All posts by A5Paige

About A5Paige

I'm 20, from the South Coast of the UK, registered blind and just feel like rambling... An open university student working towards a BA Health and Social Care degree; loyal Liverpool FC fan; pretty lousy computer user. Follow me on Twitter @A5Paige or subscribe if you fancy being updated with my babbling

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!

Advertisements

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.

“Taser him!”: my 3 weeks up North

Sadly, my Open University 5-month holiday has come to an end. But I was really lucky to be able to spend the last three weeks of it up north with Kieran and his family. Since I found out last year that I’d been matched with a dog from Seeing Dogs, I knew that I probably wouldn’t be visiting them up north for a while. I knew training would take near to a month and then I’d be settling into a new partnership. A lot of Guide Dog owners had warned me that the first six months of the partnership would be crucial bonding time and time spent getting used to being a team, so flying might not be the best idea. Of course, things with Seeing Dogs panned out a lot differently to how I expected them to and so I haven’t been to see Kieran since January. I’m very lucky that Kieran is lovely and whilst I trained with and got used to having Zena, he travelled down to see me. The eventual aim was always to take her up north so that I could visit Kieran and introduce her to new surroundings. But we never got that far and since she left in June, I’ve been busy trying to sort out all other aspects of my life. But at long last a visit to Blyth arrived and again, I had a very lovely time.

This visit was a bit different than the last three in that all other members of the household except me were employed and going out to work during the week. That meant that Lesley had to trust me to stay in her house and not wreck the place. This also meant that I needed to find something to entertain myself with during their working hours. Luckily and coincidentally, both my new open uni module websites opened on the fourteenth of September, two days after I flew up to stay. Having the websites open when they did meant I managed to get a really good head start on my modules. The courses didn’t actually start until 7 October but all work material was available to start studying from since the fourteenth of September. Although of course I went up north to spend that time with Kieran, having nothing else to do during the days really was beneficial for my studies. It means that now, in the first and actually introductory week to the modules, I’m five weeks ahead and starting an assignment for one and preparing to start note taking for the other. I couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the academic year.

On Tuesday 12 September, after double-checking that I’d packed everything I’d need for a three-week holiday into my huge rucksack, I grabbed my Trekker Breeze and headed for the bus-stop. Dad was still working in Wolston and so I needed to meet him at the end of his work day so that we could quickly pick Mum up from work and then head for the airport. At the airport, Mum took me inside and to the check-in desk and then across to the special assistance desk, where I was told that there were already people waiting for me in the departure lounge. For this flight, I was going to be joined by Kieran’s grandparents who had spent a little while down south visiting Kieran’s aunt and family. I was through security very quickly and soon with Kieran’s grandparents. Not long after I arrived, assistance came to help us all on to the plane. It wasn’t one of the nicer flights I’ve had; it was very turbulent and in the months that I hadn’t flown, I’d forgotten just how loud the plane was. Thankfully, my earphones and music volume turned up to maximum drown out most of the plane’s droning.

When we landed, we were helped off of the plane and on to the mini bus that drove us to the entrance into the airport. Assistance left me with Kieran’s grandparents and we made our way to Lesley and Kieran who were waiting in arrivals. On our way, we dropped Kieran’s grandparents off at their house. Once indoors, it was dinner time and Lesley had made a really lovely cottage pie. We spent the evening watching episodes of The Chase and The Force Northeast.

Wednesday was a good day. Kieran had booked the day off so that we could spend my first day together. Naturally, we indulged in a late lie in. Once we were up, showered and dressed, we went downstairs and agreed on fish fingers and potato waffles for lunch, which Kieran cooked. He also gave me a Sports Direct mug of tea to go with the food, which was really nice. It was a lazy day spent in the lounge watching Judge Judy. That evening, we had fish cakes, chips and peas for dinner and watched The Chase, Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away and Paddington 24/7. Lesley baked her always lovely banana cake and we all had a slice while we watched telly.

Thursday was my first day home alone while everyone else went to work. It did feel strange dragging myself out of bed at just after 7am so that Kieran could get ready for work. Of course, I could have quite easily stayed in bed while he went to work for however long I felt like but I didn’t feel like being lazy and thought getting a head start on uni work would be more than a good idea. Before they left for work, Lesley gave me a detailed tour of the kitchen, even offering to leave a travel kettle out so that I could make tea more easily. Also, I was informed that there was a mug of carrot and coriander soup in the fridge. It was one of those plastic microwaveable mugs and definitely made heating up and drinking the very tasty soup easier. Later, Kieran arrived home earlier than usual and we watched some Nightmare Neighbour Next Door upstairs before coming down and having ravioli for dinner. Since being reintroduced to ravioli by Lesley one of the previous times I stayed, I’ve being hunting around at home trying to find similar stuff that I can have regularly. We’ve bought various different packs of ravioli but they haven’t compared to the stuff Lesley cooks. So having it on Thursday night was definitely a treat, especially with the added chunks of chorizo mixed in and the side of garlic bread accompanying it. We watched some more of The Chase and then Master Chef.

Friday was a new experience for me. It was Lesley’s day off. While she did lots of housework, I did uni work. In the morning, her parents arrived for their weekly cuppa and chat. Later, I was treated to an afternoon snack of more banana cake and a cup of tea. Just after 4pm, I went with Lesley to pick Kieran up from work. On the way, we chatted about Kieran’s childhood and I learnt quite a lot about the little person he once was.

That evening, Kieran and I had our first date night in a long time. Kieran had decided that he wanted it to be a totally independent date night so we were going to travel by taxi. Despite Lesley and John’s many offers to drive us, we stuck to Kieran’s decision of taking a taxi and had a nice driver who even helped us into the restaurant. We’d agreed on Beefeater after the amazing meals we’d enjoyed at Hereford’s branch. Kieran had booked a table earlier in the day and the service was phenomenal. We were taken to a table that seemed to have been specially selected for us because Kieran had added a note explaining that we were both blind. We were both given a copy of the Braille menu to browse. As it was date night, we decided to go all out on the food. For starters, Kieran had a prawn pan and I had potato dippers with cheese and bacon topping. Then, for main meals, Kieran had a stack burger with chips and I had a chicken melt with fries and a side of garlic bread strips which we shared. Finally, for pudding, Kieran had a strawberry frozen yoghurt with real strawberries and I had warm chocolate brownie with ice cream. Kieran’s only disappointment with the pudding was that it didn’t come with any fresh mint. When we were finally finished and the food had been paid for, Kieran ordered a taxi to take us home. Our waiter guided us to stand outside the restaurant so that we could be easily spotted by the taxi driver. When we’d been waiting quite a while, the waiter reappeared and asked whether we’d like to wait indoors and they’d keep an eye out for the taxi for us. Thinking it wouldn’t be long, we said we’d continue to wait outside. A car pulled up but nobody made a move to speak to us. We assumed that, as no one had called to us or come to get us, it couldn’t be our taxi. But the waiter came back outside and said there was a taxi there. So we moved towards it and got in. Almost from the moment we got into the car, the journey was wrong. The driver checked where we were going and asked Kieran several times for directions despite the obvious fact that he would be unable to give them. The car had a strong smell of smoke and also of drugs. As we reached Kieran’s area, the driver asked again for directions so Kieran used Google Maps to try and help locate his house. Kieran’s directions didn’t seem to be matching up with the way the driver was going. But he told us we were outside the right house so we got out of the car. It was quickly apparent that we weren’t in the right place. We wandered along the pavement with Kieran trying to find a familiar landmark with his cane to orientate us. As I could hear the car crawling along beside us, I shouted over to the driver to ask for directions to the front door. He just said we were there and after watching us for a little longer, drove off. Eventually, as Kieran couldn’t find anything at all familiar, he rang Lesley, who, after checking out of the front door, confirmed we weren’t on the street in front of the house. Eventually, through looking Kieran up on Find My Friends, Lesley realised that we were at the back of the houses and, in slippers, came to rescue us. It was a pretty traumatic way to end a really lovely evening and also a bit of a dampener on Kieran’s enthusiasm to use taxis and be independent of his parents. When we tried it in Hereford, it was so successful and being independent of parents always makes the date nights that little bit more special. So having it spoilt by that taxi driver was definitely a down point. To say all our parents were fuming was an understatement; Lesley promised that she’d be sending in a complaint first thing on Monday morning. To cheer up our evening, we went upstairs and chose Russell Howard’s Wonderbox DVD to watch.

The weekend was nice and relaxed. On Saturday morning, we had sausage sandwiches (in buns) for lunch before spending the afternoon watching football. John had gone to the Newcastle game so Kieran was keeping a close eye on that. Meanwhile, I was listening to the Liverpool match, which ended in a draw. Kieran was happy, though, because Newcastle beat Stoke 2—1. For dinner, we had a really tasty Greek lamb dish with new potatoes and cheesy broccoli. We spent the evening watching Gogglebox and then 8 out of 10 cats does count down, which John fell asleep through. He woke up for the beginning of Match Of The Day but was asleep soon after. Kieran tried to wake him up when the Newcastle game came on but it didn’t make much difference.

On Sunday, we took a trip out for dinner. We went to The Commissioners for a roast. I had pork with roast and new potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, carrots and lots of gravy. It was lovely. We spent the afternoon in the lounge and I read a book on Ibooks. Later, we went upstairs and agreed on watching Educating Yorkshire, which was shown four years ago. I remember watching some of it at college with Imi but the details were vague. As Educating Greater Manchester is currently on TV, we thought it would be good to catch up on previous series. Educating Yorkshire was very funny. We were also treated to one of my favourite things about staying at Kieran’s: Sunday night toasties! It was cheese and ham and it was delicious.

Monday was another uni day for me. Lesley left me cheese and ham sandwiches for lunch and Rebecca was home so I had a bit of company. We had beef gravy sandwiches with chips in gravy for dinner. It was very tasty. Afterwards, Kieran and I went upstairs to continuing watching Educating.

Tuesday was a bit of a mixture day. In the morning, Kieran worked from home so again I had some company. We sat together, him working and me studying, in the dining room. We had Gregg’s chicken bakes for lunch and Kieran’s grandma came to drive him to his maths class. While Kieran was at Maths, I spent the afternoon doing more uni work. When Kieran came home, he fixed some of the problems I’d been having with my laptop. Later, for dinner we had one of my favourite meals that Lesley cooks: her amazing jacket potatoes with Spanish chicken and peas. It’s the jacket potato that’s my favourite but the Spanish chicken and peas were good too. Afterwards, Kieran and I retreated upstairs to watch more Educating.

