Tag Archive for London

Eek …. 40 is fast approaching

As my youngest has recently celebrated turning 10, it makes me aware that the next birthday is our family is mine.

My birthday has often been a Love-Hate subject for me, being at the beginning of January it’s always been pretty rubbish timing. (Better than it could have been, I believe my due date was December 21st)

As a child I often got money for my birthday, which mixed with what were True-January sales I got so much more for my money. However since adulthood as much as I would love to celebrate and socialise with friends I am acutely aware that January is a VERY long month.

Many often joke that January is actually much longer than its 31 days, which in reference to paydays is certainly true; as it can be as much as Seven weeks rather than Five.

However, a real plus for me is that restaurants and pubs are generally much quieter for these exact same reasons! Meaning that I can enjoy myself without the worry of additional difficulties because of noise, crowds and party-type lighting. (Hence the Love-Hate)

Having my youngest 10 years ago meant that I was a very tired newish mum for my thirtieth as it was a very different experience to when I had my eldest because of the changes in my sight.

Lots of people have started asking what I want to do the celebrate.

And honestly, with the world still in the middle of these ‘unprecedented times’ and with so many restrictions in place, there is a distinct possibly that even if I started RIGHT NOW….. I would not achieve what I want to by the end my thirties with a ‘Forty things before I am Forty Bucket list’

So, the question is; do I make it ‘Forty things to do as I turn Forty’?

Or as one friend suggested….. “Celebrating beginning my Naughty Forties in Style”

And if that is the case, What do I do?

I do have a pretty big ‘challenge’ planned for 2021, which is currently being tweaked and trained for. Which, linking to my previous challenges (Gherkin 2014, Cheesegrater 2017 and my Tube Challenge 2019) will be following the London theme.

This Challenge will most certainly help me to achieve my fundraising target to name a guide dog pup and future life-changer. Which would be an AMAZING way to celebrate starting my “Naughty-Forties.”

With the exception of this year (thanks lockdown!) I have in recent years taken to a solo travel adventure, so it is only fitting that that would be included. But I would also like to do something with my children, with friends and with those I now come to call family.

I do also like the idea of celebrating in several different ways. I’m not thinking of a big party; actually I can’t think of anything worse! Rather many smaller and different experiences that will be much easier to adapt to include my different circles of friends and family.

It goes without saying there will be Climbing, Hiking, Tandem Riding, London, Trains, Beaches, Cocktails and Cake …. Plenty of Cake!

But as for particulars….. This is where you my reader comes in. What would you do if you were me?

Please comment below and help me make this an amazing and incredible year to look forward to.

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Gosh, four years since The Gherkin

Photograph of The Gherkin building behind a church with the side of The Cheesegraer on the very left of the photo

Its hard to believe that Monday this week marked four years since I took on my first challenge….. The challenge to climb The Gherkin.

A challenge that took a twist when my CPiC and I decided rather than to climb the height between us, we would climb the height each.

All 180m.

For me, ‘The Gherkin’ was to prove (mostly to myself) that I could undertake that level of endurance.  For Simon it was a slightly different challenge; for him it was about climbing blindfolded.

A challenge that together, we improved upon in May 2017 when we chose another iconic and interestingly nicknamed building of London’s skyline when we set about the challenge of scaling all 225m of ‘The Cheesegrater.

So….. 180m up a gherkin, 224m up a cheesegrater.

What number could possibly come next?

Can you keep a secret?

What if I told you the number involved was 270?

What would your thoughts be?

I can also tell you that the next challenge WON’T be a climb.  However, it will very much involve LONDON.

 

Time to be a princess……

I am far too old to be believing in fairytales, although I do enjoy a nice chilled Sunday with the kids and Disney’s Tangled…. So, for a few moments I want to indulge in the fantasy of Flynn Rider and my own wonderful White Stead.

Ok, so the moment is over and here I am finding myself without a cast iron frying pan to beat off the baddies and most definitely no white stead to rescue me from these great heights.

But I am in a castle…. Of sorts.

