“£5! It’s cutting off my circulation!”

After 18 months of not seeing her, last Thursday with my good pal Josh I boarded a train headed for York to visit Imi. This time, there were going to be a lot of new experiences involved. Firstly, Imi now lives in student accommodation, so we were off to stay with her in her own little flat. Secondly, she now has a new guide dog after the lovely Laila retired last month and Imi was rematched. I’d be lying if I said meeting newbie Sam wasn’t one of the highlights I was looking forward to most. Obviously, seeing my sister and spending the weekend with two out of three of my best friends was the best part of it all. But an excitable wet nose and wagging tail waiting to greet us the moment she was out of her harness and off lead in the flat was definitely a highlight. First, though, we had to actually get to York. Considering there had been widespread disruption on the railway over the last few days due to flooding, this was no simple task. Thankfully, despite a half hour delay, we arrived safe in York at just gone 3pm. Luckily, Josh and I Had come well prepared with plenty of food and drink to keep us feeling fresh throughout the journey. Never missing an opportunity to indulge, before Mum had dropped me off with Josh at the entrance to Southampton Central that morning, we’d nipped across the road to Costa, where Mum had treated me to a medium white hot chocolate in my travel mug and a trillionaire’s shortbread, which is a festive twist on the usual millionaire’s shortbread they sell, this one with white chocolate on top instead of milk and the added treat of honeycomb pieces. Both of these definitely made the first part of the journey much more enjoyable. Much to our surprise, neither Josh nor I put our earphones in once during the journey. The previous evening, I’d downloaded extra Audible books just in case the 6 hours I had remaining on my current read weren’t enough to cover both the journey there and return. As it turned out, I didn’t listen to a minute of the book the whole weekend.

Arriving in York a little later than expected, Josh and I hung around on the busy platform, him keeping an eye out for anything that resembled Imi. A few minutes later, Josh spotted green hair going passed us in the other direction and shouted to Imi, quickly following after her and catching up. Imi introduced us to her new PA Lara, who guided us back to the car and drove us back to Imi’s new flat. The first thing that struck me about the place, considering it was student accommodation, was it’s size! It had a large living room area, hallway, decent sized kitchen, spacious bathroom and large main bedroom. The reason for this, Imi explained later, is because it’s meant to house a few students rather than one. As Imi’s has a guide dog and carers, though, it made sense for the university to offer her the whole flat. As soon as I was sat on the makeshift bed come sofa in the lounge, Sam, Imi’s new and rather gorgeous new black lab retriever guide dog, came bounding in to meet us. After checking with Imi that I was ok to do so, I made a huge fuss of Sam, who seemed thrilled to have guests. The first thing I noticed about Sam, too, was her size. In contrast to the flat surprising me with how big it was, I was amazed just how little Sam is. Imi had told me when she’d first been matched with her how tiny Sam was but I hadn’t thought she’d be as small as she is. Despite her size, she has boundless energy and enthusiasm and as we sat there resting after our journey, one thing that I realised quickly was how different Sam is to Imi’s now retired and rehomed guide dog Laila. For one thing, Laila was much bigger and for another, she was much more relaxed, calm and quiet. Sam certainly makes her presence known whereas with Laila sometimes you almost forgot she was there. Obviously, she was equally as gorgeous, just in a very different way.

While we got acquainted and started nearly 18 month’s worth of catching up with Imi, Lara offered to cook us dinner and my favourite when visiting Imi, quorn spaghetti bolognese. It was very tasty and although I hadn’t really been that hungry after munching through my packed lunch for the majority of the journey, it was very much appreciated and filled me up for the rest of the evening. After she’d finished doing everything she needed to, Lara headed home for the evening. Not long later, Imi’s dad Mike arrived to dog sit for Imi while we went out to see Lucy Spraggan perform live. Imi booked a taxi and we left for the venue, The Crescent working men’s club, around 6:30 to get there in plenty of time for the scheduled doors open time of 7pm. We were actually there early and the doors to the event room didn’t open til passed 7 so we sat in the bar to wait. While we were there, Imi and Josh went up to the merchandise stall they’d spotted where Imi paid £9 for a festival-style ribbon wristband and a set of stickers. When the doors opened, we queued up with the other people waiting to go in and had our hands stamped to show they’d checked our tickets. Once inside, a member of staff pointed us in the direction of seating. Josh had emailed previously to ask if we could reserve seats and the staff had said it would be no problem. I’m glad we were able to as I don’t think I’d have liked to stand for the whole concert. Before Lucy performed, there was a young female support act but unfortunately the crowd were too noisy talking and not really paying attention for us to really hear and appreciate her. Thankfully, during Lucy’s set, the crowd mostly quietened down, except for clapping and cheering, so we were able to fully enjoy her music as we usually do. When her latest album was released earlier in the year, I was disappointed not to enjoy it and fall in love with it the way I have with her previous releases. However, hearing her perform many of the newest songs live gave me a much better appreciation for the depth of them and made me like them much more than I did before.

After the show finished, we headed out into the entrance area of the club and Imi ordered us a return taxi back to the flat. When we got in, we headed straight for bed as Mike was already settled down for the night. Whilst getting ready for bed, Imi attempted to take of the festival wristband she’d bought and worn during the show. But it wouldn’t budge. Josh and I both tried to loosen the stopper and help her free her arm, but with no success or even progress. In fact, after several minutes of us all attempting to get the thing off, it had tightened painfully on Imi’s wrist and was cutting into her skin. After yet more frustrated attempts to get it off and quite a while later, Imi miserably admitted defeat and did the only thing left to actually release her wrist from its tight grip and took a pair of scissors to the ribbon, snipping herself free. As the wristband had cost £5, she was mightily disappointed that it was now useless, basically just a torn piece of ribbon and a plastic stopper. When we looked, we saw that the stopper had an almost netting-like inside, which when twisted around the ribbon had become caught and stuck in, impossible to release. This is where the title from this post comes from; for quite some time after freeing her wrist, Imi kept exclaiming “£5!”. While she’d been attempting to undo the wristband, she kept saying “it’s cutting off my circulation!” and it was at the point that her hand was starting to change colour that she realised she really had no other choice but to cut the thing off. Once she had discarded the ribbon, using it to tie around the neck of Laila the namesake cuddly toy dog, she had a look through the stickers in the pack she’d bought and realised they weren’t really anything special either, especially not worth the £4 she’d paid for them. She confessed she’d only picked them because she’d assumed they’d be the cheapest item available…

The following morning once we were all up, Imi made us breakfast: shreddies for me, toast for Josh and a nut cereal for herself. We watched a bit of Jack Whitehall Travels With My Father on Netflix. Later, we headed out on a walk that took us through the university campus and on into the main town centre of York. Before we got to the busy shopping area, there was a quieter street where we stopped at a little cafe called Osborne’s for refreshments. We all had a Diet Coke each, Josh had a chocolate brownie and Imi and I had a slice of banoffee cake each. It was absolutely delightful and one of the nicest pieces of cake I’ve had in a long time. While we were there, Imi arranged with her guide dog instructor, Richard, to meet her a little later on near Costa. Although she finished her training and she and Sam qualified as a guide dog partnership a week earlier, Richard’s involvement didn’t stop completely and they were still monitored to ensure everything was still going well and so Imi could discuss any worries or queries that arose. Before heading to Costa, we went into the busier part of the town centre, where the Christmas market was in full swing, and browsed in the York Ghost Merchant shop and Lush.While Imi went out to practice a route with Richard observing, we sat in Costa; I had my beloved white hot chocolate and after loving it so much on the train the day before treated myself to another piece of trillionaire’s shortbread while Josh just had another coke. When Imi arrived back a little while later, she told us Richard had offered us all a lift back to her flat in his van as both she and Sam were tired and had worked hard enough for the day.

After we’d showered and got cosy in pyjamas, Imi read through the online menu of a local takeaway she’d recommended and we all chose food to have for dinner: Imi a stuffed crust margarita pizza, Josh a stuffed crust pepperoni pizza and a tuna and sweet corn with added garlic sausage pizza for me. Because of the deal we’d chosen, we also got two portions of chips, onion rings and two cans of coke. Imi also read out extra side orders and we agreed to add mozzarella sticks because I said they’re the best part of a takeaway. I was a little apprehensive about ordering the tuna and sweet corn pizza as I’ve tried it at some places before where it hasn’t been very nice. Obviously, the first place I ever tried tuna pizza was at my favourite restaurant up north, Sambuca’s in Blyth, where it is always delicious. But I’ve also had some takeaway experiences of it not being very nice at all. However, as it seems nearly impossible to order a tuna pizza from any southern takeaway, I decided not to pass on the opportunity here. I’m glad I didn’t, too, because the pizza was lovely, especially with the addition of garlic sausage. Imi and Josh seemed to enjoy their choices, too, and the sides were all nice. While we ate and until 10pm, we watched the live 2019 edition of Children In Need. Unfortunately, we all felt the show has gone downhill in recent years and although of course it’ll always be a very worthy cause needing publicity, we felt the entertainment factor of the show was nowhere good as it has been in previous shows. A little while after we’d turned Children In Need off, we went into bed and Imi put the audio described version of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging on quietly while we fell asleep.

The following morning, after getting up and having breakfast, we watched the Netflix documentary Pick Of The Litter, which tells the story of a litter of 5 puppies from birth to qualified guide dogs. It is based in the US and their Guide Dogs for the Blind system of training puppies to become guide dogs varies only slightly from their UK counterpart. The documentary was first added a couple of months ago and when I’d watched it then by myself, I’d been disappointed to find it didn’t have audio description. As plenty of shows now being added to streaming service immediately come with the option of audio description, not to mention the fact that this particular show was all about being blind, it surprised me that it didn’t have any. However, when Imi pressed play and checked the audio settings on Saturday morning, the option for audio description appeared and sure enough the whole program was described. Having now watched it with audio description, I think it’s even weirder that it didn’t have it in the first place. I missed so much the first time round that with audio description I was able to understand. More than that, there were vital little details displayed onscreen that, without audio description, I didn’t even realise were there. The show is an hour and a half long but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think even Josh did too, learning some things he didn’t know about the process of qualifying as a fully fledged guide dog.

