the next stop is…

 Getting on a bus for a guide dog owner has endless possibilities for drama.
First of all you have to locate the door.
I always wait until the bus stops hissing like an angry snake which is a sign the drivers lowering the step for us to get on.
Then, you have to scan the card – admittedly I just smile at the driver, hold my bus pass out to them and they do the rest.
Then comes the fun bit. Finding a seat.
Invariably you’ll find a few laps, encounter a few people who helpfully point and say:
“There’s a seat by here love!” or: “By there, can you see it?”
I’ll smile, giggle and ask Chelly to find a seat, which she does.
If not, a kind person will step in, pull the seat down if it needs pulling and pat it (the seat, not Chelly)

Then, if the whole performance goes on longer than a minute, which has been known – I’ll look round at everyone, smile beatifically and say:
“Right, that’s the entertainment over for now, thanks everyone!” I always think there should be applause at this point – but there never is.
Maybe I’ll bow next time.
I settle down but before too long someone will say:
“Ah, that’s a lovely dog, what’s her name?”
Now, some guide dog owners are completely at ease with people chatting to them and as when they like.
We have to do the whole public relations thing.
Chelly however greets her subjects with the same interest a lion would if you plonked a salad bowl in front of it and told him it was lunch.
She has actually been known to yawn when people dare to wake her up, or distract her from sniffing a particularly juicy tree.
“Chelly,” I’ll say.
“Say hello to the lady/gentleman/small child!”
Chelly will allow them a small fuss, then she’ll flop down with a huge sigh and I find myself apologising:
“Sorry, she’s a bit tired today.”
She actually made a small child have a full blown tantrum the other day because its mother wouldn’t let her stroke Chelly.
In the end, to save everyone’s sanity on the bus I said:
“It’s OK if she wants to say hello, if you’re OK with it, I am.”
Then when the small hand was held out Chelly backed away like a horse, snorted and sat on my foot.
Anyway, after this has occurred we have to concentrate on sussing out when our stop is.
For the first few months it was fine.
The bus drivers always told me where my stop was and I thought the local bus company was fantastic.
Fast forward two months and things turned sourer than a bucket of prawns left out in the sun.
For some reason it always happened on a Tuesday.
I’d end up going straight past my stop and right the way round – half an hour out of my way.
I actually started referring to these episodes as my “Ely adventures”
Luckily the bus route I most use is on a loop – but it still made me feel very anxious.
When it happened a third time I rang my friend in floods of tears and said:
“I can’t cope with this – if it happens any more – I’m going back to North Wales”
The thing that annoys me is it’s not too much to ask.
Tourists are always asking:
“Which stop is it for the castle/millennium stadium/etc.”
I’ve become quite a campaigner, I’ve written to my MP and AM to try and get more talking buses in Cardiff.
The RNIB and Guide Dogs organisation have done a lot of campaigning too.
I have had a lot of help from my local guide dog owner friends as well, we’ve counted speed bumps, marked the stop before mine on my talking satnav and I feel a lot more confident.
But, as with everything I do, I never know where the next adventure will arrive, and like buses, you can wait for a long time, then three come at once.
As I settled into life in our new home, I learned that you never really know what’s around the corner.

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friendship and food

Have you ever been on a long haul flight and been really jetlagged?
I felt like that at 2 AM on the first night of being in my new flat.
The first thing that alarmed me was when Chelsea nuzzled me with her wet nose.
“Where are we?” I thought.
“This isn’t my normal bedroom?”
Then I realised where I was and giggled.
“It’s OK Chelly – we’re in our new house!”
she thumped her tail on the floor and yawned.
After a lovely sleep I jumped out of bed and padded into the kitchen.
Mum and I had been shopping so thankfully I had coffee and milk.
I had learned a few routes with Chelly in my local area and one was to the local bus-stop.
It was there that I met two other guide dog owners from the next part of Cardiff to where we’d moved.
I’d been online friends with one of them for a while – and as soon as she heard we were moving to Cardiff she suggested we meet up.
She also very kindly said she’d buy Chelly a bed as a moving in present.
Her and her partner both have dogs – and as soon as I met the four of them I instantly liked them.
They’re friendly, fun and instantly put me at ease and reassured me that although moving had been a huge upheaval for Chelly and I, I knew I’d made two fantastic friends and their guide dogs.
We went to a pancake house and the man behind the counter didn’t bat an eyelid when three dogs came in.
We cause quite a stir now whenever we go on buses together – but I think people are getting used to the three of us wandering round the local area and in the city centre.
After this we took the dogs to the park.
Cardiff has some fantastic parks.
Chelsea and I live in between two – which isn’t as lovely as living between two beaches as I did in North Wales but still great for Chelly to run in.
I chatted to my new friends about the local area and they offered to help me as much or as little as I needed.
They came back to my flat and we drank tea and chatted some more.
Chelly enjoyed getting to know the ddogs who are a lot younger than her and full of fun.
When they left she threw herself on to her new bed with an exhausted sigh.
I had a lovely text later that day from my new friends.
They said how much they’d enjoyed meeting us.
I said how much it meant to me that we’d met them.
I have a lot of sighted friends in Cardiff from my time at university, but only other blind people truly understand the difficulties we face without sight.