Monthly Archives: December 2017

New year’s eve 2017

So today is new year’s eve, meaning tomorrow is a brand new year. At midnight, we’ll enter 2018. For many, tonight will be about partying. I know a lot of people who usually drink a lot of alcohol and have a lot of fun in pubs and clubs with friends and family. Usually, I spend the evening all cosy at home with at least my Mum and sister Tamsin, sometimes accompanied by my Dad too. The last couple of years, its only been Mum, Tamsin and me, not really fussed about staying up til midnight but doing it anyway, watching rubbish TV until about ten to midnight when Mum changes the channel and we watch the count down to new year. I can’t remember a year when I haven’t watched the last ten minutes of the year flutter by on TV. Then, when Big Ben chimes in London and the fireworks start, I’ll wish whoever I’m nearest a happy new year. Some years, Mum and I have gone to stand out on our front porch to watch the fireworks nearby going off. Most years, they’re still going an hour later. This new yer’s, though, I’m not going to spend the last ten minutes of the year sat with my Mum, waiting for Big Ben’s bongs. I’ll be home, but Mum, Dad and my not so little any more sister won’t. Recently, Mum returned to her younger days role of barmaid at our local social club. She was a barmaid in 1995 when she met my dad and I don’t think I realised, until lately, just how much she enjoyed the job. Originally, she said she was only taking it to earn a bit extra money to pay for Christmas, so that it didn’t have to use up all the money from her monthly wages. But it’s a week after Christmas now and there’s no signs of her stopping working. Of course, if she enjoys it that much then I’m more than happy for her. Why wouldn’t I be? It gets her out of the house doing something she once enjoyed very much and socialising with people she maybe wouldn’t meet otherwise; and as an added bonus, shes earning money for it. But it means that on top of her 9:30am to 6:00pm job at Salon Supplies, shes now working several nights a week, usually from 6pm to 11:30pm or later. Mostly, shes working weekends. It means shes a lot more tiered than she was and we’re seeing her less than we were. But it seems to be working. The ship’s still floating, just about. But tonight, the club is hosting a new year’s party, which Mum, who has already been given the role of top bar staff, is running. So that means shes not here. Dad and Tamsin aren’t, either, because they’re going to the party. Many people know my hatred of all things related to alcohol and loud noise so the club tonight would be my worst kind of nightmare. I wish the fact that my family were all going to be there was enough to convince me to endure it. But I just can’t. I’m pretty gutted though, mostly that I won’t be spending it with my Mum, who I can only remember not spending new year’s with once in all my twenty years. There may have been more when I was little but the only year I remember was in 2014 when I reluctantly decided to spend it with my then fiancé and his mum. Even though we had a nice time, I felt weird about not being with my Mum. I guess it’s a bit daft really. I’m sure they’ll all have a nice time here and I probably will too. My pal Josh is coming over to stay and Mum’s bought us a whole buffet load of food to munch through. Josh has agreed we can watch the Big Ben fireworks and even my sister Imi has said she should be available for FaceTime at some point. So it should be a nice night and its nice that I’ll have someone to spend it with. Otherwise, I’d have been on my own and probably gone to bed early. New year’s isn’t a big deal or anything. I don’t want a huge party and loads of alcohol. I just like spending it with those who mean the most. Of course, one year that meant I thought I wanted to spend it with the person I then thought I was going to marry. Obviously, now things are different. If I could, I’d have all my favourite people in the world in one room. Although I can’t have my family tonight, Im lucky to have Josh, who has been my friend 10 years next year.

Mostly, 2017 has been a great year for me. Ive been able to spend as much time as I possibly can with Kieran, I was given the chance to experience what having a guide dog is like and I’ve been to loads of great places. In June, I fulfilled a lifelong ambition of taking Mum to see one of her favourite bands live. The Take That concert is definitely one of my favourite nights of 2017. I expected them to be good and for Mum to enjoy it, but I didn’t anticipate quite how much. They were brilliant and Mum had a great time. We drove up to London together and spent a whole afternoon moseying around the O2. It’s huge! I wish I’d known how much it contained before we travelled. We were able to have Nando’s and spend the whole afternoon browsing everything else the O2 had on offer. After we were through security, we were taken straight to the front of the queue and let in quickly. Due to my haste to just get Mum some tickets for Take That, I hadn’t secured us very good seats, in fact they were the last row! But Mum didn’t seem the slightest bit bothered. She seemed to love the whole night. She was singing and dancing to every song. When I booked the tickets, I’d hoped it would be good and she’d enjoy herself, but I couldn’t have imagined how much. We got band merchandise and they sang all the best songs. What more could I have asked for? Even more than that, I had a rare opportunity to just spend some time with my Mum. Having a little sister and Dad means that is a real rarity but I do enjoy it when it happens.

Another opportunity for a just us day came 4 months later when we headed to London again, this time to see my all-time favourite band live. In 2011, whilst sitting in a Land Rover on its way to Salisbury with four people who mean a lot to me despite how little we talk these days, I was fully introduced to Train and to what will always be my favourite album of theirs, Save Me San Francisco. Ever since, I’ve collected every album of theirs I can find and loved them. So when I booked the tickets, I couldn’t have been more excited. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for Mum, who had only agreed to come because I needed someone to drive me and someone to be there with me. But even she still says they were amazing and she thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Once again I’d underestimated how much there would be to do once we reached London. This time, we were destined for the Hammersmith Apollo, a place I’d seen many comedian play on Tv. The Apollo was surrounded by loads, including two shopping centres. So Mum and I spent a few hours browsing everything before we had to queue to get inside. Once again, we were rushed straight to the front of the queue and got in a lot faster than others. I was even able to buy Train merchandise, something I hadn’t found before then. I got a T shirt with the tour dates on and a zip-up hoodie with them printed on too. Even I couldn’t have hoped Train to be quite as amazing as they were. Making my night perfect, they sang my all-time favourite song of theirs, Parachute. Mum managed to record loads of great videos, which I now forever have to replay one of my best nights of the year.

