Today is one filled with mixed emotions, concerns and thoughts. Today, 18th January 2015 is the last working day for my guide dog Vicky. We have been working together as a qualified team since 18th November 2009, and it has been an amazing 5
It’s almost 11.00 o’clock, 12 hours after this crazy day started. The climbing arena was nothing like I had ever seen before and no matter how much I had researched and looked at photo after photo I was not prepared for the quarry that I
Well, this is something new……. I am sat in the passenger seat of my friends car doing 70+ MPH on the M6 Motorway travelling on my way to Edinburgh; while typing this blog. My iPad is tethered to my phone for 4G and my voiceover
While with a group of friends today we were talking about faith. Discussing it and questioning what our understanding of it is. One comment made about one way to look at faith was If you’re sat on a chair, you hold faith that THAT chair
So, tomorrow is St George’s Day and at 2.40 this afternoon my daughters school sent out a text message to say that any Beavers, Rainbows, Brownies etc are free to wear their uniforms instead of school uniform… With full badges! This created 2 panics…. 1)
Spring is in full flow; with frosty mornings and the lighter evenings it is as if there are more hours in the day; or rather it is the illusion that more daylight creates. It is wonderful for lifting the mood after what felt like an even longer than usual winter considering much of it was spent in lockdown or local restrictions because of the continuing covid pandemic.
Spring and summer evenings extend the opportunity for me to get out for a walk. Recently I have deliberately headed out as the sun has begin to set to experience the lowering light levels; ensuring I am home before it actually gets dark as this is when my sight changes dramatically.
Part of my sight condition is ‘night blindness’ which for me means that any lights that are on are glaring and sometimes even painful to look at. While the light they cast is actually totally lost on me as I would be lucky to see my own hand in front of my face. It is a time when Fizz really has to work; which over the years together she has learnt to do. She will even pause on the step up a curb when its dark as apposed to daylight when she will just step straight up. (which has on more recent occasions seen me trip) yet in the dark, she does this without being asked.
Today, due to circumstance I found myself heading out for our evening walk AFTER the sun had gone down, it wasn’t really dark, but dark enough for the street lights to be on. Having been a beautifully sunny day I found myself with my sunglasses sat on the top of my head; so took the opportunity to test something out.
I have previously sat in a friends car (when we could do that sort of thing) and put my sunglasses on to help reduce the ‘dazzle’ I was getting from oncoming cars when it was dark, although I was sat still and didn’t need to actually concentrate on my surroundings. Tonight however was different, I was walking with Fizz, all be it on a route we both know well. It may sound silly, but I felt nervous, anxious even.
But it was just a pair of sunglasses, I could always take them off again, only (other than to capture this photo) I didn’t. The reduction in ‘dazzle’ from oncoming cars was AMAZING and it wasn’t just cars that I found it worked with; the reduction in glare from the street lights was also really good.
The reduction in what I could see was affected, however only in the way that I had lost the shadow definition, however with Fizz guiding me I felt comfortable with it all. Fizz quickly picked up that I was being more vocal with my commands and as we walked further she adjusted to the change in light levels too.
So, from now on it will be sunglasses after sunset as well as before.
Since the beginning of April 2020, when it became clear that lock-down was here to stay I joined an online virtual challenge called ‘Race at Your Pace’. Being that both running and cycling require the input of a sighted guide I joined the walking challenge and between April and 31st December I clocked up 612mi.
As a form of training for a challenge I hope to complete now we are in 2021. Which I originally wanted to call ‘my Womble Challenge’, in that I shall be walking the London Underground Overground (cue cheesy 1970s tv theme tune) However, as this is a different version of The Tube Challenge I completed in 2019 I have setted for
‘Tinks Tube Challenge, a 2021 Twist’
As it was “Tinks Tube Challenge” that saw me travel to and through all 270 tube stations on The London Underground with world record holder Andy James, in under 19 hours on this day two years ago.
However this time, (thankfully) there is no time challenge or running. Instead each line I walk will enable me to see London on the surface. Take in the sights, the sounds and the smells. And with the length of the walks vary from just 32 minutes to 2.5 days. (as i will be stopping and sleeping) if it is a part of london covered by the underground network it will form part of the walk. I plan to walk to each tube station on each line; this will see me visit most stations more than once over the full eleven walks.
With Kings Cross St Pancras being the staiton I will visit the most.