And I am up high…. Kind of.

But this is most definitely not a Disney film, I am most certainly not Rapunzel and I do not have magical hair the glows when I sing.

Instead I have the third round of competing to become part of the Team GB Paraclimbing to take part in.  And a pretty amazing building in which to do it!

Exterior image of The Castle Climbing Centre, showing the 3 tall towers of this previous water pumping station, part of the original design that gave it its name as a castle

Yet again, the designer in me is amazed by the location of the climbing competition; which has been my calming and relaxation technique to save me any full blown panic attacks.

This building in particular has hit a cord, being bought over 20 years ago from The ‘buildings at risk’ register, the team have worked on following the buildings design and when money has allowed, additions and alterations have occurred.  While keeping many of the original features of the building in place.

Image shows climbing walls between and around original brick features of the water pumping station

I could continue….. But for now I will move on to the real reason you are hear, reading this;  How was the competition?

In a word “challenging”

More so than I expected, more so than I think I could have prepared for.

This competition felt different, it was a week day and the climbing centre was reasonable quiet, this leant itself to another issue…. That those competing had time and lack of obstructions to watch those on the routes.

The general rule of thumb when climbing is

Nobody bothers with anyone else, they are all concentrating on their own next move or climb.

Image showing climbing walls with competitors in the background around the bouldering problems

But now there was an audience, on each climb and boulder problem.  There were supporters and there were the critics.  Both could be quite terrifying.

This was my third climb out of three in the series, but as yet none of those I had competed against in my category had climbed against me.  This was no different in London!

Even with my sight I was beginning to recognise other competitors, some had been at all and some just two out of the three, a good report was beginning to build with those who had met before, for me many quizzed me over my lack of Fizz!  Having decided that travelling up and back to London in 1 day was too much for her; as her work would be minimal.

Blindness and sightloss can be a very lonely disability, yet I have always found that ANYONE at a climbing centre is welcoming, supportive and doesn’t question differences.  So when meeting with some of the other VI’s, both male and female, I found myself questioned by my own peers.  Not all, the man who gave me the courage to attempt this; Mr John Churcher and his lovely wife have been great to talk to; get information from and are very supportive.  But especially in London, I found it very difficult to ‘mix’ with others from the VI category, I didn’t feel like it was a “mixing with the enemy” issue, it felt like some of those  competing weren’t looking (pun intended) to be part of Team GB.  A concept that is completely alien to me.

Yes, I am competing for me, for my personal challenge; yet I am competing to join a team, to work with, not against others.

You have probably realised by now, my emotions and ‘feeling’ effect my thoughts and sometimes lead me to distraction; that is what happened in Manchester, (round 2) but it wasn’t going to happen here, not in London.

So, feelings aside, I climbed my arse off!  I beat my own personal score from Manchester, yet found myself standing again on the 3rd podium.

Image of me standing on the left of the image on 3rd place podium spot.

My pride took a beating when 2nd place went to a 12 year old; although not as bad a beating as I had thought when the points details came out.  The competitive side of me was over the moon to discover it was just 6 points between 2nd and 3rd.

Image of the podium, including the 2nd and 1st place winners of the VI female category

It was a harder climb, it was also only 10 days after Manchester.  So for now, I have seven weeks to prepare for the finale….. Newcastle just before Christmas !!!

Time to get some serious training in.

 

 

 

Madness of Muse

19.30 ….. The time has come, the big event of my year is just one sleep away.

Tomorrow sees me return to the London O2 in North Greenwich, this time to see a very different performance in the act Muse.

I am currently laid on the bed in my hotel room, with a view (via the zoom view on my camera) of the O2 just across the river.  And the excitement is building….. Especially as when the traffic noise dies down; I can hear the sound check!

This is set to be a very ‘visual’ gig.  So I have my faithful friend and PA Simon with me to support me.  Unlike my trip to see Adele, this time I have bought my guiding girl Fizz with me, as I am away for a few days I wanted to be able to feel confident and comfortable while we are out tomorrow before the gig.