Of course it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention Zena a bit when talking about my 2017. She shaped the whole first half of my year. In January, I was excitedly anticipating her arrival and in February I was training and qualifying with her. March, April, May and June were spent trying to keep our partnership afloat and finally admitting it wasn’t working out. July was spent wishing she wasn’t gone and wondering if I’d done the right thing. By august, I was back in contact with Guide Dogs, asking to be assessed for one of their dogs. And I’ve spent the last few months working as hard as I can to learn new routes so that I’ll be enough for one of their dogs. It is true, I’ve become obsessed with being a Guide Dog owner, but now I think it is all for the right reasons. Zena gave me that. Although she never should have been a guide and I’m now thrilled shes retired as a pet, she showed me I was right all along: guide dog mobility is my favourite and best way to be independent. I’m now doing things I wouldn’t have dared to before zena and so although the whole having her is a bittersweet part of the year, overall I’m glad it happened. I got the opportunity to be mummy to a beautiful doggy for 5 months and in return she taught me the best ways to look after, groom, feed, walk and love a dog. When I evemtually get another guide dog, I know i’ll be able to put everything, good and bad, that she taught me into being a much better owner and dog mummy. I just hope that, wherever she is now, her new family are looking after her with the best care and loving her like I did. Because although we had a lot more bad than good, I love that girlie more than I can put into words. I know, though, that when I eventually get matched with a Guide Dog, it’ll be a much better partnership than Zena and I could ever have achieved. That, more than anything, is why I’m glad I didn’t persevere with Seeing Dogs and am persevering learning new routes with my lovely My Guide volunteer. The end result will be what I want and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Ive also managed to see my sister Imi twice this year and both times we had great fun. Josh and I have been meeting up weekly since early this year. We’ve also added more comedians to my seen live list: Shappi Khorsandi, Jon Richardson and Jimmy Carr were all incredible. Josh and I also went to see Lucy Spraggan live and saw her a second time with Imi up north. Ive continued to play cricket for Hampshire VICC and even got awarded “man of the match” for one of the games I played. Kieran and I have been lucky to see each other as much as we have due to my qualification with Zena and his gaining employment. That’s our dedication to each other. In 9 days time, we’ll have been a couple for two years. We’ve had the best times and I’m hoping 2018 provides many more.

Already, it is looking like 2018 is going to be a year full of great things. We are already booked to see Shappi Khorsandi and Kevin Bridges again. Josh and I will also be adding John Bishop to our seen comedians list. In June, the four of us (Josh, Imi, Kieran and I) are going to have what promises to be one of the best nights of our lives seeing Ed Sheeran live in Newcastle. I’m hoping perhaps 2018 may be the year I finally go to Anfield to see Liverpool play.

But the biggest thing that is going to happen to my family is scheduled for the 2nd of February. My big brother, Grant, who moved away almost 13 years ago has now found a lovely lady to settle down with. Along with her two gorgeous children, Grant and his girlfriend now have a lovely little house and in February, four is going to become five. I’m going to be an auntie to a niece, who I can assure you I will spoil. Grant and I haven’t really been close for years and I wanted to rectify this. So in September, after a lot of talking, I went up to stay with the little family for a weekend. That was then I wholeheartedly new how excited I was about being an auntie. Because not only will I gain a baby niece in February, my brother’s first born and my dad’s first grandchild, but I have a new honorary niece and nephew. Grant’s girlfriend’s children are adorable and I’m blessed that she’s adopted me as their auntie Paige. I couldn’t have hoped for more. So in 2018 I intend to be spending a lot of time in Stoke-On-Trent with my nieces and nephew.

Lastly, my progress with my studies has been constant this year. I haven’t had any wobbles about changing course or quitting. Ive completed K118, my second Level 1 health and social care module just how I planned to and moved onto Level 2 with K217 and K240, achieving good scores in the first assignments for both. In 2018, I hope to continue steadily with both until I finish and pass them before moving onto Level 3 in october and starting my final two modules of OU study. By this point in two years, I hope to be sitting here with a good level degree and employment. But who knows?

So 2018 looks like it’s going to be a good year. I hope all of my family and friends remain healthy and hope 2018 brings good things for everyone, too. I’m hopeful, if I work hard on my routes, that I’ll get on the Guide Dogs waiting list sometime next year too. I’m not over ambitious, I don’t expect to have a new dog by this time next year. But you never know. I hope that I get to spend lots of time with all those who mean the most. And maybe, this time next year, Mum won’t be working and we can bring 2019 in together. Maybe.

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“Alexa, play Christmas songs”…

On the 22nd of last month, with my huge rucksack on my back, I was dropped off at the airport by my parents so that I could board a plane to fly to Newcastle to visit Kieran and family. Like last time, there were weather warnings in place and there was pretty bad turbulence during the flight. When we landed and disembarked, I discovered that it was pouring with rain. I thought it was funny how, every time I travel to Newcastle, there is always some kind of weather issue, whether it be raining when I arrive or a severe weather warning be in place at the time I’m due to fly. As I was leaving the aeroplane, the cabin staff stopped me, a little baffled as a man who also required assistance had just left the aircraft and the assistance mini bus had driven away. Hurriedly, the cabin staff radioed to find out what was happening, asking why I hadn’t been collected as well. Apparently, the assistance staff weren’t aware there was more than one passenger requiring help. Quickly, the mini bus rushed back to us and the staff helped me on board, apologising profusely for the mistake. The thing that annoyed me about the situation was that I had ensured my assistance was booked for the whole journey and, as I found out on the short journey from the plane to the airport entrance, the other passenger had not. His wife remarked that they weren’t used to this kind of luxury but were very much enjoying it especially considering the rain. Thankfully, at the airport entrance, the wife offered to guide her husband while the member of assistance staff who had arrived to help guided me. Kieran and his parents were waiting in arrivals for me and it was great to see them again despite the fact that I was a bit soggy from the rain.

When we arrived at theirs, Kieran and I took my luggage straight upstairs. Then, when we came back down, it was time for dinner: a tasty pasta bolognese with garlic bread on the side accompanied by entertainment of Master Chef and Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Good-ish.