This is not a new challenge, there have been variations of this challenge achieved over the last few decades; it was actually reading Mark Masons’ book ‘Walk the Lines, The London Underground OVERGROUND’ That inspired me to take on this mammoth challenge.
Which if TfL run to time will see me complete 272 stations with the new Northern Line extension out to Batttersea Power Station.
As with my previous tube challenge I am completing this as part of my fundraising to name a life-changing guide dog Victoria. 2020 would have been ideal for this as the puns relating to sight and 2020 are in abundance, however the Covid pandemic had other ideas and foolishly lead me to believe that by now we would be out the other side and returning to some normality instead of (again) being in a form of lockdown. (Oh how niave of me!)
So instead of launching this challenge today on the 2nd Anniversary of me completing the original challenge as I had planned; by starting out on my first walk I can only write about it here and instead build the tension.
2021 for me has already started with BIG BIRTHDAY, so it is only fitting that I give back to others. Guide dogs are and have been a big part of my life since 2009. So it is in this monumental year for me age wise I return the support, while doing something that I am actually really looking forward to.
Given the distances covered on each walk, there will be very few that I am able to complete with Fizz by my side, instead I have a team of volunteers to support me as sight guides and my faithful cane.
Given the current restrictions and dangers to everyone with this pandemic I feel it is a much more realistic expectation that I probably won’t get to physically start my challenge until the latter part of the year. So, for now I will continue to train, working particularly on increasing my fitness and stamina; so that when it is safe to do so I will be good to go.
…. On a side note I have also updated my fundraising page too, which can be found HERE
With covid cases again on the increase and new strains popping up it is no real surprise that as a Country, most of England has entered into stronger restrictions as of December 26th.
For me, I wanted to ensure I didn’t repeat some of the ‘blind fails’ that I incurred during both the first Lockdown and Lockdown 2.0. While being able to increase my walking, for both fitness and stamina.
So, my Christmas present to myself was two new cane tips. Sadly one won’t actually arrive until January, however I am off to a great start with the first.
I introduce you to my Ambutech High Milage Rolling Ball Tip.
Measuring 5.1cm it is significantly larger than my previous tip as well as feeling much heavier. My cane is a slimline graphite long cane which gives it more ‘bouncy’ and initially on adding the tip felt like it was ‘dragging’ but as I have got used to and learned to release my grip on my cane handle it has got easier.
As for tip itself ….. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G !!! A long 2mi walk and not a single ‘cane jab’ or it catching on anything. I deliberately walked a route where the paving slabs are cracked, the path has roots in it and where I have previously experienced many a ‘cane jab’ or catch.
So, as the title suggest. “Nope, no tears even though we are in tiers.”
Loosing control is just two words, saying them is the easy part; actually allowing myself to do them is a whole other story.
Control can mean many things to many people; for me control it is organising, planning and reducing the opportunity for me to feel ‘out of control’ in a situation, because when it comes to my sight and hearing loss I don’t have any control.
It is why I have been known to walk a virtual route of a new area with the help of Google Maps and Google Streetview. It is also how I can appear confident and independent; When actually most of the time I am neither, I am just simply prepared.
And for the most part, this tactic works.
Then……. Then I do something I never expected to feel out of control with and so ensued a moment of vulnerability. (Or rather a good 10 minutes) and I find myself overrun by emotion.
What was I doing? I hear you ask.
I was out for a bike ride on my tandem, something I have done many times before, in an area that I know incredibly well. Which maybe is why it hit me so hard.
We were on a cycle path, not the main road, yet as we approached a set of traffic lights the turn felt wrong, so I tried to stop it, which anyone who has ever been on the back of a tandem will tell you is damn near impossible!
So we wobbled, my feet came off of the pedals as did my pilots and although we didn’t come off the bike completely it could easily be classed as a ‘Near Miss’
Hence my upset and emotion.
Thankfully my pilot knows me well and in the middle of this simply said:
You’re in control of what you get to enjoy and feel relaxed about. You control the route we take, I’ll help with the rest.
We do all this as a team. I’ll brake, change gears and steer, I’ll keep us safe.
The worst part of it for me was that because I had panicked, because I had lost control, my pilot could have got hurt and when I said this mid snotty-sob he simply replied:
But I didn’t…. WE had it covered.
Which made me realise that as a team…. We did.
Because of my lack of sight and hearing, it only goes to follow that my balance and perspective is greatly altered. It was this that had sent me into my moment of panic. And from that point on, on the ride I simply listen to my pilot, pedalled harder on the up-hill and let the bike coast on the down-hill. All while trying to enjoy the view.
And now, back with both feet firmly on the ground I can reflect. And realise that this was an inevitable, because I needed to accept that being on a tandem IS a team effort, No matter how good my sight, even I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. So rather than look at it as a ‘byproduct’ of my disability it is time for me to rethink cycling. Cycling is something I CAN do; I just CHOOSE to do it a part of a team.
After all, the benefit of being on a tandem is that you are only 50% responsible for getting up those steep hills!
Love it or hate it; one thing that we have all learnt during the pandemic is how to use the video conferencing app Zoom.
From conferences and Pub quizzes to Weddings, Zoom has enabled us to connect even when physically we can’t.
For me, with my visual impairment it was an incredibly steep learning curve to understand how to use it to its full potential.
I have hosted many a meeting with friends, colleagues and even the cub scouts who are all unable to meet face to face at this time.
When ‘Share screen’ goes on my own camera goes off. Then I can sit with my nose up close to actually see the content.
For conferences it has enabled me to join in when if I was at an event in person I may struggle due to the amount of people, the noise level and even at times the flashing lights. This all disappears on Zoom.
For other meetings it has enabled me to be in the comfort of my own home, rather than making a lengthy journey across the country, which in turn has enabled many more people to join the meeting who may have been restricted before due to location or time.
And as I said above, just Last weekend, I had the privilege of watching two wonderful friends celebrate and marrying each other; After the original ceremony was postponed at the very beginning of the pandemic.
Even though it was via zoom I dressed for the occasion, following the guidance that the couple had previously shared as their ceremony took place in a Mosque.
But why did I like this via zoom so much? I hear you ask.
The answers are very simple.
Because I was actually able to SEE my friends as they spoke. It was set up so that each of those within the Mosque that read out, sung or spoke were on a different camera to the couple.
Again it enabled me to momentarily turn off my own camera so that I could look closely at the happy couple and see the beautiful decorations that were set out before them and also the beautiful outfits they were wearing.
As this ceremony took place in a Mosque, had we been able to meet in person then this is where we would have continued the celebrations with food afterwards. Obviously there is no way to convey this via a video conferencing app, however it did mean that I was able to see up close as the happy couple cut into their amazing wedding cake.
Yes, I would have much rather have been able to be there with them in person to celebrate. To hug them both. However, for me because of my sight and hearing issues I feel that I was actually able to enjoy their special day more, because of the closeness of the camera to them, because of the way it was set up that when someone else spoke it flicked over to their camera. (Were I there in person I would have no way to see who was talking)
Via zoom for me, there is also no worry of the travel, the hotel arrangements, the concerns over coping without my guide dog, among other anxieties.
And more importantly it meant that two of my wonderful friends were able to join together and start this new chapter of their lives; as a partnership.
There will come a time when we can meet together, gather and celebrate. And that is most certainly a day I am looking forward to, sadly though I feel we are a long way off such at time at the moment.
I had used zoom prior to the pandemic, but only for meetings and the odd training.
Yet now, it is an integral part of my life and for me personally it helps me to overcome some of the issues that could hold me back because of my sight and hearing loss.
So, just as I love marmite I think I can honestly say, I am a big fan of Zoom. I know it isn’t for everyone, my own son for example absolutely hates it. But then he isn’t a fan or Marmite either !
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.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the use of face masks has increased. It has been compulsory for most ‘front-line staff’ from the very beginning.
Then government officials suggested members of the public wear face coverings or masks when going into enclosed spaces where social distancing may be difficult, such as supermarkets, garden centres and medical appointments.
And I will admit, when this recommendation came in I also took this to mean to wear a face mask or face covering when using the bus.
Whixh as of tomorrow 15th June it will be compulsory to wear a face covering on all public transport. (Unless young, have certain health conditions and certain disabilities)
so, one afternoon earlier this week I thought I would road-test my floral cotton facemask for the bus journey and while I did some essential shopping.
Having not been on a bus for about Eight weeks I was initially a bit concerned about my journey, but the bus driver soon put me at ease. Our local buses have had clear screens to protect the drivers for many years, so this was nothing new, however implementing social distancing on a bus was definitely something I was uncertain of.
