It’s a Thursday. I’m sitting at work preparing to present my first show in my new job.
The phone rings.
A rather innocuous situation you’d think.
I pick up the phone.
“Hi, is that Nicki?”
I reply that it is.
The conversation lasts about five minutes – but for me it’s five minutes too long.
I make an excuse to my boss that I need to give Chelsea a drink – rush into the toilet and shut the cubicle door.
It’s then that the tears I’ve been holding in for months come.
Chelsea’s outside. She’s oblivious to the fact that I’ve just been told a lady from guide dogs is coming round to finalise the paperwork to get me on the waiting list – and therefore, retire Chelsea when a new dog is found, if not before.
In the grand scheme of dramas it’s quite a daft thing to get upset about.
Nobody died, nobody even got slightly injured – but to me it’s as if someone’s taken my life raft away.
For the last eight years she’s guided me, silently, and without questions through everything.
It’s not just a physical thing when you have a guide dog, they give you confidence, companionship – and in some instances they really save your life.
When Dad died – and even before when we found out he was terminally ill, it was Chelsea, not my friends who was there.
I couldn’t talk to them at first, because it was too painful to acknowledge what was happening.
When I moved to Cardiff, it was Chelsea who kept me strong when I wanted to run back home.
I finish crying and try to compose myself.
My boss asks if I’m OK and I tell her about the phone call.
I manage to present the show and get through the rest of the week till Friday, the day we are due to do the paperwork.
The lady is really lovely when she visits.
We walk round the block with Chelly and she comments how good we are together.
She asks what kind of dog I’d like.
“I don’t think I’d like a black Labrador again,” I say.
“It’d be too difficult to think it’s not Chelly. I’ll compare them anyway, no doubt, but if it feels different it might help.”
She fills out the paperwork.
I’m calmer than I thought I’d be.
I know it has to happen, but it’s just strange now it’s actually official.
I’m waiting for a new dog.
But, as I see Chelly getting a bit slower and a bit stiff as she stretches in the morning, I know she’s almost ready to retire to Llandudno – like so many other old ladies!
She’d fit in nicely I think.
I’ve told her my heart is big enough for all my dogs.
I didn’t think I could cope when Vale retired, but Chelsea showed me I could.
The new dog will be just as lovely, I know.
I just hope it knows what huge paws it’s following in.
I know Chelsea will teach it what to do.
For now, every day of our working lives together is precious.
I’ll still see her lots when she retires, until then, we’ll have as much fun as we can.
eI often get asked where I’m from.
his throws me into an enormous state of bafflement as I don’t really know the answer.
I’m a quarter Zimbabwean and a quarter Australian and the rest of me is British.
I’ve lived in Wales for most of my life and over the last few years I’ve started embracing the idea of being Welsh (Apart from when Wales plays the Wallabies or All Blacks in the rugby)!
When I left North Wales I wondered how long it would take me to miss it.
As I wrote in a previous post it was the little things, apart from missing Mum that I really missed.
Walking along the prom by the sea is one.
I miss the quietness of where I lived.
I missed the fact I could go anywhere and find anything I needed too.
I’d say to my friends in Cardiff:
“I’m going home,” or “I left it at home!”
Then the conversation would invariably be confusing as they realised I was talking about my home in North Wales.
“Nicki, you live here now, this is your home!” said one friend.
I do not, *underlined, italicised and in bold letters) miss the turtles.
Let me explain, a turtle is my rather unkind word for a tourist – of any age who walks slowly in front of you on a busy street.
They glide along without a care in the world.
Then you get the turtle dance.
This has to be seen to be believed.
The turtle will be turtling along but as soon as you try to overtake it’ll put its breaks on.
If you try to go round it the turtle it’ll change course and you’ll both perform a little dance.
I have been known to say to Chelly:
“Wait a minute lovely – there’s a herd of turtles in front of us, wait till they’ve moved on!”
There are turtles here but they’re slightly easier to outwit and tend to be more spread out.
After a particularly trying day with the local transport, finished off with a particularly wet and long walk home (due to me getting hopelessly lost) I shut the door of my flat, burst into tears and said to Chelly:
“I want to go home!”
I’d been far too busy trying to find my way, learn everything at once and generally prove to everyone I met that I knew where I was and what I was doing and it was getting too much.
I realised things were bad after a particularly scary morning when I couldn’t leave the house because every time I tried I ended up in floods of tears, shaking and generally feeling incredibly anxious.
I realised I was trying too hard and so I decided to stop worrying about getting lost and start enjoying doing what I could.
As soon as I slowed down things started to change.
I found my way round easier, felt calmer and more able to try new routes and also began to think of Cardiff as my new home.
I still get ridiculously lost and have been rescued on several occasions by some really lovely people.
During the first six weeks I found two jobs, which was a huge confidence boost as that’s what I’d moved to Cardiff to find.
Since working I’ve found other opportunities to use the skills I learned at university.
I’ve had more chances in the last three months than I had in North Wales over the last five years.
I know I’ve done the right thing by moving.
Paul Young had it just right I think when he sang:
“Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home!”
In my case, wherever I lay my dog’s harness – that’s my home!
How’s Chelly taken to all the changes?
Like a duck to water – or in her case, a Labrador to puddles.
The next post is going to be one of the hardest I’ve ever written – but it’s the main reason I set up this blog.
I had a phone call a few weeks ago which will start the next chapter of my life – and Chelsea’s.