In the afternoon, after Imi gave us the choice of staying in or going out and finding another cafe to have refreshments in, Josh decided it’d be better to get out for a bit and we all agreed. Again, we headed out through the university campus and onto the quieter outer streets of York town centre. This time, we went into a coffee shop called Bistro Guy. I had a glass of fresh orange juice and a slice of banana cake, Josh had something called curiosity cola and a chocolate brownie and Imi just had a curiosity cola until just before we left when she ordered a meringue to take away. On our way back to the flat, we popped into the nearby Co-op so Josh could buy supplies for the train journey home the following day.

When we were all settled back in the lounge, Imi put on the latest episode from Friday evening of Gogglebox. Afterwards, as I wasn’t feeling great with a headache, I got straight into pyjamas and took some paracetamol. When the headache started to lessen, Imi and I looked through all her newly acquired dog accessories as I’d been wanting to see quite a few of the items in preparation for getting my own guide dog in the future. Then, as instructed by Mike on Friday morning, Josh heated up one of the ready made shepherds pies from the fridge for Imi and I. Mike had left two to split between the three of us but Josh decided he wasn’t hungry so we just split the one in half between Imi and I. We spent the rest of the evening watching My Mad Fat Diary on All4.

Sadly, on Sunday morning we needed to get up and ready pretty quickly. Our train departed York at 11:40am so we needed to be up, dressed and in a taxi by then. Thankfully, we managed it no problem. Imi ordered us a taxi for 10:20 so that we’d be able to get to the station, have food and meet special assistance before the train was due and it worked out fine. The taxi got us to the station with nearly an hour to go before our train left so we went straight to Burger King and bought ourselves a meal each — Josh a cheese burger meal and coke and me a 6 chicken nugget meal, coke and cheese burger — before sitting in the available seating area to eat. Then, at the requested 20 minute prior to travel, we went to the assistance desk and waited to board our train.

The journey home went smoothly despite the almost hour wait in Birmingham for our connecting train and the replacement bus service from Southampton Airport Parkway to Southampton Central. In fact, during our wait at Birmingham we couldn’t have had lovelier assistance, from the nice man called martin who was rushed off his feet, and I was able to treat myself to a Costa — again a white hot chocolate and piece of trillionaire’s shortbread — which I enjoyed on the train. Getting into our seats on the train was a bit of a hassle as the seat reservation displays weren’t working and Martin obviously had to leave us onboard and exit before the train departed. Thankfully, Josh was able to locate our seats and the kind people who were already sitting in them without realising they were actually reserved vacated so we could sit down. Even so, the guard did pass on a message saying he was coming to help, which just shows how good assistance man Martin was at his job.

After a little uncertainty when the train pulled into Eastleigh and stopped for a few minutes despite this not being on the schedule, we soon arrived into Airport Parkway and after a few frantic minutes of trying to find it, were on our bus replacement service to Central. While we’d been on the train, Josh had looked at the bus timetable to see what time we’d need to be at the bus stop by the train station to get the bus that would take us back to mine. It seemed that we actually needed our replacement bus to arrive right on time or even a little early and our bus home to be running slightly late if possible otherwise we were going to miss it by a matter of minutes and have to wait half an hour at the stop for the next one. I wasn’t even able to call on my parents for help as Mum was at work. Miraculously, as we literally ran from the train station to the bus stop, Josh saw that the bus was already waiting there and somehow we’d struck lucky with a kind driver who saw us running and waited. For the first few minutes of the journey, all we could remark was how happy to be on the bus we were.

Although our weekend with Imi ended when we left York, Josh and I continued to spend time together once we were home. As his company is always appreciated and I knew I’d be tired after a long journey home, I’d already arranged it with Mum that it was ok for Josh to stay over and he seemed quite keen. Otherwise, we’d have parted ways once he’d ensured I was on the right bus at Central, which would have been fine as I know the route home on that bus. But neither of us had plans for Monday and it just seemed nicer for Josh to stay at mine. All we managed when we got in was to have showers and go straight to bed. We had an excellent time visiting Imi and meeting Sam and had been lucky with public transport but neither of us had slept very well over the weekend and train journeys are draining even if you enjoy them.

The following morning after we were up and had eaten breakfast, I set about the task of fully cleaning out the guinea pigs. As this is quite a lengthy job, I did feel guilty that I’d invited Josh round just to endure it. But he didn’t seem to mind; he spent the time finding music for us both to listen to on my iPad. When everything was done, we headed into town for some lunch and as Josh had a food voucher left over from last Christmas, he chose Pizza Hut. He went for the buffet while I had macaroni cheese with a side of fries and cinnamon sticks dessert as it all came in a deal. When it came to paying, it turned out Josh had £12 on left on the voucher after using some of it last time we’d gone to Pizza Hut with Kieran. Despite my protests, he insisted on paying for the remainder of the bill himself. I was very grateful. Afterwards, we wandered around Primark looking at all the clothes and accessories; Josh treated himself to a new pair of fluffy pyjamas. We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in my bedroom, until Josh decided to head home.

All in all, it was a rather splendid weekend. Visiting Imi is always lovely as we don’t often get the opportunity. Seeing Lucy Spraggan live was also great and I loved meeting Sam. Spending time with two out of my three best friends is always treasured and I hope maybe next time all four of us will be reunited with Kieran joining us. The last couple of days have felt strange being back home without Imi and Josh to chat to, and even more without Sam’s wagging tail enthusiastically whacking the wardrobe and anything else within range to greet me first thing in the morning. I don’t know when I’ll see Imi and Sam again, but I hope the 18 month gap that seems to be becoming a trend between times doesn’t continue.

Thank you, Josh, for being my travel buddy and assistant. It’s a much more enjoyable experience with you there. Thanks also for putting up with me cleaning out the guinea pigs on Monday and providing such good musical entertainment throughout. Thank you for the meals you’ve paid for during the weekend, it was much appreciated. I’m lucky to have a good pal like you.

And thank you, sis, for having us to stay, for such a lovely time, for putting up with my dog accessories oobsession without complaint, for the trips into York and for letting me fuss Sam so much; even if you don’t believe me, I would have held back had you wanted me to. It was so lovely to spend time with you and see you so settled and happy in your new flat. Long may it continue and I hope we see each other again soon.

Open Uni: Results Day 2019

Just over two weeks ago, on Monday 22 July 2019, I’d just come upstairs after doing a full cage clean out for my 3 girlie guinea pigs Peanut, Smudge and Hazel when I checked my phone to see I had over 100 unread What’s App messages. As I only use What’s App for group chats, I suddenly wondered if all these messages meant what I thought they must… Opening the app, I saw I’d been right. The latest unread message was talking about results and scores and joy at passing. All these notifications meant Open University results had arrived! Quickly, I sat down on my bed and logged onto StudentHome, the university website, on my phone and went to my first module’s website. Yes indeed results were in. Instead of my page displaying the “date of module result” page as it had been since the modules ended in June, it now said “module result”. The first module displayed on my StudentHome page was KE322 Young Lives, Parenting and Families, the only module of my 6 health and social care modules that deviates from the mental health theme. So I clicked on the module result section of the website and it loaded;my overall module result was displayed as a grade 2 pass. Then, my Overall Examinable Score showed 62 and my Overall Continuous Score 72. Immediately, I was pleased. I’d passed. Not only that, but it seemed I’d passed decently. Next, it was time to see how I’d done on my other module K314 Approaches To Mental Health. During the year, I’d enjoyed KE322 much more, probably because I’d found the tutor for that module to be much more communicative and responsive. Also, she seemed warmer and more genuinely interested in her students. Not that the other tutor was bad, but she just didn’t seem to get as involved with the tutor group. Maybe she had more commitments or was just busier. Or perhaps that was just her style and I suited the other tutor’s way of doing things better. I don’t know. But because of all this I wasn’t expecting to have done as well for K314. Overall module result: Grade 2 Pass; Overall Examinable Score: 74; Overall Continuous Assignment Score: 69. In fact, I’d done better. It was an odd realisation to see this. After I’d let the news sink in for a few moments, I rang my Mum. My Dad was downstairs hoovering and my sister somewhere in the house. But Mum was at work. That’s probably why she didn’t answer straight away. Instead, she text asking what was up and when I said I needed to talk to her, snuck away from her desk to ring me back. When I broke the news, she sounded thrilled for me. A few moments later, I was telling Dad and Tamsin and then sending a text to Kieran and phoning Imi. Everyone was pleased. But not as much as me. It felt surreal that these were my final scores. And now all I was waiting for was my final university result, the one that really counted, the one I’d really been working towards all this time since September 2015. Degree classification.

Amazingly, the university didn’t keep me waiting long. The following morning at around 10:30, I was browsing through my phone when I again saw the amount of unread messages on What’s App had rocketed. When I checked, I realised this was because a fellow student in my KE322 group had said her degree classification had been awarded. With trembling fingers, I again logged onto StudentHome and went to the Study Record section of the website as instructed. Yet again, What’s App had been right. My classification had been given. Overall, for the entirety of my university journey, I’d been awarded a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Health and Social Care, Upper Second-class Honours (2.1). I’d done it! I’d really gone and done it! All along, ever since starting my studies with the module AA100 The Arts Past and Present planned to be the beginning of my Open Degree, I’d set myself the goal of at least getting a 2.1 overall. Although of course every student’s dream is First-class Honours, I’d never been as cocky as to believe I’d manage that. So for me the dream had been a 2.1. And at times during this last academic year I’d believed that dream was almost dead. My assignment scores, although I’d been happy with them, had been on the boundary line between a 2.1 and 2.2 classification. So that Tuesday morning, to click on the study record page and see I’d been awarded a 2.1 was truly amazing. I had tears in my eyes as I rang my Mum, then Dad who didn’t answer, then Kieran, then Imi, to tell them all my fantastic news. After I’d told everyone, I actually accepted my degree classification. You have to go through a little form, tick all the right boxes before officially accepting the classification and qualification you’ve been awarded. They do this so that if you’re unhappy with your awarded classification you can query it with the module team and potentially get it changed. But of course for me there was no need for that. I’d achieved what I’d been aiming for all along and couldn’t be happier. Though, despite the few tears that had fallen and the amount of people I’d contacted to share the news with, I’m not sure I truly felt the full effect of my final result being in. When I pressed the accept button, the page reloaded and displayed an error message, saying something had gone wrong and I needed to call student support for help, which obviously I did immediately. The lady on the phone was quick to resolve the issue and accepted the degree for me. Then, she transferred me through to the graduation ceremonies staff so I could discuss the next step, actually graduating.r

The following Monday, after lines had opened to book places at a ceremony, I rang the graduation ceremonies team back and discussed my available ceremony locations with them. Originally, I’d agreed with Mum and Dad to go to the closest one to home, which was in November. But when I’d spoken to Josh, he’d reminded me that actually that date wouldn’t be feasible for me as I would be up in York with him and Imi after attending a concert the evening before. Frantically, we tried to work out which of the other ceremonies would be doable depending on their distance from us and the date being free. In the end, we settled for a ceremony in September, with the only disappointment being that Kieran can’t attend as we’d both hoped he could. However, I’ve since booked tickets for myself, Mum, Dad and Tamsin to go. I was quite surprised that the cost wasn’t more, with each guest ticket being £25 but mine free and a second free ticket for my carer as I’ll need someone to guide me up onstage to receive my award, entitling me to a free carer’s ticket. I was also given the phone number and website details of the company the university uses for gown hire and told that if I wanted to borrow a gown I needed to ensure I’d booked it at least 21 days in advance of my ceremony. So far, I haven’t yet booked my gown but am planning too soon. Although I’m not very keen on the idea of wearing one, my parents say I have to and I realise it’s all part of the occasion. Other than actually graduating, all I have left to wait for is my official qualification certificate, which I’m told will arrive in the post sometime in September. Additionally, I just have to work out what to do next. I’m still volunteering once weekly locally and would like to find similar opportunities as well as actual employment. I still meet my employment adviser and although nothing has come of our meetings so far for two years, I’m hoping finishing my degree might impact on that. Also, I check job sites like Indeed for new apprenticeships or jobs in my area that I might be interested in and apply for any I think I’d have a chance of successfully being employed for. I’m hoping that it won’t be too long before I’m doing more with my time. After so long studying every weekday, I do find it strange not having a routine each day. But I’ve very much enjoyed reading lots of audiobooks since finishing my studies in May and still meet my lovely My Guide partner Jenny once a week to practice my routes. By now, I think my 2.1 classification has sunk in. My overall feeling is of relief, I think, that I actually managed it. Graduation will be an interesting experience and I know it finishes off my university journey neatly. Plus, it’s a nice way for my family to commemorate my achievement with me. hopefully, I might even surprise myself and enjoy the day, though I’m not sure my feelings about wearing a gown will change…

Obviously, there are tons of people I need to thank, without whom I’d never have achieved this degree. From the lovely keyworker at RNC Hereford who acknowledged and understood the fact that regular university, which is always the college’s preferred next step for every student despite their own personal wishes, really wasn’t the right step for me and supported me in seeking out the right alternative. Then there’s my friends and family, who have supported me throughout the highs and lows of the last 4 years of study. Special thanks to Kieran for all the technical support throughout my studies, especially for putting up with me studying when I’m visiting you and for setting up my assignment template in Word so that my TMAs were always formatted the right way. To everyone who’s let me sit and study on your sofa or at your table with a cup of tea or glass of squash, I’d have never achieved this degree if I hadn’t been able to use my laptop to work in all your houses. To all the tutors I’ve had throughout my modules: S, T, R, P, A and C: although some of you have been better at others, all of you encompassed my visual impairment into the way you tutored, adapting things in ways that meant I could participate in OU study. Again, some more than most; S, T, R and A, the way you were all so willing to try new things to ensure I was included and feeling the full benefits of all aspects of OU study I’ll never forget. It’s been a long journey and really I can’t believe it’s already over, but the support I’ve received from everyone around me throughout has been amazing and for that I’ll always be grateful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: Guide Dogs Guide Dog Assessment October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Uni: K118 update 23/01/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bryan Adams, Back In The Day”

As arranged, on Monday 6th January I took my first trip up north to visit Kieran and family, mainly because it was Kieran’s birthday 2 days later and our 4th anniversary of being together a day after that, but also because I was overdue a stay after being unable to sort something out for the beginning of December like I’d originally hoped. This time, I had to enlist the help of my auntie Clare (Dad’s sister) to ferry me to Southampton Airport as that very day Dad had started his new full-time job at Tapi Carpets. I’d spent the day with my Nan and Grandad so at about 4:30 auntie Clare arrived at their bungalow to collect me. The traffic was pretty good and we arrived at the airport in plenty of time for the requested hour before flight for special assistance at 5:45. I was checked in quickly and although I was asked to sit and wait in the special assistance waiting area, it wasn’t long before a lady came to take me through security to departures. As usual, that didn’t take long either and we went straight through to boarding. Despite the fact that yet again there were weather warnings in place for the duration of my flight to Newcastle, it was quite a smooth journey. I spent the just over an hour it took for us to fly up north as I always do, with my earphones firmly shoved in, ignoring all the noises around me. This time, I wasn’t listening to my Spotify playlist as I usually do but one of my new favourite pastimes, Chris and Rosie Ramsey’s podcast “Shagged, Married, Annoyed”. As its title suggests, it definitely wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but as I’m a big fan of Chris’s anyway and had heard lots of good reviews that the podcast was very funny, I started listening to it about a month ago and have since listened all the way through from the first episode up until the latest. It’s released every Friday so I’d saved the previous week’s edition for my flight and I was very pleased I had as it made very good entertainment for nearly all my flight. Each episode is a little under an hour long so when the current one finished a little before my plane was due to land, I just chose an older one I’d heard before at random to finish the flight off with.

Once we’d landed, I was led onto a bigger special assistance mini bus than usual as there were quite a few other passengers needing help as well. John and Kieran were waiting to meet me in the terminal building. Back at theirs, Lesley had dinner pretty much ready for us. It was a slow cooked Cumberland pie made from their healthy recipes book. It was very nice. While we ate, we watched 24 hours in police custody.

The following day, Kieran worked from home so we were able to get up a bit later than his usual 6:30 alarm and dragged ourselves out of bed around 8:30. I had tea and toast for breakfast but Kieran didn’t have his crumpets until later on in the morning. We had chicken sandwiches, Kieran’s with prawn cocktail crisps, for lunch. While Kieran worked, I spent the day reading my RNIB Library book. Just after John came in from work, Kieran stopped working too and we went upstairs and watched The Chase and Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA. Later, John cooked a chicken in tomato sauce with broccoli dish and we spent the evening watching 24 Hours In Police Custody, Live At The Apollo and Fawlty Towers.

Wednesday meant it was Kieran’s 23rd birthday. He’d decided to take the day off work which meant we had a lie in. Lesley also worked from home. After we’d finally got up at gone 10, we didn’t bother with breakfast but Lesley made us hot beef sandwiches for our lunch. Kieran’s grandparents visited durning the afternoon. After they’d left, we went upstairs and listened to Capital XTRA and Kiss Radio on Kieran’s Google Home Mini. When John was home, we went downstairs and had slices of the homemade chocolate birthday cake Lesley had made for Kieran with cups of tea. A little later on, Rebecca, Darren and Wilson came round and we ordered a Dominoes takeaway to celebrate Kieran’s birthday. I had chicken strips, potato wedges and a box of cookies while everyone else had different pizzas. After we’d finished the food, we watched Only Connect and 8 Out Of 10 Cats.

Thursday was my only day home alone while everyone went out to work. When he got up to get ready, Kieran brought me a cup of tea up before he left. Not long after he and Lesley left, I got up, showered and went downstairs where I had breakfast of Weetabix and one of the Dominoes cookies I had left over from the night before. During the morning, I watched episodes of Friday Night Dinner and East Enders. I had the corn beef sandwiches Lesley had left for me for lunch and then watched episodes of Raised By Wolves for the rest of the afternoon until Kieran came home from work. Once Lesley came back from her haircut appointment, she drove Kieran and I to Sambuca’s so we could have a date night together to celebrate our 4th anniversary of being together. We had a lovely time eating delicious food; it was definitely a good way to mark our anniversary. As always, I had my favourite tuna and garlic pizza. I say favourite like I’ve tried various items on their menu and picked the tuna pizza as the best. I haven’t. Ever since the very first time Lesley and John took me to Sambuca’s when I first stayed with them in March 2016, ive had the tuna and garlic pizza every single time. I just can’t have anything else when I only get to have Sambuca’s and the delicious tuna and garlic pizza when I visit Kieran and we go there. Maybe if there was a Sambuca’s local to me I’d branch out and try something else. Kieran had a chilli and chicken pasta dish and we decided to share a cheesy garlic pizza bread as a starter. As always, the food was absolutely delicious. Although, due to having and enjoying the cheesy garlic bread, I didn’t actually manage to finish my whole pizza. Because it is so lovely, I always feel a little disappointed when I don’t manage to eat it all. Kieran said he really enjoyed his pasta, too. When it came to paying the bill, we put both our bank cards on the table and asked the waitress to pick one as we couldn’t agree between us who should pay. She chose Kieran’s. Not long after he’d paid the bill, John arrived to collect us. Back at theirs, John and Lesley were already watching something so Kieran and I went upstairs and Kieran looked through Amazon Prime Video for a comedy show to watch. He chose Ed Byrne’s Different Class. As usually happens when we snuggle down to watch something on telly, I didn’t manage to stay awake the whole show through but remember laughing at several points. I also remember thinking, as I do most days and had been all day, how lucky I felt to be led there with Kieran 4 years on from our messy beginning to this relationship in Hereford. Back then when everything was so uncertain I knew if we took a chance on a relationship together I’d be in it for the long haul and so would Kieran. But everything was so uncertain that weekend that I could have never imagined that 4 years later we’d still be happily together, engaged to be married sometime in the future, with me visiting yet again at his parents’ house where ive regularly stayed over the past 4 years. I could have never imagined, that Saturday night in Hereford, that we’d have such an amazing 4 years behind us with so many happy memories throughout. I’m sure there’s so many more good times ahead in our future and I can only hope we have plenty more happy years to come.