On Thursday, Kieran had a day off. It’s always nice when I fly up to stay that he has the first day I’m there off so that we can spend it together. After a long lie in, showering and getting dressed, we went down for breakfast, which turned into a lunch of butter milk chicken thighs and chips cooked by Kieran. The chicken was a new find by Lesley, which Kieran really enjoyed; I thought it wasn’t bad. During the afternoon, we watched episodes of Judge Judy and caught up on missed I’m a Celebrity. When Lesley and John came in from work, we decided to go out for dinner and to my favourite place in Blyth: the Italian restaurant Sambuca’s. Of course, I didn’t even need Lesley to give me a recap of the menu when we arrived. I just checked that the tuna and garlic pizza was still available and, when she confirmed it was, had my order right there. This time, nobody had starters, just mains and drinks. Kieran ordered pizza too, a meat feast pizza with added chilis and mushrooms, which he said was nice. When we got in, we watched Master Chef with Lesley and John before going upstairs to watch I’m A Celebrity on the plus 1 channel.

Friday saw Kieran back to work but Lesley’s day off. We got up at 6am because Kieran was being picked up early by his work colleague. While Lesley did housework, I started on my uni work. I was hoping that my stay up north would provide endless hours of study opportunity just like it had for the beginning of both modules in September. Friday proved that it just might as I managed to do a whole week’s worth of the online activities for K217. I’d decided to focus on K217 because it had an assessment deadline a lot closer than K240. K240 didn’t have one until February, by which time K217 would have another. Plus, the deadline was scheduled for four days before Christmas so I needed to make sure I wasn’t going to be late for that one. Studying over the festive period didn’t sound like much fun. A little later on, Kieran’s grandparents arrived for their usual Friday cup of tea and a chat. It was nice to see them again. After they left, Lesley made lunch of cornbeef sandwiches and chip stick crisps. A little later on, I went out with Lesley to do a little bit of Christmas shopping. It was absolutely manic in the shop, making it quite difficult for Lesley to maneuver me and the trolley through the tight spaces down the aisles. Not long after we arrived home, Kieran was dropped off. We went upstairs and listened to Pink’s new album Beautiful Trauma. Later, we went back downstairs and Kieran bought everyone takeaway: he had a donner and chicken mixed kebab and I had donner meat and chips. While we ate, we watched Man Down, Have I Got News For you, Gogglebox and The Last Leg. I hadn’t seen Man Down before and found it very funny. It’s already on its fourth series and Kieran said I would have to watch the others so that I could understand the full story. We went upstairs and decided to watch some comedy, settling on Sarah Millican’s Homebird live, which sadly we fell asleep partway through.

Saturday was cooked breakfast day. Lesley cooked for everyone before taking John to the train station so that he could go to the Newcastle match. Upstairs, Kieran tested out his new Hi-fi. During the afternoon, he listened to the Newcastle vs Watford match on his radio, which ended 0—3, while I did online Christmas shopping and read a book through Overdrive. Later, Kieran put the Liverpool vs Chelsea match on the telly for us to watch. At half time, we went with Lesley to meet John at their local pub The South Beach. While we were there, Kieran gave me the earphone to his little radio so that I could continue listening to the Liverpool match, which ended in a 1—1 draw. When we arrived back, Lesley served Spanish chicken, jacket potato and peas for dinner. We watched The Chase and The Likely Lads with Lesley and John before going upstairs and watched Russell Howard’s Wonderbox. It has my favourite sketch in it about the lion who speaks. Russell Howard puts on a brilliant accent and says `I … am … so … cold` and `David Attenborough came to see me and I did not roar`.

On Sunday morning, we had a long lie in. After showering and getting dressed, we went downstairs and had cups of tea. While Kieran did things on his laptop, including sorting through his 178 unread emails, I did more online Christmas shopping; we had Judge Judy on in the background. Lesley cooked a really delicious roast pork with mashed potato, broccoli, carrots and Yorkshire puddings. Later on, we went upstairs and watched some I’m A Celebrity. Also, Kieran had a shave ready for work. We listened to a bit of Famous Five Go To Treasure Island through his Echo and ordered dessert from my favourite ordering option Buzz Bar. I don’t know if it is a northern thing or if I just live in the wrong part of the south but in Blyth you can order dessert through Just Eat or Hungry House. I chose a dairy milk with flake added in milkshake, a slice of Malteser cheesecake and a slice of cookie dough tower cake. I planned to save the slice of cake to eat during the day on Monday. Kieran chose a dairy milk and milky bar milkshake, a slice of Victoria sponge cake and a bottle of Irnbru. However, not long after I’d placed the order, a phone call came to say that they’d ran out of Irnbru so Kieran had coke instead. We ate our pudding downstairs in the dining room while watching more I’m A Celebrity on the ITV Hub on Kieran’s Ipad. Then, we went back upstairs and listened to some Kistory before watching more I’m A Celebrity.

Monday meant everyone was back to work and I was back to studying. I didn’t actually do any online work but looked over the study planners and assignment timetables so that I knew what I was up against and could make a plan of how to tackle things. Afterwards, I caught up on episodes of East Enders and The A Word on Iplayer. Lesley had left me some cold pork sandwiches for lunch so I had them and the rest of my cookie dough cake, which sadly wasn’t very nice. I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to my book on Overdrive. When Kieran came home, we went upstairs and listened to Paloma Faith’s new album, Architect, and then some more of the Famous Five book. We had dinner of pie, chips and beans for dinner and watched The Chase and The Sheriffs Are Coming before going upstairs and watching I’m A Celebrity and listened to more Famous Five.

Kieran worked from home on Tuesday which meant I had some company. Lesley had bought a box of Weetabix for me to have for breakfast so that was what I had on Tuesday. While Kieran worked, I studied more towards K217. For lunch, Kieran had sandwiches and soup but I just had the sandwiches because I didn’t feel like both. Then, Kieran’s grandma came to take him to his maths class. While he was out, I read more of my Overdrive book. When Kieran came home, we went upstairs and watched some Judge Judy. We had mince and dumplings for dinner. Kieran listened to Newcastle vs West Brom which ended 2—2 and then we watched Manchester United vs Watford which had a final score of 4—2, Family Guy and Master Chef.

I decided to have a day off studying on Wednesday. I just didn’t feel motivated to do anything. Instead, I caught up on East Enders, Holby City and The A Word on Iplayer before reading some more of my book. I had my soup from the day before for lunch. That night, we had ravioli with chorizo for dinner. I was very sad to discover that my absolute ravioli that only Lesley buys is no longer made. But it was all right in the end because the replacement ravioli she’d bought was nice, too. While we ate, we watched Master Chef before going upstairs because they were watched Peaky Blinders. We watched I’m A Celebrity.

Thursday was another day of lacking study motivation for me. It’s really annoying when I feel like that because I’m fully aware of looming deadlines and the need to stay on top of things. Instead, I read more books and had more soup for lunch. When Kieran came home, we went upstairs and listened to some more Famous Five. For dinner, we had chicken and mushroom pie, mash and broccoli for dinner. We watched Master Chef and The Chase before going back upstairs and continuing listening to Famous Five.

Somehow, Friday the 1st of December had arrived. This meant that Kieran put Christmas music on as soon as we were awake. While Lesley took him to work and I started on K217 study, I listened to Christmas music channels on the telly. Later, Kieran’s grandparents came round for their weekly chat. Lesley made lunch of chopped pork sandwiches. I read more of my Overdrive book for the rest of the afternoon before Kieran came home. Lesley agreed to take us out so we could go on a date night. We agreed on Frankie and Benny’s because there were some deals on and it was one of our good places to go. While we enjoyed date night, Lesley and John had a Nando’s next door. We ordered drinks of a coke and a Sam Adams beer. Then, we chose starters of mozzarella sticks and Louisiana hot wings. Kieran chose a meat lover’s burger with chips and I had a New York Giant’s pizza with a side of garlic bread to share. Afterwards, Kieran had a Long Island iced tea cocktail and I had my favourite pudding of warm chocolate brownies with salted caramel sauce. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy the pizza as much as I’d hoped to. I’ve always loved their garlic bread and Kieran said their pizzas were made on the same base so I assumed I’d like them equally; but I just didn’t. The sauce wasn’t very nice, either, and it just put me off. Kieran enjoyed his burger very much, though, and the other parts of the meal made it up for me. Once indoors and feeling very full, we watched Gogglebox, Family Guy and The Last Leg with Lesley and John.

On Saturday, Lesley and John went to the races while Kieran and I stayed at theirs. After we’d showered and dressed, we listened to the first half of Newcastle vs Chelsea on Kieran’s Echo upstairs. Then, we went downstairs for breakfast: Kieran having sausage sandwiches and me sticking to Weetabix because I just didn’t fancy sausage. We caught up on I’m A Celebrity and I had a banana and Kieran had a Gregg’s festive bake as snacks. I listened to the Brighton vs Liverpool match, which ended 1—5. After that, we watched the Arsenal vs Manchester United match which had a result of 1—3. When Lesley text to say she and John were staying out and having a meal, we decided to order takeaway; Kieran chose a chicken special kebab with chips and I had donner meat and chips. We agreed on onion rings to share and because we’d spent over a certain amount, we got a free cheesy garlic bread. I added a doctor pepper, too, but Kieran said he’d have something we already had in. The food was lovely. We watched Jack Whitehall’s Netflix special At Large, which was very funny. When Lesley and John came in, we watched some Family Guy and then went upstairs to listen to some more Famous Five.

Sunday was a lazy day for Kieran and I. However, Lesley spent the majority of the day putting up Christmas decorations. For lunch, I had a mini pie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps. I read some more of my Overdrive book. Then, we went upstairs and listened to more Famous Five. We went downstairs for dinner and I had breaded chicken with waffles while everyone else had curry. We watched Man Down and Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Good-ish. Then, we retreated back upstairs so that Kieran could have a shave ready for work and we could catch up on I’m A Celebrity.

Kieran was back to work on Monday and I started work on my second assignment for K217. Afterwards, I caught up on East Enders and started watching Employable Me. When that was finished, I listened to some podcasts. Later, after Kieran came home, we went upstairs and continued listening to Famous Five. For dinner, we had jacket potato with bacon and beans and watched The Chase. Then, we went upstairs and watched the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special because Lesley was watching Strictly. Once that was finished, we browsed which films were audio described on Netflix before watching I’m A Celebrity.

Tuesday meant another day working from home for Kieran. While he worked, I took more notes for my assignment. Then, while Kieran was at maths, I listened to some more podcasts. When Kieran came home, he wasn’t feeling very well so we went upstairs and listened to Christmas music. We had chicken and chips with peas, gravy and crusty bread for dinner while watching The Chase. To help himself feel better, Kieran ran himself a bath while I listened to Lucy Spraggan on his Echo. Afterwards, we curled up together and watched I’m A Celebrity.

Sadly, Wednesday arriving meant my last day in Blyth for 2017. Kindly, Kieran had decided to have the day off so that we could spend it together before I left. Before we got up, we listened to Christmas music. Then, Kieran had crumpets and I had toast with a Sports Direct mug of tea for breakfast. We watched Master Chef and one of Kieran’s favourite episodes of Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Good-ish while munching through a box of whine gums. We went back upstairs and had cuddles while listening to Ed Sheeran’s Divided By and then Paloma Faith’s Fall To Grace on Kieran’s new Hi-fi. Once Lesley was home, we went downstairs and had tea of sausage, chips and beans. John came in a little while later and had his and we watched The Chase. After that, I made sure I’d packed everything and then we bundled in the car and headed for the airport. John had Dire Straits on in the car and it was the first time I recognised music from his Ipod!

Soon, though, we were at the airport. Checking in was easy and then at the assistance desk Lesley rang for help. They arrived not long after and it was time for the worst part, goodbye. Some might think, after saying goodbye countless times now, Kieran and I would be used to it, used to the fact that our relationship is based on distance. But I can speak on behalf of both of us when I say it never gets easier. In fact, I’d say it’s getting harder. In January, Kieran and I will have officially been together two years. In some ways, it doesn’t seem that long ago but in others, it feels like we’ve been together much, much longer. I know without question that I’m blessed to have had these two years with Kieran and I’m hopeful we’ll have many, many more. I’m just certain he feels the same.