Wednesday and Thursday were a mixture of uni work, food and telly. On Wednesday, I worked on K217. In the evening, I had a shower and washed my hair while Kieran watched some Family Guy. Then, we went downstairs and had spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread for dinner and watched The Chase and Master Chef. Then, Kieran and I went upstairs to watch the final episode of Educating Yorkshire.

On Thursday, I worked on K240. In the evening, we all went out to Sambuca’s. I’d been hoping for this because they do my favourite tuna pizza. I can’t find anything similar down south and had missed it over the months I hadn’t visited. So of course I had the tuna and garlic pizza. I didn’t fancy a starter but Kieran had fish cakes. For his main, he had a meat feast pizza with chilies. When we got in, we watched Educating Greater Manchester and then Celebrity Juice.

Friday bought another day off for Lesley and again the weekly visit from her parents. I did more K217 work in the morning. For lunch, I had a slice of cheese and onion quiche, not homemade but still lovely, and then a pot of diced melon. I haven’t had melon for ages and it was really lovely. Later, Lesley and John left for a weekend at the caravan which meant Kieran and I had to fend for ourselves. Of course, this meant we were going to treat ourselves to takeaway. We agreed on pizza; I had a donner meat pizza, because it was necessary that I try one seeing as I’d never experienced it before, and Kieran had a meat feast pizza with meatballs on. We accompanied this with sides of potato wedges, cheesy chips and mozzarella sticks. The food was delicious but as always Kieran and I ordered far too much. While we ate, we watched The Simpsons and then Travels With My Father, the new series on Netflix by Jack and Michael Whitehall.

On Saturday morning, we were reluctant to drag ourselves out of bed so we watched several episodes of Judge Judy. Once we were finally up, showered and dressed, we went downstairs and agreed on sausages and potato waffles for brunch, which Kieran cooked. We watched the Master Chef final and then Sky Sports news to keep up-to-date with the football scores. Later, we watched the Liverpool vs Leicester game. Although we’d agreed on Chinese takeaway for dinner, whilst browsing on Hungry House, I’d discovered that up north you can order dessert takeaway. I am a pudding person and couldn’t resist this. So, while we watched the football, we ordered dessert. I chose a sticky toffee cake, a cream egg brownie and a banana and peanut butter milkshake. Kieran, not as much a pudding person as me, chose a strawberry cupcake, a vanilla milkshake and a glass bottle of Irn Bru. Sadly, the lady from the dessert place, Buzz Bar, rang to explain that they don’t stock cream egg brownie all year round because it’s a seasonal thing. So I chose a Snickers brownie instead. It is safe to say our pudding was delicious. Even Kieran was impressed with his cupcake and milkshake.

Once the football finished, Liverpool winning 3—2, we ordered our dinner. I chose sweet and sour chicken balls and chips while Kieran had house special chow mein with chips and gravy. We added spring rolls and special fried rice. The food was delicious but we definitely ordered far too much. While we ate our meal, we watched Reginald D Hunter’s In The Midst Of Crackers DVD, which was very funny.

Sunday’s breakfast was a funny mixture of food: I had the remainder of my toffee cake and brownie, a strawberry yoghurt and a little pie and Kieran had a little pie and some of the leftover sausage from Saturday. Later, when Lesley and John were home, we watched the Newcastle vs Brighton game, which made the men grumpy because Newcastle lost 0—1. Afterwards, we watched The Big Bang Theory, The Force Northeast and Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away. For dinner, I had another lovely jacket potato and some chicken dippers while Kieran had the leftover rice and chow mein from Saturday with some chicken dippers. Once we’d eaten, we went upstairs so Kieran could shave his face ready for work and watch a movie. We chose Hot Fuzz because neither of us had seen it. Sadly, I must have gotten just too comfy because I slept throughout most of the film!

The next week was a mixture of uni work, food and telly. Monday brought K217 work and quiche and cheese and onion crisps for lunch. Then Judge Judy, Family Guy and a sad episode of Motorway Cops where a horse was hit by a car and put to sleep upstairs when Kieran came home followed by beef and gravy sandwiches with chips and gravy for dinner. We watched Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Goodish, Live At The Apollo 2016 Christmas special hosted by Romesh Rangernathan and featuring Seann Walsh and then a very funny episode of Gogglebox. Tuesday was another work from home day for Kieran and Lesley. We had quiche and sandwiches for lunch before Lesley took Kieran to his maths class. When he came home, we watched Judge Judy upstairs before enjoying mince and dumplings for dinner and watching The Force Northeast and The Chase. On Wednesday, I decided to have a day off uni work and instead watched Our Girl in preparation for the new series that the BBC had just announced. When Kieran came home, we watched Judge Judy and then had chicken pie, crochet potatoes and veg for dinner. We spent the evening watching The Great British Bake Off, The Force Northeast and Police Intercepters. As I’d been lazy on Wednesday, I made sure that Thursday was a uni work day; I worked on K217. When Kieran came home, we had music channels on the telly and it was decided that we’d have fish and chips for dinner. I had a large battered sausage and chips and Kieran had fish, chips and curry sauce. It was very nice. We watched Parking Wars and Educating Greater Manchester while Kieran downloaded some films. Then, we went upstairs and started watching Come Fly With Me, which is always very funny.

Friday brought Lesley’s day off but also a day off for Kieran too. We had a nice lie in before showering and going downstairs. By the time we went downstairs, Kieran’s grandparents were there. We had fish finger sandwiches for lunch. In the afternoon, Lesley made a really tasty orange cake. Rebecca bought us Nando’s in but they’d messed up the order. I thought that Nando’s take out was nicer than the meals we’ve had in Southampton’s branch. While we ate, we watched 8 out of 10 cats does count down. Later, Lesley and John went out to the races. Kieran and I watched The Chase and The Simpsons. Later, we ordered again from Buzz Bar; Kieran had a yorky and dairymilk caramel milkshake and another bottle of Irn Bru. I chose a banoffee cheesecake and millionaire’s shortbread milkshake, a white chocolate buttons cheesecake and a white chocolate cookie. As we were watching Come Fly With Me, Lesley called to ask Kieran to order them food because they were on their way home. They wanted pizza and kebab and it came with a free cheesy garlic bread. So as well as drinking our milkshakes, we ate the free garlic bread. I put the cheesecake in the fridge to eat later and tried the cookie but it really wasn’t very nice. When Lesley and John came in, we watched Gogglebox and The Last Leg.

On Saturday, we took a long drive to a place called Haggerston Castle. We had a long wander around the caravan site and Lesley told us about how she used to go there for holidays during her childhood. We had lunch in Mash and Barrels, the on site restaurant. Kieran and I both had chicken, bacon and cheese melt baguettes with chips. Sadly, the chips weren’t very nice but the baguette was tasty. When we got in, we watched the Chelsea vs Manchester City match, which Man City won, Celebrity Juice, QI, a little bit of Casualty, Dad’s army and Only Fools And Horses before going upstairs and watching Al Murray’s One Man One Guvnor.

On Sunday, Lesley made a cooked breakfast, which was lovely. Later, we watched the Newcastle vs Liverpool match, which was the first time we’ve watched our teams play against each other since we’ve been together; it ended in a draw. Once that had finished, Lesley took us to Frankie and Benny’s for our last date night. It was my last night up north and definitely the best possible way we could have spent it. Again, as it was date night, we went all out on food. Kieran had hot wings for his starter followed by a double cheese and bacon burger with pulled pork, onion rings and chips. He had Sam Adams beer with his meal and a Godfather cocktail afterwards. I had BBQ cheese and bacon potato skins for a starter and meatball penne pasta for my main. I had a coke to go with my meal but had finished that quite quickly so ordered a salted caramel fudge brownie milkshake, which was very nice. After my main, while Kieran had his cocktail, I had a warm chocolate brownie with salted caramel sauce and ice cream. I definitely thought I could manage more than I did because I wasn’t able to drink all of the milkshake and left a little bit of brownie. It really was delicious and one of the nicest meals I’ve had for a while. When we got home, we agreed on Chris Ramsey’s All Growed Up comedy DVD because it is hilarious.

Sadly, Monday meant my last day up north. In the morning, when we finally got up, we showered, dressed and then I packed all my stuff into my rucksack. We had a slice of toast each for breakfast and then I ate one of my remaining yoghurts and dug into the white chocolate buttons cheesecake from our order from Buzz Bar on Friday. I shared it with Kieran and it really was lovely. We spent the afternoon having a cuddle upstairs and listening to music. Lesley made us ravioli for dinner. It had bits of pepperoni in the sauce and was lovely. Afterwards, Lesley gave us a slice of orange cake each. Then, we gathered my belongings together and headed out the door.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was quickly checked in and Lesley rang through at the special assistance desk. We were told to wait for someone to come. It took them quite a while to come but eventually they did. That meant the goodbyes; I hate saying goodbye to Kieran because we’re never totally sure when we’ll be able to meet up again, especially now Kieran is working. After we’d said goodbye, the assistance man led me off to security. I was through security quickly and didn’t have to wait long in the waiting room before the man returned and led me to the mini bus. He came on to the bus with me and then led me on to the plane. I put my earphones in and turned my music up loud for the flight and thankfully it wasn’t too bad.

To Lesley and John: thank you for letting me come to stay and putting up with me for so long; can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. Thank you for the lovely meals, in and out. Thank you for such a nice time. PS: I did not pull down your sign…

And Kieran: as always, there’s far too much to say. Thank you, for everything, but mainly for being my person. I love you so much and can’t wait for when we can be together again. It was so lovely to see you enjoying your work so much; I’m so proud of you. You’ve done just what we said all those Tuesday afternoons at college spent imagining what life would be like out of the bubble. You’re not a statistic. For that, I love you more.