So, I have arranged with the accessibility team at the O2 to ensure that she will be well looked after.  This is the bit I am nervous about, how do they ‘look after’ her?

But for now off to sleep so we can enjoy a full day out tomorrow.

07.00….. Awake a breakfast eaten, I am thinking I am maybe just a little bit excited !!!

First, we are off to Stratford for the day, last night we grabbed the tube and went for a walk around the Olympic Park, but Sam hoping to go back today to ‘see’ it in daylight.  Simon was very fortunate to be one of the volunteers involved with the opening ceremony for the Olympics I’m 2012…. So, who better to be my guide?

The weather was interesting…. Bright blue sky, that thick black clouds. Here is the photo of what things looked like when we arrived it Stratford, we then went into the shopping centre and when we came out again, the sun was shining, yet the ground was soaked.

I had chosen the hotel for the ease of travelling to the O2, it was just one tube journey away.  After our day out, we got ready and left early to get to there with plenty of time.  As the tube got closer, more and more people joined the train and the buzz was so calm and yet exciting.  Fizz was calm and happy with the added attention she was getting each time someone got on or off.

I have previously visited the O2 (for dinner) with Fizz in the past, so she knew the route and remembered it well.  She was a star, the crowds were large, however she took it all in her stride and expertly Weaved her way through, I think even Simon was amazed by her work.  She was amazing and her skills were being put to good use, making it a much calmer experience for me.  And most of all, she was also enjoying the challenge.

The O2 isn’t just s concert venue, it’s a centre of entertainment, there are masses of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, a bowling alley and even a multi-screen cinema!  So, on entering we went for a drink, it was very busy, but not manic and we had kind of expected it.  Once the doors opened to the arena.  I had been advised that I needed to take Mizz Fizz to the customer service desk, where we would find assistance.  This was when we found our ‘ANGEL’ literally, it was a friendly member of the O2 staff, who had huge beautiful white wings made of feathers on her back.  She showed us which entrance that we were needing to go in to get to our seats, before taking us to the customer team, she introduced me to the senior member of staff, who had been expecting Fizz.  She took my contact details and introduced me to the male member of staff who would be Fizz’s guardian while we enjoyed the concert.  He would be taking her to a carpeted sound proofed room above the arena, she would be offered water and he would take her out for a short walk to enable her to go to the toilet.  I had bought w toy and treats with us, so that she would enjoy her experience.

Then information the staff gave me was a complete surprise and not something that I had thought of, but clearly it was a point that the staff were aware of, it wasn’t anything bad or of a concern, it was actually a great benefit.

Towards the end of the gig, a member of staff would walk Fizz to the entrance to the arena that we would be leaving by, this was so that we would be able to leave straight away, without having to battle amongst the crowds.

So, with fizz taken care of, Simon guided me to our seats and we were ready for the show!

Photo shows view from out seats, it shows the central stage with large lled lit balls attached to drone..... The title of the Touri could easily fill this post with photos of the show, I could bore you all with the enjoyment of the show….. I won’t, I will just say that I was amazed at how visual and precise the lighting was I was able to enjoy myself, the sound quality was spot on, I could clearly hear each word, for everything else I was able to use my phone to view, photograph and film.  For my own enjoyment later, not for sharing around.  So I have just end added one.

It all ended too quickly, it felt like we had been in there only an hour, rather than nearer three.

Muse had left the stage, the lights went on and all of a sudden I was aware of the sniff of Fizz behind me…. She had dragged her handler in through the doors as soon as they were open.  She, never being there before, came straight to us.  This was brilliant, as I had her harness with me, we were ready to leave.

…… Filled with memories that will never leave, even if my sight does.

 

 

What can I say?

So…. Following on from This gal is off to a Gig, I am sure you have all been waiting with great antisipation to hear my update of The O2.  I honestly don’t know what I can say, I was absolutely blown away.

We weren’t in any ‘special’ seating, we were in ZZ and oh my, that may sound terrible, but it was actually brilliant.

