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)
It’s been six months now since the whirlwind that was my second guide dog Fizz retired. She is living her best life, enjoying her retirement and even living with another black lab who is also retired; but much younger than her called Ashby. So you could even say she has found herself a toy boy!
I have been missing her terribly in all honesty.
Not just as my guide dog, but as my companion.
The house seems too quiet when the kids aren’t home.
However a friends suggestion of a weighted blanket on my bed has certainly helped. Especially because in the last few years I had allowed Fizz to slip into the habit of sleeping on my bed. The extra weight on the covers really does help.
I could have used the excuse of reverting back to ‘Candy’ (my cane has red stripes to symbolise that I am deaf blind, thus picking up the nick-name candy the cane) as a way to shut off the outside world and limit (or restrict) my independence. Especially over the winter months when the darkness was greater.
But I didn’t …
I set myself the challenge of walking each day, some days this has been the 4 mile round trip to grab a coffee from Nero. (Other coffee houses are available)
When I am on a route I know well and is fairly quiet; like the route to town. I can feel quite free, quite confident and faster in my walking pace.
However, as I approach the shops, the busier areas and the unpredictability of people I can feel quite weak. I liken it to feeling like a small child. And I get even smaller when I come across the unexpected; such as building works, market stalls or additional outside seating for cafes etc.
However, I am stubborn. I refuse to let this weaken me. I just wished that my cane had sort of robotic system in it that I could say “let’s go to the bank” and it would navigate me there avoiding all the obstacles?
Oh wait … That’s a guide dog!
What I really REALLY really need is for “That Call” to say a possible match has been found.
I am (one of) the highest priories on the Guide Dog waiting list. However, as I have explained before. They look to match the personality and lifestyle of the person to the personality and workability of the dog. Along with looking at other things such as walking speed, the persons height and workload for the dog. Which all means that there may still be some time to wait for a dog that matches my needs.
So, for now it’s back ti my love-hate relationship with Candy and asking friends for a little more support.
And trying not to cause any more bruises from the regular stomach jabs or arm jars in the process.
Facebook memories are a blessing and a curse.
Take today as an example, today it popped up in my memories that it was seven years ago today that my first guide dog Vicky did her last school run. And my GDMI (Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) took her harness and sash, signifying the start of her retirement.
And this day seven years ago is the very same day I started my training with my second guide dog Fizz.
So, why today is this (usually joyous) memory upsetting?
Because yesterday is 2 months since I did my last working walk with Fizz. Before she retired and was rehomed via Guide Dogs.
Sadly, Fizz retired before a third dog has been found for me; what with a global pandemic, delays have been incurred and I continue to wait for ‘The Call’.
I have returned to using my cane, who has aptly gained the nickname ‘Candy’ because of her red and white stripes. (which are the universal symbol of a person with both sight and hearing loss)
And it is bit of a love – hate relationship at times, being totally honest. I am grateful it is a skill that I have maintained as I am able to keep my independence. However the regular cane jabs and bumps are something I would happily live without.
Fizz retired at the grand age of ten and half, she had worked with me for just under 7 years and it was time for her to be able to put her paws up, not have to concentrate on keeping me safe and sniff all those smells she usually has to ignore while in harness.
The Guide Dogs charity have been an amazing support to us both during her working life and this has continued in her retirement. They supported me and found Fizz her retirement home.
Fizz has also stayed within the Guide Dog Family, so her new owner has been keeping me updated on how she has settled, on her new canine companions and I have even been fortunate to receive regular photographs with the updates.
It was the right time for Fizz to hang up her harness. This however doesn’t stop me being upset that she has gone. Knowing she is working those puppy eyes and wrapping her new owner around her paws is a great comfort though. She is a very emotionally sensitive dog and it will still be taking her time to adjust to.
Although I am sure not having to guide in wind and rain is surely helping with that.
There are lots of changes happening here for me too, but that’s another post or three! Lets just say, I haven’t been sitting still.
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!