Happy New Year

Christmas was almost a week ago. The holidays are flying but I’m not back at work until next Monday. I had a nice relaxing Christmas. The weather has been really dry so OJ got lots of walks and runs on the beach. He didn’t get many presents, just toys I bought a few weeks ago. I got lots of presents though, mostly clothes, some boots, a cam corder (strange) and a pampering day with a massage, facial, hairdressers and then dinner with Leah. I have no idea what we’re doing for New Year’s eve yet, but I’d need to decide soon or it will be over.

It’s hard to believe it’s the end of 2008. I had a good year, although I have to admit it wasn’t all great. 2007 was a special time for me, getting a new job, a guide dog and a new nephew, so this year was always going to be hard to beat.
Working with OJ this year seemed to get better and better. Guide dog trainers will tell you that it takes about a year to really know your dog properly, and by the end of the summer I could see OJ working better than ever. We both met some great people during the year, including the musicians and Oscar winners Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. OJ had his tv debut this year on nationwide, and his first trip on a plane when we went to Glasgow.
I have enjoyed writing here this year, and am becoming a lot better at it than I was a year ago. The comments from people who have read this blog have been great, and I look forward to lots more blogging in 2009.

Currently listening to: Kate Nash from Radio 1s Live Lounge vol. 3

Currently reading: Shakey by Neil Young

Today FM

Yesterday was the first day of my Christmas holidays and what better way to start the holidays than by winning prizes, basically just for answering the phone!
I always listen to Ian Dempsey in the morning on today fm when I’m getting ready for work. The ‘kickstart’ song is the first song on the show, selected by a listener and played directly after the news, sport and weather at 7 o clock. If your song gets picked Ian reads out your email and sends you one of those coffee cups that keeps your drink hot. I want one, so decided to email today fm during the week. I picked Bruce Springsteen’s Santa clause is comin to town, as it’s a festive song and the Bruce gig earlier this year was the highlight of the year for me.
It turns out that on Fridays they call the person who picked the ‘kickstart’ song and they are live on the radio. I completely forgot about this as I don’t work on Fridays and rarely be awake at 7 am. So I got up early yesterday and talked to Ian (who was very sound and cheerful at that time of the morning!) and of course he played my favourite Christmas song. Marta our Spanish student went home yesterday so I got to say bye to her, even though she was in the shower and didn’t even hear her request. I think I might get some cds for entering, but I’m not exactly sure what. I’ll just have to look out for the postman all next week.
I have always been very lucky with today fm. I occasionally get requests played and emails read out. Presenters are usually quite good at replying to emails as well. In 2005, just before I started my final year of university in Belfast, I won 4 grand on Tom Dunn’s ‘petsounds’ program, the show that introduced me to lots of the music I love today.
Maybe more important than winning the money at the time was when my sister organised for me to meet David Gray in Dublin when he played in Marley Park for three nights in 2001. I was 15 and it was a dream come true. It was a surprise, and I didn’t find out until the evening before. Maureen emailed a number of radio stations, and Brian Adams, head of music at today fm got in touch with David’s publicist and arranged the meet and greet. I emailed him to thank him afterwards, but I don’t think he really knew how much it meant to me.
So today fm is a lot more to me than a radio station I turn on for a bit of background noise.

The Fragmented Orchestra

The Fragmented Orchestra is a huge distributed musical structure modeled on the firing of the human brain’s neurons. The Fragmented Orchestra connects 24 public sites across the UK to form a tiny networked cortex, which will adapt, evolve and trigger site-specific sounds via
in Liverpool.
Each of the sites has a soundbox installed, which will stream human-made and elemental sounds from the site via an artificial neuron to one of 24 speakers in FACT. The sound will only be transmitted when the neuron fires. A firing event will cause fragments of sound to be relayed to the gallery and will also be communicated to the cortex as a whole. The combined sound of the 24 speakers at the gallery will be continuously transmitted back to the sites and to each of the 24 sites.
The sounds of The Fragmented Orchestra will vary according to location; wind over Black Fell, inner city traffic, chanting from sports stadia and the chatter of migrating birds arriving for the winter will be combined with incidental and performed sounds from members of the public. The public, invited to play the instrument at the 24 sites, will be able to hear the effect their playing has on the overall composition of the piece at each site and at FACT. As members of the public use the instrument they will become both player and audience of a vast and evolving musical composition extended across the UK.
The Fragmented Orchestra — conceived by artist Jane Grant, physicist, musician and composer John Matthias and composer Nick Ryan — is the winner of the PRS Foundation New Music Award. This award is the most financially prestigious for new music in the UK and has been likened to the Turner Prize for music.

The reason that I’m mentioning this, apart from the fact that it is strange and fascinating, is because the
verbal arts centre
in Derry where I work is one of the 24 venues hosting the fragmented orchestra. It can be found in the cafe, so come and see it for real if your in the area.
You can find out more about it, and watch and listen to it online at:


Its been so cold for the last week, which isn’t fun when you’ve got a guide dog. I’m going to work from the bus depot up the street anymore rather than on the walls. Its too dark there in the evenings and these days the walls are too slippy with ice and too dangerous. O J didn’t walk anywhere this weekend because it was so icey. The dog run was like an ice rink, and when I took him outside to play with his toys he slid everywhere on the grass. I bought him an early Christmas present yesterday. It is a new bed. Its more like a thick mat than a bed, but he loves it. If he’s in the kitchen and he’s told to go to bed he gets confused because he doesn’t actually have one there. Now that problem is solved!
On friday night I was sitting in the kitchen reading a book. Mammy was just leaving the kitchen, but turned back for something and saw O J coming towards me with a bagle in his mouth. She grabbed it off him quickly, but I thought he had eaten it, and scolded him putting him out to his bed. She said it just had teeth marks, and she thought he might have been bringing it over to me for some reason, not actually realising it was food yet. He never ever takes food from anywhere in the kitchen, maybe unless a crumb fell on the floor, and if he knew it was food he would have wolfed it down in two seconds before he got caught. I’m going to do some food refusal exercises with him anyway just to remind him that he can’t eat food that’s not his own.
I went to Cockhill fifth class on friday to talk to the children. Their teacher talked to me for a long time on the phone two weeks ago, so the class were well prepared and had lots of interesting questions. They loved the talking colour detector and O J of course. Their teacher gave me lovely biscuits and chocolates from Thorntons to say thanks, which was very kind of her. The children all followed us to the car and stood waving as we drove away.
Hopefully we’ll put up our Christmas tree this week and it will start to feel more like Christmas. We have a staff lunch in the Beach Hill hotel in Derry on friday afternoon, and dinner for Sarah’s birthday on Saturday night. I’ll take O J on friday but not on saturday.

Currently reading: ‘foreign affairs’ by Patricia Scanlan


We went on our staff night out last weekend – to Barcelona! I went with eight colleagues, 2 men and 6 women. It was nice to go away with different people, who I otherwise only usually see in my office. I didn’t take OJ, as he doesn’t have a passport, it wouldn’t be very accessible and I didn’t need him anyway. I had eight other human guide dogs for the weekend who did a great job. He followed me to the door when I was leaving and didn’t seem too impressed, but he had a relaxing weekend without me.
We flew from Belfast to Barcelona at 3 PM. The flight was almost 2 and a half hours long and they are an hour ahead of Irish time. Our hotel was a 30 minute bus journey and 2 short trips on the metro from the airport. The hotel was small and compact but exactly what we needed.
We had two lovely dinners, followed by drinks in a few bars each night. On Saturday some of us did the bus tour around the city, passing lots of cathedrals and the huge football stadium. Everybody wore headphones on the bus, so it meant that somebody didn’t have to explain everything to me. It rained a lot so we spent most of the time on the bus. It was very cold too.
On Sunday morning some people went to an art gallery, but I was more interested in getting a chocolate woffle, which was very sickening but very nice! The coffee was always very strong and the tea was disgusting. I bought Jack a Barcelona football but that was the only thing I bought. The shops were great but I didn’t have much space to bring things back and I wasn’t in the mood for clothes shopping.
I didn’t find the people very pleasant there. They weren’t all rude, but some seemed to be unsure how to act around blind people. When I was paying for the football in a Barca suveneer shop the man (who could obviously see me holding my money towards him) called one of the girls to help me. She then had to take the money out of my hand and give it to him, and he passed the change to her as well. A similar thing happened in the airport when I had to give them my boarding card or passport. The girl taking me through security almost lifted me into a chair to sit and wait for the others. I’m glad I didn’t take OJ, as God knows what confusion that would have caused.
We got back to Derry at around 9 on Sunday night. The flights and buses were all on time which was nice. I really enjoyed the weekend. We had great fun and everybody got on well. The whole group seemed to have no problems taking me around, and a different person seemed to be guiding me every few hours. One of the main reasons that I love my job is because the staff are very sound.
It was back to business as usual on monday morning, and thankfully I wasn’t the only tired one in the office.