Tag Archives: University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mobility Update: My Guide Session 17

After the biggest break we’ve ever had, today Jenny and I met up for our 17th session. Since we last saw each other, Jenny has had an operation and recovered and I’ve celebrated my 21st birthday, more about that in my next blog post. But today, it was time for more route learning out in the summer weather… well, summer-ish. Yesterday, it was beautifully warm, almost hot, and I was surprised everyone wasn’t in their shorts immediately, as that’s usually what happens when the temperature rises by the slightest in degrees. Even I had mine on last week! Sadly, today wasn’t so glorious. In fact, I was slightly worried around an hour before Jenny arrived that for the first time since we’ve started to work together, that the session might be rained off. Around 8am this morning the rain was absolutely hammering down and I was a bit uncertain about our chances. But as Jenny correctly predicted from the weather forecast, the rain had stopped and the weather much improved by the time she knocked on my door at 9:30.

Since the last time I wrote a mobility update, my Victor Reader Trek has been returned to me from HumanWare. This time, they didn’t’t do anything to it to try and fix it. The technical staff tried to replicate the problem I was facing with the routes but claimed they coudln’t see that issue themselves. When the unit came back to me, it had routes recorded on it that I hadn’t created but I’ve since done a test recording to see if the problem is still occurring and for me nothing has changed. Unless I’m continuously using it the wrong way, I can’t understand why the problem didn’t happen for the technical staff. They did advise that there is a software update hopefully being released soon. They suggested that I should make sure it gets installed when it’s available and said that hopefully that would fix the issue. If it doesn’t, they’re happy to have the unit back and do more testing. To be honest, I’m quite frustrated with the whole thing. The Trek was over £500 and although the book reading function with the added Bluetooth connection feature is great, the only thing that’s new on that side of the machine is the Bluetooth. As for the Trek side, I still feel that the Trekker Breeze I had, which was the updated version with fully working GPS and up-to-date maps, was much better. The quality of recordings for landmarks on the Trek are much clearer but no more accurate, at least I feel anyway. I’ll keep the unit but simply because I’ve sold my trusty Trekker Breeze and Victor Reader Stream (the book reading predecessor of the reading side of the Trek) in order to be able to afford the Trek. Also, I do really like the Bluetooth functionality of the Trek, even if that is a bit temperamental sometimes. If I get a chance, I’ll write more in depth about the Victor Reader Trek in a separate post; I’m not very technically minded and product reviews are more Kieran’s (my fella) sort of thing but I will give it a go. Anyway, for the purpose of this post, my Victor Reader Trek was back and unfixed. Also, I had new Aftershokz headphones to try with it. Before now, I’ve had both the Blues2 and the Blues2S made by Aftershokz but after visiting a friend and seeing his very nice new Aftershokz, i decided I’d sell both pairs of mine to fund a new pair like his. His were, I think, the Aftershokz Treks air. They’re very lightweight, don’t press at all on your cheekbones and have smaller pads that rest on your cheeks, making them much more comfortable. I bought the Aftershokz Treks Titanium, thinking that they could be the same. I’m only guessing that my friend’s are the Treks Air simply because the Treks Titanium, which arrived yesterday on one day delivery thanks to Amazon Prime, are different to the ones I saw. They were £50 cheaper than the Air asking price and already quite pricy in themselves. Forking out the additional money to buy the other pair didn’t seem worthwhile considering the price of the Titanium. I wouldn’t have been able to afford that extra money anyway; the Treks Titanium are much nicer than the Blues2 and Blues2S though so I’ve got an upgrade either way. The headband is more flexible and fits nicer when being worn and they are much lighter so more comfortable. I can see, though, why people might stretch that extra for the Treks Air…

Anyway, enough of new gadgets for now; on to route learning! The walk into Wollstonecraft, which was where I’d decided to go to today, went really well. After having 5 weeks away from route practice, I’d been really worried that things wouldn’t fall back into place with the progress I’d made where we left them. I thought practising this route might be a bit sluggish and frustrating today, but it was anything besides. We had a great walk, only having to check things with Jenny a few times. Even when I checked, my guesses of what to do next were always right. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have hoped for the route to go so well. Jenny seemed really pleased, too, and it was nice to have her confidence in me as support. It was really nice weather to walk in, too. Not too warm but not too cold with none of the wet stuff and little breeze. It was perfect weather for walking along the shore.

When we reached Woolston, Jenny exclaimed that Coffee Mac’s, our usual stop for refreshments, was closed. So we went across the road to Dad’s shop and asked him about it. Sadly, the friendly and helpful man who usually serves us in there has been poorly for a while and so the shop has been closed. Instead, we decided to go to Piggy’s Coffee Shop & Restaurant. It was quite cramped in there, with the tables grouped quite closely together, an we were sat in front of a few quite loud men for a while. However, the refreshments we enjoyed in Piggy’s made up for the crowded environment. Jenny read the menu to me first and then we ordered, she an Americano with hot milk on the side and a fresh fruit scone and me a salted caramel milkshake and a savoury croissant with honey roast ham and cheese. Ive never had a savoury croissant before but it was absolutely delicious and as for the milkshake, well, it was mouthwatering. Jenny commented that her scone and coffee were lovely too. I love milkshakes and as it is just a coffee shop I thought they might be branded milkshakes. But it was freshly made and in a lovely glass. Jenny said it looked like pottery. The price was of course higher than I usually spend when we go to Coffee Mac’s but the croissant was a bigger meal than a slice of banana cake. I do hope that Coffee Mac’s is open again soon, though, because their banana cake is the best banana cake I’ve ever had in a coffee shop. However, Piggy’s milkshakes are definitely a firm rivalry for banana cake. I think Piggy’s will definitely have to be reserved for special occasions or celebrations otherwise I’ll be spending far too much money and consuming far too many calories!

