As someone with sight loss, it can often be quite painful to look back.
This is because looking back is a time when there was more sight, less struggles.
However, in this instance I am looking back to actually be able to measure how far I have come.
This time five years ago I was in the midst of training with Fizz, my second guide dog.
Training with Fizz was different in many ways to when I trained with Vicky.
For starters, I didn’t have the nausea that I had had during training with Vicky (as I soon discovered I was actually pregnant with my son)
I also discovered very quickly, that although trained the same, personality played a big part in how a dog behaved and works…
Unlike Vicky, Fizz was not a licker; she was however a very tactile dog and loved to be close, preferably touching me at any opportunities.
I was also quick to learn that Vicky had actually worked on me and twisted me around her paw!
This became apparent as we trained within our local supermarket.
(With Vicky) If I had forgotten to pick something up in the aisle we would walk up-to the end of the aisle, around to the next and complete a loop to get back to the beginning. As she (Vicky) would never just turn around and go back on herself.
I just thought that this was the way this was how things were done….. How wrong I was !!!
When going to do this same move with Fizz in the supermarket my GDMI (guide dog mobility instructor) asked what I was doing, so I explained to be told in a firm (but fair) tone
You turn your dog around. Right where you are!
My GDMI referred to my previous guide dog as a ‘double diva retriever’ as she was both a flatcoat retriever and golden retriever. Which only became more clear as my training with Fizz progressed. As I worked backwards from some of the ‘habits’ Vicky had me doing to suit HER.
Fizz was also different in that she was walking at the pace I SHOULD be walking at; I say should because I hadn’t realised that as Vicky had slowed in her older age, I had simply adjusted to that too. When actually my preferred walking pace was considerably faster. However to begin with, this made it feel like I was running to keep pace. Just 10 days in to training I was already finding each day a little easier and enjoying the long walks more and more.
If I am honest, I found it much harder to train with Fizz than I did with Vicky, however my life was so different from when I started training with Vicky back in 2009.
And a massive chunk of that was actually down to Vicky; down to the freedom and independence she had given me.
I was no longer the woman who relied on others to take me places, if I wanted to do something or go somewhere, with Vicky beside me I was able to achieve this.
Home life had changed to, when I trained with Fizz I was no longer working, but instead I filled my time with volunteer roles, climbing, socialising, walking and of course caring for my children.
And now I also had the time to be able to spend time taking Vicky out each day for a (non working) walk and play at the park so that she could enjoy her retirement at home with me and the children as part of our family.
Which is where she stayed with us until she passed away at the very beginning of 2018.
Fizz picked up on my hearing loss sooner than I did; she stepped up and kept me safe when I missed the odd bike or electric car.
She has been my rock.
She has taken the independence Vicky gave me and enabled me to expand on it, we have had some amazing and sometimes crazy adventures.
It’s hard to believe that Fizz has been my leading lady for five years now, however on the other side it is also becoming clearer that at eight and a half years old, Fizz is starting to behave in ways that show me that she is starting to slow down, isn’t as keen on some situations.
And that maybe; just maybe. It may be time to think about her happiness above my own and if it’s time to look into her retirement plan.
This is one of those posts that I can’t use my usual humour and sarcasm….. Although I will try!
There has been lots in the news of late about the dangers of ‘single use plastics’, straws and in turn packaged, prepared vegetables and fruits.
But what are often marketed to those with disposable income and little time are also an expense for someone for whom cutting up a whole cauliflower or pineapple could be problematic or energy consuming, when energy wasn’t a luxury, rather a commodity to be saved for ‘essentials’
For me, there are times when buying these ‘prepared’ easy options are the difference between me being able to eat fresh and healthy food, rather than relying on ‘ready meals’ or jars of sauces. (Not that there is anything wrong with either of these; but I prefer making my own dinner)
My freezer always includes a bag of chopped red onions, my fresh food shop also often includes pre-cut fresh pineapple or melon.
Because chopping these myself would actually mean I would just go without!
‘Over there’ is a world of myths and legends, often where ‘that way’ can be found. (Or so I am told)
It’s a place where as someone with a visual impairment upon asking for the location of something I have been directed to MANY times.
“It is a place I have never found !!”
Usually such explanation to a location comes with a wave of a hand or arm, but rarely any eye contact from the person giving the instruction.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when such directions do come with eye contact, but due to other people or a counter my guide dog is often obscured.
I am more than happy to press the matter and ask for more detailed direction. And thankfully on most occasions it has been easily obtained.
But it reminds me of how we can all become so familiar with our environments that we forget that someone new (with or without sight-loss) may not find it so easy to navigate.
