‘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.
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.
The train journey was through rolling hills and beautiful landscapes.
Arriving at Pitlochry a fellow passenger helped me off with my case as there was a pushchair and hold-all in the door; only to have someone take my case on the platform!
All was okay though…. the man taking my case was in fact my cousin who had come to meet me! I would be spending my time with him and his wife. He gave me the warmest of welcomes and enveloping hug, easing away all the tensions from galavanting in Glasgow.
Fizz also had a friend, in their dog Honey (although on first impressions they weren’t too keen on each other)
Pitlochry is somewhere I have never been before, but thanks to good olde Google Streetview I felt it was somewhere I would be comfortable. The high street was made up of a mix of cafes, charity shops and outdoor shops. The homes were nestled within lush green fields and with numerous whiskey distilleries, long walks and most importantly … FAMILY
A family who opened their home to me. Who cooked me a overly dinner and who walked me via the local golf course to the pub to enjoy a drink or 3 with them and their friends.
After a very comfortable nights sleep we took the dogs out for a walk to Black Spout Wood, a beautiful and refreshing walk with streams for the dogs to splash about in and my first ever encounter of a natural waterfall.
The waterfall was considerably smaller than than usual, because water levels in the streams were much lower as even in Scotland they have been having a very hot summer.
All before returning for some lunch before embarking on a second walk and whiskey tasting in the afternoon.
Afterall, you can’t come to such a beautiful Burgh without tasting the local produce … Even if that is whiskey and gin!
And it is a whiskey that the store keeper knows so well, with the undertones of banana in one and dark chocolate in another; I must admit that to my untrained nose I could taste the differences in the samples, but not what was explained. We even sampled some of Pitlochry’s new gin, which I found very enjoyable and easy to drink.
After a few purchases we headed off towards The Pitlochry Dam. A structure that was planned back in the 1950s, being fully operational in 1962. You see the dam had (at the time) been part of Scotland’s history as the dam created hydro-electricity that helped to power just under two-thirds of The Highlands energy supply (bearing in mind the in 1960 energy usage was no where near what it was today)
The dam being on the river Tummel also included ‘A fish ladder’ enabling the salmon to move through their migration into the river after the dam.
The visitor centre had been renovated in recent years and for my cousin it was the first time he had visited it, we enjoyed some time looking around and learning the history and impact of the dam.
Again, the river Tummel and the Dam are showing how deplested the water levels are given the hot weather. It was very interesting though to find out how important and revelationary this dam was and how even now it continues to support Scotland’s power supplies, although now much of Scotland receives its energy from wind turbines.
During our walk we encountered the odd shower, but this just created a beautiful sky of blue and grey with the odd black cloud against the lush creeks and earth colours of the hills and trees.
But sadly all too soon, it was time to catch another train. For the next part of my adventure. A train journey that saw me returning to Perth before changing to travel on to Dundee.
Dubdee is a city I have visited many MANY many times before, but not for several years. In fact, the last time I visited was when I went to my Grabs funeral.
The sun was warm, although the sky was grey; the air reminded me of London, yet the feeling I got from this city was very different. It was as if when I spoke people softened.
Maybe it was hearing my southern English accent or maybe it was just the way I spoke. Whatever it was, it was very welcoming.
The train assistant walked me out onto the street beside Glasgow Central station and told me to turn right and then right again at the corner. To go to the crossing and I would find myself beside the river, from there I should turn right again and walk alongside The Clyde and I would reach The Glasgow Crowne Plaza.
Walking towards the Clyde had another reason; according to google maps, it was where the closest patch of grass was for Fizz to be able to have her breakfast and do ‘her business’ after all I was very aware that she had been on a train for eight hours without any option of relief!
The walk was lovely, calming yet refreshing and i was able to enjoy the varying architecture and engineering of the many different bridges we passed. (I later discovered just how many bridges there where)
The hotel was sat just after an odd ‘armadillo’ shaped building. I later discovered this to be The SEC Armadillo (yup that its official name) beside the SSE Hydro, a large exhibition, show and conference space.
While on the other side of the river there was The Glasgow Science Centre, IMAX cinema and The Glasgow Tower. But given the mix and mismatch of buildings and paving shows how there has been an increase in renovation and regeneration within the area in recent years.
