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 Chelly and James at:
James and I have been qualified for almost 6 weeks. My guide dog trainer has officially signed us off on certain routes. However, I’ve never been out by myself on one particular route. I put James’s harness on and we confidently walk to the crossing.
I’m feeling excited, I’ve done this route numerous times with my trainer, what can possibly go wrong?
I line myself up with the box by the crossing and launch myself into the unknown…
I’m in the middle of the road!
I have no idea where I am!
A car drives really close to us, another breaks in front of us!
I ask James to find the pavement, but there isn’t one!
I’m shaking and panicking, but also know I have to maintain my composure!
I put my hand up and shout: “Stop! I’m lost!”
A man winds his window down and asks where I need to be!
I try to explain and he gets out, crosses me over a road, but I’m still hideously lost!
I have three options!
A: stand there and give way to the panic and tears bubbling up inside me like an overfilled kettle!
B: try and work out where I am, hoping that’ll work!
Or C: try and ring someone and ask them to find me!
I opt for C, but the first person I try isn’t there!
I frantically flick through my contacts and find a lady from church. She’s really really lovely, but I hate having to ring someone.
After all, if I have no idea where I am, how will they?
My friend is wonderful; she listens as I shakily and hurriedly explain my predicament!
“Stay where you are! I’ll come and find you!” she says!
I have reassured James a lot after our drama!
“It’s all right! It’s going to be fine!” I soothe.
As I murmur calming words I wonder who I’m really trying to convince, James or myself!
Finally my friend arrives, it’s only minutes but it feels like a long time.
She takes me back to her house and we have coffee and biscuits.
She’s like a warm beacon of hope in a sea of anxiety!
So, what’s next?
I’m getting back on the old proverbial horse!
My friend, who’s a guide dog owner, is going to help me nail that route!
She’s helped me so much since I moved to Cardiff!
I’m certainly not going to let a stupid road crossing put me off!
James and I have come so far, this is only a dip in the road!!!
You can follow my adventures with James, and retired guide dog Chelsea at:
When you have a child, there are little milestones which become massive achievements.
Their first smile.
The tentative first steps.
The first words!
It’s very similar when you have a guide dog (although, the first words aren’t that important)
James and I ticked off our first milestone last Saturday.
My sister, brother-in-law and two month old niece came to Cardiff for the weekend.
Mum and I met them in Cardiff bay.
I really needed to find a toilet, so I went into the Millennium Centre to find one.
After asking people for help I reached my destination.
I knew it would be difficult finding my way back to the front of the building, as we’d weaved through quite a lot of people and it seemed like a long way from the main entrance.
There used to be a guide dog trainer who visited the college where I did my performing arts Diploma.
He was renowned for being firm but fair.
One of the particular phrases he liked to instil in his students was:
“Trust your dog!”
It doesn’t sound that profound to anyone who’s never had a guide dog, but it was terribly important to me last Saturday.
I opened the door, took a deep breath and said:
“James, find the way! Find the door, the one we came in before!”
He took me confidently and correctly to the main doors.
I was overjoyed and hugged him with glee and gratitude!
James had proved to me that he could find the way out of any situation.
I trusted my dog, and that’s the best thing to do.
You can follow my adventures with new dog James and retired guide dog Chelly at:
What does freedom mean to you?
Perhaps it’s being able to choose what to study at University after you’ve passed your exams.
Perhaps it’s having a day off with absolutely no plans!
It can be something simple – or huge!
We enjoy freedom in Britain and other countries because of the brave sacrifices of the men and women in past and present conflicts.
I think that’s something we should all be extremely grateful for.
But, there’s other types of freedom.
I felt free yesterday, even though all I was doing was walking along a street in Cardiff.
It suddenly struck me how much James has changed my life during the short time I’ve had him.
We qualified last week!
This means we’re officially allowed to do the routes we’ve learned by ourselves, without the guide dog instructor following us from a distance.
The way it works is you do a route you’ve learned, and your instructor (and quite often the training manager) follow you.
Then, as happened with me, they ring the doorbell, and, when you open it they declare with a flourish:
“Nicki! That was a fantastic walk! You’ve qualified!”
