice View software was a lot better.

 

Saturday was a bit of a lazy day.  When we got up, I jumped in the shower before going downstairs to join Imi and Mike.  Mike made us tea and toast for breakfast and we sat watching more Friday Night Dinner from where we’d left off the previous evening.  During this, I downloaded as many books as I could onto the Kindle, hoping that they’d keep me entertained during my train journey home.  When it came to getting ready for our trip to the train station, Zena decided that her stomach needed emptying.  She was sick all over Imi’s bedroom floor.  Quickly, we called Mike to come and help us and I took Zena downstairs to let her have a drink and go into the garden.  She did this before following me back upstairs and promptly emptying everything else she’d just taken in on to the floor.  Mike was great, coming in and cleaning it to the best of his ability seeing as we were on a tight schedule to get to the station.

 

On the way, Zena was again sick in the car.  I felt awful because Mike had been so hospitable and lovely to me during my stay, insisting that I should come back and stay again.  Thankfully, after listening to some Ed Sheeran and The Script on the way, we were soon at the station.  After nipping to the loos, we headed to the assistance desk and I requested the assistance I’d booked.  We had quite a while before my train was due so we headed to Burger King where Mike kindly bought us dinner.  I had a chicken nugget meal and Imi had a fish burger meal.  The food was lovely and soothed my irritation at Zena’s outburst.  Even after everything, she was still scavenging for food off of the station floor.  Sadly, it was soon time to go back to the assistance desk.  A lady came to help me and said that I needed to get on the train early because it was already in and she had to send it off.  So I hugged Mike and Imi goodbye, sad to be going already.  It was such a great weekend and so nice to spend loads of time with Imi.  It was lovely for Zena to spend time with Noodle, too.  Since I’ve had her, she hasn’t had an opportunity to spend time with another dog, let alone another trained dog.  They worked well together when we wanted them to and played happily together for the rest of the time.  Zena certainly loves her cousin.  I hope we can go back soon and they can come down south in the summer.

 

To Mike: thank you for having me to stay.  Thank you for dealing with all the bodily fluids we threw your way, not literally thank goodness.  Thank you for the yummy food and the countless cups of tea.  Sorry for all my teasing.  Thanks for cleaning my muddy shoes.  Thank you for ferrying me to and from the train station and for giving me the opportunity to spend time with your daughter.

 

To Imi: thank you so much for having me to stay.  Thanks for all the advice for Zena and for supporting me with her throwing up everywhere even though I know it was hard for you to cope with.  Thank you for the snacks on our walk on Friday and for taking me along such a lovely walk.  I love spending time with you any time we can and can’t wait for next time.  Thank you for the Kindle, the `little yellow bastard` is enjoying Southampton.  You will always remain to be one of the most incredibly brave, kind, caring, clever, wonderful people I’ve ever met.  I’m so lucky that you’re my sister.  Sisters for life, always.  I’m sorry if I ask too many questions and probe where I shouldn’t.  Never be shy to tell me to shut up and get lost, I won’t be offended.  Love you lots and lots.

Seeing Dogs Training Week 4: Qualification week

Monday 20 February

 

We are on the home straight.  In two days’ time, we’ll be qualified and free to go pretty much wherever we please.  When John arrived this morning, he put the photo he’d taken into our ID booklet and then we headed for the leisure centre.  I felt like Zena and I did quite well even though she seemed to be easily distracted today and I didn’t quite remember which roads we were supposed to indent on and so indented on too many and got us a little bit lost.  But we managed to get ourselves out of the situation and back on track for the leisure centre.  John had set out an off-curb obstacle on the lay-by that leads to the leisure centre but Zena just walked straight through the cones.  That’s a little part of her loveable monkey side showing through there.  Hopefully, if it was a proper road obstacle that blocked the entirety of the pavement, I could count on her to stop and not try to barrel through.  The cones probably didn’t look like too much of an issue for barging and so she gave it her best shot and won.  Other than that, though, we got to the gym no problem; I even remembered to cross the last road before turning up and heading for the leisure centre, which was how I’d messed up on Friday.

 

The route home was a much bigger success.  We didn’t make half as many mistakes and I indented on all the correct crossings.  Also, Zena took me straight down to my house instead of walking us down the right-hand fork of the path.  John said that her puppy walker is due to join us at about midday on Wednesday to watch our qualification walk.  I’m not really bothered about this any more, just a little worried that our qualification is going to clash with Kieran being collected by his auntie.  I want to be here to say goodbye to him before he goes, especially as we’re not seeing each other now until the end of April, but of course I have to stick to the plan for qualification.  Hopefully it’ll all work out and I’ll be able to fit both things in.

 

Tomorrow, we’re headed for the vets for Zena’s last check-up before qualification.  John said that he thinks Zena has put on a couple of pounds, which may have something to do with the gravy bones I’ve been treating her with each time she does a poo in her pen.  Hopefully it won’t be too much of an increase because I’d like to be able to continue treating her good behaviour because it seems to produce good results.  Plus, the promise of a treat afterwards is great encouragement to get her to poo in her pen when I need her to.  Anyway, once we’re qualified hopefully we’ll be going out even more than we have been during these weeks of training.  My parents are usually quite busy at weekends going shopping and things so it’ll be good for us to join in with that just how I used to before getting Zena.  It’ll be good exercise and work time for her, too, allowing me a little extra time to do university work during the week.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to start studying in cafes and things like that, though, so that I can work Zena and do uni work at the same time; killing two birds with one stone, I think the saying goes.  I’m hopeful that tomorrow may be better than today was route-wise and that the check-up appointment goes smoothly.  John said her ears are looking a lot better so maybe we’ll be able to stop squeezing the cleaning solution into them.  I think she’d highly like that if it was the case.  Over the weekend, Mum helped me apply the flea and tick prevention treatment I bought to the back of Zena’s neck.  So she is now covered for a month and I have put a reminder in my calendar to repeat the event every once a month on the eighteenth.  That way, she should always be protected against fleas and ticks.  I also have a reminder in my calendar for three months’ time when she’ll need anther worming tablet, which I have discovered are cheaper on Amazon.  As her bedding is starting to smell rather a lot and the vet bed mat I bought to line her basket is getting rather scruffy — despite the fact that I have only had it a month — I decided to revive my hunt for a proper cushion to fit in Zena’s basket.  Although I like the vet bed stuff, it hasn’t seemed to be as much a success as other people have told me it would be.  So on Saturday I spent a few hours searching around for a decent cushion or mat to line the basket with.  Eventually, I found one that wasn’t too cheap or too expensive, which suggests the quality should be decent, and bought it.  It has been despatched by the seller today and will hopefully be with us in the next few days.  When it arrives, I’m going to put all of Zena’s current bedding in the wash and give the basket a good clean with some soapy water and possibly disinfectant.  Then, she can try out her new cushion.  I’m hopeful that it’ll be good and we’ll be able to continue to wash the bedding once monthly, as long as it doesn’t get too stinky in the meantime.

 

Tuesday 21 February

 

Brilliantly, today, the day before we’re scheduled to qualify, Zena decided to point out all the reasons to discourage people for applying for assistance dogs.  She showed me all the negative points people pose when you first apply and the warnings that other assistance dog owners give you as you approach the beginning of your training course.  She was, it has to be said, an absolute bitch for the majority of the day, in and around our actual training; and when I say bitch, I don’t mean the literal term of female dog.  I mean absolute one-hundred percent pain in the backside.  I mean turned my brain to mush every command I gave her because she ignored me.  I mean messed about and misbehaved every opportunity she got, even if I wasn’t giving them.  Obviously, this is unrelated in all senses to the amazing training she’s had to get to this point in her little career and the charity that is supporting us to become a qualified Assistance Dogs UK partnership in under 24 hours’ time.  It is because she is a dog and she knows the ways to take advantage, even if I’m doing everything within my power to prevent those options.

