Tag Archives: Student

“Thank you Jesus, for bringing Russell”

After what has felt like the longest four months, last Monday 27th May, Mum and I headed off to Southampton airport to wait for a plane to arrive from Newcastle, bringing Kieran down to stay. Since we last saw each other in January to celebrate his 22nd birthday and our 3rd anniversary of being together, things have been busy, so busy that I haven’t found time to arrange to visit him again. Obviously, as Kieran’s working hard being an IT apprentice and I’m still unemployed, it’s down to me more to make the effort to go up and stay with him so he doesn’t have to take time off work so often. And of course, I’m fine with that. More than anything, I’m able to take my uni work with me wherever I go so Lesley and John’s sofa is just a good study place as my desk in my room. But these last few months have been super hectic uni-wise as I’ve been working towards, and now completed, my final pieces of work not only for Level 3 but for my entire degree. I’m planning to write more about finishing uni when results come in, but safe to say it’s been an odd experience this last fortnight not having to sit down and dedicate every day to studying and working on assignments as I have the last almost 4 years. I can’t believe it’s all over and have found freedom strange so far. Thankfully, Kieran came to stay for a week and made it a lot more enjoyable. I mean, don’t get me wrong I’m enjoying spending my days cuddling my little guinea pigs and reading as many books as I can manage, which started with rereading the Harry Potter series of course, but having had something to keep me occupied almost solidly for the last 4 years means I’m a little at a loss for what to do with so much free time. So, having Kieran down was definitely a great way to use some of that time. By the time Kieran came through arrivals to us and we got home, it was already late enough to go up to bed so once he’d said hello to Dad and Tamsin, we headed up.

Surprisingly, on Tuesday we were up earlier than we usually are when we stay together and have nothing to do. Strangely, it wasn’t even because my parents had woken us up by putting Wave 105 radio on as soon as they got up for their usual getting ready for work and school routine. Once we were up, showered and dressed, we had our usual Weetabix and cups of tea breakfast. Then, when Dad and Tamsin came back, we all headed out to get some lunch. As Dad and Tamsin had already eaten, Dad took us to Gregg’s in Thornhill so we could get something to take with us up to Nan and Grandad’s; Dad had thought it’d be nice for us to pop up and see them as we had nothing planned and they’d like to see Kieran. In Gregg’s, I chose a sausage roll, bottle of doctor pepper and a caramel custard doughnut and Kieran picked a steak bake and a bottle of Diet Coke but didn’t want a cake or anything. Nan and grandad did seem pleased to see us, although the bungalow was already rather crowded as it was hairdressing day so auntie Clare was there doing everyone’s hair and auntie Jackie was round. As the kitchen was full, Kieran and I sat in the lounge and ate our yummy lunch, declining packets of crisps when Nan offered. A little later on, we left and once home watched episodes of The Chase I had recorded on my sky box. I also deleted all the unneeded episodes of Lorraine and judge Rinder that I’d recorded to use as background noise while I studied. We also stopped the series links for them and I was shocked my box had 90%+ free on its hard drive; I don’t think its been that free since I first got it!

When she got home from work later on, Mum cooked Kieran and I chicken garlic Kiev and homemade chips with spaghetti hoops for tea and we had mint choc chip ice cream for pudding. Upstairs, Kieran and I watched some comedy DVDs, Sean Lock’s Keep It Light, which Kieran hadn’t seen before, and Sarah Millican’s Control Enthusiast. At midnight, Kieran revealed to me that he and Josh had booked tickets for the three of us to see Russell Howard live in September at the BIC in Bournemouth and Kieran had paid for my ticket as a birthday present. Russell has been on my comedy hit list for a long time so I am very much looking forward to seeing him with the lads in September.

Wednesday meant it was my 22nd birthday, the main reason Kieran had visited, and so we were woken by the traditional ritual on anyone’s birthday, Dad going downstairs and turning on the CD player so that Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday blares loudly. We headed downstairs, where Mum had stuck up banners and sprinkled confetti on the breakfast bar, and while everyone ate their breakfasts I sat on the floor and opened the cards that had come through in the post, then Tamsin’s gifts and the big bag of gifts from my parents, which included the new 2019-20 Liverpool FC home shirt, a Pandora bead for my necklace to represent Peanut the guinea pig, The Body Shop and Lush bits, Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter T-shirts, a Harry Potter room of requirement sign for my bedroom and a pineapple-shaped soap dish for my lush shampoo bars. Afterwards, as we were all getting ready, Dad suggested that Kieran and I come with them when they took Mum to work so we could go for a mcdonalds breakfast. We agreed but I was disappointed Mum had to work and couldn’t come with us. In the car, I opened the birthday cards from Kieran’s family that he’d brought with him and found I’d been very spoilt again, with vouchers and money to spend. As we were driving my phone rang and it was my brother Grant and his girlfriend Lacey with my nieces and nephew calling to wish me a happy birthday. I’d already received a card written by my nephew with auntie on the front that morning that had made me a bit teary and hearing from them all too was really lovely. Once we’d dropped Mum at work, we headed into town and into West Quay for breakfast. Kieran had a cheesy bacon flatbread meal which came with a hash brown and drink, and he had black coffee I had a sausage McMuffin meal, which also came with a hash brown and drink, and I had a little bottle of milk. Later, once we were home, Kieran had a look at my laptop and Victor Reader Trek and sorted out my Audible so that I could listen to my books on my Trek. While he did that, a postman arrived, bringing lovely Moonpig flowers from Kieran. A little later and another postman delivered a big box of bath and shower luxuries from Imi.

In the evening when Mum got home from work, everyone started to get ready so we could go out for my birthday meal. Just before we left, I received a text from my good pal Josh saying he’d locked himself out of his flat and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to join us. But when we arrived, he was waiting outside the restaurant even though he hadn’t solved the problem. Nan, Grandad, Auntie Clare and Adam also joined us. I’d chosen Bella Italia in the town centre to go to as suggested by Nan the previous week. I remembered it had a lovely ravioli on the menu and was in a convenient place in town for everyone to get to without too much hassle. Kieran chose meatballs for his starter and a spicy meat pasta dish for his main. I had a slice of Adam’s garlic pizza bread and a couple of Mum’s dough balls as I hadn’t wanted a whole starter to myself and a meat pasta dish for my main. Sadly, we’d discovered that they no longer served either of the two ravioli dishes they used to have on the menu and hadn’t put any new ravioli dishes on. As I’d been looking forward to having ravioli and partially chosen the restaurant for the ravioli, I was a bit disappointed. I enjoyed my main, although it was far too big a portion and I left quite a lot of it. After we’d all finished eating, the table erupted into Happy Birthday singing and a white chocolate birthday cake chosen by Dad and Tamsin was brought out. Everyone except Dad, who thought the cake would have too much sugar in it for his blood levels, had a slice of the cake and it was delicious. Unfortunately, Josh had to leave just as the cake was being cut so he could catch a train to take him to Wareham to meet his dad so he had somewhere to spend the night; but Mum wrapped him a slice of the cake up in a napkin to take with him. He’d bought me some lovely birthday gifts — a sign with pictures of guinea pigs on and Peanut, Smudge and Hazel printed on it to hang on their cage; a lovely charm key ring with charms from the Harry Potter films on it; and a Pandora bead of a cat to represent Coco on my necklace. As he’d had such a disastrous night himself, I was very grateful to him for still making the effort to join us for the meal. I’d also been given a Body Shop voucher and box of Milk Tray from Auntie Clare, Uncle Dave and Adam and a Dove wash set from Nan and Grandad who’s card I’d opened earlier containing £20. All in all, it’d been a pretty great birthday and it reminded me, as all my birthdays do, how lucky I am to have such amazing family and friends around me. Not only the cards and gifts but the kindness, effort and love that went into the whole day makes me so grateful to have the friends and family I do.

On Thursday, everyone was out at work so Kieran and I were able to have a little bit of a lie in before getting up and having our Weetabix and cups of tea breakfast. While I sorted the guinea pigs cage out, Kieran sat in the computer chair in their little room and kept me company. I even managed to catch all three girls one at a time and bring them out of their cage for Kieran to stroke. Upstairs, we watched the remaining episodes of The Chase on my sky box. Halfway through, we ate the sandwiches Mum had made for our lunch. When she got home from work, Mum cooked us chicken pie, mash potato and baby carrots with gravy for our tea. Later on, we watched Gogglebox recorded from the week before and some Two Doors Down and Family Guy that was on TV.