After our rather tasty break, we headed back out, stopping briefly to tell Dad how successful our gamble on Piggy’s had been, before heading back the way we’d come earlier. Again, on the way home, whenever I checked with Jenny about a direction or next move in the route, I guessed right. I felt I made quite good decisions when choosing when to cross roads. There were several awkward cars during the walk but Jenny said that some of them were legitimately parked in bays but hanging over the pavement. There were others that were blatantly parked on the pavement, though, and I really do hope that pavement parking fines come in soon so that people are charged for being an inconvenience and then discouraged from becoming a repeat offender by the price it’ll cost them if they do.

I was really pleased with how well the route went today. I really hadn’t expected things to be so positive after such a long time since our last practice. But it almost feels like the route is becoming instinctive, that’s how much I’m remembering it. When a route becomes instinctive, I truly know I’ve learnt it. Obviously, I always need to keep going over routes to keep them that well memorised but I always feel like its an achievement when a new route starts becoming instinctive for the first time. If it’s still feeling that way after a few more attempts, I might even consider trying to complete the route solo, without Jenny’s supervision. Right now, I think that’s me being over-optimistic after such a good day because Ive found that whenever I try to be independent with my mobility these days I get too nervous. This is a real shame as when I had Zena, dog permitting, I could go out whenever I felt like it without feeling nervous. Of course, with Zena there was always uncertainty about how she was going to perform in harness but I always felt confident in my own problem solving skills and my own independence. I miss that so much. But I’m going to try and make it better with a long cane. The more I think about doing it, the more nervous I get about it and if I overthink things, when I’m out by myself with my cane I get panicky and that’s when mistakes happen, even on the most well-known routes I have. I don’t know where the fear has come from and I know it’s irrational but when I’m out on my own I can’t get rid of it. Now I’ve finished uni for the year (more about that in a future post soon too) I’m hoping to spend a bit more time on my independence. When we got back to my front gate, I spoke to Jenny about more sessions, just saying that if she has any extra available slots during the week and fancies doing extra walks I’d be more than up for it with all this free time I’ve got now. I also spoke to her about the possibility of filming some of our walks for evidence for when I reapply to Guide Dogs to prove that I really have made leaps of progress and would have a fit workload for a dog. Ive recently bought a GoPro hero 2018 camera — its the company’s budget hero camera with as many functions as their top price ones — and I’d like to make good use of it. It came with a whole bundle of accessories, including a chest mount and a belt clip mount, both of which I thought might be good for filming my My Guide sessions. Ive also considered the possibility that having the camera strapped to me might decrease my fear when being mobile independently as I’d have that security of knowing if something happened, I’d have it recorded. it’s an avenue I want to try anyway. i also bought the GoPro becuase my friend Jemma, with the Guide Dog German Shepherd called Ollie, asked me to look after her dog a couple of weeks ago. it went really really well and I’m hoping to replicate the event again soon, possibly for a longer amount of time too. If Jemma was happy for me to, I’d like to record myself looking after and interacting with Ollie so that when I reapply to Guide Dogs in the future I have proof to show them I’ve been trying to improve in the areas they’ve criticised/commented on as my weaknesses. Jemma has also suggested that I might be able to practice some obedience work with Ollie and join them on free runs and I’m hoping to have all of this as recorded evidence for Guide Dogs. I want to prove that I’m doing all I can to be worthy of their approval and suitable to go on their eating list. My employment officer, and also Imi, are going to try and help me find suitable volunteering opportunities with dogs to start work on while I have so much free time. With the good progress I’m clearly making with my routes, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to make more progress in the other areas Guide Dogs need. I don’t want to rush things, but at the same time I don’t want to take forever to be ready to reapply again. I want a Guide Dog. That fact has never and will never change. But clearly I haven’t suitably proved that to my local guide dogs team yet. Hopefully, with all this effort I’m putting in, my dedication to being a guide dog owner will show. Plus, any volunteering I get to do is good for my CV and I enjoy Jemma’s company so it’s all positive. Jenny and I have arranged our next session for the same time next week where we’re going to practice the school route. I’m going to try and use the Trek to record the route again but I’m not holding out much hope for it. Perhaps, the software update will be out by then and might have fixed the problem I’m having. If that happens, I will truly enjoy having a Victor Reader Trek. But until then…

PS: if there are typing errors in this post, for which I’m sure there must be many, it’ll be because of my other new gadget investment. Ive upgraded my iPad Pro to one with more memory but the main reason I bought it was because the person who sold it to me was selling it with the Smart Keyboard case made by apple, which I’ve wanted to buy for a long while. Ive had a Logitech Smart Keyboard case, bought for me by Kieran, for my old iPad Pro and like it a lot. But I’ve always wanted to try out the apple version so here I am, typing on it. It’s really nice to use and I like it a lot. It slims down the iPad a lot too, which makes it feel much nicer. However, I think I made much less typing errors with the Logitech one. I still intend to use it too so may use it for longer blogs where I need more accuracy.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.