This would do nicely, very nicely as a base to explore from. Surprisingly even at 8am in the morning my hotel room was ready for me, so instead of just leaving my bag at the hotel, I was able to check in, refresh with a lovely shower and sort myself out read for an adventure.
The hotel was beautiful, with 16 floors I took the opportunity to go upto the very top floor to look at the views (after photographing them and then zooming in) here are just a few of them.
When initially researching the hotel I had found that there was a train station closer to the hotel, but because this would have been involving walking away from the grass area i had decided against it originally. However I re-looked at it as a way to get back into the city centre for part of my exploration.
And when I did I discovered not only that the train station was just 3 minutes walk away, but that it was fully accessible over a large dual carriageway thanks to this beautifully designed fully covered in, ramped bridge.
Can you tell that the design geek in me was happy?
The train took me less than 5 minutes to travel back into the center of Glasgow. Where I quickly found that my google maps was struggling a little because of the high buildings and built up area just like it does in London.
We (Fizz and I) walked for hours, admiring buildings, discovering Glasgow Queen Street station which would be the station I would need to continue my travel later. And in finding other station just a few moments walk from The Central Station I discovered this beautiful mosaic.
I could continue to bore you with photographs from around Glasgow, but actually all I will say is that I walked over 20,000 steps in this beautiful city and saw some amazing buildings along with meeting many MANY many tourists from lots of different countries.
Fizz walked her paws off and she was a superstar for me. With the odd little ‘mischievous quirk’ when she discovered a near by costa and clearly felt we had walked enough for the moment and walked me quickly to the crossing, causing traffic to stop before I had realised what her plans were …
Who am i to argue with a guide dog?
Stop, refuelled and ready for more…. off we go again.
When opportunity presents itself, take its hand and let it lead you beyond your comfort zone.
A fellow VI friend informed me of an upgrade available to me as a guide dog owner to sleep in a cabin overnight on a train for the cost of a seated ticket.
The Caledonian Sleeper from London to Scotland gave me just such opportunity. So in planning a trip I had hoped to take with my CPiC I booked a trip from London to Glasgow.
A journey which soon gave me the option to either cancel or put on my ‘big girl pants on’ to go alone….
Cancelling wasn’t really ever an option, as I would loose money not only on tickets, but on rooms already booked; plus my pure stubborn nature wouldn’t allow it. So I decided to go alone (with my guiding girl Fizz) and a new plan was made.
London to Glasgow was recommended to me as Edinburgh was hosting The Fringe Festival.
So my plan started to come together. I would travel to London on Monday, to catch the 23.20 sleeper out of Euston to Glasgow.
Monday was my day to explore London.
London is somewhere I have been many times before, however with my suitcase I wanted to stay close to Euston. But just getting there wasn’t so simple.
Having used Euston Tube station as an interchange before for the northern line I was aware that it only had escalator access to street level. So I made the brave (slightly silly) decision to get the tube to Kings Cross and walk back to Euston.
The walk was the easy bit, but the different lifts and levels of Kings Cross was a bit of a ‘challenge’ to say the least. But one I achieved on my own. The opportunity was there to ask for assistance, but I chose to put my problem solvcing hat on and just ‘get on with it’ Afterall, I have been to Kings Cross before and if in my mind if i couldn’t handle the tube, how would I manage Glasgow?
Hitting Kings Cross also gave me the opportunity to work out a green space for Fizz because with planned engineering works at Euston at the weekend, we would be returning to Kings Cross. Thanks to the power of social media, I was made aware of a flower bed to the side of the station.
The flower bed was in fact right beside The British Library, a building that has always fascinated me. So with time to kill I took the opportunity to go in.
The security staff were amazing, from explaining the bag search, to using a body scan wand on me and Fizz and continuing to explain it all to me; to then walking us down the ramps to the cloakrooms so I could have my suitcase stored while I explored.
Sadly there were no large print maps available, but as I explained to the staff that I used my phone as a magnifier they quickly radioed through to the other room attendants and security to make them aware that
“the blonde haired woman with the black guide dog who is deafblind has permission to use her phone as an aid to assist her, she isn’t taking photos, but simply magnifying the signs to enable her to enjoy her visit.’