As always, Friday meant it was Lesley’s day off. She took Kieran to work before going to do everything else she needed to. I got up and showered just after they’d left and had another Weetabix breakfast and spent the morning watching East Enders, more Raised By Wolves and Juergen Klopp’s pre-match press conference. While that was on, Kieran’s grandparents arrived and just as they came in, Lesley turned up too. After Kieran’s grandparents left, Lesley made me a very tasty tuna mayo sandwich for lunch. Until Kieran came home from work, I spent the afternoon watching Two Doors Down and reading my RNIB Library book. Once Kieran was in, we went upstairs and watched The Chase, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA and the news. We had mince pasta bake for dinner and watched 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Count Down and The Force Northeast.

On Saturday morning, Kieran set an alarm so that he’d be ready to go with John to the hairdresser’s. while they were gone, I sat downstairs watching James Martin’s Saturday Morning while Lesley did housework. When Kieran and John arrived back, Lesley dished up a very tasty cooked breakfast of sausage, bacon, beans, mushrooms, scrambled eggs and toast with a glass of orange juice and a cup of tea. Afterwards, Kieran and I went upstairs and listened to Crystal Palace vs Arsenal on Talksport, which ended 1-1, and then Wolves vs Newcastle on BBC Newcastle, which also ended 1-1. Then, we went downstairs and watched the Tottenham vs Liverpool match on TV, which finished 1-0. We decided to order takeaway for tea and I paid. Lesley and Kieran shared a kebab and chips, John had a cheeseburger and chips and I had kebab meat and chips with a portion of mozzarella sticks which Lesley and Kieran shared; Kieran and I also got cans of Dr Pepper. The takeaway was very nice, especially the mozzarella sticks. We watched the first episode of Ross Kemp’s Welcome To HMP Belmarsh and the most recent new year’s special from Mrs Brown’s Boys, which we were all surprised to be laughing at as more recent episodes of the show haven’t been as good.

After we were showered on Sunday morning, we went downstairs and watched Judge Judy, Only Fools and Horses and The Simpsons. Lesley cooked us mince and dumplings for dinner. Afterwards, Kieran and I went upstairs and listened to the Bournemouth vs Watford match with ended 0-3. Then, I listened to the first half of the Aston Villa vs Manchester City game while Kieran slept because he wasn’t feeling well. He woke up for the second half of the game and it finished 1-6. Lesley made us cheese and onion toasties for tea and Kieran had a bath to hopefully help him feel better. Afterwards, he made us mugs of hot chocolate and we watched Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares while sharing the Maltesers I’d given Kieran as an anniversary present.

Again, the last day of my visit had arrived far too quickly. Luckily, Kieran worked from home which meant we were able to spend the day together. Lesley also worked from home. I had a Weetabix breakfast while Kieran had crumpets. I spent the morning watching East Enders and Two Doors Down. Lesley made us sandwiches with chip stick crisps for lunch. During the afternoon, I read my RNIB Library book until Kieran decided he’d finished work for the day and we went upstairs where we had a cuddle while listening to Capital XTRA Reloaded. Lesley gave us the choice of jacket potatoes with chicken Kiev or corn beef and sliced potatoes for tea and loving Lesley’s jacket potatoes, I voted for that option which Kieran agreed with. My pre-flight meal of jacket potato with cheese, garlic Kiev and sweet corn was lovely. While we ate, we watched the news and Richard Osman’s House Of Games. After tea, I made sure I’d packed everything and then Lesley and Kieran took me to the airport; John wasn’t feeling very well so stayed behind. Yet again, there were more weather warnings in place for the duration of my flight, which didn’t fill me with reassurance, but apart from some extra turbulence the flight was fine, flying me away from Newcastle and another great time spent with Kieran.

Massive thank you as always to Lesley and John for having me to stay, for looking after me, for being our taxi service so we could enjoy a date night on our anniversary, for all the lovely meals, laughs and an all-round nice time. I’ll never not appreciate you letting me stay and always be grateful that you keep inviting me back.

Biggest thank yous, though, to Kieran. Firstly, for inviting me up to stay so that I was able to spend your birthday and our anniversary with you. It always feels better celebrating them when we’re not 300 miles apart. Mostly, though, for the last 4 years of great times, wonderful memories and hopes for our future. I’m so glad we took the chance on us that messy weekend in Hereford like we did. It’s the best risk ive ever taken and continues to pay off every single day. Thank you for all the best times and for being there for me when things aren’t so good too. Here’s hoping there’s so much more of this goodness for us in the years to come. I love you so very much, my fella, and am looking forward to March when you come and stay. Thank you for being my person ➡️

PS: the title of this post comes from John who, when trying to remember what the Bryan Adams song, Summer Of ‘69, was called mistakenly called it Back In The Day, which had us all laughing. Another potential title for this post came when Kieran and I were watching TV upstairs and a Spec Savers advert came on and was audio described. Out of all the adverts available that could do with audio description, we thought it was a bit of a joke that it was one for glasses…

New Year’s Eve 2019

So here we are again at the end of another year and I’m going to write about what 2019 has held for me, on the brink of welcoming 2020 at midnight. This year, I’m not celebrating New Year’s Eve; in fact, this year for the first year in a long time I very much doubt that I’ll be awake when Big Ben chimes at midnight. This year, just like New Year’s Eve 2017, my Mum has to work at our local social club, where she’s been working her weekend evening shifts for 2 years now, despite the fact that it was only ever meant to be a temporary arrangement until Christmas 2 years ago. But mostly Mum seems to enjoy the job and rarely gets any hassle from any drunk idiots. From my perspective, though, I still don’t like much that she works there. It means 3 nights a week she’s out working until midnight on top of her regular 5-day-a-week job that she’s had for years. But of course the money helps her not be so strapped when it comes to bills and necessities. Personally, I can’t stand the environment of the club and ever since Mum started up working there I’ve refused to go down, even though Dad quite often spends a Saturday night there, sometimes joined by Tamsin, Nan and Grandad. I just hate it there and would rather be at home on my own than there. That’s why it makes me sad that Mum has to work tonight; it’s not that New Year’s Eve is really a big deal to celebrate or anything. But I do feel it’s an occasion you should spend with people that matter most, not working hard until all hours of the night serving people who are becoming more and more unpredictable through drink. Although, touch wood, Mum’s generally been lucky with rowdy customers like I said, things can quickly kick off and become out of hand at that place and I don’t want my Mum, however much she can look after herself, caught up in any of that. So while Mum’s down the club working, and Dad goes to join her later in the evening, Tamsin and I will be celebrating New Year’s here together. She didn’t want to go down the club either and I’m quite glad of the company. Last time Mum had to work, Dad and Tamsin went down the club with her and my good pal Josh came over to stay and keep me company. I definitely wouldn’t want to be completely on my own, even if I am asleep early. There is a chance we’ll be up watching the fireworks on telly if we haven’t fallen asleep and that’s definitely something to do with company.

Fortunately, overall I’ve had a good 2019 that’s brought me much positivity and allowed me to make many more great memories. The first event of the year again was Kieran’s birthday followed a day later by our anniversary. Luckily, this year I was able to celebrate Kieran’s 22nd birthday and our 3rd anniversary with Kieran. I travelled up to Newcastle just before Kieran’s birthday. I’m lucky in that I already have almost the same trip booked for 2020, so that I can celebrate Kieran’s 23rd birthday and our 4th anniversary with him.

Throughout the year, Kieran and I also managed to see each other a few other times too. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to travel up to Newcastle as much as I’d intended. As he has for all my birthdays since we’ve been together, Kieran flew down to stay with us in May for a week. Due to the birthday present he and Josh had arranged for me — tickets to see Russell Howard live at the BIC — in September Kieran flew down to stay again. We had an excellent time seeing Russell live, and also enjoyed Romesh Rangernathan live at the Mayflower the night before. Travelling to Bournemouth via train and staying in the Premier Inn hotel overnight was also fun. After those shows, Josh also booked us a comedy show to see next March, Ed Byrne, so we have that to look forward to. As well as that, I also stayed with Kieran and family for a week, during which we spent a weekend at their new rather fancy caravan. I stayed at their older more traditional caravan several times before they upgraded it this year. Although I did enjoy going to the old one, the new one is much more comfortable with its central heating and multiple bedrooms.

In March, two small furry creatures moved in at home. After months of us nagging her, Mum finally relented and allowed me to buy guinea pigs for Tamsin and I. We chose a white female with spiky ridges along her back and a brown & white smooth haired female and named them Peanut & Smudge. A month later, a third was added to the group; Hazel, who had crazy fluffy ginger & white fur quickly became my favourite. I had done a lot of research into looking after guinea pigs before we bought them so always kept their cage clean, tried to handle them as often as I could and always ensured their hay, pellets, veg and water was regularly refreshed or topped up. I bought them an indoor pen so that they had a safe space to be besides their cage and planned to get an outdoor run in the summer so they could have time out on the lawn. I loved the girls very much, especially Hazel, but over the last couple of months I found caring for them harder and harder. I’d chosen the bedding for their cage that was easiest for me to keep cleanest with minimal mess: vet bedding on top with newspaper lining the cage and towels in between to soak up the mess that filtered through the vet bedding. I did daily poo picking with a weekly full clean. The agreement when we’d bought them was that Tamsin was going to help with all the looking after. Sadly, despite all the research she’d done herself and the months of begging, she quickly lost interest and everything was left to me to do. At first, I was fine with that, thinking I’d be able to do it all myself and happy to take on 100% of their care. But it quickly became clear that there was a lot of things I needed help with. For example, cleaning out their indoor pen after they’d used it meant putting some disinfectant in it and hosing it outdoors. I wasn’t able to do this so it was left to my parents. When we’d got the girls, Mum’s main rule was that she didn’t want things left to her to do. She was against us getting them in the first place so now she’d relented she didn’t want to regret it. I could easily understand this; with the amount she works as well as generally looking after us and the house, 3 guinea pigs daily care added to her chores wasn’t something she needed. I’d been determined things wouldn’t be left to her to do but more and more she ended up doing. Add to that I couldn’t afford an outdoor run that was safe enough for them given the fact that the only person around during weekdays to supervise them was me and supervising isn’t one of my strong points. Plus, they were only getting floor time once a week while I cleaned their cage. All of this I didn’t think was fair and wasn’t giving them the life they deserved or what I’d planned when I’d imagined having guinea pigs. I don’t believe you should keep animals just because you love them, want them and can’t bear the idea of letting them go. If you aren’t giving them a good enough life then finding them a better one elsewhere is the right thing to do. So the Saturday before Christmas, while mum was at a hair appointment, Dad drove me to Poole where the 3 girls joined Guinea Pig Corner Dorset rescue. Since then, the lady who runs it has found them new homes which they’ll be moving into soon and I’m sure be very happy. Although I loved having them, I’m sure now I’ve done absolutely the right thing for them and us. I do miss them, but I know they’re going to be living much happier lives in their new homes.

Last year, when Take That, one of Mum’s favourite bands, announced that they were going to be performing a concert at Saint Mary’s stadium as part of their tour celebrating 30 years as a band, I just knew I had to get Mum tickets. So on the 25th of May, on a gloriously sunny evening, Mum and I headed over to the stadium to see Take That live for the 2nd time. We originally saw them at the O2 in London in June 2017 and both absolutely loved the concert. Although Mum enjoyed herself just as much this time around, I didn’t think the band sounded as good. Maybe it was because we were in an open ground rather than a closed in room or maybe it was because the crowd just weren’t as interactive and enthusiastic as the crowd were in london; whatever it was, it meant that although I did enjoy the show and loved that I’d been able to attend Take That live with Mum a 2nd time around, I didn’t love the show like i had the first time. But as Mum loves Take That so much and I do enjoy their music a lot, when they announced they were also broadcasting their show live in cinemas 2 weeks after we’d seen them live, I had to get tickets to that too. Tamsin joined us for the cinema show and we had a great time; I’d even go so far as to say I enjoyed it that little bit more than the stadium show because the cinema audience were really into it and the audio equipment made it sound great.

A month later, we had another live in cinemas concert to see live. When they announced they were reuniting after 7 years away and doing a tour to celebrate as a band, I’d been very excited and hoped I’d be able to see Westlife live. If I had, it would have been the 2nd time seeing them perform live too as I saw them back in 2011 before they disbanded when they played a show in nearby Romsey. Both Mum and Nan Marg are big fans of Westlife too so I’d hoped we’d all be able to see a concert together like the original time. Sadly, the closest Westlife were playing to Southampton was London and Nan hates going on motorways and said she wouldn’t want to go that far. Although I looked into buying tickets, Mum and I decided it was too expensive anyway. But when they announced they’d be broadcasting the final show of the tour live in cinemas, I knew I just had to get the 3 of us tickets. Tamsin was offered too but said she wasn’t interested. Luckily, I bought us tickets no problem and in early July the 3 of us saw the show at the cinema. We all had a great night and it was lovely hearing my childhood favourites sing live once again. They performed loads of their old hits as well as the new singles they’d released so far. After the show, we were all adamant that if Westlife ever played nearby again, we’d have to go. And our luck was in as only a few months later they announced they’d be performing a show live at the Ageas Bowl Southampton next summer. Nan said as long as the tickets were under £50 she’d love to go. Mum was happy too so I signed up to the presale mailing list and hoped. But I didn’t manage to secure presale tickets. It’s thanks to my good pal Josh that Nan, Mum and I have 3 tickets to see Westlife live at the Ageas Bowl next summer. At 9am on the Friday morning they were released, Josh phoned me and secured us the tickets while he was on the phone to me through his Ticketmaster account. At over £60 a ticket, it’s my disability that I have to thank that we’re actually going because without the free carer ticket available, it would have over our budget. I’m now very excited about seeing them live next year and think Mum and Nan are too.

In august, I went to stay with Nan Marg and Grandad John for 10 days while Mum, Dad and Tamsin went on holiday to Rhodes in Greece. They’d booked it last November and tried to bribe me into going. We went on a lot of summer holidays when I was little and although I enjoyed them, lounging beside the pool or on a beach all day isn’t my kind of holiday these days. Plus, I can easily do what I’d be doing beside a pool or on the sand at home stretched out in the garden or on my bed. I’d just be listening to audiobooks or music and would prefer to do it without the extreme heat. So I decided to stay at home and move into Nan and Grandad’s while they were away. At first, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Nan and Grandad are very laidback these days and don’t go far. Even going on the bus into town for them is now more of a chore than an enjoying day out. I was worried I’d get cabin fever being stuck in their little bungalow for 10 days, especially considering their WiFi isn’t great. This sounds very first-world problem-ish and it is, really. I soon realised that once I was with them, too, and found I really enjoyed staying with them. They did their best to make sure we left the house at least once a day, even if it was just to visit my 92-year-old great-Nan to make sure she was ok and give her some company. Nan cooked a different meal for our main dinner each night and some days we went out for lunch. They always tried to find things on TV that I might be interested in around their usual programs and didn’t mind if I had my earphones in during the evening when programs — like Emmerdale and Coronation Street — that I wasn’t at all interested in were on so I could listen to the football commentary or my audiobook. One special event that did happen while I stayed with Nan and Grandad was on my very last day with them when Southampton FC played Liverpool FC at Saint Mary’s stadium and we attended. Loving Liverpool as much as I do, I wish I’d been able to attend more of their matches so when I found out their match away to Southampton was while I stayed with Nan and Grandad — Grandad being a big Saints fan and Nan enjoying football too — I was desperate to get tickets. I wanted to go myself of course but even more than that I wanted to treat Nan and Grandad to going. Even though Grandad supports his local team and the stadium is only a short drive from where they live, he doesn’t attend many football matches either and I knew he’d enjoy going. Plus, I’d missed the Saints vs Liverpool match at the stadium last season because Dad didn’t fancy going with me. Luckily, I was able to get the 3 of us good tickets and on a lovely warm Saturday we watched Liverpool beat Southampton. I even had audio description commentary which really improved my experience of attending a match. Nan and Grandad weren’t too disappointed that Southampton lost; really, I think they were just glad we’d been able to go together. On the way home, I treated them to fish and chips tea as an extra thank you. I wanted to thank them for having me because I really had enjoyed spending so much time with them. Back in June, they’d flown to canada for a visit to our relatives out there and I’d decided not to join them even though they’d been very persistent in inviting me. I loved my trip to canada in 2014 and had always said if the opportunity came to go again I’d love to. But as I was due to finish my uni degree in early June — around the time they were planning to go — was waiting for the call from Guide Dogs and would be looking for employment, I decided I just couldn’t go this time. In hindsight, I wish I had gone but I made my decision and at the time it was the right one. However, them being away at the time they were meant Grandad would celebrate his 80th birthday abroad and away from all of us. As a family, we were all a bit gutted about that; Grandad is a very special man to all of us and we wanted to celebrate his milestone with him. Thankfully, we were able to speak to him on the phone on the day, he could read the messages we posted on social media through his brother’s account and once they were home Nan organised a barbecue so we could celebrate late with him. But by going to the football match, as well as a big thank you for having me to stay, I felt I was giving Grandad an extra special present.

While I stayed with them, Nan had even agreed for the guinea pigs to move in with me for my stay to save us having to drive to my house every single day so I could carry out their daily routines of topping up hay, adding their fresh veg and poo picking. Having them up there with me meant I had something else to focus on; it definitely broke up the monotony on the days when we didn’t go out which Nan spent doing housework. Plus, it turned out that Nan and Grandad kind of fell in love with them and were sad when they came back home after the holiday was over. The cage was positioned in Nan and Grandad’s little entrance hall which leads directly into the kitchen. Where Grandad sat at the dining table each morning and evening to eat meant he could observe the guinea pigs. Most mealtimes, he sat mesmerised, chatting away to the girls. Nan helped me prepare the veg and was always finding new questions to ask about them. Both grandparents chatted endlessly to the girls; every morning when they first got up and went to make breakfast they’d say good morning. Then, at night when Nan was turning off the lights and locking up the house she’d say goodnight. If either of them was doing anything in the kitchen you could guarantee they’d at least say hello to the girls. Sadly, I’d say the girls got more attention by everyone except me in those 10 days than they did the 9 months they lived at home with us. The positioning of their cage at Nan and Grandad’s meant they were in a perfect place for people to chat to them as they did whatever they needed to in the kitchen. Since the girls have gone, I’ve realised that from the start we should have had them in a better place like the living room from the start. Maybe that would have encouraged Tamsin to be more involved. I’ll never know now. But what I do know is that there wont be any more pets in this house. We’ll stick to my lovely 12-year-old cat Coco for as long as she lives and of course the new arrival of the Guide Dog when it comes.

As that line suggests, sadly 2019 hasn’t been the year I received that magical call from Guide Dogs to say they’d found me a match. Ive had contact with them throughout the year, enquiring about my status on the waiting list, but never the phone call I’ve been hoping for. Currently, I’ve been waiting on the list 14 months. I expect at least probably another 2 months if not more. In some ways, though, I’ve gotten used to waiting now and will just be relieved when the call comes. I’m sure, really, that wont be the only emotion I feel the day that call comes. But for now I’ve become quite passive about waiting. I’m hoping the wait wont be too much longer, though, because 14 months is long enough. I expected to wait a while and I’m glad I hadn’t been unrealistic in my expectations of the waiting time because I can easily imagine how discouraged a person who hadn’t been prepared to wait so long could become. When my call comes, it won’t be a moment too soon. I am almost 100% sure that the call will come in 2020 so just like I imagined this time last year when writing my New Year’s Eve 2018 post, hopefully when I’m writing my 2020 one, there really will be a four-legged furry companion, other than Coco, curled up next to me while I tap away.

Although I haven’t had my matching call, my lovely sister Imi had a surprise call in October after the decision was made that Laila needed to retire earlier in the year. 3 weeks into her training, Josh and I traveled up to York to stay with Imi so we could attend a Lucy Spraggan concert. This meant we got to meet Imi’s gorgeous new sidekick, the small but mighty Sammy. We had a wonderful time with Imi that weekend, catching up, going on walks and enjoying each other’s company. Sadly, we don’t get to see each other very often so the time we get together is always lovely and of course meeting Sammy made it extra special too.

