Tag Archives: happiness

Mobility Update: Guide Dogs Guide Dog Assessment October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 25

As the title of this post says, this is my 25th My Guide session update. But before all that, this post is going to talk about the meeting I had with Guide Dogs; at this current moment as I’m writing this, it’s Friday the 7th of September 2018 and almost 20 to 8 in the evening. At 10am this morning, the service delivery manager for my local Guide Dogs mobility team plus a fairly new GDMI and a gorgeous trainee Guide Dog came to my house as I’d contacted the team to ask to meet with the service delivery manager to discuss the process for me reapplying for a Guide Dog. After being deemed unsuitable back in March therefore marking the 3rd time I’d been unsuccessful in applying for a dog, an appeal took place and following the appeal I was given some advice of actions to complete in order to potentially be suitable for a dog in the future. In March, it was decided that I wasn’t suitable due to the way I interacted with the dogs on the further assessment day, took instructions from the GDMIs and put those instructions into action with the dogs. My vocal commands and praise were also criticised for not being in the right tone of voice or spoken in the right way to motivate the dog. And of course I was crushed; but I also agreed with them to a point. Maybe not at that very moment when I got off the phone to the senior practitioner who had given me the news that yet again I’d been unsuccessful. This time it was worse, though. She used the word “unsuitable” and in my head that felt like a full-stop, end of story, never. I’d worked so damn hard to get to that point but it still wasn’t good enough. Despite everything, i still hadn’t done enough to fulfil their necessary expectations for a future guide dog owner. Of course I was gutted. Beyond gutted if you ask anyone who spoke to me about it around that time. I felt like the door had been firmly slammed in my face. But that’s turned out not to be the case. With the input of the service user representative and the service delivery manager for my local team, I’ve had some support and advice to make the right decisions for my future regarding a dog, which is what lead to the meeting today. A lot was said. I was given new criteria which any potential applicant needs to meet in order to be considered for the waiting list. This criteria is used during the assessment process, still the mobility and guide dog assessments which I’ve done before, to ensure applicants are suitable. The service delivery manager promised to send the criteria across to me via email so I could read it myself but went through it there and then with me to give me some insight. Sitting there listening to her list things I’d need to be able to do in order to be suitable for a guide dog and ticking each and every one off in my head as an “i can do that” was the most amazing feeling in the world. The one about interacting with the dog in the right way is the only one I’m worried I could fall short on expectation for, not because I can’t do what they want but because nerves and worry might hold me back on the assessment day from showing my best side. But I’m determined this time, more determined than ever that I’m going to show my best commanding voice and my best happy cheery pleased praising voice at the right times so that I demonstrate I could be a good guide dog handler if only I’m given the chance.

We also discussed my routes and the leaps and bounds of progress I’ve made with Jenny’s intervention and the service delivery manager seemed very pleased with what I told her. One of the criteria is that you must be able to work your dog for 30-40 minutes at least 5 days a week. Nobody will ever understand the pride and relief it gives me to finally be able to say I meet that criteria with an ever expanding range of routes. Never did I think the day would come! Unless somehow during my mobility assessment the instructor finds fault with the length, complexity or variation of routes I have could that potentially be a problem. But I can’t honestly see that happening. I have more than enough 30 minute walks and now several that are much longer than that, one that’s even double. Of course, its not up to me if I meet the required standards and criteria but this time, for the very first time ever, I’m feeling much more positive about things, about my chances and the potential for it to go right this time. Fourth time lucky, perhaps?

However, there’s always a thundercloud trying to ruin my happiness and blooming positivity and today that comes in the form of some unknown person thinking they have the right to talk about me behind my back and stick their 50p worth in where its really not welcome. I mean haven’t I had enough battles over the last 7 years I’ve been fighting for a Guide Dog? No, according to someone, apparently I haven’t. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be writing about this but its my life and my right to be angry. Nearing the end of the meeting, after we’d done a lot of positive talking and I’d had plenty of fusses and cuddles with 14-month-old lab/retriever trainee Ezra, the service delivery manager dropped a bombshell I wasn’t expecting, another hurdle for me to climb, another punch to dodge. An anonymous member of the public has written a letter to guide dogs outlining their reasons why they strongly urge Guide Dogs not to give me a dog. This letter was received last month and portrays me as a terrible person. It is very nasty, hurtful and infuriating. Infuriating because its utter lies. The things the person claims about me are totally untrue and fabricated nonsense. I think my angry responses, however much i tried to remain calm, showed the service delivery manager and GDMI exactly what I thought of the letter. Thankfully, as it is anonymous, it won’t have a huge impact on me when I reapply. As long as i can demonstrate that i meet the relevant criteria set out to me today and show the staff everything they need to see in a potential applicant, that letter doesn’t matter. Just like the person, whoever they are, doesn’t. I have a ton of people supporting me with this, and every other, application and one hateful person isn’t going to stop me. Ive been fighting too long to let one person’s opinion faze me, especially as they didn’t even sign the letter. Whoever you are out there, if you read these blogs, know you aren’t going to stop me. I also want you to know that all those things you accused me of doing to any potential dog I’d never do. No dog would be left for hours on end by itself in my care. No dog would be locked in a cage for punishment. No dog would be given up on because I couldn’t be bothered to persevere. No dog would be over fed treats or given junk food; I’m not that irresponsible. I may be many things but I’m not stupid and would never be cruel to an animal, especially an animal I’ve thought a third of my life to be entitled and suitable for. If and when I get a guide dog, I’m going to be out working that dog every single day, unless I’m poorly or theres a family emergency. Ive worked so hard and for so long to throw an opportunity of having the mobility aid I long for away. I will do whatever it takes to become a guide dog owner and once I’ve achieved that goal, the dog will be looked after to the absolute best of my ability, with the support of the guide dogs team and all my friends and family. Ive got a whole army of people to support me so I know I;ll be fine. Just how I am now writing this. Because look, yay! You achieved your aim. You made me feel angry, hurt, sad, betrayed, low, worried and down. But I’m better than someone who doesn’t sign such a letter. I will be a guide dog owner one day and it’ll be because a guide dog team deem me deserving and suitable, not because I’ve fooled them into believing I’m the sort of person who should have a dog. Ive not got any dodgy motives in wanting a guide dog at all. I desire a guide dog because I’ve seen the improvements having a dog by my side has on my mobility, wellbeing, confidence and determination. Having a guide dog would make me a better person. It’d give me the confidence to go out there and achieve my goals. It’d give me the confidence to be the person I want to be with a furry companion by my side. What other motivation do I need? And why else would Guide Dogs want to give me a dog? They don’t just hand dogs over to anyone. I’d have had thorough tests and checks to ensure I’m going to care for any dog’s welfare appropriately. Why would I sabotage that? Yes maybe my motives as a naive 14-year-old were immature and wrong. But I’m an adult now. I understand responsibility. And i understand what it means to have a guide dog and be a guide dog owner. What more can I say? You aren’t going to hold me back. I’m going to reapply. Send as many letters to guide dogs as you like. After all, its them who decide whether I’m suitable. But don’t worry, they’ve considered your input so thanks for giving them something else to doubt me about. I’ll just fight that extra bit harder to prove you wrong. And I hope, if you’re a genuine person who thinks they’re protecting the welfare of some defenceless dog who might be given to me, that in time you’ll see that actually I’m also a genuine person just trying to live a full and happy life the only way I know how and that all I offer a dog is a full, happy, well loved and looked after life. If not, please take your hate elsewhere. I’ve got enough challenges to deal with without you adding to the pile. But thanks for making the journey even more eventful. I guess it’ll just prove to guide dogs how determined and dedicated I am to being the applicant they’re looking for.

Before they left, the service delivery manager urged me to read through the suitability criteria before applying and make sure I was happy with everything. She said it’d be emailed to me shortly. I wasn’t expecting that shortly to be today! The email was in my inbox by the time I checked after coming home from a lovely afternoon out with my friend Josh, enjoying lunch in Yates and pudding in Sprinkles. Although of course I want to rush ahead and reapply right this second, I’m going to spend the weekend reading and rereading the criteria until I’m totally satisfied with it and even know it by heart perhaps. Then, if I’m feeling like it, on Monday I’ll have a chat with the service user representative who has been brilliant and invaluable this last month. If she agrees, I’ll go ahead and reply to the email with the criteria saying I want to move a step forward and reapply. Then, I guess the process will start over. After chatting a lot with the service delivery manager and GDMI today, and of course cuddling Ezra, I really think this time could be my time, my opportunity to grasp firmly with both hands and not hold back on. Obviously, by the time this post is finished and published online, I’ll have written about my 25th My Guide session and possibly reapplied. I’ll write about that then. I just want to end this bit by saying how lucky I am to have such an amazing My Guide volunteer to be partnered with. Today, Jenny and her husband explored the city centre to work out which route would be best to learn to the new office I’m going to be volunteering at very soon. They worked it out and Jenny text me to say there’s now a plan in place for next Thursday. She really does go above and beyond where my My Guide sessions are concerned and I couldn’t be more grateful that she’s partnered with me.

As I write this now, its 9:15pm on Thursday night a week after my meeting with the service delivery manager and GDMI from Guide Dogs and today Jenny and I practised the route to the place I’m going to be volunteering, hopefully, for the first time. It was much simpler than I expected and after walking it, twice, I’m so much more grateful for Jenny and her husband checking out the route before we attempted it ourselves today. There are only two road crossings and no big corners or anything. The road curves around in places but theres no over-complicated things to remember. However, because its me, I’m still estimating its going to take me ages to learn it. The walk is only 15 minutes each way with a half hour bus ride each way. So in total it’ll take me roughly an hour and a half in total to travel to and from my destination. Really, I’m quite happy with that and although the walking part of the route is quite short, I’m much more comfortable with that than some lengthy complicated route for my first attempt at working in an office environment, even if it is just voluntary. I got a bit frustrated with the big pelican crossing that I have to use because theres push buttons on either sides of both tactiles but irritatingly only one on each side has a spinning cone and none of them have audio cues. If the poles don’t have the spinning cone to announce when its safe to cross then they should have noise. To have neither, even though the opposite side of the crossing has one, isn’t really right. I don’t know if its breaking any rules or laws or anything because on either side of the road one of the poles does have some kind of announcement to show its safe to cross. But shouldn’t all the poles have something? I don’t know, it just annoyed me. Its another thing to remember, which side of each crossing’s pole actually has the thing that’ll help me cross safely.

Jenny and I have agreed to continually practice the volunteering route until I’ve mastered it. The sooner I’ve learnt it, the sooner potentially I can start my voluntary role. We practised the route twice today due to its short length and on the second run recorded the landmarks I can use as pointers on my Victor Reader Trek. Another irritation was that there were considerable road works not far up from the bus stop that I have to use. This meant for a little stretch of the pavement Jenny had to guide me out into the road and safely around the obstruction. Thankfully, she said that the workmen seemed to be getting through the work quite quickly so I’m hopeful it might all be finished by next week when we try the route again. I really hope that I can start retaining directions from this route quickly so that it doesn’t take too long to learn it and we can go back to practising my longer routes. But for a first attempt I think things went really well. Here’s hoping next week is even better.

“Lets go!” Another visit up North

So a week ago I got home from another visit up North to see Kieran and as usual I want to write about it. Note: for anyone, if anyone reads this, who wonders why I write these rambling random accounts of eating food and watching TV whenever I go to see Kieran or he visits me, I write them because I enjoy writing them. I know they’re utterly pointless and sometimes make hardly any sense, but I like writing them and I like documenting things I enjoy. Clearly, I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and his family, even if all I write about is eating and watching TV, and therefore I’m going to write about it. I couldn’t care less if nobody reads these posts or what anyone thinks of them. I started this blog over three years ago so I could practice my touch typing skills and to ramble about whatever was on my mind. I also wanted to document the important moments in my day to day life and also things I enjoy. So here it is, another ramble about my time in Blyth.

Unlike many of my previous posts about spending time with Kieran, this one won’t be as well written or have as much in it. That doesn’t mean to say there won’t be just as many words as usual… everyone knows I can ramble on about nothing at all and have thousands of words. After all, what else is this whole blog? But the main reason I don’t have as much to write is because I didn’t keep up with writing my notes while I was away. Usually, each night I’ll add the day’s happenings to a file on mine or Kieran’s BrailleNote Apex which I’ll then use as reference when writing these posts. But this time I wasn’t as vigilant as usual and at times forgot to update my notes; actually, at one point I was a fortnight behind on notes. But together racking our brains Kieran and I pieced together what we did, therefore I still have a post to write. It might not be 100% accurate and might have as much TV in as usual, but I still want to write it regardless.

On Thursday 9th august, after a day out shopping in Basingstoke with the family, we headed to the airport so I could catch a flight to Newcastle, to Kieran and family. It had been two months to the day since we’d seen Ed Sheeran and Kieran had proposed, so a day short of two months since I last saw him. A meet up was definitely due. Plus, I’d never visited Newcastle in the summer before and as Lesley and John were going away on holiday and Kieran would be house sitting, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and join him. Unlike the majority of times when I’ve flown up North, this time there wasn’t any kind of weather warning in place! Actually, the journey was pretty smooth for the entirety of the flight. As always, I had my earbuds in to block out the horrendous noise of the plane. Since first starting to fly to visit Kieran, I’ve got much better with the actual flight and can relax much more now I use my earbuds which obliterate most of the sound around me.

At the airport, John and Kieran were waiting to meet me. In the car on the way back, we had the radio on and Kieran and John were joining in with the commentators on the sports channel debating things about Newcastle. I found it quite amusing. It at least took my mind off John’s crazy driving. It’s not dangerous, just rather fast…

When we arrived, Lesley was making dinner. We had pasta bolognese and it was delicious. While we ate, we watched QI and afterwards Lesley and John watched Hebburn so Kieran and I went upstairs as we were planning to watch it from the beginning later on in my stay.

The following day, Kieran worked from home and Lesley was home anyway as Fridays are her day off. I had a banana for breakfast and then went with Lesley into Blyth to do a bit of shopping. On our way back, we popped into see Rebecca which meant I met her new puppy, Wilson, who is extremely cute. For lunch, we had chorizo and mozzarella paninis and they were lovely. Kieran finished working around 4:30, by which time John was home from work. We had garlic chicken Kievs and chips for dinner and watched the latest Keith Lemon program and Ramsey’s 24 hours in hell. I’m not a massive fan of Keith Lemon anymore; when I was younger, I went through a phase of enjoying Celebrity Juice but quickly stopped liking anything else Keith Lemon did. However, I quite enjoyed the Gordon Ramsey program. I’d been recording them on my own Sky box at home but just hadn’t gotten round to watching them yet. After everything was tidied up and the car was loaded, Lesley and John left for their little holiday. They were off to spend some time on a boat before heading to see Lesley’s brother. A little while later, I decided to order dessert from my favourite takeaway place ever, Buzz Bar. Kieran had a Ben an Jerry’s fudge brownie milkshake and mars bar cake. I had a Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough milkshake and galaxy caramel cheesecake. We shared a portion of mini doughnuts with salted caramel sauce. While we indulged, we watched 8 out of 10 cats does count down and mock the week.

As we had no plans whatsoever, on Saturday morning we had a lie in. Just as we were deciding to get up, Rebecca rang to say she was bringing sausage rolls round for us. Once we were showered and dressed, we went downstairs and Kieran cooked chips to go with our sausage rolls. We listened to the Newcastle vs Tottenham game. The sausage rolls were lovely, freshly baked and crumbly. Unfortunately, the Newcastle match wasn’t as good for Kieran as they lost 2-1. Durning the afternoon we watched Come Dine With Me and 4 In A Bed. While that was on, Kieran’s grandma arrived to check on us. She invited us for roast dinner at their house the following day before she left so we accepted. That evening, we ordered takeaway for dinner: Kieran had a chicken and donner meat kebab with chips, I had donner meat and chips and we got mozzarella sticks and garlic bread to share. We started watching Friday Night Dinner while we waited for the food to arrive and when we were eating. We’d agreed to start watching it from the beginning right up to the latest episode, which neither of us had seen yet as we’d been waiting to watch it together.

On Sunday morning, Kieran’s grandma picked us up and we enjoyed a lovely roast beef dinner with them. We watched the Liverpool vs West Ham match which ended 4-1, making me very happy with such a strong start to the season for Liverpool. When we got home that evening, we had the remaining two sausage rolls from Rebecca’s pack and the leftover garlic bread. It made a rather nice tea. We also started to watch Hebburn.

On Monday, Kieran had taken the day off. He cooked us bacon, sausage and hash browns for lunch. We spent the day watching Hebburn. For dinner, we shared Hawaiian and margarita pizzas. By the time we went to bed, we’d finished Hebburn.

Tuesday meant Kieran was back to work and up early so that he could be ready in time for his lift to work. I got up early with him and spent the day catching up on East Enders. Once I’d finished that, I started watching Our Girl from series 2. I’d recently watched the pilot and series 1 at home and thought, with all the spare time I had, I’d continue and watch the rest. When Kieran cane home, he brought with him lightly spiced potato wedges and onion rings to go with the breaded chicken steaks Lesley had left in the fridge for us. It made a rather nice meal. I was craving something sweet so was very naughty and ordered more Buzz Bar. Kieran had a galaxy caramel with flake milkshake and chocolate fudge cake with ice cream and I chose a dairy milk milkshake with fudge, a Malteser cheesecake and a galaxy caramel cheesecake for the following day’s lunch… we continued to watch Friday Night Dinner.

On Wednesday, I decided not to get up when Kieran did and had a little lie in. I had Weetabix for breakfast and then put the laundry on while catching up on Holby. After that, I continued watching Our Girl. When Kieran came home from work, we ordered another takeaway for dinner. I had donner meat and chips, Kieran had a fish cake, a smoky sausage and chips and curry sauce. We shared mini spring rolls and chicken nuggets. While we ate, we watched more Friday Night Dinner.

Thursday was a similar day with me staying in bed for a little bit while Kieran went to work. Just to say, the latest I actually stayed in bed was 9:30. I had toast and a banana for breakfast and spent the day watching Our Girl. That evening, Kieran and I had fish fingers, waffles and spaghetti hoops for dinner. We also watched the rest of Friday Night Dinner, including the last episode which we hadn’t seen before.

On Friday, Kieran worked from home so I had some company. Again I had toast and a banana for breakfast. I read some Kindle books while Kieran worked. For lunch, we each had a little pie and a sausage roll warmed up. I had a yoghurt and Kieran a packet of crisps. Kieran’s grandparents visited. That evening, we ordered Dominoes for dinner. I had a pizza with extra cheese, tuna, garlic butter and sweet corn toppings and stuffed crust. Kieran created his own pizza with lots of different meats. We shared cheesy wedges, the chicken combo box and a portion of cookies. We watched Joe Lycett that’s the way a-ha a-ha Joe Lycett and a Jason Byrne comedy dvd.

On Saturday, Kieran cooked us bacon and hash browns for me and the same with sausage for himself for brunch. Kieran listened to the Newcastle vs Cardiff match. In the afternoon, we watched Come Dine With Me and Kieran’s grandma arrived and did some tidying up. For dinner, we had a Chinese takeaway. As I wanted to pay and didn’t have any cash, we couldn’t order from Kieran’s usual place so he chose somewhere that had good reviews on Just Eat to try. I had Hong Kong style sweet and sour chicken and a portion of chips, Kieran had house special curry, fried rice and chips and we shared a portion of spring rolls. We were given prawn crackers free with the meal.we watched the boxing that was being shown on BT Sport and then a Dara O’Brian comedy dvd.

On Sunday, we again went to Kieran’s grandparents for a roast dinner, this time chicken with all the trimmings, where I discovered that I actually do like cabbage! I also tried a new pudding, apple and custard, which I also discovered was very nice. We spent the afternoon watching the football matches that were on Sky Sports. When we got in, we had the sausage rolls Kieran’s grandma had left the previous day for dinner.

Monday meant Kieran was back to work. I spent the day catching up on TV and reading books. I had my usual cheese wrap for lunch which I enjoyed. That evening, Kieran and I had chicken dippers and wedges for dinner and watched the Liverpool vs Crystal Palace game which ended 2-0 to Liverpool.

On Tuesday evening, Kieran brought home some garlic bread to have with lasagne.

Wednesday was another laundry day and Kieran had the day off and did the hoovering. We watched more Come Dine With Me during the day and some Judge Judy. Kieran cooked fish finger sandwiches and waffles for lunch. Ended up having a takeaway for dinner. I had a tuna, sweet corn and garlic butter pizza and potato wedges, Kieran had a cheese bacon burger with chips and we shared mozzarella sticks.

On Thursday, Kieran was back to work but John and Lesley came home around 1:30. Not long after they’d got in, Kieran’s grandparents arrived. Kieran arrived home not long after 5pm and Lesley cooked enchiladas with potato wedges for dinner. We watched Celebrity Master Chef and Judge Romesh.

Kieran went to work on Friday but I had Lesley and John for company. In the afternoon, I packed everything I’d need for a weekend away as we were heading to the caravan. At the caravan that evening, John went and got chips for dinner. Kieran had fish, chips and curry sauce and I had a large sausage with chips. We watched Judge Judy, Celebrity Master Chef and 8 out of 10 cats does count down.

On Saturday, we went to Cartmel Races for the day. Lesley took a picnic to share and it was a lovely sunny day so really nice to be outdoors. On the way back, we went to the Black Bull pub for a drink. We had the Liverpool Vs Brighton match on the radio on the way home and it just finished before we went in the pub. The score was 1-0 to Liverpool. Back at the caravan, Lesley cooked ravioli in a tomato sauce with chorizo for dinner, which was really tasty.

On Sunday, John went to the Newcastle game and we stayed in the caravan and watched Young Sheldon and the Big Bang Theory all afternoon. Lesley cooked roast chicken for lunch and we had a lemon cheesecake for pudding. Kieran listened to the Newcastle match and I watched videos on YouTube. When John came in and had his roast dinner, Lesley made cheese and chorizo toasties for tea.

On Monday, we spent the day watching Judge Judy and Jeremy Kyle. In the morning, Lesley made everyone cooked breakfast. By the time we headed home, it was after 6 and we had sandwiches for tea when we got in. Kieran and I went upstairs and I sorted my bag out so everything that needed to be taken home the following day was packed and everything that stayed there was on my now designated shelf in Kieran’s wardrobe. We spent the rest of the evening listening to music on Kieran’s amazon echo.

Tuesday was my last day in Blyth. Kieran worked from home. I had quiche and crisps for lunch and Kieran had cheese and beans on toast. Rebecca visited with Wilson, who had been on his first outdoor walk on their way round, and their grandparents also arrived. I had a really horrible headache for most of the afternoon and even though I’d taken paracetamol, drank lots of water and eaten lunch it still took ages to go away. That evening, Lesley cooked us chicken dippers, chips and spaghetti hoops. After dinner, I made sure everything was packed and then we headed for the airport, always my least favourite part of staying with Kieran, that i inevitably have to leave again. No matter how many times Kieran and I say goodbye, it never gets easier. But when we first got together we were both well aware that long distance was going to make up a big part of our relationship, especially when Kieran’s placement in Hereford ended and he headed home. But however hard it is, its always worth it. Again, I had another great stay with Kieran and family and am looking forward to next time, which is already booked! Kieran is flying down to stay with me for a week from the 14th to the 21st of November so that the both of us and Josh can go to a couple of comedy shows at the Mayflower Theatre, Kevin Bridges and Dara O’Briain. Then, on the 21st when Kieran flies home, I’m going with him to stay in Blyth for 2 weeks. By the time I fly home, it’ll be December and the count down to Christmas. So these three weeks will be our last time together before the new year. I’m chuffed that we’ve managed to see each other as many times as we have this year, especially considering Kieran’s apprenticeship and my uni course. Hopefully next year will hold just as many great visits.

To Lesley and John, thank you so much for having me. As always I appreciate it lots. Also thanks for trusting me in your house while you were away. I’m thrilled to say that I didn’t break the washing machine or tumble dryer and that the only casualty was a dinner plate on the last day… looking forward to being back up there in November.

To Kieran, of course thanks for inviting me up and putting up with me. I always love the time we get to spend together and having some time without parents is always nice. Makes us feel like a normal couple. Also, the two weeks we spent without your parents is the longest we’ve ever co-habited before and proves that we would survive in our own home. Thanks for doing all the cooking; although I braved the laundry, I didn’t trust myself not too break your mum’s lovely oven. Also, I didn’t shrink any of your clothes in the wash! I can do this independence thing… love you so much and can’t wait for more time together in November.

Open uni: Results Day 2018

On Monday, a day earlier than expected, Open University results were released. I finished studies for this academic year at the beginning of June with my first OU exam. Leading up to the exam date, I’d been terrified, mostly that I’d forget all the information I’d frantically been trying to revise and partially because I expected the exams people to say on the day that I wasn’t allowed to use my BrailleNote. Without it, I’d have been thoroughly stuffed. I’d informed the special arrangements people that without a screen, nobody would be able to observe what I was doing on my BrailleNote Apex because it didn’t have its own screen and if they wanted to observe, they’d have to provide their own. When I arrived on the day and the lady observing my exam told me a screen hadn’t been provided, I expected to be told the exam would have to be rearranged, that we couldn’t continue if she wasn’t able to watch what I was doing. But nothing happened. I was allowed to proceed with my exam on BrailleNote and laptop as I’d instructed with no fuss whatsoever.

As I had special arrangements for the exam due to my blindness, I also had additional time in which to complete the exam. For everyone else, the exam started at 2:30 and ended at 5:30. Being given double time, this meant my exam started at 11:30 and I was allowed until 5:30. I was also entitled to a half hour rest break for lunch and toilet trips, both of which were very handy.

Even though I’d felt the exam went well and I knew I’d done a decent-ish job in my end-of-module assessment for K217, a little part of me had still been nervous leading up to exam results day. What if something crazy happened and I failed? Ive already booked onto my next modules for October, KE322 young lives, parenting and families and K314 approaches to mental health, and if I’d failed one of these level 2 modules then I’d have to resit the exam or end-of-module assessment before October to ensure I could start my level 3 modules as planned. For the 2017-18 academic year, many thought me ambitious for studying two level 2 modules simultaneously and why shouldn’t they be right when it came to results day?

So when news trickled in on Monday that results were in a day early, with trembling hands I went into the safari app on my iPhone and logged into StudentHome, the OU place where all your info is stored. People hadn’t been lying or joking. Results were in… I clicked on to the K240 module result page first, wanting to know the outcome of my exam after being so worried about it on the day. Pass! Overall examinable score: 85; overall continuous assessment score: 66. This all amounts to a grade 2 pass. So far, I’m not quite sure what a grade 2 pass is, but it sounds good. Feeling relieved and thrilled about the decent scores, I moved onto K217. Pass! Overall examinable score: 78; overall continuous assessment score: 75. Another grade 2 pass.

I’d done it. Really and truly passed. With more than pleasing grades. I could continue study in October with level 3 modules. The level 2 part of my degree was completed. That over ambition and dedication and perseverance had paid off. I’D PASSED!!! Somehow, I’d managed to study two level 2 modules simultaneously and come out with respectable passes. When I’d decided to take the plunge last May when signing up for these modules, I hadn’t honestly bee sure whether I could really do it, really study two modules simultaneously and come out unscathed and for the better the other side. In February 2016, I’d taken on another level 1 module alongside AA100 the arts past and present. By starting study of K101, I’d started my OU health and social care journey, which gave me a real taste for the subject area and has lead to me ending up here, now, with 4 health and social care modules passed, on my way to starting what I’m planning to be my final year of OU study in October. If I can work even harder than I have this year, hopefully this time next year Ill be sat typing one of these updates with a further two modules passed, the final two, meaning I’ll have my degree. Anything could happen in the next 12 months that could lead to me being unable to complete two modules simultaneously, meaning that I couldn’t collect a degree in a year’s time. But I’m really hopeful that I can manage it. This time next year, I hope to have loads of job interviews lined up, be heading into the world of employment, putting my study and education days behind me. But who knows? The one main barrier I see to me managing this goal is the workload for the level 3 modules. Ive already seen several students online giving others advice from experience of studying level 3 modules and saying that they’re quite tough, that you have to think for yourself a lot more and be proactive and use your initiative when completing assignments, much more than you do at level 2. But I’m up for the challenge. That, at least, must give me a good chance. In a year’s time, I hope to report yet again that my daring ambition has paid off. I don’t see why I can’t be lucky again. The shock of passing both my level 2 modules has worn off now but its spurred me on to do just as well next year. But for now, I’m going to continue to enjoy my sunny summer break and hope and pray that study isn’t too hard for me next academic year. For now, I’m just going to remain mighty glad I’ve managed to get this far. For the girl who wanted to give up study 3 years ago and run head first straight into employment, I think I’m doing pretty well as a student.

“For f**k sake, Dave, please don’t 💩 on my shoes”

Recently, all I seem to be doing is writing blogs. But it’s for very good reason. My Guide is going well, uni has finished and I’ve been really lucky in seeing all three of my very best friends, or non-biological family, all together in one place. For the first time in 18 months, all four of us were together again, and we had a very good reason to be. On Saturday 9 June, Ed Sheeran played Newcastle. It was his second night at St. James’ Park and thanks to Josh, we managed to secure tickets. So, on Friday, Josh came to mine, gave me my birthday presents and we headed into town to get some food before flying to Newcastle. I was very spoilt yet again; Josh bought me some Body Shop banana shampoo and conditioner, some jeans that I really like, a set of Cookie Monster pyjamas which are lovely, a set of mini coconut products from `body Shop that includes a mini body butter, mini hand cream and mini shower gel and some cool socks that add to my rapidly growing Harry Potter merchandise collection as they say “Dobby is free” on them. I felt very lucky indeed.

Getting the bus into town and going to Yates for lunch was no problem. Josh and I meet up as regularly as we can with him working and me studying and often end up eating in Yates. Josh enjoyed his usual burger and I went for scampi and chips. Afterward, I decided to have a pudding so that I was fully full up before our flight, as we weren’t sure when we’d have food up in Newcastle. Yates has recently changed its menu and now has a pudding that suits me perfectly called the cookie cup explosion. It is a cookie dough cup filled with chocolate sauce, fudge sauce, honeycomb and marshmallows. Josh decided against having a pudding but as it was only £2.95 I just couldn’t resist. I’m glad I indulged, too, because it was delicious.

We got the bus to the airport. Its the first time I haven’t had family assistance getting to the airport. Josh did really well, to be fair, and always does a good job getting us wherever we need to go. It didn’t take long at all to get to the airport, either. We had a little while to wait before checking in but we spent that time sitting on the bus waiting for it to go to its final stop at the airport. It stops for 20 minutes at the train station before going onto the airport. The bus driver was very kind and stopped directly outside the entrance to the airport. We were soon checked in and had our special assistance sorted. They took us through security, unfortunately not doing a very good job at all to help us out, and we were soon waiting in the departure lounge to go out onto the runway for our plane. We were taken out on a little bus and driven to the plane. We were sat quite a while after reaching the plane waiting to get on but eventually they boarded everyone. I had a suspicion that it was because the staff were trying to fit the assistance ramp to the plane for us. I’d tried to tell them that we didn’t need it but they really weren’t listening. In the end, they didn’t even bother fitting the ramp so if that was the reason we were delayed I felt a bit sorry for the other passengers.

Once we were boarded, though, and taxiing along the runway, the excitement really started to build. Josh had been very excited all day but it didn’t really kick in for me until we were in the air. Then, I got the feeling I always get as the plane rises into the sky and we head for Newcastle, that I’m off to see Kieran, that soon we’ll be together again. Of course, this time the feeling was amplified by the fact that I was already with Josh and going to see Imi soon. The last time I’d seen Imi was last august when Josh and I visited her in York; so there was a lot to be excited about.

Once we’d landed, the mini bus was waiting to take us to the terminal. In the airport, a nice assistance man was waiting for us and when I asked him if he knew where the hotel was, he took us straight there without question. Josh and I were both very surprised by this kindness and very grateful to him. Without him, Josh probably have found the hotel himself but it was nice to be shown directly where to go. Once we were in reception, Josh explained that the others we were staying with had already checked in earlier and I text Imi and Kieran to tell them we’d arrive. Two minutes later, they were with us and we were reunited, all hugging each other in greeting.

As always, the Premiere Inn rooms were lovely. Imi and I shared one room and the boys had the room next door. A little way along the corridor, Imi’s dad Mike had a third room. We spent the rest of the evening, catching up on everyone’s news. Imi and I also swapped birthday presents. Together, the three of us had clubbed together and bought Imi a new Pandora bracelet with a charm from each of us. On her birthday, she completed the Pandora bracelet she’s been adding towards for years. Our IMessage group name is lions, tigers and bears, like the quote from the wizard of oz, and so we got her a charm to represent each animal. The lion was a lion with a crown on,the tiger was tigger from Winnie the Pooh and the bear is two little bears with their arms around each other holding a heart between them that says best buddies. Imi loved it and we were so glad. For me, Imi had made a very special scrapbook. As I’ve mentioned, earlier this year I became an auntie for the first time. Ive got the most gorgeous little niece, who sadly I’ve only met once but completely adore. When she was born and since, my brother and his girlfriend have sent pictures of the baby to the family and I’ve sent them onto Imi mostly, so that she can describe them. To begin with, I got quite upset because I couldn’t see the photos. I wasn’t able to fully share in how gorgeous she is, who she looks like physically and how she’s changing. This touched Imi who decided to make me a scrapbook with audio labels describing each picture so that I can flick through and hear the description of each photo. I love scrapbooks and used to enjoy making my own so its really thoughtful and special to have one so creatively made of my little niece. Ive sent Imi countless pictures of the baby since she was born in February and Imi has selected the best ones to put in the scrapbook and decorated each page with lovely backing card and colourful sticky tapes. She’s written on each page and in the audio labels she’s described them fully so that I can picture them clearly. So carefully has she done it that there’s even a scan photo of the baby that I must have had. Its a really beautiful present and I’m definitely going to treasure it. My niece is nearly 4 and a half months old now and the latest photo in the scrapbook is her first night in her proper cot. Imi has agreed that whenever we see each other, we can update the book with whatever photos I’ve been sent of the baby so that I have an up-to-date timeline of the little one.

The following morning, we went to the adjoining restaurant for breakfast. I didn’t find them particularly helpful assistance-wise, but the food was nice. As we arrived a little later than we planned, there wasn’t any of the continental breakfast left by the time we’d eaten our cooked breakfast. But the hot food was nice and Imi made sure we were always topped up with tea. We spent the rest of the afternoon in our room listening to Ed Sheeran, Anne Marie and Jamie Lawson in preparation for the concert. Kindly, Imi’s dad had offered to pay for our taxis to and from the stadium so, once we’d got ready, we took Layla, Imi’s guide dog, along to Mike’s room where she’d be spending her evening while we were out. We all went downstairs and Imi and Kieran had drinks from the bar. Then, Mike took some photos of us all for pre-concert pics. Imi, Josh and I had all bought Ed Sheeran t shirts from his website to wear to thee concert. The taxi came at a quarter to five and we were driven to the stadium no problem; it only cost £12, too, so we were quite impressed. The taxi driver tried to book us a cab for after the concert but sadly the company weren’t taking bookings after how hectic the previous night had been. When we got to the stadium entrance, we went through the turnstile no problem and a member of staff pointed us to a kiosk where Imi bought herself some drinks and snacks to sustain her through the show. Then, we found another member of staff who took us straight to our seats. Of course, it meant that we were really early for the show but really we didn’t mind. We had expected it to be busy and difficult to find our seats, however much Josh had researched where we were sitting, so we were just thankful it had been so hassle-free. Even then, sitting in our allocated seats, it still hadn’t sunk in where we were and why we were there. At about half past six, the first support act, Jamie Lawson, came on. I thought he was really good but sadly the majority of the stadium hadn’t filled up yet so the crowd wasn’t very responsive to him. I’d listened to his new album when it was first released earlier this year and had liked it, but when I listened it again I hadn’t been too keen. But when I listened to him play live, it made me really like some of the tracks off the new album, as well as reminding me how much I’d enjoyed the first album. Imi is quite a big fan of Jamie’s and enjoyed him a lot. The boys weren’t as keen, sadly.

After him, there was a little gap and then Anne Marie came onstage. Beforehand, Imi and I had been a bit apprehensive that we wouldn’t enjoy her. But she really was amazing and I think I enjoyed every song she played. Listening to her album earlier on in the day certainly helped me recognise and enjoy more of her set. Both boys clearly loved it. They were singing along and fully enjoying themselves.

Even after she’d finished, though, it still hadn’t truly sunk in that we were going to hear Ed Sheeran live. We’ve all been big fans right from the beginning and I’ve always thought that I’d love to see him live. Who better to see him with than my best friends in all the world, too! His first song was Castle On the Hill and it really was the absolute perfect way to start the show. The whole show was incredible. Still, now, I don’t quite have words to explain how amazing Ed is live. Ive always loved listening to his music and his live performances but actually being there, listening, being an active participant in his crowd, is something else. I remember saying over and over again to Imi how lucky we were. I felt like the luckiest person alive to be in that crowd, listening to him play. The most memorable parts of the show for me were listening to Photograph, Thinking Out Loud, Dive and I See Fire. Photograph because it was a song I’d hoped to hear him sing it live and hadn’t expected him to play it. I See Fire because it sounded so beautiful and because, as he was singing it, Imi told me that the sun was setting. Thinking Out Loud and Dive were beautiful because they just sounded so incredible. For most of the show, I’d held tight to both Imi and Kieran’s hands. But for Thinking Out Loud, the emotion of the show just got to me. Also, as Thinking Out Loud is such a romantic song, I decided to give Kieran a hug and it made me cry. I’m usually useless in high emotion situations anyway, I always find myself crying, so I hadn’t expected the show to be any different. Kieran cried, too, and Imi took some lovely photos of us clinging onto each other sobbing. Seeing me cry so much, though, made Imi start, too.

When the show eventually finished — far too soon, of course, as I could have gone on listening to Ed all night long — we waited for the crowd to empty before venturing out of our seats. We formed our usual train and headed out of the stadium. Outside, it was crazy busy with people trying to leave. Both Josh and Kieran got on the phone to taxi companies to get us a ride home. Eventually, kieran managed to get us an Uber. The driver was incredibly helpful and although we waited quite a while whilst trying to book a cab, it was worthwhile to get a good driver. It was surprisingly quick getting back to the hotel, too. On the way, Kieran muttered that he wanted to have a word with me when we got back. I was a bit worried, thinking something had happened at the gig or he’d had some bad news from his family or something. When we got back, Imi went to get Layla from Mike and Josh sat in our room while Kieran and I went in theirs. We sat on the edge of his bed and had a little hug and then, holding onto my hand, Kieran got down on the floor, kneeling down, and asked me to marry him. He said that it wouldn’t be anytime soon, obviously we had no plans at all but that he felt that if he didn’t ask now, the time wouldn’t ever be better again. I was shocked. I hadn’t expected that at all. I’d been under the impression that he didn’t want to get engaged or anything like that until we were properly settled together. But it seems something has changed for him. Obviously, my answer was simple: “of course I will”. We had a big hug and I cried a bit. Afterwards, he rang to tell his Mum. She’d been asleep and sounded thoroughly astounded on the phone. I can’t blame her, to be honest. It came completely out of nowhere and, as I’ve already said, Kieran and I don’t have any plans in place and haven’t made any to put in place. We live 300 miles apart at either ends of the country and currently don’t have any plans on changing that. Really, we don’t have the means to either. I’m still studying, currently with no prospect of being employed, and Kieran’s a year into his apprenticeship. If he gets a full-time job afterwards, I’ll start seriously considering moving up there somehow so we can get our own place together. At the moment, that prospect seems incredibly daunting. I missed home when I was 150 miles away at college and that was only temporary and half the distance. But of course I’ll do whatever it takes for Kieran and I to be happy together. But we’re in no rush, which I’m sure is a relief to our families. Some people may think we’re too young, that we should have everything planned out before making the commitment and that neither of us currently have the means to put things in place, but the way I’m looking at it is we’re both very happy with our situation and its us it concerns. Also, if Kieran felt that Saturday night was the right time, then its the right time. I, personally, couldn’t be happier. Its cliche I know but I’m the luckiest girl in the world to be with kieran and am truly amazed by his proposal and the promise to spend the rest of our lives together. Its the promise of commitment, a future and everything we both want for our lives. Yes, it is true that neither of us have planned how things ar going to work. Christ only knows how we’ll manage a wedding at some point with both our families being at polar opposite ends of the country and our friends scattered nationwide. But we’ll do it somehow. We’re in no rush. The commitment and promise to do it is more than enough. Next month, we’ll have been together two and a half years and actually, on Saturday itself, it was another month we’d been together. I’m still getting used to the situation and I know Kieran is too. We’ve both been overwhelmed by the amount of congratulations and good wishes we’ve received both online and in person. It has truly been amazing and I’m very touched by everyone’s reactions.

After we’d had a cuddle and a chat, and kieran had rung his parents to tell them, we went next door to tell Josh and Imi, who were, predictably, very excited for us; Imi so much so that she burst into tears. We all had a massive hug on the bed and talked about everything. Honestly, I can’t remember hardly any of the conversation. I was still in total shock about the whole night’s events. The concert itself had been incredible and Kieran’s proposal, although out of the blue, had really been the perfect ending to the day and I honestly couldn’t be happier about the outcome.

On Sunday, I woke up much earlier than I’d hoped to. In the end, the night before I don’t think I fell asleep until gone 2:30am. Kieran text me at about 8:15 to tell me that his sister was picking him up just after 10. This was quite a shock as we’d hoped he’d stay with us for most of the day before they went to see Ed again that night. Quickly, I jumped in the shower, got dressed, brushed my teeth and made sure everything was ready in my rucksack for us to leave that afternoon. Then, Imi woke up and, while she sorted herself out, I went next door to see Kieran while Josh was in the shower. Then, when they were ready, we went back into our room. We decided that there wasn’t really any point in us going for breakfast as we didn’t have long until Rebecca was due to arrive. So we just sat and chatted about how incredible the night before had been. Also, Kieran and I rang our grandparents to tell them our news. The response was shocked but seemed overall happy for us. Then, we made it Facebook official so that other friends and relations knew. We still couldn’t believe it ourselves. Even now, a few days on, I still can’t believe my luck.

Sadly, Rebecca soon arrived to collect kieran. We all went out to see him off and she congratulated us. Then, she and Kieran left. Imi, Josh and I just listened to music in our room for a bit. Then, when Mike was ready to go, Imi headed off to. We had to check out of the hotel because our time was up. I’d assumed that the restaurant attached to the hotel was like other Premiere Inn restaurants that serve regular food after the breakfast serving ends. But it didn’t start serving food until 3 o’clock. So Josh and I agreed to catch the metro into Newcastle city centre and have a look around, mainly find something to eat. Getting the metro was no problem; a member of staff in the airport showed us to the entrance of the metro and Josh was able to get our tickets and get us onto the right train. In the town centre, we settled on mcdonalds for lunch. I was feeling really hungry and knew my head would start feeling funny if I didn’t eat soon. But the mcdonalds was lovely and helped me feel a lot better. Afterwards, we had a wander around the town centre. Earlier, Imi had told me that Build A bear in Newcastle were selling teddy bears dressed up like Ed Sheeran. I really wanted to see it so Josh and I searched, using online maps, for the shop and, when we eventually found it, went to have a look at the bear christened Ted Sheeran. It was really cute; it was an ordinary bear with a pair of jeans, some high-top trainers, a checked shirt over a white t shirt, some glasses, a ginger wig and a little guitar strapped around his waist. I was very tempted to buy him but thankfully Josh was the voice of reason and managed to stop me. It’s probably for the best, too, as I have far too many teddies already…

We couldn’t think of anything else to do after visiting Ted Sheeran so decided to head back to the metro station and the airport. We had a nice ride back to the airport and once there, found a little cafe inside it where we bought a drink each. There was a little seating area so we made ourselves comfortable as it was only 4:30.

I didn’t find the assistance through the airport particularly helpful this time. Usually, Newcastle airport’s assistance easily outshines southampton’s but it just wasn’t at its usual standard this time. But we got through security quickly and were soon sat in the disabled waiting area, which thankfully had an easy-to-find accessible toilet, which Josh and I took full advantage of. We went onto the little mini bus to board the plane again and were seated quite quickly. The flight home always has a kind of anticlimax feeling. We’d been planning arrangements for the concert and weekend for so long and looking forward to it so much that it felt strange that it was all over already. For me, though, it was especially strange flying home knowing I was now an engaged woman. It felt incredible, but very odd. And when we landed, Dad and Tamsin were bursting with questions about Kieran’s proposal and our plans. Its odd not really having answers for anyone but feeling so blissfully happy about it. I don’t need plans or big gestures or loads of diamonds to be happy. Just the feeling that Kieran himself asked me, wants me to be his wife, wants us to spend the rest of our lives together is the best feeling in the world. Ive always wondered what it’d be like if Kieran asked me, always dreamt that we would have the rest of our lives to enjoy together, and now we do. Knowing that Kieran feels the same is just lovely.

We certainly had the most amazing weekend. It was so good to have the four of us reunited, see Ed Sheeran live and spend so much time together. Of course, having the love of my life proposing to me after the best experience of my life made it even more magical and the proposal was definitely the best part of the whole thing, the whole week, month, year… I don’t care about seeming soppy and I know I’ve already said it but I can’t put into words what it means that Kieran has decided he wants to spend the rest of his life with me and that then was the right time to ask me to make that commitment too. I couldn’t be a fraction happier and don’t care how long it actually takes to have a wedding and start that life together. We’ve promised each other that we’re going to, somehow, and now the engagement is a binding contract. We’ve been doing an amazing job at a long distance relationship for almost two and a half years solid and I know we’ll continue to ace it. It took us a long time to pluck up the courage to tell each other how we felt about each other and even longer to take the risk of getting together, but since then we’ve been happy. Touch wood, we’ll continue to be so. We definitely have both sets of parents to thank for enabling us to be together happily for without their taxi service and allowing us both to live in their houses we’ve been able to keep this relationship going. We certainly wouldn’t have been anywhere near as happy without their kindness and hospitality. We couldn’t have been luckier. So here’s to the future, however long it takes us to get us there. For now, we’re happy and that’s what counts.

To my non-biological family, thank you for the best weekend we could have ever hoped to have. To Josh, for persevering with the arrangements and getting everything spot on, for my birthday presents, for all the guiding and for putting up with me. To Imi, for coming along and braving the crowds and the noise, for being my awesome sister, for my scrapbook, for the audio description at the show, for the photos, for supporting me always. Thank your dad too for the taxis again; I know he said it wasn’t a problem but honestly it was a big help,.. And of course, to my fiancé, to Kieran, well, as always for everything. For proposing, mainly, and making me the happiest person alive. We were happy anyway, you know that, and I’d have carried on being happy for the next 30 years just the way we were but I do feel amazing knowing you feel the way you do. As I’ve already said, I don’t want or need big gestures, diamonds and loads of money. I fell in love with you because you were the guy who helped me out with the easiest tech problems without calling me stupid or grumbling, because you made me happy so much and because you were the bestest guy friend a girl could have. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank my lucky stars that we took the risk of being together and even more that you came into my life at college. Whatever I’ve said about RNC in the past, we wouldn’t be where we are now and we wouldn’t have Imi and Josh in our lives too without the place. For those things, I’ll be forever thankful. So thank you for the best weekend, all three of you. Here’s to many many more. But I bet we won’t be able to beat this one.