We walked in to the arena and our seats were on that very level on the left, no stairs, no panic over how the hell I was going to walk down amongst crowds of people.  All we had to do was shuffle along in front of people who had already taken their seats and we were there.

I was far too nervous to need the loo!  Even with the Vente Starbucks and the best part of 2 bottles of rosé…. I just wanted to watch it.  (I know I mostly listened, but the term ‘watching’ is part of my vocabulary. Just like ‘I’ll see you later’ even though it will be a very long time if ever that I actually SEE them!)

….. I hate those people who go to a gig and then watch it through the tiny screen on their phones, but tonight that was me!  Not for the whole gig, but definitely for the beginning, for the ‘pre show’ sitting down bit.

I wasn’t recording it, I was able to take the odd snap and look at it, the set up was amazing though.

photograph showing the stage, which has a large image of closed eyes, surrounded by a large light framing it.
photograph showing the size of the arena, showing the central stage along with the different levels down from my seat
As my photos show, we were high up, but with the big screen (and the use of my iPhone) where we sat was irrelevant.

Going to the gig was more about the atmosphere, the unexpected and the ‘live-ness’ of it all.

Adele probably has one of the most powerful voices of this age, she knows how to sing… She also knows how to talk to the crowd, in a way that makes you feel that you are at an intimate location, not sat in the O2 with 20,000 plus other people.  I guess being from London herself, she felt more relaxed in her surroundings.  She didn’t just sing though, she performed to the crowd.  Those sat close enough got involved, including two little girls who were 7 and 8.

There were two parts to her ‘stage’   She initially came up out of a box on the centre of the arena before moving to the large stage.  She then moved back to be centre stage, to me a small dot of lights was all that enable me to see this, until she was encased in a curtain…. That was when I got to see her, properly see her.

Photograph of the central stage with Adepe stood in the middle, surrounded by a sheer curtain that is showing her projected onto each of its 4sides
As the photo shows, she is projected up onto each of the four sides, she joked that she shouldn’t spin around, before doing just that…. Because it would make the audience dizzy and feel sick!

The whole event was amazing, the atmosphere was brilliant and when I began to get nervous about leaving, the staff were quickly on hand to help (while also checking out that my cane wasn’t some sort of weapon!)

I am even more excited now about returning next month to see Muse!  This time with Mizz Fizz who will be escorted out of the arena after I have been seated to spend her evening with the management team….. In an ‘almost’ sound proof office!

The Awards

Today is the day when Adrian Chiles, Joey Essex & many more British celebs get to meet with my gorgeous guiding girl Vicky Osborne. Tonight we join other wonderful guide dog partnerships, volunteers and staff to celebrate their achievements. In addition to the achievement that all 45,000 partnerships & 4,000 pups in training will have. To some, “they are just dogs” but to me and other GDO’s they are our independence, our guides, our eyes.

I for one as a VIP, would not even consider the train & tube journey to London today. But as a team, together, me & Vicky will fathom out Victoria station some how. And regardless of the results of tonight’s awards, she is my guiding girl, without whom I wouldn’t be half the gal I am today.

10.39

Warm, almost empty train… And off we go!!!
Whether it is a blind persons thing or any traveller. My bag has been checked, checked and checked again for travel cards, purse, headphones and phone….. Then the case, for dog food, bed, bowl and finally phone charger!

So, one final check for my travel card & off we go…… Eek !!!

12.45

I haven’t travelled to London Victoria train station since I was a very small child, it seems just as big and scary a place now as it did then. I have the time of the next tube to get me to Kings Cross, but as the tubes run every few minutes and I am in now hurry. I set Vicky out to “find coffee”. Where she weaves me through crowds and shoppers to Starbucks. Such a refreshing break and decent coffee to plan how and what to do next.

First order on the agenda, loo for me, grass for Vicky!

Then off to Victoria Underground we go.

With the help of the underground staff and a turned off escalator we made it to our tube and along to Kings Cross.

Vicky was in her element with the crowds, tourists not knowing where they were or where they were going, she guided like a dream.

