Tag Archives: lucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Open Uni: racing towards the end of my 3rd year of study

So here’s I am, at the beginning of April 2018, six months in and racing towards the end of my third year of Open University study. How on this earth I’ve reached this point already, I couldn’t tell you… But I have. Around this time three whole long years ago, I was at college, The Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford, wondering what the heck I was going to do with myself post June 13th; because by this point I’d already figured out I was leaving as quickly as I possibly could. Even then I don’t think I was really allowed to leave when I could. But back then I didn’t give a damn. I still don’t. But it is strange how your feelings towards things change over time, especially in hindsight. Now that I’ve been looking back on that segment of my life for quite some time, I wish I’d let it run its course, wish I hadn’t been so rushed to firmly leave it all behind me. But I did. And somewhere around this time three years ago, I was introduced to the idea of The Open University. I’d never heard of it until that employment support/further education/hell on earth session. That session when I was basically in unsweetened words told that I was wasting everyone’s time by being there if I didn’t come up with a serious plan about my plans for life after the little bubble I was in. Of course, I wasn’t listening to them. I did not care about a word they were saying, except for the hurtful ones that stung and sank in, like they always do. I wasn’t interested in furthering my education. I was interested in getting employed and supporting myself. I didn’t want to be sitting in classrooms again for at least the following three years studying towards a degree I didn’t really give a damn about. But they were adamant that that was the right path; for my benefit or for the college’s success rate I wasn’t too sure. But by this point three years ago, employment prospects weren’t looking bright. I still had no idea whatsoever what I wanted to do job-wise, let alone having a career! All I knew was that I wanted out of that situation, that college, that bubble and nothing whatsoever to do with anything similar anytime soon. So university? Not a chance in hell! But then that day. That day I was worn down to the point of tears. So frustrated by nobody listening to my ideas, which to be fair were few and mostly futile. Then those words: distance learning… The Open University… a different pathway… studying from home… a tailor-made degree… And I knew that was it. If they could cater for my additional needs, if there was a likely chance I wouldnt fall flat on my face attempting this thing and if, at long bloody last, it would shut those who’d been going on and on and on endlessly at me about going to university up, that was the answer. The Open University was the way.

So I signed up. At first, to study an open degree, a degree containing six modules of my choosing of any particular subjects I fancied. It didn’t’t have to follow any pattern, rule, particular subject area. It was all down to me. And after being told what I should do by so many people for so long, that sounded so refreshing to me. Plus, it meant I got things my way: studying from home and working towards something that might enhance my end goal of gaining employment. It all looked good. Even the signing up process was fairly simple. No UCAS. No writing special letters to get a place. Not even any pass grades necessary to secure me a spot on the cours. Just a uni application, student finance application and hope that everything went through smoothly.

Clearly, as I’m three years into the crazy journey, things went more than smoothly. In fact, I was accepted long before the deadline date of my first year and got stuck in straight away. Ive never received a score lower than the required pass mark of 40% and I haven’t quit, yet… No, I’m too close to that end goal to dare now. It would be throwing far too much away at a stupid point to do so. But I’m not as close to that end goal as I planned to be three years ago; three years ago when I signed up to the open degree, I planned to do two modules per year and be finishing my studies just after my21st birthday this May, ready to go and grab a job with both hands this summer. But due to my forever changing mind, that didn’t happen. My first year of study went perfectly. I studied AA100: the arts past and present, my first module, from October 2015 through to May 2016. In February 2016, I decided to add a second module to my calendar and began studying K101, my first Health and Social Care module. Then, in October 2016, I was signed up to complete my first full Literature module, A230. But then I changed my mind and decided I wanted to work towards a Health and Social Care degree instead. So the student support team successfully swapped my course from A230 to K118, telling me that K101 would count towards my now preferred degree but sadly my AA100 credits were useless. I was a bit sad about that as it had been the first module I’d chosen to do and I had enjoyed it. Just not as much as the Health and Social Care ones. Last year, I completed K118 by mid May and discovered I’d passed it in the July, by which point I’d registered to study my current modules. Because I was brave last July, I went back to my intended plan of doing two modules per year and therefore completing the degree quicker. I chose K217 and K240 to make up the whole Level 2 segment of my degree. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both modules, honestly. Doing two Level 2 modules side by side is a challenge and I’m not sure yet if I’m going to tackle two Level 3 modules simultaneously next year or not. It just depends on what other things I have going on, I’ve also been working with an employment support officer from my local council and I’m hoping soon something will come of that. Even if it’s only some voluntary work, it’ll be something to boost my CV.