 

Despite the above rant, unbelievably, the day actually started well.  When John arrived, we went in his car to the vets’ surgery for a check-up.  It’s part of the sort-of signing over process that happens with qualification.  It’s the charity making sure that she is perfectly healthy before they put her in my charge and make me solely responsible for her.  That way, if there are any existing conditions or sudden worries, they’re able to give us all piece of mind by putting treatment in place before we’re qualified and John leaves us to allow us to build up our bond and working relationship.  Thankfully, all with Zena is well.  There are no additions to last week’s trip.  Her ears are still a little inflamed and I’ve been encouraged to continue administering the cleaning solution to help clear the wax up.  Also, the vet checked over Zena’s bare skin patches where the fur still hasn’t grown back.  It seems to be looking a lot better on one side but worse on the other.  For a while, I thought it was looking better on both but over the last few days one patch seems to have increased in size.  The vet shone a UV lamp over the patches to see if there was any kind of infection.  She was concerned that it may be a fungal infection as the patches are so symmetrical.  However, the lamp showed nothing.  There is no kind of infection to be seen.  In the waiting area, John and I discussed whether melatonin tablets could help; they are a known way to cure the seasonal condition that causes Zena’s patches.  But when we spoke to the vet about it, she said it wasn’t worth treating it with tablets yet because the patches aren’t spreading and she doesn’t seem to be shaking or scratching any more than is usual for her.  Once all of that was done, John took her out to be weighed.  She was 23,5 kg last week and now she’s 24 kg.  Apparently the treats for encouraging her to poo in her pen haven’t been good for her weight.  The way I see it, though, is that, once we’re qualified, I’ll hopefully be going out walking more so she’ll be more active.  For example, during training she hasn’t been able to do anything during the weekends but when I’m qualified we’ll be going out with my family like I always have.  Also, the treats are helping with the going for a poo in the pen routine.  She seems healthy and happy and the vet didn’t seem concerned about the weight gain so I’m not going to be.

 

Once we were home, it was route time.  Off to the leisure centre we went again.  I tried to remember which roads I was supposed to be indenting on and which roads had dogs at that freak Zena out.  But it seemed I needed to worry about more than just dogs.  Any leaf, sweet wrapper, person, buggy, cyclist, breeze that ruffled her fur, overhead bird — literally anything at all distracted Zena today.  It was really hard work.  Strangely, when we got to the leisure centre, John said that the route had seemed, visually, really good.  He said that I’d handled her well but that she had been taking advantage quite a bit.  Also, I hadn’t indented on quite the right roads, despite my efforts to count them and remember which one I was on at every moment.  On the way back, I concentrated harder on where we were, which roads we were crossing, what Zena was doing and where I needed to indent.  Apparently, I indented well but Zena was generally an absolute nightmare the entire way home.  When we got home, I took her straight out to her pen and she had a poo almost straight away.  Before we’d left earlier, she’d also had a poo for John.  She’d missed one the evening before and this morning so technically that meant she’d caught up.  But it had caused the route to be horrible and that’s really not what I wanted for our last attempt before qualification day.  It may seem like I’m making this simple recurrence of the route we’ve been practising for weeks into more than it is but qualification for me is huge.  I’ve dreamt of being a Guide Dog owner for years and being a Seeing Dog owner is equal to that, of course.  Seeing Dogs have given me the opportunity Guide Dogs have continued to refuse to offer me.  They have given me a chance of getting independent the way I’ve always wanted to.  John believed in my reasons for wanting a guide dog and bought into them.  He matched Zena and I and has spent the last three and a half weeks getting us to a point where we’ll be safe on the streets without his supervision and guidance.  I am more grateful than the charity could ever know for this opportunity and I intend to do everything within my power to push it’s advantages to their limit.  But when Zena is being a nuisance and more than that, it makes me angry and frustrated because all this hard work and effort I’ve put in is being thrown back in my face with vengeance.  It’s not her fault.  She’s just being a cheeky girlie — I don’t expect her to be perfect all the time, she’s just a dog after all — but it makes me feel like I’m doing everything wrong.  She’s under my control and my command so I need to ensure our routes go right.  John was still encouraging when we were home, explaining what I needed to do in the future to rule out these problems.  The main thing is making sure she spends before bed and in the morning.  If not, I should prepare myself for the situation that I wouldn’t be able to go out for the day.  She needs to have spent otherwise there’s a chance she’ll go on route or we’ll have a repeat experience of today’s events.

 

While we were talking, John also helped by doing Zena’s ears.  He said they’re still looking cleaner each time we do them but that I definitely need to continue the treatment after he leaves tomorrow otherwise the problem will just recur and flare up worse than it is at the moment.  I’m hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day than today has been.  Kieran is also leaving tomorrow, which I am very sad about, so I’m hoping qualification won’t clash with when he needs to go.  I want to be here to say goodbye and to be able to say goodbye properly.  If I’m busy finalising things with John, it’ll be a rushed goodbye because Kieran will need to go and I’ll need to get on with what I’m doing.  I don’t want that.  So tomorrow I’ll be qualified; unless something drastic happens, anyway.

 

Wednesday 22 February: Qualification day

 

When John arrived this morning, he took Zena straight out to her spending pen because she continued to refuse to have a poo for me overnight and into the morning.  She did one for him which meant we were still one behind.  So we headed out on a short brisk walk to the Co-op in hope that the movement would encourage Zena to go when we got home.  It was a good walk, but she was being a bit cheeky.  We hoped this was because she needed the loo, but when John repeatedly encouraged her to go, nothing happened.  By midday, when her puppy walker was due to arrive, she still hadn’t gone.  So John said we would just have to hope for the best and if she went on route, he’d get out of the car and clean up for me.  Fifteen minutes later, he called to say to set off whenever I was ready; it was qualification walk time.

 

We had the most amazing walk.  I thought maybe it would be as terrible as yesterday but Zena was fantastic! The only mistake she made was to take me to the side curb rather than on to the side road where we needed to cross.  We reached the leisure centre in hardly no time at all.  John came in and we had a short rest before heading off again.  It seemed like the best return walk we’d ever done and when John met me at home, he commented that he felt it was probably the best walk we’ve ever done.  Then, our guests came through.  It is fair to say that Zena’s puppy walker, Penny, and her husband, Paul, are two really lovely people.  My uncertainty about meeting them was unnecessary and a little ridiculous.  They are wonderful and have obviously loved Zena since they collected her from her breeder as a tiny pup.  They bought gifts for us with them, which was really unexpected and kind of them.  Zena was rewarded with a nylabone treat, which I have discovered she likes quite a lot, and I was given a little double-sided comb and brush to use when grooming her for her beard.  I think these are going to be incredibly useful as her beard is always a tough place to groom.  The little comb is definitely going to be helpful for the tricky parts she hates the most.

 

After we’d chatted for a while and Zena had been thoroughly fussed, I went with John, Penny and Paul out to their car where I was allowed to meet Zac, the newest vizsla recruit to become a Seeing Dog in the next year or so.  He is absolutely one-hundred percent gorgeous.  Of course, I’m biased to think that Zena is but Zac really is.  He’s got the loveliest fuzzy coat and the nicest temperament.  He was happy for me to give him a big cuddle and a lot of fuss.  Also, I met their smooth-coated retriever, Alice, who has lovely soft fur.  I think it’s fair to say that sometime soon in the future, Zac is going to make a great Seeing Dog and Penny is obviously doing a fab job with him, just like she did with Zena and the others before her.  It was also nice to discover that Penny has been reading these blog updates.  Thank you, Penny and Paul, for all you’ve done for Zena and all the other vizslas that have become Seeing Dogs.  I think you’ve done a superb job and are definitely making a great fellow out of Zac.  I hope he flourishes into a fine lad and would love to know how he gets on.  Thank you also for mine and Zena’s lovely gifts.  It was so generous and thoughtful of you but you really shouldn’t have.  I’m sure Zena will have hours of fun chewing away on her bone and the brush and comb are going to be so useful when grooming her.

 

Then, we said goodbye to Penny, Paul and the dogs and headed back inside.  After that, there was nothing left to do.  We are qualified! The training is over.  Somehow, I managed to do enough to be given Zena for good.  We are an official Seeing Dogs partnership and I cannot express how proud I am of that.  I’m thrilled to finally have an assistance dog after all the years fighting with Guide Dogs but even more chuffed that it is a dog from Seeing Dogs.  The whole charity works so incredibly hard to make partnerships like mine possible and long-lasting.  John is the most amazing trainer and I’m blessed that he matched Zena and I and gave me the chance nobody else ever would.  I won’t mess it up, John, I promise you that.  I’m proud to be a Seeing Dog owner and a representative every single day for the charity and the hard work it does.  I’m definitely going to be spreading the word as far and wide as I can about the charity and the fantastic job it does.  Yes, Guide Dogs do exist and they do provide assistance dogs to the majority of the visually impaired community.  But there’s a little minority, myself included, who are refused these services.  That’s when charities like Seeing Dogs are really needed.  I wouldn’t be sitting here now, a qualified Assistance Dogs UK owner, if it wasn’t for the charity existing and the great work all involved do.  I’m not just saying these things because I’m sat here qualified, I’m saying them because the charity deserves it and so many more people need to know it exists and what it offers.  If someone had said to me this time last year that in twelve months’ time I’d be a qualified owner of a registered guide dog, I’d have laughed.  There was no way I was ever getting a guide dog.  And then I found Seeing Dogs and everything changed.  When John visited me in October and let me walk with Zena, I didn’t dare think the charity would agree to his recommendation for training.  Why would they? But they did and only weeks later John was telling me that Zena was my match and we’d be training in the new year.  And here we are, all qualified.

 

As well as gifts from Zena’s puppy walkers, I also received a gift from John and the charity.  It is mine and Zena’s official photo all framed nicely.  It’s the photo that was taken by John of us sitting on my front lawn a couple of weeks ago, the same photo that’s in my ID card and that will be my graduation picture.  I’m hoping to get a hook nailed into my bedroom wall and have the photo hung up there.  I’ve got pictures of most of the other things I love hung around my room so it’s only fair Zena is up there, too.  It was a really thoughtful touch from John and I really appreciated it, amongst all the other things I’ve appreciated that he’s done for me.  Recommending me for training started this whole thing and that’s down to him.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say thank you enough.  It may sound far-fetched and soppy but I never believed this would actually happen.  I believed I didn’t need a guide dog just how Guide Dogs said I didn’t.  But it’s nice to have proved them wrong, that’s for sure.  I intend to continue to do that by making mine and Zena’s partnership work one-hundred percent.  I will not waste this.

 

So, an incredible journey of waiting, hoping, dreaming and training has come to an end and now it’s the real thing.  To celebrate, Zena, the family and I are off to my grandparents for a homemade cottage pie.  They have a massive garden which I know she’ll love, just as soon as we’ve got her into a proper routine with the spending pen.  It is only slightly saddened by the fact that Kieran left this afternoon, collected by his auntie, so that they can fly to Newcastle together first thing tomorrow morning.  It was great to have him staying during my training and to be here this afternoon when I qualified.  That was the nicest thing.  To have someone, and more importantly Kieran, here to celebrate when John left was the loveliest reward.

 

I am amazed at how far we have come together, with John’s help and guidance, in such a short space of time.  Not even a month ago this hairy, slightly smelly, rather energetic but pretty amazing ball of fur was delivered into my life and not much time later, we’re a qualified partnership.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to post blog updates on our adventures to come.  I’ve really enjoyed writing these entries during training and it’s nice to know that people have enjoyed reading about our progress.  But for now, there’s not much to say other than, WE ARE QUALIFIED!

Seeing Dogs training week 3

Monday 13 February

We’ve leapt into our third week of training with a flying start. As soon as John arrived, we headed out in his car to an unknown location which was safe enough to do some traffic training; this is when Zena and I go to cross a road and John drives in front of us. I have to encourage Zena onward and if she steps into the road, correct her and bring her back. The aim is to keep her training topped up so that if ever a car suddenly pulls out in front of us, I’ll know what to do and Zena will be trained to keep me as safe as possible. I felt like we did quite well with this training and John seemed happy as well. We’re going to continue to practice it throughout the week.

On the way back, John talked to me about learning street names and the order that they are in on a route. He tried to stress as much as he can the importance of learning them so that if I got lost I’d be able to follow someone’s directions based upon street names. Also, if I always know the name of the street I’m on, I’ll be able to keep up-to-date with exactly how far along a rouse I am and exactly where we are. I’m going to try really hard to learn street names because I understand what John is saying about how vital they are.

When we got back, Kieran and I accompanied John into the garden to help build the spending pen. I didn’t feel like I was much help at all but Kieran and I held certain parts of the fence at certain angles while John screwed everything together. By the time he was done, it had four sides and a hinged gate. All that needs to be done now is to attach and fasten the bolt and somehow stabilise the whole structure. It is quite wobbly even with the gate closed and held shut. It wouldn’t move or blow around or anything but it would be good for it to be steady.

After that was finished, we had a break for a little while. Then, John rang me to tell me to head off to Bacon Close, a road on the way to the leisure centre, where he’d meet me to finish the route. I was super nervous about doing that much of the route by myself as I’ve never gone that far on my own before. Also, I’m still not confident at all on the route and doing that much by myself seemed dangerous. I was sure I’d go wrong somewhere. However, when we set off we seemed to get into a comfortable walking stride and in almost no time at all we were at Bacon. I had Zena sat at a curb and was ready to drop the handle of the harness as I was unsure of where we were when John came up and told me how brilliant the walk had been. I questioned that we were in the right place and he told me that I was and that the route looked great to watch.

The rest of the route went well, too. We got to the leisure centre with almost no hiccups whatsoever. John only gave minimal directions, which made me feel really good about the whole thing. He gave me and Zena loads of praise once we were sat down in the leisure centre. That made me feel great as I’d been really uncertain about the whole thing and that’s the best it’s gone so far.

The return route was great, too. John left us to it, mostly, just giving me little reminders every now and then. This time, he left us to it at the turning opposite the library, giving me instructions on how to cross the remaining roads. Mostly, the walk was nice. Zena seemed to be slowing down a lot — more than I need — and I wasn’t sure whether she was sniffing or just slowing down for me. When we reached home, I asked John about this and he said she was just walking slowly. I felt a little guilty for correcting her so frequently about her slow speed after all the time I’ve spent over the last two weeks trying to slow her down. Particular points of the route today were just too slow, though, and made me doubt what I was doing, which is never a good feeling. We’re going to do another run of that route again tomorrow and I’m hoping we’ll continue to do it every day. I think John is trying to understand why it’s so difficult for me to absorb the route quicker. I’ve got to try and learn the name of each street leading up to the gym overnight, too. I don’t think I’ll get them all right but I’m going to give it my best shot. I can see why it’s important to know them.

Tomorrow, we’re going to do the leisure centre route again and also some more traffic practice. John also clarified that Zena’s puppy walker is available next Wednesday, which he thinks will be qualification day, to watch us on route. When I expressed the wish to meet Zac, John said she may even have him with her, which would be a really nice bonus. We’ve also discussed plane and train travel. We’re going to be doing train travel in the next few days and John has spoken to Flybe, the airline I use when travelling to visit Kieran and family, who have said that as long as I phone in advance and check the flight I want, I’m able to book it and take Zena on board with me. As I’m hoping to visit Kieran sometime in March, John said he will do the outward flight with me as our test and, if it goes well, leave us to do the return by ourselves. If it isn’t that great, he said he’ll come up and do the return with me when I need to go home. We spoke about a work load at Kieran’s and John said that she’s allowed holidays but that it would be good if I could learn some routes up there so that I have some work for her to do other than when we go out with his family. I’m hoping all of this can go ahead according to plan. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s training and am hopeful that I can keep up our good momentum with the leisure centre route.

Tuesday 14 February

Since John left yesterday, Zena has refused to go to toilet in her new pen. Having the freedom of the garden seems to have made her frightened of the enclosed area I’m now presenting her with to toilet in. I spent quite a long time last night trying to persuade her to go and tried again this morning before John returned. When he arrived, he took Zena out and tried to get her to go. After several attempts, he came back in before going back out again and this time she did a very long wee. We then went to do some more traffic control in the unknown area we visited. She worked well as I tested her, trying to encourage her to walk into the road when John was driving in front of us. But she stood steady and didn’t move a muscle. Once, she twisted to stand up but soon sat down when I corrected her.

After the traffic training, we came back and tried Zena in her pen again. No more luck came so we went out and did some obedience work on the grass parking area in front of my house. This worked quite well and Zena mostly did what I commanded, such as laying down when I said `down`, sitting up quickly when I said `up sit` and staying still when I walked backwards away from her saying `stay`. Once we’d done enough of that, we headed back inside and tried the spending pen again. But nothing happened. So John did her ear treatment and we looked at going on trains for tomorrow. I didn’t want to do any route walking in case she went whilst working. So we decided, regrettably, to leave the day there and start afresh tomorrow, hopefully once she’s done a poo and started to catch up on her usual routine. Tonight, I have to feed her early at four o’clock and spend her every hour and hope that she goes to toilet. My thinking is that, as she did a wee for John earlier, she may continue to progress for me.

