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I’ve booked my next holidays – and I couldn’t be happier!

There are lots of things I miss about my pre-covid life.
Top of the list is meeting up with friends and enjoying long walks with my yellow Labrador James.
Second is eating cake – preferably from an independent coffee shop, home-made with heaps of tooth-rottingly good icing!
Third is going on holiday and everything involved with it, from the planning to the arrival.
We’re lucky to live near a beach – so James gets lots of play-time there and two walks a day – but we’re limited as to where we can take him as Mum and I don’t drive.
Eating cake is probably not good for me and luckily I didn’t latch on to the baking craze of the first lockdown!
But, last week I was finally able to book my first holidays in over two years!
Are your hackles raised? Are you thinking really mean thoughts about me?
Well, the good thing is that it didn’t cost me a penny!
I didn’t have to spend time squashed into a plane, ferry or train.
It was an immensely enjoyable experience – so much so that I’ve booked some more holidays for the next three weeks.
OK, I think I’ve wound you up enough now!
The first trip I booked was to Birmingham.
One of my lovely friends Ian is a tour guide – and him and his wife told me about a brilliant company called Virtual Trips.
The trips are all done in real-time by tour guides who take you on adventures in all sorts of places around the world.
All you need to do is sign up (for free) select where you want to go – and an hour before the tour you get an Email.
You can join 10 minutes before the live stream starts – and chat with other travellers (although not in person, only via a chat box)
You can also ask questions during the tour and you can even take post-card photos via a clever piece of software on the website.
The trips are completely free – but there’s the chance to give a tip if you’d like to support the guide.
I’ve already booked three more tours that Ian’s doing to Oxford, the Cotswolds and Stratford-on-Avon.
We’ve also been further afield.
Mum and I had a really enjoyable tour of Guernsey where the guide talked about the occupation during world war 2.
Last Friday I spent an hour in Berlin – then in the evening we went to Yellowstone.
I’d been feeling quite sad about the present situation – as everybody does from time to time.
However, being able to escape for an hour or two to somewhere completely different has made a real difference to my mood and general outlook.
We can also take James and he doesn’t need a pet passport!
I’ve booked three trips to New York, one to Lisburn and we’re hoping to go to South America and Italy in the near future.
You can see all the tours available at:
http://www.virtualtrips.io
Right, I must go – Mum and I are off to Dublin this afternoon!

the amusing side of being totally blind

Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. – Abraham Lincoln
I love that! It’s got nothing to do with my blog post – but I just thought I’d pop it in!
I’ve been blind since birth so I have a slight idea about what I’m talking about when I say sometimes blind people can experience silence.
It’s not sad at all – it’s the total opposite.
I remember one day going into my Mum’s room and regaling her with a hilarious incident which happened to me while I was walking home from college with my first guide dog.
I finished speaking, stood for a while then said:
“Mum?”
My five minute monologue had been unheard.
We also experience silence when I ask someone on a bus which stop is the next stop – or when I’m waiting to cross a road and turn hopefully to ask a person if it’s safe to cross, only to discover on closer inspection that the person is in fact, a tree!
But there’s another side to experiencing silence as a blind or partially sighted person.
We can feel ignored and rejected when trying to access or find things other people take for granted.
Whether it’s finding a job, trying to make friends or, in some cases finding a partner – it can be difficult.
OK, OK, stop whining love – it’s hard for me too – I hear you cry!
It is, I know, but you have something a lot of people without sight don’t have, the ability to raise your eyebrows, glare, nod, shake your head ETC. – you have the language of silence.
I remember wiling away ten minutes of my life which I’ll never get back when I asked a friend to try and teach me how to glare. I just ended up looking like a dog with a mouthful of bees!
I’m too smiley to glare – but I sometimes wish I could.
Even accessing healthcare can lead people who are blind or partially sighted people into a world of silence.
The lack of provision to access goods and services is thwart with dramas. How do you read the letter you get through the door? How do you find the hospital department in a huge, badly lit and not sign-posted properly building.
I totally appreciate it must be heaps worse if you can’t hear – but that’s not what this blog is about.
As I said, silence to me is often part of the hilarity of my life – as it is, as it has always been, and how it will always be.
I choose to try and educate people on how to break the silence – and I hope others will join me.
The RNIB does a heap of good work to try and break down barriers for blind and partially sighted people, as well as those who are in danger of, or are losing their sight.
Please try and become part of this brilliant organisation.
You can find out heaps of volunteering opportunities by visiting:
http://www.rnib.org.uk/volunteering