As always, to Lesley and John, all the thanks in the world for having me, for the laughter and the fun, all the meals in and out. I always appreciate you putting up with me and look forward to coming back one day soon.

Kieran, there’s far too much to say. Thank you for everything but mainly for being my person. I love you more than I can say and I can’t believe we’ve almost had two years together already. I hope you and the whole family have a super Christmas and I can’t wait for our gift exchange tonight at midnight. I hope, one day, we won’t be almost 300 miles apart during the festivities and can open each other’s presents on Christmas morning like you’re supposed to, rather than over FaceTime in the first moments of Christmas morning. One day, there won’t be any distance. But for now, I wouldn’t change it for the world. When we decided to do this almost two years ago, we knew what we were getting into and what it would mean when you went home. Truthfully, it’s been great and we couldn’t have hoped for better. I never expected anything as good.

Oh and Lesley, you can ask Siri or Alexa or anyone you feel like to play Christmas songs now, it’s passed the 1st of December!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 2

After the success of my first My Guide session, I was feeling positive about my second meeting with Jenny. At 9:30am on Thursday she arrived at my door ready to set out on our long walk into Woolston. I had my Trekker Breeze and wired Aftershokz in place ready so we headed out. It was chilly but not raining and not as windy as the week before. This week, I’d decided to try the route with my cane with Jenny following and instructing whenever necessary.

As I’d anticipated, I didn’t remember much of the route from last week. Then, Jenny had guided me and I’d been concentrating on recording all the necessary landmarks into my Trekker Breeze. But Jenny didn’t seem to mind at all.

We took the outward route at quite a slow pace so that hopefully I’d start absorbing some information about the route. My Trekker Breeze did quite well at alerting me when we needed to cross roads. But Jenny and I did notice that it missed a few of the landmarks we’d recorded last time. To fix this, we recorded more landmarks whenever it seemed necessary.

The coldest and most difficult part of the route was walking along the shore. It was quite hard for me to hear Jenny talking or my Trekker’s prompts. Thankfully, as soon as we turned away from the shore, the wind lessened.

On the way, I didn’t feel like I was retaining much of the route. Hardly anything was coming back to me from the week before. My hands were absolutely freezing holding my cane and there were times when I considered stopping and letting Jenny guide me, just until I could bend my fingers properly again. But I kept going. There were little bits and pieces that came back to me from the week before as we walked, landmarks that jogged my memory or little sections of pavement that reminded me where I was.

But I was thrilled when we got onto the Main Street of Woolston. Jenny and I agreed to go for a coffee to warm up and Jenny took me into a little coffee shop she recommended. Even though I go to Woolston often, I didn’t even realise it existed. Jenny had a coffee and I had a luxury hot chocolate with marshmallows but without the cream. It was lovely, but huge, and I burnt my tongue. Jenny said her coffee was nice too. I though the prices were quite reasonable too; my luxury hot chocolate was £2.30 and it was a good size. I told Jenny how I thought this shop would be quite handy on cold winter days if I walked into Woolston. I told her how I could imagine walking down into Woolston with my furry pal and popping into the coffee shop to have a hot chocolate and thaw out from the icy weather. There was plenty of space ideal for a Guide Dog under the table we sat at too.

When we were finished, we headed back out to do the reverse route. This time, I felt it went much better. I felt I remembered quite a bit more than the outward journey and Jenny seemed quite pleased too. It was still chilly though. Not as freezing as it had been but chilly.the walk along the shore was blustery again and I found it difficult to hear Jenny and my Trekker Breeze. Although we recorded the whole route and then the reverse route, the Trekker didn’t follow all of the route correctly. I don’t know if it thought we’d gone a different way or if there was an easier way to go according to its maps but there were parts when it told me to turn around and that I’d gone off route. Jenny assured me we were going the same and right way.

I was pleased to reach my front gate simply because my hand felt like it had frozen in place on my cane. Ive never used a cane for that length of time solidly before. It felt like a good accomplishment, though, and definitely a step in the right direction. Jenny seemed please with how the session had gone and definitely the route on the way back. I was pleased that I’d retained even some of the route. I hadn’t expected even that.

Jenny and I agreed to meet for our third session the following Thursday at the same time of 9:30am. I’m hoping that my third session and second session doing the route with my cane will be even more positive than the first was. I’m hopeful that I’ll have retained even more of the route and that the new landmarks we programmed into the Trekker will be more accurate and useful. Maybe Jenny and I can even have another hot drink in the nice little coffee shop. Anyway, its all very positive currently and I’m more than happy with how things are going. Although there hasn’t been much so far, I’m happy with the little progress I have made.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 1

My first My Guide session took place last Thursday. Jenny had rang two weeks earlier to arrange everything but as I’d been going away to Newcastle for a fortnight, we had to postpone until I was home. Originally, we were going to meet at 10am and had agreed to start work on my best route idea: the long walk into Woolston, which is the nearest little shopping street. It’s also where my dad works and features several fish and chip shops, a Co-op, a Lidl and a 99p store to name a few. I estimated that the route would take 40-minutes to an hour to get there and the same return. That’s double the length of current routes I have and I couldn’t think of anything better to get started with. In the end, Jenny phoned me on Thursday morning to say that the weather was dismal and how did I feel about rearranging for the afternoon? I already had a meeting scheduled with my employment adviser for a review of things but decided to cancel and reschedule that for My Guide as not much progress has been made on the employment front and I felt learning new routes needed to take priority.

So at the rearranged time of 1pm, Jenny turned up at my house and kitted out in our raincoats and decent footwear, we headed out. It was still a bit blustery and Jenny said the clouds looked as if they could rain; but the weather report was positive, suggesting we might even get some sunshine. As long as we didn’t get thoroughly soaked and the wind kept at bay enough for me to hear Jenny talking, I didn’t mind.