Wednesday 15 February

Today has been a very busy but great day. It was one of those days where pretty much everything about training went right. Firstly, when John arrived, he encouraged Zena to toilet in her pen. While I got my stuff together, he managed to coax her into having her first poo in the pen. I was absolutely thrilled; I gave her massive cuddles and loads of fuss to congratulate her. After that, we went in his car to the train station. Once there, I worked Zena into the station and to the ticket office where John bought two return tickets to Southampton Airport Parkway station. It is only a seven-minute train ride but enough to see whether Zena can cope well on trains or not. I worked her up the steps and over the bridge on to the right platform. Then, when the train arrived, I worked Zena to the door and then on to the train. Then, I dropped the handle and followed John down to some seats. We sat where there was a table so Zena could lay down underneath it. I took her harness off before she went under the table because with it on she was too tall. When we arrived at Parkway, we were standing by the door and a couple asked us questions about Zena and explained how they’d fostered similar breeds to hers over the years. They fussed her a little bit and we let them because they seemed genuinely interested in her and she wasn’t actually working. As the doors opened, Zena stepped fearlessly off the train and stood happily on the platform. As soon as I joined her, we walked forward a little way and then I put her harness on. I followed John through the station and out on to the road and then across the zebra crossing and into the arrivals hall of the airport. Zena didn’t seem at all fazed by the airport atmosphere — to be fair, it was quite quiet in there — so we didn’t stay long. We went back to the train station and sat on a bench to wait for the train. When it came, I worked Zena to the door and on to the train. John found us another seat with a table and this time I just took the handle off of the harness so that Zena could slide in underneath. At the end of the journey, she worked well getting off the train and then around the station. She walked me calmly along the platform, over the bridge, along the other side, through the station itself and out on to the pavement in front. Then, I dropped the handle and followed John to his car.

We took a detour on the way home to the place where we’ve been practising our traffic training. It was spitting with rain when I got out of the car and thankfully we managed to complete the traffic training quite quickly. Zena was excellent, again, and only went to stand up once. A firm `sit` from me had her sat down again and not trying to replicate the movement for the rest of the session.

After a break and weather check, we decided to go ahead and do the leisure centre route. During our break, it had been absolutely hammering down with rain and there was a moment where we considered to pass on route altogether. But my determination to do it as many times as I can and our good run with it on Monday made me want to do it even more. We only have a certain amount of days left to do the route with John’s assistance before qualification comes. We’re definitely due to qualify next Wednesday and John wants me to do it twice independently before he qualifies us. This can include the qualification walk but they have to go without him helping at all. So, when the weather had subsided a bit, Zena and I set off. John had agreed to follow and if I released the handle of the harness he’d come and help me. Otherwise, he was leaving us to it. It was amazing! We managed the majority of the route without issue or hesitation. I needed John’s help a couple of times; once, Zena went completely the wrong way, taking me to the side curb instead of straight ahead to the curb I needed. On our way to the leisure centre, there was a man pruning the hedges and his van was parked on the pavement. He said that Zena would probably be able to guide me passed it but offered his assistance. So I took his arm and followed him through the gap. I thanked him because he did a good job of guiding me and didn’t try to interfere with the dog at all. A little way after the interruption, I felt a bit confused so dropped the handle and waited for John. He drew up against the curb and I checked where we were before continuing on. After two side roads, I continued on to and lay-by and then confused myself by thinking we’d gone too far. Again, I waited for John and he confirmed my thoughts that actually we hadn’t gone too far. The next turning was for the leisure centre. Zena turned effortlessly and we headed for the almost flat entrance to the car park. It creates a road so Zena has to wait and then cross it, waiting at the lip on the other side. Sometimes, she goes straight on because I’m telling her to `find the step` when actually the tactile paving is barely raised. If this happens, I just have to correct her and make her do it again. On the other side of that tactile, we go straight ahead to the leisure centre, through the first set of automatic doors into the lobby and then on through the second set of automatic doors into the reception area. The information desk is on our right as we go through the doors and I think Zena knows it’s there. There are tables and chairs to sit at a little further in and John always lets me have a break before we set off home. While I did that route, I’d had Google maps on through my headphones to see if it helped me get to the leisure centre. But it was completely useless; it tried to take me a completely different way for the entirety of the route.

Walking the route headed for home was even more effortless. The only thing John helped with was getting passed the man pruning the hedges and watching us go down to the library corner and across that road. We got quite soggy walking home because the rain had returned. When we arrived home, I was thrilled that we’d done so well with the route. It is definitely the best we’ve done so far. John informed me that Zena had actually done a poo during the walk home but that we weren’t to make too much of a big deal about it because we’d done so well on the route and she’d done a poo that morning in the pen.

Tomorrow, we’re doing the leisure centre route and traffic training again. Friday is going to be a free run day with the leisure centre route embedded into it. There may be more traffic training, too. I’m looking forward to seeing how our last two days of week three pan out and then our last few days of training altogether leading up to qualification.

Thursday 16 February

Today was another great day. Although our traffic training didn’t go to plan because there was a bunch of kids doing their cycling proficiency test in our usual area, the route to the leisure centre was brilliant. I only had to ask for John’s help a couple of times there and not at all on the way back. He congratulated us on how well it went. Zena was a bit of a monkey on the way back because there were a lot of other dogs about. But overall the route was great and I’m starting to feel quite confident with it now. We’re going to do it again tomorrow accompanied with a free run. John also helped me put the cleaning solution in Zena’s ears but said they’re looking a lot better. He also commented that we need to return to the vets next week for the last check-up before we’re qualified. As Kieran and I are hoping to go out for dinner tomorrow evening, John said that I could take Zena with me but not work her; so I can take her on lead with the harness slung on my arm. That way, if anyone questions us I can present the harness to them as a way of confirmation that she is a working dog. I’m quite excited about this as I haven’t taken her anywhere without John yet and haven’t had a meal out with her beside me yet. I’m hoping that we don’t get refused from the restaurant we’re hoping to go to, though, because that would make the whole experience rather awkward. The spending pen situation seems to have improved, as well. This morning, she did a big wee for John and then, when we got back and before we headed for the gym, she did a poo. After coming back from the gym, she did another wee. I can only hope that the lucky streak continues for me overnight and into tomorrow and the weekend to follow.

Friday 17 February

We had a short but good day of training today. It is before eleven in the morning and I am already sat at home finished for the day with a cup of tea next to me made kindly by Kieran. As planned, I did the route to the leisure centre and we followed this with a free run for Zena. On the way up to the leisure centre, we had a few hiccups with other dogs being around and Zena not necessarily going to the part of the pavement I’d directed her to. But overall it was still a good walk and we only messed up properly right at the end. I didn’t cross the road to the leisure centre like I’m supposed to. I just tried to turn the corner too early on the other side of the street. John came and helped out and then we got to the leisure centre no problem. After giving Zena fuss for doing well, I dropped the handle of the harness and John guided us round to the field where I swapped Zena’s work collar to her play collar, complete with bells, and let her go free to enjoy herself. It’s been a really good week so a reward of a free run felt necessary; even if doggy logic doesn’t see it as a reward, I felt like I was giving her one. When I blew the whistle to test her recall, she came back without hesitation so I rewarded her with a treat. She seems to really like gravy bones, which is good because I have a whole tub of them. There were other dogs on the field today and John had to call her away from them; but otherwise it was a good free run. Because John had noticed that my ankle was playing me up quite a bit on the route up, he offered us a lift home in his car because we both agreed I’ve pretty much got the route figured out. Also, he didn’t want me to strain my ankle any further as we’re so close to qualification and things are going so well. So that was the end of our week. It’s been made even better by Zena using her pen whenever I take her out to it. Just before he left, John helped me administer the ear solution. He commented that her ears are looking good again.

So, week three of training is complete. Tonight, Kieran and I are going out to Frankie and Benny’s for a date night meal and Zena is coming with us. John advised that I ring the restaurant in advance to let them know that a guide dog is coming. That way, they shouldn’t be able to make any kind of fuss when we turn up with her later. Next week, we’ve got to focus all our attention on the leisure centre route and get it perfected so that we can qualify as expected on Wednesday. Also, we’ve got to take a trip to the vets and I think John may practice a few more off-curb obstacles and a bit more traffic training. Hopefully, though, this time next week we’ll be qualified and I’ll be taking Zena wherever I need to go.

Seeing Dogs training Week 2 c

Monday 6 February

So, the second week of my Seeing Dog training has arrived. We had a nice relaxed weekend so we were ready to get stuck back into training first thing this morning. Over the weekend, I tested Zena’s behaviour skills further than I have before by leaving her at home by herself for a while. John had told me that the maximum time allowance was two hours and that if I wanted to go out for a bit then that wasn’t a problem. To be fair, we did use the maximum of two hours and arrived home minutes before our time was up. Zena seemed to have behaved fine; she was super excited to see me when we came into the house but otherwise hadn’t caused any chaos or destruction. I was pleased about this as now I know she’ll be safe to leave on her own if ever a similar situation occurs. On Friday night, I also went with Mum when she went out to buy us something for dinner, leaving Zena at home with Dad and Tamsin. To be fair, I left her in the utility room with the baby gate shut so that nobody had to do anything for her. I thought that was the best way to tackle things as I didn’t want anyone shouting at her if she did something naughty or fussing her too much. When we got back Dad said she had been absolutely fine, only barking a couple of times. This is reassuring as now I also know she’ll be fine if I leave her to be dog-sat by my parents if ever I go out without them.

