first dates for guide dogs – what happened next

You might be one of the two million people who watched the “first blind dates” video online for guide dogs.
It was fantastic, a really lovely day.
But what you don’t know is what happened next.
I only knew about the video being online when my sister came racing downstairs, phone aloft shrieking:
“Nicki, you didn’t tell me you’d met someone>? He looks lovely! Have you seen him again?”
OK, time for a disclaimer.
This is only my experience, I can’t and wouldn’t write about anyone else involved in the process.
Right, so on to the story.
I bought myself a new outfit and we had our hair and make-up done.
I went to London, a real adventure for someone who was brought up in a little seaside town.
The dates hadn’t been informed we had any form of “disability” and I was asked to walk into the restaurant and sit down with my dog James.
So, I did – and then followed half a minute of silence.
“Oh great,” I thought
“A stand-off! Let’s see who talks first.”
Then my date did.
All in all it was – as the video depicted a fantastic, lovely time.
We chatted and things were going well, we had quite a bit in common and he regaled me with tales of his travels.
He was totally amazed I’d been sky-diving, on the biggest zip wire and competed in a half marathon.
We both said we’d like to go on a second date – but unfortunately we never did.
As soon as the cameras stopped and I asked him if he’d like to stay and chat for a bit with me and the rest of the people on the programme he said he had to get back to work.
I’m totally OK with it, now.
Yes there were tears of rejection afterwards – and countless replays of Meghan Trainor’s song “close your eyes” on the journey home.
I feel he wanted – and got his five minutes of fame *Yeah, I know it’s fifteen, but the video was five*
I also suspected the last thing he expected to meet was someone like me and he was overwhelmed with panic and the only way he could cope was to use the flight response.
It’s something which happens to people on dates all over the UK.
I have had some very good dates with sighted and non sighted people but I’d invested so much emotional energy in this one that the rejection hit me harder than it had before.
I wish him all the best for the future – and I hope he finds who, or what he’s looking for because he is a very pleasant man.
As for me?
Well, it’s actually made me finally realise how comfortable I am with who I am.
If I meet someone, that’s cool – but if I don’t that’s also fantastic.
It’ll certainly be cheaper this Christmas and next Valentine’s Day.
It also reminded me of another dating disaster.
I should have known Ben was trouble by Chelly’s reaction.
She’s always been a good judge of character, and normally I’m tuned into her emotions.
I’m early, as I am for most things.
I’m just about to go home, thinking I’ve been stood up for the first time when a voice says:
“You’re dog’s not going to bite me is he?”
“No! Luckily for you she’s just had her dinner!” I say, flashing a wide smile.
The voice doesn’t answer.
“Right, shall we go in then?”
So, that must be Ben, my date!
“Ah bless him!” I think.
“He’s obviously trying, but failing to be funny! It must be awful for him to be on a blind date with a really attractive lady and her even more stunning guide dog!”
Ben and I met on a dating website. We’ve skyped once, messaged heaps of times and he seemed a really lovely person.
That’s why I took the plunge and mentioned meeting up before I left Cardiff to go to Australia to see friends and travel for a bit.
Chelly by this time is making her feelings known very well, but as I mentioned before I didn’t pick up on it.
She’s sitting bolt upright by my chair.
If she’d have growled at Ben I may have been more aware.
We have a meal, then walk by the castle for a bit.
I’m feeling absolutely bored!
I think of the pile of ironing waiting for me, and long to be back home!
I’d done the right thing and told my friends I was going out, what time we were meeting and where we’d be.
I fervently regretted not asking them to ring me at an appointed time with a crisis!
But I didn’t think the date would be this dull!
I laugh at his attempts of humour and try and interact with him.
“You’re a trained journalist,” I tell myself.
“You should be good at asking questions!”
I really think he’ll burst into tears when he starts saying how bad his childhood was and how he wishes he’d treated his sister better than he did!
Eventually I hear the words I’ve been longing for all night.
“Well, it’s been a lovely evening, shall I walk you home?”
“Oh, yes please!” I say, resisting the overwhelming desire to clap and do a jig!
We part without so much as a kiss on the doorstep.
“Well Chelly,” I say.
I’m glad that’s over!”
So, I’m totally bemused the next day when I get a message from Ben saying:
“Last night was really good fun! I really enjoyed meeting you! I’d like to take you out again on Tuesday, but you can leave the dog at home and I’ll drop you back after!”
OK, I know my reaction wasn’t kind, I ignored him!
I get back from a wonderful time in Australia to find loads of messages, starting nicely and escalating into rants of injustice!
The last one says:
“Why are you ignoring me! I don’t deserve to be treated this way!”
I respond by saying that I’d been away, I didn’t appreciate him asking me to leave Chelly at home, and asked him if he’d say that to a lady who used a wheelchair!
I never heard from him again!
Note: name has been changed to protect the ignorant
You can follow my adventures with Chelsea and James at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
for more about guide dogs visit
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk

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introducing Chelsea

For the last seven and a half years, my life has been full of fun, laughter and absolute joy! It started on the 3rd of July 2006 when a little black Labrador burst into my world with all the grace of a hippo in a pool of sea lions!
We first met in May 2006. She’d sniffed me, then plonked herself on my lap with a contented sigh! I patted her and looked at the guide dog mobility instructor who’d brought Chelsea to meet me.
“So Nicki,” he said.
“What do you think of her so far?”
I hesitated. Inside I was screaming: “No, this isn’t happening! I don’t want this to happen!” but it wasn’t Chelsea’s fault.
Instead I said:
“um, she’s very small! Look at her, how’s she going to guide me. Vale is much bigger!”
The guide dog trainer laughed and called her over to him.
“What do you mean? She’s small, yes, but she’s an excellent worker, come on, let’s take her for a spin, see how she goes.” Now this was getting surreal – this was a dog, not a new car.
I stood up and Chelsea shook herself and trotted over to the trainer. She seemed to really like him.
We put her harness on and I gave her the command to go forward. She took off like a rocket and I squeaked in surprise.
We weaved in and out of the obstacles on my local shopping street and I felt a bit better.
The guide dog trainer congratulated us and asked the question I’d been dreading:
“Well, what do you think? do you think she could be your next guide dog?”
I thought about Vale, my first guide dog who I’d left in my flat. My mind went back 8 years to how I’d felt when I met her.
Chelsea was so different! She was so tiny, so lovely, but she wasn’t Vale. How could I answer this question! What would it say about Vale who’d been my eyes since I was 19! I wanted to say: “Don’t make me answer that question!
Instead I said:
“She’s very nice but maybe I need to meet her again in a few weeks, after my holiday to Zimbabwe?”
Luckily the trainer agreed. agreed.
For the next few weeks during and after my holiday I thought about Chelsea constantly.
I wondered how she was, what she was doing.
You know when you read a really interesting story and get attached to the characters and wish you could meet them? It was like that! I felt the book hadn’t been closed and there was more to discover.
After a really enjoyable safari holiday in Zimbabwe the trainer Andy brought Chelly back to meet me.
This time she lay on my foot, snoring contentedly while we talked.
“The thing is,” he said.
“I don’t think she’s right for you, she’s a bit distracted by other dogs. I let two other people walk with her and they couldn’t cope. I’m sorry, I don’t think it’d work.”
“Why?” I said
“She seemed fine, you didn’t say that when we met! I could help her, Vale had a lot of problems to begin with and I overcame them! Please let me try!”
“OK,” he said.
“I’ll do some more work with her and then you can begin training. I’m warning you though, it’s going to be tough!”
He wasn’t wrong, but what he didn’t say was that it would be worth every single minute!
I had no idea just how my life would change and what a big part in it Chelsea would play.
Next time:
More adventures with Chelly
You can follow my adventures in twitterland at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

introducing Chelsea

For the last seven and a half years, my life has been full of fun, laughter and absolute joy! It started on the 3rd of July 2006 when a little black Labrador burst into my world with all the grace of a hippo in a pool of sea lions!
We first met in May 2006. She’d sniffed me, then plonked herself on my lap with a contented sigh! I patted her and looked at the guide dog mobility instructor who’d brought Chelsea to meet me.
“So Nicki,” he said.
“What do you think of her so far?”
I hesitated. Inside I was screaming: “No, this isn’t happening! I don’t want this to happen!” but it wasn’t Chelsea’s fault.
Instead I said:
“um, she’s very small! Look at her, how’s she going to guide me. Vale is much bigger!”
The guide dog trainer laughed and called her over to him.
“What do you mean? She’s small, yes, but she’s an excellent worker, come on, let’s take her for a spin, see how she goes.” Now this was getting surreal – this was a dog, not a new car.
I stood up and Chelsea shook herself and trotted over to the trainer. She seemed to really like him.
We put her harness on and I gave her the command to go forward. She took off like a rocket and I squeaked in surprise.
We weaved in and out of the obstacles on my local shopping street and I felt a bit better.
The guide dog trainer congratulated us and asked the question I’d been dreading:
“Well, what do you think? do you think she could be your next guide dog?”
I thought about Vale, my first guide dog who I’d left in my flat. My mind went back 8 years to how I’d felt when I met her.
Chelsea was so different! She was so tiny, so lovely, but she wasn’t Vale. How could I answer this question! What would it say about Vale who’d been my eyes since I was 19! I wanted to say: “Don’t make me answer that question!
Instead I said:
“She’s very nice but maybe I need to meet her again in a few weeks, after my holiday to Zimbabwe?”
Luckily the trainer agreed. agreed.
For the next few weeks during and after my holiday I thought about Chelsea constantly.
I wondered how she was, what she was doing.
You know when you read a really interesting story and get attached to the characters and wish you could meet them? It was like that! I felt the book hadn’t been closed and there was more to discover.
After a really enjoyable safari holiday in Zimbabwe the trainer Andy brought Chelly back to meet me.
This time she lay on my foot, snoring contentedly while we talked.
“The thing is,” he said.
“I don’t think she’s right for you, she’s a bit distracted by other dogs. I let two other people walk with her and they couldn’t cope. I’m sorry, I don’t think it’d work.”
“Why?” I said
“She seemed fine, you didn’t say that when we met! I could help her, Vale had a lot of problems to begin with and I overcame them! Please let me try!”
“OK,” he said.
“I’ll do some more work with her and then you can begin training. I’m warning you though, it’s going to be tough!”
He wasn’t wrong, but what he didn’t say was that it would be worth every single minute!
I had no idea just how my life would change and what a big part in it Chelsea would play.
Next time:
More adventures with Chelly
You can follow my adventures in twitterland at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Vale’s tail

It’s guide dog week this week. It’s when we celebrate everything that’s fantastic about such amazing animals. I know how important they are, so I just wanted to regale you with a few tails (haahaa, see what I did there) about my two girls.
I’ll start with Vale.
Many of you who follow and read this blog will have heard about Vale, my first guide dog. She died almost eight years ago at the grand old age of 13 and a half. She was a beautiful golden bundle of pure naughtiness, from the second I met her.
Vale was the sort of dog who did what she wanted, when she wanted. But, her work was very good. She actually won a national award for her work.
The first real display of utter naughtiness occurred less than one minute after we got home from three weeks training. Mum had lovingly prepared sandwiches for all of us, and as soon as Vale spotted them, she grabbed a mouthful and bolted towards the kitchen to see what else she could snaffle.
I always tell people about the time I was in Marks and Spencer, and a friend tapped me on the shoulder and said:
“Nicki, is Vale supposed to be walking round with a pork pie in her mouth?”
She loved carrying things. She paraded round the training centre with a whole pear in her mouth. She loved making people laugh.
I once had to go back into a pet shop after discovering Vale had stolen a rather large bone! I only noticed when she was walking with her head at a funny angle!
She adored fox poo, in fact, any kind of poo she could find!
We did have some very worrying times with Goldilox, as I affectionately called her.
She had to have a lump removed from her side while I was at college. I cried heaps, just the thought of anything happening to her was awful.
Guide dogs aren’t machines, we don’t just love them cos they’re incredibly helpful to us, the love, companionship and incredible loyalty is difficult to put into words.
Vale was very in tune with my emotions.
If I showed any signs of getting upset, she’d race over to me and let me cry into her soft, golden fur. She wouldn’t leave until I felt better.
Sometimes, just a pat from her paw made everything OK.
She scavenged for England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the world in general. During the 12 years and 1 day (very important that 1 day) she stole, or tried to steal a whole array of things, from socks to soap, a chocolate gateau I’d bought for a dinner party, to a doughnut from a small child.
In fact, she had such a reputation that when I met someone at a works event once and I had Vale her first words to me were:
“Oh yes, I remember Vale, she stole my sandwiches at a meeting we were at!” I smiled politely, and `surreptitiously patted Vale under the table.
One final tale I’d like to tell happened just after I’d got Vale.
I was invited to a coffee morning being held for guide dogs, and there was a young blind woman who was interested in getting a guide dog.
We were chatting away and she seemed very impressed by what Vale could do.
I suddenly stopped mid conversation and said:
“What’s Vale doing under the table?” my friend didn’t notice anything.
“No, she’s definitely doing something.” I said.
Then, a lady came up and said:
“Does anyone know where my cake went?”
“Where did you leave it?” asked my friends Mum.
“Under the table!”
I giggled.
“Well, I think that’s what my dog’s found!”
“Stupid place to leave a cake don’t you think?” said my friend’s Mum.
Needless to say my friend wasn’t put off. She’s now working with her third guide dog.
I’d urge anyone thinking of volunteering, or doing anything for the guide dogs to go ahead and do whatever you can.
We’re all so incredibly grateful for everyone, from brood bitch holder to boarder and everyone in between who gives any time, money or whatever they can to the guide dogs organisation.
Someone once asked me to describe what getting Vale was like.
I said it was like finding the key to a door that had always been locked. Vale allowed me to open that door and step into a whole new life.
For more information on the guide dogs organisation visit\:
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk
Please read previous blog posts on this blog for more doggy tails about Vale and Chelsea
Next time: I’ll tell you some tales about Chelly.
Follow my adventures on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

launching new series for guide dogs week

Today is the first day of Guide Dogs week, so I’ve decided to write a series of blogs for the occasion.
From the first time I found out I was getting a guide dog, to what really happened on my first blind dates for guide dogs!
I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

Have you ever been thankful for walking into something?
I don’t suppose you have, but walking into a lamp-post was part of one of the best days of my life.
The morning started normally enough, I walked with my white cane to the bus-stop and waited with the other travellers.
When the bus arrived I got on, and used my cane to try and find a seat.
I stood for a couple of seconds wondering if anyone would step in and rescue me.
“What are you doing,” shouted the bus driver. “Don’t just stand there, b****dy sit down!”
After a passenger helped me I dissolved into tears.
“It’s not my fault,” I sobbed.
“Why did he speak to me like that?”
I walked from the bus-stop to the first road crossing, and a man helped me across.
I thought I was in safe hands until he said:
“I haven’t got very good sight, but I’m sure we’ll be OK!”
Thwack!!!!
I walked right into the lamp-post!
I rang Mum at lunch time to tell her what had happened. I wouldn’t normally worry but my head was sore and there was quite a lump. She said she’d take me to hospital after college just to be safe.
As soon as Mum picked me up she said:
“I had a phone call today from guide dogs, they think they’ve found you a match. Her name’s Vale and she’s a golden retriever.”
I can’t remember what happened the rest of that day but I rang as many friends as I could that evening.
It normally takes quite a while to be matched with a guide dog, and I’d only applied in the August, so I didn’t have long to wait.
Next time:
“Is your guide dog supposed to carry a pork pie in her mouth?”
The unexpected joys and sorrows of owning a guide dog.

You can follow my adventures with retired guide dog Chelsea and working dog James on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Guide dogs is an amazing charity, but they need heaps of money to carry on their fantastic work.
Why not support them this week by “moving it for money” or giving a donation – every little helps!
Find out more at:
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk

Why some taxi drivers should be given the boot!

I’m afraid I have to blog again about an access issue, this time involving a well-known taxi company in Cardiff.
I’d had a fantastic time out with a friend, celebrating the fact that he’d finished his PHD course.
I normally book with a company called Dragon, who are mostly OK with my guide dog travelling with me.
But this company *I’m refusing to name them because I don’t want them to have publicity, good or bad* but I thought I’d use them for a change.
I’ve used them before, we had a few issues, but nothing like I experienced last night.
as soon as the taxi arrived the man said the dog would have to go in the boot.
I told him that it was better and easier for my guide dog, whom I’ve had for 2 years to sit with me in the foot well in the back of the taxi.
He said guide dogs normally went in the boot, and I re-iterated my reason for having him with me.
All the way home he wouldn’t let it go, and just kept on and on about how he takes guide dogs all the time and they go in the boot.
I felt utterly bullied and it really spoilt a lovely day.
I tried to assure him that we’d had a lot of training as to what to do with our dogs, and that if he was in the boot he’d be more more upset and restless than if he was with me.
The driver said the dog was all scrunched up in the back and couldn’t move, which made me, feel like an incompetent bad owner.
I eventually had to say that I’d had guide dogs for 20 years and I doubted there was anything he could tell me about how to look after them correctly.
His response was to say: “Oh, sorry I spoke, I won’t do it again!”
I do not expect to be questioned as to how I should or shouldn’t look after my dog when I am in a taxi.
I told him that no other driver had ever had a problem with my dog.
His attitude was absolutely wrong – and I refuse to let any other guide dog owner experience what I did yesterday.
I reported the issue to my local guide dogs team – and they were, as always fantastic.
Another thing which has enraged me is that the Email I had back from the company said they’d look into the “alleged” response.
Now, I’m a trained broadcast journo, so I fully realise there are instances when you have to write: “Alleged” but this isn’t one of them – she was basically saying: “If you’re telling the truth.”
I was very shaken and upset when I arrived home.

I had to write this to let other guide dog owners know about the issues, and to let any taxi driver know that what happened to me yesterday was unacceptable!!
Here are some things to read from the response guide dogs have sent to the company.
1. When travelling, guide dogs are trained to sit at their owner’s feet at all times, not to bother other people and not to climb on seats.
2. Providers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in the way they provide their services.
3. Drivers should ask the blind or partially sighted person what assistance is needed before making assumptions as to what might be required.
4. If drivers have been hired to carry a guide dog owner, ask the passenger where they would prefer their dog to be. In purpose built taxis the dog will travel in the passenger cabin with the owner. In saloon cars guide dogs are normally trained to lie in the front or rear passenger foot well, between the feet of their owner.
5. If the front foot well is not large enough to accommodate the dog, the guide dog owner should be advised to travel in the rear of the vehicle with the dog in the foot well behind the front passenger seat. The front passenger seat should be pushed forward to make space for the dog. In an estate car, if the guide dog owner is in agreement, the dog may travel in the boot space.
Have you had taxi dramas?
Pop your experiences in the comments section of my blog, or follow me on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

a blind persons view of voting in the general election

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or climbing a mountain on Antarctica you’ll know we’ve just had a general election.
What you think of this is your own business, but have you ever stopped to consider how people with little or no sight vote?
Read on for my story, it’s not how everyone is affected, and I want to make that disclaimer to avoid any offence or outrageous tweets!
First, getting to the polling station.
A lovely friend of mine offered to help me find my local polling station.
After navigating a six inch step, they’d decided to put a helpful little ramp up to the building.
We then walked in to be greeted by a lovely lady who remembered me from the last few elections and asked if I’d like the Braille overlay.
This is a plastic card which fits over the ballot paper, it has braille numbers down one side and a little flap which you lift and pop your cross in.
Then she sighed and said:
“Oh no, I can’t get the Braille to fit over the ballot paper properly!”
I felt so sorry for her, as it wasn’t her fault.
But here’s where the real change needs to happen.
Luckily we only had 5 names to choose from, but on some occasions there can be up to 10 or more!
I’ve been saying for years that if the names were available in Braille, along with the parties each candidate represented, you could vote totally independently.
Nobody has listened to blind and partially sighted people, or disabled people in general.
So, you have to ask someone to read the names out and numbers while you try and remember which one you want to vote for.
We’re still being denied a basic fundamental human right, purely because people fail to make the necessary changes which would help us.
So, I marked my paper, but then my friend had to show the lady where I’d marked and ask if it was OK, which again is showing her who I voted for, which is a very personal thing.
I felt so sorry for both of them.
So, how would I change things if I could?
Firstly, there’d be an option when registering to vote where you could declare *if you wanted to* that you had sight loss, however you want to describe it.
Then, each polling station would have a selection of braille/large print ballot papers *or realistic option* with the left-hand side displaying the names/numbers of the candidates. The other side would have a line of dots, after which would be space to pop your tick/cross.
Easy right?
That’s what I’d do, but the only problem is, I’m only one person – I’m not a politician/returning officer/anybody really.
But maybe someone will read this and think:
“You know what Nicki, that’s actually a pretty good idea!”

Let me know what you think by popping comments underneath this blog or following my adventures on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly