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
Lockdown has not been easy for me from a mental health point of view. As someone who holds multiply volunteer roles I work better when my schedule is full.
If you want something done, ask a busy person.
And for me that is most definitely the case. When I have all the time in the world to do something it never gets done. To the point that my diary schedule now also includes specific days and times for mundane housework.
I also need to find something to get me working out, gaining strength and becoming fitter; rather than just sitting in front of Netflix’s.
Along came a Facebook advert for a virtual challenge called ‘Race At Your Pace.’ Ever skeptical about just adverts I asked a few friends and they confirmed it was a genuine company and that actually many of them were doing a running challenge with them.
Social distancing for me with a visual impairment means that I am unable to run or cycle; given that I need either a guide runner to run with me or a pilot to ride my tandem.
Which left me with walking.
Not a problem, as I needed to exercise my guide dog Fizz, and this was a mix between ‘working walks’ for her in harness and ‘sniffy walks’ where she was on a longer lead and able to just be a dog, sniffing at each post to catch up on all the ‘Pee-Mails’
So, April’s challenge was set, I set myself the target of 50 miles of walking workouts. Which I new was a MASSIVE challenge for me, however with both indoor walks and outdoor walks counting I felt it was achievable.
Oh how wrong was I?
In April I did walk 50 miles, however it saw me going right up to the last minute with a 4 mile walk on the 30th April. Having always measured my distance in Kilometres, it was a bit of a shock to the system to measure in Miles.
However when this beauty arrived in the post I felt proud that I had achieved it.
And having gone right to the wire for April I knew I needed to work harder. So not only did I re-enter for May, but upped the distance…. This time 65miles.
A target that I not only reached on the 29th May with 2 days to spare but I discovered that I had smashed through it as only looking a ‘walking workouts’ on my Apple Watch did not include the 6+miles I had recorded as ‘Hikes’.
So yes, you have probably guessed by now, I am going again in June, I am again increasing my distance…. increasing to 75 miles.
I hear you ask, we’ll Lockdown has been a time of planning, and for now let’s just say when the world reopens I will be walking much much further than 50, or 65 , or even 75 miles……
As I sit here on a Wednesday evening and type up this blog, I must begin with saying that I am well. I am not, nor have I been unwell with Covid-19 or had any symptoms. (Lets just hope that hasn’t put a ginx on it)
As all news channels are continually reminding us,
We are living in unprecedented times.
And that is putting it mildly. As I touched on in my previous blog post over eight weeks ago; when we hadn’t actually fully entered into enforced social distancing and restrictions on what we did and how we did it.
Social distancing and being aware of those around you are not so easy when you have sight or hearing issues. (I can only assume that people with other disabilities must also be finding this time hard)
The country as a whole has never seen anything like this in peacetime…..
Even the amazing Captain Tom Moore, who set out to raise £1,000 for NHS charities as he walked 100 laps of his garden in celebration of his impending 100th Birthday (who has actually raised over £33 million to date) says that this virus is nothing like any of the wars he was part of.
We have seen our country led by our amazing NHS workers, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, teachers, support staff among many many others and where The Daily Briefing has become part of a daily routine for so many, along with the weekly ‘Clap for Carers’ on Thursday evenings, I am struggling to find the words to write.
Yes, you did hear that right…
All of my volunteer roles are suspended.
Planning for my next big adventure is on hold.
My house has been rearranged multiple times.
I hold weekly meetings with my small group sisters from church.
Sunday morning worship is all online via a live church platform.
And in all honesty; I find using Zoom absolutely exhausting. However, at the same I time I am incredibly grateful for this way to be able to stay in contact with others.
Daily life and this ‘new normal’ isn’t easy on anyone. However, I made a conscious decision at the beginning of this to be more of a Positive Patsy that a Negative Nancy; don’t get me wrong, I have hosted a few pity parties for one. But actually the way you react to a situation is what strengthens you as a person.
For me, the biggest part of this is my independence, there are no other adults living in my home. My son has continued to live between me and his dad, while my daughter has been isolating with her dad and step mum for about 10 weeks and only seeing her on my phone has been heartbreaking, however she needs to protect her dads health and being 14 she is actually incredibly well adapted for not going out and only speaking to people via WhatsApp and Instagram.
Delivery slots for shopping are still few and far between, however one bit of good news is that Tesco have (off of their own backs) enabled those with visual impairments to register for their priority delivery. While sight loss charities Guide Dogs, RNIB and The Thomas Pilkington Trust have been working on a petition to make the government aware of the vulnerabilities of those with sight loss and the need for these to be included within the Governments scheme especially to enable access to home delivery from supermarkets.
The Bad news is that my guide dog Fizz doesn’t understand why when we do go into town that we are not going into Caffè Nero, Coffee 1 or Costa (being that they are all closed). She is however grateful that we can still shop in Wilko and Poundland, because actually for cleaning supplies, medications and toiletries I have found these stores much quieter than popping into a supermarket for anything I need between deliveries. (And the plus for Fizz is that both stores have pet aisles!). And for my own sanity, having the ability to pick up these little bits myself has helped me feel in control.
Social distancing has continued under the government guidance and I fully understand and support the need for this, to not just keep me safe; but to also keep others safe…. Especially key workers.
For me it is simply the struggle for me to do this…… Although Fizz has started to just stop and stand still when anyone comes near us, I have found different stores difficult for different reasons. Especially since the introduction of one-way routes. My local Coop store has been the best by far. Not only have they put arrows on the floor to point you in the right direction; they have also put big red ‘NO ENTRY’ markings on the floor for aisles you should not enter at that end. Simple, yet for me incredibly affective as I can see the red much clearer than the blue arrows.
As I said before, I have decided to be more of a Positive Patsy (and not as in continually drunk like the Patsy in Abs Fab) and in turn my anxiety has reduced as this ‘lockdown’ has continued. There have been occasions where I have missed the queue of people socially distancing to get into a store. It was not intentional that I queue jumped, it was rather that Fizz has set routes and entrances that she is use to using. I have tried my best to keep the distance between me and others, but I have also made mistakes. And when we have been out on our daily exercise Fizz has taken to just stopping, standing still and waiting for the other people on the path to move out of our way or cross the road. Which (at the moment) I can’t decide if this is a good or a bad thing.
So, for someone who couldn’t find the words to write this post, I have managed to take up quite a bit of your time. It’s turned into a long post; however that said, I hope that you have enjoyed it.
Please do Stay Safe, if you can Stay Home, Protect the NHS and above all please Take Care.
Social media can be both a blessing and a curse. It has the power to make or break your day. For some it is part of their daily routine; flicking through friends posts and memes of cats over morning coffee.
I have always said that my Facebook wall is mine to graffiti how I see fit, it contains The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. However this may not be how others use it.
For me each day I look back on my memories. A chance to look back and see what I was doing on this day in any given year right back to 2008.
Memories of both my son and daughter growing up, my pregnancy with my son, family celebrations and days out. They also map out my journey with sight loss; because although I was born with my conditions, I slipped through the net until 2008, however I did keep my Facebook posts about this part of my life fairly vague, that is until I got the news that I had been accepted onto the waiting list for a guide dog in August 2009.
The other day a post popped up in my memories that holds even more truth now then it did in 2012, especially as way back then I wasn’t aware of how just two years later my life would be, or that I would later discover that I was loosing my hearing too.
The post read:
Some people go through life asking “why me?” Others say “God gave me this/these challenges to test me.”I say “if you can’t change a situation, change your attitude towards it.” My disability does not define me, nor does it rule my life. I define me, I rule my life… I am me, not my disability. My crappy eyes are only a small part of me, tiny in relation to other parts… My personality for example. Do not define me by my disability and i will not define you by your ignorance.
And this popping up in my memories was a timely reminder that I define me, not my disabilities, my differing abilities or other people. However as one friend pointed out;
I like your crappy eyes, if it weren’t for them, we would never have met.
Which is also true, through my love of helping others, numerous charities and even supporting children in cub scouts I have been able to cross paths with so many that had I not had any of this, I doubt we would.
So, the point of this blog?
My one piece of advice would be that it is okay to look back every now and again, but only so you can see how far you have actually come.
Over the last week to ten-days there has been a real shift in how we all behave; And rightly so. Covid-19 is no joke and not something we should take lightly.
This is a strange time, unlike any other I have ever faced in my lifetime and actually many people have never faced since WW2.
It is a time when the vulnerable are simply facing greater vulnerability..
The simple things that many people (vulnerable or not) take for granted, like having your supermarket shop delivered to your door; even being able to buy toilet roll because your on your last roll.
For me, this time has been one of increased anxiety, and I would put much of that down to my disabilities.
My disabilities don’t place me in the group of ‘at risk’ thankfully, however many of the measures in place are much more difficult for me.
When at home, washing my hands and cleaning are easy for me. However when out and about, not so much.
In the last day or two WHO (World Health Organisation) have recommended social distancing. And this has been a major issue for me.
Made even more difficult because I have an incredibly sociable guide dog !!
Keeping a significant distance of two meters when you have no depth perception and a visual impairment that means if you put your arm out in-front of you, you can’t see your own hand; How do you actually know how close to someone you are standing?
All of my many volunteer roles have been put on hold. My social life (aka my coffee habit) has significantly decreased. However my walking and ‘escaping to the great outdoors’ has increased.
The biggest challenge for me at this time of uncertainty the most difficult thing for me is asking for help or accepting help when it is offered.
I am stubbornly independent, however I had a moment early this week when I had to swallow my pride and ask a friend to take me food shopping. Because no amount of independence would have made it possible for me to do a ‘usual’ fortnightly shop in person because no deliveries were available. That very same friend has been absolutely amazing in ensuring that both my physical and mental health are not being affected by all of this.
Thankfully social distancing doesn’t have to be a adhered to when working my guide dog. She is and can continue to be my left hand lady. Our walks have been very different, but with more time for her to run around and she hasn’t seemed to mind too much.
My message to you all is to stay home, to stay safe and more importantly share with those who are not as fortunate as yourself. However if you do catch the Coronavirus, isolate, order in, and ASK FOR HELP.
As someone with sight loss, it can often be quite painful to look back.
This is because looking back is a time when there was more sight, less struggles.
However, in this instance I am looking back to actually be able to measure how far I have come.
This time five years ago I was in the midst of training with Fizz, my second guide dog.
Training with Fizz was different in many ways to when I trained with Vicky.
For starters, I didn’t have the nausea that I had had during training with Vicky (as I soon discovered I was actually pregnant with my son)
I also discovered very quickly, that although trained the same, personality played a big part in how a dog behaved and works…
Unlike Vicky, Fizz was not a licker; she was however a very tactile dog and loved to be close, preferably touching me at any opportunities.
I was also quick to learn that Vicky had actually worked on me and twisted me around her paw!
This became apparent as we trained within our local supermarket.
(With Vicky) If I had forgotten to pick something up in the aisle we would walk up-to the end of the aisle, around to the next and complete a loop to get back to the beginning. As she (Vicky) would never just turn around and go back on herself.
I just thought that this was the way this was how things were done….. How wrong I was !!!
When going to do this same move with Fizz in the supermarket my GDMI (guide dog mobility instructor) asked what I was doing, so I explained to be told in a firm (but fair) tone
You turn your dog around. Right where you are!
My GDMI referred to my previous guide dog as a ‘double diva retriever’ as she was both a flatcoat retriever and golden retriever. Which only became more clear as my training with Fizz progressed. As I worked backwards from some of the ‘habits’ Vicky had me doing to suit HER.
Fizz was also different in that she was walking at the pace I SHOULD be walking at; I say should because I hadn’t realised that as Vicky had slowed in her older age, I had simply adjusted to that too. When actually my preferred walking pace was considerably faster. However to begin with, this made it feel like I was running to keep pace. Just 10 days in to training I was already finding each day a little easier and enjoying the long walks more and more.
If I am honest, I found it much harder to train with Fizz than I did with Vicky, however my life was so different from when I started training with Vicky back in 2009.
And a massive chunk of that was actually down to Vicky; down to the freedom and independence she had given me.
I was no longer the woman who relied on others to take me places, if I wanted to do something or go somewhere, with Vicky beside me I was able to achieve this.
Home life had changed to, when I trained with Fizz I was no longer working, but instead I filled my time with volunteer roles, climbing, socialising, walking and of course caring for my children.
And now I also had the time to be able to spend time taking Vicky out each day for a (non working) walk and play at the park so that she could enjoy her retirement at home with me and the children as part of our family.
Which is where she stayed with us until she passed away at the very beginning of 2018.
Fizz picked up on my hearing loss sooner than I did; she stepped up and kept me safe when I missed the odd bike or electric car.
She has been my rock.
She has taken the independence Vicky gave me and enabled me to expand on it, we have had some amazing and sometimes crazy adventures.
It’s hard to believe that Fizz has been my leading lady for five years now, however on the other side it is also becoming clearer that at eight and a half years old, Fizz is starting to behave in ways that show me that she is starting to slow down, isn’t as keen on some situations.
And that maybe; just maybe. It may be time to think about her happiness above my own and if it’s time to look into her retirement plan.