Tag Archives: progress

New Year’s Eve 2018

Somehow, the final day of this year has arrived. It is the 31st of December 2018 and tonight, at midnight, it’ll become 2019. Where this year, like all the other years before it, has gone, I don’t know… What I do know is that I’ve had a pretty great 2018, overall, and I wanted to sum it up by writing about it in this post, where I hope to speak about all the important things that have happened for me this year.

Firstly, in January, just after he’d celebrated his 21st birthday, which sadly I wasn’t able to spend with him, Kieran and I passed our 2-year-anniversary of being together. To make up for the missed chance of celebrating such a milestone, the following month I flew up to Newcastle for the first time this year and together Kieran and I went on our first couples holiday, driven there by his Mum. We had a fantastic time on our little holiday, much better than I’d anticipated. Of course, I’d been looking forward to the time away with Kieran but I’d been nervous about the hotel. Everything was great, though, especially the meals served in the evenings included in our package price.

A week before Kieran and I went on holiday, one of the biggest and most important things to happen this year occurred. As planned, on February 2nd, just before lunchtime, I became an auntie for the very first time when my brother’s first child, a beautiful daughter, entered the world. I’d been so excited about becoming an auntie since the first time my brother had announced that his girlfriend was pregnant but the emotions I felt on that day when I received the message to say she’d arrived were like nothing I’d ever felt before. Unfortunately, due to everyone’s circumstances, it took a further 8 weeks for me to meet my beautiful niece, when I boarded a train that took me to Stoke-On-Trent to stay with my brother and his little family and at last meet the baby. My parents, sister and grandparents had travelled up to visit the little family and meet the baby just after she’d been born but I’d already been in Newcastle at this point so unable to accompany them. So to finally meet her at the end of March was amazing. I’d been dreaming of the moment for ages but to finally cradle her in my arms was like nothing else in the world. Sadly, due to circumstances beyond everyone’s control, I’ve been unable to see my niece since that first time. She’s soon to be 11 months old, is crawling and talking. By the time I’m able to see her again, and even now, she’s a whole little person of her own, no longer a tiny baby who lies in my arms quite happily dozing for hours on end. I miss her terribly but unfortunately there’s nothing anyone is able to do to change things right now. My hope is that 2019 will bring lots of opportunities for me to see my niece, to bond with her properly and for her to know who I am. Regardless of what happens, I’ll continue to love her unconditionally and be grateful for those few days I spent with her when she was 2 months old.

In May, I celebrated my 21st birthday. Kieran flew down to stay at mine for a week so was able to celebrate it with me. We spent the day relaxing and in the evening went out for a meal with my whole family. The following day, the celebrations continued when we traveled to London to visit the well-known Madame Tussaud’s. sadly, I didn’t enjoy it as much as my parents had expected. But it was still a nice trip out and now i can say I’ve been there.

In June, my academic year with The Open University finished with my first end-of-year exam, the first I’ve ever sat. It took place at St. Mary’s stadium and due to my disability I was given my own room, exam officer and extra time. It wasn’t half as bad as I feared and once it was over, the joy of having months of summer freedom ahead felt great. I’d finished Level 2 study towards my degree and as long as I’d passed, in October I’d be moving onto Level 3, the final level and fingers crossed final year of my degree. I’d decided that, as studying two Level 2 modules simultaneously had gone pretty well, I’d give studying two Level 3 modules simultaneously a go too.

In July, my results were in. I’d passed both Level 2 modules with flying colours and had my ticket to move forward to Level 3 study the following academic year. So I chose my new modules, both 60 credit Level 3 modules, one with a health and social care theme and the other with a children and families theme, both subjects I’d be interested in working in for a career.

Talking of working, despite my continued participation with an employment adviser from the local council, I haven’t moved anywhere near to being employed. Thanks to a suggestion from Jenny, my My Guide volunteer from Guide Dogs, I’m hoping to start some volunteering in the new year with a local charity. Thanks to the local county council and my employment adviser, I was even funded the equipment I needed to complete the tasks in the job properly. I’d intended to start volunteering with them before Christmas but have been working on the route to the offices with Jenny. For some reason, the route hasn’t sunken in and I haven’t become competent enough with it to travel to the offices independently and start volunteering. As the route is taking so long to learn, I’ve decided that, in the new year, I’ll have a conversation with the ladies at the volunteering job and ask Dad to ferry me to and from the offices so that I can start volunteering. Although I wanted to get there independently, I think actually doing the volunteering is more important than putting it off until I’ve learnt the route. I don’t know how much longer that’s going to take and I don’t want to mess the charity around by keeping them waiting for me to be ready. Hopefully, 2019 will mean I’ll be volunteering regularly and fingers crossed be employed this time next year. My degree is due to end at the beginning of June and I don’t intend to be sat around unemployed for long. I’ll do whatever it takes to be working by the end of next summer.

Just after my university exams were over and I was a free agent for the summer, an extra special 21st birthday gift from my parents was fulfilled. On Wednesday the 27th of June, after getting dressed up in all the appropriate clothing and accessories and having a meal before we hit the road, it was time to go to a place I’ve been hoping I could one day visit. Mum programmed the post code into the sat nav and Dad drove us to the Warner Bros.. studios London, the home and creation place for the Harry Potter films I so love. I was wearing Harry Potter leggings, a Harry Potter t shirt, a Harry Potter sweatshirt, Harry Potter socks, Harry Potter Converse-style shoes and carrying my Harry Potter rucksack. Around my neck I wore my time turner necklace, themed from the third film, and the deathly hallows necklace themed from the last book. I had Harry Potter bracelets on and was so excited it was unbelievable. We had the most amazing day. When we arrived, Mum and Dad started taking photographs as soon as we got out of the car. As soon as we showed our passes, we were allowed in early and met by a member of staff acting as audio description for me. This basically meant that I held her arm and she showed me everything she was able to show me throughout the studios. Mum, Dad and Tamsin almost had to follow in our wake. She was great, though, ensuring they didn’t feel left out but making it quite clear her sole purpose was to make sure I had the best possible time and got absolutely everything there was to experience out of the visit. She got props out from display cabinets for me to feel and described everything in as much detail as possible. In the gift shops, I told her what sort of merchandise I was interested in and she let me feel everything that fit my categories. She remembered who my favourite character was, Severus Snape of course, and anything to do with him throughout the tour she made sure to show or describe. In the cafe, she left us for a bit for her quick bathroom and food break and I was able to try something I’d wanted to taste as soon as I knew it’d been created at the studios; butter beer. It’s the Hogwarts students favourite tipple and the way J K Rowling had described it in the book had always made me wish it was real. When I tasted it for real I was so glad it existed. If I had to describe its taste making comparisons to things I’ve eaten/drank in the past, I’d say butter beer is a combination of cream soda fizzy drink and butterscotch sauce. For anyone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth, butter beer really wouldn’t be their thing. But as I love everything sweet, it was right up my street. Visiting all aspects of the set was amazing and I hope in the future to go back again. Having the audio describing tour guide certainly made the visit extra magical and when Mum left her feedback online I made sure she mentioned how amazing our guide had been and how much of an improvement she’d made to our visit, especially for me.

June this year also brought an event that I’d been looking forward to since it’d been booked almost a year previously. Josh, Kieran, Imi and I met up in a hotel opposite Newcastle airport on Friday 8 June in preparation for the Ed Sheeran concert we were attending the following night at St James Park. We’d all been looking forward to it for a very long time and the following evening, Ed didn’t disappoint. He is easily the best performer I’ve ever seen and it’ll take a lot for anyone to overtake him. His support acts, Jamie Lawson and Anne-Marie, were both great too. The concert was pretty incredible. But what happened next when we got back to the hotel was even more amazing. As we were leaving the stadium, Kieran asked if, when we got back, he could have a word with me in his room. Obviously I agreed. So once we were back, Kieran and I went into his room. What he did next shocked me so much I nearly couldn’t answer. Kieran proposed. He said that although he knew we didnt have anything planned yet and it’d be a long time before any wedding took place but you just know when the moment is right to ask this kind of thing and if he didnt ask now then the perfect moment would pass. Obviously, I said yes. I didnt even need to think about my answer. I know we have nothing planned and still live almost 300 miles apart but that doesn’t matter. I love Kieran, he loves me and he wants us to get married one day. There was no other answer than “of course”. Afterwards, he rang both sets of parents to share our news. He’d said that although he didnt have a ring right now he’d get me one. He just didn’t want to miss the moment. I didn’t care about rings or plans or distance right there and then. All that mattered was that Kieran had asked me, Kieran wanted us to get married. I wanted that too. I wanted a promise that meant forever and he’d just proposed it. So there it was; Kieran and I were engaged, 2 years 5 months after we’d first got together. And although our parents seemed happy enough for us, their feelings didn’t come anywhere close to the elation Josh and Imi showed when we told them moments later in the next-door hotel room. Their happiness was certainly catching and somehow, what had just happened had outshined Ed Sheeran. A night that was already one of the most amazing I’d ever had had become the best night of my life.