How to find silence in a whirlpool of noise

When was the last time you experienced true silence?
It’s quite a rare commodity in this age of technology, social media and constant demands on our time.
However, Whirlpool, a washing machine company *Yes, really* have introduced a “quiet” washing machine.
They’ve also come up with the concept of “National quiet day” which is today.
So, to coincide with that – I’ve been asked by RNIB Cymru to write three posts on the theme of quiet.
So, this first post will focus on how to find more quiet places – and make the most of silence.
I must add, I’m writing this in a really noisy office. There are people on the phone – photocopiers and printers whirring and the low buzz of air-conditioning in the background.
So, how do you find quiet in a world of noise and bustle?
Here are five things to think about.
1: Find somewhere relatively quiet. It might be an empty conference room at work or a park, anywhere where you won’t be disturbed.
Sit/Stand/Lie back and just listen. What can you hear?
I’m not going to tell you to do any type of deep breathing 0- or find a “Place where you really loved going on holiday” (Or did I just say that) anyway, just listen to the silence.
2: Pop Classic FM on. It works for my guide dog Jimmey – that and radio four keep him company on the rare times I have to leave him behind.
It’s been proved by several studies that listening to classical music is good for your health – as it helps to reduce stress and lowers blood pressure.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zsv6hyc

1. Cached
2. Similar

And

https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/classical-music-effects/

1. Cached

It really works. I listened to some classical music while studying for my theory exams during my post-graduate course and I did really well in the exam!
I doubt it’d have worked if I listened to Metallica!
3: Go for a walk in a forest/park/anywhere natural.
I’ve been an avid bird watcher since I was 3.
I say watcher, but there was more listening going on.
My Dad bought me two bird tapes and I learned all the songs and calls.
Bird song is calming and helps you feel less stressed.
4: Find a dog/cat and cuddle it.
During a period of severe stress – my guide dog Chelly (who is now retired) really helped me. She was the silent friend who sat by my side throughout and just helped me by just being herself – not making me talk, not trying to understand – but just being a quiet presence.

5: Read! I love reading – and it’s a way of escaping into other worlds – letting your mind wander and shutting the world out for a while.
In my next post I’ll write about another type of silence.
The silence some blind and partially sighted people can experience.

The RNIB has heaps of fantastic books – in Braille, large print and on CD and memory stick.
Why not visit them and find out how you can help – or how you could experience the joy of reading for yourself.
You can visit:

https://www.rnib.org.uk/talking-books-service

books and authors you simply must read

As many of you know, I adore A to Z’s.
So, to celebrate the fantastic world of audio books, here is the A to Z of audio books – in 3 parts.
A is for: Audible
I have been a member of audible for almost 10 years and during that time I’ve listened to over 100 books.
The first one I read was called The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams.
I used to read them on the way to work on the bus. I worked in Bangor at the time and it was an hour long journey each way.
B is for: Breath
I’m going to take this opportunity *it’s my blog after all* to recommend some books, authors and narrators I’ve really enjoyed.
I moved to Cardiff 4 years ago and didn’t have any TV, smart phone (I know, can you imagine?) or CD player.
The only means of entertainment I had was a battery operated radio, but, much as I adore radio 4, there’s only so much you can listen to!
Breath is by one of my favourite male authors, Tim Winton.
It’s set in Western Australia which holds a very special place in my heart.
It is about a paramedic who explores the theme of “breath” as part of his work, and his time as a teenager when he and his friend used to dare each other to hold their breath underwater for as long as they could.
The first part of the story isn’t drawn to conclusion until nearer the end, and the outcome left me – well almost breathless! *sorry*
C is for: Catherine Howard
If – and it’s a big if I ever went on Mastermind, one of my specialist subjects would be Catherine Howard.
I’ve always been drawn to “tragic heroines” and there’s something really appealing and enigmatic about Henry 8’s fifth wife.
Suzannah Dunn’s excellent book The Confessions of Catherine Howard is about the relationship between her and Cat Tilney, a distant relative and eventual lady in waiting to Catherine.
It depicts Catherine’s total naivety – but also shows how in the end, even your closest friends can’t be trusted.
I’d really recommend this to anyone who’s interested in Tudor times – it’s easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable.
D is for: dogs
I adore dogs! One of the very first books I heard was 101 Dalmatians.
I heard it on a cassette (for anyone under 18 reading this – ask your parents what a cassette is)
It was read by Joanna Lumley.
I loved the stories of Pongo, Mrs. And Perdita.
I recently re-read it – and also The Starlight Barking (which I hadn’t read before) and it was great to be re-acquainted with this brilliant book.
E is for: Emma Powell
This is the first of some excellent narrators I’m going to feature in this blog.
Emma Powell’s voice is kind, reassuring and great to listen to.
I’d recommend you listen to The Little Flower Shop by the Sea by Ally McNamara.
F is for: favourite
I have so many favourite authors I thought I’d pop them in a big long list for you to check out at your leisure.
Lucy Dillon: (try Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts) I first read a Lucy Dillon book during an immensely stressful and traumatic time – and it helped me through the awfulness of the experience by providing a small crumb of comfort.
Lucy Diamond: (try The Secret of Happiness)
I love Lucy’s books so much, I’ve purposely not read them all, as there’s nothing worse in book land than reading everything by one person then waiting ages for their next book to come out.
Warning: You’ll need tissues when you read these authors.
Liane Moriarty: When I read The Last Anniversary it was like one of the characters had been written just for me.
I could relate so much – and when an author does that, there’s something special about them.
Liane isn’t afraid to explore deep and dark themes either.
I purposely didn’t watch Little Lies as I knew it would never be anywhere near as good as the original book (sorry Reece and Nicole)
Read anything by her – and also her sister Nicola who is a brilliant author in her own right.
G is for: giggling.
I giggle – a lot! In fact, I’ve often startled various animals, people and birds with a particularly uproarious snort or screech!
I remember reading a really hilarious part in Neither here nor there by Bill Bryson and I laughed so loud the whole train carriage I was in stared at me in a concerned manner.
I love Bill Bryson and have read nearly all his books as well.
I recently re-read Notes from a small Island and laughed at exactly the same bits I’d found amusing almost 20 years ago.
H is for: heavy going
I have five devices I can use to listen to audio books. They use a variety of speeds – but none of them can make a book, or a narrator sound interesting if they’re not!
Recently I had to abandon three books (I won’t name them) because the plot was heavy going – or too slow for me to commit to.
The same goes for narrators.
I’ve abandoned a book which could have been really good, if the narrator had injected some enthusiasm (or even a change of tone) into reading it.
I is for: Impossible to choose
How do you choose which book to read next?
I’ve written down a whole file of books, narrators, topics, names and authors to choose from. I like to pick something or someone in the manner a lot of people pick horses in the Grand National.
This has meant I’ve read things I might not have considered reading before – from children’s books to a book about Labradors by Ben Fogle (another book I’d highly recommend)
I also love the website Good Reads where you can recommend books – and find books and authors similar to each other.

J is for: Jeremy Paxman
I have always adored Jeremy Paxman. I was actually sitting next to him at the BBC once when I went for an audition for a quiz and was waiting in reception – but I was too star-struck to chat to him.
I read A Life in Questions earlier this year and it was one of the most interesting and enlightening books I’ve read.
He narrated it himself, which is fantastic, as most celebrities or famous people don’t do this.

Next time: more narrators, books and authors I’d like to recommend.
Please may I take this opportunity to ask you to consider helping me with a fundraising challenge.
I’m hoping to raise £1500 for a talking book to be recorded for children through the RNIB.
The cost covers narrator fees admin and other costs – but will have a dedication at the beginning to the Canton and Ely talking book challenge.
Every little helps- so please give whatever you feel you are able to – and share as far and wide as you can.
You can visit:
http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cantonelytalkingbook

why do we call New Zealanders Kiwi’s

Mark Twain wrote: ““Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
This is really true.
over the last 20 years I’ve travelled to almost 20 countries.
I’ve immersed myself in the smells, sounds, touch and taste of each one, but there is still so much more I want to see.
I’ve missed out a vital sense I hear you shout!
The reason for that is I have been blind since birth, so I can’t offer any reliable knowledge about what a country “looks” like.
So, in the first of two blog posts, I’m going to write the A to Z of my sense of New Zealand.
It’s not a travellog – (come on, who really cares how long it took you to get to the airport, what the food was like on the plane or what the hotel receptionist said to you)!
This is a description of the people, places and parts of New Zealand you might not know about.

A is for:
Anzacs

My trip coincided with Anzac Day – the 25th of April.
Anzac stands for Australia and New Zealand army corps.
In 1914, when World War one broke out, the population of New Zealand was 1 million.
18,000 men died in the war, including over 2700 in the Gallipoli campaign.
Out of the 3000 who fought on the first day, 650 died.
One exhibition in Wellington was especially poignant. It showed a video with the words of nurse Lottie Le Gallais who was one of the women who went to treat wounded soldiers.
The exhibition features stories of ordinary people from New Zealand – and larger than life sculptures and objects from Gallipoli.
B is for:
Birds

Many of the birds in New Zealand are not natives, having been brought there by British settlers in the 1800s.
However there is one worth pointing out.
The Tui is a bird from the honeyeater family, feeding predominantly on nectar.
They are very good mimics, a bit like Starlings.
Their song sounds like someone whistling, while trying to push open a rusty old gate!
Random fact: The collective noun for Tui is an ecstasy.
C is for: climbing Auckland Harbour Bridge

I’ve climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge, which I thoroughly enjoyed – so I was interested to see how the bridges compared.
The summit of the Sydney bridge is 134 M high, whereas the Auckland one was a mere 64 M.
However, for hard work and effort to get to the top I think the Auckland bridge is by far the best.
There are 332 steps on the Sydney bridge climb but over 450 on the Auckland one, not including the hundreds of rivets which have to be navigated.
D is for: dogs

I left my guide dog James with friends while I went away.
In Queenstown we met a man with his dog and I started chatting to him.
I told him about my guide dog and jokingly asked if his dog did anything for a living. he said he sings!
OK, so it’s difficult for you to appreciate how funny and adorable Happy (the appropriate name for the dog) sounds, but he’s on YouTube so you can listen to him there.
His owner, William Ingle first discovered Happy liked singing when he was playing Ring of fire by Johnny Cash.
William has written several songs for the dog which he loves accompanying.
E is for: earthquake

On the 22 February 2011, Christchurch suffered one of the worst earthquakes in New Zealand’s history.
185 people died.
The iconic Christchurch cathedral was destroyed.
A temporary “Cardboard Cathedral” was constructed and we went inside to hear a talk from one of the volunteer guides.
The walls are made from shipping containers and 60 M long cardboard tubes as well as steel and timber.
Outside the cathedral are 185 chairs to commemorate each person who died, each one is different.
F is for: food

There were two things I wanted to eat while I was in New Zealand.
Lamb – and pavlova.
I wasn’t disappointed by either of them, in fact *and I’m prepared for a backlash on this* I think the lamb in New Zealand is better than the lamb from Wales*
Each breakfast we’d eat juicy plums, not prunes, but proper mouth-watering fruit!
I even tried Black Doris plum ice-cream which I highly recommend.
G is for: guides

I didn’t go to New Zealand by myself, although I have been to many places on my own.
I went with a company called Traveleyes.
It was founded by Amar Latif, who is blind, and set it up so that blind and partially sighted people could enjoy travelling with sighted companions.
The prices for sighted people are subsidised which in turn makes prices for blind and partially sighted people a bit more expensive than the average holiday.
But, it is worth it knowing you’ll have someone to share the holiday with who will describe things, guide you – and in our case spend days just giggling and enjoying great company.
H is for: huntaway

One of my favourite trips was to Agridome, a working farm which puts on talks and displays to showcase the talent of the sheep, dogs and other animals.
We met the Huntaway, the New Zealand version of our sheepdogs.
They bark to get the sheep where they want them.
They come in different colours and can be either long or short haired.
I is for: interesting facts

Random fact time again!
The biggest export from New Zealand is milk powder.
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu*85 letters* is a hill near Porangahau in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island.
*Llanfair¬pwllgwyngyll¬gogery¬chwyrn¬drobwll¬llan¬tysilio¬gogo¬goch only has a pathetic 58*
There are 9 sheep per person in New Zealand.
New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote in 1893.
J is for: James Cook

James cook, didn’t actually discover New Zealand.
It was founded by Polynesian people about 800 years earlier – but it was Dutchman Abel Tasman who was the first European to discover it in 1642.
He named it New Zealand after the Dutch province of Zealand.
James Cook came along in 1769 and European settlers started coming to the country.
K is for Kiwi

Kiwi is the term for anyone from New Zealand.
Now, do you think it refers to the fruit – or the bird?
The Kiwi fruit actually originated in China and was known as the Chinese gooseberry.
The birds are flightless, about the same size as a chicken and are the only birds which have whiskers on their beak.
But, the name Kiwi as a term for the people of New Zealand comes from a type of boot polish used in the first world war.
It had a picture of the Kiwi bird on it which is why we call people from New Zealand kiwis.
L is for:
Lakes

I’m only popping this in as one of the weirdest moments I had was when I heard a lake with waves.
I had no idea that lakes had waves – but my friend, who used to be a geography teacher explained that some do – for example Lake Galilee.
M is for: Maori people and culture

My favourite day was when we had a fantastic experience of the Maori culture, entertainment and food.
We visited the carving and weaving schools in Rotorua to see how Maori people make objects out of wood and weave things from flax.
We went into the third Kiwi house of the holiday but as they’re nocturnal birds, they were asleep.
However, this was the only time we were given the opportunity to feel the feathers from a Kiwi. They’re incredibly soft!!
We also touched the beak of a stuffed Kiwi.
Their beaks are surprisingly long for such a small bird.
Then we were treated to some Maori dancing and singing.
We learned about the Hongi, a traditional Maori greeting where forehead and nose are pressed together with twice another person.
The “Ha” or breath of life is exchanged through this greeting.
The lady showing us (choosing a rather bemused member of our group) said that he should be careful not to do it three times, or they’d end up being married!
Then we heard some brilliant singing and dancing, and a few ladies from our group got up on stage to join in with the dancing. Then they performed the Hakka.
You haven’t experienced the true terror and beauty of the Hakka until you’ve seen it performed live in New Zealand!
It’s a Maori war dance and strikes fear into every sports team who witnesses it.
Finally we sat down a “Hangi” traditional Maori meal.
The food is cooked in the ground over hot stones.
We enjoyed lamb, chicken, pork, vegetables and salads!
Then it was pudding time!
There was pavlova, trifle and mousse – I could go on, but I’m sure you’re dribbling with jealousy already!

Next time:
What does minus 18 degrees feel like – and does water squeak?

You can follow my adventures on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

the top ten best things about being blind

In my last post I wrote the top 10 annoying things about being blind. So, here is my top ten list of the best things about being blind.
1 The awkwardness of sighted people when you refer to yourself and another blind friend as: “The two blindies in the corner” this happened at a pub quiz once and I’d given the quiz master full permission to call us that. A lady kept giving him dirty looks until I bellowed: “its fine, I told him he could call us that!” We won the quiz a week later with the quiz name the two blind mice.
2 Going out the house having attempted to do your own make-up, and knowing that the people you meet will be too kind to tell you its awful!
3 Having a guide dog and knowing you’re never alone. I love taking James everywhere, within reason and just being able to give him a little stroke or cuddle when I’m unsure about a situation is fantastic.
4 Related to that, knowing that people will talk to you if you have a guide dog. Admittedly, sometimes it’s annoying or plain rude or unnecessary.
Yesterday James needed to relieve himself, very rare that he needs to do it out and about, but when he was in the throws I heard a man’s voice saying: “eoeoeoeeeroeoeoooo!” I said to James *and him* “Oh James, we seem to have an audience. If I’d have known that I’d have charged for tickets!”
5 A fantastic little device called RNIB in your pocket allows me to read all the daily papers, lots of magazines and gives me access to over 20,000 books. It’s really easy to use, you just speak to it and let it *or her, she’s called Sam* know what you want to hear. You can even access hundreds of podcasts.
6 A special mention has to go to our local society for the blind. It’s actually called Cardiff institute for the blind (I hate the word institute, personally I think it should be society) but the staff and volunteers there are amazing! I recently moved here from another part of the UK and the help I’ve had from CIB has made such a difference.
7 Being able to encourage *I hate the word inspire* other blind people *and sighted people* to try new things. I’ve been so lucky to have had so many experiences. From swimming with dolphins, competing a half marathon, two long distance walks, a skydive and taking part in 7 TV quizzes to name a few. I know lots of people have done these, but I’m also aware there are lots of people who’d love to be able to try something new, but are scared or worried about it. Earlier I was part of a show called Weatherman Walking and we went to the local RSPB reserve in Conwy. We showed people who having a sight problem was not a barrier to enjoying nature. A few days later I had a tweet from the manager of the reserve saying how a young man had been inspired by the programme and had made his first visit to a nature reserve since his sight started getting worse.
8 The kindness of strangers. I know before I said at times people can be rude and unkind, but 99 % of the time I meet lovely kind people. From the lady who gave me £5 for a taxi when a bus driver left me stranded four stops from my home at 7 PM on a winters night, to the man in a local shop who looked after Chelsea for an afternoon when James and I had to take Mum to hospital after she broke her wrist. Someone once said that when you have a disability, you attract a certain kind of person who wants to be caring and helpful – and while a lot of disabled people might not agree, I think there’s a lot of truth in it.
9 This is silly, but knowing that if I was ever caught up in a power cut I could still amuse myself by listening to my battery operated radio or reading a braille book.
10 Being able to laugh at myself every day when I commit a “blindism” this could be apologising to a clothes rail in a shop, or giggling uproariously when I’m told by my university lecturer not to say “see, watch or look!” my response: “OK, do you want me to say guess who I felt in town the other day?” queue a very, very stunned silence from her – and helpless giggling from me.
If you want to know more about the fantastic organisations mentioned in this blog you can visit.
http://www.rnib.org.uk
http://www.cibi.co.uk
http://www.guidedogs.org.uk
http://www.rspb.org.uk
or follow me in twitterland at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

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

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

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