If only she could read street signs and it would have been an easy trip from the underground to the hotel.

As I have said before, I rely on maps on my phone, 3G signal was good, head phones were in one ear and I was ready to go….. GPS however had other ideas.

London Kings Cross area is surrounded in its fair share of tall buildings. St Pancras International being one, The British Library, then there is the clock tower at Kings Cross, the office buildings, the hotels and the apartments.

It was at this point I discovered that high/tall buildings and GPS don’t mix!

But then, one thing you can be almost certain of in London is a police man or 3… All of whom were willing to walk me the 5 minutes to the hotel. They appeared most put out when I said directions would do! So a quick ruffle of Vicky’s head and off we went.

The directions were spot on, but the guide dog sense was even better…. The arrival of not 1 but 7 guide dog puppies as we were on the approach to the hotel symbolised that we were in the right place, and Miss Vicky’s wage to revert to her (never-forgotten) puppy years was growing by the second.

The hotel was simple, clean and absolutely perfect for a vip like me, no fuss, no frills and no silly unnecessarily placed furniture. We checked in, put the tele on promptly fell asleep !!

Eek….. Waking with just an hour to go before set off for the dinner, I laid out my clothes. Only to discover that I had not packed my tights….. Double eek.

So, on went the harness and off we rushed back down the road to Kings Cross to find a chemist, easy enough surely? Ummm Nope!!

We made it to the chemist, we located the assistant and got the tights. Then upon leaving, the reality of it hit me. The light was going down, I was in London, not entirely sure of which street I had to take for the hotel and I only had 45 minutes to get back, shower and change before te coach left.

This was where Vicky came into her own. She seems to know what I wanted and where it was. So with a great tension on the harness I let her lead the way, through the crowds rushing in and out of the tube station, patiently waiting for the beep of the crossing despite others rushing through the traffic built up. We were off and in less than 8 minutes we were back at the hotel.

Quickest shower, hair dry and dress I have ever performed.

Quick brush of Vicky….. And we were ready !!

The only bonus of this mad panic was that the nerves I had been feeling all day had gone, I didn’t have the time to remember them. Thank goodness!

5.25pm

The coach is heading through bright coloured streets, flashes of Christmas decorations, The London Eye (I overheard someone say behind me say). Then we were at the Hilton. THE HILTON. The Christmas tree in reception was huge, thinking colours and lights. Guests were wandering around. People crowded around people asking for photos and autographs, while I found myself amongst the crowd, feeling the loneliest I have felt in a very long time. Oh, so very very alone.

A member of the guide dog team came into me, introduced themselves and offered me their arm. I was guided to the lift, up several floors and into an area with a coat check. Coat checked in, then the arm was offers again and I was walked into a large ball room, handed a glass of fizz and introduced to people who’s names I didn’t recognise and faces I couldn’t see.

It was a whirlwind of introductions, explanations of why I was there, what type of dog Vicky was and warm wishes of ‘good luck’ before being walked through to the main event. The stage was set with bright white Christmas trees, the room had a blue ice illumination to it and the tables were set with far too much cutlery and a very heavy, thick white table cloth.

The feeling of loneliness and dread filled me again, I felt myself beginning to feel anxious and clammy. That was when I found a trustee for guide dogs by my side pouring me a glass of water and reassuring me that they were there to help, with anything I should need.

I welcomed the water, quenching a thirst I wasn’t even aware of and then he offered to pour me a wine, white or red? Or both? I said I would never be able to see the white, so best make it a red.

And the rest of the evening was a whirlwind of fundraising, silly entertainment, singers and then …. The awards.

The first award was for an individual or group that had supported guide dogs, I don’t remember the name of the award. Because it was the moment I realised that Vicky wasn’t the winner of her category.

How did I know you ask?

It was simple, the winner of the first award had a short video all about what they’d had done.

I hadn’t done any video recordings.

I was gutted, so very very gutted.