As I wrote towards the end of last year’s post, I’d been planning to start volunteering with a local charity at the beginning of this year after being granted the equipment I needed to complete the tasks of the role adequately. I did start that volunteering at the end of January and have been going most wednesdays ever since. Ive worked in the office with the other staff members and my role has mostly been to conduct surveys with the charity’s clients to ensure the services they provide are to the clients’ satisfaction. Ive also invited clients to events such as tea parties. In June, I also interviewed for a paid position within the organisation, which would have meant me working as part of the city’s new mental health network, something I was really interested in. Sadly, my lack of IT skills in Excel meant they decided I wasn’t suitable for the role. Although it took me a while to get over it, I continued to volunteer and have joined in on 2 office lunches out, which I’ve been really grateful to have been invited to. Volunteering has helped me develop my IT skills and communication skills and I’m really grateful to my Guide Dogs My Guide volunteer Jenny for suggesting it to me last year. It really has been a great opportunity for me and I feel really grateful to the team for including me so well. It’s definitely helped to have had such an understanding and inclusive team as my first step towards employment.

As also predicted last year, this May I finished my Health and Social Care degree with The Open University and after receiving good results in July, I graduated in London in September with a BA (Honours) 2.1 upper 2nd class in Health and Social Care. I’d been shocked on receiving the results in July as I hadn’t expected to achieve a 2.1. I hadn’t expected my scores to be quite high enough but somehow I just managed it. It was such a relief and a pleasure. It meant the last 4 years I’d spent studying and writing assignments had been worthwhile. I’d aimed for a 2.1 from the beginning so to have achieved my goal really felt great to me. Graduation in London was nice, too. Mum, Dad and Tamsin came and I hired the traditional graduation gown to wear during the ceremony. Because of my sight, Mum was allowed to guide me up onstage and across, which was really special to me. Dad managed to video me walking onstage, too, so all the family who hadn’t come but wanted to see it were able to watch it afterwards. Really, although I felt proud receiving my degree, I did feel it was more a day for my parents to celebrate and be proud of me. Doing an Open Uni degree is very solitary. I didn’t have tons of mates made in lectures or tutors I could talk to endlessly about my work. I just had the few other students in the online forums and social media groups and the allocated tutors who communicated mostly via email. Parents weren’t really involved at all in my studies, except for when they had to deal with the fact that I needed to spend time studying rather than with them. But on graduation they got a feeling of the size of my achievement and were able to celebrate with me.

As I’ve not been a student since the end of May, finding things to do with all my spare time has been difficult. Luckily, I’ve had the voluntary role once a week and my My Guide sessions with the lovely Jenny as well as irregular meetings with my city council employment adviser to fill some of the freedom. I’d hoped that, now I’d finished uni and had much more time, my employment adviser might actually be able to find me some more opportunities leading to employment. Although we’ve worked together for 2 and a half years, many of the avenues she’s ventured down for me have been dead ends and not much has actually come out of our sessions. In October time, she arranged for me to start an ICT qualification at one of the local colleges. But it has taken a long time to be arranged and as yet I haven’t actually started college. Now, it doesn’t look like I will be, either.

At the end of November, I was casually browsing Facebook as I do at intervals during the day when I saw a post my godmother had shared for her daughter to see. It was a job advert at our local hospital for administration apprentices. As an apprenticeship had been what I was ideally looking for and admin something I’d sort-of been doing in my voluntary role, I looked further into the job advert and decided to apply. I was given an interview at the beginning of this month and was surprised to receive a call saying they were offering me the job. I then had to go back to the hospital for a tour of the different departments looking for admin apprentices and say which I preferred. They were hiring several people so had to sort out who suited which department best. I was so lucky to get another call saying they felt the spinal department, which I’d stated as my preference, was the most suitable for me and would I like to accept the job, which of course I did. It’s an 18 month apprenticeship. Currently, I don’t have a start date as I need to make a claim to Access To Work — the company who provide all the practical support, such as assistive technology and transport, that enables disabled people to work independently. But I’ve passed the pre-employment checks and have the details of my new manager ready to arrange my start date and hours in the new year. I’m very excited about starting work and glad that I won’t be sitting around unemployed doing nothing anymore. But obviously I’m nervous too. Ive never worked before and getting used to new routines, duties and people will be a challenge to begin with. However all the members of staff I’ve met so far during the interview process have been more than lovely so I’m feeling hopeful that this could be the kickstart into employment I need. Having volunteered for nearly a year has definitely given me extra confidence to start this new job and all of the lovely comments from the staff during the interview process has definitely given me extra reassurance.

So I have a lot to look forward to in 2020. Not only have I finally found employment and am just waiting for that call from Guide Dogs, I already have 2 scheduled meet-ups with Kieran arranged: my trip to spend Kieran’s birthday and our anniversary together next week and Kieran’s visit down here for the Ed Byrne show in March. If I’m lucky, Kieran will also be able to take some holiday time from work and visit for my birthday and I’ll be able to take some holiday time myself to go up to Newcastle later in the year too. It’s nice though that we already know when we’re going to see each other again. Long distance is difficult, especially with the additional complications that work and studying have brought, and I’m sure that’s only going to get more complicated now I’m going to be working too. But it’s always worth it, especially as we both make the effort to spend time together. Who knows what else 2020 will bring, but I’m looking forward to it already. I hope it brings happiness and good health to all my friends and relations and not too much sadness. Every year always has its ups and downs but hopefully it’ll be a mostly positive one for all those I love and care about. Although 2019 has been a mostly good year, sadly I’ve learnt of the loss of two people who have influenced my life greatly at different stages. Firstly, in February Mrs Julie Lavington, who was my support assistant during junior school, passed away suddenly. I was deeply saddened to hear of her passing as although I hadn’t been too appreciative of it at the time, I can now look back and say she helped me a lot at school and was a genuinely kind and caring lady. Secondly, earlier this month Mrs Debbie Matthews passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. Mrs Matthews was one of the support assistants in the VI Unit at Toynbee School and mostly supported me in my art lessons. It’s fair to say that without her I’d never have been able to pursue my interest in art and definitely never complete a GCSE qualification in the subject. She was one of the loveliest kindest most caring people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and I’ll never forget her positivity and the way she never had a bad word to say about anyone. I’ll always be grateful for the influence both of these women had on my life and am thinking of their families tonight as it must be a difficult time for them preparing for a new year without their loved one. But they were both great women and I’m sure their families will take comfort in knowing how loved and appreciated they both were.

So for now, here’s to 2019, a year that has brought me much happiness, many good times but sadly some loss too. I feel grateful for many things that I’ve had this year including seeing Kieran, Imi and Josh as regularly as we can all manage; the chance to volunteer at an organisation that does so much good as part of such a welcoming team; still having the lovely Jenny as my My Guide volunteer helping me refresh current routes and learn new ones; the opportunity to own 3 lovely guinea pigs even if it didn’t work out how I planned; achieving my degree with a 2.1 and attending graduation with my family; being offered my first job that isn’t just for the sake of being employed but connected to my health and social care degree pathway; the chance to go to shows including Take That and Russell Howard… But most importantly I’m grateful for the continued mainly good health for myself and the ones I love mos and the opportunity for them and I to live such a good quality of life. I don’t think anyone appreciates life nearly as much as they should but especially those like myself that have things like a permanent roof over our heads, warm bed to sleep in at night, mostly peaceful country. I hope 2020 continues those things.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

“STFG: the bus is vibrating my brain”

Two weeks ago, on Wednesday 25th September, while I stayed at home listening to the Liverpool vs MK Dons Carabao cup match, which ended in a 2-0 Liverpool victory, and babysitting Tamsin, who was already in bed, Mum headed out at 9:15pm to collect Kieran from Southampton airport. At 10:20, they arrived home and shortly after the teams were drawn against their opponents for the next round of the cup; Liverpool got Arsenal. After I’d made Kieran a drink and watching a bit more of Sky sports talking about other Carabao cup matches that had been played that night, we headed up to bed.

The following morning, we stuck to our usual routine when Kieran comes to stay, having a long lie-in well passed 10am before getting up, showering and having breakfast of cups of tea and Weetabix, his with cold milk and mine with warm, which obviously ensued the usual grumbly comments from Kieran that I’m weird. It seems universally agreed by everyone who isn’t a member of my direct family that having warm Weetabix after the age of 3 is just wrong! As Kieran attempted to make the tea, because I’m still useless with a proper kettle and haven’t invested in a one-cup machine like they have at theirs, we realised I still didn’t have a working liquid level indicator — the little yellow gadget that sits on the rim of your mug and beeps/vibrates when the pouring liquid reaches its prongs — so I quickly logged into my account on the RNIB website and ordered a new one. This realisation was despite the fact that the liquid level indicator stuck by its magnets on my fridge had run out of battery and I hadn’t been able to find a replacement the last time Kieran had stayed… After we’d finished our breakfast, while I did the guinea pigs’ veg and poo picking, Kieran worked on my old Toshiba laptop which I’d been using at volunteering and had been causing me a lot of problems. Later, I had some buttered Ryvita crackers and a yoghurt and Kieran had ham rolls and roast chicken crisps for lunch. At about 3:30, Tamsin arrived home from school. Kieran and I spent the afternoon watching episodes of The Chase and Judge Judy. When she came home from work, Mum cooked us corn beef hash with spaghetti hoops for tea. We watched Master Chef, East Enders and Strictly Come Dancing.

On Friday morning, we got up a little earlier around 9:25 and followed our usual routine of showering and having our tea and Weetabix breakfast. While doing all this, we listened to Capital Xtra Reloaded and then Kieran streamed South Park on his iPad. While I did the guinea pigs’ veg and poo picking, Kieran sorted out my newer Toshiba laptop, which I’d been hoping to get working properly with the USB adapter he’d bought to use with the splitter box I need at volunteering. Again, Kieran had ham sandwiches and I had Ryvita for lunch, his with lamb and mint crisps and a whisper gold bar and mine with cheesy mix up crisps, a Milky Way and a yoghurt. We watched more Judge Judy and The Chase until Tamsin and Grandad came at around 4:30 to take us up to Nan and Grandad’s for tea. We had a chicken korma curry for our main meal with lime jelly, mini millionaires shortbreads and arctic roll for pudding. Once Dad was in and had had his dinner, we went home where Kieran and I watched an old episode of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Count Down, Gogglebox, Live At The Apollo and Family Guy.