Now, if this had happened on any of the previous walks I’ve done I’d have been extremely excited!
But, it happened after what I thought was a disastrous walk!
James had crossed diagonally over a road and I had no idea where we were!
So, I brought him back to the kerb by turning him round – crossed over and asked him to find the house! He did and we commenced our walk again!
Then on the way back we got involved with a parked car!
James managed to get us through a narrow gap, but I wasn’t sure we’d done the right thing.
“But it was awful!” I said
“I wish you’d seen another walk!”
“But Nicki,” said our training manager.
“Those are the best walks to qualify someone!”
I looked at her in dismay.
“OK, you got lost, but you were able to work out for yourself and James what to do! That’s what we’re looking for! We’re not looking for perfection! You should be really proud of yourself, you both look fantastic!”
“You know what,” I said
“I’m proud of us both as well!”
I gave James a big hug.
Being free means going out by myself with my new guide dog.
That’s something I’ve achieved, and it’s something nobody can take away from me!
You can follow my adventures with James at:
I check the time on my phone, even though I’ve already done so about ten times in the last hour. I put on some silver seahorse earrings and brush my hair.
To an outsider, it would look like I was preparing for a date, or a job interview.
I think about what’s going to happen today and actually wriggle with excitement.
I am going to meet someone new, but he doesn’t have two legs, he has four and an incredibly waggly curly tail!
The doorbell rings. At first I just sit there. I’m so used to that sound being followed up with a tremendous bark or howl from Chelly.
Then I get up, take a deep breath, and open the door.
My guide dog instructor is standing on the doorstep.
We’ve met before and she’s absolutely delightful.
I smile warmly at her.
“Shall I go and get your new dog?” she asks.
“Yes please,” I say and go inside to wait for the new arrival.
I can hardly contain my excitement. It’s all I can do to not jump up and down and break into song!
Now, James is very unlike Chelsea.
“Of course he is love,” I can hear you say.
“He’s a boy, and a totally different colour!”
You’d be correct on both points, but I don’t mean he’s different in that way.
Chelsea bounded into my house like a force 10 gale!
James recognises the house and me and pulls my instructor in. But he seems quieter, almost polite. We greet each other with typical British reserve, neither of us really knowing how to handle the situation.
I give him lots of fuss and he becomes a bit more bouncy.
We decide to let him explore his surroundings. He has a big drink of water and we take him out into the garden.
He’s absolutely adorable!
His tail goes round like a windmill, very much like Chelly’s.
He scampers in and out of the rooms downstairs before trotting back to my side and looking at me.
We practise feeding him and my instructor empties the huge bag of things James has arrived with.
He has grooming equipment, a whistle, Sam Brown reflective harness (for me, not him) and a new collar with a bell.
I show her the toys I’ve kept for him, plus his new toy piggy which grunts when you squeeze it.
James immediately seizes piggy by the tail and runs off with him!
We take him out for a free run. This is when the guide dog is allowed to run freely without the harness or lead.
James played with the other dogs, but when they got a bit boisterous he ran back to us.
Chelly is quite outgoing and insists on playing with other dogs until they either run off or bark at her.
Then my instructor says she’s going to settle the other lady on class into her hotel.
“You can get to know James, but if you need anything at all, don’t worry about ringing me, day or night!”
She closes the door – and James and I look at each other.
For the rest of the day he alternately sleeps and plays.
He’s completely tired out from a big free run, but spends a lot of time just coming over to me for a fuss or big cuddle.
I give him the choice of sleeping upstairs or in the lounge. The instructor and I have decided to let him choose where he is the most comfortable.
I feed him and take him out to the garden.
I brush him and spend time with him so we can start bonding.
This is a pivotal part of getting a new dog and has to be done without too much interruption from family and friends.
After more fuss I decide it’s time for me to go to sleep – it’s our first day of class tomorrow and both of us need to be fully revived and ready.
As I’m sitting writing my diary I hear footsteps.
James settles himself down on his bed, sighs contentedly and puts his head on his paws.
“Goodnight lovely boy,” I say, giving him a little fuss.
“I know things are strange for you, but we’ll be fine.” And as I say this, I really hope I’m right!
You can find out more about how James and I are getting on by visiting: