Monthly Archives: August 2015

To our captain, a million “thank yous”

To Tiny,

Well, where to begin? I guess firstly with “thank you”.  But there’s so many things to say “thank you” for and it doesn’t seem quite right to launch into all of those quite yet.  I have to warn you, though, and anyone else who stumbles across this, that it’s probably going to be rather soppy and no doubt inappropriate or something to someone.  But I need to say something to you, to show my full appreciation.  Small messages with fleeting words don’t really do you justice, I don’t feel, for everything you’ve done for me personally and for the team as a whole.  Anyway, any excuse to use my rather flimsy pointless blog are very welcomed.

So, I guess for me it starts when I first began to play for Hampshire back in July 2012.  Really, it feels a lot longer ago than that now and for good reason too.  I remember my first game like it was yesterday.  It was at Leamington Spa on Sunday 15th July.  We had to be at Parkway for 8.30 that morning and I remember being nervous all week leading up to the match.  I was absolutely terrified that I would somehow manage to screw up the game for the whole team, all of whom were strangers to me.  Then, Sunday morning arrived and I was dressed in my T-shirt, trainers and trackie bottoms because I didn’t have a kit and that’s what you’d said I should wear.  I remember getting out of the car with Mum, coming over to the mini bus.  Chris Powell and you were off the bus waiting.  I was shy and really didn’t know what to say, especially when I realised you were a towering giant-type man.  I’m a small person, that has been proved many times in my life, but I really was little right there in front of you.  You remarked on that right there and then as Mum and I stood there with you beside the bus.  I remember reaching up to touch the top of your head, with your instructions, and only just being able to do it.  “My God,” I remember thinking, “he really is not tiny.”.  You explained the `Tiny` thing to me on the bus and I’m glad you did because I really had not a clue how you somehow managed to be nicknamed that.

That first bus journey up to Leamington was nerve shattering.  I felt like I was going to crumble every time we hit a bump in the road.  I’d only played practice games of cricket at school so what possessed me to think that I should play at county level will always be beyond me.  But somehow I still am.  The spirit of you guys on the bus that day, your singing, jokes and general banter made me feel like I’d been there for ages, that I belonged.  Of course, I already knew a few of the players from Toynbee days and it was nice to have some that were familiar, even if they had changed massively from what I remembered.  I remember the team talk that day, everyone huddled around you listening, taking absolutely everything you said in.  Jemma was looking after me that day, which I will always appreciate and thank God for, and when everyone was positioned on the field, I was glad she was close by.  It would definitely be fair to say that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.  Sometimes, I still feel that way.  But the atmosphere of the team and the encouragement I got from everyone made me feel a lot more relaxed.  I felt so welcomed by everyone even though I didn’t know what I was doing and pretty much had to be instructed on my every move.  I didn’t mind, though, because I wanted to learn and to be able to do something useful and valuable for the team, even if it was taking balls to the shins.  I soon discovered that this was pretty normal and almost compulsory if you’re a b1.  It took me ages to figure out what that meant, too, and how sight categories work.

But the fact that I didn’t seem to know a single thing about anything to do with cricket and barely said a word during the whole day didn’t seem to bother anyone, least of all you.  At the end of the day, when everyone was worn out on the ride back on the bus, you asked if I’d be coming again.  I was really surprised.  I didn’t really think it would be that easy to play again—I’d hardly done anything! But you and the team seemed quite certain that I could.  So I said I would.  I was given a shirt to keep for every time we played.  I’d never even seen a cricket shirt before and felt rather honoured to have a Hampshire one.  After that game, I don’t think I ever felt so nervous and shy again.  I always feel nervous every time we go out on the field because there’s no knowing what will happen.  But the spirit of the team, the constant encouragement and praise made me know I obviously couldn’t be playing as badly as I’d feared.  I loved the way you always encouraged each and every player.  The bad aspects of the game were never highlighted too brightly and if they needed to be discussed then it was always made clear what the good points were, too.  I always felt that if I did something wrong or bad that someone, most probably yourself, would tell me and make sure that I knew for next time what to do right.

I don’t know if everyone would agree with me but I think it would be fair to say that that’s all because of you.  There’s no way the team spirit and enthusiasm would have always stayed at what it was without you.  I don’t know what it takes to be a captain or to lead a team to victory like you have but I do know that you’ve done a mighty fine job in doing it.  I don’t think Hampshire could have done it without you, either, and I know that if it hadn’t have been for you asking if I’d come back and play another game that first ride home from Leamington, I probably wouldn’t have played again.  That welcoming from the team that first day and your ongoing support has made me want to continue playing, continue doing my absolute best to help Hampshire do well.  We haven’t won every game that is very true, but we’ve always gone out on to the pitch wanting to win with you as our leader and when we’ve lost, we’ve gone off with our heads held high, spurred on by your encouragements.  It hasn’t seemed to matter how much we’ve lost by, you’ve continuously kept our spirits high, always had a positive word to say even when everyone is feeling a bit glum and stiff.  I think that day was also the day I gained my own nickname.  Someone remarked, and it may well have been you, that usually everyone has a nickname on the Hampshire team.  Suddenly, I did too.  I was A5, simply because that was a small piece of paper.  Originally, I think it was you and Jonathan Lewis who came up with the idea but it quickly stuck.  From that day onward, I’ve been A5.  For some reason, even my parents took it upon themselves to call me it at home.

When I took my first catch, only a few weeks later, I couldn’t actually believe it had happened.  I hadn’t even realised I had the ball safely in my hands until everyone started yelling.  It had already hit the floor by then but apparently because I’d caught it off of the first bounce and held it long enough, it counted.  I was suddenly surrounded by everyone, being congratulated and hugged.  It was so overwhelming to know that I’d caught the ball, that I’d actually made a positive difference to the game.  That was the moment I knew for sure that I wanted to play for Hampshire, wanted to be in your team.  That praise and friendliness from everyone made me certain that, despite the fact that I wasn’t sporty at all, I wanted to play blind cricket for a lot more than three games.

Even when I left for college, only a year later, you kept reminding me that I was always welcome back for Hampshire.  I hadn’t really expected you to say that or it to be possible, really, seeing as I was going away for two years and didn’t know how involved in cricket I would be.  With your advice, I decided I would train with the RNC team, which I did three or four times, so that I could keep my cricket up for when I came back to play for Hampshire.  To be honest, though, it never felt right training with them.  They were always on the lookout for players, as their team is always rapidly changing, and I didn’t feel the same vibes from them.  Every person training was just another player with no real value or meaning.  All they ever seemed to remember about me was that I was the girl who played for Hampshire with captain Tiny with the big voice.  They didn’t encourage or praise like the Hampshire team do and their captain certainly wasn’t a patch on you.  He was a tall guy but not quite your height and he didn’t really have the powerful voice you do.  Actually, I think he was quite quiet in training when I was there.  Your singing and banter has given me many memories and I couldn’t help thinking, whilst training with RNC, that they needed a bit of your jolliness.  Everything felt quite flat and standard.  Everything was done like we were being put through our paces, being tested to see if we were worthy enough to play.  I suppose, in all fairness, that that’s because it is a college for the blind who have a large amount of students each year to choose from for their cricket team.  But I didn’t feel the same passion from them.  I didn’t feel like I belonged with them or that I wanted to play under the leadership of their captain, of any other captain, and after a few training sessions, I stopped going because I knew that I’d never play for RNC and didn’t want to learn their way either.  Coming back to train with Hampshire during the winter of my first year at college was a lot of fun.  Everyone genuinely seemed interested in what I’d been up to and I felt that feeling of belonging when I came back and trained in Eastleigh.  It didn’t feel like we were fighting for our places within the team; it was like we already had them without even needing to try because everyone has their own place on the Hampshire team.  I only played once in that season because I was always away at college or on holiday.  But I loved it all the same.  It was so nice to actually feel wanted rather than just being another person amongst the many.  It was like you showed me respect even though I’d done nothing to deserve it, treating me like an individual with strengths and weaknesses rather than just a potential failure.  I enjoyed seeing everyone, too, and being a part of the banter that effortlessly flows whenever the team get together.

As I was starting my second year at college, I already couldn’t wait for it to be over.  It is well-known, by pretty much everyone, that I wasn’t particularly happy at college by the second year and just wanted to be done with it.  Coming back to play for Hampshire was quite a big thing for me.  Your support via email and on Facebook made me want to come back.  I’d enjoyed training and known, ever since I’d left, that I wanted to come back and play for Hampshire.  I’ll never be great at cricket because I can’t bowl to save my life and no amount of practice will ever change that, but I’d like to think that since I first started in 2012, I’ve got a lot better.  Back then, I didn’t even know how to hold a bat or how to get to the other end of the pitch at the end of an over—hell, I didn’t even know what an over was—and I feel that thanks to the help in training I’ve had from everyone and your ongoing support and communication while I was at college, I’ve been able to learn how to slay cricket.  Most of all, I’ve wanted to learn.  I will happily openly say that if it hadn’t have been for you, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college wanting to come back and continue playing for Hampshire.  I’ve never been particularly good at sport, and that hasn’t drastically changed, but I think that very gradually I’m getting better.  Even if I’m not, I still enjoy it and I wanted to play on your team, learn more valuable things from you.

One of the proudest days of my life will always remain to be Hampshire’s awards ceremony lunch in January 2013.  There, we were all given our runners up medals and you also had a few trophies to hand out.  I hadn’t really known anything about that before the presentation and was utterly shocked and thrilled when you called out that I’d won the Graham Carter young players’ award.  I didn’t really know what I’d done to win the trophy or really why its still sat on my windowsill with my medal now, but I was really chuffed that day that you’d decided somehow I was worthy of it.  It really felt amazing that you, Hampshire’s very highly respected captain who just so happened to be a rather fantastic b1 player, had chosen me for an award for how far I’d come playing cricket, even though I’d only played a season and done some training.  I’ll always be immensely grateful for that because although my confidence is pretty rubbish, I think you boosted it quite a bit concerning cricket that day.

On the 26th of July this year, just as I was about to go out to Tesco to do the shopping with Mum, she suddenly stopped.  She was looking at Facebook and she’d gone rather quiet.  Then, she slowly read aloud to me the post you’d written on Hampshire’s page explaining what you’d decided to do.  For a few moments, I didn’t really know what to say.  I found myself rather speechless and shocked.  I hadn’t thought that this season would be your last as captain so I had to reread the post several times for it to sink in.  My first question was whether you were quitting playing for Hampshire altogether and I have to say now that I was pretty relieved when you answered that you would still “be around”.  Of course, I totally understand and value your decision, as of course it is your life therefore nobody else’s right to decide, and I’m also really grateful that you explained to me when I asked why.  So I wanted to take this time, Tiny, to write about my experiences playing for Hampshire with you as my captain.  I don’t really know much about the history of the club, when you first became captain or the many games before I started playing, but I do know that for the games I’ve played and the things I’ve witnessed, you’ve been a truly inspirational and incredible captain.  I’ve learnt so much from you about cricket, and life as a blindey as well, and I’ll always be grateful for everything you’ve done for me and the team.  Hampshire could never have hoped for a better captain than you.  A captain is supposed to lead the team, be the one everyone looks up to, the one everyone respects, the one we all know we can go to for advice if we need any, the one who represents the team, the one who gives the speeches and the one who, really, makes the team what it is.  Of course, everyone’s own individual personalities add to the team’s atmosphere but it is the captain who makes sure everything is running smoothly and that playing for his/er club is a positive experience.  I can honestly say that for me you’ve done all of those things and so so much more.  I have to be honest and say that I was quite surprised yesterday when you announced that last Sunday’s win against Dorset was to be your last game as captain.  I’m also sure, though, that our new captain is going to do a great job.  He is very different to you, though, and it won’t be the same without you leading us.  Last Sunday, when that ball collided quite firmly with my face, I actually felt like I was going to faint right there and then.  I just wanted to curl up in a tight ball on the floor and become invisible.  I hadn’t really expected to cry or lose my breath, but thank you for supporting me and insisting that I get checked over.  I didn’t want to go off, though, because it had been a great game so far and as it turned out, a really fantastic one in the end.  Anyway, to be honest my face was absolutely fine that evening and has been since.  I think the impact of the ball just hurt rather a lot in that split second.  I’m really grateful that you let me carry on playing but that you made me promise I’d tell you if something wasn’t right.  It was really nice that you actually let me make my own choice rather than deciding on what was best for the game.  The way you supported me by thoroughly checking that I wasn’t seriously hurt or too shocked and actually making the whole game wait for me was really kind of you and I honestly don’t think that, without your instantaneous and continuous support, I’d have actually been able to go back out on that pitch.  Looking back now as I write this, I’m so glad that I did seeing as it was your last official game as captain.  The whole day was really topped off for me when you did your team talk as soon as we’d won and then told me to lead the team off of the pitch as we celebrated our victory.  That was an honestly proud and humbling moment for me and I’m so glad your last game as captain will be so memorable for so many reasons.  I’ve always really admired your caring personality and the way you reacted when I first started playing about my age.  The way you always made sure everything stuck to the policies surrounding my age always makes me smile, especially one evening when we’d come home late from a match and my mum wasn’t quite there to pick me up so you made the whole bus wait.  I guess that’s because it’s the rules and you’re just generally a rather nice guy.

I’m going to end this piece with a few comments I’ve collected up from some of the others members of the team.  I didn’t want this to all be about what I’ve got to say because you were everyone’s captain and we’re a team.  But I just want you to know that I think you’ve been a truly splendid captain and I’m really thankful you were my captain for the last four seasons.  I’m really grateful to have had the chance to work alongside you whilst playing for Hampshire and I will always take with me everything you’ve taught me.  I hope that you still play next season and in the seasons to come because I think the pitch will sorely miss your angelic singing voice and your fantastic spirit.  I hope you find all that you are looking for in the National League with Sussex.  I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun and they’re very lucky to have you, as Hampshire has been.  Like I said before, nobody deserves it more after all the effort you put into your cricket and into leading Hampshire for so long.  I know I shall definitely miss you as captain and I’m sure the team will too.  But of course I think Ryan will do a grand job.  So thank you, one last time, for absolutely everything you’ve done for us.  But this is from me, everyone else can say their own stuff, so thank you for everything you’ve done for me: for inspiring me to play; for welcoming me continually right from the start until present; for encouraging me to play; for practically picking me up off of the floor on Sunday when my head felt like it was about to fall off; for always believing in me even though, like I said, I can hardly bat or bowl; for keeping in touch as much as you could while I was at college; for encouraging me to play for RNC but always assuring me that I would always be a Hampshire player and that I was coming back to the team; for welcoming me back when I did come home; for always picking the spirit of the game up even when I have no idea what I’m doing; for the comments and encouragement on and off the pitch; for my nickname—I think the list is far too long and I’d be sat here typing forever if I said “thank you” for every single thing.  But thank you for every single thing because not a thing has been missed and I truly appreciate it all.  But anyway, enough of me.  Wishing you all the best, Tiny, in everything you do and I hope to see you soon.  From A5 Paige, who is mighty proud to know you.

“Thank you Tiny for being such an amazing chair.  You’ve taken the club from strength to strength and have been great to play alongside.” from Diarmuid Ware

“I would just like to say that Tiny has been a real role model encompassing exactly what cricket is all about.  Leading by example with a spirit of fairplay but also with a conviction to win.  He is charismatic and well respected throughout the game and always has an encouraging word when things seem not to be going quite the way one might hope.  That respect has been earned from the respect that he has shown everybody else.  I have been honoured to serve him as a captain and even more so to name him as a friend.” From Ben Good

“Tiny was pretty much the sole reason that I even playing cricket reigniting my passion for the game I’d like to thank him for everything he done and tried to do for me I can quite honestly say I don’t think I’ll meet someone more enthusiastic or as charismatic as him nor do I think I’ll meet someone as projective with his voice a top top man.” From Richard Godwin

“Thanks for being a critical part of Hampshire VICC since its inception.  Really hope you join us as often as you feel you can.  The team simply won’t be the same without you.” From Matthew Cooper

“Two significant events that have happened to me since going blind firstly getting Irwin and then meeting Tiny Morris who dragged me along to Hampshire VI Cricket I will always be grateful to the big man and there is no way he can retire from the game before me as I am the oldest.” From Dave Daniels

“Thank you for being an ever present and ever loud force in the team.  It has been a pleasure to take the field with you and be captained by you.  I know I speak for many when I say you will be gravely missed and personally what I have learned from you about the game has been invaluable.” From Mark Oliphant

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Why today is a difficult day

On this day each and every year for the last 18 years, things have been quiet and strained in this house. My parents had only been together about 8 months when they became parents together for the first time. Mason was born 12 weeks premature on August the 21st 1996. Tragically, he was a still-born baby. He was their first and only son who they lost 19 years ago today. Apparently, as I’ve been told before, he was a healthy weight for 28 weeks and he looked a lot like I did as a baby. They reckoned that if he’d gone full term, he’d have been fine.

Over the years, since I was first told about my brother, I’ve always wondered about Fate. After all, I was born 9 months later, 2 weeks premature. If Mason had survived, would I still be here? I’m not sure and of course I’ll never know. We don’t have him and I am here. It’s strange to think that he died and I got my life. But I do think even tragedies happen for a reason. Nobody is worth someone else’s death, though. But I do think that maybe there was a reason, if it isn’t my life. Maybe Mason was just too good for this world. There’s so much evil in it so perhaps his small frail being was just too pure for this world. Maybe no evil had reached him yet. This is all theories. I guess the real answer is that there were complications and therefore he didn’t survive and wasn’t srrong enough to survive them. That’s nobody’s fault. However anyone views his sad passing, nobody can put the blame on anybody else. What happened to my tiny brother couldn’t have been stopped by anyone. I think that he was a head-strong determined little lad who knew that this world wasn’t always a nice place. Maybe he knew things we don’t. Either way, he’s definitely in a better place, as are all the little children that lose their lives for one reason or another.

So to Mason, the brother I’ll never meet, happy 19th birthday. I hope the place where you rest is tranquil and beautiful, as people tell me you were. I hope that your birthday is a good one. You should know that every year when this day creeps up on us again, Dad plays the very same song which he dedicates to you.

Sometimes, we talk about you but sometimes everyone skirts around you because the subject is still so raw and painful for our parents. I think they think about you every single day. Like me, they probably wonder what would have been if they’d been given you to keep. But, again like me, they’ll never know. One day, I hope I can visit where you rest. I’d like to lay some flowers for you. I think that, if you were here, you’d be a very manly man so you probably wouldn’t like flowers that much. You’d definitely be a Liverpool fan, like me. Maybe you’d even play for a local team like G used to. I reckon you’d probably have a girlfriend, a car, a good job. Maybe you’d be at university or training to be in the armed forces. You could be a fire fighter,a police officer, a construction worker, a doctor, a paramedic, a teacher in training, a pub landlord, a bin man… I guess you could be anything. Maybe you’d have a driver’s job at Mum’s place or work with Dad at the carpet firm. Possibly, you could be like millions of other 19-year-olds and be unemployed, desperate for a job anywhere you could find one, if you could find one. If you were brainy like Mum, maybe you’d have got loads of A Levels at college and gone on to university to train for something big. You could’ve followed in her footsteps, too, taken the career she wanted in being a lifeguard. Whatever you’d decided, they’d have been proud. The whole family would’ve. I wonder if you’d be like Mum or Dad? I guess probably Dad because you’re a boy. Who knows! It’s a lot of fun to speculate though. Maybe you’d have been a completely unique person. You might’ve known how to solve all the family dramas, what to say at the worst times. I think you’d have been creative and athletic and strong. You would have definitely liked your music because all of us do. Maybe you’d be into the old school stuff because Dad doesn’t like much modern stuff. But maybe not.

I just think you should know that they’re always thinking about you. They may never talk about you and we may never ask questions, but they definitely think about you. Mum and Dad both have tattoos on their backs with their kids’ names on them so you’re inked into their skin. You may be gone and we may never celebrate a single birthday with you, but I know they wish they could.

So every August the 21st is a hard day. I think it always will be and for a very good reason too. You were a tiny frail unbreathing not seeing baby. You weren’t given the opportunity of life. I don’t think they planned you but my God they wanted you. I think you were everything they hoped for, their perfectly beautiful little boy. You’d have made them so proud, sure their mistake was worth it. Maybe you’d have had Mum’s green eyes. You definitely had the Emm hair, just like I do. I wish we could know. You were their one and only son and you’ll always be precious to them. I bet you did have fingernails the size of a half grain of rice and I bet they held you tight. You were torn from life and maybe you were needed up there; we’re definitely still unaware as to why.

Every year on someone’s birthday in this house, we play the exact same song. It’s been a tradition for as long as I can remember. So to the brother I’ll never be able to know, we love you and happy birthday once again

A Level Results Day 2015

It is Thursday August 13th 2015 and today is A Level results day. All over the country, college leavers are getting the results that could determine their future: what university they get into, what career path they decide to follow. For some, today is make or break. If they don’t get the perfect results then their dreams could be shattered and their chances of doing whatever it was they’d studied for flushed down the toilet. The UCAS website is probably going crazy right now with students viewing their applications. Universities all over the country are accepting new top grade students and preparing to squeeze a few slightly off grade students into their courses. There are probably students on the phone to course advisers right now, begging for the opportunity to be on a certain course despite their grade not quite meeting the requirements specified. They’ll do absolutely anything to get in and the desperation is probably blatantly clear to the adviser they’re talking to. But sometimes no matter how much they beg or cry or shout, there’s just no way they’re getting onto their first choice course. Second-best might not even be available if their grades have slipped that much from what they were originally predicted and expecting to get. For some, this afternoon will be spent scrolling through the masses of clearance courses, desperate to get a place anywhere as long as it’s university and a course they’re interested in. There’ll be parents crying, congratulating, cajoling. It just depends what the student’s results were. Some parents will be desperate for their son/daughter to go get away to university, any university with whatever course is available to them, just to get them out of their hair. Some parents will have a destined pathway set out for their child and no matter what their kid will be going to Oxford to study Law even if the kid isn’t remotely interested in Law and doesn’t have anywhere near the right grades for Oxbridge study. Other parents will be more laid-back, just glad that their child has enough grades to go where they want to and be happy, maybe getting a degree and career out of it eventually.

Mine and me? Well we just went about it like it was another normal day. If I’m honest, I wasn’t awake terrified out of my skin at the possibility of failure all night. But that’s probably because my higher education doesn’t rest on A Levels and perfect grades. I’m already secured in for my first module with the Open University and I could’ve failed everything today and I’d still be able to study. That’s the bliss of no entry requirements. But I can imagine how terrifying it must be to have chosen a load of courses and universities that you might not get into. Maybe that’s why I’m not going down the traditional route. I’ve done all my school years, getting SAT’s and GCSE’s in the process, before going on to college and now accomplishing 2 A Levels, 1 AS and a Level 3 BTEC. But that wouldn’t make it worthwhile to go to another institution that I’m going to have to live at for another 3 years. Residential learning at RNC taught me I never wanted to do it again. Not that I didn’t have a lot of fun residentially at college, because I definitely did, but I just really don’t fancy doing it alll over again, starting over with a whole bunch of new people, getting to know new routes and sitting through long lectures every day that would probably make me want to fall asleep. If that’s what you want and you feel it’s the right pathway for you then that’s your opinion and is totally justified by you because it’s all about what you want for your future. For mine, I’m not entirely sure what I want yet. But I know what I don’t want right now and that’s residential learning where I never leave the campus and live miles away from everyone I love.

So I chose Open University. At RNC, they’re very focused on guiding people down the university route, which I can understand for a lot of students is their ambition anyway, and spend a lot of time emphasising why university is great. This is fantastic if you’re a student who’s come to the college with the aim of moving on to university but it’s not so marvellous for those who aren’t sure or are completely against the idea. I was an “I don’t know” student; I wasn’t sure if I’d have the right grades for higher education, didn’t know if I really wanted to deal with more education, quite liked the idea of leaving to get a job and also knew that the prospects of getting a job were minimal considering the fact that fully abled people are struggling to find any and employers would rather hire them than us anyway. By

November of my second year at college, I’d set my

mind to the fact that I really really didn’t want to go to university. I didn’t want to go back to a learning setting that was full of fully abled people and I didn’t really fancy the grade struggle of getting in. My chances with the grades I was pulling were pretty much non-existent anyway. But the staff at college in charge of transitional support weren’t letting it go. They might as well have said I was destined to go to uni and would be a failure at life if I dared not. At the time when things weren’t going great in any aspect of my life that pretty much felt like what they said, anyway. They were probably a fraction more subtle about it but it didn’t feel that way at the time and that’s how it’s etched in my brain now.

So I continued to build my protective shield around me, spouting out pathetic excuses as to why I wasn’t going to a conventional university, or any kind of university at all. Nobody bought my rubbish, except my friends and fiancé who completely knew what I was going through. They’d all been through the college system at some point, too, and also had a decent idea what the blind person living in a sighted world life was like. Job centers don’t want to help us, benefit companies want to give us as little money as possible and nobody wants to employ us because there’s always someone better and more able.

So by Christmas I was pretty fed-up with the whole situation. I was fed-up with college people telling me I was going to waste my life if I didn’t go to university and then everyone else I knew reminding me of exactly how few jobs there were available to everyone and how unlikely I would be to even get an interview. Then, someone suggested Open University. I’d never heard of it before and reluctantly decided to check it out because I knew I had no other choice but to look. Open University offer a wide range of courses, all available online, some with face-to-face tutorials and residential schools. It means that you can study from home whilst juggling the rest of your life. Really, I think it’s meant for people who want to boost their academic record while they work and look after their family. But it seemed like a better option to going away to a residential university or staying at home doing nothing. So I thought I’d investigate it further. I discovered that I’d still be entitled to DSA – Disabled Students’ Allowance, which funds equipment and support for disabled students – like any other university student and that I might not have to travel anywhere: full-time home study was a possibility! Then, I looked into courses. What the heck could I do? I decided to stick with English Literature, which I was currently doing quite well at and enjoyed mostly, and they had a degree in English Literature. Then I had the concerning realisation that I wasn’t sure I could stick at one subject solely for 3 years. Then, I found the Open Degree. It lets you tailor your course yourself by choosing modules that suit you, you are interested in or fit with your career path. I don’t really have a career goal so don’t have a pathway to follow yet. So I decided to go with what I liked: English Literature, Creative Writing, Health and Social Care and History. I also liked the idea of Childhood Studies, which is another module they offer. So in October I’m starting my Open Degree with them, my first module being an introduction to Arts and Humanities. Apparently, I have to do that module if I want to go onto study Literature. My first package from them arrived the other day. It contained all of my course materials for my first module. Unfortunately, they sent them in proper printed textbook format, which is all very well and smells lovely, but I actually can’t read them. Of course, I thought after filling out a detailed form describing how I study and what is inappropriate to provide me with, I thought they’d be aware of this. But no, my textbooks sit in their box with their DVD’s waiting to be used for study. I’m hopeful that the university will sort the mess out soon as I’ve contacted the right person about accessibility. Other than that, the course looks like it’ll be good. DSA have awarded me some money towards assistive tech and a new laptop, which I have to contribute towards. To begin with, I wasn’t too happy about that as they offered me a very low spec laptop and it seemed pointless to pay £200 towards a computer that didn’t have much going for it and wouldn’t be very reliable or useful for full-time study at home. I wanted something with a bit of power behind it that would last a while and be worthwhile paying for. Thankfully, they’ve allowed me to upgrade, although of course this has been damaging to my bank balance, and next week I should be purchasing a rather nice new shiny Toshiba laptop. I’m looking forward to getting it a lot as it’s going to help me greatly with my university studies and this old one can barely hold up now. But it has been great to me while I’ve been learning how it works.

So this morning when I turned on my phone, I was surprised to receive an email from the college containing my results. We were given the option of receiving an email and I thought it was a good idea so went for it, thinking it would arrive somewhere around lunchtime. But it beat my mum to ringing the college for my grades. Overall, in my A Levels I got 2 C’s, one for Literature and one for Art. In addition to this, I also got an A in Health and Social Care at AS Level and my Pass (which would’ve been a distinction if BTEC hadn’t changed their rules) in Level 3 Braille. The Braille was actually my purpose for going to RNC so I’m glad I achieved that. The A in Health and Social was a nice surprise and I’m pretty chuffed I changed to it at the beginning of the academic year after failing Psychology. The C’s are slightly disappointing as I got a B last year in Art and was hoping for higher in Literature. But they’re still decent passes and I’m glad there was no failed subjects this year. As well as that, I’m also glad I stuck to my plan and didn’t apply to a traditional university because with the grades I got I don’t think I would be getting in many places. I’m much happier about the prospect of a 6-year course completed from home whilst being around my family and having the freedom to travel and see relatives and friends. It means I can concentrate on all of my life instead of putting some of it on hold again while I go halfway up the country for a degree that might not get me anywhere. At least if my Open Degree doesn’t get me anywhere in 6 years I’ve continued the rest of my life instead of wasting them dedicating myself wholeheartedly to a degree. Obviously, that doesn’t mean to say that I won’t work hard trying to succeed with my OU degree because I definitely will; but I’ll keep the rest of my life going on alongside of it. I already put it on hold for 2 years whilst going to RNC for A Levels. But my grades today and everyone that I met there make it worthwhile and a justified decision. If anyone from a County Council reads this and wonders if they should send a disabled student to specialist college, please do because I wouldn’t have the people in my life that I do or the grades that I’ve accomplished without it. Although the college isn’t a bed of roses and a lot of things go wrong, I don’t know if I could’ve achieved what I have at mainstream local colleges. At least RNC had the adaptations to support my learning. I didn’t have to struggle excessively due to Braille and speech software. I’ve been very lucky to have had the opportunities I have to learn and achieve successfully. So my grades aren’t straight A’s, I’m aware of that. But they are decent and that’s a lot more than I expected myself to get.

I don’t know yet what the OU is going to be like to study with. I don’t know if I’ll even pass my first aseessment, whether I’ll ever get my accessible course materials. But I’m hopeful I’ll do all of that. In 6 years time, or hopefully even less, I hope to be sat here with a degree as well as A Levels and GCSE’s. I don’t want to prove anything to anyone except myself. If after I get my degree and already have the other certificates in the bag I still can’t get a job and have to survive on benefits, at least I’ll know I gave it my best shot. If I’d have pulled out of college last winter when I’d felt like it, I wouldn’t have my C, C, A and Pass right now. Maybe if I get a degree I’ll be able to say that about a job too. Who knows?! I certainly don’t have a clue yet. But I’m willing to give it all I’ve got and hope for the best. After all, it’s too late to give up now and what other choice do I have? Sit on benefits when I haven’t even had a good stab at trying yet? Nah, I don’t think so. Not quite ready to give up yet. And if all else fails, at least I got my grades and non-biological family from college. Nobody can take my A Levels away now I have them so in 6 years hopefully I’ll be able to say the same with the degree. Keep your fingers crossed for me, yeah?

To my sister: reflections a year on

Dear Imi,

So this is a rather strange way to write you a letter, I realise this, and for all the world to see too. But the thing is I have so much I want to say and since leaving college I’ve missed writing to you so much that I just had to do it. Why the hell not, anyway? This blog is still rather new and shiny at the moment and I don’t have many readers. Although, I appreciate the few I have a lot. Anyway, back to the point of this crazy blog post – your letter.

Today the best news in all the world finally arrived. You’ve been given your way out, your open door to freedom. Almost a year ago, you went into hospital for help with your struggles. Personally, I thought you were brilliant at dealing with them. But what did I know? I knew hardly anything about mental health illness and I certainly had no idea what it was like to live with one or more. To be fair, that hasn’t changed. But watching you battle through your recovery program, racing along the tunnel at a crazy speed towards the light at the end, I have a much better idea now than I did a year ago. Personally, the best thing for me over this last year has been watching you grow stronger and finding ever more reasons to keep going. Your determination has always surprised me, as you know, and I honestly don’t know how you’ve managed it. But of course that’s just me being daft. You were always going to make it. Giving up wasn’t even an option for you. No matter what life has thrown at you in this last year, you’ve shown it who’s boss and fought it off, sending it running with its tail between its legs in the opposite direction. If they even dared to come back, you just told them again. If you still had it, I’d say the black sparkly “fuck off” mask would’ve helped you. Not that you needed any help. You’ve done this all by yourself and you don’t know how incredible and terrifying that’s been to watch as an outsider with my fingers crossed and my teeth gritted. I have no idea what it’s been like for you but I can imagine it’s been worse than a living nightmare in Hell. For us, your friends and family who’ve supported you all the way and been praying you’d keep fighting, it’s been pretty close to that too. On the worst days, when I wasn’t sure whether you’d do it or not, I’ve felt parelysed and useless. Being unable to help someone you love very much is the most crippling disabling thing.

When you first went into hospital almost a year ago, I felt so guilty. After slowly discovering what was going on in your home life over the course of our college year together, I just wanted to help you. I knew I couldn’t do anything about the medical side of things, I’m no doctor, but I wanted to show you what a real family is like. Not that mine always sets a very good example. I wanted you to feel safe and loved, something that seemed incredibly lacking. I wanted you to trust me, to know that I’m always around if ever you need someone to rant talk yell cry anything with. I wanted you to know I understood; maybe I don’t know anything about any of your conditions and I’ll never fully understand but I knew you, loved you. You had to know that no matter how stupid my questions seemed when I asked about your mental health and the things you go through, I asked them because I genuinely cared and wanted to be able to understand, to be able to help even if it was only in the tiniest of ways. By my parents agreeing that you could come to stay for as long as you needed, I thought I was giving you a home and a family who could love you. They do, too; Tamsin still asks after you and Mum and Dad are very fond of you. I wanted to keep you safe and away from all the bastards in your life. So you came to stay. We had some good fun. Wandering through town trying to find McDonalds when we realised Mum had said the complete wrong time for our cinema trip to see The Fault In Our Stars has to be one of the best evenings. Finding all sorts of notebooks and sketchbooks that were possible contenders for your new scrapbook was a lot of fun. I never knew there were so many different names for colours and certainly not that they were quite hilarious; “shag green” I think was the favourite. Then in McDonalds having milkshakes and dinner because it was late and we had to wait for Dad to come and pick us up. It has to be the best cinema trip I’ve ever been on. Or the night, exactly a year ago today, when Cameron sported your “fuck off” eye mask while snuggled down under the duvet and I wore Christmas bed socks which you thought was hysterical. I hadn’t even realised, to be honest, because they’re just my everyday bed socks. But it made you giggle which is always good. Then, there was the day of the yellow Beatz headphones. I honestly thought I was going to die that day by the way you threw that carrier bag at me. But I knew you’d like them. Green ones at Christmas were one thing but yellow ones, bright Imi yellow ones, were a whole new thing. I couldn’t resist, anyway.

But of course all good things come to an end. Maybe it wasn’t to be. It was just a stepping stone to the next year of your life. The day I got the call from my dad to say they’d taken you into hospital in an ambulance was one of the worst days of my life. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for you. But for me it felt like someone was stamping relentlessly on my heart before ripping it out. I was in Poole and it was there with you in The General. I just wanted you to be better, to come home. But that couldn’t happen. My father and his big mouth made sure of that. Those first few days while nobody knew what was going on were terrifying. Having loads of people sending me Facebook messages asking if you were OK and could I tell them what was going on was weird. I didn’t even know what was going on. One minute I’d gone down to Cameron’s for a couple of weeks and the next you were being taken into hospital and there was nothing I could do about it. The worst thing was that I couldn’t be there with you. I just wanted to be able to sit there by your hospital bed, to give you a hug and tell you everything was going to be OK. But it didn’t work like that. I was miles away and there were so many raw emotions flying about. Nobody knew what was going on so how could anyone tell you anything was going to be OK? All I knew was that it had to be a lot more than OK. I hated to see you hurting and angry and so alone. I’d thought that bringing you to Southampton would make you anything but alone. Oh how ridiculously wrong I’d been. It felt like my amazing plan to keep you safe had been a disaster. The whole thing had backfired in my face and now you were suffering because of it. Back then, though, I had no idea how ill you really were. You were just my sister Imi who had her diagnosis and slept at strange times because of the demons in your head. Looking back, I wished I could’ve realised sooner that you were ill and needed help. But who was I to know? You were the strong one. You held it together no matter what. Even on that really tough night when you first went to The General, you still spoke to me through Imessage even though my parents had abandoned you. You told me you wren’t angry with me. But I wanted you to be; there was nothing I wanted more than for you to be angry at me because then I’d have a justified reason as to why I felt so guilty and useless. Really, I guess, it was no one’s fault. My parents didn’t know what they were doing and just wanted to protect Tamsin. You had every right to lash out and not want to see us. But you didn’t. Even when my parents continued to be difficult you were brilliant. And when you told me you thought it was your fault, that you’d messed your new family up, my heart just broke for you. I just wanted to hug you and tell you I was sorry, that none of this was your fault. It wasn’t. It was down to everyone else around you that was looking after you. When you told me, a couple of days later, that you might be going into a Psychiatric unit, I didn’t know how to feel. So I asked you what you thought and you said at least it would be somewhere, at least then you’d have somewhere to go. Everything felt shattered. My attempt to keep you safe had failed because it wasn’t bulletproof. I couldn’t keep you safe, I know that now, because you needed medical help. I will always be your family no matter what but I can never be your doctor.

A week later, on the Sunday, we came to visit you at your new unit. I think at that point I was numb, still processing what had happened. I wasn’t even able to be glad that you were still in Hampshire where I could visit you. But I was glad. If you’d been taken straight back to Yorkshire and I hadn’t been able to see you I think it’d have made it so much worse for me. But you were still being yourself, the Imi I love; a little sadder and more uncertain than usual, but exactly the same girl in every other way. Seeing you in that unit on that Sunday in your pyjamas wrapped in your blanket was horrible. You’d gone from my sister living at home to a frightened poorly girl in a strange hospital. I just wanted to bundle you up in my arms and run away, far away with you. Leaving was hard, too. Not being able to rescue you and take you home with us hurt a lot. It took me a while to realise that actually this place might be able to help you get better, that maybe they could keep you safe from all the bastards in your life. Back then, we’d thought you’d be out by October and be coming back to college to join us in our second year. Looking beck, I wish I’d known in July that year that you wouldn’t be coming back to college in September. We’d already arranged it with the halls manager that our rooms would be neighbouring like they had been that year and that they’d be directly above our old ones so that we could share a corridor again. As Cameron was leaving, I was really looking forward to having you there to help me pull through without him. I wanted us to have even more fun than we’d had in our first year. Travelling back up to Hereford in September knowing that both you and Cameron weren’t coming too was the hardest thing about going back. Leaving you in that bloody hospital and Cameron in Dorset was really difficult. I was so close to not going back, to staying at home so I could be near you and Cameron.

Visiting you in October was great! It had felt like years since I’d last seen or spoken to you. As you weren’t allowed phones in the hospital so couldn’t communicate with us made my life very quiet and empty. However, being able to write you letters made everything a tiny bit better. Writing you letters and knowing you’d received and read them made my day that little bit better. I have no idea how much Imi yellow paper I used over that year writing you letters but it must’ve been a lot, especially as they recommended that I buy my own pack. I bought it, too, and never used it. Its at home in a drawer unopened. At least if I ever need to send a paper copy of anything to you I can. I visited you again at Christmas, by which time it was clear you weren’t coming out of hospital or back to college anytime soon. Leaving you there at Christmas was heartbreaking, especially as you said a lot of the other patients were going home for Christmas. I’m so glad I got you Whimsical and that you really liked the fluffy rainbow teddy bear in jeans and a heart motif T-shirt with the shiny ears and paw pads. I wanted to give you a special teddy bear so that when things got tough I was always with you. I wanted you to have her so that you knew no matter how many miles away I was, I was giving you a hug through her and that really I’d never be too far away, never out of reach. Apart from waving an imaginary magic wand and wishing for everything to get better, I thought that that was the best thing I could give you. At least she could keep you warm at night. When we were leaving, you hugged us all and told Cameron to look after me. That made me cry. I just wanted us to be able to look after you but instead we had to leave you there. I promised you I’d be back to see you in February, but as it turned out by then you were already gone.

You were transferred back up North at the beginning of February this year. By then we were all expecting it. Apparently you weren’t allowed to stay in Hampshire and I was sad about that. It felt like you were going to be more distant from me and I was gutted I wouldn’t be able to see you at half term any more. But then you moved in and of course there were a few problems. But then you were allowed your phone during the day and we could text each other like mad. I could have a conversation with you anytime I wanted and if you needed someone to talk to you were able to contact me now. It also meant I could keep you more up-to-date with whatever was going on at college. You were able to contact whoever you wanted. It was then when you moved back up North that we started planning a visit to see you, without you knowing of course, I thought we should come and gatecrash your birthday and after a lot of thought and many conversations with Kieran and Josh, we’d agreed that was what we were going to do. May the 9th was the date and we had help from a staff member from college to book cheaper tickets. Meanwhile, we kept writing you your letters and you kept on fighting your battles. Your strength will never cease to amaze me. Then, May the 9th crept up on us and we were boarding a train at before 8am that would take us to Birmingham. At Birmingham, we changed train to one that would take us to York. In York, we did the conga which our assistance guy thought was hilarious. I’ve since named it the Conga of York and I hope one day we can do it again. We then got in a taxi that took us on the 20 minute journey to your hospital. Seeing you for the first time in 5 months was incredible. Being there for your 18th birthday was great too. Laila was her ever excitable self and I hugged her before I managed to hug you. In the visiting room, you produced your little picnic of blueberries and Reese’s Peanutbutter Cups. Then, it was prezzie time. You slapped us when we gave you your special prezzie from the four of us. I didn’t think you’d be as surprised as you were about getting your Kindle from us. Not that the presents or food mattered. Just seeing you and being there for your birthday was amazing. It was like a special early birthday present for me to see you. You were so much better too! In the 5 months I hadn’t seen you, you’d got stronger, braver. You seemed like a whole new person. But you were still our Imi and it was amazing to see that not too much had changed about you, apart from that your Yorkshire accent was stronger than ever.

Seeing you on your birthday gave me hope. Before, I’d still doubted whether you were going to pull through this. But I should have never been so stupid. You are the strongest, bravest, most amazing girl I know and I’m so lucky to have you as my sister. You’re the best sister in the world. On your birthday, discharge was mentioned. You were hoping that you’d be able to get a place in Hereford and then go back to college next year. But sadly that hasn’t happened. But today after all of your struggles and battles, after worrying that it would never happen, it finally has. This morning, as I was settling in on the sofa to write something for this blog, my phone rang. It was you calling. I didn’t manage to grab it in time. So I rang you back. Your first words were “I’ve got funding”. In the last year, apart from us telling you we were coming to visit, I haven’t heard you so happy. The pure joy and relief in your voice brought tears to my eyes. But you’ve done it, Godwin. The worst of the war is over now. You can tell 300 and anyone else who dares to disagree that you’ve done this. You’ve crawled through the mud of that long dark tunnel and now you’re out in the open fresh air. Breathe it deep into your lungs, miss, fill them up. That’s freedom on your tongue you taste. Visitors, parties, your own cooking, walks, days in or days out whatever you choose. Soon, it’s all going to be up to you again. The choices are yours. You’re good at making the right ones. So you’ve reached the top of that mountain, sis. You’ve done it. And I know for the rest of your life you have to deal with your conditions and that some days are going to be really tough. But you’ve come this far, achieved this much. Now that you’ve done this last year, got so much better, I know you can do anything. You have to remember that too. You can do anything, take anything the world hurls at you because you’ve done this. You did what I thought was impossible a year ago. But now I know I was foolish to even think it. Of course you were going to do it. You were going to get better. Of course you were because you’re Imi Godwin and if anyone in this whole world was going to pull through this then it was going to be you. I didn’t ever think, this time last year, that I’d be sitting here writing this to you a whole year on. But I am.

When I first met you, you didn’t trust anyone, or that’s how it seemed. You were a cocoon, a tiny frail caterpillar hiding inside her protective shell hoping for the day she’d be free. Over the last almost 2 years, you’ve changed my life, opened up my mind to a whole different perspective. I watched that caterpillar getting sicker and sicker. I watched you curling up tighter and tighter, trying to run away from your demons and your illness but at the same time trying to get better. Then you went into hospital, this sickly little caterpillar whose cocoon had been stolen from her. You were tiny and ill. But slowly, as I watched from a far, you started to unravel, spread out. You started to get better. Your transparent little caterpillar started to transform. Now, a whole year on, you’re a pink purple green yellow butterfly, the most beautiful butterfly in the world. You don’t need to hide anymore. You don’t need to curl up in a tiny ball and try to protect yourself from the world because you’re the strongest most beautiful butterfly in the world and you can fly away from all the bad things now, leave them behind you. You don’t need to fight them anymore because you’re strong and brave. You were brave, Godwin. You said what you needed to, you let the words come out and now you’re going to be out, too, out of that hospital into a new place that’s going to have the right amount of support for you but let you have your freedom too. Just remember, when you do leave hospital, that mine are the hands you can trust and your fears are just papercuts. They’ll heal soon. You don’t need to be frightened anymore because there are going to be people who make sure all the bastards in your life stay away. Nobody’s going to hurt you anymore. And if they even dare to they’ll have me and everyone else who loves you to deal with because nobody hurts our Imi Godwin and gets away with it.

As I sit here writing this, I want you to know that I couldn’t be happier right now for you. So yes I’d love it if you were a little closer and train tickets didn’t cost so much but none of that matters, not really, because you’re getting out to your new life that you’ve been waiting for. It’s just a step away now and I can’t wait to come and see it all when you have it. I reckon I’ll cry. I’m so incredibly proud of you, sis. I’ve never been more proud in my life of anybody. You did it. You are victorious, Imi, you’ve beaten your demons. So next time 300 says anything to you, just tell him that you’ve got loads of people who love you and that soon you’re going to have your own place and all those people who love you will be back in your life full-time. Soon, this will all just be memories. They might not be good memories but they’ve led to your new life that’s awaiting you. I can’t wait to watch that journey unfold too and although this one hasn’t been the most pleasant – it’s been heart wrenching and utterly terrifying at times – I’m so glad I was there to witness you spread your wings and turn into the pink purple green yellow butterfly, the strongest most beautiful butterfly in the world, like you have. You’re amazing, sis, and I’m so blessed to have you in my life.

Don’t ever give up the fight because you can do it, no matter what it is. You’ve done this so nothing else should ever stop you in achieving whatever you want. Your dreams are still with you, don’t let them go. Just don’t forget that UCAS doesn’t make people happy all the time and you can do this any way you like. There’s nothing in this life you can’t do now – except maybe being a pilot – because you’re Imi Godwin, the strongest most brave girl in the world. And God how lucky I am to be your sister!

Love ya, Godwin.

Your sister, Paige, who couldn’t live life without you. Xxxxxxxxxx

Parachutes, Rainbows and Jelly Tots

Sometimes, people come into your life and change it without you even knowing. Maybe they don’t mean to make an impact and maybe you’re not supposed to notice them. But what’s supposed to happen in life always goes out of the window and Fate steps in. Fate: the sometimes hated ruiner of everything or the one who makes everything perfect. He does a bit of both in everyone’s lives and some days you’ll hate him, some days you’ll treasure him; it just depends on what he does to your life. I guess fate was kind to me when I started Secondary School. He didn’t make it hard or painful for me. In fact, he introduced some people into my life that have  stayed there ever since, giving me something priceless.

Starting Secondary School is scary for almost everyone. New place, new teachers, new kids, new lessons. That was no different for me. I just had the added fun of being visually impaired in a mainstream school in classes of normal kids who liked to stare and ask questions and mutter to themselves forgetting that I was blind rather than deaf. I’d been lucky, though, to have been in a mainstream school all my life full of those kind of kids. They’re all the same wherever you go and after so many years of living with them surrounding you you come to not care any more about whatever it is they’re saying about you. When I first started Secondary, I wasn’t exactly bulletproof; my armour that I’d built up over the years wasn’t solid yet. But Secondary sorted that out for me. Within the first half term I’d learned to ignore all of the sighted kids and just stick to the VI ones because they understood. I’m not saying that if a VI kid goes to a mainstream school they should steer clear of sighted folk because they certainly shouldn’t. Sighted folk make up the majority of our world and even if they don’t understand and aren’t accepting of our conditions, we have to work with them instead of running from them and working against them otherwise we’ll get nowhere. Sometimes, though, all we feel like doing is running as far away from every sighted person as we can. That, at least, is how I first felt at Secondary anyway.

The school I went to had a unit specialising in supporting students with a visual impairment. They had students sent to them from all over Hampshire in taxis every morning so that they could receive the right help to make their studies worthwhile. At the time when I started, there was an average of 18 students in the unit each year. They had roughly the same amount of staff who were assigned different roles within the unit. At that time, every member of staff in the unit was asked to go out and support students in lessons. They would sit next to us in class, reading from the board or worksheet, describing videos on the screen and helping with activities that were too difficult, or in a lot of cases too dangerous, for us to do by ourselves. In a science or cookery class that happened very often. I was terrified of Bunsen burners and kettles when I started school and to be fair no amount of encouragement by whichever LSA (learning support assistant) was supporting me ever changed that. I hated both right up until the end. On the other hand, a subject I have always, and will always, love is Art. A lot of people seem surprised about that due to my non-existent vision but that’s never bothered me. I think that’s probably because I had some sight when I was younger so managed to grasp shapes and colours. Again, I’m not saying that totally blind kids from birth can’t do Art because they definitely can and nobody should ever stand in their way. But I know a lot of blind kids are discouraged from doing Art at school because to a sighted person who hasn’t opened their mind to it, Art for a blind kid seems impossible and pointless. Truthfully, it’s neither. Throughout my school life leading up to Secondary, I’d always participated in the Art lessons we had. Sometimes, the activity needed to be adapted slightly – like drawing from a famous painting was impossible – but I always managed to do something similar to the rest of the class, though not as high-quality or effortless. My outlines were usually wobbly and my colours smudgy and towards the end sometimes completely wrongly chosen but I had fun doing it and was never criticised about my work, which I’ll always appreciate. So, naturally, when I started Secondary School my parents insisted that I continue doing Art with the other kids in my year group even though it was greatly discouraged by the VI unit at the time. Of course, the school couldn’t argue with my parents so Art, like everything else, was added to my timetable. I had Art third period on a Monday morning and I’ll never to this day forget one particular Monday morning, probably in early October of 2008, when the teacher, a lady who I admire very much, set the class the task of drawing a still-life portrait of their neighbour. Obviously, like in every lesson, my neighbour was an LSA from VI, a lady who’d started working there the very same time I started. I’d already proved that I could draw from memory as long as I had a sharp pencil and a pad of paper. The reason for the pencil being sharp and the pad being a pad rather than just one sheet was so that I could make indetations into the paper as I drew which I could then trace with my finger afterwards. That way, I had constant tactile feedback of exactly what I’d drawn as well as the normal visual image. The tactile feedback meant that I could keep track of my lines and make the picture a more realistic representation of whatever I was trying to draw. So that morning there was no doubting what I was going to be told to do. I had to draw a portrait of my new LSA. This task, more than any of the others, cemented our working relationship. If it had been anyone else, the task would have been awkward and near on impossible to complete. But with this lady I felt like I could relax. She, unlike so many others, gave off the impression that she understood. When I squirmed at the embarrassment of having to feel her outline to know what to draw, she didn’t laugh or make a comment. She just sat still and let me draw. To be fair, I probably didn’t draw the most flattering picture of her. It was probably completely out of proportion and with no resemblance to what she actually looks like. But she wasn’t bothered in the slightest. The following lesson, we were asked to draw an object instead and because I didn’t have anything half decent, she gave me her ring. It was a big swirly sparkly flower on top of a band and it was incredibly tactile and intricate. I’m not sure I really did that justice either. Both pictures are still with me now, almost 7 years on, on the pages of the sketchbook they were drawn into.

In December that year, my Art LSA, who I soon learned was called Amanda (because it’s just something you want to find out about new staff members), told me that there was timetable changes going on in VI and that as of January she’d no longer be supporting me in Art. To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. In that moment I felt crushed, like I was going to have to start all over again with a new member of staff who I didn’t really know. I don’t like change and that kind of change really wasn’t something I wanted to happen, especially as Amanda and I worked so well together. On our very last lesson in Art, Amanda helped me make a very creative get well soon card for my Nan, who had been diagnosed with cancer the previous year. The card had a padded silk frame with a padded silk heart in the centre. It would be fair to say that Amanda made the majority of the card with me just shooting suggestions. She helped me print a message for the insert that I’d written and stick it in. We even made an envelope for the card. On Christmas Eve, when I gave the card to my Nan, I told her all about Amanda and how she’d helped me make it. Nan loved the card and said that Amanda sounded lovely. I thought that, too; she was my favoutite LSA so far at school and I was truly gutted about the fact that she wasn’t going to be in my Art lessons from then onwards. I know that Nan treasures that card and I’m so glad we spent that last lesson making it.

I was lucky that Amanda supported me in another lesson. But that was only once a week and not a lesson like Art where we could chat. In my second year at Secondary, the lady who had taken Amanda’s place in my Art lessons continued to support me in Art. I’d grown to really like her, though, because she was lovely too and was always singing or humming to something cheerful in class, obviously not when the teacher was talking. She made Mondays that little bit brighter with her cheery singing. Thankfully, Amanda now supported me one hour a week in my Food Tech lessons. They were the boring part of Food Tech where we went over the recipe for the following day and were shown what we’d have to do. The following year, in year 9 for me, Amanda supported me in one hour of Maths and in my English lessons. We had quite a bit of fun in all of the lessons. I didn’t get on particularly well with either my English or my Maths tachers because they weren’t particularly good at coping with students with a visual impairment, or maybe it was just me who felt that way. But Amanda was incredibly good at her job and somehow I got through that year of English. At the end of the year, we had to do a practice GCSE question. This was incredibly difficult because it was a question where we had to analyse what was on a poster. My paper had a campaign poster of the model Twiggy. Until that day, I knew nothing about Twiggy – I didn’t even know she existed! But we were thrown this paper and despite my lack of sight I wasn’t given any exceptions. I was doing this paper one way or another. So the VI unit modified the paper, making Braille text for it and a raised image of the Twiggy campaign. Then, one hot afternoon in March, which surprised everyone, Amanda and I went in to one of the brand new turorial rooms in the VI unit and sat down for this mock exam. But it was hopeless. I’d never heard of Twiggy and couldn’t comprehend the complicated image of her on the poster or of the backround around her. It made no sense to me. So Amanda described every single detail to me, going over and over and over it. Although when the exam was over my brain was fried and I still didn’t understand the image, I knew exactly who Twiggy was and had an answer to the exam question which I’d somehow worder together from the mental image Amanda had painted in my mind from her relentless descriptions of the campaign poster. To this day, I have no idea whether she was supposed to describe that picture in so much detail or go over and over and over it like she did. But there was no way I’d have written a single word in answering the exam question without her that day.

Similarly, in March again that year, I was having serious difficulties at home with my parents. My family can sometimes be spectacularly dysfunctional and I often struggle to deal with it and understand it from their point of view. At almost 13 at the time, I understood it even less. There was one particular English lesson, a morning following a pretty difficult night at home, when I was in English with Amanda and I didn’t even need to say anything and she knew something was up, could pretty much guess straight away what it was. I’d been being strong all morning since getting in the taxi for school because I didn’t want people to know what was going on or that anything was wrong. It had worked so far but apparently my acting skills didn’t work on Amanda. By the end of the lesson, which just so happened to be one where we’d been set a task and the teacher was paying no attention to us, I had a reason to be strong and to smile that wasn’t false. Ever since, I haven’t needed to pretend; she just knows. There have been plenty of times since that she’s given me a reason to carry on being strong.

Amanda’s daughter and now fiancé were both also at the school, her daughter in the year below me and her fiancé in the IT technician’s office being some kind of superhero trying to fix everyone’s computer problems. If he read this and me calling him just an IT technician I’d be in trouble. I can’t remember the full job title. IT technician doesn’t cover half the stuff he did, either. There wasn’t a moment when I saw him that he wasn’t super busy doing something. The server had crashed, new computers in IT3, someone in VI had broken their laptop, someone needed new software, the Embosser needed fixing… And that’s just the stuff I know about. He had lists as long as the astro turf. Somehow, he always managed to do everything, too, including giving me Pac Mate lessons. The Pac Mate was a Braille notetaker brought out by Freedom Scientific, a company who produce blind and low vision products, and I’m sure many people would agree with me when I say it’s one of their worst. My Pac Mate lessons were in in his office because VI was going through its new build at the time. There was a spare office chair in there, which was falling apart, and went through as much as we could about the Pac Mate. For some reason, I was really keen to learn how to use the new machine. I think that was probably because it was a new machine that looked quite cool. I should’ve just stuck to my trusty BrailleNote MPower, which I loved at the time. I’m glad I pushed for those Pac Mate lessons in the stuffy little office on the broken office chair with him because we had a lot of fun trying to connect the Pac Mate to the wifi and do simple key commands. We discovered that the Freedom Scientific website was one of the most annoying websites ever and their online instruction manuals were liars. In the end, we came to a place where I knew a decent amount of stuff on the Pac Mate and having more lessons was pointless because I wasn’t actually going to be using it in class. I’m not ashamed to say that since then, 5 years on, I can’t remember a single Pac Mate skill. But the lessons were definitely fun. Pac Mate lessons in the stuffy office, which has since been given a sofa and an air conditioning unit, turned into laptop skills lessons 2 years later with both of them chipping in to teach me JAWS. I wouldn’t be unfair in saying I’m not sure how fruitful their efforts were as my laptop skills when I left Secondary weren’t much better but I had invested in a Toshiba laptop with JAWS, the very laptop I sit here writing on, and was determined to flourish in using a computer at college. I’m not sure I can say I flourished as such but I happily use a computer now and am about to embark on an Open University degree which will pretty much be completed on a laptop. Although they didn’t necessarily teach me all the skills I now know, they started and tried their hardest despite my reluctance and grumpiness to make sure I someday had reasonably good computer skills. And I think now I can say I do, thanks to them not giving up on me.