I know people get flustered giving directions; do they give it from their point of view or the person asking?
If it is a shop or business and you are the employee being asked for directions the easiest way to direct someone is to walk them there.
Asking if the person would like to take your arm, explaining to them when you are turning left or right and most importantly when you are walking through a doorway, even if the door is open.
I am thankful that Fizz will fall in behind someone guiding us and simply ‘follow’ but for me I like to have the verbal directions as it means that should the need arise I can find my own way if there is a next time.
The first tube is set to leave Heathrow Terminal 4 at 05:03 hours.
I’m not sure if it was nerves, adrenaline, or lack of sleep; but I was feeling odd. It was January, yet I wasn’t needing to wear a coat. I was in London, yet I didn’t have my faithful guide dog with me. Oh and i was about to attempt completing the iconic, London Tube Challenge.
I’m sure at this point you are asking yourself the simple question: “Why?”
And honestly at the unearthly dark hour on a January morning it is a question I asked myself continuously between waking and going down to the hotel lobby.
No backing out now; my sighted guide and Tube Challenge Guru Andi James was waiting for me. This challenge was all set on a series of ‘IF’s’.
All it took was a tube line to be closed or a signal failure and the whole thing could be off before we even got passed the first hurdle. Then there were the stations where how quickly we changed tubes would be important and then there was the matter of those ‘end of line’ tube stations that would require us to jog to enable us to make the next connection.
….. MANY many MANY hours LATER …..
After loosing my Oyster card on a tube somewhere towards Baker Street, several bus journeys and one rather eventful run that saw me go over the top of a concrete bollard, we had had Lady Luck with us.
Although at times it was tense, at times it was busy and at times it was frustrating.
….. WE FINISHED …..
And the hardest part of the day was ahead of us.
The walk from the final tube station to the hotel for the night.
It was probably less than 20 minutes, but it felt like I was wading through treacle. There was no rush and after 18 hours and 38 minutes my body was done! We finished the route with 268 stations completed. Because at 23.35 hours we had run out of time for the final little branch.
In addition to travelling on each of the London Underground’s Eleven lines, there had been numerous buses and a first for me of travelling on a London Tram.
2 stations short at the end; however I felt proud of what I had achieved. I also felt incredibly grateful to Andi as my guide. At points he completely re-routed us to work around time slips that had occurred.
He welcomed me into the secret society of Tube Challengers and it is out of respect for him that I have deliberately not included the route that we took.
And even though Guinness World Records had informed me just days before the challenge that it would not be able to counted as a challenge attempt, i am still buzzing to know that I did it.
Now……. What to do next?
Me shamelessly asking for donations for my Just Giving page, www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tinkobell270
This year has been fairly quiet for my climbing. However I have not been doing nothing with my time. I have in fact been in training.
Training for a different kind of challenge. This challenge is to run. Something I have not done since completing The GSR five years ago.
The reason I haven’t run for so long is that I discovered just after I started to notice my hearing loss that when running at the gym I suffered with motion sickness.
But I have (in secret) been completing my own variation of ‘couch to 5k’ I have even been taking off my Apple Watch as to not alert my friends who I share my activity with aware of my training.
My training has been on a set flat path at the far side of a local leisure centre parkland.
I have not quite manaeged a full 5k to date, but I have discovered that on a flat concrete path I do not suffer with the motion sickness I had suffered on each occasion (I tried several times at different times etc) of a treadmill run.
So, why am I letting you all know my secret?
Well, this Sunday I am attending a race. A flat course where I will have a guide runner and my children.
This Sunday we will undertake The Poppy Run.
This run is organised to raise money for The Royal British Legion.
Those who have followed me for some time will know how much I love the poppy. I love what it represents and I am forever grateful to those who have stood up protected our country.
So, along with my children, my guide dog Fizz (who isn’t running in harness, rather joining the other dogs who are welcome to join in the days events) and my friend and guide runner Vicky on Sunday 4th November at 11am we shall stand in silence for 2 minutes before setting off on the 5km course around Southampton Common.
I am doing this for other reasons.
4th November 2018 marks 10 years since I received the news that I would loose all sight and was registered severely sight impaired (blind)
This day is one I wish to celebrate and what better way could I do that then support a fantastic charity and face a personal challenge?
Well, maybe it’s because the girl in me enjoys a bit of bling and I can’t wait to complete the run to receive my poppy medal.
So, dear readers I ask for your support. As I am sure you are aware this year marks 100 years since the end of the First World War, a war where so many have their lives to enable us to keep our future.
As a family with multiple different surnames we have set up our just giving page as ‘Madhouse Family Poppy Run’ We would love to smash our £100 target.