London – A Big Journey

It’s 4am & the alarm is set for 6.20am. But after a week of knowing about today, it has arrived. Today I travel to London, a part of the capital I have been to many times but never alone. Ofcourse I will have my trusty guide dog (GD) by my side, but no human support. In addition, today is a bigger step as it is the first time EVER that I will use the tube alone, the first time for me using a tube since my sight deteriorated & remembering back I was about 12 the last time, so lots would probably have changed in 20 years!

The reason for this is an important eye appointment at Moorefields Eye Hospital on City Road. For which I got just 7 days notice. This in itself makes today scary, but I’ll talk about that a bit more later.

The reason this is such a big thing is because as I mentioned briefly before, I have a GD, I am registered blind with a deteriorating congenital condition from which I have some sight, but in general terms its not good.

Yes I did say I’m registered blind, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see anything… A very common misconception, one I myself used to believe before all of this. My condition has long fancy names, but in layman’s terms, my distance vision means that I struggle to see the detail of someone’s face, when they stand directly in front of me and I have severe tunnel vision, like looking through the tubes on the inside of Christmas wrapping paper, I can’t even see the arms on my glasses anymore if I’m looking forward.

Yes, I wear glasses and what I have just described is the best corrected vision I have when I wear them. Without them, anything more than 2 inches away is a blur. Again, another preconception of many is that glasses fully correct your vision, they don’t and that is often the reason I get stopped with my GD as people think I’m training her, not using her as my work partner

Sorry I went off on a tangent, you’ll get used to me!

I have travelled to London several times since November 2011 on my own since making regular visits to the head office of RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) having gone once with a colleague who showed me the stations to change at, we always went by train, never via the tube as she herself did not like the tube.

Rnib HO is situated several minutes walk from St. Pancras. Which is now home to the Eurostar, making it with its small train station at the far end, one of the busiest station in London. It is filled with designer stores, coffee shops and ofcourse, hundreds of thousands of tourists and businessmen and women. So that in itself if no mean feet, and one thankfully I have only ever had to tackle without my GD on one occasion. When we get there, she takes over, goes into her mummy mode and guides me safely through the crowns, the luggage, the hectic, noisy, smelly surroundings without a moments hesitation.

Today my journey consists of many of the same stations as this that journey, to help me keep some control and familiarity over what I am doing. We break our train journey early, having changed at Three-Bridges, when we arrive at London Bridge.. Another station with its own shopping centre attached, to go down from the train platform into the basement to join the Northern line Tube. The journey has been planned in a way that I need only use one tube, on one line and not need to change. From Tower Bridge, Old Street just a moments walk from the hospital is just 3 stops away.

Yes I know that trains now all have audio and explain what stations they are stopping at, but on my other travel companion, my iPad is a list of all of the stations each of the trains and tubes I will be traveling on stop at and even the trains surrounding my chosen journey incase alterations need to he made.

I’m.a planner and and organiser, often taking this to extremes in trying to do this with other people and their lives, but it is how I can keep my control. A word and emotion that is incredibly important to me in this ever decreasing world.

HEADING HOME

we made it!

Although I am unable to fault the help and support that I received from the underground staff, I have to say that the information I had received about the stations I was travelling between was completely misleading and very unhelpful.

Walking up and down an escalator that was switched off as the GD is not cleared to use them was very exhausting on the way up…. And even more scary on the way down, with over 215 steps in total in each direction, it was on a positive note a bloody good workout for my thighs!

London bridge station is accessible and one of the highest awarded for this in London, but if you need the lift, be prepared to walk. With the nature of the buildings and ages of them that house the tubes, accessibility is always an issue and one that I underhand. I am more than happy to have to do things differently and as said, I couldn’t fault the staff, they even walked with me out in the rain to get the lift, take me to the platform, sit me on a train and radio ahead to ensure that there was someone waiting at the other end to do the same. But the information available as to how the stations are accessible is limited to lifts and flat access onto the tube.

There is not a one size fits all solution to accessibly and disability issues, but information and the web is infinite, so this could be done.

As a blindie I rely heavily on google maps and google earth to do a virtual walk around from the comfort of home…. Could you do this for a train or tube station?

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