Friday morning was similar to Thursday, with us getting up and having our Weetabix breakfast and me sorting the guinea pigs cage. Then, we got ready and headed up the road to the bus-stop, so we could catch the bus to meet Josh in town. When we arrived at West Quay, I realised we’d caught the bus far too early so Kieran text Josh to let him know we were already in town, just in case he was early too as he’s known for getting to places sooner than scheduled. As expected, Josh turned up two minutes later… we went up to Pizza Hut in West Quay because both the boys had food vouchers that had been bought for them as gifts to use up. Josh chose to go for the buffet but Kieran and I decided to use one of the offers currently on that allowed us to get a sharing pizza, two sides, two desserts and two drinks for a set price. For our pizza, Kieran and I did half and half with stuffed crust,with half tuna and sweet corn and half Texas Meat Meltdown. For our sides we chose cheesy garlic bread and fries. I surprised myself by being able to eat my whole half of the pizza. Usually when I eat at Pizza Hut I only manage a couple of slices before admitting defeat. While Josh had his second helpings from the buffet, Kieran and I ordered our desserts, me having my usual white chocolate and caramel cookie dough and Kieran trying the new cinnamon bites.

Feeling rather full, we decided to catch the bus back to mine and spent the rest of the afternoon and majority of the evening listening to music, catching up and having a lovely time. Josh didn’t leave until nearly 9:30, long after Dad had headed down the club and we’d started our child minding duties of Tamsin, who was just getting ready to go to bed as Josh left. Once he’d gone, Kieran and I watched Gogglebox and The Last Leg.

On Saturday morning, we got up and had breakfast and then, while Kieran set my Apple TV up in the living room ready for the football later on and watched some telly, I did a full clean out of the guinea pigs cage, which I have to do once weekly. As I cleaned, Mum came home with Tamsin, bringing KFC for our lunch with them. It had been Kieran’s suggestion after Mum had hinted at bringing Gregg’s back for lunch as he wanted to try the new “I love you bacon burger” meal and if we had KFC it meant everyone had eaten a decent or at least filling lunch. Our KFC branch had Kieran’s desired meal and I had a BBQ wrap with a popcorn snack box and iced tea. As I finished doing the cage clean, Kieran watched more telly, with Friends, The Simpsons and horse racing featuring. Mum found it rather comical listening to him shouting at the horses race but having heard it myself many times before I hardly even noticed.

At 6 o’clock, we put the Apple TV on and went onto YouTube and the BT Sport live stream so that we could watch the build-up to the Champions League final from the start. As the final was between Tottenham and Liverpool and would mean the 6th Champions League final Liverpool had won if they won, I wanted very much to watch. Not being able to remember the infamous night of Istanbul 2005 well myself, or any other big finals since then, I was hoping this final could be a personal success in my history as a Liverpool fan. Just before the football arrived, Kieran and I ordered takeaway for our tea for ourselves. Mum had already cooked Dad tea before she’d gone to work and although we tried to persuade her she insisted she didn’t want us to buy her anything to have later on when she got in, saying she might grab herself a kebab or something on her way home. Unfortunately, as it was probably a busy Saturday night for the company, our food arrived a little after the football had started, by which time Liverpool had scored their first goal. Kieran had a mixed kebab and chips, I had donner meat and chips, we shared mozzarella sticks and had a can of doctor pepper each. I was pleased that for once we hadn’t gone overboard with the food like we often do. We both enjoyed the food very much and it made for a nice atmosphere while we watched the football. In the end, Liverpool won 2-0 and lifted the champions league trophy for the 6th time. Sadly, the game was quite flat and not the magic that many Liverpool fans brag about from Istanbul. However, it was still a good game and a great night for my club, and a great night for me to be able to watch the match and have a winning final in my memory. Listening to the players, fans and manager talk afterwards just reminded me that however underwhelming the game had been onscreen, the achievement for the club was still great, even more so with the incredible season we’ve had and the unfortunate disappointment of losing the Premier League right at the last hurdle. As Dad and Kieran wanted to watch the boxing, which had started at 10pm before the football had finished, they switched the channel over and I headed upstairs so I could continue listening to the reactions to the game on the radio. In the end, Kieran stayed up watching the boxing with Dad and then both parents when Mum arrived home until 2am, by which time I’d long since fallen asleep.

As everyone stayed up late for the boxing, nobody rose early on Sunday morning and I think everyone felt a little groggy. It turned out that Dad stayed up the latest, watching the whole boxing show until it finished at 4am. Once everyone was ready, we piled into the car and headed to The Dancing Goose in Netley to meet Nan, Grandad, Nan Olive, Auntie Clare and Adam for Sunday lunch. As Nan and Grandad were flying out to canada the following day to visit our relatives over there, meaning grandad will be away for his 80th birthday and Father’s Day, the family wanted to get all together to see each other one more time before they flew out. Everyone except Kieran, who wasn’t feeling too well, had carvery; Kieran had sausage, mash and peas. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals, although I was a little disappointed that they’d changed their roast potatoes since we’d last been because they used to be really lovely. They’re still nice enough but they used to have a really tasty coating on them. No one fancied a pudding so we just paid the bill and headed out, saying longer than usual goodbyes in the car park before all going our separate ways. Once we’d arrived home, I had to sort the guinea pigs’ veg and clean up their cage like I do every day. Meanwhile, Kieran put the Apple TV back in place up in my room. While watching Judge Judy, we ate a slice of my white chocolate birthday cake each. After Judge Judy, we watched back to back episodes of Come Dine With Me, Have I Got News For You and Ultimate Worrier.

Somehow, when we woke up the following day Kieran had already been staying for a week and inevitably that meant his flight home had come. Somehow, our time together always seems to fly by too fast, regardless of how little or long the stay is. We had a little lie in on Monday but were soon up, showered and dressed, sitting downstairs debating whether to have our Weetabix breakfast and order the Dominoes treat lunch we’d agreed on a little later on or straight away. Kieran decided he didn’t fancy Weetabix so we got some biscuits out and once we’d had a couple and started drinking our tea, we decided to order the food straight away. In the end, we didn’t stick to our previous agreement of just having bits and pieces because I fancied a pizza; so we got a half and half medium pizza, one half ham and pineapple and one half meat fielder. As usual, Kieran added extra tomato sauce and extra mozzarella cheese and I opted for stuffed crust. To that we added 7 chicken strippers, potato wedges and cookies. As our Dominoes is literally around the road, the food was delivered really quickly. While we ate, Kieran put Russell Howard’s Netflix special Recalibrate on for us to listen to. We’d meant to watch it the previous night but not gotten around to it. The food was lovely and Russell as always was hilarious. It was a nice way to spend our last lunchtime of this meet-up together.

Unfortunately, not long after we’d finished eating, the headache that had been minor earlier in the morning became really painful to the point where I took Ibuprofen really hoping that the pain would have dulled long before Kieran left so we could enjoy the last few hours we had together before his flight. Although we did of course enjoy our time together, listening to Magic Chilled and Kisstory on my Amazon Echo, I wasn’t so lucky with the headache. It didn’t start to lessen until we were getting ready to leave the house to go to the airport, by which time Tamsin had walked home from school to us and Auntie Clare had come to take us as Mum wasn’t able to take the time off work. Despite it being rush hour traffic time, we got to the airport no problem and Kieran was quickly checked in and directed to sit in the waiting area until someone from assistance could help. They came all too quickly, of course, and it was time for goodbyes. Although Kieran is already scheduled to come down in September for the two comedy gigs we now have lined up and I’m hoping to take a trip up north sometime in between now and then, it didn’t make the goodbye moment any easier. Nothing ever does. But the long distance aspect of this relationship was part of the deal when we decided to try in January 2016; you’d think by now we’d have it mastered and be pros at it. But it doesn’t matter how many times we say goodbye, it doesn’t make a difference. I still live in southampton and Kieran still lives nearly 300 miles away in Newcastle. However, the distance is never too difficult and always worth the sadness it comes with. We had a really lovely time this last week and I’m really looking forward to September and the comedy shows, and any other meet-ups we manage in between or after.

Thank you, Kieran, for taking the time off work and flying down to stay. Thank you for making sure you were here to celebrate my birthday with me; it wouldn’t have been the same without you. Thank you for the Russell ticket, the flowers, for fixing my tech stuff without complaint, for the food, the fun and the happiness. Ive loved having you down to stay, as always, and only wish it could have been for longer or not gone so quickly. I love you so very much and am already looking forward to whenever we manage to see each other again. Love you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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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!!!

Open Uni: the start of hopefully my final year of study

So today is Thursday the 13th of September and, after checking the website last week, I discovered that both my level 3 Open University module websites for this academic year opened today. After coming home from learning a new route during another My Guide session, which I’ll be writing about soon, I started up my laptop and sat down at my desk to start what will hopefully be my final year of OU study. How I’ve managed to get this far and where the time has gone since I started uni I do not know. But somehow I’ve already sailed through day one of my final year of study.

My first task once I’d gone on to the websites for my modules, KE322 young lives, parenting and families and K314 approaches to mental health, was to go into the assessment section and check the dates for all my assignments for the upcoming year. Then, I opened my calendar app on my phone and added all the dates in, making sure I have alert reminders set for all of them. Then, I read through the instructions and guidance for both modules’ first assignments. On first reading the instructions for KE322’s TMA01, I was immediately terrified. Half the task was to make a visual presentation of data. This meant using PowerPoint, something I’ve never ventured anywhere near before. Thankfully, I suddenly noticed the link that said “alternative assignment for students with a visual impairment” and when I clicked on it, the dreaded visually pleasing task was gone, replaced by making your own table or graph to display your data instead of the visually pleasing version. Ive already asked Kieran for his support with this as I also have never made my own table either. Sounds trivial, but tackling new computer tasks still terrifies me and having Kieran there to talk me through it step by step makes it so much easier. To be fair, I could almost safely say that without having Kieran’s support as a friend at the beginning and now as my fella I wouldn’t have had the confidence to even apply for the Open University. His support with the IT task I’ve struggled with over the last three years have been absolutely priceless and I wouldn’t be embarking on my third year with levels 2 and 3 safely passed behind me without him. Thankfully, the assignment is only 1000 words and only worth 10% of my overall continuous score so the table won’t need to be massive and even if its not great hopefully I can make up for it in the second part of the assignment, the report that talks about what you’ve outlined in the table and the sources you’ve used for your data. On top of the table technical challenge, my other weakness will also be tested in this assignment with the research element involved with finding the data you need. But I managed to do well with the research needed for last year’s modules so hopefully my good fortune will continue this year.

I’ll be needing that good fortune again for the first assignment for K314, in which you have to use a case study you’ve studied to find out what mental health support services are available in your local area. Thankfully, you’re able to use quite a bit of material from the learning guides for this assignment and I’m hoping that’ll grab me a few marks seeing as its actively encouraged. Again, though, I’m just hoping my researching skills prove good enough for me to find enough good quality supporting material for this assignment.

Although the websites are open, the modules start date isn’t actually until 6 October. But I’m going to take full advantage of the fact that the websites are available and the activities are usable and get a head start on studying. That way, I might be able to make a better go of both of the first assignments than I’m currently predicting. Plus, the K314 assignment is 2500 words and worth 25% of my overall continuous score. So to be honest if I don’t do very well with KE322’s first assignment but get a decent score for K314’s, I’ll feel much better than if that scenario is reversed. With the KE322 assignment only being worth 10% of the score, if my score is low it won’t have a huge overall affect on my end pass grade. But that wouldn’t be the case for the 25% assignment. Obviously, I’d be even happier if I manage to snatch decent scores for both assignments but we’ll have to see how it goes.

Another bonus with my assignments this year is, like last year, hardly any of them clash over the two modules. Only both 4th assignment deadline dates and the end-of-module deadline dates clash. This should hopefully mean that I have enough time to complete all the assignments to a decent standard without getting too stressed and flustered or running out of time.

After only a short day for my first day back, tomorrow I’m diving in and starting hopefully the first learning guides for both assignments. I have nothing else planned tomorrow so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to spend the whole day getting both first learning guides under my belt. Next week, I’m hoping to get started at least on the 25% assignment. As I don’t yet have a tutor for either module, if I come across any problems with progressing towards writing or completing my assignments, I won’t have anyone to ask until tutors are allocated and introductions are done. But I’m hoping that, with the clear guidance provided online and my previous experience from last year’s modules, I might just be able to manage it. If nothing else, I might be able to source a load of research material to use once a tutor has answered all my questions. To be honest, I think I’d be silly not to take advantage of this extra time before the module begins. It certainly can’t hurt, even if I don’t get much assignment work done.