This morning, John arrived a little earlier than usual and we agreed to go into Wolston, one of the places I’ve learned how to get to with the help of my grandparents. There’s quite a few things to go to there, including my doctor’s surgery, a fish and chip shop and a Subway. John said we’d do the walk up to my doctor’s today and it went quite well. Zena responded well to me and we got there fine. The return route was no bother, either, and we were soon back at the bus-stop ready to head home.

Once home, we started our off curb obstacles part of the training. We do this so that if the road is partially or totally blocked by something, like a set of road works for example, Zena and I would know what to do to get around them safely. It was quite a different way of doing things but Zena seemed to know what she was doing and John seemed happy that we were managing it well together. He’s going to make artificial pavement obstacles over the next few routes so that we continue to practice this new skill together. I just hope that I’m able to remember what to do and do it at the right moments along with everything else I have to remember to do.

After lunch, which we had early after we’d finished the off curb training, we headed for the leisure centre again. I want to do this route as many times as I can because it’s still really new to me and I’m still not always sure where I am. The majority of the time, I’m more focused on the wrong things Zena’s doing and the speedy pace that we’re walking at to take note of where we are on the route. I definitely wouldn’t be anywhere near confident doing it without John yet. It’s difficult because I know mostly where we are but I sometimes get lost and when he quizzes me about which road we’re at, I’m not always sure because I’ve been focusing on other things like getting her to sit at the curb and making her ease her speed a bit so that I can catch up. She was being a bit naughty on the way to the gym and my corrections weren’t firm enough to iron out this behaviour. When we were almost there, she did a poo on route again. John said that this was because she hadn’t caught up properly over the weekend. I was quite disappointed because I’d thought we’d done a good job of making her catch up on the morning poo she’d missed on Saturday. But apparently not. Once at the gym, we talked about speed, corrections, the toileting issue and the real need for a run in my back garden. I emphasised how vital I thought the run could be to solving the toileting issue and John seemed to agree. He also said that if I was finding the pace too much, instead of just doing my usual corrections to slow her down — a sharp tug back with the harness handle coupled by the word `steady` or quick continuous sharp tugs on the lead accompanied by `steady` — to make her really slow down I could do the same correction I do when she walks out into a road: dropping the harness handle and sharply pulling the lead backwards to drag her back on to the pavement and show her that what she’s done is really wrong. If I use this correction, I have to get her to wait and then set off and say `steady` really soothingly to get her to obey. I tried this a few times on the way home from the gym and it seemed to work. However, she stopped dead in the middle of the pavement once and later John explained that she’d done this to test me and see what I’d do as I’d been stopping her on route. In the future, John said I need to do the original steadying corrections he’s taught me before doing the really harsh one if she still doesn’t pay attention. If I just keep doing the really harsh one, she’ll keep taking advantage by stopping dead in random places during our walks. It felt like quite a tiring day today with all the things that went wrong and the new things to learn. It was quite stressful on the way to the gym because she didn’t do a single crossing correctly and kept racing ahead on the pavements. But the work on the way back was good and I think I was better and firmer with my corrections which meant she couldn’t take advantage quite as much as before.

Tomorrow, we’re practising more off curb obstacles but this time embedded in our normal routes. I’m hoping John doesn’t throw too many of them on the route to the gym because I’m uncertain on that route as it is. We’re also headed for the vet to get Zena registered and checked over. I’m hoping flea, tick and worming treatments will be discussed because I still don’t know what the situation with them is. She also has to have one of her ears checked out because John says it’s quite waxy. My health book and a third ID tag came through in the post from Chris today so everything is going ahead smoothly. After the vets, we’re going to do the route to the leisure centre again because she’ll need a good walk and also I want to do that route as much as possible. John said we’ll probably go into town on Wednesday as it is bin day and go exploring around West Quay. I’m hoping we get to practice the little walk from the bus-stop into the precinct, too, because I haven’t done that with Zena yet.

Tuesday 7 February

Today was a surprisingly short day. When John arrived, later than he’d planned because of the fog on the motor way, we headed for the vets. They prescribed Zena some cleaning solution for her ears because they’re quite waxy and dirty but thankfully not inflamed. They also weighed her and she’s 23,5 kg, a good healthy weight for her gender and breed. At the reception desk, John also asked for a worming tablet, which I’m to give to her disguised in something tasty tonight. He said I should split it into two halves and feed it to her amongst treats so that she snaffles it down without too much fuss. I’m to do this just before I feed her her evening meal. I’m hopeful that it’ll work ok.

On the way back, John dropped us off at the shop and we walked back home together. Then, we did the around the block route which takes us passed the school and up to one of the side roads we usually use. Once there, John got the off-curb obstacles out and we practised that. I need a bit more practice to be completely comfortable with that, just like the gym. My ankle was playing up quite a bit on the walk back from the off-curb obstacles test and so, when we got in, John just helped me administer the ear solution for Zena. He also kept trying her to see if she needed a poo after missing one again last night but she seemed defiant in her decision that she didn’t need to go. I’m just hoping she goes back to her normal routine from tonight onwards. As my ankle wasn’t feeling great, John decided to leave training there for the day. It was only midday when he left and it’s a shame my ankle was feeling bad because it’s a gloriously sunny day outside and would have been the perfect opportunity to do the walk to the gym with no distractions of bad weather. Also, this morning Zena did her crossings well so it would have been good to further that with the long gym walk. But we’re going to do that on Thursday now, I think, and hopefully Friday too. I’m going to try and get in as many gym walks as I can. Tomorrow, we’re heading for Southampton town centre to do the West Quay walk again and hopefully go into the precinct, too. I learned that walk with my grandparents so it would be good to try it with Zena, especially as she does everything in double quick time. Because we’ve finished early today, I’m probably going to have a little play time with Zena later on, just to tire her out a bit, before grooming her. As I don’t have anything else to occupy my time with, I might as well do that this afternoon. Hopefully, my ankle will have sorted itself out by tomorrow because I really don’t want many more early finishes, especially if we’ve got more nice sunny days like today. I want to get the most out of John’s training while he’s around and before we’re let loose in society.

Wednesday 8 February

This morning, John rang when he was outside to say he’d meet us at the bus-stop. So I put Zena in harness and we headed for the bus-stop. Not long after we reached it, John caught up with us. Soon after, we boarded the bus to to town. Town was quite an exciting walk. We went to the pelican crossing and across into the precinct. There, we turned left into Pound Land and went upstairs to the pet section. John was looking to see if there were any metal combs that I could buy to groom Zena with. But they didn’t have any. So we left Pound Land, going down in the lift, and headed along to the upper entrance to West Quay. We went inside and up to the food court before heading down to the bottom in the lift. There, we went out of the entrance and along to the bus-stop where we caught the bus home. When we arrived home, we practised a few more off curb obstacles before heading home completely. John brought in a 15 kg bag of Zena’s food which the charity has given to me. There was already some food still left in my bin so there is some left over in the bag on top of the bin now. We cleaned Zena’s ears with the cleaning solution provided by the vets. Then, I groomed her a little with John showing me what I should do when grooming her beard and eyebrows. It’s quite difficult to do but of course she stayed still and perfect while John was there. Afterwards, John took one of our patio chairs out into the front garden where Zena and I posed together for our official photos. They’ll go on the Seeing Dogs website and on our ID card. After that, John said we’d done enough for the day. Tomorrow, we’re headed for the leisure centre as well as more off curb obstacle training. On Friday, we get to take Zena for another free run, which will be nice. We’re planning to go to the leisure centre before that so that she’s worked well before the weekend. Also, I made my point clear to John about doing the leisure centre walk as many times as I can before John leaves. He agreed with that. I explained that I work best if I’ve done things over and over again until I’ve cemented it in my head for good.

Thursday 9 February

Firstly, this morning we headed for the leisure centre straight away. Mostly, I got loads of things wrong. Zena did too but I think a lot of them were my mistakes. The walk on the way back was a lot better; we made many less mistakes and overall the walk was a lot nicer. I managed to slow her down quite a bit and wasn’t so shattered at the end of it. John had a lot of encouraging things to say for me to try and make the route better for both of us. My incompetence and knowing the layout of the route is causing me to hesitate which means Zena is able to get away with more and be even more cheeky than she usually is.