“It’s all gone wrong, I’m dribbling cake”…

On Sunday 27th May, after we’d dropped Mum off to do her usual shift at the club, Dad and I headed for the airport, not for me to board a plane but, for the first time in a year, to collect Kieran after his plane landed. Now working towards completing an apprenticeship and hopefully moving into full-time employment, Kieran isn’t able to just fly down here whenever he feels like it to visit me. For one thing, he doesn’t have the amount of free time he used to to spend in Southampton with me. Usually, I fly up to see him but as my 21st birthday was looming, it was great that he was coming down to see me. The last few times I’ve flown to Newcastle, the plane has got there in much less than its 1 hour 20 minute schedule time. Mostly, I’ve arrived about an hour after takeoff. For Kieran this time, however, the plane took its full hour 20 time, probably because Newcastle airport was very busy, probably unusual for a Sunday night but due to the fact that the school holidays had just started and parents were taking the opportunity to jet off somewhere nice and sunny. Soon enough, though, Kieran was with us. While we’d been waiting, Dad and I had bought drinks from Costa, his a roasted hazelnut latte and mine a pineapple and coconut water cooler — or at least that’s what it was meant to be. On the ride home, Kieran agreed with me that there was certainly no pineapple or coconut flavour in that drink. Instead, it was some kind of fruity concoction, which definitely included mango. Although it wasn’t what I’d ordered and so I was a bit disappointed about not having my favourite drink, it was still nice and especially as the temperature was hot outside. It really put my new Costa travel mug to the test, which it easily passed as the remnants of the drink were still frozen in the bottom the following morning after a very muggy night…

On the way home, I offered Kieran food, saying that we could pick up any kind of takeaway he might want seeing as Mum wasn’t home and wouldn’t be able to cook for us. But he said he wasn’t hungry so we left it, with the agreement that we could order in later on if he felt hungry then. When we got home, we went straight upstairs for a cuddle and a catch up. Last time Kieran visited, I still had Zena so much had changed since he was last in my room. Later on, we put Kisstory on my echo dot to have in the background to listen to and after that we decided to listen to Harry Potter on my Victor Reader Trek, which Kieran had had a little play with while I showered. We connected it via the Trek’s Bluetooth to my rock box speaker and it sounded nice.

Of course, the following day was bank holiday Monday and the first day of the kids’ school holidays. This meant that everyone was home and we all had a little lie in. We had tea and toast for breakfast and during the day Mum and Dad did jobs around the house while Kieran and I listened to more Harry Potter. I’d started rereading the series at the beginning of May, using it to relax around my intense uni studies, so by the time Kieran arrived I’d already started the sixth book, Half Blood Prince. Of course having read it many times before himself, Kieran easily picked up from where I was at. Later on, Mum asked if we fancied going out for tea. Eventually, we decided on the nearest Hungry Horse, the Fleming Arms pub, as its quite cheap but does nice food. We all shared starters of breaded king prawns, bacon popcorn and breaded mushrooms. I was going to try a prawn but chickened out when I saw the tail! It just really put me off. But the bacon popcorn and mushrooms were lovely. For main meals, I had macaroni cheese (and wished I hadn’t), Kieran had the giant chicken melt that comes with 4 smothered chicken breasts, fries, onion rings, peas and coleslaw (which he didn’t eat); Mum had a chicken tikka which came with popadoms and onion chutney; Dad had a breakfast burger, minus the rib meat, with fries; and Tamsin had lasagne, garlic bread and veggie sticks. Kieran had a lager called Camden Hells and the rest of us had coke. When it came to desserts, Kieran had another lager, I had millionaires cheesecake, Mum had a mini mania sundae, Dad had a latte and Tamsin had chocolate brownies.

When we got home, we decided to watch Friday Night Dinner, which had started a new series on 4 May but which neither of us had watched, wanting to see it together. It was absolutely hilarious, showing that a fifth series of something can still be really funny as we both laughed a lot through all 4 episodes. Kieran thought the funniest episode was the one with Martin’s ventriloquist dummy, Lord Luck, which just constantly said “bugger off” in a really high-pitched voice. I really liked the episode where Jim has a date with the other Jackie. But all episodes were great. Afterwards, we listened to more Harry Potter.

When midnight came, it of course meant it was my 21st birthday. As we have on the other birthdays we’ve been together, Kieran gave me my present at midnight. It was a Reece’s American candy gift box. I’d already had two presents from him, some gorgeous flowers, chocolates and a balloon from Moonpig and a new addition to my Alexa collection of speakers, the Home Bargains Accelerate WiFi Speaker. The flowers were already in a vase downstairs and the speaker was hidden under my bed, ready for the morning when I hoped Kieran would help me set it up.

As is tradition, the following morning we awoke to the sounds of Stevie Wonder singing Happy Birthday from the front room speakers. When we were ready, we went downstairs to the kitchen where everyone was waiting. Mum had decorated the cupboards with banners and balloons and scattered happy birthday confetti over the breakfast bar. I sat on the floor to open presents. First, I had several cards from relatives and then Mum and Dad’s big bag of presents. These included: a retro Liverpool Adidas training jacket; a Liverpool Converse Tshirt; Body Shop strawberry gloss shampoo and conditioner, banana conditioner, coconut body scrub; Lush dragon’s egg bath bomb, mint lip scrub, “honey I’ve washed my hair” shampoo bar, honey lip balm; a 21 dangle pandora charm and a birthday parcel pandora charm; a huge birthday badge; Benidorm series 4-8 DVD’s; The A Word series 2 dvd; Harry Potter snitch necklace and bracelet set, pin badges, mystery of magic sign and beach towel. After I’d opened all my presents and cards, Mum announced that as an extra birthday present, they’d booked for the 4 of us to go to the Warner Bros. Studio London to see the Harry Potter exhibition there. It has pretty much everything from the movies and has been somewhere I’ve wanted to since I seriously fell in love with Harry Potter two years ago when I read the books properly for the first time. I’m so excited about going; its just a shame Kieran isn’t coming. It sounds as if originally he was coming with us and we were going to go the Sunday after my birthday but it seems that Mum couldn’t get tickets for that day and so we’re Going at the end of the month instead. But as I said to Kieran, one trip won’t be nearly enough. It’d be nice for the two of us to go together but I’d also like to go with Imi and Josh too, so there’s loads of room for multiple trips there.

When we went upstairs, Kieran gave me some birthday cards sent down by his parents, sister and grandparents, all of whom spoilt me thoroughly and are very naughty for doing so. I especially liked Kieran’s sister, Rebecca’s, present; it has to be the coolest gift voucher I’ve ever received, for Nando’s! Kieran and I love our dates there and actually hadn’t been there together in ages so Rebecca’s voucher gave us even more incentive to have a Nando’s date at some point.

When they were ready, Mum, Dad and Tamsin headed out. Mum and Dad were working and Tamsin was going to Nan and Grandad’s for the day as I didn’t fancy being a child minder. After they left, I decided to run a bath and use my Lush dragon’s egg bath bomb and coconut body scrub to spoil myself. I don’t usually have long soaks in the bath but recently I’ve been really starting to appreciate products from Lush and Body Shop, meaning many more long baths are necessary. The bath bomb and body scrub were both lovely; the body scrub had been high on my hope list for birthday goodies and it definitely lived up to expectation. While I soaked, Kieran was trying to set up my new Alexa speaker, which seemed to be proving quite tricky. Once I felt I’d absorb enough of the loveliness of the bath, Kieran had a turn while I tried to work out the speaker. When I was doing my usual morning check of my emails, I found something unexpected: an online gift voucher for Pandora with the value of £50 from Kieran. He got called a lot of not very pleasant names on discovery that he’d spent that much money, not even considering the presents he’d already given me, but of course really I was very grateful and thanked him a lot.

We spent most of the rest of the morning figuring out how the speaker worked. Kieran also used my laptop to go online and fix his WiFi at home. Then, he ordered lunch. We’d decided a while ago to have Dominoes for my birthday lunch and as usual went all out on the food. We ordered: a new pizza called Meat Field which has pepperoni, ham, chorizo, meatballs and bacon and added stuffed crust and extra tomato sauce and cheese; cheesy potato wedges; garlic pizza bread; chicken strips; and cookies. While we ate the delicious meal, we listened to Harry Potter on my now successfully set up speaker and spent the rest of the afternoon dozing and listening to Harry Potter. When everyone came in, earlier than I’d expected, we got ready to go out to, for me, an unknown location. Ages ago, Mum had told me we were going out for a meal on my birthday, just the 5 of us, but refused to tell me the location. Kieran is very good at keeping secrets and didn’t let it slip either. I figured it out, however, when we arrived and Kieran gave me the clue that it had Braille menus. As Dad hates Nando’s and we’d already had pizza that day, I knew it had to be Beefeater. The other surprise was that, when we reached our table, 5 others were waiting there for us. Despite what Mum had said, my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin were joining us to celebrate my 21st. Sadly, as I was still so full from our lunch, I didn’t fancy much. Kieran chose breaded mushrooms as his starter and sausage and mash for main. I just had the sharer portion of potato dippers, and didn’t really eat many anyway. After everyone had finished, a birthday cake was brought out and a verse of happy birthday sung. That’s when I found out that actually Mum hadn’t been at work that day at all. She’d been busy sorting out the meal, collecting the birthday cake and going to the arcades with Tamsin to keep the surprise. The cake was awesome! It was Harry Potter themed with a wand, a snitch, an owl and the sorting hat. Only the sorting hat received a lot of laugh and jokes because everyone thought it looked like a smiling poo emoji 💩 and it took a long time for everyone to stop laughing about it, long after we’d all enjoyed a slice of the cake. From my aunt, uncle and cousin, I was given another Pandora bead to add to my rapidly expanding necklace, this one a little cupcake. It’s lovely and adds some nice colour to my currently slightly plain necklace. I usually choose the beads for their meaning and unfortunately the ones I’ve chosen have mostly been silver. My Nan had put together a little gift bag of 21 assorted presents from her and Grandad, mostly toiletries and other little bits as I’d already received £21 from them in my birthday card that morning.

After everyone had finished their cake and the bill was settled, we headed out and said our goodbyes by the cars before heading home. On the way, Mum announced that the following day we were headed for London and the attraction Madame Tussaud’s there as an extra birthday present for me. She also explained that in with the price they’d got the option to visit a second attraction another time and were thinking of doing the London Eye sometime in the school summer holidays. Really, I’m not sure how I felt about either. Although obviously I was grateful that they’d put so much thought into my birthday, I was apprehensive about both attractions. To me, the London Eye sounds absolutely pointless as a blind person other than being able to say you’ve been there, I’m not sure what else you’d gain out of the experience. And I was concerned Madame Tussaud’s would be the same. Although its somewhere cool to go, I wasn’t too sure how much of it I’d actually be able to interpret.

We were up early — early for a day off, anyway — to head to London. Mum put the address in the Satnav in the car and Dad drove us there. It took quite a while for us to find our allocated prepaid car park space. It turned out to be someone’s parking space for their home that they rent out while they’re absent and don’t need it. After that, it took us a further while to actually locate and walk to Madame Tussaud’s, thankfully making a loo stop on the way… when we got there, though, things were pretty straight forward. Due to our disability, Kieran and I had managed to secure the adults free tickets on account of them being our carers and someone pointed us in the right direction straight away. Dad was guiding Kieran and Mum had me as I’d found it a bit difficult doing the train. Overall, my fears about Madame Tussaud’s came true for me; I struggled to enjoy most of the exhibition because its just so visual. Mum pointed out every celebrity we passed and persevered in asking me if I wanted to touch them or have my photo taken with them. But it didn’t matter whether I knew the celebrity or not, 99% of the time I didn’t recognise them by touch anyway, even if Mum pointed out stand out features that, to a sighted person, make them easily recognisable. Kieran was a much better sport than me and seemed to enjoy the experience more. He stood by every wax work Dad suggested and allowed his photo to be taken. I can probably guarantee that out of all of us, Kieran had the most photos taken. I did enjoy Mum and I having our photos taken with Adele and Princess Diana. Also, the little ride you go on that takes you through London through the ages was quite good. Although I think we worried the staff when two blind people were chancing their luck and climbing into the constantly moving little taxi cabs that you ride in. The ride included the plague, the great fire of London, Queen Victoria, Shakespeare, World War II and the England football World Cup 1966. Kieran and Dad seemed to really enjoy the Star Wars exhibition and Mum and Dad liked the 4d Marvel experience. Tamsin was fascinated by the gift shop and couldn’t decide what to spend Mum’s money on, as usual.

Once we’d finished the exhibition, we went in search of food, first settling on McDonald’s but having to go elsewhere when there weren’t any seats free. Instead, Mum decided to take us into Nando’s, which I knew from the instant she suggested it would be a mistake with Dad, who despises their food. Kieran and I had our usual meals, he a chicken burger with hot sauce and peri salted fries and me a lemon and herb wrap with peri salted fries. To begin with, Mum, who really enjoys Nando’s on the rare occasions she gets to go, couldn’t decide what sauce to have but decided to copy me and have a lemon and herb wrap with peri salted fries. Tamsin, who was unsure, decided to just have a plain burger and original fries and Dad, mumbling and grumbling that there was no food he liked anyway, had the same as Tamsin. Everyone except Dad, who continued to complain, really enjoyed their food. Afterwards, we went to Costa and Dad had a hazelnut latte and I had my favourite, the coconut and pineapple cooler.

