Tag Archives: independence

“Taser him!”: my 3 weeks up North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A mini break at Godwin Towers

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

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

 

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

Four years

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update 27 July: Guide Dogs mobility assessment

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

Mobility Update  13 July 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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