The fact that this should be my final year of study still feels strange in my mind. As long as I manage to complete KE322 and K314 to decent standards, I’ll be graduating this time next year. How that is even possible I do not know. Although my time at college now does feel like a lifetime ago, it doesn’t feel like yesterday that I was choosing the OU and an open degree, which a year later morphed into a health and social care pathway. The fact that I already have two thirds of it under my belt and passed with pretty decent scores really is unbelievable. If I am graduating this time next year, it’ll really take quite some time to sink in that its all over and I’ve actually done it. Obviously, if this year doesn’t go as well as I’m hoping, I could be redoing a level 3 module next year instead. But after how well last year went studying two level2 modules simultaneously, I’m optimistically hopeful that this year could go just as well. Even if I don’t match the good scores from last year, as long as I pass with relatively high marks, I really don’t mind. As long as those marks lead to me achieving an Open university health and social care degree by this time next year, nothing else matters. Of course, it wouldn’t be a crime to have another year of study after this one. After all, its not like I’ve got a guaranteed career in mind and employment lined up. Ive only got ideas floating around my mind and those aren’t crystal clear yet. But I don’t think i could commit myself fully to another year sat at this desk studying. I feel like its time for me to move on to the next chapter in my life after this year. And I knew I’d feel that way, too, and that’s why when I first started studying with the OU I wanted to do two modules per year. I know how long my patience and perseverance lasts and as I only ever started doing this because I wanted it to propel me into work and I had nothing else to do, my dedication and motivation was never going to last forever. But at the start of my 4th and hopefully final Open University year, I’m feeling refreshed after a lovely long summer holiday and optimistic about my chances of doing well this year. So my days are going to be full of online learning guides, forums, emails with tutors flying back and forth and tons of assignment writing. There isn’t going to be much time for anything else but I hope I still manage to cram other aspects of my life, such as visiting Kieran and continuing to learn new routes, in around my studies. Im an OU student, yes, but I’m also a distance learner who has the rest of her life to live. But here’s to one more year of studies, one more load of assignments, one last push towards the end goal.

Open uni: Results Day 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!

Open Uni: K118 results day

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

Open Uni: the end of K118

Amazingly, my third Open University module has come to its end. I can’t believe how fast time has flown since I quit the literature module and switched across to my second Health and Social Care one. The process of getting onto this module was complicated and full of hurdles, but as soon as I was enrolled and had contact with the relevant support staff, time started to fly by. I’ve just this week, a week earlier than the due date, submitted my EMA (End-Of-Module Assessment) and have started my very long five-month OU holiday. It seems crazy that the module is over already and that I have finally completed Level 1 OU study, for the last time! Of course, technically I finished Level 1 study in September after completing both K101: an introduction to health and social care and AA100: the arts past and present. But as soon as I decided to switch to a health and social degree in October last year, I made AA100 redundant. Despite the fact that I scored a decent pass in the module, it cannot count towards any of my degree for the simple fact that it is the wrong subject area. History, literature and art doesn’t count towards health and social care. But a second health and social care module has easily fixed that. Of course, it means that I’m now a year behind on the schedule I had for completing my Open University career. If I can complete two Level 2 modules in the next academic year and then two Level 3 modules in the academic year following that, it’ll only have added an extra year on to my journey. However, if, as all the advisers have warned, I’m unable to achieve that giant goal, I’ll be adding extra years on to my intention for each module taken. As job searching isn’t going too well currently, this may not be the worst thing in the world. I’m already feeling boredom creeping over me and I’m only five days into my five-month OU break so dragging the degree out while I hunt for employment might be worthwhile. At least I’m not sat around doing nothing. Even if this degree contributes nothing towards the employment I finally manage, at least I don’t yet have any worrying gaps in my CV. That’s when employers start questioning things and doubting your competence and reliability.

The final TMA (Tutor-Marked-Assignment) of the module was particularly difficult. It took quite a lot of my energy to complete this assignment but it was definitely worth all the hard work as I achieved a respectable 76 percent. Alongside the TMA’s, there has also been three ICMA’s (Interactive-Computer-Marked-Assignments) to complete. As I said in a previous post, I was worried at the beginning of the module whether I’d be able to participate in these at all. My tutor explained that they were a lot like the quizzes throughout K101, except that the quizzes had been voluntary and the ICMA’s were not only compulsory but counted towards our final OCAS grade. Even though only a tiny percentage, it was still a little way to boost your grade. Also, it meant that if you did particularly badly with a TMA but got good grades in an ICMA, you had that tiny glimmer of hope that your OCAS would be saved a little. I was almost spot on about completing them, though. It was a bit of a disaster; several of the questions were diagram or graph based or had drag-and-drop features. These are totally useless to me and usually I’d just bypass them, hoping that my marks in the other questions would make up for it. In all three of the ICMA’s I got grades of 63 percent. The pass mark, for everything, is 40 percent so I surpassed that easily. To say that I didn’t answer all the questions for each assignment, I think I did quite well.

For the rest of the TMA’s, I scored pretty good grades. Chronologically, they are as follows: 88, 95, 65 and 76. I think the fact that the first two grades were very high and the final two a little lower reflects the difference in difficulty of the assignments themselves. The final two TMA’s were a lot harder than the first two seemed to be. However, I’m pretty thrilled with the scores overall. Even 65 is a good 25 percent above the necessary pass level. Also, they don’t go anywhere near my two lowest grades scored for other modules of 53 and 58. So it’s an improvement overall. I’ve just got to hope that my EMA can do the same. As long as I’m over the 40 percent necessary pass level, however, I’ll have passed the module easily. The calculator on the OU website predicts my OCAS (Overall-Continuous-Assessment-Score) as somewhere around 75 percent, which of course is pretty high and would be a good achievement if it goes through the moderators the same. If my EMA score could be close to that, I’d be thrilled. But either way, as long as I’ve passed the module, I’ll be happy and able to continue on to Level 2 with a solid foundation to my degree.

The EMA itself was quite difficult. It was split into two parts, an essay-style question and a non-essay question. When I first read through the assessment guidance, I was terrified. It looked impossible. But with the help of my tutor and the student Facebook support group, the aim of the questions finally came into focus. I threw myself into tackling the second question — the non-essay question — first because it looked a little simpler. The purpose of the question, to my understanding, was to take a website related to one of the topics studied throughout the module and analyse against a criteria we’d used to figure out the reliability of sources during our studies. As soon as I understood the question, I knew which website I wanted to analyse. My sister, Imi, writes her own blog. It’s become quite famous, actually, and has loads of subscribers. It has its own Facebook page and she updates it regularly. It’s called Upside Down Chronicles and mostly talks about her experiences with mental illness as well as some posts discussing her blindness. It fit the criteria perfectly as one of the main topics we covered was mental health and mental illness. I’m not sure how well I actually completed the question. I did what I thought the guidance was asking of us and met the word allowance easily. But I didn’t include any material from the learning guides and think maybe if I had my overall grade might have been boosted. But my tutor reassured me I didn’t need to as it was my own analysis.

The second question was a bit more of a challenge. The question asked us to discuss how combining the models we’ve learnt about with case studies used to back them up makes for a better understanding of the theory overall. We had to choose a model from each block, which made three models in total, and talk about the case studies that we’d studied alongside each one. Again, I felt like, eventually, I completed the question to quite a high standard. I felt like I addressed all of the pointers made in the guidance and did a good job of describing the benefits of combining the two, using evidence to verify my reasoning. But I guess I’ll just have to wait and see for result release day. The module website advises that our results should be available no later than the nineteenth of July. They have to have all the assignments marked and validated before they can release anyone’s results so I guess waiting two months for our grades isn’t a big ask. There’s thousands of students studying this module at any one time. I don’t mind, anyway. I’m quietly confident that I’ll have passed the module. My OCAS predicted grade suggests I’ll be fine. Unless I completed the EMA really wrong I’ll be fine. I’m quite sure I didn’t get it totally wrong.

So, another module over. One more towards my degree. Evidently, it’s not as far ahead as I’d hoped to be by this point when I signed up to be an Open University student. By now, I’d banked on being about to start Level 3 study. Clearly, I’m nowhere near that. But I’m trying my best and really I think that’s all I can do. Changing the degree pathway was my own choice but by the grades I’ve been achieving throughout this module, I’m quite sure it was the right decision regardless of the additional time it takes me to fully complete the degree. I’m just praying that Level 2 and Level 3 study go this well. If they do, I’ll be a very lucky girl.