Studying two modules side by side has given me some variation though, despite my struggles. It’s meant that when I’m getting bored of one module’s content, I can switch to studying the other one and not get too bored. It’s quite a lonely study choice, though, I feel. Having the supportive tutors is great and the support of the Facebook groups set up for each module is also a bonus. But there’s no face to face stuff any more. When I first started, there was monthly-ish face to face tutorials local to you to attend, which gave you an opportunity to discuss your study progress not only with your tutor but with fellow students. I was always too miserable to go and I think the university found that less and less people were attending the face to face sessions so called them off. There’s still the occasional day school for each module, but after the one I attended at the start of AA100 I’d never go to another. I just found it a complete waste of my time. Not only that but it was in Reading, a good little while away from me, and I had to take my parents to help me out. Not something I fancy doing again.

Recently, I’ve figured out how the tutor group and online forums work. Due to my still lacking ICT skills, I only ever attempted and failed to use the forums before. But now I’ve figured out how they work, for my future modules I’m going to make more of an effort to use them because now I can see how beneficial they are not only for communicating with your tutor in an alternative way to email, but with other students too. It might make future modules feel less isolating. I think OU would definitely be better if I was doing other things too; for example, a part-time job or voluntary role. But I still think, overall, it was the right pathway for me to take and I can’t wait to graduate either next summer or the summer after.

Currently, I’m completing the last two TMA’s (Tutor Marked Assignments) I have to do this academic year, one for each module. One deadline is the 26th of this month and the other is the 10th of May. Naturally, I’m currently working more on the one with the sooner deadline, which is for K217 and is 2500 words. It felt more complicated and hard work from the assignment guidance, too, so I want to get most of it done to the best of my ability before I even consider tackling the other one. Plus, if I don’t have time to tackle it until after the April 26th deadline, I still have two weeks to finish it before its own deadline. After that, I then have the exam components of both modules, K217’s an EMA (Examiner marked assignment), and for K240 my first OU exam. K217’s EMA question has already been released. It’s a follow-on project from TMA05, the one I’m currently working on. In TMA05, I have to write an interim report on a case study from the six we have to choose from about which types of health and social care services, in a locality of our choosing, can make the case study’s fictional character’s life better… it’s quite a mouthful! The case study I’ve chosen is about a 32-year-old man who’s recently been diagnosed with high-functioning Autism. Before his diagnosis, he worked and had an active life but gradually the stress and anxiety became too much for him and he withdrew into himself, losing his job in the process. His two main focuses are gaining employment again and getting into a relationship with someone. He’s also interested in joint a self-advocacy service in his local area to find support. Other support groups for people with Autism are also an option to him. His parents aren’t very understanding of his diagnosis but his brother is very supportive and wants to help in any way possible. So I have to chose a target audience to aim my report at and write it to them, using appropriate language and correct and factual sources to validate what I’m writing. I’m writing mine to informal carers of those who have a diagnosis of Autism, such as the main character’s brother, to inform them of what services are available to them and their relative. I’m basing my report in Hampshire, England, being my home county. You have to specify why you’ve chosen the particular case study and other than write “well this one looked good”, I thought I’d do a better job and explain that I’m hoping to go into a health and social care type of job after my degree, maybe even working with people with Autism, and so writing this report and conducting the research it requires allows me to delve deeper into that field and gain more insight into it than I would have had otherwise. So far, I’ve written a basic introduction to my report and started some of the sub-headings. Ive filled in a couple of them with some statistical and factual information I’ve found online. Ive started writing my reference list just so I don’t find myself miles behind with it when I’ve finished the report and having to comb through it to find all the references I made. I think keeping on top of the reference list will be very useful in helping ensure I’m including all the right information. It’s going to be a lengthy piece of work, I’m already feeling that, but I’m miles ahead with it compared to where I was with it this time last week. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing with it this time last week and was terrified I wasn’t going to be able to do much with it, resulting in a really low assignment score on my record, dragging my overall percentage down. Thankfully, I have a great tutor and had a lightbulb-ish moment and managed to pull something that doesn’t sound completely rubbish together. Next week, I’m hoping to get a lot further ahead with it. I’m hoping to have written a lot of the sections out and done a lot of the formatting. I know I still have a while until the deadline yet but I want to get it done asap. There’s still the other module’s TMA to consider and then the EMA. And exam, neither of which will be easy. I don’t want to lose any marks from hurriedly submitting something that isn’t that great, especially this late in the course. I’ve already had to do that once this academic year and that wasn’t a proud moment.