It took us until November to get rings, the first real opportunity we’d had since Kieran’s proposal. He chose a white gold one and I a yellow gold one. They were picked because they were the ones that felt best on our fingers and the ones we were both happiest with. Having the rings felt as magical as the proposal and just further reiterated the promise Kieran and I had committed to each other. The rest of our lives…

As well as seeing Kieran for our holiday in February, at the Ed Sheeran concert in June and for my birthday, I also traveled to Newcastle to spend a couple of weeks there in august. Also, in November, Kieran came down to mine for a week and I accompanied him back up to Newcastle for a fortnight afterwards, bringing us to December. We’ve been lucky this year to have seen so much of each other, especially considering Kieran is still working full-time at his apprenticeship and I’m still studying full-time from home. The beauty of distance learning is that I can study anywhere, including at Kieran’s parents’ house.

Continuing our theme of seeing as many comedians live as we possibly can from the past few years, this year I’ve seen Shappi Khorsandi, John Bishop, Kevin Bridges and Dara O’Brien. Out of the 4 of them, I’d have to say John Bishop was my favourite. Not only was his show hilarious and one I’m now thrilled to own on DVD thanks to Christmas, but what he did at the end of his show will stick with me for a long time. At the end, as he announced that a special video of his family was going to be shown on screen, he said there was something he needed to go and do. I guessed that maybe it was bringing his children out on stage after the video finished so was shocked out of my skin when a hand landed on my arm and he asked how much I could see. When I replied with nothing, he started to describe the pictures showing on screen. John Bishop knelt beside me for the entirety of the short video and described every single detail of all the photos. I couldn’t believe what was happening and neither could Josh. We’ve talked and talked about it since and the following day after I tweeted about it, John himself replied saying it was his pleasure. Out of respect for the person he is and to remember the show by, I bought a fridge magnet and tour t shirt from his website and every time I wear the shirt I’m reminded what a truly awesome person John Bishop is. I mean, I knew he was before that show after all the charity work he’s done but that little gesture really meant a great deal to me. And I’m not saying the other comedians weren’t as great, because they’ve all been good in their own ways, but John Bishop just had that little bit of extra sparkle.

One thing I haven’t mentioned much yet is Guide Dogs. That’s because I wanted to leave it til last so I could write it all down properly, not that all of it hasn’t already been documented in this blog over the last year. In my New Year’s blog post last year, I wrote that one of my hopes for 2018 was that I’d be on the Guide Dogs waiting list, waiting for that phone call saying they’d found a potential four-legged match for me. As I wrote that last year, I didn’t honestly believe that a year later it’d be true, that it’d actually happen. After fighting for a Guide Dog for so long and having such a disastrous partnership from Seeing Dogs, however much I loved Zena, I think I’d started to believe it’d never happen. But on the 24th of October, after a turn-around in events I could’ve never predicted, I got that phone call from Guide Dogs; I was on the waiting list, at last! So this year I’ve a new hope for the next. It can’t be that I hope I’ll be accepted for a Guide Dog, because I already am, so it’ll have to be that I hope that this time next year when I’m rambling on writing this kind of post, there’ll be a four-legged furry companion led on the floor at my side, snoozing after we’ve come home from a harness walk, all qualified as a working Guide Dogs partnership. I know I could be waiting a lot longer than one year for a dog but I’m praying 2019 can be my year.

In an effort to make 2019 the year I get a dog, not that I can actually influence it, I’ve been continually working all of 2018 with my My Guide volunteer Jenny, who I was matched with late last year, on the routes I need to learn in order to have a suitable workload for a dog. As October showed, the effort, dedication, determination and perseverance this year has obviously paid off as Guide Dogs have put me on the waiting list. However, their only condition to me being suitable for a dog was that I continue to practice my routes. Further than that, I intend to learn new routes so that by the time they find me a match, I’ll be able to show them I not only fulfilled their condition but surpassed it. Not only that but I really enjoy mine and Jenny’s partnership. She’s a truly lovely lady and I’m blessed to have been matched with her and for her to continue to work with me. I’ll never be able to show just how grateful I am for Jenny’s continued help and support and for her enabling me to fulfil my wish of being on the Guide Dogs waiting list. Without her, I certainly wouldn’t have achieved that goal.

So here’s to 2018. It’s been a pretty damn amazing year for me and I’m just hoping 2019 can continue that streak. I hope my family and friends who I hold dear to me continue to be healthy and happy. I hope I continue to be blessed with good health, great quality of life and so many amazing people in my life. I hope 2019 brings good things for everyone I love and care about, and for everyone I don’t. I wish only good for everyone. I hope I graduate from the Open Uni with a good degree grade and hopefully find employment without too much fuss and heartache. I hope Kieran and I are able to see each other as much as study, cost and employment allows. And I hope I get that call from Guide Dogs. But above all, at least 2018 has been such a great year that’s given me so many precious memories. I’m looking forward to making many more over the next 365 days, which I’m sure I’ll ramble on about in this blog. Thanks to those who are still reading, I appreciate you. But I never started this blog or type out any of its posts for tons of readers. I write them because I enjoy it and because I love being able to document memories I want to cherish to look back on. That’s exactly what this is. Wishing everyone a happy healthy 2019. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

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Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 31 and 32

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had my 31st and 32nd My Guide sessions, both of which practiced the route to the location of the voluntary position I’m soon to start. I haven’t written about my 31st session because I didn’t feel i t was very positive. I kept snagging my cane on obstacles along the shoreline of the route and kept predicting the turnings and crossings wrong. As usual, the first run of the route was worse than the second, by which time things had started to come back to me.

Yesterday, however, things felt better with the route. Afterwards, I didn’t feel in such a bad and negative mood about things, despite the fact that Jenny and I both agreed I won’t be walking the route independently for a while yet. I’m not even remembering parts of the route right so there’s no way I’ll have the confidence to do it on my own anytime soon. It went better, though; I remembered things more accurately and didn’t knock into so many obstacles along the way. This week, though, there was something new about our journey. We were on a new bus service just launched on my estate. The Bluestar bus 17 has just been extended to our estate and further out the other way across the city. For years, we’ve only ever had First busses on our estate, with the First bus city red 11 running promptly every 7 minutes. Since the Bluestar was launched on Sunday, the city red has upped its frequency to every 5 minutes. As the 17 has been set at every 10, the amount of busses trundling around the estate is crazy. It was always pretty busy with the frequency of the city red but now busses practically chase each other around the estate. The crazy thing is that they both run the same route into the city centre. How both companies are going to profit from the changes, I do not know. Except for the fact that the 17 runs directly from home to the hospital and home to the train station, it doesn’t have much advantage over the city red. However, the busses are a much more comfortable ride. The seats are nicer, the drivers seem to drive more steady and the bus’s suspension doesn’t seem to vibrate every bump in the road the way the city reds do. They’re also quieter, meaning it’s easier to hear the stop announcements, which were on for our inward journey into town but sadly not on the way back. I did tweet the Bluestar help account on Twitter thanking them for a nice service but asking that they ensure they’re consistent with keeping the stop announcements on and loud. Hopefully, they’ll take note of the comment, especially as the service is so new and feedback must be important to them. I can’t say First are particularly consistent in keeping the announcements on, because sometimes they’re off, but they’ve got much better since I started independent bus travel. The is difference travelling on the 17 is that it stops on the opposite side of the road to the 11 when we need to get off. This means I need to walk parallel to where I usually walk on the other side of the pavement until I reach the tactile markings and can cross. Then, I’m back to the part of the route I’ve been learning, just a little further down the road. I liked this more as it meant I missed out a load of the obstacles along the shoreline. Jenny, on the other hand, wasn’t too keen as the crossing, although marked with tactiles, is incredibly busy, with lots of busses going up and down the road. It isn’t a pelican crossing either, so I don’t have the reassurance of traffic lights controlling the vehicles. But I felt quite safe. I could easily hear when there was cars or busses moving and when the were far away or still for me to cross safely. If I don’t learn how to cross safely, it’d mean that I’d have to always catch the 11 whenever I was going to volunteer to ensure I was on the right side of the road for the route. But I’m hoping Jenny feels happy enough for us to practice outcomes for catching either bus so that I have a choice. The 17s really are much nicer to travel on but of course the 11s are more frequent. As they run the same route, so there’s no more learning or adjusting for me, I’ll probably just catch whichever turns up when I’m waiting.