Saturday morning I woke up worrying I’d run out of time to do everything; Mum had taken Tamsin to karate and was going to get her nails done afterwards. But when she was finished, she wanted us to be ready so we could all go out somewhere for lunch. As well as having showers and eating breakfast as usual, I also needed to do the full clean out of the guinea pigs cage, which I find no fast task. However, I did manage to get it done in time. While I cleaned and the pigs enjoyed free floor time in their indoor pen, Kieran watched The Simpsons on the big TV in the lounge. Then, we listened to the first half commentary of the Sheffield United vs Liverpool commentary on Talksport. When Mum came home, we eventually decided to go to our local Hungry Horse pub The Fleming Arms as the food is usually nice there and they always have cheap deals on. While we were out, the football finished, Liverpool winning 1-0. At the pub, Kieran had the big chicken New Yorker, I had the smaller chicken New Yorker, Mum had curry with all the sides and Tamsin had pizza. Mum also ordered a portion of onion rings for us all to share because you get a few with the chicken New Yorker but they’re really nice and never seem to be enough. When we came home, I did the guinea pigs’ veg and had a quick bath before getting into pjs — which both Tamsin and Kieran continuously called me a weirdo for because it was so early — while Kieran watched Sky Sports and then the Manchester City vs Everton commentary on Talksport, which ended 3-1. Later, after Mum had gone to work and Dad and Tamsin had been picked up by Nan and Grandad to go and watch a Queen tribute band down the club, Kieran ordered us a takeaway of chicken nuggets, potato wedges and mozzarella sticks to share. We watched the 3rd series of Jack Whitehall Travels With My Father. Afterwards, we watched Gavin and Stacey which was being shown on Gold and waited for Tamsin to be dropped home.

Everyone had a lie-in on Sunday, getting up around 9:35. Kieran had a slice of toast for breakfast and I had rice crispies. Later on, Mum cooked a late lunch/early dinner of roast pork with roast potatoes, parsnip, peas, carrot and swede, Yorkshire puddings, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, which we had around 2:30. At 4:25, just before the Leicester vs Newcastle commentary started, Josh arrived. Just before the football finished, we caught the bus into town, to the train station, then walked to the pub beside the Mayflower Theatre where we each had a coke. Then, we headed back into the theatre and were shown to our seats, where we sat for the next few hours thoroughly enjoying seeing Romesh Rangernathan perform his comedy live. Luckily, the show finished just in time for us to catch the 10:20 bus home so we weren’t sitting in the cold at the bus-stop waiting for the next one.

The following day, once we’d got up, showered, had breakfast and I’d done the guinea pigs’ veg and poo picking, we made sure we had everything we needed before catching the bus into town and heading to Pizza Hut for lunch. Josh had the buffet while Kieran and I, not fancying our usual big sharer deal, had individual pizzas each, mine a stuffed crust with BBQ sauce, pepperoni, sweet corn and pineapple and Kieran the Texas meat meltdown, and a portion of fries wchih we shared. Afterwards, I had a white chocolate and caramel cookie dough pudding, which is usually my favourite but that I didn’t actually enjoy as much because they’d over cooked it. While I ate my pudding, the boys booked the train tickets we’d need for our trip to Bournemouth that afternoon. We caught the 1:51 train and were very lucky with public transport generally because whenever we turned up at bus-stops, our bus seemed to be just arriving. Even in Bournemouth, we left the train station and the bus-stop wasn’t far away. It was easy to get to the Premier Inn once we’d got off the bus, too, thanks to the fact that Josh had looked into all the routes we’d need and done a practice run the previous week to check everything out. Our luck continued inside the hotel, with lovely staff who were more than happy to assist us and rooms opposite each other in our own little separate bit of the corridor. We spent the afternoon lounging in the bigger of the two rooms listening to music. We left the hotel just after 7pm and with Josh using maps on his phone to guide us, we headed for the BIC. Unfortunately, the maps didn’t actually lead us to the BIC but we found some very helpful passers-by to show us the way. As we were nearing the BIC, however, some very idiotic person thought it’d be a good idea to speed up their car as they drove through a seemingly quite deep puddle passed 3 blind people. To add to our fury, the group of girls walking ahead of us, who obviously weren’t affected by the soaking, thought this was the most hilarious sight they’d seen. While Josh was more worried about us getting there in time, Kieran and I fumed about what had happened, as we were now soaking wet without any dry replacement trousers to change in to even in this county! Thankfully, a member of staff at the BIC hurried us straight to the front of the queue and straight to our seats. Even though it took us a while to stop seething, the performance by Russell Howard was well worth it. There were points during the show where I was sobbing with laughter. There were many good quotes from the show that I was going to use as blog titles, but the following morning I couldn’t remember any of them. After the show, we stood outside and Kieran tried to book an Uber taxi to take us back to the hotel. Butt there only seemed to be 1 driver for the area and he wasn’t available. We stood there a little while, until someone helpfully showed us to a waiting taxi. The driver thought we were a bit lazy — either that or stupid, I think — because it turned out our hotel was literally a two-minute ride away. Not long after we were settled back in the hotel, Josh headed off to his own room for bed. Kieran put the TV on and we watched an old episode of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Count Down.

After we were up, showered and dressed the next day, we headed down to the in-hotel restaurant for the breakfast josh had preordered for us. It was a buffet-style breakfast, with hot and cold food. A lovely member of staff made several trips back and forth getting us whatever we needed. If she hadn’t been so helpful, it would have been near on impossible to fend for ourselves, although of course Josh would have done his best. When we’d eaten and drunk our fill, we headed back up to our rooms, where we spent the next couple of hours before we had to check out. Again, we were lucky with public transport that day, too’; not long after we’d arrived at the bus-stop our bus came and although we missed the train Josh had been planning to catch, another one arrived in a matter of minutes. We spent the rest of the afternoon at mine. Tamsin arrived home around 3:30 and Josh left not long before Mum came in. That evening, Kieran bought Chinese takeaway for everyone; we had curry, chicken balls, Hong Kong style sweet and sour chicken, mini spring rolls, chips,, mini samosas, special fried rice, mushroom chow mein and prawn crackers. It was lovely. We watched Great British Bake Off and Snack Masters before going to bed.

Wednesday meant Kieran had already been staying a week and the date for his return flight had come, far too quickly as usual. We got up around 9, showered and had our Weetabix breakfast. Then, Kieran packed up all his stuff. Next,we dozed on my bed for a little while as I had a bit of a headache. Dad arrived around midday and we decided to go to Mac Donald’s, which was what Kieran wanted, around 1. Kieran had a Big Mac meal with coke and I had a 6 nuggets meal with a banana milkshake. Dad just had a latte as he’d already eaten earlier. Once we were finished, the time had come to head for the airport. Kieran needed to be there for 2:20 for his 3:20 flight. Check-in was quick and we only sat in the assistance seating area for 5 minutes before a member of staff came to take Kieran through security and it was time to say goodbye.

I’m so glad Kieran was able to take the time off work to come and stay. Having two comedy shows to see while he visited was an extra bonus. I really enjoyed Romesh but absolutely loved Russell and feel very grateful to both Josh and Kieran for organising it for us but giving it to me as a birthday gift. Russell has to be probably my second favourite comedian I’ve seen live; John Bishop still holds the top spot for how he reacted at the end of the show, coming to audio describe his end-of-performance video to me in person. But Russell is now a very close second. Thank you both for arranging it all and for such a fun few days. Thank you most though, Kieran, for taking time off work to come and spend with me down south. I always love it when we get to spend time together, whether it be at yours or mine, so the more we get the better. Love you very much and hopefully we get more of that time together again soon.

PS: the title of this blog comes from two separate times during Kieran’s visit. The STFG stands for SHUT THE F***ING GATE, when Mum had unknowingly left the side gate unlatched and the wind was making it hit the wall of the house and keeping us awake. The bus is vibrating my brain comes from our ride into town on Monday morning, when we’d been on a particularly noisy bus that was making our heads hurt. There were plenty of other contenders for the title, some of which were, as usual, too rude and others I’ve forgotten.

“How far away are they?”

Late last Thursday evening, I landed home back in Southampton after just over a week spent in Blyth with Kieran and family. As has become tradition, I’m now going to ramble on about it in this blog post. On Wednesday 28th august, as had been arranged for a while, once Mum had finished work early at 5:30, the four of us — Mum, Dad, Tamsin and I — headed for the airport so I could board a plane that would take me, for the first time in 7 months, up north to visit Kieran. The check-in and security process was smooth and this time assistance didn’t leave me long in the waiting room before coming back to help me onto the plane. Unusually, there weren’t any weather warnings in place, which is usually the case whenever I fly, and the journey up north was smooth. There was another first awaiting me at Newcastle airport, too; only Lesley waited to greet me in arrivals. This time, Kieran and John couldn’t come to collect me because they were attending the Newcastle vs Leicester Carabao cup match. As we were leaving the car park, the driver in front of us was very inconvenient by not seeming to know how to work the pay machine, causing Lesley to have to pay double the amount she would’ve if he’d gotten out quicker. Back at their house, while I took my bag up to Kieran’s room, Lesley reheated me a portion of the sausage, mash, peas and gravy everyone had had for tea earlier. It was very nice. Whilst I was eating, we watched the first episode of the new series of Great British Bake Off that had shown the night before. Not long after that finished, Kieran and John arrived home, a little later than expected as the match had ended in a 1-1 draw, meaning it went all the way to penalties, where Leicester had won 4-2. A little later on, when we headed upstairs to bed, Kieran surprised me with the news that he’d booked Thursday and Friday this week and Wednesday and Thursday the following week off work and was planning to work from home next Tuesday too. This meant that hopefully I’d only have one day alone in the house this visit. Although I don’t mind finding stuff to occupy myself with while I’m there during the day and everyone else is out working, now I don’t have uni work to do there’s not as much choice. But I had come well prepared anyway, not expecting Kieran to be able to take time off. However, it was a very pleasant surprise to discover we were going to be spending so much of my week up there together, rather than just in the evenings and weekends when he wasn’t at work.

