Sounds like a rude or harsh question; yet it was asked without any malice intent. It came from a little girl while I was visiting her school and doing and giving a talk about living with sight loss.
The teachers within the room took a sharp intake of breathe (I think it worried them slightly) However as this hadn’t been the first ‘curveball question’ I had received from the group I was already half prepareD for it. I started by thanking her for her question (while buying myself a little time to answer it)
“I wouldn’t say I like it….. But I wouldn’t say I hate it either. Because with my sight the way it is I have had the opportunity to do so many things that I am not sure I would have done had I been fully sighted.
But when I did I gave this answer (in a round about way-not sure I used these exact words)
I only took on the challenge of climbing because without being able to see my feet on the ground I knew that being high on a wall or mountain wouldn’t be an issue, as one of the ‘blind perks’ that lead to me trying it was that a fear of heights wasn’t an issue. The chance to pre-plan a route wasn’t there either. I climb mainly by feeling my way up the wall. And my feet often follow where my hands have already lead the way.
As my working life reduced. I began to work with different charities; through which I have gained so much, so much more than I could have achieved in my working life. I have also been fortunate to be there for my children more, and although I can’t see them as clearly in their school productions. We have had much more time together than I would have had had were my sight not decreased.
Yes there are times when I have dark moments. But anyone with or without sight loss has those, so I don’t think I am any different.
I have gained so much more enrichment to my life as my sight and now hearing has demisnished.
Being blind and hard of hearing is who I am and I just have to make the most of it.”
Maybe this was much more detailed and deep than I expected to share, but as I sat there with the class of children before me; I had a moment of reflection on my life and all the good things that have come from the small fact that I am loosing my sight and hearing.
This past 5 days I have been wearing my scouting volunteer hat and been camping just outside Wareham with roughly 3,000 children and leaders for the Big Hampshire Event HOO18 which saw beavers, cubs, scouts and explorers from across the county come together to undertake a ‘Monster’ themed camp.
I volunteer within 1st Locks Heath Cubs and it was with my 1st Locks Heath Volunteer family that we had a ‘mini-camp’ within the bigger event. We had cubs & scouts for most of the week and the smaller Beavers came for a sleep over and a day of activities too. But we were contained within our own little area; it is this one little detail that enabled me to go, to join in, to support and to enjoy 5 days and 4 nights at such an amazing event.
With the glorious weather we have been having it was only reasonable that we should arrive in rain on Sunday! In fact, we had an impromptu stop at Nordon Mines because those leaders and support who had camped out on Saturday night had had to re-build part of our camp after strong winds brought some of it down.
Traveling with Fizz, I went in convoy with a fellow cub leader while the others were transported via minibuses. When we did arrive to camp it was then that I was to set about pitching my tent. (Something I have done a few times now as you can see in A whole other challenge ) only this time it was in the rain!
It was actually quite fun. And having only replaced a dog chewed guy rope the week before I was grateful I had left my groundsheet and inner attached to the outer shell.
With a little help from another cub leader in getting my poles in I was quickly set up. My tent having side doors was pitched on an angle (one to fit the space and two so the door faced the opposite tents where the children were sleeping) Our ‘mini’ camp was set up with a large marquee and kitchen tent, then children’s tents along one side, with leaders and support along the opposite, with each oth the top tents turned in slightly to create an almost enclosed horseshoe shape.
Each different group had an area like this to set up their own ‘mini’ camp within the camp although layouts varied.
As we had a large canvas marquee with just as large support ropes and guy ropes, an area around the marquee was fenced off with steaks and orange lattice style fencing. This actually served an alternative purpose, this area gave Fizz an enclosed grass space where she could do her business and I was safe in the knowledge that should i miss picking up if it were dark, no child or fellow adult were going to stand in anything. (As it was she was very clever and kept alll that to daylight hours!)
First item on the agenda for camp is introductions. We were each introduced to one another (children and adults) and then we went off to explore the bigger site, find our bearings and learn where the all important toilet and shower blocks were.
There was a designated disabled toilet and on our second walk out to if Fizz had it in her mind, knowing where the low tree branches were, where the tree stumps were and even where the boundaries of the camp beside us were.
She was doing so well. Camp sites are not the easiest to navigate at the best of times; let alone for a guide dog. A guide dog who is trained to walk on paths, to follow ‘shorelines’ or building lines and to work on clear commands.
I had the clear commands, but there were no buildings as such, I worked her to use the boundary of the camp beside us as a ‘shoreline’ but as for paths ….. It was a large grass field with some gravelled patches and wood chipped paths around the toilets, but very little ‘concrete’
Our ‘shorelines’ only failed when the camp beside us moved their boundaries. This added to the fact that Fizz quickly came to realise that the camp beside us was one with whom we knew the leaders, we had previously camped out in their hut. And she soon wanted to take me into their camp rather than around it !! Teamed with the wonderful food smells that came from their shelter kitchen, I couldn’t completely blame her!
Being such a big camp, the activities were set for us. There were different ‘zones’ with different activities laid out in each. These zones were clear and easy to navigate. The children within the section were sometimes put into teams, sometimes worked in pairs and on other occasions worked alone. The activities included things like Zip-wire, Go-Ape, Zorbing, Spiderweb-climbing, crazy golf, escape room, dragon boat racing, water slides and even a type of ‘its a knock out’ inflatable arena to name a few.
The only downside was that the activities were for the kids only! I would have loved to have joined in.
As the days went on we moved around different zones, which added a new challenge.
By Tuesday the temperature had risen dramatically, we had erected additional shelters on our camp to ensure everyone had plenty of shade.
This meant Fizz too.
Before heading away I had sought advice from Guide Dogs and with some handy tips and ideas I knew the time had come to leave her ‘benched’ in camp while I used my all-terrain cane to accompany the children and leaders to their activities.
This made the kids laugh, my all-terrain cane has a large red disk on the bottom of a heavier set cane. This makes it look a bit like a metal detector; but what it means for me is that it will glide effortlessly over rough paving and grass, indicating to me the divots and tree roots, but not getting caught on them.
Unlike Fizz, my cane can only tell me about the ground. It can not tell me about tree branches and it can’t correct for a group of oncoming children. So to say I caught a few of those low bracnvhes and bumped some (not many) of the on-coming children would be an understatement.
But this minor inconveniences to me meant that Fizz was safe, she was in shade, had a breeze, plenty of fresh water and no direct sun on her.
The kids within 1st Locks Heath quickly took to ‘looking out’ for me. My own Pack of cubs were aware of me, but for some of the other groups cubs, beavers, scouts and even some of the leaders I was new and I imagine at times I was also confusing to them. But without me asking they walked infront of me, they warned me of tree branches and they explained if there were any major tree roots or stumps coming up. This was a very pleasant surprise to me, it made me feel at ease and as regular readers will know, anxiety goes hand in hand with my sight and hearing loss.
On Wednesday 01.08.2018 at 14:00 as a group we celebrated the 111th anniversary that General Baden-Powell held his first camp for boy scouts on Brownsea Island. And in the evening at 18:00 we gathered together again as a group and this was when The Group Scout Leader invested Fizz into the Cub pack. Kieth the GSL took Fizz’s left paw in his left hand and read out the promise to her. He did this with agreement and permission from the County Commisioner and District Commisioner who both believe that this is the 1st ever Guide Dog to be invested into a pack.
As it was felt by all that Fizz was an important part of the team and should be recognised as such. She was even awarded her own necker, which I am to sew her badges from camp onto.
I managed to keep smiling during the investiture, but when it was over I found myself crying with pride and happiness at the way in which not only Fizz, but also how I had been accepted into the group.
Yes I have been an assistant leader within my Cub pack for just over a year, but I have always felt a little on the outside with regards to the other leaders because of my disabilities. (not intentionally, but just in how there have to be additional measures taken)
I saw a very different side to my fellow leaders and I felt that they respected me for being me and didn’t feel I was a burden to their camp, but rather a benefit. (Given the nature of my sight I am not able to count directly in the ratios for adults to children on camp-so they could have simply left me behind, but my knowledge of the kids, my perseption with the kids was felt to be important, so I was very much included)
The group I went away with made for a great experience. I have never camped for more than 2 nights together, but barring the odd guy rope incident I managed to survive the 5 nights and 4 days I was away.
Taking my tent back down in glorious summer sun meant I knew it was dry, but it took three times as long to do. For a tent on a hot day is no place to be; so I took it down in sections. Resting and rehydrating in between each set.
Other cubs and leaders offered to help me, but I am a creature of habit and like to do things in my own way (but that’s for another blog!)
For now I am feeling tired and I am suffering with eye strain, but at the same time I am feeling happy. I am finally feeling like part of a scouting family (which so many others talk of)