This made me feel so very welcome and enabled me to enjoy my visit; while breaking down barriers for other visitors, who stopped to ask me how I was managing with the maps and signage.
I never went to look at the books (I do want to do this, but think it would be much easier with a sighted assistant) I purely went to look at the building…. The way the levels are open, the way the skylights are positioned, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I enjoyed the fact that I could sit on each level, watch the world go by and enjoy the different ways in which other people used the space.
Because despite my failing sight, I love to read and I have always had a fascination with libraries. So for a few hours after I explored the space I sat down with a comfy spot for Fizz and read my latest book. (Which is for another blog in the future)
This was just the calming and relaxed start to my adventure I needed before I met up with a climbing friend for a late supper.
We sat and talked, we ate, we drank and then realised this is the first time we have ever met outside of a climbing wall or competition setting.
And before I knew it, it was time to catch my train.
I felt nervous.
I felt excited.
I felt exhausted.
So, with a quick stop at Starbucks I went to find the assisted travel desk to board my train.
This past 5 days I have been wearing my scouting volunteer hat and been camping just outside Wareham with roughly 3,000 children and leaders for the Big Hampshire Event HOO18 which saw beavers, cubs, scouts and explorers from across the county come together to undertake a ‘Monster’ themed camp.
I volunteer within 1st Locks Heath Cubs and it was with my 1st Locks Heath Volunteer family that we had a ‘mini-camp’ within the bigger event. We had cubs & scouts for most of the week and the smaller Beavers came for a sleep over and a day of activities too. But we were contained within our own little area; it is this one little detail that enabled me to go, to join in, to support and to enjoy 5 days and 4 nights at such an amazing event.
With the glorious weather we have been having it was only reasonable that we should arrive in rain on Sunday! In fact, we had an impromptu stop at Nordon Mines because those leaders and support who had camped out on Saturday night had had to re-build part of our camp after strong winds brought some of it down.
Traveling with Fizz, I went in convoy with a fellow cub leader while the others were transported via minibuses. When we did arrive to camp it was then that I was to set about pitching my tent. (Something I have done a few times now as you can see in A whole other challenge ) only this time it was in the rain!
It was actually quite fun. And having only replaced a dog chewed guy rope the week before I was grateful I had left my groundsheet and inner attached to the outer shell.
With a little help from another cub leader in getting my poles in I was quickly set up. My tent having side doors was pitched on an angle (one to fit the space and two so the door faced the opposite tents where the children were sleeping) Our ‘mini’ camp was set up with a large marquee and kitchen tent, then children’s tents along one side, with leaders and support along the opposite, with each oth the top tents turned in slightly to create an almost enclosed horseshoe shape.
Each different group had an area like this to set up their own ‘mini’ camp within the camp although layouts varied.
As we had a large canvas marquee with just as large support ropes and guy ropes, an area around the marquee was fenced off with steaks and orange lattice style fencing. This actually served an alternative purpose, this area gave Fizz an enclosed grass space where she could do her business and I was safe in the knowledge that should i miss picking up if it were dark, no child or fellow adult were going to stand in anything. (As it was she was very clever and kept alll that to daylight hours!)
First item on the agenda for camp is introductions. We were each introduced to one another (children and adults) and then we went off to explore the bigger site, find our bearings and learn where the all important toilet and shower blocks were.
There was a designated disabled toilet and on our second walk out to if Fizz had it in her mind, knowing where the low tree branches were, where the tree stumps were and even where the boundaries of the camp beside us were.
She was doing so well. Camp sites are not the easiest to navigate at the best of times; let alone for a guide dog. A guide dog who is trained to walk on paths, to follow ‘shorelines’ or building lines and to work on clear commands.
I had the clear commands, but there were no buildings as such, I worked her to use the boundary of the camp beside us as a ‘shoreline’ but as for paths ….. It was a large grass field with some gravelled patches and wood chipped paths around the toilets, but very little ‘concrete’
Our ‘shorelines’ only failed when the camp beside us moved their boundaries. This added to the fact that Fizz quickly came to realise that the camp beside us was one with whom we knew the leaders, we had previously camped out in their hut. And she soon wanted to take me into their camp rather than around it !! Teamed with the wonderful food smells that came from their shelter kitchen, I couldn’t completely blame her!
Being such a big camp, the activities were set for us. There were different ‘zones’ with different activities laid out in each. These zones were clear and easy to navigate. The children within the section were sometimes put into teams, sometimes worked in pairs and on other occasions worked alone. The activities included things like Zip-wire, Go-Ape, Zorbing, Spiderweb-climbing, crazy golf, escape room, dragon boat racing, water slides and even a type of ‘its a knock out’ inflatable arena to name a few.
The only downside was that the activities were for the kids only! I would have loved to have joined in.
As the days went on we moved around different zones, which added a new challenge.
By Tuesday the temperature had risen dramatically, we had erected additional shelters on our camp to ensure everyone had plenty of shade.
This meant Fizz too.
Before heading away I had sought advice from Guide Dogs and with some handy tips and ideas I knew the time had come to leave her ‘benched’ in camp while I used my all-terrain cane to accompany the children and leaders to their activities.
This made the kids laugh, my all-terrain cane has a large red disk on the bottom of a heavier set cane. This makes it look a bit like a metal detector; but what it means for me is that it will glide effortlessly over rough paving and grass, indicating to me the divots and tree roots, but not getting caught on them.
Unlike Fizz, my cane can only tell me about the ground. It can not tell me about tree branches and it can’t correct for a group of oncoming children. So to say I caught a few of those low bracnvhes and bumped some (not many) of the on-coming children would be an understatement.
But this minor inconveniences to me meant that Fizz was safe, she was in shade, had a breeze, plenty of fresh water and no direct sun on her.
The kids within 1st Locks Heath quickly took to ‘looking out’ for me. My own Pack of cubs were aware of me, but for some of the other groups cubs, beavers, scouts and even some of the leaders I was new and I imagine at times I was also confusing to them. But without me asking they walked infront of me, they warned me of tree branches and they explained if there were any major tree roots or stumps coming up. This was a very pleasant surprise to me, it made me feel at ease and as regular readers will know, anxiety goes hand in hand with my sight and hearing loss.
On Wednesday 01.08.2018 at 14:00 as a group we celebrated the 111th anniversary that General Baden-Powell held his first camp for boy scouts on Brownsea Island. And in the evening at 18:00 we gathered together again as a group and this was when The Group Scout Leader invested Fizz into the Cub pack. Kieth the GSL took Fizz’s left paw in his left hand and read out the promise to her. He did this with agreement and permission from the County Commisioner and District Commisioner who both believe that this is the 1st ever Guide Dog to be invested into a pack.
As it was felt by all that Fizz was an important part of the team and should be recognised as such. She was even awarded her own necker, which I am to sew her badges from camp onto.
I managed to keep smiling during the investiture, but when it was over I found myself crying with pride and happiness at the way in which not only Fizz, but also how I had been accepted into the group.
Yes I have been an assistant leader within my Cub pack for just over a year, but I have always felt a little on the outside with regards to the other leaders because of my disabilities. (not intentionally, but just in how there have to be additional measures taken)
I saw a very different side to my fellow leaders and I felt that they respected me for being me and didn’t feel I was a burden to their camp, but rather a benefit. (Given the nature of my sight I am not able to count directly in the ratios for adults to children on camp-so they could have simply left me behind, but my knowledge of the kids, my perseption with the kids was felt to be important, so I was very much included)
The group I went away with made for a great experience. I have never camped for more than 2 nights together, but barring the odd guy rope incident I managed to survive the 5 nights and 4 days I was away.
Taking my tent back down in glorious summer sun meant I knew it was dry, but it took three times as long to do. For a tent on a hot day is no place to be; so I took it down in sections. Resting and rehydrating in between each set.
Other cubs and leaders offered to help me, but I am a creature of habit and like to do things in my own way (but that’s for another blog!)
For now I am feeling tired and I am suffering with eye strain, but at the same time I am feeling happy. I am finally feeling like part of a scouting family (which so many others talk of)