The route, as I’d predicted, took just over and hour. It was lengthened a bit by me programming everything into my Trekker Breeze and Jenny figuring out which ways were best to go. Overall, I thought the route was great! I mean, its going to be hellish for me to learn, but its great for the end result. It’d get me out of the house for 2 hours just walking to and from Woolston and that’s without stopping off at any shops or for lunch or anything. Another added bonus to the way Jenny has decided to go is that it actually passes right by the entrance to The Archeries Park, another destination on my routes-to-be-learned list. This means that we are tackling two of my priority destinations in one go. In learning the route to Woolston, I’ll easily master the route to the park. In fact, I’ll have learnt the route to the park before I manage the whole way into Woolston.

On Thursday I programmed the whole there and return routes from Woolston, landmarking anything either Jenny or I thought was relevant to help me learn the route and orientate myself. When we arrived in Woolston, we popped into Dad’s shop and said hello. That is my main motivation for learning how to walk into Woolston. If I can walk there, I, and any future furry companion, have had loads of exercise and hard work and so can meet up with Dad and even get lunch together if we fancied. There’s a very tasty bakery in Woolston so what better way to work off the calories of a doughnut than an hour’s walk home? Plus, the little convenience store and 99p store sell very tasty doggy treats and toys. There couldn’t be a better reward for a hard working companion than a tasty treat or new toy to play with once we got home. Also, my grandparents take my elderly great-Nan into Woolston each Tuesday to get her pension and have a coffee and cookie in Subway. They always do a little bit of shopping and its nice to get out of the house and join them. Even if I caught the bus there, there’s no reason I couldn’t walk home, especially if I had a furry guide by then. A little further away than Dad’s shop is my doctor’s surgery and pharmacy so if I just had to pick up or put in a prescription, it’d be nice to lengthen the trip out with a long walk. Having the option of the walk as well as the bus is just a nice possibility.

I feel it is going to take me a long time and many many sessions to learn the Woolston route. But Jenny seemed quite positive and enthusiastic about helping me so I’m really hopeful that were going to have a really good My Guide partnership.

As well as starting to learn new routes, I have also been placed on the list by HumanWare for a new Victor Reader Trek unit in the new year. These are £545 plus £10 postage so to afford one I have sold my Victor Reader Stream and Trekker Breeze. Kindly, the man who has bought my Trekker has consented to me keeping it until I have my VR Trek up and running and all my routes and landmarks transferred. Kieran has agreed to help with that when it arrives because apparently the software needed is very fiddly.

Right now everything is quite positive. I had news from Zena’s new owner a few weeks ago saying sadly she had to let Z go too for reasons of her own. Zena is now living with a family she boarded with in the past as a pet and has been withdrawn as a Seeing Dog. Although I was sad for the lady who had her after me, I’m mostly pleased that Zena has been withdrawn as a Seeing Dog. I think she will have the life she so clearly needed with a family as their pet. I always said she’d make an excellent pet for someone. Sadly, I’m not in touch with her new owners but I hope she has the life she deserves.

My next My Guide session is scheduled for tomorrow. Jenny is meeting me at 10am and we’re going for round two of the Woolston route. Last week, Jenny guided me so I could concentrate on recording all the necessary landmarks. Tomorrow, I’m going to start doing it with my cane and Jenny following and directing me. The plan is to do the whole route with my cane over and over and hopefully I’ll start retaining it. If not, we’ll split the route into chunks and learn it that way. I just hope Jenny is patient!

Mobility update: the outcome of my Guide Dog assessment

Since i last wrote a mobility update, quite a lot has happened. Last time I wrote, I’d had my mobility assessment with the instructor from Guide Dogs and she’d told me she felt I was more than ready for the next part of the assessment, where a GDMI [Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor] would come to my house and talk everything dog related. She advised I’d probably have to do a short handle walk, a walk where I hold the harness and the instructor walks as if they’d dog, and I command as if they are the dog. I felt a bit nervous about this as, 6 years ago when I had my first guide dogs assessment, that was one of the things they picked up on: that I wasn’t particularly vocal with the dog. At the time I was 14 and terrified; I was desperate for a guide dog for all the wrong reasons and absolutely heartbroken and gutted when, predictably, they told me I wasn’t ready yet. But I felt confident after this assessment; the woman had been more positive than I could have hoped she’d be. She said my mobility had come on leaps and bounds since she assessed me a year ago and that I’d finally done what she needed.

Unfortunately, at the next assessment, in mid October, things were very different. The tone of the whole thing was completely the opposite of that which I’d been thrilled about in July. The lady had filled me with so much hope and anticipation, which I hadnt dared to have before considering my previous negative experiences with guide dog assessments. Of course, in hindsight now I can absolutely understand why they made the decisions they did and I respect that; but I was so joyfully hopeful this time. Friends and family had been wholeheartedly encouraging me that this time, at last, I’d get the answer Ive been dreaming of for so long. Due to their unwavering certainty and the positive vibes I’d received after the assessment last time, I was quietly confident too, secretly hoping I’d get exactly what I was wishing for this time. But it didn’t work out that way. When the assessment started, we did a lot of talking; it was the instructor from the last assessment, a new GDMI I’d never met before and myself. Right from the beginning I was nervous; of course, even before they arrived I was nervous but as soon as they were in my lounge, an uncertainty I hadn’t had was with me. Once all the talking was done, during which I’d pretty much told them the full story of my experiences with Seeing Dogs, we went out for a route walk. As soon as the instructor asked, I knew things weren’t going as I’d dreamed; she wanted me to show them the route to the gym, which is my longest route and the one I learnt with John and Zena during our training and which became mine and Zena’s most used route. Slightly panicking, I grabbed my Trekker Breeze, praying they wouldn’t ask me to do it without it, and programmed in the route I needed. Thinking about it now, I might have been able to do the route without the Trekker – I did it so many times with zena – but I didn’t really want to take the risk. Plus, the difference doing the route with Zena and doing it with a cane is staggering.