They weren’t just my teachers, though. In school, yes. But I thought their kids are awesome and I also love his mum. She’s blind, too, and over the years we’ve shared tips on living as blind people. She has years of experience on me and some really great strategies on how to do things. She inspires me. Even though our economy is how it is, she continues to be a brilliant self-employed masseuse with a therapy room in her garden. It’s a really cool therapy room with a waiting room which leads into the treatment room. I drew her a picture, using my indentation technique, of a sunflower and its now behind the glass in her treatment room. The treatment room smells gorgeous. There’s all sorts of scents in the air from the different oils she uses and it just makes you feel relaxed breathing it in. We’ve had some incredible tea parties to celebrate birthdays at her house. Her working Guide Dog, Pacha, is nuts but she’s lovely. Her previous Guide Dog called Kayleigh, who sadly died last year, was lovely too. Where Pacha is bouncy and always full of energy, Kayleigh was quiet and gentle. Although, I’ve heard not to be fooled by her quietness because she was a mischievous little thing in her youth. The kids love the dogs, too, and it always brings a smile to my face when I think of cheeky Jake rolling about the floor with Pacha and her squeaky pig training toy or Tara curled up on the step with Kayleigh. There were sometimes four furry bodies roaming about the tea party gatherings, though, because Amanda and Steve would sometimes bring their fluffy Leonbergs, Flare and Cara. They’re lovely dogs, too, big and fluffy and great to cuddle. Naughty sometimes, though.

Swiftly, these people became my new family, now my second family. We’ve had some of the best times of my life together. They’ve taught me so many things. The very first time we had a day together was a glorious day in April one year when we went on a little drive to Salisbury, all five of us and Flare in their Land Rover, the best car in existence. It’s so comfy to sit in and whenever I’m in it I often want to fall asleep. We went to lots of shops in Salisbury and I remember one particular charity shop where we were looking at clothes, Steve waiting outside with Flare, and Jake hilariously put a bra on his head. I’m not sure whether he realised what he was doing at the time but it sure made us girls giggle. It still makes me chuckle now. We then had a mini picnic of Tesco goodies in a park where Flare could wander around happily. Then, we did more shopping before heading back to Chandler’s Ford to get ice cream from a place called Carlos. I didn’t even know it existed until that day and certainly wasn’t aware of the fact that they did banana flavoured ice cream. Apparently, they change their flavours every day. But banana ice cream out of a little tub with one of those ridiculous plastic spoons will always be my favourite. I’ve never been back since but I’ll always love Carlos. Then, another time, Tara’s 13th birthday, we went roller skating. I was really honoured to be invited to her birthday party at the skating place in town with her friends and family. That still means a lot to me now. That really was one of the best days of my life and a brand new experience for me. I’ve never gone roller skating before let alone to a roller skating disco birthday party. We had glow sticks and really awesome skates. Steve and Amanda, as well as helping Jake, guided me round the dance floor for almost the whole party. I hardly sat down! I’ve not been roller skating since then, either, but it’ll always be a really great memory and a great experience. Another time, we went across the river on a ferry to the Isle of Wight to visit a place where Jake was going for a school residential trip. It was a really cool place with some great activities for the kids to do. Even the dorms were nice! We went walking on a common with all the dogs and ice lollies another time. For my GCSE results night, I had another first by going to Nando’s with them and my parents. I discovered frozen youghurt and the most ice anyone has ever put in a diet coke.

But the best time out of them all has to be the weekend before I left college. I’d crawled out of bed at a reasonable time because I had loads to do on the Saturday morning. It was a week until my parents and fiancé were coming up to collect me for the very last time so I needed to pack up my room completely, do a week’s worth of washing, hang out with my friends, revise for my Literature exam that Thursday… I was adamant that I was sticking to my plans. But I was also a little disappointed. Before I’d left for college countless people had told me they would come and visit me at college. Only one other than my parents had actually done that and that had been in my very first week of college. Amanda had promised the four of them would come up and see me. So that morning as I got ready to go and meet up with my tea buddy Kieran for our usual cup of tea, biscuits and Jeremy Kyle, I sat and dreamt about how it could’ve been, how I’d have loved it if they’d just texted and said they were coming up to see me. Of course, that was just me being greedy. Southampton and Hereford are miles apart and that’s what my two separate lives have always been. They’ve only crossed over a few times. Obviously, my fiancé means that my college and home life will always be entwined but as neither of us are there anymore it doesn’t really feel like it. But then, and it really was as if by magic, my phone buzzed on the desk with Amanda’s text tone. I almost fell off the bed. It sounds like storytelling but it’s true. I read her text which simply asked what I was up to today. With my heart skipping a beat, I responded with not much, that it was my last weekend at college. Then she made my heart race by asking if I wanted visitors. I could hardly believe my ears. I made VoiceOver reread it several times after I’d hysterically replied. It was confirmed moments later that they’d be in the car in half an hour and with me in 3 hours time. I just couldn’t believe it. It was unreal. As promised, they arrived just over 3 hours later in the Audi and nothing could’ve made me happier at that moment than my second family being in Hereford, come all the way from the South Coast to see me. We had the most amazing day in which we caught up on snippets of the life we’d missed. Although we’d always kept in touch, it’s not the same as seeing each other every day at school. They are also the only people who could’ve come to Hereford, the place I’d lived for almost 2 years, and take me to lunch to a place I’d never heard of. It was ironic and funny but I loved it. A normal meal at Weatherspoons wouldn’t have been right. Something quirky had to happen. Later, we went to Costa in Hereford town centre with another student from Secondary now at RNC and had afternoon tea. They stayed in Costa just as long as they could, until 7pm when the place was closing, before doing shuttle runs back to college. After I’d showed them my room, they had to go. It was already 7pm so it would take them until at least 9.45pm to get home. I felt bad for them as it was. They’d spent a lot of time in Hereford and made the journey from the South Coast all the way up. But they didn’t seem at all bothered. It was a dream come true for me and a promise fulfilled, a very special promise.

If anyone reads this, you may wonder why I’ve bothered to write all this down and publish it online. The simple reason is because they’re my family and I think they’re amazing, all of them. For as long as I live I’ll always feel blessed to have shared the special times I have with them and to be able to call them my family. From portraits in Art to laptop skills lessons to Toshiba laptops to BrailleNote Apex to grapes in salads to wooly scarves to bracelet charms to rainbows to a band called Train to frozen youghurt to Sunday roasts to Basset’s milk bottles to Thornton’s diabetic toffee to blue jumpers to banana ice cream to a kitten called Casper to their two amazing children to engagement rings that took far too long to visiting Hereford. There’s loads more than that, some of it which I can’t mention, and I’ll always treasure it all. They became my parachute, the thing I know I can always rely on to keep me going. They don’t have to do anything. Just a response to a text I’ve sent reminds me what I’ve got even on the really tough days. I will never be able to show them quite how much I appreciate everything they’ve done for me. Most of all, they’ve allowed me into their family and given me new hopes and dreams. I told them once, and I’ll keep telling them ’til the end of time, they changed my life and they’ll never know quite how much. I wrote this to tell them again, just because I can. Also, this blog is for me to write my thoughts and feelings and just to ramble when I feel like it. Again, these people proved that blood is not thicker than water, just like my sister IG. They’ve taught me so much in the last 7 years and I’ll never be able to repay them for everything they’ve done. They’ve given me a whole new family and I will always, no matter what happens in the future or anything negative that’s happened in the past, love them lots like jelly tots. Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a dream that I dreamed of, once in a lullaby. They made it come true. They gave me family. Fate was very, very kind to me in 2008 when it put me and Amanda in the same school.