We met up on a Tuesday this week because Kieran is flying down to stay for a week from tonight onwards. Then, next Wednesday, I’m flying up to Newcastle for two weeks to stay with him. We’ve got quite a busy week ahead while he’s here and I just didn’t think I’d be able to fit My Guide in with everything else going on. We didn’t meet last week because Jenny was feeling really unwell; thankfully, she’s feeling much better now. Luckily, I come back on a Wednesday, meaning we can meet up on our usual weekday the following day and continue where we left off. As of yet, we haven’t done the wander around the city centre that I want to do just to refresh my mind after the disaster I had during my Guide Dog assessment. Obviously, as I got myself out of the muddle and managed to pass, it didn’t worry the staff too much. But I didn’t like that feeling of not knowing where I was or was going, especially in such an important and pressured environment as the assessment. Hopefully, if things go well with our next practice of the route and it doesn’t put me in too much of a bad mood, Jenny and I can go for a wander around town and I’ll know what I’m doing when I go into town independently again one day. But for now, I’m going to enjoy my break and time with Kieran and not worry about routes.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 30 and the news I’ve been waiting for

Last week, while I nervously anticipated the phone call from Guide Dogs following my Guide Dog assessment the previous Thursday, the phone call that could either put me on the waiting list for a guide dog or set me back to square 1 again, it was time for another My Guide session with Jenny, who had just come home from her cruise holiday. As I had the cookery course on the Thursday, we’d agreed to meet on the Tuesday instead. Clearly, as so much had happened in the week she’d been away, we had loads to catch up on. I wanted to hear all about her holiday and tell her all about the assessment she hadn’t even known was happening. Luckily, we were doing the route to CommuniCare, the place I’m soon to start volunteering at, and that means a bus journey into the city centre, a welcome opportunity for us to chat away.

I’m still not feeling over enthusiastic or happy about the voluntary route. I don’t know what it is about it but I’m just not comfortable with it like I feel with the Woolston and school routes. Maybe it’s because I’ve got so used to learning lengthy routes that now I’m doing a short convenient one it just doesn’t sit well with me. It could also be because there are so many obstacles in my path along the journey and so many things my cane snags on along the inner shoreline of the route. Because the majority of the Woolston and school routes are walking in a straight line, I don’t need to follow the shoreline with my cane constantly. But as I’m still only just getting used to the voluntary route, I keep my cane close to the edge mostly to reassure myself of my precise location. I’m hoping that, in time, as I get used to the route and hopefully comfortable with it, I’ll be able to anticipate the snags and not need the constant reminder of where I am. Hopefully, as I get more familiar with the route, I’ll become more comfortable with it. As it’s actually quite a vital route, in that it’ll get me to the place that’ll help me gain vital employability skills, I really need to like it and get to know it well. The Woolston and school routes, although useful to have in my route availability and choices, were only learned so I could get out and about more and because Guide Dogs said in order for me to be considered for a dog I needed more lengthy routes. As I’ve learned them, especially the Woolston route, I’ve grown to realise how nice it is to have a long stroll to get somewhere rather than taken the 15-minute bus there. Obviously, I’m not sure I’ll be saying that when it’s pouring down or we’ve got fierce winds.

Despite my uncertainty surrounding the route, Jenny seemed very pleased with how our two attempts went. We calculated that we haven’t actually practised the route in a whole month and I still managed to retain quite a lot of the direction and crossing places. Annoyingly, there was roadworks going on around the pelican crossing, cutting off one of the control poles, which happened to be the one that has the spinning cone that allows me to cross safely. We fixed this by Jenny prompting me when it was safe to cross; but if I’d been on my own I’d have had to hope for a kindly member of the public or listen for the slow in the traffic in front of me and take my chances that the lights had changed when the cars were still. This, of course, is risky as just because the cars are still doesn’t actually mean that the lights have changed and it’s safe to go. This is why all pelican crossings should have both the audio cue and spinning cone, so that if one option is unavailable the other is there as backup.

To be honest, even I noticed on the second attempt of the route that I was remembering things slightly better. I’m hoping that, when we practice it again this week, things will come back to me even more because there will only be a week, rather than a month, between the attempts. While we were on the bus home, I discussed with Jenny how we can make the best of the time during our sessions. After my Guide Dog assessment the previous week, I’d become more aware of how I really need to practice navigating around southampton city centre independently. Last week, I’d got horribly lost during my assessment and if it hadn’t been for the patience of the instructors and me not freaking out, I’d have never got back on track. I need to be more confident with the routes I don’t use as regularly independently, such as navigating around town and getting to my pharmacy and doctors surgery. Jenny agreed that when we practice the CommuniCare route we can add a bit on and practice around town too. I just want to be confident with all my routes so that if anyone springs going somewhere unexpected on me, like the instructors did by asking me to navigate around town on a weekday afternoon, I can be completely confident in the knowledge that I know what I’m doing and where I’m going. I know Jenny can help with that. After all, I wouldn’t have got anywhere near this far pursuing my Guide Dog application without her patience, consistency and support. I owe the phone call that came the following day to Jenny and I hope, although I’m rubbish at saying it in person, that she knows how unbelievably grateful I am for her.

As I’ve hinted, a phone call came the following day, a phone call I’ve been dreaming of for at least the last seven years, since the very first time I applied for a Guide Dog. It didn’t come quite as quickly as I hoped, though; they kept me waiting all Wednesday. In the morning, Dad and Tamsin, who was on her school half term, and I went into town and did some Christmas shopping. Then, we popped to Bitterne for some bits and pieces. Then, we headed to my grandparents house because they’d asked Dad to paint their decking. I spent the afternoon moving from the chair at their little table in their kitchen, to the side door doorstep, to pacing up and down waiting for the phone call. Then, at exactly 3:44pm, my phone started to ring. By this point, I’d started to wonder if I’d remembered right, whether they’d actually said they’d ring and tell me Wednesday afternoon or not. Obviously, this was just my nerves kicking in as I know case review happens Wednesday and that they ring you to tell you the outcome afterwards. I should know, I’ve been rung after two separate case reviews in the past. But no phone call in the past was like this one. With shaking fingers, I double-tapped with two fingers to answer the call and put the phone to my ear. It was Guide Dogs calling and the lady who did my Guide Dog assessment the previous Thursday. She asked if I was OK first and then she said it: We’ve put you on the waiting list”… She then went on to say she knows I’ve been working for this for “a few months” and asked if I was happy. To be honest, I was shocked, stunned, astounded, amazed. But not in the usual ways I am when Guide Dogs phone. This time, it was for all the right reasons that I could barely get any words out, that my eyes had misted over and that my hands were shaking even more. I thanked her, told her of course I was happy and thanked her again. She didn’t tell me any more information than that, just that I have been placed on the Guide Dogs waiting list for my very own furry companion and guide. All that dreaming and scheming and planning and hoping is over. I AM ON THE GUIDE DOGS WAITING LIST FOR A DOG! I AM GOING TO GET A DOG IN THE FUTURE!