Once we were home, I left Zena with Kieran while John and I headed for B and Q to buy wood to build a spending pen out of. The wood ended up being a lot cheaper than I’d expected with four 6 ft panels and 3 7 ft posts costing just under 90 pounds. John is going to look for screws, hinges and a catch and I’ve got to ask Grandad if he has a saw we can borrow, better than a hand saw. When we got home, there was no noise at all from the dog so John and I worked together to carry the wood down the side alley and into the back garden. We lay it all out on the patio ready to start building from. I felt quite guilty because John had to do quite a lot to get the wood in his car and home; the inside of his car is set up to carry several dogs at once with cages that have separations in them so he had to dismantle a lot of this to fit the wood in securely. Even then the big posts were hanging out of the back of the car. He had them tied down, though, so we were safe enough. On the way home, we discussed Zena’s puppy walker coming to meet me to observe us working together. He said the only route that was feasible is the leisure centre route — my least favourite and the one I have the least confidence in doing — because it’s the only relatively long local walk I have. I’ve agreed that we can do it because I feel a bit guilty if I said no as she helped raise Zena. Plus, it would be nice to meet her because she’s currently looking after Zena’s brother, Zac, who’s in training to be a Seeing Dog, too, and who Zena got on really well with. I’d really like to meet him if I can but I’m aware he probably can’t come when she comes to observe us.

Tomorrow, we are going for another free run on which we’re going to walk to the leisure centre and walk back from the leisure centre. Then, we’ve got to do some kind of car training, which I think is avoiding moving cars or cars that are stopped in the middle of the road. John said that if he has time or in between everything else he will start assembling the wood. I feel really grateful to him for doing this for me because I don’t know how else I would have been able to get a spending pen for Zena without spending ridiculous amounts of money.

Friday 10 February

As planned, today we did the route to the leisure centre and went on a free run. However, I did part of the route without John and then he joined us to do the rest. Zena seemed to enjoy her free run a lot and came back for a treat each time I blew the whistle. The route on the way home felt better than the way there had been. Again, John left us to do some of it by ourselves and then met us back at home. During the route, we practised off-curb obstacles again and it went quite well. Once there, with Kieran’s help, he started to prepare the wood to build Zena’s spending pen. John lined the saw up and then Kieran chopped the wood to how we needed it. Meanwhile, John drilled the holes into the panels of the pen so that it is ready to assemble. Then, he cut one panel for the gate. Together, they screwed the hinges on to the gate. I’m pretty useless at diy so I just stood and held pieces of wood when asked to. As for Zena, well, she was pretty thrilled about being allowed to roam around the garden freely, without being told to go to toilet all the time. It was probably quite strange for her because whenever she’s in the garden I’m telling her to go and today nobody was asking anything of her, except to stop eating the grass!

This week seems to have been more of a going over most of the stuff I learned last week as well as learning how to navigate off-curb obstacles. The whole point of that is if the pavement is blocked by something, I’ll know how to command Zena into the road and back on to the pavement as soon as it’s possible. I feel like every day I make progress but some days I take two steps back, especially when doing the route to the leisure centre. Most days when I do that, it feels like I’ll never get it right; I know I will, though, but I’m persevering with it. I need this route. At the moment, it’s my only long local route without using public transport. It’s a decent route, too, because it also takes me to her free run place and, if I wanted, the library. I’m hoping to keep practising it as much as I can over the next week and a half as well as learning new things. In our remaining training time, we have to tackle train and plane travel as well as going over everything we’ve already covered. I think we also have to do some work at night time, but John hasn’t clarified and said what’s next. The pen is pretty much ready for assembly; Dad is going to have to help me a bit and Grandad is bringing some screws to use down later. I’m hoping it may be up by Monday and usable really soon. I think it’s going to make her toilet time a lot easier for everyone involved. I’m hoping next week will enable me to fully absorb the gym route and maybe even be able to do it without John by this time next week. I hope I’m able to get more confident with commanding Zena. It’ll feel good when I really know what I’m doing and if I can fully understand and remember the leisure centre route, I’ll have a lot less worries. I think I’ll get there, anyway.

Seeing Dogs Training Week 1`

Monday 30 January

When I was told that I was matched with a dog from Seeing Dogs and that she was the very dog I’d had my practice walk with, I decided that, when the time came for training, I’d like to write regular updates on how things were progressing. Now, the time has come for my first week’s worth of experiences of training with Seeing Dog Zena.

On Friday the 27th, John, Seeing Dogs’ mobility instructor, brought Zena down to move in with me. Originally, he’d planned to leave her with me for a week to settle in and so that we could get used to each other but training elsewhere had meant that wasn’t possible. Looking back over the weekend now, I’m glad we didn’t have a whole week of settling in together because I think it would have shattered all our confidence.

Over the weekend, I wasn’t able to do much for Zena. I had to take her out every two or so hours to do her business, saying the command to encourage her to go. Then, twice a day, I had to feed her her meal of one full to the brim scoop of kibble. She seems pretty happy with her food and gobbles it down no instruction needed. I didn’t have a whistle over the weekend so couldn’t use that and feed her the way she’s been trained. We also figured out that she quite likes to sleep upstairs in my room with me so my cute little set up in the utility room downstairs was forgotten. Now, her big plastic basket bed with vet bed lining and two fleece blankets is positioned in front of my radiator, beneath the window. She seems completely content with this and is happy to lie in her bed the majority of the time. The rest of her time has been spent sniffing round every inch of the house she can manage to get her nose into. We’ve been practising me telling her to `lay down` and then praising her when she does, especially as to begin with she didn’t want to obey; everything else in the house is far too interesting, you see. There’s lots of new sights, sounds and smells to explore and a variety of people to choose from who may give her some fuss. John left me with an old lead of his and let me put the collar I’d bought for her on her as her work collar. He seemed to approve of the collar and all the other stuff I’d bought to use for Zena. I was glad because I’d thought maybe he’d think I was crazy dog lady or something.

By the time Sunday evening came, I was quite pleased to think that John would be back in the morning to give more guidance and support. Zena seemed to have been on a poo strike, because she refused to do her business until a little bit on Saturday evening after much encouragement and worry for me. Of course, she was probably just feeling a bit stressed and anxious about her new surroundings. Although everything is probably very exciting to her because it’s all new, it’s probably pretty daunting too. Her dad and fellow trainee Seeing Dogs are nowhere to be seen and there’s a new person giving her commands. To make matters worse, her dad has actually left her here and when he comes back on Monday morning and shows off a harness, he doesn’t even let her wear it or go out for a walk.

Before going anywhere with John this morning, we did a lot of talking about various bits and pieces to do with the training. Then, it was time to go out. Zena was staying behind until I was at least familiar if not good at the commands I needed to walk her properly. There was a lot to learn! From the foot positions to arm movements to commands I need to say in order to get her to do what I want, I think I’m going to be in action for quite some time. We did a lot of practising, with John telling me what I needed to be saying and doing whilst holding the body piece of the harness with me hanging on to the handle and lead. Tomorrow, we’re going to do a refresher on what I’ve learned today and then get to a good enough point for me to be able to take Zena out on harness. I feel absolutely terrified about that. I’m not really getting it right with John on the other end of the harness prompting me so the idea of having my actual guide dog attached is quite frightening.

Despite my worries, John seems quite pleased with what I’ve managed today. He said that I’m picking up the commands and body orientation well. He did comment that I need to be more vocal but he said it’ll come with time and practice. Our plan for tomorrow is to recap, like I said, and as long as the weather remains good, take Zena out and see how it goes. I think she’d like to go out because she seep quite restless being cooped up in the house. She’s not even allowed to play around in the garden because she needs to learn that that’s the place she does her business. Until she’s understood that, no playing permitted.

