Challenge 30 of 30

Finally today, five weeks later than I had hoped, I completed challenge 30, the last in my list of new things I have never done before during the last year.
I could have chosen something simple and did it on my birthday to finish off the year, but I had an idea in my head for the last six months. You know what I’m like when I get an idea in there!
I wanted to do something exciting that would take me out of my comfort zone, would be lots of fun, and something memorable. I wanted to end on a high, and that is exactly what i did!

At 12 o’clock this afternoon I drove with a friend into the Ulster gliding club in Limavady, just over an hour from where we live, and close to the beach where I had gone surfing last September. It was full of enthusiastic people who enjoy flying and gliding for a hobby, and are keen to share it with anyone who wants to try, even if they have a disability. The gliders are small, so the weather needs to be really good, which is why I couldn’t do it until now. We got the warmest day of the year so far, and it was almost too mild to glide because there was not much wind. I didn’t take Sibyl, but really should have, as there was a bit of waiting around before I went, and she would have had lots of fresh air and walks outside. Everybody was friendly and encouraging, and excited for me to try gliding.

I had a chance to feel the glider before I went. It’s basically like a small plane without an engine. It is attached to a small aeroplane by a rope about 150 metres long, which pulls the glider, bringing it into the air to a certain point before disconnecting, at which point the glider is flying almost silently. The aircraft has to be evenly balanced, so they had to add extra weights because I’m so small. To my surprise, I sat in the front seat while the instructor sat behind. This felt a bit strange at first, like I should know what I’m doing! We both had the same controls, so he had full control at all times, but could let me fly on my own at certain points. Another surprise was having to put on a parachute before I got in. This was more for comfort like a cushion to fit in the shape of the seats in the aircraft, but obviously it was a safety feature too. I was hoping I’d never have to find out exactly how it works!

My instructor was called John, and he was fantastic at his job. He had 25 years flying experience, and he was also a teacher, which put me at ease because he explained everything brilliantly. I was the first blind person he had ever flown, but I never would have guessed from how well he described things. He strapped me in, did the pre-flight checks, and then the plane took off, pulling us behind it. The first ten seconds were a bit bumpy, but when we left the ground, it was totally smooth and relaxing for the whole trip. You can feel the glider moving, but I was expecting the movement to be much more obvious than it was. I was fascinated by how fast it goes, even though it didn’t feel that fast. We flew to 2000 feet, at 60 miles per hour, and covered a good distance in a short time. We flew to the edge of a cliff, where people stood waving at us.

The best moment of gliding is when you feel yourself moving upwards, hear the noisy plane in front, and then the instructor disconnects the rope from the plane. The plane turns right, you can feel yourself turning left, and then it just goes almost silent. The sound of the plane fades away, and you’re in the sky, gliding along in an object that has wings and no engine. The idea of that just sounded crazy before, but when you’re in it, it feels totally safe. John gave me verbal directions how to steer the glider, which is something he said I was actually very good at. Who would have thought?! It is easy to feel the change in direction as you move the stick left or right. Moving it away from you points the nose of the plane downwards, and you can hear the change in the sound of the air. Moving it towards you brings it back up again. It was great to be able to feel these changes and experience that part. Being blind definitely has its disadvantages when you go gliding, because the views are amazing, especially on a lovely day. Everyone says that’s the thing that gets people adicted and makes them want to keep coming back. Ulster is a very popular club, with lots of people from all over Ireland regularly coming up to fly their planes whenever they can. I did feel like I missed out on a bit of that experience by not being able to see it today.

We landed safely and smoothly, and the people were excited to know what I thought. I definitely enjoyed the experience. It was similar in many ways to the plane I had flown in before, but the idea of it having no engine made it more relaxing and intimate. It is brilliant that flying clubs can offer opportunities like this to people who might think it is impossible. Although I would say gliding is definitely a very visual thing in many ways, it was an exciting thing to try, and having a great instructor made it very worthwhile. It was definitely a different way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and a brilliant end to an interesting year of doing new exciting and challenging things.
I’ll post the complete list soon, but for now, I’ll enjoy relaxing my brain and being back on normal ground again.

August Wells

Before I write about the latest band I’ve fallen in love with, I haven’t forgotten about the 30th challenge. It hasn’t happened yet due to the weather, but hopefully it will happen some weekend soon. I could have done something simple on my birthday to finish off the list, but I wanted to end on a real high, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do when I get the opportunity.

Last Saturday I went to McGrory’s with one of my best friends to see a band I’ve only known about for the last year and haven’t stopped listening to during the last month. August Wells are made up of Dubliner Ken Griffin on vocals and guitar, and American pianist John Rauchenberger. Griffin’s song lyrics can be both humourous and thought provoking. His baritone voice quickly catches your ear and keeps you listening. Rauchenberger doesn’t only have a great sirname, but he is one of the most creative piano players I’ve seen in a long while. Together they are a great combination, and equally brilliant when you hear them play live.

McGrory’s is a lovely venue near the Donegal coast. Unfortunately I think it could be managed more efficiently at times where the music is concerned, and advertising of this gig could have been much better. As a result, the band were moved from the back bar to the smaller front bar due to low ticket sales. The small number of us who bought tickets got our money back, but it meant that we had to listen to them play along with lots of other people who had come for food and drinks before, and weren’t paying too much attention. The venue was quite noisy, but when we got seats towards the front soon after it started, we enjoyed it much better. The performance was relaxed and straightforward, with a couple of short breaks for encores. When it finished we had a nice chat with Ken and John. I think they were surprised when we came to buy CDs, and that two people in the crowd where very enthusiastic about their music! They said that they felt it was unfair that we couldn’t hear it as well as we might have wanted to because we’d bought tickets, so they put us on the guest list for the following night’s performance in Derry, which we weren’t able to attend. Still, it was a very kind gesture.

I’d definitely recommend both albums, ‘a living in a dying game’, and the new one ‘madness is the mercy’ if anybody is looking for new music that’s clever but easy to listen to. Most of the bands I go to hear play are bands or artists that I’ve already seen before, so this was a nice opportunity to hear somebody new. Hopefully they’ll get a better reception on the rest of their Irish tour and come back again soon.

A challenging week!

I can’t believe it’s this time already. It’s 17th February. My birthday is tomorrow. I’ve done 29 new things since last year that I’ve never done before, which was something I challenged myself to do in February 2016. I have one day left and one challenge to do. If the weather cooperates (which it doesn’t always do in Ireland) I’ll be finishing off my 30 challenges by doing something scary but exciting on my birthday. Here’s hoping!
When I finish the birthday celebrations I’ll put up the full list of things I’ve done. In the meantime, I wanted to write about a few of them that I did this week because they were worth describing in a bit more detail.

Last Monday afternoon I went on a motorbike with my uncle. I’d been on a small one in Thailand before, but this time I was more prepared. I had the trousers, the coat and the helmet. My uncle is a retired guard, so I knew I’d be safe. I wasn’t nervous, but my aunt was, and apparently she didn’t sit still until I came back. The bike shook a small bit as it took off, but when it got going I loved it! We drove for almost half an hour. I had no real concept of where I was until I smelled slurry at one part of the journey and that was a good clue. It was a windy day, but the protective clothes kept the wind out. It’s a great feeling driving along in the open air with the wind blowing around you, holding on tight but also knowing you are safe. If you didn’t feel relaxed, you probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.
I can definitely recommend riding a motorbike sometime in your life if you haven’t done it already.

Challenge 28 happened two days later. For many peple, especially my six and nine-year-old nephews, this was a dream come true! I spent an hour working in Munchies, which is a local sweet shop which my friends own. I prepared bags of mixed sweets, where I was able to choose from around twelve different types of jellies and yummy fizzy things which are bad for your teeth. I attempted to put stickers on bags which advertise the shop, but we soon realised that this was not a good idea. I’m hopeless at keeping things straight, so it gave us a good laugh. I was quickly moved on to restocking jars of jellies instead. Cheryl also gave me the chance to serve the children who came in after school. I had to use the till and make sure I gave them the proper money back! I knew lots of the people who came in, and they were surprised to see me behind the counter with an apron and gloves on. I’m usually there to buy things instead. Nobody was more surprised than my two nephews. I had asked their dad to bring them in after school without telling him why. They were very jealous and very excited, and we took some photos as they bought their chocolate bars.

Working in a shop was a brilliant experience that a blind person wouldn’t usually get the chance to do. I had the opportunity to be involved in everything, even working the till, and even the customers were very encouraging. It was definitely the most enjoyable Wednesday afternoon Ive had in a long while.
And yes of course, I did get to taste a few nice things while I was there 😀

Challenge 29 was one that was on my original list, and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time out of curiosity. After dinner with my parents and family, my cousin Evan and a few more family members came to visit. I got the shaver out and shaved his head! I was a bit afraid at first, and felt a bit guilty as soon as I felt the first clump of hair fall into my hand. But there was no going back! I gave him a number 3, so I didn’t completely bald him. Wasn’t that nice of me? His brother helped guide my hand and show me what way to move it. I also made sure that he tidied up the cut in the end, because if he’d left it he might have gotten some funny looks for a while.
It was fun doing something that you should really not do when you are blind. I don’t think I’ll have a career as a hairdresser any time soon though!

30 Song Challenge

A friend suggested on Facebook that as part of my 30 challenges (which have to be completed on 18th February!) I post a song a day for 30 days and write about why I like it. I finished this last week and thought I’d post the list here.
I’m very lazy. I haven’t posted links to each one. I doubt anyone would actually want to listen to them all anyway. It’s not like lots of people read this!! If you want to hear a particular song, you’ll just have to find it yourself sorry. I know my readers are very independent, so I wouldn’t want to spoonfeed you all the time! 😀
If you do go to the trouble of listening, hopefully you’ll find something new that you haven’t heard before. And if you want to recommend any music you think I might like, I’d really appreciate it. There’s a music voucher in my house that needs to be spent, in a real music shop!

1. Mary Black: Sunny
After nursery rhymes, this was the first song I remember really liking. I even learned it on the piano!

2. Phil Coulter: the town I loved so well
This is such a beautifully written song, but I also love it as a solo piano piece.

3. Crash Test Dummies: Afternoons and coffee spoons
They were the first band I really really liked. These lyrics are so ridiculous, but Brad Roberts does have a unique voice!!

4. Bon Jovi: wanted dead or alive
I was famous in primary school for my obsession with Bon Jovi. They were the first band I ever saw play live. I was ten, and it was a dream come true. I couldn’t pick a favourite song, but the guitar in this is great.

5. Shane McGowan and Sinead O’Connor: haunted
These are two voices that couldn’t sound more different, but the song totally works!

6. REM: Electrolyte
I’ve been listening to REM since I was eight years old. It’s impossible to choose a favourite song, so this is as good as any.

7. David Gray: gathering dust
Like half the population of Ireland, I was introduced to David Gray’s music through ‘white ladder’ in 1999. He made me listen to music in a different way. I learned how powerful acoustic guitars and song writing could be.

8. Bob Dylan: forever young
It’s just beautiful.

9. Jeff Buckley: Halleluiah
A friend who knew what kind of music I liked gave me a copy of Jeff Buckley’s ‘grace’ when we were in secondary school, and I was completely blown away by his voice. I had never heard anything like that before. I chose this song because it covers my love of Leonard Cohen as well, although it’s not even in my top 20 favourite songs of his.

10: The frames: people get ready
I’d known of the frames since revelate, but never took much interest in them until around 2000. I listened to Uaneen Fitzsimons at night-time on 2fm whenever I could because she was obsessed with David Gray too. She was an inspiration, and I remember being really upset the day she was killed in a car accident. She often played the frames, and gradually star star and lay me down got stuck in my head. I was slow to like them, but when I did, I couldn’t stop. Seeing them live in 2002 was the start of lots of concerts, bringing everyone and anyone who would come with me, discovering lots of new music, meeting new friends and great musicians, and making lots of happy memories.

11. Mic Christopher: Hey Day
Mic’s album Skylarkin is one of my favourite albums of all time. The lyrics are so positive, and it’s interesting to listen back now after everything that happened since he wrote those songs. Who knows what great music he would have went on to make, but this was a great legacy for him to leave.

12. Josh Ritter: Kathleen
The next thing I loved because of the frames was Josh Ritter. And a song with an opening line like this one can’t be faulted.

13. Van Morrison: Madam George
When you start listening to the music of David Gray and Glen Hansard and hearing interviews and them talking about what inspires them, two words keep coming up over and over again. Astral Weeks. I listened to Van Morrison’s ‘astral weeks’ for the first time on earphones in the car as I travelled to Belfast to start my course in Queens University. I was heading to the right city. I listened to it many times during those three years.

14. Pixies: where is my mind?
It doesn’t need a reason. It’s just cool 

15. Planxty: Little Musgrave
I couldn’t choose my favourite Christy Moore song so thought I’d go with this one. I love a song that tells a story, and this does it very well.

16. Queen: killer queen
I think queen are the only band that myself and all my friends actually like! If I could see any band play live, it would have been them. This isn’t my favourite song, but it reminds me of a special day. In June 2007, I went to Cork to meet a black Labrador who ended up changing my life. Before you train with a guide dog, the trainer takes you for a matching walk to see if you and the dog are suitable. It’s the most nerve wrecking and exciting thing. I remember finishing the walk with OJ and the trainer telling us that we were a match. When we got back into the van to drive back to the guide dog centre, this song was playing.

17. Lisa Hannigan: down to the river (cover version)
Lisa Hannigan could sing anything and I’d like it! Paul Noonan singing with her here covers my love of Bell X1 too.

18. JJ Cale: any way the wind blows
I was late discovering the goodness of JJ Cale, but better late than never. His work with Eric Clapton is so good!

19. PJ Harvey: good fortune
Just because she’s cool 

20. Tom Waits: Martha
You probably already know by now that I love a song with a good piano. I thought this was easier to listen to than the piano has been drinking!

21. Simon and Garfunkel: the boxer
It doesn’t need a reason. Love both of them together, but I was always more of a Simon fan if I’m honest. Was lucky enough to hear him play live twice, and his concert in Vicar Street was in my top five gigs of all time.

22. The lost brothers: the goodbye kid
On the subject of beautiful harmonies…

23. Fleet foxes: white winter hymnal
A song that feels Christmassy without being a Christmas song.

24. August Wells: come on in out of that night
I can’t get this song out of my head these days. They might be a new band for some people. I’m looking forward to hearing them play live at the end of February.

25. John Prine: Lake Marie
It’s so hard to pick a John Prine song, but when I saw him live for the one and only time, this song definitely got my attention. It’s got great lyrics, emotion and humour, all the things that make John Prine songs special.

26. Interference: gold
The story of Fergus O’Farrell and Interference is one that’s worth exploring if you haven’t already.

27. Colm Mac Con Iomaire: the Finnishline
I love instrumental music, and I love this tune!

28. The decemberists: rocks in the box
I absolutely love this band! Not my favourite song but its good fun. Check out the tune in the middle!

29. Glen Hansard: winning streak
These days Glen Hansard is known for his solo career as much as lead singer with the Frames. His solo performances are very different but still have that energy and passion for what he does. He gives so much every time he plays. I should know, I’ve seen him enough haha. He writes songs with great lyrics like this one. And he’s very charitable and very sound too. What more could you want?

30. Bruce Springsteen: Thunder Road
It was so difficult to pick a favourite song, but this is definitely one of them. Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band play live is as good as it gets really. The band work hard, give 100% every time, and have lots of fun, which is really what music should be about I think. It’s not a bad motto for life itself either!

How Home Sweet Home helped me

On 16th December, I went with my cousin Laura to see Glen Hansard play in the Guildhall in Derry. I decided to call it my staff night out. Recently setting up my own business and becoming self-employed means that staff nights out are a thing of the past. Glen was accompanied by a group of musicians playing strings and piano. It was great to hear a few Leonard Cohen covers among the variety of songs from his two solo albums. The music was relaxed, but I felt that there was something different about Glen’s performance. It was passionate and emotional, but it was like there was something else. I can’t explain.

Four weeks later, Laura and I were lucky enough to be two of 180 people in the audience at Seamus Heaney HomePlace for a solo concert that Glen played there. Other than to say it was really special, in the smallest music venue I’ve ever seen him play, I can’t describe it. Hearing Glen read poetry between songs in the hometown of a poet he really admires seemed to be a privilege for him. For me, it was the perfect venue to bring my guide dog Sibyl to her first ever gig, and she behaved well. It was nice to say hi to Glen after, as well as meeting some Frames friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

The second concert, (which was definitely the better of the two) was a more relaxed performance, but there was a good reason for that. The same night that Glen played in Derry in December, he featured on the Late Late show. He sounded nervous and frustrated. He didn’t speak for long, but that was our introduction to Apollo House and the Home Sweet Home campaign. This involved a group of people occupying a vacant office block in Dublin city centre, and providing accommodation for homeless people who would otherwise probably have spent Christmas on the streets. The group left the building on January 12th in compliance with an order from the high court. During their time there, almost 90 people stayed and moved on to six-month supported accommodation where they can live comfortably and feel safe. In my opinion, this was the best thing to happen in Ireland since the marriage equality referendum. It showed how powerful people can be if they work together. Each person’s small part can make a big difference.

So why am I writing about Home Sweet Home now? The answer is that I don’t really know, other than the fact that I’ve been thinking about it very often since before Christmas. It’s very easy to ignore a problem if you can’t identify with it or have no experience of it. It’s easy to say things like, that will never affect me. That’s only a city problem. People who end up in that situation got themselves there or didn’t try hard enough to get out of it. People with addictions can’t be helped. There are enough beds for people who are homeless, why don’t they just be grateful and take them? Of course the real story of homelessness is much different and much more complex than that. The Home Sweet Home campaign told the stories of some of the people living through these experiences. It made them more real. It made us listen and pay more attention. Our government are being put under more pressure to actually do something about the housing crisis, and the people of Ireland aren’t going to stand and do nothing any longer. This campaign won’t be going away any time soon.

Glen Hansard was only one of many activists who supported the Home Sweet Home idea, and he was always very clear about that when he spoke about it. Homelessness is a cause that he’s been involved in for a long time before this campaign even existed. It was never done for publicity, like some people who have done nothing better themselves have been suggesting. Through his music, he was able to promote an idea and a message, and encourage other people to give their support. For someone like me who loves music and was going to the gigs anyway, he really helped capture my attention in a way that other people or the government certainly wouldn’t have. Music can be very powerful! When you’ve been watching someone perform and hearing them talk about music for the last fifteen years, you have an idea of the kind of person they are, and sincerity is a big thing for me when it comes to charity. That’s something so many people in Ireland, even some who are employed in charities lack.

I’ve been frustrated that I couldn’t do much to help with Home Sweet Home during the last month, apart from offering to volunteer if a suitable opportunity came up. However the whole thing has made me realise that there’s much more I could and should be doing to volunteer and help others in general. Even small one off things could help make a difference. Being blind definitely makes it more difficult to go where you want spontaneously, and to help people with things in the same way that sighted people can. When you are blind, you are often the one who needs help, and automatically are linked to specific charities and organisations. That can be frustrating, but it can’t be my excuse. I want to do more to open my mind and benefit others. I have no idea exactly what yet. I just know that this is something I’ve intended doing for a long time, and Home Sweet Home has given me the push that I needed.

When my family and I left Phuket Island in December 2004 to travel to the airport after being caught up in the tsunami, I remember feeling guilty. I knew I was lucky to be safe and to be alive, but I felt bad for escaping and leaving the people behind. Their lives and their town was destroyed. They’d been so good to us, helping us to get out of there, and we were leaving the country and leaving them to sort their lives out. I know there’s nothing we could have done right at that time, but that day changed something in me that I’ve never bothered to properly explore. I’ve always had a gnawing feeling that I should be doing more, because I know I’ve had such a lucky easy life compared to many people. So this is it. This is the year. I have no idea what I will become involved in, but I do know that the Home Sweet Home campaign and the events that took place in Apollo House over Christmas and New Year have made an impact on me in a way that I really wasn’t expecting.

Welcome to 2017

I didn’t bother doing one of those review posts that lots of people who blog write. If you want to know what I did last year, you’ll just have to go back and look! I didn’t write about many things that happened, but I wrote about some. The year had changes and challenges and things that were mostly good overall.

I had a quiet Christmas with all my family and the dogs, though Dougal did spend a few days in kennels. I spent Christmas eve and Christmas day with my nephews as usual. It’s always lovely to have a new baby around, and he’s starting to become interested in everything and everyone around him now which is fun. I stayed in an amazing hotel for the new year, thanks to a present from my parents. I wish I could have taken Sibyl, but I’m definitely going to go back.

I don’t do new year’s resolutions because there’s no point. I don’t think changes have to happen in January. They can happen any time. I think if they happen in January, the pressure of new year and a new start often means they are more likely to fail. I just want to continue the things I’ve already begun.Sibyl is recovering well from surgery, and when she is back at work, I want to bring her to more places and help her to be the best guide dog she can be.

Born to Run Audiobook

Approximately 95% of books that are written are never published in large print, audio or Braille. This means that there is a massive amount of material in the world that blind or visually impaired people don’t have access to, and never have the option to read. This can discourage people from reading because they cannot have the same choice of books as their sighted peers. Those which are converted to audio often take so long that the general hype and excitement surrounding their release is long forgotten about.

In September of this year, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography ‘Born to Run’ was published, along with a companion CD called ‘Chapter and Verse’, and lots of excitement from fans world-wide. I was surprised to learn that I could be excited too, because there were plans to release an audiobook before the end of the year. I only had to wait a few months. I pre-ordered it on Audible, it became available on 6th December, and I was delighted to find that the “unknown” narrator was revealed to be none other than Springsteen himself!

In the story of ‘Born to Run’, Bruce recounts growing up in the small town of Freehold New Jersey, surrounded by a loving but often difficult family life. He writes about his friends, his influences, and his dreams. Seeing Elvis on television for the first time and knowing right then that he wanted to be a roc star, and that nothing was going to stop him. And nothing did.

Bruce Springsteen’s music was something I always heard growing up, but I didn’t really begin to listen to him properly until I was in my mid-teens. The more you listen, the more you want to hear, and when you go to one of his live shows and hear him play with the E Street band, the more you want to go back. It was fascinating to learn about how those friendships, the songs and the music were created. On stage nowadays, over forty years later, Springsteen still plays for over three hours each night. It’s impossible to find a more energetic charismatic performer, and a more tightly-knit band of singers and musicians. Off stage, he regularly deals with anxiety and depression which he writes honestly about in his book. His writing is simple and poetic, just like the lyrics in many of his songs. His story is one of hard work, determination and fun.

I listened to the ‘Born to Run’ audiobook any chance I had during the last five days. Breakfast and dinner were accompanied by Bruce’s raspy tones, the closest I’m ever going to get to having a meal with one of my favourite performers! I’m not sure I would have gotten through it as quickly if I had to read the Braille version, and it definitely wouldn’t have been as enjoyable. He narrates the book in his own relaxed style, like he’s sitting right there telling you a story. I would recommend it to any fan, even if you are able to read the printed copy.

‘Born to Run’ is a real treat for any Springsteen fan who is curious to understand where his passion and longevity comes from. It is Bruce telling his own story in his own words, exactly how it should be told. I’m just so glad that he took the eighteen plus hours out of his time to tell the audio version as well. Nobody else could do it justice by narrating it, and why should they? He is the boss after all!

Guide Dog Aftercare

A guide dog trainer came to see myself and Sibyl on Thursday as part of a visit which usually happens 18 months after you qualify. The trainer who trained us both came last December, but this time it was a different one who had been to see O.J before, and who I always enjoy talking to. I wasn’t going to write about it, but I haven’t written much guide dog related posts recently, and it’s good to look back and have a reminder of our progress.

Sibyl was very overexcited when the trainer came to the door and for a good while as we chatted. We had a nice discussion about how things were going and any concerns I had. He was very interested in how I found the experience of moving from a first dog to the second, and assured me that the mixed feelings and confusion I felt was understandable and nothing to feel guilty about. I talked about Sibyl’s work and her often inconsistent distraction behaviour. I think he was expecting a terrible walk, and was pleasantly surprised by her cautious work and relaxed behaviour. I chose to walk around the park, along the beach, up a country road past my parent’s house and back down the main road home. It gave him a chance to see the Donegal scenery which he always raves about, while seeing Sibyl work in a variety of environments, including pavement, awkward road crossings, country roads and no footpath, and a park which often has lots of dogs running around off their leads. On Thursday there were lots of dogs, but Sibyl walked past them all and I hardly even noticed. It was as if she was trying to prove me wrong when I said that she sometimes has dog distraction issues.

The weather was perfect for our training walk. It took much longer than necessary because we relaxed and talked a lot. The instructor gave me some useful tips to keep Sibyl motivated while working, and to calm her lively behaviour at home when visitors arrive. He assured me that we were a good match and were working well together. I don’t travel independently out of our town often anymore like I used to, and was worried that Sibyl might be getting bored or not be challenged enough. He assured me that although our town is small, Sibyl has to deal with a lot more variety in her work than dogs in larger towns with nicely formed straight footpaths and road crossings would. Traveling to busier places and learning routes there would challenge her, but I can do it when I need to, and I shouldn’t be hard on myself in the meantime. Sibyl is looking happy and healthy and is having lots of fun working here, with a perfect combination of work and free time to play like an ordinary dog.

The only negative decision we came to during the trainer’s visit was something I’d known for a while but stupidly allowed a vet to put me off. Sibyl needs to have the same anal gland surgery as O.J had when he was a few years into his working life. She’s had the problem since she was in Cork, and although she doesn’t need to go to the vet every few weeks like he did, it is still causing her discomfort, and impacting her work much more than I realised. Unfortunately it will mean being without her for a few weeks in the new year, but it will be better in the longrun.

Having guide dog aftercare usually reminds me of the feeling when I’m doing an exam. I’m not overly worried, but you want to do well. I am always relieved when it is over. I enjoyed the visit on Thursday and felt a lot more confident after. I have work to do to make us a better working team, but it’s nothing difficult. It was nice to be reminded that I’m doing well, that I’m being too hard on myself (as usual), and to always do what I think works best for myself and my dog, and not to take other people’s opinions on board too much, especially those people who have no idea what it’s like to work with a guide dog. All in all, the visit made me feel much more content, and I hope I can transfer this to Sibyl as well. I’ve started by discovering how great zooplus is and buying her some new toys.

Being My Own Boss

The seventeenth challenge on my list of 30 wasn’t exactly something I had planned when I started this crazy idea back in February. However it is the one which will be the most difficult, definitely the most challenging, and the one that will have the most long-lasting impact. On 1st September, (the same day that I went surfing), I made contact with my local enterprise office, which was the beginning of my journey towards becoming self-employed. There were meetings, conversations, questions, forms, things to be clarified, lots of uncertainty on my part, and a judging panel, but last week I was given the goahead to operate
JD Audio Transcription
as a business.

 

I have been transcribing people’s audio files on an infrequent basis since I began working in Derry in 2007. I created the Facebook page a year ago and began making more of an effort to find transcription work when I was unemployed. I’ve managed to find a few regular customers (mainly involved with research) who seem happy with my work and happy to recommend me. I slowly started to realise that there is a need for this type of work, it’s just a matter of finding it. After experiencing lots of office politics and organisational changes in the places I’d worked, I was beginning to like the idea of working for myself, offering people an honest service, adjusting how I work, and being involved in more things that I enjoy. I never was a 9-5 office person, and although I wouldn’t consider myself a business person, I know I’m hard working and responsible, and I’m up for the challenge.

 

So what does JD Audio Transcription do? I transcribe audio of a non-legal/medical nature. I transcribe interviews, lectures, focus groups, workshops, conferences, seminars, radio programs, online content, material for books, and personal stories. Transcription is often required by students or researchers, which is always very interesting. I also want to expand my service to community groups, charities and people who have a story to tell. It could be used to archive the history of a family or a particular area. It could be used by people who have stories to tell but would prefer to talk than type. I have lots of ideas in my head, so I just have to find ways of advertising them and getting them out there. If anyone could like the Facebook page or pass it on, I’d really appreciate it.

 

Working with the people in the Inishowen Partnership who help set up businesses in our local area has been a great experience so far. They’ve offered me training, listened to all my concerns and motivated me and believed in my idea. They admitted that they hadn’t worked with a blind person before, but they couldn’t have been more helpful. Family and friends have also been very encouraging. It’s brilliant to have people around you who believe in your ideas, even if you don’t always believe in them yourself. The transcription business is the first of a couple of ideas that I have. I have to start somewhere, and I think this might be the easiest for now. I could never see myself working from home every day, so the other idea will be a great contrast. Before this, I wouldn’t have believed that I had the skills or the confidence to become self-employed. There is so much help out there, and it is a good option for people with disabilities to consider. It is very disheartening for people when they can’t find suitable jobs, or their disability dictates how they live and prevents them from being employed. There is a lot of help out there, and even just talking about an idea with someone can be interesting. I might be back job hunting this time next year, but in the meantime I’m going to be brave and give my ideas a go.

If you never try then you’ll never know 🙂

 

 

 

 

Have you ever tried wood turning?

If not, you really should!

When I was asking people for suggestions for my 30 challenges, Darragh suggested making a memory box from wood. I liked this idea and definitely wanted to do it, but the original plan of how I would make it changed a bit in the meantime. I have a good friend who’s son makes lots of brilliant things from wood. He recently won an award for his business, and he is constantly coming up with new ideas and new things to make. He offered to help me, so last week I got the protective mask on and got to work.

Being in a work shed surrounded by tools isn’t something I’m really used to, but I enjoyed the different environment. Being out of my comfort zone is part of the challenge after all! The thought of using the lathe that turns the wood was a bit scary too, but it was kept at a slow speed and isn’t too loud, so I enjoyed it.
We started off with a square block of teak wood, which was secured to the lathe. As it turned, we chiselled it, hollowed it, sawed it to separate it, sanded it with four different types of sandpaper, buffed it with sawdust and coated it with flax seed oil. At the end of all that, we had made a small bowl with a lid that I can keep things in.

It is fascinating how a square slightly rough piece of wood can be crafted into a smooth
perfectly proportioned bowl within a few hours. I was surprised to learn how much woodturning relies on the sense of touch. You can feel every change as it happens, and of course it was all totally hands-on, so it was a perfect challenge that I really enjoyed. I had a brilliant teacher who let me touch everything, described everything in detail and encouraged me to make decisions along the way. What I haven’t mentioned about my teacher is that Sean Og is only fifteen! I’m really greatful to him and his parents for letting me experience and learn something I knew nothing about.