As soon as I disconnected the call, all my family members in the house were there, waiting. They’d seen me start this journey so long ago. “It’s good news,” I muttered, “I’m on the waiting list.” And the cheer went up. Then they started asking questions. Was I happy? How long would I wait? What else did they say? Why wasn’t I looking/sounding happier? I didn’t have many answers, other than they hadn’t said anything else or given any indication as to how long I’m likely to wait. As soon as the noise calmed down a bit, I phoned my Mum. She’s supported me, along with most of my other family members, throughout this journey, since I was a little 14-year-old with a faraway dream. But she didn’t answer. So I rang the next person who needed to know, the one who’s helped me in every choice and decision I’ve made with Guide Dogs. My sister Imi answered almost straight away: “Yes?” She asked expectantly. “I’m on the waiting list,” I tell her, in what I realise isn’t the ecstatic tone she’s expected all these years. But I’m just so shocked. She squeals, tells me that it’s brilliant, which of course, underneath the disbelief, I know it is. We chat for ages, until my VoiceOver tells me Mum’s trying to get through. I tell Imi I’ll ring her back and call Mum. When I tell her, she can’t believe it either; she swears and has her happy voice reserved for really great things. We chat for a little while and I know she feels like me, overjoyed but disbelieving and relief. The fighting is over. I haven’t got to argue with anyone any more. Ive proved myself. Ive got on the waiting list because I’ve shown them I’m suitable, deserving and that a dog would have such a massive impact on my future. After Mum has hung up, telling me how proud and happy she is, I ring Imi back and we analyse everything that was said like we always do. We talk about how I’d started to get unsettled when the call hadn’t came but how that should’ve reassured me because the bad news phone calls are always made first, or that’s how it seems. After all, I should know that. We talk about how it probably wont be the quickest wait ever and I joke that, knowing my luck, I’ll probably wait three years or something now for my first match. Then, together we look at the dogs pictured on both the southampton and Yorkshire mobility teams facebook pages, talking about which names we couldn’t bear to have. I think I’m more open than Imi to daft names, because after all I’d take anything.

After Imi, the next person who needs a phone call is a man who’s supported me in everything since he first met me at 14. He was the best cricket captain I’ve ever had and a support I now couldn’t be without. I text him first and asked if he was available for a phone call. My phone buzzed with an incoming call and I told him. His joy matched that of my parents, possibly even overtook some of my family members. And it made me feel happier somehow. It made it seem more real telling people, made it true. It felt like a bad cheating dream where I was going to wake up and I’d still be waiting for the phone call. But I was definitely awake. Tiny and I agreed to meet in southampton soon and have celebratory Costa, because recently we both have a lot to be happy about. After I’d ended that call, I started sending out the text messages, first to Kieran and then to everyone else I knew would want to hear, to everyone that had supported me in some way along this really bumpy road. Unfortunately, Dad had already posted on facebook about it so Kieran had already heard. I was a bit disappointed because I’d wanted him to hear it first from me. Although I know Dad was only posting because he was so excited for and proud of me for finally getting here, it did bother me because I hadn’t even managed to tell many people. I texted Jenny, the lady who had been Zena’s owner after me, Josh, my friend Wayne who has a Guide Dog called Vince, my employment officer, auntie Clare, a lady who used to work with me at school and her family, Jemma and her mum, the service user representative who’d helped me so much and as my texts went out, messages of congratulations and joy came flooding in, everyone so happy to hear this news at last. Later, I put my own post up on facebook and in the social groups set up for anyone involved with Guide Dogs and the response I got was amazing. So many people so happy for me.

Honestly, though, I still don’t think it’s fully sunken in yet… It’s silly really because it’s something I’ve been dreaming of for so long. But I think because it’s been the goal for so long I never really imagined what I’d do once I reached it. It’s like I mentioned to Imi during our phone call, we’d never actually planned for once I’m on the list, it was always aiming to get on the list. But of course I’m happy. Overjoyed, super excited and still ecstatic, actually, even nearly a week on. I just can’t believe it’s really going to happen. Whether in the near or far future, I don’t know, but one day I actually am going to get a phone call from a Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor to tell me they’ve found a potential match. Because that’s the next step now and it’s just waiting. I hope it won’t be a horribly long and drawn out wait, but however long it takes I know it’ll be worth it. It already is. All that fighting and arguing and perseverance is already worth it, because I’ve achieved my goal, reached my aim. I AM ON THE GUIDE DOGS WAITING LIST. So from now on, I’ve just got to continue working on my routes, learning new ones and practice my existing ones. I hope that I’m allowed to continue working with Jenny until I get that phone call and even after I’ve got the dog to familiarise us with my routes. I don’t know how long our partnership will continue now I’ve reached my goal of going on the waiting list for a dog but I hope the powers that be see that Jenny’s help and support where my routes are concerned is still so important to me. Again, I just need to reiterate that I wouldn’t be where I am now, on the Guide Dogs waiting list, without Jenny and I’m so thankful to have had her support over the last almost year. I’m also thankful to the Guide Dogs staff who have been involved in this most recent application and in the little bit running up to this application. To the service delivery manager, mobility instructor and Guide Dog mobility instructor who have been a part of this application and have made the decision to put me on the waiting list, thank you. I’ll be forever grateful to you all for giving me this chance to prove myself and this opportunity to have the mobility and independence I’ve been craving for so long. Thank you for being so open after the appeal in March and being so accommodating to the ideas I had for making the assessment process more stress-free for me. Together, it’s obviously worked because you’ve now deemed me suitable for a Guide Dog, so much so that I’ve already done enough for you to place me on the waiting list. I can’t put into words what that means.

Lastly, to everyone who’s supported me throughout this journey, my gratitude is infinite. Imi, Kieran, mum, Tiny, Dad, Jenny, Jemma, Jemma’s mum, Yvette, Amanda, Wayne, Lacey and Grant, Nan and Grandad, Auntie Clare, Josh, the service user representative, Tamsin, everyone who’s supported me on Facebook and Twitter… absolutely everyone who’s ever supported me, I couldn’t have done it without you. To Tiny’s wife Nicola, thank you for spending hours on your birthday sat in my living room while we battled at my appeal. You and your husband, who I have so much to thank for, have helped and supported me more than you’ll ever know and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. For everyone who’s listened to me talk about Guide Dogs all these years. The support of everyone in my life during this journey is what has kept me going, what has fuelled my determination. In March, when they said I was unsuitable, I was ready to give up. But Mum, Dad, Imi, Tiny, Kieran and everyone else I spoke to about it filled me with confidence and support and urged me on, until I made the decision to keep fighting. Without them, I’d have given up the fight and wouldn’t be sat here now, ON THE WAITING LIST. Who knows how long it’ll take until I’m matched. But for now, the hard work is done. The goal is met. And the relief I feel almost overtakes the joy.

Mobility Update: Guide Dogs Guide Dog Assessment October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 26 and 27

This morning, I had my 27th My Guide session with Jenny. Last week, we did our second attempt at the new route I’m learning which takes me from a bus stop in the city centre to the front door of the place I’m supposed to start volunteering with as soon as I’m competent with the route and have the right equipment. Last week, I didn’t feel the route had gone very well; I got stressed quite easily and wasn’t remembering much of it. Although only the second week of practice, it’s a much shorter and less complicated route than the ones Jenny and I have tried before so I had been hoping I’d pick it up much quicker. Apparently not, according to our attempts last week. As we had the week before, we caught the bus into the city centre and practised the outward and return route twice. But both times I just wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t feel like I was gradually improving. Plus, there are a lot of obstacles, such as parking meters, benches and electrical boxes, to navigate along the shoreline that I follow for the entirety of the route that keeps me away from the road. Either I kept bumping into them or my cane kept snagging on them. It gets quite uncomfortable after a while, especially when your cane keeps snagging on them and jolting your arm. I don’t walk particularly fast, but I’m not slow either, and at the speed I travel on foot its still quite a jolt if you’re stopped mid stride by your cane catching and staying stuck on something. But I just got on with it and tried not to grumble. As always, Jenny was much more optimistic than me, saying on the second attempt of the route she could see slight improvements.

Today, however, things felt much better for me, which reflected in my progress with the route. Last week, it had been quite a windy day, which never helps when I’m trying to be indepdently mobile as the sound messes with my ears and orientation. But this week it was a completely different story; the day was glorious with bright sunshine, a nice temperature and not even a fine breeze. Perfect weather! The route also went well right from the start. I walked less haltingly and at a faster pace because I felt more sure of myself as I went. I still had to ask Jenny plenty of questions, especially for reassurance that I was heading in the right direction, but things just felt much more positive with the route. Again, we practised both ways twice. We joked about how to a passerby me wandering to and from the same location must really make me look crazy and like I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing or where I’m going. We also said that having Jenny following me and not saying much while I’m concentrating must look like I’ve gained a stalker. Either that or the blind person is giving the sighted one directions…

By the time we arrived back at the bus stop the second time, I felt much more confident and hopeful about the route. I seemed to pick it up much better today and am gradually starting to remember things. My Victor Reader Trek wasn’t helpful, though; it kept freezing and shutting down, cutting off my GPS reassurance. Thankfully, both busses had the talking stop announcements on, which is incredibly helpful. I rely on them mostly to tell me where I’m getting off. Sometimes, they aren’t that reliable or even switched on so having the backup of my Victor Reader Trek, when its working properly, really is a bonus.

When we got back to mine, Jenny and I arranged our next few sessions. Next week, we’re meeting on Thursday as usual but the following week we’re meeting on the Tuesday because on the Thursday I’ve got a cookery course for blind people to attend and Jenny’s going away on holiday. Due to Jenny’s holiday, the following week we’re unable to meet. The week following that, we’re meeting on the Tuesday gain because I’ve got the cookery course again. I’m feeling much more positive overall about this volunteering route and am hoping that I’ll soon have it mastered. Just as soon as I do and have found a way to get hold of the equipment I need, I’ll be able to start volunteering.

Next week, I’m currently unsure about which route we’re going to do. This is because on that afternoon I’ll be having my mobility assessment with one of the mobility and orientation team from Southampton Guide Dogs. I’m feeling very optimistic about this as I passed the mobility assessment last time and have improved my routes loads since. But I’m debating whether to do the volunteering route just in case its stressful like last week. I need to be in the best mood possible for the assessment and be brimming with confidence. Also, I’m wondering whether to take the opportunity with Jenny to practice whichever route I choose to show the mobility person. That way, having practiced it that morning with Jenny, I’ll have that little extra seal of confidence about it. But I’ll see how I’m feeling. Obviously, whatever route I demonstrate on my assessment I’ll already know fully anyway so the little extra practice probably won’t make much difference. It might just give me that little bit extra confidence. So next time when I do a mobility update, I’;’ll be writing about the next My Guide session and how my mobility assessment went. Keep your fingers crossed for me…

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 24

After a rather long break, today it was time to get back to practising my routes. Since Jenny and I last met for a My Guide session, the whole of august has passed and e’re already racing through September. Soon, I’ll be back to Open University studies with no free time on my hands… but for now at least, I still have lots of free time. Unfortunately, our plans for today’s session had to change as I hadn’t heard back from anyone at the organisation I’ve applied to volunteer for so wasn’t sure if my application had been successful therefore meaning I had a new route to learn. Frustratingly, an email came through late last night replying to my question about my application to say that i have been successful and they do want me to start volunteering for them whenever I’m ready. Instead of contact Jenny last minute and rearrange our plans again, I decided to stick with doing the Woolston route. For one thing, its been a nice sunny day today so perfect for strolling along the shore and for another, I was having serious withdrawals from Piggy’s milkshakes!

So, at 9:30 Jenny arrived at my door and we headed out along the now very familiar route down to and along the shore into Woolston. I only hesitated in a couple of places and really feel I have the route cracked now because in the places I hesitated my instinct was right anyway. Next time we do the route, I’ll get Jenny to shadow me again like last time and try and hold back from checking directions with her even when I’m hesitating and instead go with my gut instinct because if I’d done that today I wouldn’t have asked her for a single direction and probably not gone the wrong way.

We stopped in Woolston to say hi to Dad and for refreshments at Piggy’s. Jenny had a coffee and I had a salted caramel milkshake. I also took a risk on a slice of chocolate fudge cake and soon wished I hadn’t. But it was ok because Jenny enjoyed my leftovers. While we relaxed, we chatted about what we’d both been up to during our break and I updated Jenny on my situation with Guide Dogs. When I came home from visiting Kieran last week, I wanted for a call from the southampton Guide Dogs service user representative for advice on how next to proceed. That conversation took place on Monday and she advised me to send an email to the southamtpn office asking to speak to the service delivery manager about arranging a time to discuss how best to proceed for me reapplying for a dog. I sent that email not long after getting off the phone from her and received a response yesterday to say that the service delivery manager wanted to visit me for a meeting either today or tomorrow. So I responded that either this afternoon or tomorrow morning would work for me as I have plans to meet my friend Josh tomorrow afternoon and of course the My Guide session this morning. This morning I received another email, from the service delivery manager herself, to say she would be visiting me tomorrow morning at 10am and that she’s bringing a GDMI (Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor) and a trainee dog with her. Of course I responded enthusiastically to this. I’m feeling incredibly positive about the whole thing all of a sudden. I feel really encouraged by the rapid response from the Southampton team as a whole and am hoping tomorrow’s meeting will be a positive one. If not that, I at least hope I get a cuddle with the trainee dog they’re bringing along. I’m really looking forward to discussing my next steps with the service delivery manager and I think having the input of a GDMI I’ve never had before could be really beneficial.

The return route home was equally as good. Jenny seems really pleased with my progress and we’re both chuffed at how much of the route I’ve retained even after not practising it for so long. As i said, next time we do the route I’ll ask Jenny to shadow me and refrain from asking for direction hints from her when I’m hesitating. I really think that really soon we’ll be able to put a big tick next to this route and I’ll be able to say I can do it unaided. But due to my upcoming volunteering opportunity, our efforts for the next few sessions are going to be focused on figuring out and learning the best route to the office of the organisation I’m going to be volunteering for. It involves a bus journey and a walk so although it isn’t lengthy walking like Guide Dogs asked for last time I applied, it’ll still be another regular route to add to my list. Plus, if its a bus journey combined with a walk there shouldn’t be a problem. If anything, it should be a bonus because I’m hoping to be doing it at least once weekly.

So all in all things seem very positive at the moment. Things are going really well with my routes and things seem to be looking up with Guide Dogs too. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much but I am feeling very positive this time around. Let’s just hope that feeling remains. After tomorrow I’ll know much more about where things are heading and hopefully my next My Guide post will be full of positive news.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 23

On Thursday the 2nd of august, my My Guide session was a little different to usual. Yes, we were still practising routes but this time they weren’t routes Jenny had taught me. We were consolidating my skills with the routes I already had before I started My Guide, all thanks to the hopefully positive news I wrote about in my last post. The reason this update is so late is because I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. From the 1st of august onwards, Dad was off from work; and from the 6th onwards, Mum joined us. Obviously, its the six weeks’ holiday too so Tamsin is off from school. This meant that days out were planned and we were off out all over the place. Then, from last Thursday (the 9th) onwards, Ive been up here in Newcastle with Kieran and family. Until today, Kieran has been home from work so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write my My Guide update. To be fair, there isn’t a massive amount to write, but here it is anyway.

After discovering that there is now a reopened get for me to reapply with Guide Dogs, I discussed my route situation with Jenny. This time, I want to doubly ensure that I’ve done just about everything I possibly can to please them before I reapply and my routes, or lack of, has always been a sticky point. However, since having Zena, learning routes with the help of family and then the arrival of Jenny, my route options have massively widened compared to what they were before. Once upon a time, I was barely able to get to my closest bus-stop, which is a minor two side roads and 5-minute-if-that walk away from my house. Now I have routes that take me nearly an hour to walk just to get to my destination. And the route possibilities are forever widening. But although Jenny and I agreed that this really is great and a massive improvement when considering what I’d have available to utilise for a Guide Dog workload, we agreed that its equally important for me to be able to effortlessly demonstrate that I know by heart the smaller and older routes I have. As I’m not quite as independent as I’d like to or should be, I don’t practice these routes as often as maybe I need to. So taking the opportunity to prove to Jenny that actually I can accomplish them independently and safely was definitely a good idea. I want Guide Dogs, when they next assess me, to see that my familiar routes are all but flawlessly executed. I want to prove how much my routes have flourished and how dedicated I am to building on the route knowledge I have.