The driver explained to me that each of the seats in the aisle were taped off with yellow tape, as were both of the seats in every other row to enable passengers to sit two metres apart beside, in-front and behind.
For me, my sight enables me to see the bright yellow tape on the grey seats, however not to read the words. So the drivers instructions were very clear and descriptive; as you can see from this photograph that I took once I sat down.
The bus seemed fairly empty and as I went to get off at the bus station, the bus driver again explained that social distancing was implemented inside the station. If I am honest, my guide dog was a little hesitant when we got into the station, but I gave her the command to turn left and out the station and she soon found her feet and walked with confidence.
As i have said previously, I have found it easier to shop for many of my essentials from my local Wilko and Poundland stores as they are smaller and generally have been quieter.
So, on this visit off to Wilko we went. I tried to scan for a queue outside the store and as I couldn’t I approached the door and asked the staff member if there was a queue to join, when she explained there was no-one else waiting so I could come straight in. She explained where the freshly wiped down baskets were and off I went to get what was on my list.
I walked down one aisle and at the end it appeared that they had put extra shelving in, so the pathway around to the next aisle was rather tight for manoeuvring me, Fizz my guide dog and the basket that was sat i the crook of my arm.
Shopping picked and off to the till. Here we hit a slight snag.
The store layout had altered. The additional shelving at the end of the aisles were actually there as the store had implemented a system similar to Tesco where you had to wait while socially distancing at one point before moving forward to the next available till. Which a kind shopper explained to me from the other side of the shelving.
So, after a bit of trial and error, we found the queue. With a light floor colour and the dark red Wilko signs marking each 2m space I was able to ensure I kept my distance. Then it was our turn to be at the front of the queue.
Again another snag…….
With no member of staff on queue control I patiently waited to hear a clue as to when it was my turn to go to a till. However the queue placement meant that we were at the customer service end of the tills with maybe five or six tills off in-front of us. When a couple walked very close beside me on my right, huffing as they did.
Another kind shopper who was now behind me (at a social distance) apologised as the couple that went passed me had got fed up of waiting as a till had become clear and I had not seen it; even though from their position this couple who jumped the queue did have a very clear view of my guide dog by y side. Thankfully at the next till to become free, the staff member had called out to me.
After hitting my basket off of the clear screen that had been put in place the staff member was kind and clear with her explanation and she even took my bag to pack my shopping for me.
Shopping done, back to the bus station, here is where I discovered the social distance implementations. I just want to add at this point, I am in full support of social distancing and of businesses and service providers who are taking care to ensure the safety of their staff and customers.
Fizz appeared to be walking right up against the metal benches, a place I try to move her away from as this is often where food has been discarded. Yet when I asked her to move in and walk more within the centre of the path she refused. I count in the large boards to get us to our stand. And then gave the command to find a seat. Fizz did this time move me to the right and to a seat by our bus stand. It was when I sat that I could then ‘see’ the issues that had caused Fizz to struggle; both when we left the station and as we returned.
There is a gap between the tape to enable people to get to the right bus stand, there also appears to be a yellow line on the floor, but as can be seen the space on each side of the tape is not very large and is why Fizz had found it a struggle both when leaving the bus station and when we returned.
Sadly, after the ordeal of our shopping trip a bus driver explained that I had over an hour to wait for the next bus. (As they are running a very different service, which is understandable) So I gave fizz the command to leave, and I decided we would just walk home, as that would take us about 40 minutes.
This whole experience had exhausted me mentally and I just wanted to get away from it all. My shopping was (if I am honest) a little too heavy for walking home; however I felt vulnerable. My confidence was thrown, especially as I was in what I would consider ‘familiar territory’, although with all the additional safety measures the whole thing felt alien to both me and Fizz.
So, tomorrow as more stores open I think I will actually be less likely to be visiting my local town. Because with these additional MUCH NEEDED safety measures I don’t feel that the routes and places that were so familiar to me prior to the Covid-19 will remain as such until social distancing is a distant memory…. Which I am well aware is not going to be the case anytime soon.
So for me, as the world re-opens I feel it is much less accessible for me.
And I am pretty sure that I am not the only one. I would love to hear your views and experiences. Please comment below.
Take Care and Stay Safe.