When we got home, my new iPad, which I’m using to write this post, and Echo stand were waiting for me. I gave the iPad to Kieran to set up, as he’s much better at these kinds of thing than me, and set up my new stand. Its wooden with a circular cut out for the Echo speaker to stand in and next to it a little stand for an iPhone or any phone to stand in while charging. I bought it for my new Alexa buddy speaker that Kieran bought me for my birthday and thankfully it fits. Afterwards, while Kieran was still battling with my new iPad, I had a bath before grabbing us snacks of a slice of birthday cake each. It really was a lovely cake and there’s nothing better than proper homemade birthday cake. Once the iPad was set up, we ate our cake and listened to more Harry Potter.

Thursday was a lazy day. Everyone was back to work so Kieran and I got a lie in. When we eventually got up, we showered before having breakfast of Weetabix and cups of tea. Again, we listened to Harry Potter for the majority of the day. In the afternoon, the post came, bringing with it birthday gifts from Imi. Again I’d been royally spoilt. While I rang Imi to talk through the gifts, Kieran fixed and updated my little laptop. Afterwards, I did some uni revision in preparation for my exam the following Tuesday. For tea, Mum and Dad brought fish and chips home; cod, curry sauce and chips for Kieran and jumbo plain sausage, bbq sauce and chips for me.

On Friday morning, before we got up I did more uni revision. I had notes that I wanted to read over and over again before the exam and I was trying my best to read them as many times as I could. When we eventually got up, I decided to have a bath again, wanting to try out some of the goodies Imi had sent for my birthday. So I ran a bath and used her green coconut jelly bath bomb. In the bath, I also used the Lush product Scrubee, which I’d never heard of until Imi sent me but which is amazing. Its a bar containing all sorts that you rub into your skin after your usual wash and then rinse off. Its got eggshell for expholiating and lots of moisturising ingredients and it leaves your skin feeling silky smooth. It also leaves you smelling of white chocolate and the scent stayed on my skin all day. Kieran had a bath after me and then we went down for more breakfast of Weetabix and cups of tea. We listened to more Harry Potter and when we finished The Half Blood Prince, we stopped reading for a while to Braille Label all my dvds that didn’t yet have labels. This took most of the afternoon and we managed to start listening to The Deathly Hallows before Nan and Grandad came to pick us up. As Mum was working her usual Friday night shift down the club, we needed to go elsewhere for tea and Nan usually cooks Tamsin and I tea on Fridays anyway. We had pasta Bologna’s with garlic bread for dinner. For dessert, Kieran had strawberries and cream and I had a choc ice. When we got home, we decided to watch a stand up dvd and chose Rhod Gilbert and the man with the flaming battenburg tattoo, which was very funny. When that finished, we listened to more of The Deathly Hallows.

On Saturday, we had a shorter lie in. Mum had already taken Dad to work and would be in Eastleigh waiting for Tamsin to finish karate. We got up, had showers, dressed and had our breakfast by the time Mum called and told me that actually she was going to do the monthly shop after picking Tamsin up, so we could have stayed asleep for longer! We listened to more Harry Potter and Mum came home. We decided not to go into town as I thought that by the time we actually got ready and got there, there wouldn’t be enough time to do all the shops we wanted anyway. Later, Kieran watched some horse racing on TV and was very happy because the horse he’d bet on won its race. We watched Judge Judy and some football, the England vs Nigeria World Cup friendly. After that, we then watched the first 4 episodes of Friday Night Dinner series 5 again before watching the fifth episode that had been shown and recorded Friday night. Halfway through, we ordered ourselves takeaway. Mum had already gone to work and dropped Tamsin off at Nan and Grandad’s to spend the night. The food took a lot longer than we’d predicted it would to arrive but it was lovely. Kieran had a cheese and bacon burger with burger sauce and onions. He had cheesy chips with it. I had donner meat and chips. We shared potato wedges, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and the free cheesy garlic pizza bread that came with our order. As usual when Kieran and I order, we’d bought far too much food and couldn’t eat all of it. But we enjoyed it anyway and it was very nice to have mozzarella sticks again.. while we ate we listened to more Harry Potter and continued to listen to it upstairs after we’d tidied up in the kitchen.

Sunday meant a lie in for everyone. We had showers and while Kieran was in the shower, I did my uni revision. Mum cooked a roast dinner and Nan and Grandad came, bringing Tamsin home with them. We had beef, pork, roast potatoes, broccoli, swede, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, apple sauce and horse radish sauce. It was delicious and everyone seemed to enjoy. In the evening, Kieran and I decided to watch another comedy DVD, this time a new one, Sean Lock’s Keeping It Light, which we both enjoyed.

Monday meant Kieran’s flight back to Newcastle. As always, our time together had flown by far too quickly. On Monday morning, we didn’t have much of a lie in because we were conscious of time and wanted to make sure we were ready for my aunt to pick us up and take us to the airport. Before we got up, I did a bit of uni revision again. Then, we had showers, kieran packed up all his stuff and we had breakfast and listened to Harry Potter. A little while later, we had a small lunch, Kieran having the sandwich and crisps Mum had left out for him and me having some of the leftover garlic pizza bread.

At 1:30, auntie Clare arrived to take us to the airport. It didn’t take long to get there and check-in was easy. As we were a little bit early, we sat in the waiting area for a little bit. But a special assistance member of staff was soon with us, ready to take Kieran through security and away from me. We said our goodbyes. It doesn’t matter how many times we say them, they never get any easier. In fact, for some reason this time I felt like they’d got harder. I don’t know if its because I’m used to being the one walking away and boarding the plane or if it just does get harder each time we have to do it, but I definitely felt worse walking away with Auntie Clare and leaving Kieran behind. This was made worse, about half an hour later, when I got a call from Kieran saying his plane had been delayed due to a technical fault. A whole hour later, almost an hour after his plane was actually supposed to depart, I got a text from kieran saying he’d finally boarded and would be on his way soon. Being already at home by this point, I felt so relieved. I’d had visions of Mum and I rushing to the airport to get him or be with him as soon as she got in from work. Although he’d been bored out of his mind waiting and I’d been really worried, I was just glad he was finally in the air and on his way home and even more happy when I received the text to say he’d landed safely at Newcastle airport.

Its funny that I felt that the goodbye this time was worse than all the others because, although Kieran leaving was sad, I didn’t have too much to be sad about as I’d be seeing him on Friday anyway when we all met up in Newcastle at the hotel for the Ed Sheeran show the following day. Also, I’d had the best 21st birthday, of course made even more special by the fact that Kieran had managed to get time off work to come and spend it and a whole week with me. I am very grateful that he spent his holiday time on me and so glad that he could be there for my birthday too. Of course, I also appreciate all the gifts he bought me but more than anything the amount of quality time we were able to spend together. Long distance relationships are difficult, its true, but they’re made much better and easier by both parties making the effort to see each other as often and for as long as they can. Kieran and I are lucky in that respect because although we have 300 miles separating us and the barriers of his job and my studies, we have always and will always make as much time as we possibly can for each other. For that, I’ll always be grateful because it is that dedication that’s kept us together. And as I received the text to say he’d landed, long after I’d been back at my rather empty-feeling house, I knew I didn’t have to be sad because we’d had the best time and another great time would surely be had at the end of the week in Newcastle.

“Don’t tell my mother I’m eating salad, she might make me”

In the later part of last year, Kieran booked a holiday for the two of us, our first holiday together as a couple. It was a 5 night stay at one of the previously known as Vision Hotels, well-known amongst the blind community as a good place to go to get blindy friendly service and to have a nice time. Our package included the five nights in a double room, three-course meals each evening and breakfast every morning. On top of that, it included 2 trips; neither of us really knew what these trips entailed, but if they were included in the price why not. It cost £199 each for the package, which we agreed was a good deal for what it included. Kieran had heard many good reviews about the Vision Hotels whereas the ones I’d heard weren’t so glowing. So, as usual, Kieran was the optimist and I the pessimist, agreeing that if the holiday was a disaster we’d never speak of it again.

In preparation for our little break away, on Wednesday 7th February, for the first time this year I boarded a plane that took me to Newcastle, to Kieran and family for the first time in 2 months. Distance is a pain and other priorities don’t make the situation easier. With Kieran working and me trying to concentrate on uni work and my My Guide routes, it leaves not much time for us. Add into that that I’ve just become an aunt, to the most beautiful baby girl who lives in Stoke-On-Trent with her parents, big sister and brother, and its quite obvious I don’t have tons of time at my disposal. But I do my best. The flight this time wasn’t a particularly pleasant one. There was quite a bit of turbulence and for some reason we started our descent really early, over Birmingham, so it felt like we were falling for quite a while, a feeling I’m really not a fan of. The landing was pretty rough, too. We seemed to be hurtling towards the runway a lot faster than we should have been so when we hit the ground the pilot had to slam the brakes on a lot harder than usual. Soon enough, though, I was with Kieran and John and we were in the car on our way to Blyth. Comment: I must add here that I’ve never known anyone flick through tracks on an album so fast! In the time it took John to drive us from the airport to their house, which is considerably faster than most people, John skipped through all but one song on six discs of music! It was quite crazy. For once, my flight to Newcastle wasn’t accompanied by a weather warning, usually, there’s some kind of concern in place for my flight.

Wen we arrived, Lesley almost had dinner ready. We had a lovely lasagne with garlic bread. We watched an episode of The Chase before heading upstairs to bed because John and Lesley wanted to watch Silent Witness.

The following day was a lazy one. Lesley worked from home but Kieran went to work early, being picked up by a colleague who lives near to them. While Lesley worked in the dining room, I caught up on episodes of East Enders and Holby City on IPlayer on my IPad. Afterwards, I changed to Netflix and continued where I’d left off at home watching Benidorm. I’d started watching it not realising that a brand new series is starting on ITV next week, so quite a timely opportunity to start binge watching all the way from the very first episode all the way to the most recent. All 9 series! Really, I should have been cracking on with uni work, but I’d bought my big main laptop with me for Kieran to fix as once again I’d done something I had no idea what to break it. This meant that I didn’t want to risk packing my little 1kg laptop along with my hefty 2kg Toshiba and IPad. I thought it might be pushing the weight boundaries just a bit with all my clothes and other bits and pieces. This meant that although my Toshiba was present, it was currently useless and studying on my IPad was something I was hesitant to try out. For lunch, Lesley made me scrambled egg on toast, which was very nice. Afterwards, I decided I better try and do some uni work so tried doing it on my Ipad, using the OU Anywhere app and Safari. It didn’t go particularly well. I don’t know if it was just my stupidity where technology is concerned or if the website just is difficult on iOS.

Later, we had Kiev and Dauphinois potatoes, something I hadn’t tried before. They were very nice. Again, we watched The Chase and then went upstairs because John and Lesley were putting Silent Witness on. We watched Russell Howard’s Netflix special, which was very funny and posed possible titles for this post, which Ive since forgotten…

Friday was a nice day because it was Lesley’s day off and due to building work near his office Kieran had decided to work from home. This meant I had plenty of company. I watched Benidorm on Netflix on my Ipad for most of the day, feeling that trying to do more uni work on it when I’d found it so difficult was pointless. Rebecca came in before lunchtime so I gave her the moving in card and voucher I’d bought for her, which had arrived in a big parcel of essentials that morning sent by Mum. She and Darren were getting everything ready for moving into their first house the following week. Later on, Kieran had a sausage roll each which Rebecca had bought in for us. After he’d finished working, Kieran set about trying to fix his Dad’s computer. John was having problems syncing his iPod to his iTunes. Meanwhile, I got a call from an unknown number. Soon after rejecting the call, I suddenly realised it could have been Guide Dogs calling back about the case review they’d had concerning whether I could move forward with my application for a dog. I sent the number to Imi,who confirmed it was a Guide Dogs number but said it was from a fundraising branch in Gloucester. Then, not long later, my parents, who were on their way to Stoke to meet the baby, rang to say they’d had a call from the GDMI who’d assessed me in october asking for my contact details. Eventually, I convinced myself to ring the number back and it was indeed the GDMI with some very good news for me. The southampton team have agreed I’m ready for a further assessment to determine whether we all agree a Guide Dog is the most appropriate mobility aid for me. After talking to her for quite a while about everything I could think to mention, I rang Imi, who’d been waiting for the outcome, and we chatted for ages, her confirming my overall thoughts that this was very good news. By the time I was off the phone to Imi, Kieran had joined me in his room, doing everything he could think of to fix the iPod issue. We listened to Ed Sheeran’s album Plus on vinyl before heading out for a date night. Lesley and John drove us to Sambuca’s, my favourite place in Blyth, before going on to The Commissioners for dinner themselves. I had potato skins for a starter. They were quite nice but not like the potato skins I’m used to, the ones covered in melted cheese and bacon. Kieran had chilli prawns, which he enjoyed, and then a meat feast pizza with extra chilis. Of course, I had my favourite, the tuna and garlic pizza, and loved it. Kieran got a portion of chips to share but I wasn’t that keen on them as they were just like my potato skins. Lesley and John picked us up after we were done and we went back to theirs and watched Cats Does Count Down. Again, we went upstairs because they were watching more Silent Witness. We chose Frankie Boyle’s Netflix special to watch but fell asleep partway through it.