So, after Jenny arrived, we headed out to walk my familiar routes. First, up passed all the bus-stops, across all the little side roads, even the one with the dodgy corner; then, across the road and round the corner to stand in front of the local library front door; back around the corner and across the road and then walking up parallel to the main road, crossing the three side roads and then turning sharply right and walking to the main entrance of the leisure centre/gym. This bit I got a bit wrong. I forgot that at the third curb edge I need to cross before turning sharply right away from the main road and up to the automatic doors. But with Jenny’s help I soon corrected this. After, back out of the leisure centre entrance and turn right to walk parallel along the main road again. I went all the way up the road and over the rather dangerous if you don’t do it right or aren’t paying 100% attention and to the front door of the news agents. To begin with, I headed passed the news agents and on as if I was going to Tamsin’s school. But in the end I decided I was too hot to persevere and turned back, retracing my steps back across the dodgy crossing and down the main road. But I stopped at the tactile markings of a crossing before the gym turning and headed across the road, taking myself into the park that I’ve landmarked as a prime spot for free running should I get a Guide Dog. This park was actually recommended by Seeing Dogs trainer John but had to be scrapped in favour of one I could be driven to with Zena as she was too distracted by its being there when we did the daily route to the gym. However, with a more focused dog and better trained me, I think I could take full advantage of that park’s placement for short frequent free runs during working routes or even as a destination for a working route. Once in the field, I walked down the length of the park, walking parallel to the main road again. Then, when my Victor Reader Trek announced that the third entrance to the park was approaching, I headed onto the tarmac and out of the park to the crossing that got me safely back onto the other side of the road and heading for home along the route I’d already walked.

Due to my own laziness, the routes actually felt somewhat rusty. I’m going to try my best to start getting out more so these easy and familiar routes feel fluid again. I’m also going to take advantage of my sessions with Jenny to practice those routes once every now and again, just so she can monitor my competency with them. She didn’t seem to have any worries with them, so I just need to practice them more. As I’m now up in Newcastle and due to Mum having time off, I’m now not seeing Jenny so having another My Guide session until the beginning of September. It really is crazy where time goes. When we get back to it, though, we’ve got another challenge to master. On the 1st of august, Jenny drove me into southampton town centre with a meeting with a volunteer coordinator that she’d organised for me. We’ve discussed many times my lack of work experience and frustrations with finding work or even voluntary posts that I feel I’d be capable of successfully completing. After finding a slot where an organisation needs a volunteer to speak to its clients and do a questionnaire to ensure the clients are receiving the right support and are getting what they asked for, Jenny thought of and recommended me. After speaking with the volunteer coordinator, I feel that actually this is something I might actually be able to do. They’ve said that I’d be able to complete it on my own personal laptop, meaning I could use my already set up screen reader, and the only other tasks are dialling phone numbers, talking to clients and taking notes answers to the questions to fill in the questionnaire. There are only two snags: 1. I don’t know how to get to the office; 2. I need to invest in a device that allows you to plug a standard phone into a headset through which one side you have the telephone and the other side you have your computer and therefore speech software. Even if I use my BrailleNote Apex to record the clients’ answers, I still need my hands free to type their responses and so this device is essential. The first problem can easily be solved thanks to Jenny’s generosity. We’re going to look into a safe and hassle-free way for me to get to the office and practice it until I’m confident. Kindly, the organisation have said the post will be open long enough for me to learn the route. This is very lucky because if they’d had a tight time frame for the survey needing to be completed the opportunity would have probably passed by the time I knew the route competently. Although there is of course the option of completing my volunteering on a Wednesday and using Dad as a taxi, as I’m using any volunteering I find as a gauge to what proper employed work would be like, having a parent taxi really isn’t part of the package I want. So, my next update could quite possibly be documenting our first trial of routes to my hopefully new voluntary role. My friend Josh helped by looking at the busses and seeing that there’s two potential stops for me to alight to then walk to the office. One is at the Itchen Bridge and the other is at the back of Primark. So at some point Jenny and I are going to go on a bus ride and figure out the best route to the office. Once I’ve successfully learnt the route, our sessions will go back to practising the routes I’ve already learnt. Until I’ve applied to Guide Dogs again and found out where I stand about getting on the waiting list for a dog, I’m not going to learn any more routes but make better use of my time by polishing the ones I have. Many people, including family, friends with Guide Dogs and Jenny, have agreed that the amount and length of routes I have should add up to a more than sufficient workload to at least start with. Plus, I’m continuing to expand on the routes I already have all the time and especially now I’m seriously starting to branch out with voluntary work with the aim of heading into paid employment in the near future, my routes shouldn’t really need to be questioned. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed I can pass in all the areas Guide Dogs assess for suitability. But for now, I’m going to enjoy my break away up in Newcastle and when I get home at the end of the month, I’ll throw myself back head first into learning and polishing routes.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 22 and some positive news, at last!

This post is going to be a little different simply because I have so much to write and I don’t want to go on and on forever… i know, what’s changed now, huh? But if I ramble on and on this probably won’tmake any sense and it’ll take away from how good the good news is…

As I said in my last post, a meeting had taken place arranged by my friend Jemma, who lives across the road from me and has German Shepherd Guide Dog Ollie, with the southampton guide dogs mobility team service user representative. Jemma arranged this after understanding and agreeing with my frustrations with my situation with Guide Dogs. Our hope was that the service user representative could at least shed some light on my situation. On this Monday just gone, another meeting took place in which the service user representative discussed with us her findings on my case. I can’t go into too much detail at the moment with what was discussed, but the investigation by the service user representative has led to their being a possibility that I can reapply for a guide dog soon. I’m not saying that means I’ll be successful in being suitable for a dog or that I’ll immediately be put on the waiting list, but there’s a new opening that means I can at least reapply. I’m also not saying that the service user representative is a miracle worker and can fix all cases that haven’t gone the way the service user wanted, because that’s certainly not her job, but for me she’s enabled my case to be opened up afresh so that I can reapply. If or when I do reapply and go through the assessment process again, I may possibly be able to go into more detail about why things have changed a bit where my situation is concerned but for now, that’s all I can say.

Continuing the run of positivity, this week my My Guide session went really well. Jenny made the suggestion that this week I take the leap and do the route solo, with her only shadowing me. Usually, while we walk our routes we chat. But being shadowed means you pretend there’s no one else with you. For the Woolston route, this was the first time I’d tried this. It made for quite a different route experience too. Usually, Jenny walks beside me, which means I can orientate myself on the path quite easily. With Jenny walking a few paces behind me, I had to focus more on where I was on the path. I seemed to zigzag even more than usual but Jenny said I seemed to orientate myself quite well. The route went really really well. I only spoke to Jenny once before reaching the Woolston high street and that was to check about a crossing at the end of Weston shore. Lucky that I did, too, because I was going to cross at the wrong point otherwise. Obviously, Jenny would have stopped me anyway. It didn’t take long to correct my mistake, though, and other than that I made all the right choices.

Reaching Woolston after only needing Jenny’s input once felt like quite an achievemnt and Jenny’s pleasure at how well I’d managed the route was really gratifying. Obviously, it’d have been even better if I’d done the route without any wobbles whatsoever but for the first shadow of the route I was quite pleased with myself. We celebrated with our usual stop in Piggy’s, me for a caramel milkshake and Jenny for her usual Americano with hot milk on the side. For a moment, she wavered and nearly tried a smoothie but in the end decided to stick with her usual. The caramel milkshake still didn’t beat my favourite, the salted caramel milkshake I had the first time I tried one off their mammoth list. During our drinks, we chatted through the developments with my situation with Guide Dogs and Jenny seemed really pleased for me. We also discussed my routes and how neither of us are particularly happy with the route to my grandparents house. Weaver made the decision to scrap the route simply because Jenny doesn’t feel that its very safe and I don’t feel very comfortable doing it. If we’d walked it a few more times I might have felt better about it but Jenny just doesn’t feel that its a safe enough walk for me to be doing alone. To be honest, I’m not massively disappointed. In total, its about 3 hours worth of walking and that massively exceeds Guide Dogs request for me needing a lengthy varied workload. Plus, there is an alternative in a bus route to their house that would involve a little bit of walking. I think it would have been a really complicated and time consuming route to learn as well. Although I liked it for the amount of FitBit steps it provided, that was literally the only good thing about it.