While John was here, he also went through the new equipment that arrived in the post over the weekend. The box trained a new lead, whistle, bells and the pieces that fit together to form a harness. The Seeing Dogs harness is green instead of the usual Guide Dogs white but John said it shouldn’t affect the public’s perceptions of the dog because most aren’t aware enough to realise that that it is different to Guide Dogs’ white. During one of our breaks this morning, John taught me how to assemble the pieces of the harness to form it ready to put on the dog. There are three pieces to the harness: the main body piece, the strap that attaches with a buckle and goes underneath the dog’s belly to fasten the other side with a quick release clip and the reflective sleeve that fits on to the strap across the dog’s chest. Obviously, as I didn’t take Zena out, I wasn’t able to put the harness on her yet. Also, John attached the bells to the spare collar I have for Zena — a fluorescent green one with a quick release fastening — so that when I take her out to do her business, I can put the collar not her and hear what she is doing. That way, I’ll know whether she’s sat still to do anything or not and will be more likely able to gauge whether she’s been. The bells are actually for free runs but I think this is a good use of them too. I couldn’t have them on her all the time, though; it would drive me insane. John also let me attach the whistle to my house keys and blew one of his own to demonstrate how it needs to be blown before I feed her. To be fair, she doesn’t really need the encouragement as she eats without issue but it would be good to keep that part of the training intact. He said that her recall is generally good but that we’ll be using that whistle when we take her on a free run. I’m looking forward to trying out the whistle tonight when I feed her and looking forward to seeing how much I can remember tomorrow morning when we do our recap. I’m hoping that I’ll remember well so that a walk with Zena is a good start to our training together. Of course, I’m expecting a lot to go wrong as I don’t know how much of the information I’ll be able to retain or how well behaved Zena will be on route. I’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.
Tuesday 31 January: day 2

Well, today was a new completely new experience for me. Firstly, this morning John and I recapped what he’d taught me yesterday and I mostly remembered everything right. Then, once she’d done her business, just as a precaution, John showed me how to put a harness on Zena, attach the lead and head outside. The first short walk to the bus-stop was terrifying. However, she knows exactly what she’s supposed to do. Even though this is the case, she can sometimes be very cheeky and do the complete opposite to what she’s meant to do and if I get even one instruction wrong, the whole thing crumbles. I have to remember every the `lead on`, `stay`, `straight on` `find the straight`, `sit` and `good girl` otherwise she doesn’t know what she’s meant to be doing. The one I seemed to forget the most was tell her to stay at a curb before we crossed and again when we reached the other side. There’s just so much to think about while you’re walking. Not only have you got to remember where you’re going, you need to remember all the correct commands to make the dog take you in the right direction and not walk you straight across a road without waiting. She’s quite an inquisitive girl, too, so I had to say a lot of `leave it` on our walk. There was plenty of `steady`, too, because she’s a really fast walker and although I can try to match her speed for a while, it doesn’t last long so it’s better if I slow her down so we can find a comfortable middle ground. After our walk to the bus-stop, we then went back out, after a little break, and walked to the shop. I was a lot more comfortable the second time round because there was no need to be nervous: I’d already messed up loads and John had reassured me by pointing out the positives. Anyway, I’m not expected to get it all right.

Once we came home from the first walk, we all needed to dry out a bit. It was only a quarter past eleven so John and I agreed to do a walk to the local leisure centre to see whether the route was feasible and to get me to understand it. Zena had earned a lie down on her cushion bed in the utility room. She wasn’t in the slightest bothered about being soaked through or being left behind while John and I went out again. The walk to the gym was quite a long one, longer than I thought it was. John walks at quite a brisk speed, which is good as I have to get used to walking faster with Zena anyway, so it was probably a lot shorter than it could have been. When we got back from that, it was lunch time. At a quarter to one, John returned and I put Zena back in harness ready for another walk to the shop. I made loads of mistakes again on this walk but felt that I got lots of things right at the same time. Zena discovered the cat that lurks on the steps outside the shop and this has posed a little problem now because the cat knows to antagonise Zena and Zena is obviously distracted by it. We had a good walk back to the house, though, with me doing a lot of correcting and Zena responding well. Tomorrow, the plan is to do the route to the shop a couple of times, maybe tackle the leisure centre and then do some grooming. All the wet weather has made Zena’s fur quite curly and she could do with a good brush to smooth it all out again. So I’m now looking forward to tomorrow’s training and feeling a little bit more confident about what I’m doing. Chatting away to encourage the dog doesn’t seem so ludicrous anymore now that I’ve done it. John seemed pleased by my chatter because I think his concern was that I wouldn’t be loud enough and wouldn’t talk much to help Zena along. Even if I did feel bashful about it, I don’t have any choice because if I don’t talk to her, she immediately goes wrong and the whole thing disintegrates. Anyway, I want to make this work because I can imagine it happening now I’ve tried it.
Wednesday 1 February: day 3

Today was a lot of hard work and effort. As soon as John came, I put Zena in harness and we headed for the shop. It was mostly a good route. Once we’d had about a fifteen-minute break back at home, we headed for the leisure centre. This route was a bit nerve racking for me as I’ve not really done it before, except for walking it yesterday with John. Zena seemed nonplused about the whole this and just kept responding to my commands. When I got it wrong, she went wrong and I had to correct us with John’s help. He also had to direct us a bit because I didn’t know the route well enough. The worst thing about that route is that Zena wanted to career on ahead, being super speedy with her walking and at times I had to break into a slight run to keep up with her. No matter how much I insisted `steady`, she wasn’t slowing down. We had about a twenty-minute wait sitting on the comfy chairs inside the leisure centre. Zena was good and just lay down at my feet, not even bothered by the person who came over to say hello to her. John chatted to me a bit about Zena’s speed on walks. He encouraged me to keep reiterating `steady` with the wrist movement and standing my ground if she’s going too fast. On the way home, we had a few mishaps, the biggest being that Zena had a poo on route. We’re not sure why as I’m sure she’s been going regularly here but John didn’t seem too worried. Once we got back from the leisure centre, we stopped for lunch. I also had some post waiting for me, one letter being some information from Chris at Seeing Dogs. The envelope contained two tags with split rings for Zena’s collars, a set of health cards for the vet’s, two printed copies of my ownership agreement, a Braille copy of the ownership agreement and a letter from Chris explaining everything. She also said, in her letter, that Zena’s puppy rearer would probably join us for my qualification walk. Currently, I’m not sure how I feel about that. Obviously, I’m thrilled that she’s helped the charity out and started Zena’s life off well, but I’m not sure is I want witnesses when I qualify. John said we’ll be going through the ownership agreement soon so I’ll ask him about qualification then. When John came back from lunch, he said I could put one of Seeing Dogs’ ID tags on her collar, which I did, and I gave him the paperwork that had also come in the envelope. Once we’d sorted all of that out, we headed out again for another walk to the shop. This time, John hung further away from us, letting me have more control over Zena’s actions. I think I did OK; we made tons of mistakes there and back and several times I felt a bit lost. It turns out I should have just followed my instinct because I was going in the right direction and knew where I was despite my wobble. We reached the shop, eventually, and the cat that loiters outside the door didn’t bother Zena at all this time. To be fair, if we’d stayed any longer it probably would have been a problem. On the way back, we had several hiccups. She seemed to be refusing to sit at curbs and, when we passed one of my neighbours, decided that she needed to assert her dominance and bark aggressively at their dog. John had to come and intervene then to tell her off. When we arrived home, John talked to me about how Zena knew she could take advantage of me and play up a bit. He said he understood that it was pretty horrible to be on the other end of the lead when she is being a pain but that it’s something I just have to ride through, that I’ll get a lot more of it as we progress through our training. I know that already, of course; being friends with Guide Dog owners who like to remind me of the negatives has taught me that this was never going to be all rosy and if anything very far from it. But it felt good to be mostly in control for the last walk. I’m hoping that, as the days pass and we progress, I’ll grow more confident and Zena will learn not to disobey me so much. I probably just need to be much firmer with her. Tomorrow, we are furthering the adventure with bus travel. Apparently, Zena is highly experienced in this and as I am as a blind passenger, I’m hoping we’ll do a good job as a partnership. We’re also doing grooming tomorrow, which I’m glad about as she’s quite smelly and her fur’s gone all curly with the wet weather.
Thursday 2 February: day 4

Another day of new experiences. Today, we braved public transport. When John first arrived, I put Zena in harness and we headed for the bus-stop. John guided me onto the bus with Zena by my side on lead. While we were on the bus, John asked if there was anything near to the bus-stop that we could go to and I suggested Costa as it is one of the routes that I’ve learned with Nan and Grandad. He agreed. When we got off the bus, I had Zena by my side on lead. Then, I put her harness back on and we set off for West Quay. I was a little confused when we got there as John said we had to make a left turn to go through the doors and when I’d done the route with cane, we’d curved right into the shopping centre. But of course it made sense once I figured out what had happened. Zena walks in straight lines so there had been no curve. The left turn was no problem and then we headed for Costa, which is much easier and quicker to reach with a dog than by cane. John led me into the shop and we ordered drinks before going over to a table. There, I moved my chair out a bit so that Zena could be caged in between my chair and the windowsill. This suited me as it meant she wasn’t able to edge out and sniff at people. She seemed to like laying her head on the table, probably to take in her surroundings, but John encouraged me to cut this behaviour out as I wouldn’t personally tolerate it and it’s not a good habit for her to keep if I’m likely to take her into restaurants. Once we were finished drinking and talking, we headed back out of the shop with John guiding me. Then, when we were a safe distance away from the entrance to Costa, I put Zena back in harness and told her to `find the door`, which she did no trouble. Then, we headed for the bus-stop. Zena thought that we were going back to the one we’d got off at so I had to encourage her on to the side road and then left to the zebra crossing. John taught me how to put my right foot in the gutter so that cars know to stop so that I can safely cross the road with Zena. She crossed it no trouble again and we turned right and headed towards another side road, which we crossed fine, and on to the bus-stop where we sat and waited a while for the bus. On the bus, John explained how I shouldn’t really tell Zena to sit or lie down because she has to be in a comfortable position herself to want to sit and forcing her to do so isn’t really fair on her. Instead, I have to sit and hold her as close to my side as I can so that she can’t creep forward into the aisle and sniff at people.