A mini break at Godwin Towers

Ever since the last time I visited, I’ve been wanting to see my sister Imi again. It’s a difficult sibling relationship given the fact that I live on the south coast and she lives very up north in Yorkshire. Before I went away to residential college [RNC Hereford] I never expected to be travelling the length of the country to visit a friend. But having a boyfriend who lives in Newcastle and a sister who lives in Yorkshire means this has become a pretty regular event. Travelling to York means a lengthy train journey whereas visiting Kieran in Blyth means a flight. I’m not sure which is preferable, really, except for the fact that travelling to Newcastle via plane takes an hour and twenty whereas a train journey to York takes a good five hours. It’s odd whenever I make that train journey to York because it feels strange to be travelling less miles but taking much longer to get there than it would for Newcastle. But every time I spend those five hours on the train is worthwhile for what awaits me.
This time when travelling to York, I had a companion. The last few times I’ve travelled, I’ve gone alone. But Josh, my favourite train buddy, was with me this time. The plan was to have a whole gang meet up but unfortunately Kieran couldn’t join us. Between them, Imi and Kieran had tried their hardest to make it so that he could join us, but it was decided that it was too difficult and impractical for him to come. I was pretty gutted as I really wanted the four of us to be together again. The last time we were all together as a gang was Christmas and that really seems a long time ago now. Plus, Imi hasn’t seen Kieran since then and Josh and I haven’t seen him since May. Although Christmas is considerably longer ago, three months is a really long time for me; since we got together, we haven’t gone so long without seeing each other. In fact, we’ve neever gone so long since knowing each other. It’s really strange and not particularly nice. Anyone who says a long distance relationship is easy is clearly a liar. There’s nothing easy about it at all; the only thing that makes it bearable for Kieran and I is the promise of seeing each other again and our nightly FaceTime conversations. But this post isn’t about us because sadly Kieran wasn’t there.
On Friday morning, after lots of planning and arranging, Josh answered I met at Southampton Central train station to get the train together up to York to see Imi. Our train was the 9:46 direct service to York. The direct trains are the best. Although having a change is sometimes convenient for refreshments and a toilet stop, direct trains usually mean you get there faster and there’s no faffing about in the middle. As a blind person, changing comes with the risk of sighted assistance not arriving to help transfer you to your connecting train. That in itself is a nerve racking experience so avoiding it is always preferable. Thankfully, on Friday we were able to do just that. Unfortunately, for a couple of hours during the journey, we had to sit separately. Josh had booked our tickets at different times because at first he hadn’t been sure whether he’d be able to stay the extra days like I was. Coincidentally, he was given holiday time from work so had days available to take. Of course,Imi and I were more than happy for him to join us for the whole stay rather than just the weekend.
Hours later, we arrived safely in York. As we were climbing down on to the platform, Imi and Mike appeared to collect us. The train station seemed to be bustling with people so I was very happy when we bundled into Mike’s car, ready to head back to theirs and settle in for our stay. The trip from the station to Mike’s house takes quite a while so we had plenty of time to chat and catch up.
As soon as we were in, we took our bags upstairs to Imi’s room and made the floor space our own. Like I did in April, I was to share Imi’s rather comfy double bed with her while Josh had the single air mattress on the floor. Imi had managed to make a pathway between the double and the air bed, which made it a little easier to get around the room. Once we’d deposited our stuff, we headed back downstairs where Mike had a pot of tea waiting. he’d bought apple juice specially for Josh; somehow, from what Imi had said, he’d inferred that apple juice was the only thing Josh drank. This made for many giggles and quiet jokes as it was all he offered Josh to drink. Not that Josh particularly seemed to mind. However, we were a little worried that the juice would send him crazy. Whilst at college, whenever Josh had apple juice, it always made him quite hyper. Some of the conversations had while he was “under the influence” of apple juice were completely bananas. It did make for a very fun time, though. Add to that excitement that we’d just disembarked from a very long train journey and Josh was seeing Imi again, after an 8 month separation, we really weren’t sure what hysteria to expect from him… Surprisingly, the apple juice had little to no effect on Josh’s behaviour, perhaps because he was already far too excited about his current situation

Around six-thirty, Mike served dinner; quorn spaghetti bolognese. This I’d been looking for ever since the last time I was treated to it, again at Mike’s when I stayed in April. Nobody at home eats any kind of quorn so I’m not privileged to have it all the time. Having it whenever I visit Imi is a real treat and a part of the stay I’m always hoping for. I wasn’t disappointed. The quorn bolognese was delicious! Imi served me a rather large helping and at first, when I noted how much she’d given me, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to eat it all. But I think I’d be able to eat and eat and eat quorn bolognese. It never gets old and not lovely. After serving our meal, Mike had said he was off out and to contact him if we needed him. It was quite humbling that he trusted us with his house and thought we’d all be safe and fine because we were together. Unfortunately, we may have ruined this delusion of his as not ten minutes after he left, as she carried our trays out to the kitchen, Imi dropped a plate and it shattered into fractions. Obviously, none of us have the skills, with our limited vision, to safely clear up jagged fragments of ceramic. At first, Imi asked Mike over the phone where a dustpan and brush would be. Instead, he advised her to just try and clear up some of the larger fragments that were easy to see and he’d do the rest when he came back later. But I was worried that she’d skewer her finger on a smaller piece or something so suggested she just leave it for Mike as none of us knew where a first-aid kit was located. We all agreed this was the most reasonable suggestion and settled in for a night in the lounge. Soon though we realised that not even attempting to clear up the debris, however potentially dangerous it would be to try, meant that we were unable to even go into the kitchen for a drink in fear of stepping on the pieces and doing ourselves harm. This didn’t seem so bad for a while, but then we realised Laila was really hungry and probably needed letting out to do her business.
In the end, Imi did have to ask Mike to come home. It was about 9:30 and we were all really thirsty. It seemed unfair to pull him away from his free time but also cruel not to be able to feed the dog. Thankfully, Mike was quick to come home and didn’t seem too bothered about our smashing of his crockery. He cleared up our mess and Laila was allowed her dinner. Although Mike seemed quite tired, it sounded like he’d had a nice evening out while we’d had fun at home.
The following morning, when we eventually dragged ourselves out of bed, Mike served us breakfast. Once we were ready, we bundled into the car and set off to Imi’s “favourite place on the planet” otherwise known as Burnby Hall. I wasn’t really sure what to expect apart from that we were going to be feeding fish. It was a really hot sunny day and definitely the right time to be outside. Imi bought us pots of fish pellets at the little cafe and then we went on a little walk. As we walked, she described the scenery around us and it really did sound beautiful. We stopped at first on a little platform and sat down on a metal bench. It was lovely to just be there. It gave you the relaxed feeling that there was no hurry to be anywhere else; it kind of took your worries away for a little while. I wasn’t thinking about how many emails awaited me and the voicemail on my phone that begged for my attention. Right there and then we could just be and it was just the three of us, together again at last, the way it all started at college almost four years ago. Later, we bought slices of cake from the little cafe to serve as our lunch. I chose a raspberry sparkly cake. It was delicious but very sweet and I was grateful for the free tap water on offer. We also did a lot of fish feeding there. You can sit right on the edge of the massive pond and through the pellets into the water for the giant fish to catch. If you put your hand in the water, the fish will come up to you and sucker onto your hand with their mouths. Feeding the fish was a lot of fun because every now and then they’d leap out of the water to get the pellets and soak us in water. Also, if you threw a large amount of the pellets into the water, the volume of noise the fish would make as they fought for food was incredible. At one point, Imi asked a man if he’d take a photo of the three of us sitting together on the grass with the pond in front of us. Instead of just doing it there in front of us like we expected, the man took her phone and went around to the other side of the pond and took photos from there. So there’s some really lovely photos of the three of us and Laila sitting together on the bank of the pond with it stretched out in front of us.
When we got back that evening, it was time for our girlie slumber party. We ordered pizzas from a place that Imi swore was better than Dominoes and set up a girlie movie to watch. We decided to start with the second Bridget Jones movie as Josh had only seen the first. You can’t get much more girlie than Bridget. While we watched, we ate our delicious pizza. Imi and I had tuna and sweet corn topped stuffed crust pizzas and Josh had a pepperoni stuffed crust pizza. After the second Bridget Jones movie had finished, we put on the third, Bridget Jones’ Baby. To add to the girlie vibes, Imi painted all of our nails. Originally, she did mine in pink that matched my Doctor Martens but I didn’t like it because it was a Matt paint so asked her to redo them. So they turned blue, coincidentally the same blue as the fleece sweater I wore the following day.

 

On Sunday morning, we had breakfast again before getting ready for our afternoon out. Imi had booked tickets for us to go to a folk festival in Hull at which one of our favourite singers Lucy Spraggan was headlining. There were also going to be two less known performers there one of which Imi liked a lot too. She had invited her friend Maria to join us primarily as our guide. Imi wasnt sure how well she’d be able to navigate the place so had enlisted sighted assistance. It was really lovely to meet Maria as Imi has talked about her loads over the years. The festival itself was great; I wasnt particularly fond of the first artist but loved the second and of course Lucy. It was a very different performance by Lucy than Josh and I experienced in Eastleigh when she performed with her band. We felt that she could have done with her drummer for a few of her songs as it added something extra special to the performance. But she was great nonetheless. The best part of the whole thing was the meet and greet. Not only did she recognise Josh and I, but Imi got to meet her. When Josh and I saw Lucy in Eastleigh, we’d wished Imi could have been there to share in the experience as she was the person to introduce us to Lucy at college and Lucy is her absolute hero. After the meet and greet, we all went to a little pub. I didn’t really fancy a drink so just sat and chatted with the others while they sipped at theirs.
On our way home, we popped into the local shop and Mike bought potatoes and chips to have for our tea. We settled on quorn burgers with oven chips and veggies. Mike did peas and sweetcorn so it made for quite a nice meal. Josh and I weren’t certain on the burgers. They had quite a different taste and the texture was interesting; I’m not sure if I’d particularly choose them as a meal again but they were edible and not like disgusting or anything. After the food, we just chatted for the majority of the evening.
Monday was of course bank holiday Monday so everyone was out in force. Originally, Imi had planned to take us to a beach where we’d be able to walk, as I’d hoped. But on our way Mike decided the traffic was too heavy and there was no way we’d be able to get there. So we had to go to plan b. Imi took us to a place that had a massive field area and then a woodland part. This meant a free run for Laila and pretty much a hike for us. For part of the woodland part, Laila swam in the lake and we had to walk on boards above the lake. As a totally blind person, this was definitely a test of trust.But thankfully I had my well trusted guide Imi to get us safely across. We were walking for quite some time and when we got back to the cafe we were all rather hot. On arrival back at the car, Imi discovered Laila had covered herself in a thick layer of green slime, definitely thanks to the water.
Next, we headed back to Burnby Hall. More fish feeding and cake was required. Kindly, Mike had given Imi money for our meals, which Josh and I were very grateful for. Imi and Josh decided to sample some of the mint airo cake they had on offer while I opted for a caramel slice, which, as I’d predicted, was exactly the same as a millionaire’s shortbread and therefore delicious. Sadly, Josh and Imi didn’t think much of their cake and when they’d had enough, with more fish pellets in hand we headed back to the pond to enjoy more fish feeding. It was a pretty hot day so Imi found us somewhere that was a bit shaded so that we didn’t melt completely. We were all soaked pretty quickly and Laila didn’t seem to want to settle. Plus, as she was covered in slime, Imi was eager to get her home and hosed down so as soon as we’d emptied our pots of food, we headed back to Mike’s car.
At Mike’s, Imi set to work cleaning Laila. She described the consistency of the slime as sticky and like it was growing in the dog’s fur… Overall, completely disgusting. But once Laila was washed in her fruity shampoo and sprayed with her doggy cologne, she smelt and felt lovely. Her fur was all bouncy and fluffy and the scent wafting off her was a perfume I’d be happy to wear! After Laila’s shower, it was our turns. Imi said she desperately needed one after getting soaked both at the pond and whilst washing Laila and also being covered in Laila’s acquired green slime. I wanted one because I needed a hair wash and getting into pjs of an evening is always a nice way to relac and wind down.
We agreed on Jacket potatoes with different fillings for dinner. Josh asked for cheese and beans while Imi and I settled for tuna sweetcorn mayo mix with a sprinkle of cheese. It was delicious. I don’t have jacket potatoes regularly nowadays after having to eat them almost daily at the college bistro simply because the rest of the menu was practically inedible so when offered a jacket potato nowadays I’m often skeptical about it. But Mike did well to remind me just why I love jackets; the tuna sweetcorn mayo mix topping really made it something else. I am and have always been a tuna lover but Mike really pulled it off. The sprinkling of cheese just topped it all off nicely. While we ate, we agreed to watch Angus, Thongs and perfect snogging, which is a film adaptation of every teenage girl’s favourite book series. The Louise Rennison books are every teenage girl’s wildest dreams come to life: a 14 year old girl meets a really fit boy and we see the chase unfold as she tries to grab him for herself. There’s a gang of best girlie friends, older girls who they totally think are slags and sad boring loser parents. Watching it as an adult is a strange and cringe-worthy experience. Reading those books at 14, every girl agrees with the main top girl Georgia. We all associate with her, envy her and basically want to be her. Many of the girls I knew even modelled their lives on the fictional top dog. But watching it now kind of makes you think Georgia is just a whingy complaining bitchy kid who, if she doesn’t get her own way, cries about it and plays nasty games until she does. It doesn’t really give us much hope for our younger selves; I just pray I wasn’t as bad as she’s portrayed.
After Angus, we moved onto Bridesmaids. I hadn’t seen the film in years, probably since we bought it at home on DVD. I remember it having funny moments but overall being terrible. Thankfully, watching it with Josh and Imi kind of revived it in my mind. It had far more funny parts than I gave it credit for and the cop male who the main character is falling in love with is pretty lovely. It was definitely good to watch it again and I’m pleased I can now hold it in higher esteem in my memory.
Sadly, the next day dawning meant the arrival of mine and Josh’s journey back down south. Thankfully, we had a bit more fun before the sad goodbyes came. Mike drove us into York town centre and Imi took us wandering through its streets until we came to the shop I’ve dreamt could exist for years. The Shop That Must Not Be Named is dedicated to Harry Potter merchandise. It really was a dream come true. After we’d queued for about half an hour, we were allowed inside this magical place. And that was where my bank balance decreased rapidly. There was just so much lovely stuff to buy. On the way in the car, Imi had done the sorting test quiz on me to determine which Hogwarts house I belong in; I’m a Hufflepuff just like she is. Some of the stuff I came out with was amazing. one example being the leather purse shaped as an envelope and embroidered with the Hogwarts crest, stiched so it looks like an envelope and printed with the address so that it looks like the original first acceptance letter Harry receives, inviting him to Hogwarts. I also gained a pendant of the symbol of the deathly hallows and it is made to look exactly like the necklace Luna’s father wore at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Finally, my third favourite purchase is my time turner; it is an exact replica of the one Hermione wore in The Prisoner of Askaban. It spins, turns over and has actual sand in it so functions just like the fictional one did. It is presented in a lovely wooden case so that you can display it if you wish; I feel that the case partially represents the mirror of Erised in The Philosopher’s Stone, making the whole thing even more special. The fact that my bank balance was considerably lowered by my spending spree didn’t matter. The things I’d bought were things I could either use or wear regularly; plus, there’s never not a reason to buy Harry Potter merchandise.
Eventually, when we left my favourite shop in all the world, we headed for Cafe Nero to get a drink. I had my usual salted caramel hot chocolate, Imi had a regular hot chocolate and Josh had a Diet Coke. We all went for the little brownies in packaging at the counter rather than asking for slices from the fridge.
Once we were refreshed in Nero, we headed on to paper Chase and WH Smith’s so that Imi could buy stationary supplies for the forthcoming year at college. Then, we headed into Lush, mostly to inhale the gorgeous aromas that shop offers. Before my Harry Potter binge, I’d intended to buy some tea tree tonal water Imi highly recommended I try. Since my balance was already lowered, though, I felt the indulgence of such a luxury could wait for another time. Imi had other ideas; she bought me a bottle of the tonal water and Josh a wonderful smelling body jelly. I was really surprised she bought us gifts and wished I’d insisted on buying her the colour changing Harry Potter mug she’d liked so much in the shop.
Unfortunately, once our Lush spoiling was over, it was time to get back to the car so that Mike could drive us to the station. At the station, we registered with the assistance desk before going to get ourselves a meal before our journey. Again, Mike generously gave Imi money to pay for our food. I opted for chicken nuggets, not really fancying a burger. Sadly, when we’d finished our food, it was time for Imi and Mike to go. The car only had an hour’s parking and the prices at stations like that are crazy. So we stood beneath the York railway station sign and had one last photo before hugging tightly and turning in opposite directions. It is always difficult saying goodbye not knowing when we’ll see each other again. It feels a lot more reassuring now Imi is safely out of hospital. Saying goodbye there was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced. And Miss Godwin, I have to tell you, even if you don’t see it or feel it very often, you’re doing bloody damn amazing, sis. When I think about what was happening three years ago at this very time, I can hardly believe you’re that same girl. I know I tell you all the time and you’re probably sick to your back teeth of hearing it, you are the bravest, strongest, cleverest, most amazing young lady I’ve ever met. Like you said last night, you’re a truly kickass blind woman and I’m so proud to know you, honoured to be your sister. I love visiting you so much and wish we could do it more often. If I was richer… But I promise I will see you soon. I’ll be there so much your dad will tell me to bugger off.
Thank you for such a great weekend, both of you. I’m lucky to have friends like you and it was the best way to spend the last weekend of August, the final bank holiday of the year. And I have to say, Godwin, you were absolutely spot on about those pizzas. A million times better than Dominoes. Lets do it again sometime, Yeah?

Four years

Four years ago today, my parents loaded up the boot of our car with my belongings, spread out the AA map and we headed off on the 150 mile journey to Hereford so that I could start college. I was 16 and excited about a new adventure. I was also terrified about leaving home. It had been planned for quite some time. 18 months earlier, we’d taken our first trip to Hereford to visit the college. It was so that I could decide whether it was an option for my future. After my very first tour of RNC, I had my mind set that there would be nowhere else. I was not going to local college; Hereford was my destination.

Four years on, it seems crazy that it is all memories. I left college over two years ago and have only returned because Kieran was working up there. It is safe to say that when I left two years ago I was more than ready to leave college. I wanted to be as far away from RNC as physically possible. A lot has changed since and hindsight really is a bitch. I would have done a lot of things very differently if I’d known how things would turn out. Thankfully, now I can be totally grateful for everything Ive gained out of going to residential college.

The best thing that happened because I was granted funding to go to RNC is the people I’ve met and the family I’ve gained. Because the three close friends aren’t just friends. Granted, one is now my other half but the other two are family. When we arrived in Hereford that Friday afternoon, we met another set of parents who were bringing their daughter to start her journey at residential college too. If only we’d all known then that she’d become my sister. Imi and Laila took up residence in the room neighbouring mine in our halls of residence and became a permanent resident in my life. I have written a lot about my sister over the years because she truly is an amazing person and I don’t take for granted having her in my life. Similarly, I don’t take for granted the continued presence of my good pal Josh. When we headed off to college with our then friend David, neither of us expected that ours would be the friendship that stood the test of time. David and Josh were going to be mates and do everything at college toget; I was just the third wheel. But after that very first week, that would change forever. Like Imi, Josh is a part of my life that I couldn’t do without and I am mighty pleased ours is the friendship that survived. And then of course there’s Kieran. So much that I could say about the friendship and now relationship we have. At first, he was Josh’s media buddy and just the stupidly clever lad who was in IT class and often set the task of fixing the never ending computer problems. But the more time I spent with him, the more I knew I wanted him in my life as a permanent fixture. When Josh kept inviting him to hang out with us, none of us could have known where it would lead. Kieran was there for the laughter, tears, triumphs and struggles. He supported me even when he knew I was wrong and watched my personality change as I entered into a relationship that became an engagement and changed my life. Regardless of the person I became, he continued to spend time with me and fixed any technical problem that occurred. The fact that we’re together now isnt a surprise to me on the basis of how we acted around each other and the amount of time we spent together. He really has been an irreplaceable friend and now partner. I count my blessings every day that I went to RNC, that mine and Josh’s friendship flourished beyond anything it was at school, that I gained a fantastic sister in Imi and that I now have an incredible fella in Kieran. I couldn’t have ever dreamt to be so lucky, but somehow I was.

Of course, it wasn’t just friends I was blessed with from college. I met many amazing staff members who helped me with so much. I came out of there with two C grade A Levels, an A grade AS Level and a pass at Level 3 BTEC. I was taught invaluable independence skills. Living in halls meant that I had to keep my room tidy, do my own laundry and make my own meals. Of course there was the canteen but nobody really liked eating in there. There were some lovely meals that they cooked but quite a lot of the time it was easier to cook our own food. Independent living skills gave me things I never thought I’d be able to do. I learnt how to make fresh meals. Cooking was something I’d never been able to do independently before.

It is amazing to think that that all started four years ago today. I honestly don’t know where the time has gone and I wish that I’d appreciated the place better when I was there. Granted, some of the things that really irritated me haven’t changed. If I went back now, they’d still frustrate me beyond belief. But I could have never gone to regular local college. Not because that means I’d never have had the friends I do or the independence I developed. But because they really couldn’t cater for someone like me. There was no provision in place for a blind person here. The majority of my local colleges even admitted that they weren’t sure how they would cater for me if I enrolled. Now, I could never take for granted the opportunities RNC gave me, especially because of the family I now have. I’m so glad Southampton gave me those two years of funding, that chance to grow into a completely different person. I wouldn’t have the life I do now if I hadn’t been granted funding. It was, without any shadow of a doubt, the best experience of my life.

So four years have passed since I started. So much has happened since. But today, four years exactly since my college journey began, I just wanted to write this little piece, thinking about how everything has changed since. Nothing would be the way it is for me now without RNC. If someone had told me four years ago that I’d regularly travel by plane and train independently up the country to see my other half and sister, I’d have laughed. Nobody could have predicted how much of an impact college was going to have on my life but god am I glad it did! So here’s to four years since college began. Here’s to the three amazing people I have in my life thanks to that place. Here’s for the qualifications I achieved that hopefully one day will be useful in securing me employment. Here’s to the times we shared, all the things we did. The fun was endless and the experience was priceless.

Mobility Update 27 July: Guide Dogs mobility assessment

Last week, I received a call back from one of Guide Dogs’ mobility officers to ask when I was available for my Guide Dogs mobility assessment. We agreed on this Tuesday, July 25th, at 10am. I was nervous even on the phone. The instructor who was coming out to see me was the lady who had dealt with my case before I contacted Seeing Dogs and who, at that time, said she felt then wasn’t the right time for me to have a dog and that I needed a lot of route training before I’d be ready. Then, we agreed on a My Guide partnership, whereby they’d match a volunteer to me to help out with whatever I needed, which in my case was route training. Unfortunately, before I was suitably matched to a My Guide volunteer, John from Seeing Dogs had told me that Zena was a successful match. Of course, as someone who has always desperately longed for a guide dog, I was hardly going to take the opportunity of more cane training over the offer of a dog. However, as I soon discovered on Tuesday, I was wrong to be worried about seeing this particular instructor again.
I knew I’d have to show her one of my routes and I hoped, even though she’s seen it once before, she’d be happy with the simple route to my local Co-op. Luckily, a lot of discussing was done before we set out for the actual mobility part of the assessment. Mostly, she wanted to know what routes I currently have and use, whether they’d improved since we last met and what had happened with Seeing Dogs. Before Tuesday, I’d had advice from everyone about what I needed to say in order to prove that I have enough of a workload now to need a dog and that having a dog for me works so much better than a long cane. I explained all about Zena and what had happened regarding Seeing Dogs. I told her that I felt there needed to be more support and that for me Zena was totally the wrong match. I tried not to linger over all this for too long, instead emphasising how often I used to take Zena out and all the places I could go to with her. I made it quite clear how much more confident I felt with a dog in place of a long cane and how I felt able to get out of the house whenever I wanted to. She knew, from interviewing me last time I applied for a guide dog, that this was all a massive improvement on where I was 18 months ago.
Even before we went out for the long cane demonstration, she told me that she would be putting me forward for a guide dog assessment. This is the next step towards actually getting a dog. An assessor comes out to your house and discusses everything to do with owning a guide dog as well as making you walk with the handle of a harness, to judge your reactions and posture I think. This is when you can specify whether you’d prefer a particular breed, colour or gender of dog. As I commented when she was explaining all this, I’m not going to be disclosing any preferences. As long as the dog is matched appropriately and correctly, I’m not bothered if its female or male, Labrador or Shepherd, or golden or black. As long as our partnership is based on professional judgement, it doesn’t matter what kind of dog I get.
I was really surprised to discover that the long cane part of the assessment went really well. The instructor said that all aspects of my mobility had improved massively and when we arrived back at mine, she said that this was what they needed, that she hoped I understood now why they had to say no last time. If she’d said no tis time too, I don’t think I’d ever had agreed with her. But I do; I get it completely. I needed more routes. I needed more confidence. And it’s John and Zena I have to thank for that. I don’t think I’d ever have accomplished it so well with a cane. The assurance I have that a Guide Dog is the right mobility aid for me has made me determined to have one; and I’d never have known that for sure without the 5 months I spent with Zena.
So the next step from here is the Guide Dog assessment. The instructor told me to wait 8 weeks to hear from someone. If time stretched on longer than 8 weeks, I am to contact them immediately to hurry them up. If I am successful at the Guide Dog assessment, I’ll be put on the waiting list for a dog. As a side thought, I asked if I’ll be able to have further help to learn routes while I’m on the waiting list and the instructor reassured me by saying I could. Although I’m happy with how much progress I’ve made with routes in the last year, I’d still like to add more to my growing list. The more routes I have, the more I have to keep a dog busy. It has to be said, though, that I couldn’t have hoped for more from this assessment. I was absolutely terrified about it before it happened and afterwards I couldn’t have been happier but more shocked about the outcome. There isn’t a better option than what i’ve come out of it with.
My homework, while I wait for my Guide Dog assessment, is to do the routes to the leisure centre and the library independently with my cane. I’ve never done this before so it’s quite a challenge to be presented with. I’ll do it, though, at some point. I’ve asked my dad to do the leisure centre route with me so that i can log it onto the Trekker Breeze before approaching it alone. It’s not that I don’t think I can do it, it’s just that having the Breeze as backup is a big reassurance. Anyway, as I have two months to get it done, I think it’s ok to take an extra precaution with it.
So I’m on my way towards getting my very own Guide Dog. One more assessment, which everyone seems quite confident I’ll pass, then hopefully a match, then training and then hopefully freedom, even better freedom than what I had with Zena. I’ve been warned that the Southampton waiting list for a dog is currently 18 months so it could be quite sometime before i get that freedom. It’ll be worth it when I do though. Next stop guide dog assessment.
I just want to thank everyone who supported me in the lead up to Tuesday and who greeted my amazement at the outcome with enthusiasm and positivity. I wouldn’t be in this position I am,having the confidence and determination to continue with the guide dogs application process if it wasn’t for your support. Lets hope that I can get through the Guide Dog assessment successfully and be put on the waiting list. I don’t think I’ll believe it’s true if I’m that lucky. But I’m hopeful, really hopeful that this time everything is going to work out in my favour. I mean, if Tuesday is anything to go by, I really am going to be very lucky.

Open Uni: K118 results day

Amazingly, I am already 2 months into my Open Uni summer break and that can only mean one thing: results day was looming. Our module result date was set to be the 19th of July and after assessment marks being released, module result day is the most tense part of the whole academic year. Even if all your TMA’s have come back with outstanding grades throughout the module, on results day you’re still sitting there with the horrendous possibility that you may have still failed the module. To pass a Level 1 module, you have to receive 40% or higher in your overall continuous score, which is all your assessment scores combined, and then 40% or higher in your examinable component score, which is either an EMA (examiner marked assignment) or a physical exam. The dread that somehow you may have completely messed up your chances of passing by performing terribly in your EMA hangs over you until results day. Of course, if you do grade lower than 40%, your whole module experience is ruined. The OU are slightly generous in that they give you roughly 6 weeks after results day to resubmit your examinable component, giving you the chance to pass second time around.
My results were released a day earlier than scheduled. For about two weeks prior to the due date, everyone was checking their emails and student home obsessively, certain that results would be out early. As it turned out, we weren’t wrong but they were nowhere near as premature as last year.
Not that it mattered. On Tuesday 18th July around 11am, OU results were finally available. I happened to be out and about when the first posts of ecstasy appeared on Facebook announcing the exciting news. Immediately, I logged onto student home using my IPhone, uncertain of whether the mobile site would actually show my results, and held my breath.
Pass. That was the first word that VoiceOver read to me. Pass. Then, overal examinable score: 75; overall continuous assessment score: 76. To say I passed the pass grade boundary is definitely an understatement with those scores. I was hoping for scores in that region, to be honest. My previous two modules, AA100 the arts past and present and K101 an introduction to health and social care, both received similar scores to what I’ve managed to achieve with K118. This of course means that my two level 1 modules have set me a good standard for Level 2 and 3 of my degree. Although i was hoping for scores in the 70s or higher, there was of course a very valid chance that I wouldn’t do that well. I could have perhaps not done well with the EMA and scored lower than the required 40, or maybe just scraped the pass. Neither of those would have satisfied me. There was no reason why I should do that badly. To grade lower than 40% would be a real disgrace for me.
So I passed. I have a third Level 1 module securely under my belt and a strong foundation to the basis of my degree. I can easily progress to Level 2 without any concern about Level 1. In October, I’m signed up to start studying two Level 2 60 credit modules: K217 and K240. I can’t remember the full titles of them right now, but one is based solely on mental health and the other is a continuation of the ones I’ve already been studying. One has an EMA and one has a proper exam. I’m already nervous about the prospect of an actual exam but a friend of mine, who is also VI, has reassured me by explaining how well the process went for him. He’s doing an OU degree in law and had to sit an exam for his second Level 1 module. I’d of course prefer to have EMAs for all modules, but I’m not sure that’s even possible. I think there is a way to do it, but that way you’d have to stick to a very specific pathway with your degree and I like the idea of choosing whichever modules I fancy regardless of the examinable component.
Another bonus to July 18th this year was that I noticed my student finance application for the academic year of 2017/18 has been approved. I’ve been allowed the full loan amount to cover both modules. To say I’m relieved is an understatement. Obviously, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be granted my full loan request as I’ve had no disagreements with student finance in the past. It is nice to know that my studies are paid for for another year, though. I can’t imagine trying to fork out that kind of money to fund my own degree. My full loan amount is under £6000, though, which is a lot less than the cost of studying at a regular university. It is nice to know that if ever I’m in a position to repay my loan, I’ll be paying a lot less than I would have had I attended normal university, especially as I don’t have to add accommodation and living costs onto that already hefty cost.
Yet again, I’m ready to start back studying. It is very strange having this much free time on my hands. With no uni and no Zena either, I really have nothing to do with my time. I miss having study and a dog to fill up the long hours during the day while nobody else is home. In October, it will be nice to have something to focus all my attention and energy on again. The idea of being busy with two modules is more of a relief than a fear. Although, when I looked at my assessment calendar on Monday night, I was a bit daunted by how many TMA’s I’ll be completing in such a short space of time. But I feel ready for the challenge. Just like the last 2 years of Open University study, I’m going to give it my best shot and am hoping to end up with as good if not better grades than I’ve already achieved so far. According to my sister, the scores I’ve managed in both K118 and K101 are equal to a first in degree pass grades. There’s no way I could have ever hoped for more than that. I plan to keep it at that high standard. If I can continue getting those kind of scores at Levels 2 and 3, I’ll be coming out of this degree with something I thought was impossible for me to achieve. A first in a degree is a pretty amazing achievement so if i can manage that, I’ll have surpassed all my academic dreams. That’s what I’m aiming for, anyway. Whether I get there is currently a mystery. But for now, I’m pretty chuffed with a high pass in K118. 

Mobility Update  13 July 

Since Zena left, I have been struggling to get back into a normal routine, adjusting to life without a guide dog. as I spent all my time with Zena — she even slept in my room — I’ve found it quite difficult to keep busy without her. the main thing I’ve struggled with is adapting to using a cane as my primary mobility aid. as I relied on Zena as my guide for five months, it is very strange to transition back to using a cane. the first thing I noticed was all the things I hadn’t had to think about when Zena was guiding me. Swinging a cane and finding every little detail along a route is a lot different than walking in the direction you know your route follows with a dog avoiding all the unnecessary details. The one thing Zena has taught me is that a guide dog is definitely my preferred mobility aid. Using a cane feels tedious and long-winded. Some people say that a long cane feels like an extension of their arm when it comes to being mobile. I feel that way about a dog. Some people have said that I criticised Seeing Dogs, their training and Zena herself. I have not. I quite clearly recognised how vital Zena has been in my journey to being independent. I will forever be grateful to John and the charity for giving me the chance of being Zena’s partner and for Zena for showing me that a guide dog is definitely what I want. However, when I signed my Seeing Dogs Ownership Agreement, I did so with the knowledge that Zena was going to be my guide and that if ever I felt she wasn’t fulfilling that purpose, I’d be able to contact Seeing Dogs and something would be arranged that was in the interest of both Zena and I. I felt that I tried every option available to me to make sure mine and Zena’s partnership worked and when I ran out of options, I did the last thing available to me. Some may feel that I wasted the charity’s time, effort and money. A lot of money, resources and time is put into every partnership they produce. But I feel that Seeing Dogs give people the chance of matching with their dogs with the full understanding that maybe the match won’t be successful, that some matches do fail. Therefore, I don’t feel that handing Zena back was a waste of the charity’s money. They gave me the opportunity that nobody else ever has, to learn that a guide dog is exactly the mobility aid I need. Having Zena taught me many valuable lessons, including how to look after a dog and how to function with a guide dog. Those things are invaluable. Anyway, even if the charity’s money was wasted on me, Zena was well looked after, loved a lot and will hopefully be matched to someone who she can help more than she could me. Moving on, this post wasn’t supposed to be a rewrite of my last post where I explained my decision to have Zena withdrawn. This post was to explain the plans I’m putting in place for future independence.
Last Thursday, I reapplied to Guide Dogs for the Blind. I wrote an email in which I explained that I’d like to apply for a Guide Dog again and also use the My Guide service to its full potential. The My Guide service is where a volunteer is matched to a blind person to help them get out and about more. As my way to learn routes is with a sighted person helping out, the My Guide service could certainly help me. I have been rejected from being put on the Guide Dogs waiting list for a dog twice before because it was felt that I didn’t have enough routes to form a good enough workload for a dog. Before I had Zena, I didn’t go out anywhere on my own. The only time I used my cane independently was while I was learning new routes and that was always with a sighted person following behind. Now that I’ve had Zena and she is gone, I will go out by myself with just my cane. Having the additional aid of the Trekker Breeze has so far been invaluable. It makes me feel safer in the knowledge that I can rely on it to tell me what street i’m on if I feel lost. Unfortunately, the overlap of Trekker and Zena wasn’t big and I wasn’t able to log all of the routes and locations I went to with Zena on to it before she went. I did manage to go to the local Co-op with Zena and Trekker, recording the route as i walked. The local Co-op is literally a couple of side road crossings and a corner turn away. It only takes me about 10 minutes to walk there with a cane. But that Co-op is incredibly useful and a very valuable little route to have in the bank. I’ve been lucky in that Guide Dogs have responded fairly quickly. I received a phone call from the Southampton office on Tuesday and went through the Guide Dog application form there and then. The lady on the phone said she’d send out the medical forms they need and forward my email to the mobility officers so that they could arrange a mobility assessment for me. Usually the first step is to attend one of their information mornings in branch but the lady on the phone suggested that was probably unnecessary for me as I’ve been to one before and been through the application process twice before. I agreed to this suggestion as I didn’t really see the need to attend another information session, especially as I’ve had Zena and now know what it is to look after a guide dog. Guide Dogs themselves have the added benefit that they cover food and medical costs. So in a way I’ve already had a bigger responsibility than I’d have if I was matched with a Guide Dogs dog; I wouldn’t have to add cost as a contributing factor to whether a guide dog is right for me. THe next step is to fill out the medical forms that came in the post today and get them posted off to Guide Dogs. I’m hoping i’ll hear back from them relatively quickly regarding a mobility assessment , My hope from there is that they will see that I have a need for a dog, offer me more help to learn routes with My Guide and find me a match., This time, I don’t intend to take no for an answer. I need a guide dog to be comfortably mobile and all i need to do is prove that to them.
I think I’ve dealt with Zena’s absence quite well mobility wise. I haven’t just sat at home every day feeling sorry for myself because my partnership failed. I’ve gone into Woolston twice to meet grandparents for lunch and taken myself into town on the bus to meet friends three times. I’ve also wandered up to the local Co-op by myself twice. The first time was just to get me out of the house but the second time Mum had given me the electric key and some money to put on it. It was good to have a reason to go out again. But that’s definitely the scariest walk I’ve done alone without Zena. I’m not really sure why it was so terrifying because if anything the Co-op route is the one I know the best. But it was horrible. I was sweating loads when I got home even though I was only wearing three-quarter length trousers and a t-shirt and it wasn’t even hot. I just felt so nervous. That’s where walking with a cane is so different for me. At times I felt nervous walking with Zena but those nerves don’t even compare to what I feel with a cane. That’s another thing that makes me know a guide dog is the right thing for me. The confidence I had with Zena despite our flaws as a partnership were incredible so the confidence I should have if I’m fortunate enough to be matched with a Guide Dogs dog who meets the requirements I have should make the confidence I had with Zena pale in comparison. I’ll be flying, I know it.
And that is exactly why I have to convince Guide Dogs. I and others around me saw the massive impact Zena had on my life so we can only imagine the changes a well-matche dog could have on my life. I don’t mean in the fairytale way of everything will be perfect and I’ll be able to go wherever I desire. I’m not that clueless. Zena has taught me that its hard work to have a guide dog and maintain a partnership. But if the dog and I were to work well together in a way Zena and I never managed, I know I would benefit hugely. Of course, if I’m exceedingly lucky and am offered both Guide Dog waiting list and My Guide opportunities, I’ll be able to build up my knowledge of routes while I wait for a dog, making the likelihood of a stronger more successsful partnership more promising. Obviously, I’m just dreaming there; I very much doubt that I’ll be offered both. If anything, I’ll be told I still don’t have enough routes, even though I’ll have proved to the best of my ability, and given a My Guide volunteer to help me learn more routes. But I’m trying to be positive. A lot has changed since they last told me to learn more routes. I’ve had an assistance dog, I’ve learnt new routes and it had massive benefits on my life. I’ve discovered truthfully that a guide dog is the right mobility aid for me and I have plenty of experience to use for a future partnership. I’m going to be stubborn about this. I know for certain it’s what I need and I know I can make a success of it if I’m given a chance. I just need that chance.
While I wait hopefully and impatiently, I’m going to do all I can to get as many solid routes under my belt as I can. I still have all the routes I could use with Zena and there’s always potential for more, especially as Southampton has the talking bus service. I’ve been logging all the routes I’ve been doing on to my Trekker Breeze and adding landmarks to its memory every time I go somewhere. All these little things will be helpful and build up to the bigger end picture that I’m hoping for. In thes next blogs focused on mobility, i’m going to write about every little detail of my journey with Guide Dogs, whether that be being lucky and being put on the waiting list for a dog or progressing with new routes with a My Guide volunteer. I want it all written down, i want to be able to look back in a few years and know I made good decisions regarding my independence. I feel like currently I’m making all the right decisions and doing my best to make myself independent. Zena and Seeing Dogs have been a great catalyst for my desperation to be independent again. I was desperate when I applied to Seeing Dogs but now I’m desperate in a whole new way; I’m desperate for something that I know exists, for something I know I can have given the opportunity. Somehow, I’m going to make this work.

The hardest, most thought through, heartbreaking decision I’ve ever had to make

So this time I have sad things to write about. Since January this year, I’ve had the pleasure of a four-legged maniac in my life. Her name is Zena and she’s been my guide dog. Until last weekend, I thought she’d be mine until she retired. But things haven’t been going well for Zena and I as a partnership for quite some time and so I made the decision to have her withdrawn. It is not a decision I made lightly or easily and only most of me believes it is the right decision to have made. All of me knows it was but there’s still a lot of me that wants her here with me, where I believed she was meant to be. But last Thursday, John came to collect her and she has gone home with him to be trained and matched with someone else; someone better, I hope. There are many reasons why I felt our partnership wouldn’t work in the long-term:

First, she always seemed to be racing ahead of me. No matter how much I’ve picked up my walking speed since the beginning of training at the end of January, I could never seem to match her pace. No amount of correcting and stopping to slow her down made the difference. John taught me how to flick the handle and say `steady` in the slow kind of sing-song tone to slow her down. He taught me how to stop abruptly and give her a firm correction with the lead repeating that `steady`. Nothing happened for it. For a little while, I thought Zena had improved with her speed. But it just became erratic. Sometimes she’d react to the corrections and the tone of my voice. Other times, she’d continue to speed along towards whatever it was that had caught her eye or to the destination in sight. I’m not saying I need a slow dog, but a dog who is happy to wander along at my side sticking to a steady pace would definitely be preferable. If I’m running along trying to keep up with a dog, I’m putting more energy to staying with them than I am to where we’re going and what’s happening around us, two vital things I need to be constantly taking note of.

Second, there was the crossing issue. Even on the most repeated routes we did, Zena was constantly over-shooting crossings (flying over them and into the road). John taught me the methods to correct this problem and I was forever using them but usually with no result. Sometimes, she’d pay attention and the route would improve for a while. But then the next day we’d be back to over-shooting. I don’t think I really need to explain why getting crossings right is crucial. As a rule, Guide Dogs teach their dogs to sit or wait at the crossing no matter where you are or the situation you are in. Zena needed several prompts before she’d sit and not often would she sit facing the direction we needed to go in. My sister pointed this out to me during our stay in York and I hadn’t really realised the severity of what Zena was doing until she explained how guide dogs generally work. From then on, I noticed it all the time; I had been thinking it wasn’t right beforehand, as it took me some time to get Zena sat at the crossing, but I hadn’t realised just how bad it was until afterwards. When I spoke to John about this, he gave me some further advice to improve the situation, reminded me to use what I’d learnt during training. But nothing worked. I corrected, rewarded, corrected again. No change. No matter how many some we went back over the same crossing, it had very little effect. Sometimes the rest of the route would go well because that correction had happened. But other times she’d just continue to be unreliable at every crossing.

Furthermore, she couldn’t guide in unfamiliar areas or if a member of the family or close friend was around. If I tried to get Zena to guide in unfamiliar settings, she’d just about do the job and I wouldn’t say particularly safely do that job. She wasn’t very good at weaving around people, rather preferring to say hello to everyone she passed therefore usually barging me into them. No amount of correcting changed that, either. With family and friends about, she’d race ahead, making it impossible for me to hold conversations or hear them if they decided to go in a different direction to the one Zena was pursuing. Also, if someone she knew well was around, they distracted her from actually guiding. So for both of these situations, I’d ask a family member to guide me. This in itself presented a problem. Zena walks a lot faster than anyone in my family does. So I was forever pulling her back, checking her lead to slow her down. In the end, the Halti head collar was agreed to by John and I started using that. It made quite a bit of difference whenever I just had her on the lead. But she still pulled. Even with the restraint of the half-check collar plus the Halti, she still attempted to get ahead. Again in unfamiliar settings, we had the crossing problem. She wouldn’t immediately sit at the crossing so I wouldn’t always know if it was a crossing or if she’d just stopped to have a sniff or seen something that had taken her concentration away from her work. Of course, I’m taught to encourage her on, to tell her to get back to her job, which I did; that then either meant she would eventually show me that it was a crossing or would continue forward into a potentially dangerous situation. I don’t know where this behaviour appeared from as during training, when John was present, she never hesitated. Especially when we learnt the new route of going to the gym, she was almost spot on. At that time, I was learning too so if we both made mistakes then that was fine. But even with the gym route, whenever she over-shot a curb, I’d immediately give her a lead correction, bring her back and do it again. No amount of this repetition seemed to make her understand. Sometimes, it would encourage a good response from her and the rest of our route would be smoother, more comfortable with no over-shot crossings and quicker reactions to sit at the upcoming curb. But then the next day we were back to square one again. And here I’m talking about our regular routes such as the gym and local shop. Those, which we did several times a week, were the ones she should have known off-by-heart. We did them so often it was impossible for her not to have known what she was supposed to have been doing.

However, this is where distractions came into play. As lovely a dog as Zena was in the house and off-lead greeting people and being generally loving, this should have ended when her harness was put on. On free runs, she loved to stalk birds; it’s in the Vizsla breed to hunt and a free run was the perfect opportunity for her to exercise this talent. Not on lead. No matter where we were or how much control I had over her, whether that be on harness or just by the lead, Zena was always distracted. It could be a crisp packet, bird, another dog, cat, small child, cyclist or group of people. Whatever was around took her interest straight away. Of course, I hurried her on, using corrections and encouragements whenever needed, and tried to continue with our route. But soon enough another distraction would come in the shape of something else. I understand that there’s no way she can concentrate constantly. It’s a lot to ask of a high-energy dog such as Zena. But I needed more concentration than she was giving. I needed her by my side, not at my side with er focus elsewhere. Perhaps I sound too critical of her but when you’re using an animal as your eyes, it really is true to say that you need the bond, trust and relationship to be perfect. Again, John was quick to suggest things I could put in place to minimise these distraction opportunities. Take the lead in my right hand and keep her going with encouraging words whenever I thought a distraction was looming. Reward her with praise and a small treat whenever she calmly passed something that was potentially distracting. No doing. Whether it be because I couldn’t hear whatever it was that she was seeing or because there was just too much to distract her, these actions to keep her focus weren’t always possible to implement. And believe me when I say I tried. I tried to be patient, kind and forgiving. She is only a dog after all; a dog who’s had hours and hours and mounds of money put into training her to be someone’s eyes. A dog who I’m supposed to rely on to get me to and from places safely, with my guidance and encouragements, all of the time.

Then, there’s the toilet problem. Ever since Zena first came to stay — and I’ve written about it before many times — she never seemed to get the hang of going to toilet once in the morning and once at night before bedtime. John told me that this was the necessary amount of times she needed to go to ensure that she didn’t spend on route. Fine, I thought, no problem at all. The last thing I wanted was for her to be going to toilet on route. That would just be another excuse for her not to pay attention. So I persevered. Every night about ten pm and every morning around eight, I’d take Zena out into the back garden and to her handmade spending pen. I’d shut the gate and stand on the other side, saying `busy busy` in as cheerful voice as I could manage. She’d do her circles and, if I was lucky, she’d speed them up to the point when she’d actually go to the toilet. At that point of knowing she was speeding up, I’d praise her, telling her she was a good girl and encouraging her on. If I was unlucky, however, she’d just mess about. It got to the point where some mornings and nights, she’d actually lay down on her belly at the far side of the pen and refuse to move. Now many will say that this was a clear sign that she didn’t need to go. Wrong. If I went out with her after she’d not spent, there was a guarantee that at some point during the route, she’d go. After a while, John told me to try some kind of punishment for not going. So, after a while of standing and encouraging, I’d clip her to her lead, walk her swiftly into the house and sit in the kitchen with her. She’d have to lay down on the floor and wouldn’t be allowed to move. If another member of the family came into the kitchen, they were to ignore Zena and she wasn’t allowed to greet them. Five or so minutes later, I’d take her back to her pen and begin the routine again. We would go on until she went or, the more likely option, it was that late that I needed to go to bed. If it was a lucky night or morning and she went straight away or whenever she actually went eventually, I’d produce a tasty treat — usually a gravy bone, milky bone, bonio or one of her favourites of a cheesy nibble or bacon chewy — and make her sit to receive it. Then, she’d be allowed out of her pen to go wherever she liked. Sometimes that was inside to receive fuss from whoever else was still around or other times it was for a frolic around the garden. That was her reward for going. My hope was that this would encourage her to go regularly knowing that as soon as she did, she’d be given a treat. Oh how mistaken I was!

Towards the end, when the toilet situation hadn’t improved and seemed to be getting somehow worse, I reached out to John for more advice. It had reached such a low that it was preventing me from going out. The dog that was supposed to be enabling me to be independent and leave the house more often was actually making my days more difficult and limiting the amount I could leave the house. So then John suggested a crate as a punishment. I let Zena into her pen and when five minutes of encouragement have passed with no result, I take her into the house on lead and put her in the crate, securely bolting the door shut. I leave the room and go off to do something else, which means that she’s alone and cannot be with me. Half an hour later, I come back, let her out, attach her to her lead and off we go to the pen where I encourage for another five or so minutes. This continues three times. If she hasn’t spent after the third opportunity, she’s locked in the crate. If it’s daytime, I go off to do whatever I have to around the house or if I need to go out, I do it without her. If it’s before bedtime, she’s sleeping in the crate. She only slept in the crate twice and the following morning she was quick to go. However, during the day it made no difference. Even when I went out without her and came home and tried to spend her, she still refused.

Several of my Guide Dog friends questioned why I had such an issue with this and the truth is simple but ridiculous. Nobody ever taught me how to pick up after Zena. Also, many guide dogs show clear signals to their owners that they’re going to go on route. Zena did not. There was pretty much no warning of when and where she was going to go, except that I knew that she would most likely go on route if she’d missed a go that morning or the night before. Combine the fact that I was unsure when she was going and didn’t know how to pick up after her cleanly and I was pretty screwed. So it came down to the fact that I was praying she’d go just so that I could get outside. It isn’t supposed to be like that. A suggestion John had to save me the humiliation of not knowing if she’d gone and to allow Zena to spend was trying gutter spending. This means that if Zena is showing signs of wanting to go, I take her to a safe space at the side of the road, lead her into the gutter and instruct her to go. With her issue with roads and crossings, though, I didn’t really see this as a valid option. Why encourage her to spend in gutters when she has problems staying on the pavement already?

The one other thing, and this is a smaller issue but one nonetheless, that I struggled with is that when John interviewed me last October and told me that he’d recommend me for training, he also said that he thought he could make it work — me having a guide dog despite my previous issues getting one — because he was prepared to put the time and effort in, if I was too, to help me get there. Obviously, he understood what I was trying to say to him and saw the need for a guide dog in my life. That I will indefinitely be grateful to him for. He believed in me where nobody else ever has. He gave me the chance I so needed to prove to myself and others that I was right about a guide dog. I’ve always had this feeling that a guide dog would improve my mobility millions. On good days, of which, despite this outcome, there were many, Zena and I bloomed together. I was able to go and meet friends confidently, walk to the gym confidently, go into shops boldly and ask for help with shopping. John was prepared, even with my lacking amount of familiar routes, to give me the chance to show that I could do it. And I did. But he also agreed that he’d come out in the future and help me learn new routes. Apart from learning the route to the gym during training, I haven’t had any support to learn any others. I bought a Trekker Breeze — it’s a little machine that you attach earphones to and attach to your belt that directs you along routes once you’ve programmed in where you want to go — to help me with this. That way, John would only have to go over a route with me once perhaps twice for me to have a vague idea and the Breeze to have the route programmed in. From there, Zena, Breeze and I would be fine to tackle it ourselves, with the back-up of Google maps if we got horrendously lost. But that never came. We’d agreed that June would be the month to do it. Now of course I understand that John is an incredibly busy man. He is pretty much single-handedly training all potential Seeing Dogs. Currently, he has three pups lodging with him who he is at the very early stages of training to become the next batch of Seeing Dogs. I know that I can’t expect him to come when I call and I certainly didn’t. But I needed to make progress. As Zena doesn’t work well with family around, there was no point in asking relatives to help me learn new routes with her. Even if I did, nobody was available to help. Both parents work full-time and Zena walks miles too fast to ask my grandparents to step in. Sadly, if she’d been a plodder, they’d have been gladly available to help because they did when I was using my long cane and preparing for a Zena to arrive. But by the end of the month, with all the problems outlined above not being resolved by every solution I tried and no hope of progress with new routes on the horizon, I’d had enough. I felt that Zena, more than anything, would be better off without me. Perhaps she needs someone with a little sight to guide because they will be able to spy when she’s being a cheeky monkey and stamp it out straight away. It took me until I could tell she was doing something naughty to be able to crack down on it. By then it was too late; the flow was interrupted and she’d most likely got away with whatever it was she’d wanted to do. Maybe she needed someone who has a full life. They work five days a week, meet friends or do activities every evening and have full weekends of things to do, all of which involve Zena guiding them somewhere. Perhaps that would keep her focused. I don’t know. I do know that I’ll never be that person for Zena. Probably, by the time I am, she’ll be a little old lady long passed working age. She needs someone now. I’m not her someone, however much I tried to be, however much I desperately wanted to be.

Of course there were things Zena was great at. She was good in restaurants whenever I went out to eat, happy to lay under the table as long as she had room to stretch out. She was good whenever I went to anything that required her just to lie down at my side. She was happy to lie still as long as she got a little fuss every now and then. She was the best companion and friend in a dog that any human could ever have asked for. She was always at my side whenever I moved but stayed put whenever I requested. She let me groom her even though she made it quite clear she detested the event. She let me clean her ears with horrible stinky liquid and cotton discs even though they must have been painful with the infection that flared up. She behaved perfectly at the vets, letting them prod and poke her, trim her nails. She didn’t even flinch when she received her vaccinations. Not even a squeak could be heard as the vet injected the needle. She’s certainly a braver girl than I. She waited, almost always patiently, whenever I presented her with a treat. Once she learnt how, she was queen of tug-of-war with her best toys: Jim the Kong teddy, tiger, rabbit and fox/mouse. She almost always greedily gobbled down her meals, sitting and waiting for the whistle to sound beforehand. She was loving to every other member of the house, too, but always coming back to pay me the most attention. An absolute angel on a free run. She’d run like mad but always come to the whistle for a treat or to be clipped back on to her lead. Running along nicely but energetically saying hello to every other dog in the park. If Zena was a person, she’d certainly be a very social young one. She’d be the kid out all the time for sure. She ate her worming tablet like it was a tasty treat, sat still to have flea treatment applied. Gave the best cuddles when I was feeling rubbish. Slept happily at the foot of my bed in her basket every night. Never howled if she was left home alone. And when I wanted her to work around other guide dogs, no problem. With my sister and my friend across the road, who have a lab retriever and German Shepherd guide dog respectively, Zena would be no problem. She’d follow along behind, keeping fairly close to our company. The only thing she struggled with then was not getting too close to the other dog that I was tripping over them and over-shooting crossings so that I collided with the other dog and/or person. But that was just her eagerness, I think. With more practice, I think she’d have been a star at working around other guide dogs. But I didn’t feel I had more time. I didn’t feel that I had the energy to teach her. Nothing was getting better. Nothing I tried was working, no matter how many times I repeated the action. So many people were commenting on Zena’s bad efforts at guiding. Several of them said that they were genuinely worried for my safety. Now I don’t know why she wasn’t doing the job she’d been trained to do. I don’t know if she was bored, if I wasn’t fast enough, if she really hated working, if her breed just shouldn’t be a guide dog. Most of me thinks it’s a bit of everything. For quite some time, I felt that Zena’s skills, especially her boundless enthusiasm, would be much better suited in another profession such as sniffer dog. Or just a pet dog. As a pet, she was wonderful. You couldn’t have asked for better. But as a guide? Not so much. And that’s the difference. I applied and made a commitment for a guide dog, for independence, mobility and confidence. At no point did I expect it to be instantaneous. Not once did I think it would be perfect — far from it! I’d been warned more times than I can remember how hard it would be, how much I would feel anything but love for my furry companion. But never was it supposed to be this hard. I wasn’t supposed to be waking up every day wondering if my dog would go to the toilet so that we could go out to do a route where she’d over-shoot curbs, walk me into people and pull frantically on the lead. Yes, I was supposed to feel tested, but not constantly like I was getting all the wrong answers. We were supposed to make progress, not take a baby step forward and immediately jump ten giant steps backwards. So I made the decision that enough was enough, I called time, I let her go. And for anyone who may have read this and thought I’m heartless, I quit, I didn’t think of her. I’m the opposite. I tried one-hundred percent of every day for the last five months to make mine and Zena’s partnership work. I loved her like I’ve never loved another animal. My sister calls her guide dog her furry daughter and I’ve never before thought an animal could feel like your child should. Now I’ve had Zena I know, even more so now she’s gone. As for not thinking of Zena? She’s exactly why I made the phone call and told John he had to take her away. If nothing else, Zena deserves more. More of everything that I can’t give her. We were not the right match in the slightest. She’s enthusiastic and speedy. I’m steady and methodical. They are opposites. Opposites do not attract where guide dog and owner are concerned.

There is nobody to lay blame upon for this. Seeing Dogs and John gave me the opportunity. I gave that opportunity everything that I had. It hasn’t worked out. Guide dogs are withdrawn all the time. It is the most hard, heartbreaking and thought through decision I’ve ever made and I wish it upon nobody. I wish every guide dog partnership could work out, that no one ever had to let their furry child go. If I could still have Zena here with me now but not have to make her be my eyes, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But to Seeing Dogs she’s a guide dog and maybe she can be someone else’s eyes and do well at it, like that person I mentioned above. Maybe she’ll be their superstar. To Zena’s next owner I’d say to watch out for the dribbly beard. There’s nothing you can do about it but she will leave puddles of water everywhere. To love her like no other, because she already unconditionally loves you. She’ll trust you and love you no matter how frustrated with her you get. She gives the best cuddles; if you lie down on the floor in the fetal position, she’ll come and curl up with you. Play tug-of-war with her, it’s her favourite. She loves a Dentastick every evening. They really do make her breath a bit better. If you get him, Jim is her favourite toy. She has him in her basket to sleep with and will bring him to you should you request. He was a present bought for her by my mum earlier this year and Zena’s adored him ever since. Let her have freedom, she loves that more than anything. Give her endless fuss. She’d sit or stand in front of you for hours just for a stroke if you let her; that’s the first thing I learnt about her. She loves raw carrot as an extra special treat, especially if you scatter them in her dinner. She is the most wonderful dog in all the world and you are definitely the luckiest person to live to have her, just like I was the luckiest to be her mummy for five months. I didn’t ever not love her even at the toughest times. I will always treasure that gorgeous bundle of ginger crazy fur. Despite our flaws together, she opened my eyes to what having a guide dog can be for me. She gave me the chance to see exactly what I want. She’s the most loyal, loving, forgiving, kind friend you’ll ever know. If you’re down, she’ll know about it. She’ll put her paws on you and nudge her nose against you. That’s her way of telling you `it really all will be ok in the end, mum` and that she loves you more than you know. I love her more than anyone could ever know. Sometimes, she loves a big comfy cushion to sprawl out on. Others, she’d love to just lay by your side whatever you’re doing. Don’t forget to appreciate her and all she is. I know I certainly didn’t do enough of that. I was too caught up in making her a guide dog. Her favourite food here was Arden Grange chicken. Other stuff might be cheaper but she loves it and she’s worth every penny, even if she’s being a cheeky monkey. That’s the best part of her. There’s so much more to her than the funny furry dog exterior. Let her have as many free runs as you can. If you want to take the risk, give her a tennis ball. She’ll race after it, get it and bring it back to you for hours on end. Afterwards, she’ll drink the bowl dry and drip her beard all over your floor. But she’ll love it. She deserves the best that anyone can give her and I wasn’t that person but I sincerely hope you are. I hope she gives you the independence and confidence you’ve been craving. I already know she’ll be the best companion you could ever have hoped for, because she was the best furry friend I’ve ever had and letting her go was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. But if she’s your superstar, I know it was the best decision I’ve ever made, for all of us.

What’s next for me? I hope to keep in touch with John and hear how Zena gets on, if and when she’s matched to someone else. I intend to phone Guide Dogs at some point and reapply for a Guide Dog and the My Guide service. I’d like to learn new routes and definitely want another guide dog. Mobility with a dog is so much more than that with a cane and a guide dog really does enable me to go places. I get out of the house with and because of a dog and that makes all the difference to my life. So my eventual aim is another dog and I intend to do everything I have to to achieve that aim. My only fear is that it will take years and years. I’m not a particularly patient person when there’s something I desire so much and when I know that it is more than possible and something is preventing me from having it. I guess I’ll just have to make sure that there’s no reason for me not to have another dog. The best thing Seeing Dogs and Zena have given me is the proof that a guide dog benefits my life more than even I thought it would. If Zena benefitted my life even with all the bad stuff, having a dog who really is a good match will be even more of a positive to my life. I miss Zena more than I can say and the only way to make sure that letting her go was the right thing to do, apart from her making a massive difference to someone else’s life in ways she never could mine, is to ensure that everything I learnt whilst she was mine doesn’t go to waste. The only way to do that is by having another dog and using the confidence I built up with Zena to allow a second partnership to flourish the way ours never could. My gratitude to Seeing Dogs but especially John for giving me the opportunity of Zena is infinite. She gave me so much in such a short space of time and for that there are not enough words of thanks. But for me the charity just doesn’t work. I need more support and that, I’m certain, Guide Dogs can offer. So now is the time to do everything I can to enable that potential to be fulfilled. And yet again, that’s exactly what I intend to do.

“A turd the size of Disneyland Paris”

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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