Tag Archives: dogs

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!

How to help a person through the loss of a pet

I’m so sorry I’ve been neglecting my blog. The past six months has gone by so quickly. Mum and I continue to miss Chelsea every day – but I’m so glad for all the memories of my special, amazing little Labrador. I thought I’ write a quick blog though to try and help other people who may be experiencing the loss of their pet – and also to gently advise people of how they can help – or not help someone who’s pet has died. Warning: These are only my opinions – and I take no responsibility for any offence anyone may take at my suggestions. Things which are helpful: Let yourself grieve – in any way you want. Cry, scream, or, allow the numbness to wash over you for as long as it takes. Nobody can tell you how long to grieve, or how to do it. I’d describe my grief as being like a faulty bath. I’d be aware of it dripping away in the background, but I could more or less cope. Then something would happen and the taps would just burst into life. I was out with Friends the other day and I heard a song which my guide dog trainer played on the radio on the first day I started training with Chelsea. I just started crying! Talk about your pet if you want to – with those who knew them the most. Mum misses Chelsea lots as well – and we talk about her almost every day. Don’t do anything you feel you should. If you want to scatter your pet’s ashes – do it. If you want to keep them on your chest of drawers – or on your coffee table – that’s fine. Ask the person about their pet. I love talking to people about Chelsea. People who never met her don’t share the feelings I do – so it’s great to have a chat with someone about all the funny things she did. Lastly, pay special attention to any other pets you have – love them, hug them and tell them it’s OK. Jimmey missed Chelsea as well – and it was heart-breaking when he sniffed her blanket when Mum and I returned home after Chelsea died. Now, some things which I feel are not helpful to say to a person who’s lost a pet. Never, ever say “I know how you feel!” or “I know how it feels!” you don’t – because you’re not me! Also, it can feel quite false at times. I tend to say: “It’s awful isn’t it! I don’t know what to say!” You’re acknowledging the feelings of the other person – without making it all about you. A dear friend, who has had guide dogs but hasn’t had to face the awfulness of the last chapter sent me a lovely Email. It was straight from the heart and – like all the lovely messages I had about my Chelsea, I’ve kept it. Please don’t tell someone who loses a pet at an older age: “Well, she was 14!” It’s horrible when a pet dies young – I know that! But, it’s just as bad when the pet has had a long and happy life. I might say to someone who asks how old Chelsea was: “Well, she was 14 years and 3 months – but we still miss her heaps!” But that’s my choice and I wouldn’t tell somebody they were lucky to have her for such a long time. Now, this is tricky – people mean well when they say it – but be very careful about jumping in with: “So, will you get another dog now?” Timing is important with this one – as well as barrel loads of sensitivity. Lots of people asked Mum this – when it was the last thing on her mind. Lastly, don’t be afraid of talking about the pet. Funny stories, things they did. Not everybody will know your pet has died. I went to see a friend the day after Chelsea died – and a man came up to me and asked how she was. More crying – which is embarrassing for other people I know, but my friend explained to him what had happened – and I told him it was OK to talk about her. Not everybody will want to talk – and that’s totally fine as well. The last point is to just grieve how you feel you want to – and for anyone going on the awful journey of loss with a friend – be there, be kind and just listen.

I can enjoy walking more thanks to a new invention

I didn’t learn to run until I was 21.
Well, I could obviously run, but it looked more like a baby bird trying to get off the ground than proper running.
The reason is – when you’re born totally blind – as I was, you don’t run like your sighted friends.
If I took a tumble, I just had to wait for someone to come and help me – or galumph my way to where I thought help might come from.
We did track and field events at school – and I had a guide runner *someone who runs along-side you invariably attached to a piece of cloth/rope or something.
There was also a system where we ran by ourselves and someone would say “five, five, five!” if we deviated one way it was “six!” or “Four!” and if we veered totally off course it was a 1 or 10.
So, the very convoluted reason for me explaining this to you is that after I “learned” how to run with a friend I completed a half marathon.
This gave me the running bug – or in my case the walking bug.
I’ve subsequently done two long distance walks – one is 190 miles and one was 70.
I know to some people these don’t seem like much – but I raised almost £20,000 for the guide dogs organisation by completing them.
Now, the good thing about walking or running with a sighted friend/guide/partner is that you can chat away and put the world to rights. The downside of this is that, if you have a guide dog with you *as I do for much shorter walks* sometimes the dog goes scampering one way on it’s lead, and you end up doing a really good impression of a push-me pull-you!
The other difficulty is when arms/hands get sweaty.
Another drawback I have found is that if someone is excessively tall – or small, it really hurts my arms.
So, I was very curious when the RNIB mentioned on Twitter that there was a new piece of equipment called the Rambletag.
I got in touch with Laura – one of the inventors and she very kindly sent me one to try out.
I love it!
I first used it when I went for a walk around the Orme in Llandudno with a couple of friends.
It’s very hilly – and the route is about a five mile round trip from my house.
The Rambletag looks a bit like the cuff they use to take blood pressure with – but it has a strap on it which the blind/partially sighted person holds.
The sighted person wraps the cuff around their arm and secures it with Velcro.
It’s available in a range of different colours including my favourite colour, red.
It’s perfect for people with dogs as well. In fact, it was a chance remark by Tom Forsyth, one of the inventors which sparked the idea for the Rambletag.
Tom and his neighbour – and co-inventor *if there’s such a word* Laura Maclean used to walk their dogs together, but would inevitably end up in a pickle if the dogs got too playful.
They realised if they had a way of keeping together by using a strap it’d be easier to walk.
So the Rambletag was born – and it’s now being used all over the world.
They’ve recently had the Rambletags used by staff in Glasgow airport who give passengers assistance.
I’m taking it with tomorrow on a five mile walk – and I know that it will be a much more enjoyable experience if I use the Rambletag.
I really recommend it to anyone – whether a casual stroller or a long distance walker.

For more information – or to find out more, visit:
http://www.rambletag.co.uk
or follow them on Twitter at:
@rambletag

I don’t know what to say

What’s your response when someone tells you a member of their family has died?
Do you nod sympathetically and say:
“I’m so sorry.”
Or, do you grasp their hand and say earnestly:
“Oh goodness, I know how you feel, we lost *insert name here* last year.”
Or, do you admit, like a friend did when my Dad died that you:
“Don’t know what to say.”
The reason I haven’t written a blog post for ages is that, I didn’t know what to say.
In February, my dear, darling Chelsea *who was the inspiration for starting this blog* died.
I tried to write a blog post shortly after she died, but I kept crying – and just didn’t know what to write.
Many of you reading this didn’t even know her – but I know lots of you“ will understand the vast range of emotions I have – and am still experiencing.
Grief is a strange beast – it makes you do and think strange things.
I remember getting angry because someone else had told a friend Chelsea was ill – but they hadn’t bothered to text me and find out how she was.
Another person totally ignored a text I’d written to him saying Chelsea had died.
That’s how they deal with it – and I’ve learned – after the death of my Father and two guide dogs that I can’t be responsible for how other people feel about things.
Another thing losing Chelsea has made me think of is that we, as guide dog owners have to go through this process – twice – about 6 times in our lives.
Now, let me explain why I say twice.
When we retire our precious guide dogs – we grieve for the working relationship and bond we shared.
For many people, (including me) our dogs literally save our lives on numerous occasions.
Some guide dog owners – for many reasons retire their guide dogs outside the family. and it’s not for me or anybody else to tell them they’re wrong.
However, for those of us who keep the dogs in the family – we have to go through another form of grief, when the guide dog, who we might have lived and worked alongside for 8 years dies.
It’s awful!
But I have chosen to have a guide dog to help me – and although I know there will be many more tears in my life-time – I wouldn’t want to lose the immeasurable confidence, independence and love guide dogs give to me.
For that, I will always be grateful.

Love is blind?

I’ve given up trying to find Mr. Right – or even Mr. Goodenough.
I’ve accepted that the only man I’m going to have in my life has four legs and enjoys nothing more than running in and out of puddles and shedding copious amounts of fur!
I’ve been on a few dates, but most of them have been so disastrous I’ve decided I’m much better off being a feisty independent lady!
Here are just two stories of my dating adventures.

I should have known Ben *not his real name* 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 for about thirty seconds, then he says:
“Right, shall we go in then?”
So, I think, that must be Ben, my date!
I have no sight at all so tone of voice is more important to me than body language.
“Ah bless him!” I think.
It must be daunting for him to be on a date with a really attractive blind lady and her even more stunning guide dog!”
Ben and I met on a Christian 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 and I’m sure she keeps glancing at the door!
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!
I tell him Chelsea and I will be fine if he leaves us at the corner before my flat.
He scurries off into the night and I rush inside to ring a friend and update her on the date.
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!”
Needless to say he got an abrupt reply back and we never spoke again.
Fast forward five years and my sister comes running down the stairs, brandishes her IPhone at me and squeals:
“You never told me you’d been on a date?”
She was one of the 2 million people who saw the first dates for guide dogs video on Facebook last year.
I was part of a group of four visually impaired people picked from hundreds of applications to appear on a video to promote guide dogs.
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, won 4 TV quizzes, worked at a radio station in Australia and completed two long distance walks.
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.
This really upset me as two out of the four dates stayed and got on really well with their matches.
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 think it can be quite daunting meeting a disabled person for the first time, but it’s equally stressful for me as a blind person trying to find someone.
My main problem is the eye contact thing. I can smile, ask heaps of questions, wear lovely clothes and everything you’re supposed to do.
But I often find that when men have fussed over James and found out everything there is to know about him, they forget there’s something attached to the other end of his lead.

I’m never going to let not having a partner define me – as I’ve achieved so much without one and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
Maybe there’s a quiz loving, outdoorsy, able to cook, funny, loves reading and travelling man out there, but until he finds me I’ll keep celebrating the good things I have in my life.
You can follow me 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

the top 10 annoying things about being blind

I don’t normally think about how irksome it is being blind, it’s just something I’ve lived with all my life. But, after spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to pick up little bits of paper off the floor after tearing up some bills, it got me thinking about the top ten most annoying things about being blind.
Disclaimer time, this is only my list, I’m not, and would not speak for other blind and visually impaired people. But I know lots of sighted people will understand some of the annoyances, so here we go!
1. Dropping paper/rice/pasta and, despite hoovering it up you still tread on it for days.
2. Constantly whinging about how lucky drivers are, especially when you’re standing at a bus-stop in the pouring rain.
3. Having to endure endless speculation about how you became “Like that!” It’s not helpful, kind or even that interesting in my case.
4. Having a long conversation with someone, only to discover they’ve walked away. That’s when having a guide dog comes in handy, you can pretend you were talking to them.
5. Always having to be that happy, positive person outwardly, when inside you’re thinking: “Being blind is awful sometimes, I’m not having a good day and if you ask me about my dog one more time I’m going to scream!”
6. Not being able to read menus and having to rely on someone to read them for you. Worst still is when someone says: “Well love, what do you like?” I don’t know until you read the menu and I’ll decide!
7. The ultra-competitiveness of some blind people. It’s such a small world and they’ll always be those who think they’re better because they have a dog/cane, sighted/blind partner, children/no children. I know this happens in the sighted world, but it seems to be quite prevalent in disabilityland as well.
8. A bit similar to the last one, but having everyone say: “Ooo, don’t you have an IPhone?” Yeah, actually I do, but I hate it!!!
9. Listening to people tell you about the latest “cure”! My blindness is so rare it doesn’t have a name, also it’s impossible to restore something you’ve never had!
10. Munching your way through a meal and discovering it contains olives! Admittedly that’s a personal one, but it is really annoying – and it’s my list so I’ll pop it in!
Tomorrow I’ll write the best things about being blind.

You can follow my adventures in twitterland with my guide dog James 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

Happy Birthday Goldilox

I adore cake! I actually enjoy eating most things – which is why I also love anniversaries.
It doesn’t matter how trivial it is. It might be the first time I met one of my guide dogs, the first time I trained with them or anything like that.
21 years ago today, at 4.17 AM, 9 wriggly little puppies were born.
One of those was Vale, my first guide dog.
I know she wouldn’t have lived until she was 21, but it’s still a good thing to remember her and reflect on how much love, confidence and laughter she gave me.
She was a bouncy ball of cheekiness from the start.
Mum had lovingly prepared sandwiches for when we came home for the first time after training, but unfortunately Vale got there first and gobbled the whole lot!
She was well-known in my local area for stealing things.
I knew my reputation had reached new heights when I met a lady on the bus and she said:
“Ah, that’s Vale isn’t it! She stole my lunch at a meeting we were at together!”
She was also very good at her job, when she wasn’t shoplifting!
She won an award for her work, and was in the local media a lot of times.
So happy birthday Goldilox!
Right, I’m going to the cake shop!
I’d better not over-indulge though – there’s another anniversary at the end of May!
You can follow me on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

if my dog gets ill, it’s your fault!

There’s nothing to jolt you from a lovely dream more than a dog throwing up.
The sound is unmistakable.
I soothe poor Jimmey and then the fun begins.
First, you have to try and persuade the little man not to gobble it up.
Then, you have to frantically find something to clear it up.
Then you have to find it!!
I like to sing to myself as I perform this task. It helps to pass a bit of time!
Then, when I’ve eventually located it I clean it up.
Now, I’m a good dog owner – so I do everything I can to keep my dog happy and healthy.
I can’t say the same about people who use my local park.
I actually had to ban Jimmey from having playtime there because he was literally being sick every morning!
Why don’t people pick their litter up? There’s bins everywhere!
I was prompted to write this post because I’ve just spent five minutes trying to persuade Jimmey to remove his little yellow mouth from a bag of chips which some idiot had put next to a bin on the floor!
When he got back – he had a big bowl of water, belched extravagantly ad flopped down!
It’s not just food either! He’s a total coprphagic! *look up this term if you don’t know what it is – it’s disgusting*
Why don’t people pick up after their dogs?
I’m totally blind and I can do it!
The thing is, if Jimmey gets into a habit of scavenging he’ll get fat.
This means he won’t be able to work.
This, in turn means I will be without my lifeline and independence.
Alternatively he could get very ill if he eats anything which disagrees with him.
Please share this blog with as many people as you can – particularly if you know a person who litters with impunity!

Lastly – scoop the poop – and drop the plop!!