At the other end, John encouraged that I walked off the bus with Zena on lead and then put the harness on when we were on solid ground. Our walk back to my house went well and she’s learning to find the gate no problem. After Zena did her business in the garden, John and I sat in the living room and John read the ownership agreement out to me, ready for us to be able to sign in a couple of weeks’ time when I qualify. John doesn’t seem to have any doubt as to whether I’ll qualify. Everything is leaning towards that and he even asked me whether I’d want Zena’s puppy rearer to watch us on a walk. I told him I wasn’t sure how I felt about that and explained my reasons, which he seemed to understand. I think I will ask if she can follow us on a walk close to qualification but not the actual qualification walk. I feel like qualification is a big thing and personally I don’t know this lady. Obviously, I have absolutely nothing against them; if anything, I’m grateful to her for looking after Zena. But this is my time with Zena now and I feel like we need a fresh start together. I’d love for her puppy rearer to be in touch with me so that I can update her on how Zena is doing and hear about the new arrivals she’s looking after for Seeing Dogs.

In the afternoon, we headed for the leisure centre again. This time, we went a different way, turning into the street where the Co-op is but walking down the other side of it to get to the back of the leisure centre and then going around it to the doors. We walked home the way we had yesterday, which I think is a lot easier on my mind than this new way John discovered. Zena was quite difficult on this walk. Of course, a lot of it was down to my commands and confidence handling her. But some of it was genuinely her; she seemed to not want to sit at the curb no matter how much I encouraged it. `Steady` didn’t seem to be working, either, no matter how hard I tried to correct her with the harness handle and the lead. John showed me how to continuously check her with the lead as we walked to try and slow her down. It seemed to work a couple of times but generally didn’t. I’m going to continue trying to make it work in the future because I really can’t walk at her break-neck speed. Sometimes, I have to break into a slight run to keep up with her and that’s no way for either of us to work. I need to build the strength up in my arms and legs so that I can stand my ground and haul her back when she’s speeding away from me. We had to go back and go over a few of the crossings because Zena didn’t do them right. Just as John was leaving, Mum and Dad came through the door so John met Mum and chatted to them for a bit. He’s going to send me a link to the right flea and tick treatment to buy for Zena and confirmed that the dry food I’d found on Amazon was the correct food for Zena, which has pleased me as it was only 15 pounds for 12 kg, a really good price. As it turned out, Mum and Dad had been in town at the same time as us. As they were coming out of the car park, we were walking down the path towards the bus-stop. It just so happened that Mum saw us when Zena was trying to take me to the wrong bus-stop.

Tomorrow, we are taking Zena on a free run to Mayfield Park, which is opposite the leisure centre; doing a small walk to the shop, which I suggested as I want to keep working her as much as I can to get the experience for both of us; and hopefully doing the grooming. I think with everything we did today, it slipped John’s mind that we were supposed to be grooming her. I think the trip into town was a lot shorter than both of us expected it to be. It’s quite surprising to me because every route I’ve painstakingly learned with mobility help from professionals and family members is a hell of a lot shorter working with Zena. I’m looking forward to taking her on a free run and am hoping that our crossings tomorrow on our way to the shop are a lot better than they were this afternoon. I felt quite knackered and fed-up halfway through the afternoon walk but have boosted my spirits again since. Things like that happen and we’re only in the first week of training so it’s to be expected that we get things wrong. Over time, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to work together to get most things right.

Friday 3 February: FIRST WEEK OF TRAINING, COMPLETED!

This morning, John arrived earlier than usual and asked if I felt comfortable walking up and back to the shop with Zena on harness by myself. He said he’d follow in the car. He gave me instructions to get to the shop door, make her sit and then turn around and come back. Well, it was a pretty smooth walk, much better than the last couple of afternoons have been, anyway. She still did the curb thing a few times so I brought her back and corrected her. The more I do that, the more she’ll get it right. She hadn’t done a poo this morning so was a little sluggish at a few points and John confirmed, when we got home, that he thinks she was looking for a place to go. Thankfully, she held on until she was in the back garden. Next, it was free run time! I was allowed to take treats and we went in his car. He has it partitioned off in the back so that it can hold four dogs at any one time. At Mayfield Park, I was told to swap Zena’s working collar to her play collar — a bright green collar I bought from The Range a while ago that has her bells and ID tag attached — and then let her off lead. She seemed to love being allowed to be free and be a dog. Every now and then, John would blow the whistle three times and I’d stand, with my hand by my knee palm facing inward with a treat concealed and wait for her to come back. When she did, I was to take hold of her collar before turning my palm outward and letting her have the treat. She came back every time. At one point, she did dare to stray towards the open gate that leads on to the main road, but John called her back expertly. We stayed at the park for about half hour, walking around while she ran happily about, barking every now and then at other dogs. John said that she should stop this after a few times of coming to the same park. After a while, John called her back for the final time, I gave her the remaining treats in my hand and swapped her collars back over, attaching her lead at the same time. She didn’t seem at all bothered.

Back at home, John realised he’d misplaced his comb so just showed me how to brush Zena with the double-sided brush I had. It’s weird because I’ve ended up with quite a few brushes. I have a Zoom Groom, a Furminator shedding tool, the double-sided brush and a soft bristled small horse grooming brush. All of them have been recommended to me by various people since I found out I was getting Zena. But apparently all I need is the double-sided brush and a comb, which is on its way in the mail. It’s funny how the two simplest things are all I need. John also suggested that a leather Chamois leather cloth to bring out the oils and brighten up her coat. A few people on the Facebook group for Zena’s breed also said that the Zoom Groom may come in handy for picking out loose hairs. The Chamois only cost a couple of pounds from Amazon and I’ve bought combs from an online pet product retailers that Imi recommended to me. Zena loved being brushed. For a while, she was led contently on the wooden flooring in the utility room just letting me brush her head, down her neck and along her back. Sadly, I had to disturb her comfort and get her to stand up so that I could brush down her sides, a little on her tail, on her tummy and her legs. Over the last week, she’d gotten quite knotty and I was glad we’d found time for grooming. John recommended that I do it each day just to keep her appearance up. Her fur certainly felt nicer afterwards, even when she shook it all out. John explained how the metal prongs on one side of the brush would untangle her fur nicely and that the bristles on the other side would bring out the oils in her coat and take away loose fur. It’s good to know all this so that I can continue it after qualification in a couple of weeks.

There seems to have been some kind of mishap with my health book for Zena. Apparently, it was sent with all my equipment last week, so inside the box with her harness, bells, lead and whistle. But I didn’t notice any paperwork at all and am certain that I would have found it or heard it moving inside the box. John is going to ask for a new one to be made for me.

So, our first week of training is complete. It feels so long ago that it was last Friday and Zena was arriving. We’ve come so far in such a short space of time and I feel that it has gone a lot better than I ever expected it to. I didn’t expect to feel as confident talking to her on walks as I do or to remember all of the correct commands and foot positions. But I don’t seem to be getting it wrong often and I went the right way this morning when walking to the shop. In a strange way, it seemed easier to focus without John watching from behind. I knew he was following somewhere in his car but it was easy to forget that he was there at all. That way, I felt like it was my sole responsibility to get everything right. He praised us both loads when we got home and said that I’m doing really well for our first week. That makes me happy because I must be doing something right. Next week, we are going to the vets, doing off curb obstacles and continuing with our route work. I’m excited for our training to continue and hoping that Zena won’t be too bored over the weekend while she’s unable to go out anywhere. John has given me permission to go out for a little while, two hours maximum at one time, if I feel I need to get out of the house. If there’s a desperate reason for me to go, I will; but I’m not just going for the sake of going out. Zena seems settled now and I don’t want to disturb that unnecessarily. Overall, it has been a great week and here’s hoping next week can be just as positive.