The return route from Woolston went quite well too. By this point, i was melting a bit. It was nowhere near as hot as walking to Nan and Grandad’s last week but it still warranted a shorts and T-shirt approach. Obviously, I was also wearing my bright pink high-vis vest over the top of my T-shirt to increase my visibility. Jenny seems to agree that it helps, especially when I’m crossing roads at points where car drivers may not immediately see I’m there otherwise. We’ve agreed to meet up next Thursday at our usual time and start consolidating my already learnt routes. We’re going to continue to learn the route to my sister’s school, potentially both ways round, and also practice the other routes I’d already learnt before My Guide with Jenny. At some point, we’re also going to learn how to get to my grandparents by bus, as I still think its a really important route to have even if it doesn’t meet Guide Dogs requirement for lengthy walking. Sometimes routes are just simply for convenience and the one to Nan and Grandad’s would be just that. There’s also the possibility that I might start volunteering for an organisation that one of Jenny’s friends works for. I’m going for a meeting to discuss this with Jenny’s friend on Wednesday and am really hopeful there might be a positive outcome. The post is phoning current clients of the organisation to discuss whether the service they’re being provided meets their needs and is what they’re wanting from the organisation. As there would only be phone and computer tasks within this role, there’s a very good chance it’d actually be something I’d be able to do. This of course has massive positive implications for me. It’d be getting me out of the house; it’d mean I have actual legitimate work experience to add to my CV; I’d be meeting and working with new people in a real work environment; and it’d mean another independent travel journey that isn’t just because I need to get out walking. Jenny says there’s a way to get to the organisation location via bus with some walking so it really sounds perfect for me. Keep your fingers crossed for Wednesday. Obviously, I’m immensely grateful to Jenny for arranging all of this and for thinking of me in the first place. Even if nothing comes of this its another thing to say I’ve attempted; but if something does, it’ll be ticking so many boxes for me.

So, as the title of this post says, there’s so much positivity in this post. Its practically overloaded with positive feelings and that, for anyone who knows me, doesn’t happen often. I’m feeling really good about things, especially as my routes are going so well and there’s a fresh opening with Guide Dogs Southampton for me to reapply and go through the assessment process of getting a dog again. That is definitely the best news I could’ve hoped for. There couldn’t be a better outcome than that. I’m just hoping it leads to the goal I’ve been aiming for for so long. I guess I’ll just have to do better than my best this time and hope it pays off. But for now I’m going to continue practising my routes and perfecting them just as much as I can.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 21

On the day my sister turned into a teenager, it was time for another My Guide session, this time a new challenge for me… last Friday, Jenny and I did a trial run of the shorter route to my grandparents house. Dad, after working out himself how long the route I’d proposed to their house would actually take us, had suggested that actually it’d be best for all parties involved if I considered his shorter route option. So after Jenny had driven around both route options last Thursday after our session, I’d agreed. Jenny had said that the route I proposed would be about 2.4 miles each way and take much longer than an hour and a half whereas Dad’s suggestion was around 1.8 miles each way and would be about an hour and a half if not slightly shorter. Of course, my brain was automatically thinking that the longer route would be better, would impress Guide Dogs more, would make for a better addition to my workload for a guide dog. But obviously I was being silly. A route that’s at least an hour each way is more than enough, and a route over an hour and a half each way is bordering on insane.

As the trial run of the route proved, Dad and Jenny were right; there was no way I needed to even consider the longer route. Also, doing the trial run also showed me what Dad has been trying to tell me for ages: that there’s a much quicker nicer way to get to Tamsin’s school. The trial route of the grandparents route takes me up passed the local co-op, my shortest route, and on over a train bridge. At some point, we end up walking up the road towards Tamsin’s school where, on the route to her school that I’m already learning, we usually walk down that road to the school. So, in effect, its a huge circle. From the school, we even backtrack along some of the route I’m already learning to her school to get to a pedestrian crossing. The road we need to cross is particularly busy and I don’t fancy just crossing it at a slight lull in the traffic and hoping for the best. The pedestrian crossing with spinning cone and beeping noise to alert me when its safe to cross is a much better option. It does lengthen the route a little bit but its worthwhile for the safety it provides.

The worst part of the route is the last main road which, at some point, I turn off to get to Nan and Grandad’s bungalow. It is crazy busy with traffic most of the time and the cars come whizzing passed at silly speeds. To make matters worse, the pavement is quite narrow, meaning that when a big lorry or van comes speeding passed its quite unsettling. On the journey to Nan and Grandad’s, the level of traffic made me seriously consider the possibility that there might not be a point in pursuing this route, however much I wanted to add it to my rapidly growing route options. Walking alongside that noisy busy fast traffic really wasn’t a pleasant feeling and it made me wonder if this route was going to be too difficult or unpleasant for me to persevere with. I didn’t voice this to Jenny at that point, too busy concentrating on where I was going and recording landmarks on my Victor Reader Trek, which was also successfully recording the progress of the new route for me. When eventually we turned off the busy main road, I felt very relieved and quite zapped of all energy. This route was certainly testing my resolve.

But once we turned into Nan and Grandad’s street, finding their bungalow was no problem. There’s one other person’s driveway and then the gated entrance to Nan and Grandad’s house. They provided us with much needed and very welcome refreshments of cold drinks and chocolate biscuits. At this point, I was still feeling very uncertain about the route. Those main roads really weren’t nice to walk alongside and there was a lot for me to learn with this route. But I was still determined to try; maybe the return route would change my mind.

It didn’t completely, but it made me feel a lot more hopeful about the route in general. The main roads didn’t feel quite so daunting on the return journey. Maybe I felt better because I was refreshed, I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t seem as difficult on the way home as it had before. Jenny and I discussed this as we walked. She suggested that it could be because the cars were coming towards us rather than rushing up from behind and racing passed. I suggested that it was because the first test of the route was done, I’d already walked it once. Even though it was only the first time I was walking the return journey, having walked the route the other way round already seemed to help my confidence. That doesn’t mean that the route isn’t still a challenge, because it definitely is. I don’t think its going to be a quick one to learn like the school one seems to be. I think its going to take a good while for it to start sinking into my memory. But I’m going to persevere with it. Having my grandparents house as a reachable destination can only be a good thing. Jenny and I did also talk about getting the bus to my grandparents to cut out some of those horrible main roads. Its an option of something else to learn in the future and would be a good alternative if it was pouring down with rain and I still needed to get to Nan and Grandad’s. having options of how to get there is also good. I already go there twice a week for tea as it is and sometimes there’s other days we visit too. If i was able to get there independently, it means I could visit if parents were unable to transport me there and obviously would make a good excuse to work a guide dog. Even if I didn’t do the return route, getting a lift home with parents, that’s still a good hour and 20 minute working walk for a dog, more than anything guide dogs have said a dog needs daily. If I did that twice a week on the days I visit them now, that takes out two days’ worth of working the dog, and that’s not considering if I had other things to do or places to go on those days as well. Take two days for grandparents an add the Woolston route, gym route, library route, school route and bus route into town and I’m sure that’s more than enough to keep a dog busy. That’s not to mention the little route to the local Co-op and the route to the decent free run on the way to the gym and the same along the shore on the way to Woolston. Additionally, that’s not even thinking about other routes i want to learn for the future, including getting the bus to Nan and Grandad’s and a journey to Southampton central train station that then takes me either on a long distance train to my brother and his little family or Imi or then onto the airport train station, across the road and into the airport itself to catch a plane to Kieran. There’s so many options. Ive of course also got the route from the main Woolston high street up to my doctors. And they’re all things I hope to be able to do independently and don’t take into account things I do at weekends with the family. I think that’s more than enough for a dog to be getting on with. Of course, I don’t have all those routes memorised yet. Woolston, Tamsin’s school and the grandparents’ route are still very much in progress, especially the grandparents’ route. I might be doing really well with the Woolston route, but there are still a lot of little niggles that I need to iron out. But as mine and Jenny’s working time together is unlimited as long as we both say so, we should have plenty of time to perfect them all. That’s my plan, anyway. We’re meeting again this Thursday and I plan to do the Woolston route again, mostly because the summer is still raging and its nice to walk that route while its hot and not so to do the grandparents or school route. Fingers crossed it goes well and those niggles start to reduce.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 20

After a week’s break while Jenny went on holiday, yesterday we were back to our usual time and place for another My Guide session, off to practice the Woolston route yet again. Last time I wrote, I said I was considering the possibility of doing the route solo or at least with Jenny just shadowing me and giving no hints about direction. But yesterday I just wasn’t in the mood. It wasn’t anything in particular that made me feel that way, I just didn’t fancy the added pressure of remembering everything. Plus, as there’s no progress with Guide Dogs, I don’t see any reason in rushing into doing routes solo when there’s really no need right now.