Ive done pretty well assignment score wise this year. I think the lowest I’ve had this year is possibly 63% but I’m more than happy with that as it’s still a safe 23% above the required pass of 40. Other than that, my scores have most been in the 70s range, the highest being 78. I’m happy with that, especially considering I’m studying two Level 2 modules simultaneously. I’d expected the scores for both modules to be lower and was going to settle for somewhere in the 50s for all assignments this year as long as it meant I passed both modules. But I’ve outdone my expectations, which is always a nice feeling. The only score I have to worry about is my latest submission for K240, which hasn’t been returned to me yet. I submitted it half finished, something I’ve never done for me, and at quite a low standard. But to be honest, I was just glad it got submitted at all. That was two weeks ago Monday and I’m still nervously awaiting the score. Luckily, my other two scores so far for K240 should make up for it if it is particularly bad like I’m predicting. Hopefully, though, as the final TMA for K240 doesn’t look to difficult from the assignment guidance and note taking I’ve done, I should be able to achieve quite a high score for it which will mean that the three decent TMA scores will keep the overall grade pretty high even with one low score, even if that score is worth 30% of the overall continuous mark, which in itself is worth 50% of the total mark for this module…

But there’s no point in panicking about it, getting wound up in percentages and scores and what ifs. I should pass and that’s all that matters. Unless something dramatically bad happens in my K240 exam, I should pass two Level 2 modules in one academic year. And for me, that’ll be an achievement and a “look, I can do it!”

So roughly two months left to go. The exam date if the 5th of June and that’s also my EMA deadline too. I’m hoping to have my EMA completed by the 27th of May, really, as that’s the date Kieran is coming to stay for my birthday and means I’ll only have to do revision for my K240 exam while he’s here. But we’ll just have to see. I’m not rushing my EMA, especially as it’s so important for my grade. But I’m sure I’ll do fine. I know that my panic about running out of time won’t reflect these words in about a week’s time, but I’m sure I’ll do fine… I have done two years running and things have been going really well running two modules side by side this year so there’s no reason why that can’t continue for the exam period too. I’ll be a really lucky girl if it does! Fingers crossed, though. Two months and it’ll be my summer break and I’ll have hours of study-free time ahead of me to do with whatever I wish. Two months time and I’ll be wishing for october to hurry up so I can get back to studying!

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 12

Today Jenny and i had our 12th session together and it was a really good one. the biggest probleam I faced today was my Victor Reader Trek. Sadly, it seems to have some kind of technical glitch that means that orientation mode is behaving weirdly and the machine is powering off after a while and then not responding at all. this started yesterday when Dad and I did the route to Tamsin’s school. I was recording the route to the school, because the Trek doesn’t yet have it programmed in, and it just stopped working. I tried powering it on again, disconnecting the Bluetooth headphones and waiting a while to see if anything could resolve the issue. But it just wasn’t responding. So we continued with the route without its support. On the return journey, I managed to get it working again and for a while it was fine. But then again it did the same thing and I couldn’t get any response from it. When I got home, i plugged it into mains, wondering if the battery had somehow died. It had been at least 50% charged when I’d left home 2 hours previous, I’d checked. When it finally came back to life, I double-checked the battery situation and it definitely would have had charge before it stopped responding. Then today whilst out with Jenny, it did the same thing without warning. The only thing that made me realise it had happened was the fact that the Bluetooth headphones I had paired with it made the beep they do when things dissconnect. Today, the battery percentage definitely couldn’t have been the fault because it was 100% charged when I left the house. I noticed that the unit had become quite hot, too. Not dangerously so, but more so than it does even when it’s charging. So when I got home from the walk, I rang HumanWare. Thankfully, they’re sending me a courier sometime tomorrow to collect the unit, take it back to their main offices and get someone to fix whatever the fault is. It’s going to be strange without the backup of the device, especially if I need to use the bus. I relied on my Breeze on the busses as they’ve for some reason stopped using the talking announcements technology even though they have it available. Hopefully, my Trek will be fixed and back to me soon.

Anyway, back to My Guide. After yesterday’s progress with the route to Tamsin’s school, part of me was feeling optimistic about the Woolston route. I’ve been learning it a lot longer than the school route and although, as I mentioned in the last post, progress seems to have slowed with it, every week I do seem to be getting that little bit better with it. Well this week I really thought the route went excellently. Like the best I’ve done on this version of the route so far! As my Trek died quite early on, I was relying on my recall of the route to guide me. And it did really well. Nearly every turn/direction/crossing I correctly estimated. Every time I checked, Jenny seemed to be telling me that “yes, that’s right” and that made me feel really good. For a little while now I’ve been concerned that progress with the route wasn’t as much as I hoped it would be and today I proved myself wrong, thanks to a tech malfunction. Weather-wise it was quite nice too; a little breezy with sunshine. Jenny said there were even blue skies coming in even though some forcasts had predicted rain. Despite this, the whole walk was dry.

This week we did stop at Coffee Mac’s for a rest. Jenny had her coffee and I had a bottle of apple juice and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. I’d asked for banana cake as usual but they didn’t have any in. Excusin the pun, I really felt that was the icing on the cake to the week I’ve had. However, the drizzle cake was nice and the apple juice was refreshing.

Afterwards, we popped across the road to say hi to Dad. His shop was pretty cluttered with carpets and vinyl but things seem to be going well for Centenary Flooring and that’s great. who knew a little carpet shop could benefit so much from social media adverts?! But business is reportedly great thanks to the Facebook posts and I don’t think Dad and his boss could have hoped for more really.

The return journey was just as good with just as nice weather. I felt it went great and my memory served me well again. It really does take me ages to memorise routes so when I start to instinctively know where I’m going I take that as quite a victory…

While we were in Coffee Mac’s, I spoke to Jenny about a suggestion Imi put to me last week when I mentioned how I didn’t feel the progress of the route was doing as well as i’d anticipated; she suggested that, instead of doing the Woolston route every single week, I alternate between that and the school route as long as Jenny was happy to. Jenny seemed more than happy to do that so next week were off to my sister’s school and back. After doing the route yesterday with Dad, I’m actually estimating that if I did the route independently it would take an hour each way due to the need for me to wait longer at crossings to ensure I was doing everything safely. So it’s definitely a good length of route. It’s quite an easy route, too, mainly one straight road with a few side streets off it and a couple of turnings. I’m hopeful it won’t take me too long to memorise it. I’m hoping that rotating the routes might enable me to retain them both quicker. The gap between practising the Woolston one will test my memory properly and definitely being able to practice the school one once a fortnight will mean I’ll start learning it more. Although Dad will do my routes with me, he’s usually quite reluctant to as it has to be on his only day off each week and there’s other things he’d rather be doing most of the time. I think the fact that it takes two hours out of the day and it’s the same repetition every time we do it doesn’t really appeal to him either. So doing the school route with Jenny lets Dad off the hook. Every now and then I might try and convince him to come out with me to practice it and I’m sure every now and then he’ll agree.

So where routes are concerned things are looking very positive. I’m starting to really crack the Woolston route, which takes a worry off my mind because I didn’t think I was, and Jenny and I are going to start practising the school route every other week which means I’ll be really learning it, not once every now and again when Dad feels like it. I don’t blame him really because it isn’t much fun; but I do need consistency with my route learning.

Lastly, if you’ve been reading my posts about my mobility updates before now, you’ll know I went for an assessment with Guide Dogs on Tuesday to assess whether they felt I was suitable for a guide dog. I’m not going to talk in depth about the assessment here (publicly) because I don’t really feel it would be the right thing to do and I’ve been advised against it. All I will say is that it didn’t go the way I hoped and the outcome really wasn’t what I was expecting. If you do want to know more, I’m happy to talk about it over private message but I won’t be discussing it here. Safe to say I’ve been shocked but i’m bouncing back, just about. I’m going to cintinue with my routes regardless of the assessment because I’ve already started them and don’t want to give up now after all the effort I’ve put into them. Plus, I enjoy very much getting out of the house and walking for a few hours each week. Moreover, I couldn’t ask for a kinder better volunteer than Jenny to work with and know i can’t lose this opportunity to progress further.

So today’s My Guide session was very positive and a lot of good things can be taken from the session. HumanWare are going to collect my Trek for repairs tomorrow and I just feel relieved that I wasn’t using it and it died whilst on board a bus going somewhere because I could have really got stranded then. While it’s away, I might try out Microsoft’s new app, Soundscape, which seems to do similar things to the orientation part of the Trek. Of course, it was just my luck that Soundscape was released a few weeks after I’d ordered and received Trek. Even if I do enjoy using the app, though, and find it useful, I still like my GPS on a separate device to my phone, for battery’s sakes if nothing else. It’s just my personal preference. But it’ll give me a good chance to see what another service is like and how I cope without Trek altogether, having had Trekker Breeze since last June and the cross-over from Breeze to Trek smoothly only a month ago. Another thing to test my brain… Jenny and I have agreed to meet again next Thursday at 9:30 to head to the school. I’m really hopeful that learning the route with Jenny will mean I’ll soon mean I’ll have both the shcool and Woolston routes memorised and can move onto learning how to get to my grandparents’ house, which is next on my list. But who knows? I’ll just have to take it week by week and see how things go. PS: if there are any typos in this post, which I suspect there may be many, it’s because for some reason the autocorrect function wasn’t working on my Pages app on my Ipad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 10

After a lovely fortnight up north visiting Kieran and family, which I’ll write about separately in my next post, I was eager to get back to my My Guide routine, especially with all the positive news I’ve had lately… In fact, things couldn’t be more positive right now and anyone who knows me well will know it takes a lot for me to have that outlook!

Firstly, I finally have my Victor Reader Trek! HumanWare rang me on the Monday of mine and Kieran’s holiday to let me know that the units were finally in stock so did I want to complete my purchase so they could ship mine out to me? What a silly question! Ive only been waiting months… But anyway, the purchase was made and the man on the phone said the package would be shipped out the following day using DPD. A little bit of me was sad it was arriving when it was considering I still had a whole week left up north. But that was quickly forgotten whilst enjoying our holiday. Today being my first My Guide session provided a perfect opportunity to see what the Trek was like. While I was with Kieran, he painstakingly copied all the routes and landmarks I had stored on my Breeze onto my computer so that I could copy them onto the Trek’s SD card as soon as I got home and them import them onto the Trek to be used while out and about. More about the Trek later.

The other excellent news I received came in the form of a phone call from the GDMI who assessed me in october following the scheduled case review where my progress was discussed. The southampton Guide Dogs team have decided I’m ready for further assessment! I couldn’t be a fraction happier about this if I tried, unless it replaced the nervousness and worry I have about the whole thing. The GDMI seemed full of praise and more than happy to answer my multiple questions. The whole thing felt incredibly positive, not at all like that assessment in october. In fact, it felt like I was talking to a completely different woman to the one who assessed me. I had to keep reminding myself that she was actually the same person. She seemed very pleased with the progress I’ve been making with routes, explaining that ideally a Guide Dog would have one at least 45-minute working period and another shorter, 20-minute-ish working walk throughout the day. I brought up the point that surely all Guide Dogs partnerships are different and not every single day can every single Guide Dog owner get their dog out for this recommended period of work. She didn’t seem to mind at all that I was questioning or debating with her; in fact, she seemed quite keen to have the conversation. We also discussed my worry of the routes to free run areas being pointless if I’m matched with a dog who I can’t free run by myself. The way I’m looking at it is I can always work the dog to the free run area and have someone meet me there to supervise the free run itself. The only definite issue would be if I had a dog who refused to continue on with a route that included the free run area without going to the free run space. Obviously this would be problematic because you wouldn’t be able to use that route and get to your desired destination without allowing your dog some off-lead time. This really wouldn’t be practical if you were in a rush or had a deadline to be somewhere and the only option was to use a route that contained a free run area. The conversation definitely gave me a lot to think about. The GDMI said that the purpose of the further assessment is for the team and I to decide whether a Guide Dog is definitely the best mobility aid for me. At this point, I gently cut in and assured her that I’m not going to change my mind. I wouldn’t have persevered this long or tried learning all these new routes if I wasn’t 100% certain I wanted a Guide Dog and that it would be an enhancement to my life. It really, really would. The GDMI explained that the further assessment would be a day at a centre actually working with guide dogs in all capacities. I’m assuming this means on harness as well as some of the more domestic things like grooming and play time. It sounds a lot like the assessment I went for in December 2011, when I was told that then wasn’t the right time for me to have a dog considering I only left the house to go to school and with my parents and was planning to go to residential college in the next 18 months. My aim this time is to not be so nervous and do everything they instruct me to with 110% enthusiasm. Talking in that singsong voice makes me embarrassed and self-conscious but I’m going to do my best to put that out of my mind for the assessment. I’m going to have to do my best with tone and pitch of voice if I want to be a guide dog owner so might as well give it my best shot at the assessment even if I do feel ridiculous. Yesterday, a letter arrived in the post containing the details for the assessment. It’s on Tuesday 13th March from 10am to 3pm in a part of southampton I’ve never been to. Dad’s agreed to take the day off to transport me there and then pick me up again when its over. Receiving the letter made me even more nervous than I already was about the prospect of attending the assessment. 13 March really doesn’t seem far away and I’m terrified I still won’t have done enough or be chirpy enough in my singsong voice or do something wrong that makes them think a guide dog wouldn’t be right for me. All I can do is my absolute best and that’s what I’ll give so if that isn’t enough there won’t have been anything else I could have done. As far as I’m aware, the two outcomes of this assessment are “yes, we think a guide dog is for you and think you’re ready to go on the list” or “no, we don’t think a guide dog is for you’. I’m hoping if it isn’t the first answer I might get “we think a dog is right for you but not quite yet so keep working on your routes and we’ll reassess you when you know them all independently”. I’m really hoping that my progress so far and the promise that I’ll continue learning routes if they put me on the list and while I wait will be enough for them. If I get a flat out “no we don’t think it’s right for you”, I’m told I can appeal if I feel I have grounds to appeal on. My Guide Dogs gurus, who I go to for all guide dog related advice, have said I would have grounds to appeal on if it was a direct no. This is reassuring because I don’t intend to take no for an answer.

Now for today’s session. As usual, Jenny arrived at 9:30 for our walk. With the Trek all ready to go, we set off. To begin with, I didn’t feel like I was doing a very good job at recalling the route. But as we got into it, things seemed to improve. The Trek wasn’t doing a great job at following the route I’d recorded on my Breeze so I cancelled it and walked without it, with Jenny assisting wherever necessary. We completed the slight adjustment we’d made to the route, crossing a road instead of walking along the path that has a huge drop to the left. It felt a lot better not even having to be wary of the drop and the crossing isn’t a difficult one at all. The rest of the route went relatively well. I noticed that the landmarks that had been copied from the Breeze to the Trek weren’t particularly useful. They weren’t being announced in the correct positions. Eventually, I decided I would just re-record the route and all the landmarks fresh so that it was more useful.

We stopped at Coffee Mac’s for our usual break. Jenny had her coffee and i had apple juice with a slice of banana cake. It wasn’t really a reward for anything – I just fancied a slice after how delicious it had been last time. Plus, I figured why not. If I have to say it was a treat, it was a treat for the good news about the further assessment. Again, the cake was lovely and I enjoyed the apple juice much more than I would have a hot chocolate. Afterwards, we popped into say hello to Dad. Then, we headed home, starting to re-record the reverse route from Coffee Mac’s. I noticed that some of the old landmarks were appearing but not consistently. I felt much more comfortable re-recording them and decided I’d start deleting some of the old landmarks later on. I felt that the reverse route went quite well and i was remembering much more of it. Jenny seemed pretty positive about how things were progressing, too, which was nice because its always good to have her support and know how things are looking from another perspective.

We’ve agreed to meet next Friday for our next session. I’m hoping that once we’ve re-recorded the route on the Trek, I’ll really be getting the hang of the route and maybe be getting to a point where I can do it without any input from Jenny, therefore independently. I’m also hoping that Dad and I will be able to go out next Wednesday and continue learning the route to my sister’s school. I’m hoping to pick it up quickly and then merge it into learning the route to my grandparents house. I think both will be amazingly useful routes, not only for their length but for the fact that I already go to my grandparents once a week on Wednesdays for tea, opening up an excellent opportunity to walk there independently. As for my sister, well shes only in her second year at that school so I still have plenty of time to use that route legitimately. To be fair, though, its just a good place to be able to walk to, especially as it extends to my grandparents house.

Overall, I think our 10th session went pretty well considering I’ve been away for two weeks and the new addition of the Trek and the little complications that brought. I think next week will be even better and I have a lot to look forward to with the upcoming further assessment with Guide Dogs. All I have to do is try not to get too nervous and worried by the day because I know what I’m like… I’ll be imagining all the worst outcomes and then on the day just constantly be thinking that its going to be a bad outcome when there’s a good chance it’ll be a good one. Keeping everything crossed that I’ll get my dream answer of being put on the waiting list. All I can do to get that answer is try my best. Try, I will.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 8

Since writing only 2 days ago, I’ve had some exciting news! As I said last time, Jenny contacted the leader of Southampton’s My Guide service to inquire whether the route we’re currently doing and the ones I plan to learn in the future would make me eligible for a guide dog. Ever since I very first applied for a guide dog all those years ago in 2011, their response has been that I don’t have enough routes and don’t go out enough independently to make up a workload for a dog. When I was a naive 14 year old, I thought this was ridiculous! I went to school every day, didn’t I? I could walk to the bus-stop and corner shop, too, if I wanted. And I’d even learnt how to get to my Nan and Grandad’s, then living in Woolston themselves, via a bus journey and some walking. Why on earth would they say I didn’t have enough routes or a big enough workload? I’d spent my whole six-week school summer holiday working with a mobility officer from Southampton’s sensory services, aided by a member of the Guide Dogs team. How could they say these things? In comparison, now I can see I was the ridiculous one. Yes, I did try really hard that summer and honestly, at the time, that was massive progress for me, a kid who didn’t leave the house unless I was attached to a parent. But it wasn’t nearly enough. I’m still yet to learn what is, but I’m much better prepared now, much closer to that target than I’ve ever been before. Anyway, the exciting news… so the leader of My Guide replied to Jenny’s request properly yesterday, to both of us. When a text message came through from her, I thought maybe it was just a little checkup on how Jenny and I are getting on. But she doesn’t need to check up. Jenny has given her full details on how we’re doing, my progress and my ambitions. She passed Jenny’s message onto several members of staff at Southampton’s Guide Dogs team, including the GDMI who assessed and crushed my world in October. They’ve agreed to take my case to the case review sometime next week to see if they can take my application for a guide dog forward. I couldn’t have hoped for anything anywhere near this good so soon into my work with the My Guide service. I predicted that perhaps I’d ask the leader of My Guide for some kind of review around my birthday or something. Not get one 8 weeks after I started working with Jenny. The case review meeting will take place sometime next week according to the leader of My Guide’s text. That’s really exciting! There could be plenty of outcomes of the review, but the main two options I think are either they’ll say I’m doing well but not yet far enough for them to be able to reconsider my application for a dog, or, they’ll say yes, I’ve done really well and they can reconsider my application now. If they reconsider my application and plan to move it forward, I’m guessing that means that they’ll consider putting me on the waiting list for a dog. But I could be wrong. Both my guide dog know-alls, Imi and Tiny, have both seemed quite positive about the text messages and the possible outcomes I could get. Imi, in fact, said she hopes I’m being positive now. I am. As soon as the My Guide leader text, i was imagining having a Guide Dog, being put on the list, having the yes answer… but perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. I guess I’ll find out next week.

As for today, Jenny had our 8th My Guide session, doing the new route for the third time, the second time me trying to learn it. I felt, considering everything, that it went really well. I feel like I’m picking it up really well to say its only the second proper time I’ve walked it myself. Jenny and I agreed that she’d have as little input as possible, just let me get on with it and only telling me if I’d gone the wrong way. Mostly I did well. Jenny only had to correct me a couple of times. It took about an hour to get there. As always, we stopped off in Coffee Mac’s for our little break, me having my apple juice and Jenny her coffee. She’s started asking me to see if I can locate a table once we’re in the shop and its quite easy to find the one we always sit at. As long as every time I go in there its free ‘ll be ok… we popped into see Dad quickly afterward. That entails me crossing the road and walking along to Dad’s shop. He was ok and we didn’t stay long.

The return journey went just as well, with Jenny correcting me whenever necessary. It felt longer walking on the way home but according to Jenny’s watch it was actually shorter. I know I felt more tired when I reached my front door than I did on arriving at Coffee Mac’s. it shows just how lucky I am to have been matched with such a good volunteer that Jenny offered to meet me next Tuesday to do our ninth session. I’m flying up to Kieran’s next Wednesday so will be away for our usual Thursday session. I really didn’t expect Jenny to say she could meet me on an alternative day but feel really grateful that she is. Hopefully, we can continue the good run we’re on with learning this route. Also, hopefully next week I’ll have news from Guide Dogs. But whatever the outcome, I’m just going to carry on. Of course, if they do say i haven’t done enough yet and need to carry on learning, I’ll be a bit disappointed that it isn’t a straight away yes answer. But my plan was to learn routes until at least May so if they ask me to carry on I haven’t lost anything. If its a yes answer, I’m so much more lucky than I thought I was. Maybe by the next time I write my next My Guide update, I’ll have the outcome.

New year’s eve 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alexa, play Christmas songs”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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.