As Kieran had the day off, the next morning we had a lie in. When we did eventually drag ourselves out of bed sometime after 10am, we showered before going downstairs and having a cup of tea each. I also had a banana while Kieran decided what to cook for brunch. He cooked us fish fingers and reheated a portion of leftover garlic bread from a takeaway they’d had. We spent the afternoon watching the Netflix series Afterlife, which I hadn’t expected to like when Kieran told me about it but in the end really enjoyed. Afterwards, we went upstairs and listened to Jade Bird’s album on cassette. A little while later, after Lesley was home, Rebecca arrived with Wilson, her now definitely gorgeous German shepherd. When I’d last seen him in January, he’d still very much been into nipping toes and jumping on me when I was sat on the sofa. So the transformation in him since then for me was huge. I was able to give him a proper stroke and cuddle without him trying to chew my sleeves, although he did lick my face a lot. But I’d take that over the nipping any day. Once they’d left, we sat at the dining room table and ate roast chicken with Yorkshire pudding, new potatoes, peas and gravy. Then, we watched Gypsy Next Door and Vick & Bob’s Big Night Out.

The next day was Friday and Kieran was still off work as well as it being Lesley’s day off. That morning, we got up a bit earlier, around 9:20, and had our showers. While I was showering, Kieran went and made cups of tea for us, which he bought back upstairs. As I dried my hair and sorted myself out, Kieran did bits and pieces on his laptop. Once he was finished, we went downstairs, by which point Lesley had walked Wilson round to join us. As she hung her laundry out in the garden, Kieran played fetch with Wilson and his squeaky ball and laughing I observed. Later on, Kieran’s grandparents arrived for their weekly visit and Lesley made us corn beef sandwiches for lunch. Once Rebecca had collected Wilson and John was home from work, we packed up everything we’d need for a weekend in the caravan before setting off. On the way, we listened to the Chris Moyles podcast and stopped to pick up fish and chips to eat for tea when we arrived; I had a battered pineapple ring with chips and Kieran had fish, chips and curry sauce. After we’d finished eating, Kieran gave me a tour of the new caravan, which is much bigger and more luxurious than the old one, the proper bedroom and bed for Kieran and I and proper shower being definite plus points. We spent the rest of the evening watching two episodes of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Count Down, the start of Pulp Fiction, part of a repeated episode of QI and the start of Newsnight.

Before we’d even got up on Saturday morning, John had gone for his park run. When we did get up, we listened to Chris Moyles on Radio X on the TV, had showers and Lesley made us bacon sandwiches for breakfast. We watched Judge Judy, Tipping Point and Sports AM. During all this, John arrived back from his park run. Lesley took him to the train station so he could catch a train to Newcastle to attend the 3 o’clock Newcastle vs Watford match. We listened to the Southampton vs Manchester United match on Talksport which ended 1-1. Then, Kieran streamed the Newcastle match from BBC Radio Newcastle on his phone to his Bluetooth speaker. It finished 1-1. During the match, Lesley got snacks; they had sausage rolls but I didnt fancy one and just had the apple turnover Lesley had bought back from her shopping trip earlier. After his sausage roll, Kieran had his apple turnover too. Much to Lesley’s disappointment, after the Newcastle match had finished there was more football to come with the Burnley vs liverpool game which we listened to on Talksport on the TV and ended 3-0. After that, we watched The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons and Only Fools And Horses. Lesley went to collect John and we had spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread for tea. Spent the evening watching Who Dares Wins, Fast Show and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. During Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, we were all in hysterics and the program took a lot longer than it should have for us to finish due to all the laughter. That’s where the title of this post comes from, when I, after thinking that the neighbouring caravans’ occupants probably thought we were all mad from all the laughter, asked how far away the closest other caravans were and Kieran said, which made Lesley laugh even more, “how far away are they?”.

The following morning, we had tea and toast for breakfast while watching Judge Judy. We sat around in our dressing gowns a bit longer than the previous day but once everyone was showered, dressed and ready, we decided to go out for lunch and ended up at a place called The Milecastle Inn. We all had roast dinners: lamb for Kieran and I, chicken for John and beef for Lesley. The dinner came with the meat, Yorkshire pudding, roast and mash potato, cheesy cauliflower & broccoli, green beans, carrots and gravy. The food was absolutely delicious and we were all full afterwards. We went back to the caravan for a while before packing everything up and leaving. On the journey back, we had the Arsenal vs Tottenham game on in the car. Later on that evening, Lesley made toasties and Kieran and I watched Chris Ramsey’s Amazon Video special Approval Needed, which had me crying with laughter at certain points. Then, we watched Romesh Rangernathan’s Irrational Live.

Monday morning meant Kieran’s first day at work since I’d arrived. His alarm went off at 6:30 and although he got up nearly straight away and I considered following him, in the end I decided to stay in bed a while longer as all I had to do during the day was catch up on a bit of TV and read a book. Before he left for work, Kieran kindly bought me up a cup of tea. A lot earlier than I’d originally thought I would, after not getting any more sleep and laying there for as long as I could, I got up and showered around 8:45 before going downstairs in search of breakfast. Lesley had told me that she’d bought me a brand new box of Weetabix, so after texting her to check which cupboard it was in, that’s what I had for breakfast, along with another cup of tea thanks to the 1 cup machine. I watched a couple of episodes of Friday Night Dinner before catching up on Holby City and East Enders. For lunch I had the sandwiches Lesley had left for me in the fridge plus an Actimel yoghurt. I spent the rest of the afternoon until everyone came in from work reading the current book I’d borrowed from RNIB Library on Overdrive. Once Kieran was home, we went upstairs and watched an episode of Family Guy he had recorded before listening to Global’s new station Capital XTRA RELOADED, which Kieran immediately decided he liked a lot. Downstairs, we had gammon, chips, mushrooms and onion rings for dinner before watching the first episode in the new series of Celebrity Master Chef.

On Tuesday, we had a little bit of a lie in because Kieran was working from home. Actually, we both fell back asleep and led in longer than we’d meant to, meaning Kieran hurried a bit once he was up so he could get downstairs and start work. While Kieran worked, I spent the day reading my book. Later, when he came in from work, John put Tipping Point on the TV. Kieran and I went upstairs and watched The Chase before listening to Capital XTRA RELOADED. Later, we all went out for dinner to my favourite place up north, the Italian restaurant Sambuca’s. Predictably, I had my usual and favourite, the tuna and garlic pizza. Kieran wanted something different so went for pasta with bacon, tomato, onion and chilli in. As always, the food was delicious and I loved my pizza. When we got back to the house, Rebecca arrived with Wilson, wanting to use the new treadmill. We watched some of the next episode of Gypsy Next Door.

As Wednesday was a day off for Kieran, we had a longer lie in than we’d been able to the day before when he’d worked from home. Lesley was also working from home that day which meant Wilson wasn’t round, unlike her Friday days off when he is. I had a banana for breakfast and during the morning we watched episodes of Can’t Pay, We’ll Take It Away and Judge Judy. We had sandwiches for lunch. Later, in the early evening, we went upstairs and listened to more Capital XTRA RELOADED. That night, we had sausage, chips and beans for dinner and watched the next episode of Celebrity Master Chef and Sink Or Swim for Stand Up To Cancer. While we watched TV, Kieran booked his flights to and from Southampton for three weeks time when he comes down to visit so we can go to the comedy shows we’ve booked tickets for, one of which is Kieran’s belated birthday present to me, to see Russell Howard live at the BIC.

Thursday morning meant my last day up north until next time had arrived. It’s always the worst day of my stay, having to pack up all my stuff and contemplate saying yet another goodbye to Kieran later on at the airport. Thankfully, this time as I started getting prepared to leave later, I already had a fixed date in my head when I’d see Kieran again, in less than three weeks from then. After yet another lie in, we got up and showered and went downstairs. Whilst I ate Weetabix and a banana for breakfast, Kieran didn’t feel hungry so waited until a little later on to have a crumpet. We listened to more Capital XTRA RELOADED and then watched Judge Judy, Tipping Point and The Chase. Later, we went upstairs and I made sure I’d packed up all my stuff. We watched Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons. For dinner we had mince, dumplings, mash, broccoli, peas and gravy. Not long after we’d finished, it was time to get going to the airport. On the way in the car, John played the U2 album The Joshua Tree, which made me laugh as its one of the very few times I’ve actually recognised the music he’s playing. At the airport, check-in was quick and the assistance person came shortly after Lesley had rang to say I needed someone, meaning saying goodbye time had arrived. As always, I hugged Kieran tight, thanked Lesley and John for having me and prepared to be led away. This time, the assistant took me straight through security, onto the mini bus and straight onto the plane. However, due to passengers needing to board my plane having just landed on another plane, our plane was delayed leaving Newcastle. Thankfully, by the time it landed in southampton, it had made up the time.

As always, I had a lovely stay up north, made even nicer by the amount of time Kieran was able to spend with me. I enjoyed seeing what a nice dog Wilson is turning into compared to the cheeky naughty puppy he’d been. It was great to experience the new caravan, especially the vastly improved shower facilities. The trip to Sambuca’s has to be a highlight, too, as having that Tuna and garlic pizza is always welcomed. Massive thanks to Lesley and John, for having me to stay, for putting up with me, for the nice meals in and out and for everything else you do for me during my visits. It’ll never not be appreciated.

And to Kieran, thank you for the invite up to stay; for having so many days off while I visited; for booking your tickets so you can come and visit me; for such a nice time; for being my person and for everything you do for me. I love you lots and always and am so glad it won’t be long until we’re together again.

PS: other potential titles for this post included: “that’s his nipple, Mam!” Or “oh, his balls are bouncy!” These were both said on the Friday afternoon when Rebecca came to collect Wilson, in conversation between Rebecca and Lesley.

“Thank you Jesus, for bringing Russell”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Eve 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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