The outward route went well. I remembered things quite well, checking with Jenny at certain parts. There’s still little bits of the route that I need to persevere with practising. For example, walking along one road there’s a point where I need to cross to be on the opposite side of the road and for that I have to count 3 raised cement block things — at least that’s what they feel like with my cane — to know the exact point to cross. Before now, I was trying to rely on my Victor Reader Trek to announce the landmark at the right point instead of needing to count but it never quite gets it right. Similarly, when I’m almost home, on one of the last crossings before I reach my pathway, I walk up a slight hill and have to know the correct place to stop and cross so that I don’t cross and walk into the middle of the road. Although these are only minor things, they’re still things I need to perfect before I can consider doing the route solo. Perhaps next time Jenny and I practice the route I’ll get her to shadow me. We’ll see how I’m feeling.

We stopped to see Dad and popped into Piggy’s for refreshment, where Jenny had her usual Americano with hot milk on the side and I ticked off another milkshake from their list, this time the toffee nut milkshake. It was very nice. I also tried one of their triple chocolate cookies, which wasn’t too bad. On the way out, we popped in to see Dad and spoke to him about routes from my house to Nan and Grandad’s house. Dad had told me a long time ago that the route I’m learning to Tamsin’s school can be extended into a route to my grandparents house, but that the way I’m learning is unnecessarily long. There’s a shorter more convenient route but because I wanted to learn long routes for Guide Dogs, I didn’t initially consider it. But by using Dad’s version of the route, I’m learning a route almost completely separate from what I’m already learning and already know. I’m hoping it won’t be too much of a challenge. There are overlapping points during the route with other routes I have, for example the first part of the route walks up to my local Co-op, which was the first local route I knew. Jenny and I have agreed to meet next Friday morning at 9:30 to walk the route to my grandparents and see how it goes. Yesterday, Jenny drove both routes, the incredibly long one and Dad’s suggestion. The longer one she said was about 2.4 miles each way and Dad’s suggestion only1.8, which is still a rather decent walking amount. She’s predicting even Dad’s suggestion will take over an hour each way, but we’ll just have to see when we walk it for the first time next week. So as of next Friday, Jenny and I will be learning 3 routes simultaneously: the Woolston route, which I’m very close to mastering; the school route which isn’t complicated at all and I just need to practice every few weeks to keep fresh in my mind; the new route to Nan and Grandad’s house, which will hopefully follow dads suggested direction. If Dad’s suggestion of the route doesn’t go well and either Jenny or I aren’t happy with it, we’ll test my original idea for a route to the grandparents. But I really do feel it’d be better if they were 3 almost separate routes. The Woolston route is taking me 50-ish minutes each way, the school route is roughly an hour each way and Jenny predicts that this new route will be at least an hour each way if not more. This, surely, fills Guide Dogs need for me to have more lengthy routes. Even though that isn’t their issue any more, I’m still persevering with it. I’m determined to have a decent enough workload for a dog even if I am unemployed and a student who works from home. I know plenty of other Guide Dog owners who are unemployed and have qualified successfully so I don’t see why that should be a barrier for me. Plus, even with those three routes, there’s still others I want to learn, not to mention the ones I already know and the potential for new others in the future. Really, I feel I’ve got the route thing sussed, just as long as I learn them all…

As for my other issue with Guide Dogs, sadly there’s still no progress, to my ever mounting frustration. However, just yesterday there has been a development that makes me hopeful. My friend Jemma, who has the German Shepherd Guide Dog who I looked after once, is in the process of arranging a phone meeting with the service user representative from Southampton Guide Dogs Mobility Team. Jemma feels, and I’ve come to agree, that I deserve to be assessed by another team completely independent of Southampton and that Southampton aren’t treating me fairly. Ive fought so so hard for the chance to be a Guide Dog owner and I’m just not getting anywhere, being pushed back every time I think I’m getting close. Southampton aren’t prepared to offer any support or help with my challenge to learn how to interact and socialise with dogs and every avenue I’ve ventured down to try and solve this issue myself have been a dead end. Rescue shelters and grooming parlours won’t take me because I’m a health and safety risk or liability or whatever, I don’t personally know many Guide Dog owners locally and I’ve spent time with all the family dogs we have. I’m not alien to dogs. We have had two pet dogs plus Zena in this household alone. Even if I did get some things wrong on further assessment day and gave off some wrong signals, I know how to be around a dog, I know how to look after a dog and I even know some of the specialised commands and actions needed for a guide dog after my own experience with Zena and overhearing friends with their dogs. Its such a pressurised situation that I think I’m always going to be a nervous wreck with Southampton’s team until the day they give me the approval and praise I need to move forward with an application. But I don’t feel like I’ll get that, no matter what I try. Maybe there’s just too much passed history. Maybe my experience with Seeing Dogs is clouding their judgment. Or perhaps I’m just not the kind of applicant they’re looking for. If long waiting lists and being short staffed is secretly affecting my chances then that’s unfair but understandable. Obviously I shouldn’t be penalised if the charity are having issues internally, like full waiting lists and limited staff, but what can I do about it? I want to be on good terms with the Southampton team, I crave to be the candidate they’re looking for, I want them to be the hero’s who grant me a Guide Dog like they have for so many in the region. But every time I’m coming up against brick walls and I’m fighting so hard to overcome the barriers to them I present in being a competent Guide Dog owner. But maybe to them I’m just not fighting hard enough. Or maybe they think I;ll just never be suitable, there’s too many problems. I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. I’m hoping the service user rep might have some suggestions for me moving forward, whether that be persevering with Southampton or doing whatever I need to in order to be assessed elsewhere. As I’ve said, I’d like it to be the Southampton team because that’s the way things are meant to be, but i do now feel quite intimidated every time I have anything to do with them. There’s so much emotion involved for me and always the feeling that I’m not doing whatever it is they’re assessing right. Maybe that’s a result of there always being something else I need to get right for them. Maybe I’m not destined to be a Guide Dog owner. But I just can’t see that that’s the answer. With the support of friends and family, I looked after Zena really well. She had everything she ever needed and money wasn’t even questioned when it came to getting whatever she needed. As for our working relationship, I could have done things much better, I know that now. But at the time I tried my absolute hardest and I know I’d do that all again and much more if I was given another chance with a new dog. Plus, having the support of all the Guide Dogs trained staff, the network of Guide Dog friends I have and the online Guide Dogs community, there would always be someone to turn to if I had a problem, a wealth of experience and knowledge for me to take advantage of that just didn’t work with Zena. Obviously, there were still things Guide Dog friends could advise about with Zena and for those I’ll always be grateful. But having the full network of the entire Guide Dogs community at my disposal I know would help a lot.

But its all just dreams still. At the moment, I need to focus on learning these routes to the best of my ability. The Woolston and school routes are both going really well and I hope next week our exploration of the route to my grandparents goes really well too. If it does, it’ll be another one to add to my nicely expanding list of routes. This, of course, means that if I am lucky enough to be assessed by another team or Southampton reconsider in the future, I’ll have many more routes under my belt than I did last time I applied. All I can hope is that all these sessions help towards something and stand for more than just get in exercise, practising my long cane skills and having the opportunity to work with someone as lovely as Jenny. There was always a goal for all these routes and I really hope all my dedication, determination, perseverance and progress eventually leads to me achieving that goal.