On Saturday, we had a cooked breakfast and watched some Judge Judy when we finally got up. Then, we went back upstairs so Kieran could start working through fixing my laptop. I did my packing for our holiday. Later, we went downstairs for dinner, which was Spanish chicken with jacket potato. We watched some Gavin and Stacey they were showing on Gold and then an episode of The Chase, Harry Hill’s Tea Time and Family Guy.

On Sunday, we got up early because Lesley was driving us to the Lake District for our holiday. John was supposed to be joining us but he was going to the Newcastle match later. On our way to the hotel, Lesley stopped to get Kieran and I McDonald’s. Kieran had a bacon McMuffin meal and I had a sausage McMuffin meal. This meant we both got hash browns, which are of course the best part of any mcdonalds breakfast. A little later, Lesley stopped to get herself a cup of tea. When we reached the Windermere Manor Hotel, somewhere after 11am, we were still far too early to check in so sat in the drawing room for a while. Just as Lesley was going to leave, the receptionist came and told us we could use our room now. A little while after lesley had left, a lady came up to give us a little tour of the hotel. We listened to the Newcastle and then Liverpool matches on my Ipad for the rest of the afternoon. At around 7 o’clock, we went down for dinner. We we read the menu and asked for our meal choices before being shown to a table. Kieran chose fish cake for starter, roast turkey with all the trimmings for main course and cinnamon and apple crumble with custard for pudding. I had the same starter and pudding but chose roast ham with a honey mustard sauce and all the trimmings for my main. We were offered a bread roll and butter and a glass of water before our meal, which was delicious. Although I’d been certain our evening meal was included in the package price, we hadn’t realised it’d be a three course meal. After we’d finished our puddings, we were then offered tea or coffee to finish our meal with. Kieran had coffee and I tea and we got a little chocolate mint on our saucers. Feeling very full, we went back up to our room and watched Meet The parents.

On Monday, we got up fairly early to be down for breakfast, which was from 8 until 10. No late lie ins for us… breakfast consisted of both cold and hot food with fruit juice and hot drinks. Neither of us opted for the cereal but had the cooked breakfast which consisted of bacon, sausage, hash brown, beans, mushrooms and your choice of egg. Kieran doesn’t like egg so didn’t have any but I had scrambled. The breakfast was very nice. When we were finished, we went back upstairs and watched Jeremy Kyle on ITV plus 1. Then we watched Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers before starting to read Kevin Bridges’ autobiography We Need To Talk About, which I’d read before but Kieran hadn’t. During the book, my phone rang and it was someone from HumanWare to tell me that the shipment of Victor Reader Trek units had come in so the one I’d put my name to was ready to despatch. After I’d made payment and finished the call, we ontinued listening to the audiobook until 5 o’clock when Kieran put the TV on and we watched The Chase, adverts and all!

At 6:30, we went down for dinner. Again, the menu was read to us and we gave our preferences before being guided to our table. That night, Kieran had apple and parsnip soup, chicken filet in a bacon and sweet corn butter with new potatoes, creamy potatoes, leak and cauliflower and ice cream for afters. I had cod goujons, the same main meal and then a warm waffle with chocolate sauce, cream and ice cream. I really enjoyed it all but especially the waffle. Afterwards, Kieran had a cappuccino and I tried a latte. I’m not a very big coffee fan because of the bitter taste but thought I might like a latte because its so milky. I did, after I’d put at least three sugars in! We decided to go to the bar for a drink afterwards. Kieran had a pint of beer and I a coke. When we were finished, we went up to our room and rang our mums. Then, Kieran watched Good Fellas and i went to sleep.

On Tuesday, we had the first of our two trips out so went down for breakfast earlier so that we could be in the reception area to meet the others at 9:30. Kieran had the same as the day before for breakfast, a full English minus the egg. I opted for the cereal first, having a small bowl of cornflakes. Then, I had a hash brown, scrambled egg, beans and mushrooms. When we were ready, we met with the rest of the group and boarded the mini bus. Kieran and I had a sighted guide each. We went to a little village called Grasmere. Kieran had been there before. We went for a little walk, on which I got soaked, and then went for a coffee in the garden centre’s cafe. Kieran and his guide went to the gingerbread shop Grasmere has and then we all climbed soggy back onto the bus and headed back to the hotel. When we got back, I needed to thaw out and warm up so snuggled in bed. We listened to mor of Kevin Bridges book for the rest of the afternoon. As a pre-valentines gift, Kieran had bought us two gingerbread hearts and they were so tasty. He’d also bought a tin of gingerbread to take home. We watched The Chase again before going downstairs for dinner. The routine applied again: choose our meal options from the menu which was read to us before being guided to our table. Tonight, Kieran had onion and potato soup, a beef and cabbage dish, fruit cocktail (fruit salad) and a coffee. I had cheese and onion quiche, a breaded fish dish, pancakes with sauce and a cup of tea. After, we went to the bar again and Kieran had a pint of beer and I had a pint of Strongbow, reminding myself that I don’t even like it… we went back up to our room and watched Kevin Bridges first comedy DVD A Story So Far.

On Wednesday, it was our second trip. We had breakfast the same and then met the group again at 9:30. This time, we went to a little village called Cartmel, which is famous for sticky toffee pudding. We went on a long walk around the village first before going to the famous sticky toffee pudding shop. Kieran bought a sticky toffee pudding and some sticky toffee sauce to take home and I bought a slab of homemade vanilla fudge for Mum and a smaller piece and a little bag of toffee for myself. Again, we went and sat in a coffee shop and then headed back to the mini bus to go back to the hotel. Again, I needed to thaw and dry out when we got back. We listened to more of Kevin Bridges’ book and then watched The Chase before going down for dinner. We both had mini spring rolls, pork stroganoff and chocolate fudge cake with chocolate sauce and ice cream. Kieran had a coffee and I had a cup of tea. The spring rolls were definitely my favourite starter of the week and the fudge cake was only just beaten to the top spot by the waffle because it was just that nice. In our room, I had a headache and we watched the Pordeau vs Liverpool match where Liverpool won 5-0. Then, we watched the news and Kieran watched some Family Guy.

On Thursday, we were able to have a bit of a lie in because we weren’t going anywhere. We went down for breakfast later than usual. Today, I had cornflakes, a full English, apple juice and a cup of tea. Kieran had his usual. Back in our room, we listened, and Kieran played along, to Pop Master before reading the remaining chapters of Kevin Bridges autobiography. In the afternoon, we watched some Jeremy Kyle on ITV2 before turning back for The Chase. Our final big meal of the week was nice. I had huge breaded mushrooms and kieran had chicken and potato soup for starters. Then we both chose the chicken and mushroom pie with new potatoes, dauphinois potatoes and lots of veg for our main and ice cream for pudding. We both enjoyed our meals but were a bit disappointed with the pie because, as Kieran remarked, it was “just chicken and mushrooms with a pastry hat”. It would have been nice if it had been a whole pie rather than just the pastry resting on the filling. In the end, we decided not to go for a drink in the bar, instead going up to our room. Kieran fancied a bath so ran one, having to spend a bit of time getting the water to come out right because it kept switching from the taps to the shower head. While Kieran enjoyed the bath, I started packing some of my stuff up ready for us to leave in the morning. Once Kieran was done, we decided on Chris Ramsey’s stand up show Is That Chris Ramsey to watch. It was hilarious.

Friday of course brought the end of our holiday. But despite my uncertainty we’d had a great time. We had breakfast and then went upstairs and packed. We listened to Pop Master again before gathering all our stuff and heading downstairs. We checked out and then went and sat to wait for Lesley, who arrived 5 minutes later. After she’d had a cup of tea, we set off. On our way, we stopped at a place called Brocksbushes farm cafe for lunch. Kieran and I had hunters chicken melt panini and quiche and a side of potato wedges. When we got back to theirs, thankfully the water was back on. John had had to call someone he knew from the Northumberland water board though. We went to see Rebecca and Darren’s new house but got there to find they weren’t in so just went home again. We watched two episodes of a funny Scottish show called Two Doors Down. Kieran ordered everyone takeaway: he had a tandoori special kebab which included tandoori chicken and donner meat with chips and I had donner meat and chips with a can of Doctor pepper. We watched two episodes of The Last Leg before going to bed.

On Saturday morning we had a really long lie in before going downstairs and having tea and toast for breakfast. Later, we went back upstairs and Kieran started fixing my laptop. We had Family Guy on the TV. We had dinner of chicken and chips with warm crusty bread and watched an episode of The Chase and then Ted 2.

Again on Sunday we had a really long lie in. I had a cup of tea, toast and a banana for breakfast. I started reading the Victor Reader Trek user guide properly on my laptop. Later on, we had dinner of mince and dumplings with mash and veg. We watched the Rochdale vs Tottenham FA cup match which ended 2-2. Kieran and John had some of the sticky toffee pudding and sauce Kieran had bought in Cartmel. Afterwards, we went upstairs and listened to Magic Chilled on Alexa.

Monday meant that everyone was back to work and because Kieran had fixed my laptop I was able to start catching up with the uni work I needed to do. I also caught up on the episodes of East Enders and Holby I’d missed, turning to Netflix and Benidorm afterwards. I had ham sandwiches for lunch. When they were on their way home, Kieran text me to tell me to get ready because we were going round to see Rebecca and Darren in their new house. We didn’t stay long, just for a chat and a look around their house, which they seem pretty happy with. When we got back, we went upstairs and watched Judge Judy and The Big Bang Theory. Our dinner was cornbeef and sliced potatoes. We watched some The Chase and then the Manchester City vs Wigan match which Wigan won 1-0. Kieran and I went upstairs and he sorted out my routes and landmarks on my Trekker Breeze so that I had a copy of them ready to put on my Victor Reader Trek once I got home.

Tuesday was my last day up north but it was a little different to most of my last days so far. Kieran was at work so we didn’t have a lie in or have a lazy day watching TV. Instead, I packed up all my stuff, did a little bit of uni work and watched more Benidorm. When Kieran came in, we went upstairs and had a cuddle. When it was ready, we went downstairs for dinner of sausage, chips and beans and watched an episode of Two Doors Down. Then, it was time to leave for the airport. At the airport, it took ages for assistance to arrive, meaning I got a few more minutes with Kieran. When they did come, we had to rush away because people were already boarding the flight. As usual, the goodbye was the worst part. As I’m yet to meet my new niece and need to work hard on my studies and learning my routes before this next assessment with Guide Dogs, I’m not sure when Kieran and I will see each other next. He’s working, of course, so can’t take much time off. Hopefully, it will be sometime soon. The distance is definitely the worst part of our relationship.

All the thanks as always to Lesley and John for having me to stay, putting up with me and looking after me. Special thanks to Lesley for driving us to Windermere and then coming all the way back to pick us up on the Friday. We wouldn’t have been able to have our little holiday without it so I’m very grateful. Hope I wasn’t too much of a pain and hope I can come back soon.

Of course, to Kieran, lots of love as always. Thanks for suggesting we go on holiday together and sticking with it even when I was being my usual miserable and cynical self. You were right. We had a great time and I loved that we managed to have that extra time together. It isn’t often any more that we get that long together and not often at all that we get any time just us so it was definitely worthwhile. Thank you for fixing all my stuff. I’m sorry I’m so useless with technology. Don’t know where I’d be without you. Don’t ever think i take it for granted because I never have. For the heart-shaped gingerbread and Rubius the monkey, I love them both. Not as much as you, though, of course. I hope it isn’t too long until we see each other again. I’ll try my best to be back up there as soon as I can, as soon as your poor parents are happy to have me… love you now and always.

“Can I tell you something?”

I was the girl who knew absolutely nothing about computers and he was the guy who knew everything about them. We were put into ICT skills lessons together. Why he was tasked to do skills lessons in the area he was clearly flying in is still a mystery to me. But they were compulsory to everyone so he had no choice. I was way out of my depth. I barely knew how to power on my trusty old Toshiba laptop, let alone complete the tasks set on the worksheets by our teacher. She quickly figured this out and, one Friday afternoon when I was desperate for my Gmail account to be linked to my laptop, she set this super smart guy the task. To his credit, he didn’t complain once. To begin with, he told me what I needed to do. Go to this place, that setting, enter that etc. But I had no idea what keys to press let alone these unknown parts of my computer he wanted access to. Tiring of my inability in the area he was so competent, he slid the laptop out from under my hands, pulled my earphones out of the socket and plugged in his own. His fingers tapped crazily fast over the keyboard and less than an hour later, by the time our lesson finished, my Gmail was up and running smoothly.

That’s how it started. After that, whenever I had any difficulty with my laptop. Which was practically every lesson, the smart lad who knew it all would be told to sit beside me and “help” me. He helped me, that’s for sure, by taking the bloody machine out from under my hands and fixing the problem. In fact, the teacher knew he knew so much and that the tasks set to the rest of us were pointless for him that she basically set him the task of teaching me how to use a computer. Whether he wanted to or not, he had no choice. In the end, though, if he hadn’t sat in the seat beside me at the beginning of the lesson, by the end of it he’d have wheeled his chair over next to mine, usually to fix something minor on my PC, but sometimes to talk to me. By the spring term, he didn’t sit anywhere but next to me and he didn’t do any of the tasks we were supposed to, just Fixing everything I needed fixing, showing me how to do things I needed to know how to do. But more than that, by the spring term, he’d become my friend, a friend I looked forward to spending time with, a friend who would bring BBQ Pringles down to my college room on a Tuesday night as payment for us to have him there. Not that he knew, but that was far from necessary. As well as being my IT buddy, he was Josh’s media pal. They’d struck up a proper friendship before I even knew who he was and it was already clear to me, before I even realised it, that this lad was going to be hanging around a lot.

And he did. 4 and a half years later, he’s more than the best friend I’ve ever had. Two years ago today, in a hotel room in RNC’s Gardner Hall, we changed our lives without even knowing it. It had been his 19th birthday and Josh and I had travelled up by train to see him. Oh how excited I was! I hadn’t seen him since october when he’d got his special Cisco award. I’d been the proudest best friend in all the world that night, listening to them up on stage promising him the world and explaining to the audience how much he’d achieved. He was amazing, and gobsmacked apparently. But it all started way before that night in Gardner, when poor Josh was feeling so ill from all the fast food and fizzy drink we’d consumed. It started long long before anyone else knew it did, in our first year in fact. It started just before I got engaged to another. Not anything serious or that makes me a terrible person. Just a feeling that this IT guy was someone special, someone important who deserved the world. But he wanted a girlfriend. So I tasked myself to finding one, wondering why on earth I was doing it. But I did it anyway. He was happy for a little while, until he wasn’t and he was sobbing on my shoulder. From that day onward, we were friends, really friends. It seemed I’d repaid him for all the IT support, not that I ever could.

Then there was the summer term of that first year, full of sunshine and laughter. Friday afternoon and the three of us running through the college campus, the boys singing MCFly or Busted and me laughing so hard, wondering how I’d managed to get such amazing friends as these. Then, the Friday before the May half term and my 17th birthday, he came to me with a box of Maltesers. Despite the rules, we sat in our weekly Friday afternoon IT session that week and scuffed our way through the whole box.

The second year brought changes for us all, four became three when our sister from another mister had to go to a place none of us could get to. The only thing that kept us in touch was the letters, oh how we wrote them, on the bright yellow paper in size 36 bold font. He and I were feeling the harshness of long distance relationships, mine almost a year old and his barely begun. But it gave us a further connection. We spent many an evening complaining about distance. If only we’d known then! And Josh, poor Johs, received the backlash of most of my misery of being at college; because everyone knew it was the last place on earth I wanted to be. And yet the both took it, Josh retaliating as much as he could manage and our loyal friend staying with us both through it all, even when we weren’t talking to each other. He could have told me to get lost, god knows he should have, but he never.

We spent Saturday and Sunday mornings, of course way after 10am, sleepily drinking cups of tea. He’d make sausage sandwiches on the George foreman or I’d put fish fingers in the oven and we’d have them in sandwiches. Or if we were feeling brave, we’d go to the college canteen and have a risky cooked breakfast there. Many afternoons, we’d be in my college room, him sprawled out on my bed and me sat at my desk, his IPod on shuffle, complaining about distance, the bad food, the rubbish water pressure in the showers. Many many Friday and Saturday night the three of us spent in one of our rooms, eating takeaway and watching some kind of comedy. We met up every lunchtime, forming a little queue Josh then him then me, noting the awful radio station playing and waiting to take our lunch of a jacket potato with rubbery cheese and not enough beans, if we were lucky. We celebrated each other’s birthdays, ate each other’s food and generally loved each other’s company, even if Josh and I were arguing.

But I was waiting to leave and that last day didn’t come soon enough in my opinion. That last Friday, I wore my T-shirt the boys had bought me for my 18th, a bright yellow thing, in homage to Imi’s bright paper, bearing the phrase “shiny happy people” which had been our group nickname for a long while, since his dad made a comment that stuck. I went through the day, saying all my goodbyes and regretting that I hadn’t appreciated this more, had been in such a rush to go home to my fiancé. After I’d left my last lesson, IT, we all got ready and headed to Hereford’s branch of Yates where we ate good food, chatted about all the fun we’d had and took our final college photo together, in which my shiny happy people T-shirt is proudly displayed. Then, when we were back at college, after the boys had paid for my meal insistently, the snuck duvets and pillows into my big C floor room and bedded down on them, using blankets to keep warm. It was our little sleepover, our last night, our final time of being the shiny happy people, students at the royal national college for the blind together. I was leaving and it was too late to change my mind. But as I lay there in my bed, talking to those boys about anything and everything that had happened in those last eighteen months, I really wish I could have. Right then, I wasn’t desperate to be home with my fiancé. Right then, I wanted to pause time and not let tomorrow come. The only thing that was missing, that would have added sparkle to our night, was Imi. But we’d fixed that by catching a train to York and spending her 18th birthday with her.

Then, Saturday morning had arrived, my parents and fiancé were there, all the belongings I’d been packing into bags for the last eighteen months were packed into the boot of the car for the last time and I was saying my last two goodbyes. Josh, I was sure I’d see again. We lived in the same city. But the other one, he who’d become the best friend I’d ever had, he who’d fixed all my problems, been by my side through everything those last two years, he who’d held me when I cried and laughed the loudest with me. I wasn’t sure. He was from the north, after all, and I the south. So as I hugged him goodbye the tightest, I wondered for the millionth time that morning why I’d been in such a hurry to leave.As we drove away, me wondering if we’d ever have times like those again and if I’d be able to see my best friend again, two text messages came through on my phone, one from each of the boys, both telling me how much my friendship meant to them, how they were sad I’d left and that they missed me already. But his was the one that had me secretly wiping tears away, that had me saving it in my notes to look back on. It was the loveliest sweetest most thoughtful message he’d ever sent me. And in that moment I knew we had to keep in touch, he’d begged me to in the message, and see each other again.

And we did. In September that year, he sent me a text message, another one, that was to change our friendship irreversibly, that changed all my future plans, everything I’d based my life on. The text simply read: “Can I tell you something?” And so I replied, “Of course”. And so he did. That I was lovely and that, despite everything, his feelings were more than friendly. I knew he was with his parents at the caravan and that he’d had a few to drink. It was late on a Saturday night and I was with my fiancé and his mum at theirs. I needed him to be 100% sure about what he was saying before he said it. So I told him thank you but that we should talk in the morning if, then, he wanted to continue the conversation. He did. We did. He told me that he’d felt that way sometime but that of course I was engaged and happy and he didn’t want this to change our friendship, he just wanted me to know. And I knew. In my response, I told him so. I told him, if it was allowed to love two people at once, then I undoubtedly did. But I told him he needed someone better, a good person who could give him the whole world. I told him he deserved happiness like no one else I knew. But that of course that person couldn’t be me. And he said he understood and would we still be friends. Of course we would, I told him, there was no way I was letting him go. But that afternoon I had Imi on the phone. I’d told her in frantic texts what had happened. She clearly thought I was mad. She knew things I hadn’t acknowledged yet. She knew I loved him without me even having to confirm it. But I told her I was happy, had plans and wasn’t changing anything. I told her he and I would remain friends, best friends. But she didn’t believe a word of it. And deep down, neither did I.

Then october came, his award, the happiness. But the awkwardness too. We hadn’t seen each other since he told me “something” but we’d been quite in touch, calling regularly, him fixing my many IT problems so regularly we were hardly not in touch. We’d been texting daily, more than we ever had before. When he’d returned to college as a mature student in September, my only feelings were hope for him to be amazing and being gutted, utterly gutted, I couldn’t be there with him.

And of course, then January 8th arrived. Our train ride to Hereford, our reunion, his birthday. It was amazing, so good to see each other again, so good having all three of us together again, the shiny happy people reunited. We ate fish and chips like we used to many Fridays after IT, we gave presents and we went to their bar. That was where everything changed. Imi, who had gotten thoroughly frustrated with my situation, as I’d been increasingly more miserable since September, had me agreeing to send messages that changed us. That Sunday, after tearful hugs goodbye and promising I’d sort everything, I was on a train home with Josh in a whirlwind. And 2 days later everything was sorted, although not nicely, but sorted. And we were a couple. He my fella.

Now we’re here, 2 years on to the day we rearranged everything. It’s been a crazy two years, but the best two years. We couldn’t have expected it to be this good. I never expected to be this lucky. We’ve had many date nights, watched countless movies and comedies and TV shows. We’ve bought mountains of presents, train and plane tickets. I left college never even thinking I’d see him again, let alone dreaming I’d have stayed at his parents’ house as his girlfriend 5 times. But I have. That guy who walked into IT and continues to fix my never ending tech problems has changed my whole world. And I couldn’t give a toss what anyone else thinks. I don’t care if this is soppy or cliché or too much. I don’t care who reads it. Because I love him. He is, undoubtedly, the best friend I will and have ever had. He is kind and smart and funny and all the things I’ve ever dreamed of in a partner. He puts up with me when I’m miserable or grumpy. He puts up with my stupidity with computers and has done far longer than anyone else ever has. He treats me like a princess even if he doesn’t know it. And he is all I’ve ever wanted. He makes me the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m prouder of all his achievements than I’ve ever been of anything. We’ve had our moments in these last two years but thankfully there haven’t been many and we’ve always fixed things. I believe we always will. And I’m not an idiot; I of all people know couples have their problems, their differences. But he’s been there for me through absolutely everything. He supports me always, especially when he knows I’m wrong. He’s taught me so much, least of all the use of a computer how he was tasked so long ago. He makes me smile when no one else can and makes things better when everyone else can’t. He gives me strength at the worst times and praise at the best times. He, without even meaning to I think, has become my rock. I can rely on him whenever I need and he almost always has the answer. We may be 8 miles under 300 miles apart most of the time but he is always with me and despite how difficult distance is, and believe me when I say it is, its worth it for what we have. And it always will be. He always will be.

Kieran what more can I say. You’ve been my fella a long time and my best friend even longer. I will always support you in the choices you make and am here for you should ever you need me. I love you more than I can say and am so glad I took a chance on us. You’re the best risk I nearly didn’t take and I will never regret how we did things, however much of a mess I made at the start. We’ve had the best first two years and I’m betting on many, many more. But even if we don’t, you’ll always be my best friend, the one who fixed everything before I even knew it was broken with one simple text message. Well, my person, can I tell you something? I love you. I loved you then, love you still; always have, always will. Thank you for the best times. Thank you for the hopes and dreams. I’m looking forward to it all. You are my army, fighting my corner always, and I will only ever be one call away, still falling for you. Happy two years.

New year’s eve 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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