The route went relatively well on the way there. They didn’t interupt or ask anything additional of me so I was able to concentrate on where I was going, with the additional landmark reminders from the Trekker as backup. They were reassuring and I was so glad I’d taken the risk of grabbing the Trekker. When we reached the gym, we immediately turned back around and headed home. On the return journey, I did do a short handle walk; it was terrifying. It’s so different from actually having a dog on the end of the harness and commanding a GDMI who is currently assessing whether you’re good enough for a dog you know 100% you want and need.

When we got home, they told me the verdict. Of course I wasn’t ready for a guide dog yet. Of course I dint have enough routes. My workload was nowhere near enough for a young lively new guide dog. I didn’t go out anywhere near as much as I needed to myself to enough different places to be ready for a dog. Secretly, I’d been expecting these comments. Although everyone else had been overly positive, a little secret part of my brain had been dreading they’d say all this. What came next was what I hadn’t expected. They had received comment back from Seeing Dogs, from John in fact, discussing my partnership with Zena. John had basically said that he thought I’d given up too soon, that my handling hadn’t been right and that due to my lack of routes Zena had gotten bored and therefore the partnership had crumbled. But according to him, if I’d tried harder or persevered longer, it would have all worked out. What I was experiencing was merely teething issues which every new partnership experiences for the first year after qualification. In a nutshell, it was my fault and I shouldn’t have quit. When I defended myself, trying to explain the severity of the issues I’d faced and the lack of support from the charity I felt I’d experienced, the GDMI said that I could experience any or all of these problems with one of their dogs, that usually many new owners do face these problems at the beginning of the partnership. I tried to counter that I didn’t feel the frequency of the occurrence of the problems were as bad with all new partnerships to what I had with Zena. Ours was pretty much a daily struggle with no high points.

They explained that due to my lack of routes and the comments from John, they had concerns about putting me forward for a Guide Dog. They explained again that I could experience any of the issues or even all of them with a new dog and because I’d given zena back, how would they know that I’d persevere with a new dog? Of course they didn’t actually say it like that but that was the message. Also, I needed to consider whether a dog was for me. They said that they felt I’d been given many opportunities to improve my amount of routes and hadn’t taken them. They said that of course they could appreciate there were two sides to every story where mine and Zena’s partnership was concerned but they couldn’t pretend that John’s report hadn’t given them worries.

So they left me with two options to think over. They said that if I felt after all this that actually a guide dog wasn’t for me right now I could close my application and reapply at a time when I did feel a dog would suit my lifestyle. Or, if I wanted, the instructor would put me forward for a My Guide application again and I could spend time working on my routes to create a large enough workload for a guide dog. The instructor said that if I chose My Guide then she’d contact the leader of Southampton’s My Guide service immediately so that I could be put forward for a new application. As before, she complimented my much improved long cane skills, saying how much more confidence I seemed to have whilst using it than she had seen the previous year. The GDMI added that I’d done a really good job correcting my own orientation errors along the route and that she felt it was a really good route. We did a lot of talking about how many routes I have. I explained how since the instructor had assessed me the previous year, I’d learnt a lot of new routes: the gym route (30 minutes there, 30 minutes back), the library route (a really recent learn, 20 minutes there and the same return), the routes on the bus both into Woolston our local small shopping street and into our main city centre, the route from Woolston on foot to my doctor’s surgery and pharmacy, and the locations of several shops both in Woolston and the city centre. Over the last year, I’ve personally felt I’ve made massive leaps and bounds in my mobility independence. I had a guide dog and despite the fact that she wasn’t a Guide Dogs dog and wasn’t the best working dog, she meant that I did my level best to leave the house daily more than just to put the rubbish out. This, for me, is huge! The addition of all the new routes is even more amazing progress. In 2016, it took me several months to learn the route to the local shop which is 5 minutes away from my house. But since then I’ve learnt routes that are lengthy, or lengthy in my book. Nowadays, I regularly meet up with my friend Josh, catching the bus into the city centre and going for lunch with him. That’s usually once weekly. And then most Tuesdays I take the bus into Woolston to have coffee and do a little shopping with my grandparents. Before Zena gave me that confidence, I’d never have dared.

This was all explained to the instructor and GDMI and although they seemed pleased that I’d made that progress, it was clear it still wasn’t enough. When discussing the My Guide option, we sketched out what I could accomplish with a volunteer’s help. We wrote out a list of routes I had in mind to try out and the lengths of each of them. Once we’d established this, the instructor and GDMI agreed that all of these combined would most definitely create a large enough workload for a guide dog but it was up to me whether I felt it was worthwhile putting that effort in, whether I thought creating that kind of work for myself was necessary right now and whether a guide dog would benefit my life. As they left, the instructor said to mull things over for a little while and let her know when I’d made my final decision.

To say I was crushed was an understatement. After all the hard work I’d put in learning new routes and still trying my best even after giving Zena back, I’d hoped I’d get a better answer than that. Right there and then, I couldn’t really think or feel anything, except shock that it hadn’t gone better and at what John had told them. As promised, as soon as the women had left, I ran upstairs and rang my sister Imi. In all of this guide dog mess, I have always had three solid figures in my life who I could rely on for sound advice and honesty. Of course my parents and wider family have been supportive too but the three main people, without whom I wouldn’t have pulled through all this, are Imi, my wonderful fella Kieran and my ex cricket captain and all round blindy hero Tiny. Of course, being Guide Dog owners themselves, Imi and Tiny have a whole host of knowledge and experience about Guide Dogs to fall back on when helping me out. As for Kieran, well, he’s my rock and always there for me no matter what, even when I’m wrong. The support of these three people in my life is utterly priceless to me and I can’t reiterate often enough how I wouldn’t have gotten through the worst times along this journey so far without them. Hence why Imi was my first port of call. To be fair, all she got when she answered the phone was a sudden gabbled statement of “I haven’t got enough routes and I’m not ready” before I burst into uncontrollable sobs. I say this not to be dramatic but because it was true. Poor Godwin probably thought things were a lot worse than they were because I don’t think shes ever heard me cry like that. Haltingly, I managed to tell her the full account of the morning’s events. The parts we focused on were the open option for My Guide and what John had told Guide Dogs in his report about me. Imi couldn’t believe how horrid he’d been; she saw mine and Zena’s partnership with her own eyes when we visited her in April so knows first hand how bad things. We’re. In fact, it was she who alerted me to some of the issues I hadn’t realised we were having. Eventually, we summarised that I needed to think what I wanted but that the My Guide offer was a fair one and definitely one I should take if I wanted to pursue getting a dog. However, I was so messed up about the whole thing that right there and then I wasn’t sure what I wanted. After everything John had told them, my worst fears seemed to be coming true. Maybe I’d been a bad owner. Maybe I shouldn’t have a guide dog. Maybe I didn’t need a guide dog and was again making up reasons why I should have one. The only solid argument I had for this theory was that however bad mine and Zena’s partnership had been, it improved my life dramatically. I was leaving the house with confidence and feeling good about my mobility. Yes, we had mountains of issues and these in the end made me decide that the partnership couldn’t work, but if nothing else, Zena proved how much guide dog mobility can enhance my life. That, above all my other insecurities and worries and uncertainties, makes me positive sure a guide dog is for me. At the end of mine and Imi’s call, I wasn’t feeling much better. But I was trying to take her level-headed logic and calmness on board.

Later, I spoke to Tiny on the phone. He was equally surprised about the outcome of the assessment. Above everyone else, he’d seemed the most certain for me that I’d get the answer I wanted. But as always he is my voice of reason. He knew what I needed to do before I really did. He knew I needed to reapply for My Guide, get all the routes I had in mind under my belt and then go back to the instructor and show what I’d accomplished. With all the routes I had in mind, I’d surely have a big enough workload then. He said that what John had said was unfair. He told me to give everything a lot of thought, at least sleep on it, before I decided what I was going to do. But we both knew what I was going to do. Tiny is always right.

As for Kieran, well, he was my comfort blanket, he said all the things I wanted and needed to hear. Over the following few days, gifts of my favourite sweets arrived in the post: 3 large boxes of Cadbury’s milk tray, a big bag of jelly tots and a box full of packets of love hearts. Although unnecessary, these gifts fulfilled their purpose; they cheered me up. Kieran hasn’t always fully understood my motives for being so persistent about wanting a guide dog. But he understands now;he knows for me a guide dog is my preferred mobility aid and that to me guide dog mobility feels almost natural, an extension of my arm the way his cane feels to him. And so his support is unwavering.

After giving it some thought and taking everyone’s comments on board, I’d made my decision. Like I’d thought that day on the phone with Tiny, I knew I was going for the My Guide option. Guide dog mobility improved my life that much that I felt giving up now wasn’t an option, especially when there was an open door of help to enable me to be ready for a guide dog available. Why would I slam that door? It’s the only available avenue to getting a guide dog left to me. I took the cheater’s way out with Seeing Dogs and look where that left me? Missing a dog that I loved with all my heart but who just wasn’t cut out to be a guide and who I’ve had nothing but abuse about from the charity she came from. I don’t regret having Zena in my life and I never could but the backlash and consequences of that that I’m now facing somethimes make me wonder whether it was worth it. The only positive I really got out of it is proof that guide dog mobility is the right thing for me. The pleasure of having Zena as my companion for 5 months was obviously a massive bonus and she taught me loads of vital dog ownership lessons, mainly to be patient when things aren’t going your way.

With Imi’s help, I sent an email to the instructor stating what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to reapply for My Guide with the sole aim of learning all those routes we’d outlined in the meeting to then be reassessed for a guide dog. We also asked for clarification on just how many routes I needed to learn to have enough to form a decent workload for a dog. It was agreed that the ones I had in mind plus the additional ones I already knew would be enough. While I’d been thinking all this through and corresponding via email, my dad had already volunteered his services for helping to teach me routes. He already had one in mind: the route from home to a news agents. It takes a good 35-40 minutes to walk there from home but it builds on my existent route to the gym. Over the following few weeks, dad taught me this route as promised and I realised it was a very valuable route to have. Not only was it just an extension of an existing route I know solidly but it is also a convenient little shop to go to and it also passes a big park, perfect for free running. In fact, it’s the very park John and I used during training to free run Zena. I stopped using it because it became too much of a distraction for her whilst working on route to the gym. I felt this was a big accomplishment of mine and dad’s because really I’d learnt the routes to two new places. Although only additions to the existing route, still two new destinations and quickly learnt and memorised.

I was quickly contacted by the leader of My Guide, who did the application there and then over the phone. As soon as she’d completed the online form, she said she already had a volunteer in mind and could she come the following Wednesday so I could meet them and decide whether I thought she could help me. This took place in mid November. The lady’s name was Jenny and she’s helped others learn routes in the past. We discussed what I needed to do and then did a little walk outside. We just walked to the local Co-op and then came back. Jenny and I both said we were happy to work together and she seemed quite optimistic about achieving my route aims, the leader said she’d phone back in a couple of days and check with each of us that we were happy to go ahead and then fill out the appropriate paperwork so we could get started. A week later, she contacted us both by email to say we were a successful match and could start work together. That very evening, Jenny phoned me to arrange our first session. We agreed on the 7th of December at 10am with the plan to start my first new route, the longest of them all: the big walk into Woolston.

So eventually, the result was positive. I was matched with a volunteer swiftly and a plan put in place for me to learn new routes that would build up into a big enough workload for a guide dog. My aim currently is to take 6 months to learn all the routes I need. I’m not the quickest at picking up routes but am hoping 6 months will be long enough for me to be competent and confident with all the routes outlined in mine and Jenny’s action plan. That is the aim. Then, I’d like to be reassessed by Guide Dogs shortly afterward and then put forward for the waiting list. I hope by persevering with this and learning all these new routes that I can prove to Guide Dogs and anyone else that I’m committed to being a guide dog owner and committed to making any future partnerships I’m lucky enough to have the best they possibly can be. If all this hard work doesn’t show that I’m totally serious about owning and working a Guide dog then I don’t know what will.