Tag Archives: University

New Year’s Eve 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

“Lets go!” Another visit up North

So a week ago I got home from another visit up North to see Kieran and as usual I want to write about it. Note: for anyone, if anyone reads this, who wonders why I write these rambling random accounts of eating food and watching TV whenever I go to see Kieran or he visits me, I write them because I enjoy writing them. I know they’re utterly pointless and sometimes make hardly any sense, but I like writing them and I like documenting things I enjoy. Clearly, I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and his family, even if all I write about is eating and watching TV, and therefore I’m going to write about it. I couldn’t care less if nobody reads these posts or what anyone thinks of them. I started this blog over three years ago so I could practice my touch typing skills and to ramble about whatever was on my mind. I also wanted to document the important moments in my day to day life and also things I enjoy. So here it is, another ramble about my time in Blyth.

Unlike many of my previous posts about spending time with Kieran, this one won’t be as well written or have as much in it. That doesn’t mean to say there won’t be just as many words as usual… everyone knows I can ramble on about nothing at all and have thousands of words. After all, what else is this whole blog? But the main reason I don’t have as much to write is because I didn’t keep up with writing my notes while I was away. Usually, each night I’ll add the day’s happenings to a file on mine or Kieran’s BrailleNote Apex which I’ll then use as reference when writing these posts. But this time I wasn’t as vigilant as usual and at times forgot to update my notes; actually, at one point I was a fortnight behind on notes. But together racking our brains Kieran and I pieced together what we did, therefore I still have a post to write. It might not be 100% accurate and might have as much TV in as usual, but I still want to write it regardless.

On Thursday 9th august, after a day out shopping in Basingstoke with the family, we headed to the airport so I could catch a flight to Newcastle, to Kieran and family. It had been two months to the day since we’d seen Ed Sheeran and Kieran had proposed, so a day short of two months since I last saw him. A meet up was definitely due. Plus, I’d never visited Newcastle in the summer before and as Lesley and John were going away on holiday and Kieran would be house sitting, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and join him. Unlike the majority of times when I’ve flown up North, this time there wasn’t any kind of weather warning in place! Actually, the journey was pretty smooth for the entirety of the flight. As always, I had my earbuds in to block out the horrendous noise of the plane. Since first starting to fly to visit Kieran, I’ve got much better with the actual flight and can relax much more now I use my earbuds which obliterate most of the sound around me.

At the airport, John and Kieran were waiting to meet me. In the car on the way back, we had the radio on and Kieran and John were joining in with the commentators on the sports channel debating things about Newcastle. I found it quite amusing. It at least took my mind off John’s crazy driving. It’s not dangerous, just rather fast…

When we arrived, Lesley was making dinner. We had pasta bolognese and it was delicious. While we ate, we watched QI and afterwards Lesley and John watched Hebburn so Kieran and I went upstairs as we were planning to watch it from the beginning later on in my stay.

The following day, Kieran worked from home and Lesley was home anyway as Fridays are her day off. I had a banana for breakfast and then went with Lesley into Blyth to do a bit of shopping. On our way back, we popped into see Rebecca which meant I met her new puppy, Wilson, who is extremely cute. For lunch, we had chorizo and mozzarella paninis and they were lovely. Kieran finished working around 4:30, by which time John was home from work. We had garlic chicken Kievs and chips for dinner and watched the latest Keith Lemon program and Ramsey’s 24 hours in hell. I’m not a massive fan of Keith Lemon anymore; when I was younger, I went through a phase of enjoying Celebrity Juice but quickly stopped liking anything else Keith Lemon did. However, I quite enjoyed the Gordon Ramsey program. I’d been recording them on my own Sky box at home but just hadn’t gotten round to watching them yet. After everything was tidied up and the car was loaded, Lesley and John left for their little holiday. They were off to spend some time on a boat before heading to see Lesley’s brother. A little while later, I decided to order dessert from my favourite takeaway place ever, Buzz Bar. Kieran had a Ben an Jerry’s fudge brownie milkshake and mars bar cake. I had a Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough milkshake and galaxy caramel cheesecake. We shared a portion of mini doughnuts with salted caramel sauce. While we indulged, we watched 8 out of 10 cats does count down and mock the week.

As we had no plans whatsoever, on Saturday morning we had a lie in. Just as we were deciding to get up, Rebecca rang to say she was bringing sausage rolls round for us. Once we were showered and dressed, we went downstairs and Kieran cooked chips to go with our sausage rolls. We listened to the Newcastle vs Tottenham game. The sausage rolls were lovely, freshly baked and crumbly. Unfortunately, the Newcastle match wasn’t as good for Kieran as they lost 2-1. Durning the afternoon we watched Come Dine With Me and 4 In A Bed. While that was on, Kieran’s grandma arrived to check on us. She invited us for roast dinner at their house the following day before she left so we accepted. That evening, we ordered takeaway for dinner: Kieran had a chicken and donner meat kebab with chips, I had donner meat and chips and we got mozzarella sticks and garlic bread to share. We started watching Friday Night Dinner while we waited for the food to arrive and when we were eating. We’d agreed to start watching it from the beginning right up to the latest episode, which neither of us had seen yet as we’d been waiting to watch it together.

On Sunday morning, Kieran’s grandma picked us up and we enjoyed a lovely roast beef dinner with them. We watched the Liverpool vs West Ham match which ended 4-1, making me very happy with such a strong start to the season for Liverpool. When we got home that evening, we had the remaining two sausage rolls from Rebecca’s pack and the leftover garlic bread. It made a rather nice tea. We also started to watch Hebburn.

On Monday, Kieran had taken the day off. He cooked us bacon, sausage and hash browns for lunch. We spent the day watching Hebburn. For dinner, we shared Hawaiian and margarita pizzas. By the time we went to bed, we’d finished Hebburn.

Tuesday meant Kieran was back to work and up early so that he could be ready in time for his lift to work. I got up early with him and spent the day catching up on East Enders. Once I’d finished that, I started watching Our Girl from series 2. I’d recently watched the pilot and series 1 at home and thought, with all the spare time I had, I’d continue and watch the rest. When Kieran cane home, he brought with him lightly spiced potato wedges and onion rings to go with the breaded chicken steaks Lesley had left in the fridge for us. It made a rather nice meal. I was craving something sweet so was very naughty and ordered more Buzz Bar. Kieran had a galaxy caramel with flake milkshake and chocolate fudge cake with ice cream and I chose a dairy milk milkshake with fudge, a Malteser cheesecake and a galaxy caramel cheesecake for the following day’s lunch… we continued to watch Friday Night Dinner.

On Wednesday, I decided not to get up when Kieran did and had a little lie in. I had Weetabix for breakfast and then put the laundry on while catching up on Holby. After that, I continued watching Our Girl. When Kieran came home from work, we ordered another takeaway for dinner. I had donner meat and chips, Kieran had a fish cake, a smoky sausage and chips and curry sauce. We shared mini spring rolls and chicken nuggets. While we ate, we watched more Friday Night Dinner.

Thursday was a similar day with me staying in bed for a little bit while Kieran went to work. Just to say, the latest I actually stayed in bed was 9:30. I had toast and a banana for breakfast and spent the day watching Our Girl. That evening, Kieran and I had fish fingers, waffles and spaghetti hoops for dinner. We also watched the rest of Friday Night Dinner, including the last episode which we hadn’t seen before.

On Friday, Kieran worked from home so I had some company. Again I had toast and a banana for breakfast. I read some Kindle books while Kieran worked. For lunch, we each had a little pie and a sausage roll warmed up. I had a yoghurt and Kieran a packet of crisps. Kieran’s grandparents visited. That evening, we ordered Dominoes for dinner. I had a pizza with extra cheese, tuna, garlic butter and sweet corn toppings and stuffed crust. Kieran created his own pizza with lots of different meats. We shared cheesy wedges, the chicken combo box and a portion of cookies. We watched Joe Lycett that’s the way a-ha a-ha Joe Lycett and a Jason Byrne comedy dvd.

On Saturday, Kieran cooked us bacon and hash browns for me and the same with sausage for himself for brunch. Kieran listened to the Newcastle vs Cardiff match. In the afternoon, we watched Come Dine With Me and Kieran’s grandma arrived and did some tidying up. For dinner, we had a Chinese takeaway. As I wanted to pay and didn’t have any cash, we couldn’t order from Kieran’s usual place so he chose somewhere that had good reviews on Just Eat to try. I had Hong Kong style sweet and sour chicken and a portion of chips, Kieran had house special curry, fried rice and chips and we shared a portion of spring rolls. We were given prawn crackers free with the meal.we watched the boxing that was being shown on BT Sport and then a Dara O’Brian comedy dvd.

On Sunday, we again went to Kieran’s grandparents for a roast dinner, this time chicken with all the trimmings, where I discovered that I actually do like cabbage! I also tried a new pudding, apple and custard, which I also discovered was very nice. We spent the afternoon watching the football matches that were on Sky Sports. When we got in, we had the sausage rolls Kieran’s grandma had left the previous day for dinner.

Monday meant Kieran was back to work. I spent the day catching up on TV and reading books. I had my usual cheese wrap for lunch which I enjoyed. That evening, Kieran and I had chicken dippers and wedges for dinner and watched the Liverpool vs Crystal Palace game which ended 2-0 to Liverpool.

On Tuesday evening, Kieran brought home some garlic bread to have with lasagne.

Wednesday was another laundry day and Kieran had the day off and did the hoovering. We watched more Come Dine With Me during the day and some Judge Judy. Kieran cooked fish finger sandwiches and waffles for lunch. Ended up having a takeaway for dinner. I had a tuna, sweet corn and garlic butter pizza and potato wedges, Kieran had a cheese bacon burger with chips and we shared mozzarella sticks.

On Thursday, Kieran was back to work but John and Lesley came home around 1:30. Not long after they’d got in, Kieran’s grandparents arrived. Kieran arrived home not long after 5pm and Lesley cooked enchiladas with potato wedges for dinner. We watched Celebrity Master Chef and Judge Romesh.

Kieran went to work on Friday but I had Lesley and John for company. In the afternoon, I packed everything I’d need for a weekend away as we were heading to the caravan. At the caravan that evening, John went and got chips for dinner. Kieran had fish, chips and curry sauce and I had a large sausage with chips. We watched Judge Judy, Celebrity Master Chef and 8 out of 10 cats does count down.

On Saturday, we went to Cartmel Races for the day. Lesley took a picnic to share and it was a lovely sunny day so really nice to be outdoors. On the way back, we went to the Black Bull pub for a drink. We had the Liverpool Vs Brighton match on the radio on the way home and it just finished before we went in the pub. The score was 1-0 to Liverpool. Back at the caravan, Lesley cooked ravioli in a tomato sauce with chorizo for dinner, which was really tasty.

On Sunday, John went to the Newcastle game and we stayed in the caravan and watched Young Sheldon and the Big Bang Theory all afternoon. Lesley cooked roast chicken for lunch and we had a lemon cheesecake for pudding. Kieran listened to the Newcastle match and I watched videos on YouTube. When John came in and had his roast dinner, Lesley made cheese and chorizo toasties for tea.

On Monday, we spent the day watching Judge Judy and Jeremy Kyle. In the morning, Lesley made everyone cooked breakfast. By the time we headed home, it was after 6 and we had sandwiches for tea when we got in. Kieran and I went upstairs and I sorted my bag out so everything that needed to be taken home the following day was packed and everything that stayed there was on my now designated shelf in Kieran’s wardrobe. We spent the rest of the evening listening to music on Kieran’s amazon echo.

Tuesday was my last day in Blyth. Kieran worked from home. I had quiche and crisps for lunch and Kieran had cheese and beans on toast. Rebecca visited with Wilson, who had been on his first outdoor walk on their way round, and their grandparents also arrived. I had a really horrible headache for most of the afternoon and even though I’d taken paracetamol, drank lots of water and eaten lunch it still took ages to go away. That evening, Lesley cooked us chicken dippers, chips and spaghetti hoops. After dinner, I made sure everything was packed and then we headed for the airport, always my least favourite part of staying with Kieran, that i inevitably have to leave again. No matter how many times Kieran and I say goodbye, it never gets easier. But when we first got together we were both well aware that long distance was going to make up a big part of our relationship, especially when Kieran’s placement in Hereford ended and he headed home. But however hard it is, its always worth it. Again, I had another great stay with Kieran and family and am looking forward to next time, which is already booked! Kieran is flying down to stay with me for a week from the 14th to the 21st of November so that the both of us and Josh can go to a couple of comedy shows at the Mayflower Theatre, Kevin Bridges and Dara O’Briain. Then, on the 21st when Kieran flies home, I’m going with him to stay in Blyth for 2 weeks. By the time I fly home, it’ll be December and the count down to Christmas. So these three weeks will be our last time together before the new year. I’m chuffed that we’ve managed to see each other as many times as we have this year, especially considering Kieran’s apprenticeship and my uni course. Hopefully next year will hold just as many great visits.

To Lesley and John, thank you so much for having me. As always I appreciate it lots. Also thanks for trusting me in your house while you were away. I’m thrilled to say that I didn’t break the washing machine or tumble dryer and that the only casualty was a dinner plate on the last day… looking forward to being back up there in November.

To Kieran, of course thanks for inviting me up and putting up with me. I always love the time we get to spend together and having some time without parents is always nice. Makes us feel like a normal couple. Also, the two weeks we spent without your parents is the longest we’ve ever co-habited before and proves that we would survive in our own home. Thanks for doing all the cooking; although I braved the laundry, I didn’t trust myself not too break your mum’s lovely oven. Also, I didn’t shrink any of your clothes in the wash! I can do this independence thing… love you so much and can’t wait for more time together in November.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 24

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

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

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

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

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

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 18

A week later than it should have been, last Thursday I had my 18th My Guide session. As always, Jenny arrived at my front door at 9:30 and we headed out, this week along the route that takes me to my sister’s school. Before we left, I set the Victor Reader Trek to record the route, hoping that maybe it had fixed itself and would work properly. On the way to the school, there were a number of obstacles on the pavement, including parked cars. Campaigning to make it a fining offence to park on the pavement really is for the best. Some of the paths are really narrow and if there’s a car parked on it, it can be almost impossible to pass safely, even though I’m just one person and a cane. In contrast to the Woolston route, this one is quite hectic and there’s much more thinking involved. There’s plenty of roads to cross and lots of traffic. First, I walk up my own road, which isn’t particularly busy but which has busses and cars driving passed regularly. Then, when I’m off the estate, I’m walking alongside Weston’s main road. Nearer the school, i walk over a foot bridge which is very narrow and goes parallel to a very busy road. The traffic sound sometimes makes it impossible for Jenny and I to continue our conversation and i often have to turn up the volume quite high on my Victor Reader Trek to be able to hear the prompts and instructions.

Amazingly, I remembered the route really well, which is surprising as Jenny and I have only done it twice before. But I had practised it a couple of times with Dad before Jenny and I started doing it. It is quite a simple route, though. Even though there are quite a lot of road crossings, I follow one path all the way there. There are some corners and curves but I always stay on the same side of the road and just keep walking straight to get there. Just before tamsin’s school, you turn 90 degrees right on a corner and then walk for about a minute down the road and then you’re opposite the gates to her school, a perfect place to stand and wait for her to come out and to still be far enough away to avoid getting submerged in the crush of happy teenagers free from the restraints of school. Even with the route being this simplistic, I’m still surprised how easy I found it. I’m useless at learning routes — always have been, always will be — but this route felt fine. I’m not sure I’d have the confidence to walk it alone yet — that traffic is quite daunting and its quite a distance to go on my own — but I’m certainly going to work on it. Since I got my GoPro camera and finished uni for the year, I’ve been trying to get out more. It hasn’t been as successful as i should have made it but i still feel chuffed that I’m trying and starting to succeed. Twice, I’ve gone to the bus stop to get the bus to Woolston to meet my grandparents for a coffee and a wander around. Once, I’ve caught the bus to meet my friend Josh for lunch. And twice I’ve walked to the corner of Bacon close to meet my employment officer for our fortnightly meeting. I haven’t pushed myself as much as perhaps i should have but for me i still feel that’s progress. Today, when I walked to and back from the bus stop I didn’t get that nervous panicky feeling i mostly always get when I’m out on my own with my cane so that has to be progress. I’m trying even whilst feeling so hopeless about the situation with Guide Dogs. It takes a lot for me to feel motivated about going out with my cane, especially now that’s not even the barrier Guide Dogs have for me being eligible. But I want to show them I’m still persevering, I’m still determined. Because i am; Guide Dog mobility is still the mobility that made me feel safe, free and confident, whatever setbacks Zena and I may have suffered. This morning, my facebook memories showed me that a year ago today I announced online that Zena was being withdrawn. Its already nearly been a whole year since I had a guide dog and I’ve had so many setbacks since then despite my determination and effort. Because I really have tried hard to improve my independence and mobility since I had Zena. I feel like I’ve made progress, I just hope one day someone who has the power to grant me the mobility aid I desire recognises that.

This week, Jenny and I are meeting on Thursday at 9:30 as usual to do the route into Woolston. Our Coffee Mac’s is still closed so I don’t know where we’ll end up. On the return route last Thursday we discussed extending the school route already. It is so simple getting to the school that I think we are already ready to start figuring out how to get to my grandparents house. Dad has told me that its a slight alteration and extension to the school route I’m learning so I’m estimating that it shouldn’t be that hard to learn how to get to Nan and Grandad’s too. Hopefully, we can work out a way to learn both routes in tandem and kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. In the meantime, we’ll continue to practice the Woolston route, mostly because its just such a tranquil route to walk and the more I do the more its embedded in my memory. Hopefully, if adapting the school route into grandparents route goes well, we could start considering adapting the Woolston route into park route, which technically we already learnt when we were walking the old Woolston route. But we’ll have to see. I feel my new routes are going so well that I don’t want to ruin it by introducing too many new routes. I’m retaining the Woolston and school routes much better than I expected to and there’s a chance that I could get all muddled up if I start trying to learn loads more. For now, we’ll continue to rotate the routes I know, as well as introducing the walk to the grandparents. I couldn’t be happier with how the route learning is going, I just wish that it was for the cause i want it to be. At the end of learning all these routes, Guide Dogs aren’t going to say “oh yeah, you’ve learnt all those routes now you’ve got a workload for a dog and are eligible” because they’re not saying my mobility is the issue any more. That’s more frustrating than anything else. But there’s nothing i can do about it but continue to work on my routes and look for ways to spend time interacting with more dogs. Hopefully I’ll get there eventually and this will have all been worthwhile for the goal i meant it to be.

“For f**k sake, Dave, please don’t 💩 on my shoes”

Recently, all I seem to be doing is writing blogs. But it’s for very good reason. My Guide is going well, uni has finished and I’ve been really lucky in seeing all three of my very best friends, or non-biological family, all together in one place. For the first time in 18 months, all four of us were together again, and we had a very good reason to be. On Saturday 9 June, Ed Sheeran played Newcastle. It was his second night at St. James’ Park and thanks to Josh, we managed to secure tickets. So, on Friday, Josh came to mine, gave me my birthday presents and we headed into town to get some food before flying to Newcastle. I was very spoilt yet again; Josh bought me some Body Shop banana shampoo and conditioner, some jeans that I really like, a set of Cookie Monster pyjamas which are lovely, a set of mini coconut products from `body Shop that includes a mini body butter, mini hand cream and mini shower gel and some cool socks that add to my rapidly growing Harry Potter merchandise collection as they say “Dobby is free” on them. I felt very lucky indeed.

Getting the bus into town and going to Yates for lunch was no problem. Josh and I meet up as regularly as we can with him working and me studying and often end up eating in Yates. Josh enjoyed his usual burger and I went for scampi and chips. Afterward, I decided to have a pudding so that I was fully full up before our flight, as we weren’t sure when we’d have food up in Newcastle. Yates has recently changed its menu and now has a pudding that suits me perfectly called the cookie cup explosion. It is a cookie dough cup filled with chocolate sauce, fudge sauce, honeycomb and marshmallows. Josh decided against having a pudding but as it was only £2.95 I just couldn’t resist. I’m glad I indulged, too, because it was delicious.

We got the bus to the airport. Its the first time I haven’t had family assistance getting to the airport. Josh did really well, to be fair, and always does a good job getting us wherever we need to go. It didn’t take long at all to get to the airport, either. We had a little while to wait before checking in but we spent that time sitting on the bus waiting for it to go to its final stop at the airport. It stops for 20 minutes at the train station before going onto the airport. The bus driver was very kind and stopped directly outside the entrance to the airport. We were soon checked in and had our special assistance sorted. They took us through security, unfortunately not doing a very good job at all to help us out, and we were soon waiting in the departure lounge to go out onto the runway for our plane. We were taken out on a little bus and driven to the plane. We were sat quite a while after reaching the plane waiting to get on but eventually they boarded everyone. I had a suspicion that it was because the staff were trying to fit the assistance ramp to the plane for us. I’d tried to tell them that we didn’t need it but they really weren’t listening. In the end, they didn’t even bother fitting the ramp so if that was the reason we were delayed I felt a bit sorry for the other passengers.

Once we were boarded, though, and taxiing along the runway, the excitement really started to build. Josh had been very excited all day but it didn’t really kick in for me until we were in the air. Then, I got the feeling I always get as the plane rises into the sky and we head for Newcastle, that I’m off to see Kieran, that soon we’ll be together again. Of course, this time the feeling was amplified by the fact that I was already with Josh and going to see Imi soon. The last time I’d seen Imi was last august when Josh and I visited her in York; so there was a lot to be excited about.

Once we’d landed, the mini bus was waiting to take us to the terminal. In the airport, a nice assistance man was waiting for us and when I asked him if he knew where the hotel was, he took us straight there without question. Josh and I were both very surprised by this kindness and very grateful to him. Without him, Josh probably have found the hotel himself but it was nice to be shown directly where to go. Once we were in reception, Josh explained that the others we were staying with had already checked in earlier and I text Imi and Kieran to tell them we’d arrive. Two minutes later, they were with us and we were reunited, all hugging each other in greeting.

As always, the Premiere Inn rooms were lovely. Imi and I shared one room and the boys had the room next door. A little way along the corridor, Imi’s dad Mike had a third room. We spent the rest of the evening, catching up on everyone’s news. Imi and I also swapped birthday presents. Together, the three of us had clubbed together and bought Imi a new Pandora bracelet with a charm from each of us. On her birthday, she completed the Pandora bracelet she’s been adding towards for years. Our IMessage group name is lions, tigers and bears, like the quote from the wizard of oz, and so we got her a charm to represent each animal. The lion was a lion with a crown on,the tiger was tigger from Winnie the Pooh and the bear is two little bears with their arms around each other holding a heart between them that says best buddies. Imi loved it and we were so glad. For me, Imi had made a very special scrapbook. As I’ve mentioned, earlier this year I became an auntie for the first time. Ive got the most gorgeous little niece, who sadly I’ve only met once but completely adore. When she was born and since, my brother and his girlfriend have sent pictures of the baby to the family and I’ve sent them onto Imi mostly, so that she can describe them. To begin with, I got quite upset because I couldn’t see the photos. I wasn’t able to fully share in how gorgeous she is, who she looks like physically and how she’s changing. This touched Imi who decided to make me a scrapbook with audio labels describing each picture so that I can flick through and hear the description of each photo. I love scrapbooks and used to enjoy making my own so its really thoughtful and special to have one so creatively made of my little niece. Ive sent Imi countless pictures of the baby since she was born in February and Imi has selected the best ones to put in the scrapbook and decorated each page with lovely backing card and colourful sticky tapes. She’s written on each page and in the audio labels she’s described them fully so that I can picture them clearly. So carefully has she done it that there’s even a scan photo of the baby that I must have had. Its a really beautiful present and I’m definitely going to treasure it. My niece is nearly 4 and a half months old now and the latest photo in the scrapbook is her first night in her proper cot. Imi has agreed that whenever we see each other, we can update the book with whatever photos I’ve been sent of the baby so that I have an up-to-date timeline of the little one.

The following morning, we went to the adjoining restaurant for breakfast. I didn’t find them particularly helpful assistance-wise, but the food was nice. As we arrived a little later than we planned, there wasn’t any of the continental breakfast left by the time we’d eaten our cooked breakfast. But the hot food was nice and Imi made sure we were always topped up with tea. We spent the rest of the afternoon in our room listening to Ed Sheeran, Anne Marie and Jamie Lawson in preparation for the concert. Kindly, Imi’s dad had offered to pay for our taxis to and from the stadium so, once we’d got ready, we took Layla, Imi’s guide dog, along to Mike’s room where she’d be spending her evening while we were out. We all went downstairs and Imi and Kieran had drinks from the bar. Then, Mike took some photos of us all for pre-concert pics. Imi, Josh and I had all bought Ed Sheeran t shirts from his website to wear to thee concert. The taxi came at a quarter to five and we were driven to the stadium no problem; it only cost £12, too, so we were quite impressed. The taxi driver tried to book us a cab for after the concert but sadly the company weren’t taking bookings after how hectic the previous night had been. When we got to the stadium entrance, we went through the turnstile no problem and a member of staff pointed us to a kiosk where Imi bought herself some drinks and snacks to sustain her through the show. Then, we found another member of staff who took us straight to our seats. Of course, it meant that we were really early for the show but really we didn’t mind. We had expected it to be busy and difficult to find our seats, however much Josh had researched where we were sitting, so we were just thankful it had been so hassle-free. Even then, sitting in our allocated seats, it still hadn’t sunk in where we were and why we were there. At about half past six, the first support act, Jamie Lawson, came on. I thought he was really good but sadly the majority of the stadium hadn’t filled up yet so the crowd wasn’t very responsive to him. I’d listened to his new album when it was first released earlier this year and had liked it, but when I listened it again I hadn’t been too keen. But when I listened to him play live, it made me really like some of the tracks off the new album, as well as reminding me how much I’d enjoyed the first album. Imi is quite a big fan of Jamie’s and enjoyed him a lot. The boys weren’t as keen, sadly.

After him, there was a little gap and then Anne Marie came onstage. Beforehand, Imi and I had been a bit apprehensive that we wouldn’t enjoy her. But she really was amazing and I think I enjoyed every song she played. Listening to her album earlier on in the day certainly helped me recognise and enjoy more of her set. Both boys clearly loved it. They were singing along and fully enjoying themselves.

Even after she’d finished, though, it still hadn’t truly sunk in that we were going to hear Ed Sheeran live. We’ve all been big fans right from the beginning and I’ve always thought that I’d love to see him live. Who better to see him with than my best friends in all the world, too! His first song was Castle On the Hill and it really was the absolute perfect way to start the show. The whole show was incredible. Still, now, I don’t quite have words to explain how amazing Ed is live. Ive always loved listening to his music and his live performances but actually being there, listening, being an active participant in his crowd, is something else. I remember saying over and over again to Imi how lucky we were. I felt like the luckiest person alive to be in that crowd, listening to him play. The most memorable parts of the show for me were listening to Photograph, Thinking Out Loud, Dive and I See Fire. Photograph because it was a song I’d hoped to hear him sing it live and hadn’t expected him to play it. I See Fire because it sounded so beautiful and because, as he was singing it, Imi told me that the sun was setting. Thinking Out Loud and Dive were beautiful because they just sounded so incredible. For most of the show, I’d held tight to both Imi and Kieran’s hands. But for Thinking Out Loud, the emotion of the show just got to me. Also, as Thinking Out Loud is such a romantic song, I decided to give Kieran a hug and it made me cry. I’m usually useless in high emotion situations anyway, I always find myself crying, so I hadn’t expected the show to be any different. Kieran cried, too, and Imi took some lovely photos of us clinging onto each other sobbing. Seeing me cry so much, though, made Imi start, too.

When the show eventually finished — far too soon, of course, as I could have gone on listening to Ed all night long — we waited for the crowd to empty before venturing out of our seats. We formed our usual train and headed out of the stadium. Outside, it was crazy busy with people trying to leave. Both Josh and Kieran got on the phone to taxi companies to get us a ride home. Eventually, kieran managed to get us an Uber. The driver was incredibly helpful and although we waited quite a while whilst trying to book a cab, it was worthwhile to get a good driver. It was surprisingly quick getting back to the hotel, too. On the way, Kieran muttered that he wanted to have a word with me when we got back. I was a bit worried, thinking something had happened at the gig or he’d had some bad news from his family or something. When we got back, Imi went to get Layla from Mike and Josh sat in our room while Kieran and I went in theirs. We sat on the edge of his bed and had a little hug and then, holding onto my hand, Kieran got down on the floor, kneeling down, and asked me to marry him. He said that it wouldn’t be anytime soon, obviously we had no plans at all but that he felt that if he didn’t ask now, the time wouldn’t ever be better again. I was shocked. I hadn’t expected that at all. I’d been under the impression that he didn’t want to get engaged or anything like that until we were properly settled together. But it seems something has changed for him. Obviously, my answer was simple: “of course I will”. We had a big hug and I cried a bit. Afterwards, he rang to tell his Mum. She’d been asleep and sounded thoroughly astounded on the phone. I can’t blame her, to be honest. It came completely out of nowhere and, as I’ve already said, Kieran and I don’t have any plans in place and haven’t made any to put in place. We live 300 miles apart at either ends of the country and currently don’t have any plans on changing that. Really, we don’t have the means to either. I’m still studying, currently with no prospect of being employed, and Kieran’s a year into his apprenticeship. If he gets a full-time job afterwards, I’ll start seriously considering moving up there somehow so we can get our own place together. At the moment, that prospect seems incredibly daunting. I missed home when I was 150 miles away at college and that was only temporary and half the distance. But of course I’ll do whatever it takes for Kieran and I to be happy together. But we’re in no rush, which I’m sure is a relief to our families. Some people may think we’re too young, that we should have everything planned out before making the commitment and that neither of us currently have the means to put things in place, but the way I’m looking at it is we’re both very happy with our situation and its us it concerns. Also, if Kieran felt that Saturday night was the right time, then its the right time. I, personally, couldn’t be happier. Its cliche I know but I’m the luckiest girl in the world to be with kieran and am truly amazed by his proposal and the promise to spend the rest of our lives together. Its the promise of commitment, a future and everything we both want for our lives. Yes, it is true that neither of us have planned how things ar going to work. Christ only knows how we’ll manage a wedding at some point with both our families being at polar opposite ends of the country and our friends scattered nationwide. But we’ll do it somehow. We’re in no rush. The commitment and promise to do it is more than enough. Next month, we’ll have been together two and a half years and actually, on Saturday itself, it was another month we’d been together. I’m still getting used to the situation and I know Kieran is too. We’ve both been overwhelmed by the amount of congratulations and good wishes we’ve received both online and in person. It has truly been amazing and I’m very touched by everyone’s reactions.

After we’d had a cuddle and a chat, and kieran had rung his parents to tell them, we went next door to tell Josh and Imi, who were, predictably, very excited for us; Imi so much so that she burst into tears. We all had a massive hug on the bed and talked about everything. Honestly, I can’t remember hardly any of the conversation. I was still in total shock about the whole night’s events. The concert itself had been incredible and Kieran’s proposal, although out of the blue, had really been the perfect ending to the day and I honestly couldn’t be happier about the outcome.

On Sunday, I woke up much earlier than I’d hoped to. In the end, the night before I don’t think I fell asleep until gone 2:30am. Kieran text me at about 8:15 to tell me that his sister was picking him up just after 10. This was quite a shock as we’d hoped he’d stay with us for most of the day before they went to see Ed again that night. Quickly, I jumped in the shower, got dressed, brushed my teeth and made sure everything was ready in my rucksack for us to leave that afternoon. Then, Imi woke up and, while she sorted herself out, I went next door to see Kieran while Josh was in the shower. Then, when they were ready, we went back into our room. We decided that there wasn’t really any point in us going for breakfast as we didn’t have long until Rebecca was due to arrive. So we just sat and chatted about how incredible the night before had been. Also, Kieran and I rang our grandparents to tell them our news. The response was shocked but seemed overall happy for us. Then, we made it Facebook official so that other friends and relations knew. We still couldn’t believe it ourselves. Even now, a few days on, I still can’t believe my luck.

Sadly, Rebecca soon arrived to collect kieran. We all went out to see him off and she congratulated us. Then, she and Kieran left. Imi, Josh and I just listened to music in our room for a bit. Then, when Mike was ready to go, Imi headed off to. We had to check out of the hotel because our time was up. I’d assumed that the restaurant attached to the hotel was like other Premiere Inn restaurants that serve regular food after the breakfast serving ends. But it didn’t start serving food until 3 o’clock. So Josh and I agreed to catch the metro into Newcastle city centre and have a look around, mainly find something to eat. Getting the metro was no problem; a member of staff in the airport showed us to the entrance of the metro and Josh was able to get our tickets and get us onto the right train. In the town centre, we settled on mcdonalds for lunch. I was feeling really hungry and knew my head would start feeling funny if I didn’t eat soon. But the mcdonalds was lovely and helped me feel a lot better. Afterwards, we had a wander around the town centre. Earlier, Imi had told me that Build A bear in Newcastle were selling teddy bears dressed up like Ed Sheeran. I really wanted to see it so Josh and I searched, using online maps, for the shop and, when we eventually found it, went to have a look at the bear christened Ted Sheeran. It was really cute; it was an ordinary bear with a pair of jeans, some high-top trainers, a checked shirt over a white t shirt, some glasses, a ginger wig and a little guitar strapped around his waist. I was very tempted to buy him but thankfully Josh was the voice of reason and managed to stop me. It’s probably for the best, too, as I have far too many teddies already…

We couldn’t think of anything else to do after visiting Ted Sheeran so decided to head back to the metro station and the airport. We had a nice ride back to the airport and once there, found a little cafe inside it where we bought a drink each. There was a little seating area so we made ourselves comfortable as it was only 4:30.

I didn’t find the assistance through the airport particularly helpful this time. Usually, Newcastle airport’s assistance easily outshines southampton’s but it just wasn’t at its usual standard this time. But we got through security quickly and were soon sat in the disabled waiting area, which thankfully had an easy-to-find accessible toilet, which Josh and I took full advantage of. We went onto the little mini bus to board the plane again and were seated quite quickly. The flight home always has a kind of anticlimax feeling. We’d been planning arrangements for the concert and weekend for so long and looking forward to it so much that it felt strange that it was all over already. For me, though, it was especially strange flying home knowing I was now an engaged woman. It felt incredible, but very odd. And when we landed, Dad and Tamsin were bursting with questions about Kieran’s proposal and our plans. Its odd not really having answers for anyone but feeling so blissfully happy about it. I don’t need plans or big gestures or loads of diamonds to be happy. Just the feeling that Kieran himself asked me, wants me to be his wife, wants us to spend the rest of our lives together is the best feeling in the world. Ive always wondered what it’d be like if Kieran asked me, always dreamt that we would have the rest of our lives to enjoy together, and now we do. Knowing that Kieran feels the same is just lovely.

We certainly had the most amazing weekend. It was so good to have the four of us reunited, see Ed Sheeran live and spend so much time together. Of course, having the love of my life proposing to me after the best experience of my life made it even more magical and the proposal was definitely the best part of the whole thing, the whole week, month, year… I don’t care about seeming soppy and I know I’ve already said it but I can’t put into words what it means that Kieran has decided he wants to spend the rest of his life with me and that then was the right time to ask me to make that commitment too. I couldn’t be a fraction happier and don’t care how long it actually takes to have a wedding and start that life together. We’ve promised each other that we’re going to, somehow, and now the engagement is a binding contract. We’ve been doing an amazing job at a long distance relationship for almost two and a half years solid and I know we’ll continue to ace it. It took us a long time to pluck up the courage to tell each other how we felt about each other and even longer to take the risk of getting together, but since then we’ve been happy. Touch wood, we’ll continue to be so. We definitely have both sets of parents to thank for enabling us to be together happily for without their taxi service and allowing us both to live in their houses we’ve been able to keep this relationship going. We certainly wouldn’t have been anywhere near as happy without their kindness and hospitality. We couldn’t have been luckier. So here’s to the future, however long it takes us to get us there. For now, we’re happy and that’s what counts.

To my non-biological family, thank you for the best weekend we could have ever hoped to have. To Josh, for persevering with the arrangements and getting everything spot on, for my birthday presents, for all the guiding and for putting up with me. To Imi, for coming along and braving the crowds and the noise, for being my awesome sister, for my scrapbook, for the audio description at the show, for the photos, for supporting me always. Thank your dad too for the taxis again; I know he said it wasn’t a problem but honestly it was a big help,.. And of course, to my fiancé, to Kieran, well, as always for everything. For proposing, mainly, and making me the happiest person alive. We were happy anyway, you know that, and I’d have carried on being happy for the next 30 years just the way we were but I do feel amazing knowing you feel the way you do. As I’ve already said, I don’t want or need big gestures, diamonds and loads of money. I fell in love with you because you were the guy who helped me out with the easiest tech problems without calling me stupid or grumbling, because you made me happy so much and because you were the bestest guy friend a girl could have. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank my lucky stars that we took the risk of being together and even more that you came into my life at college. Whatever I’ve said about RNC in the past, we wouldn’t be where we are now and we wouldn’t have Imi and Josh in our lives too without the place. For those things, I’ll be forever thankful. So thank you for the best weekend, all three of you. Here’s to many many more. But I bet we won’t be able to beat this one.

“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.

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!