Where did September go?

I can’t believe Septembers nearly over! I think I’ve only written one post. I’m usually good at writing in September since its a busy month.
This year was no different. I’ve been busy in work, trying to get funding, helping a colleague with funding applications and waiting for results. It looks like I’m going to be there now until February, working with secondary school pupils which will be very different.

I’ve just finished transcribing audio for a project that local women are putting together. Basically they are creating a book and a website with audio of stories about growing up in Inishowen. There wasn’t half as much work as we expected at first, but it was still brilliant to get it, and I found the stories very interesting. I’ll write more about it when its all put together. I’m always grateful to get freelance work like that.

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to Portugal again this year with Nicky. We went on 18th September for four days, and the weather was lovely. Nicky played music along with lots of other singers and musicians, as part of a country music week. Of course the music is different to what I’d listen to at home, but I really enjoyed everything about the week. My aunt and uncle came this year for the first time, and they had a great time. Our dogs stayed at home, because even though they have passports and could travel, it was too hot and we didn’t really need them. The more I travel to warm places, the less likely I am to want to bring a dog. Maybe my next dog will be different, but OJ definitely wouldn’t appreciate the sun at all.

We’ve had lovely dry weather recently, so Dougal and OJ have had lots of nice walks. Hopefully the weather will stay like that for another while. We don’t mind the cold at all when the rain and ice stay away.

A Special Year In Belfast

In August 2003 while on holiday in Majorca, my mum rang to tell me that I had been accepted on to a music/psychology degree in
Queens University Belfast.
It was my preferred course and college so i was delighted. Two of my friends were going there too, and i couldn’t wait to move away from home and get some more independence, and to experience all that being a student involved. I’d wanted to do this since I was small, nearly as much as I’d wanted a guide dog. I hoped that both would come around the same time but that didn’t happen.

I decided to stay in the student halls of residence provided as part of the university since it was secure, well-run and in a good location. My friends stayed in the same area in first year, but in a different building. I wanted to do this in order to meet new friends and get my own independence, since if I lived with them, we would have done everything together and they would have automatically looked after me a lot more. We did have dinner together almost every day and would regularly go on nights out.
Beginning university each year was like being put into the big brother house, because you knew nobody but you had to live with them and make the most of it. Each of us had our own room with a bathroom, but the ten of us shared the kitchen, which was an interesting experience for a blind person! We all had our own food lockers, and as long as i had a certain area in the fridge to keep my things I was happy. I never wanted the fact that I was blind to be a big deal, which probably made it harder on myself to find things since people often left everything everywhere. I was nervous at the beginning of each year for the first couple of days, walking into a noisy kitchen full of people who I didn’t know. Being shy wasn’t an option, so I think I changed a lot during those three years. During the three years I met some very interesting people from different parts of the world, and I learned so much from all of them. Some were more friendly than others. Some were lovely, and others were completely strange. One year there was someone living on our floor who never ever socialised, so we never actually knew anything about him at all.

In first year, I lived with the best group of people I could have asked for. They were funny, helpful, and crazy, and if I started describing them all in detail I’d be writing for a long time. I don’t think any of them really have any idea how living with them for just one year gave me so much confidence and independence. They were always just being themselves, and I just fitted in perfectly. At the end of the year when we all left for the summer, we swore we’d keep in touch and meet up sometime, but of course that didn’t really go to plan. It took the girl living furthest away to find my contact details through work, and email me in July to tell me that she was coming to Belfast in September.

A couple of weeks ago, OJ and I went to Belfast to meet Ami from Texas, along with two other girls who we lived with, and two other people who lived in the same building. We hadn’t seen each other in nine years, yet after about two minutes it felt like we see each other all the time. That’s the sign of a good friendship I think! The weather was lovely so we had a drink outside and took some photos before going to Made In Belfast for dinner. I’ve wanted to go there for ages because I’d heard so much about it, and it lived up to my expectations.
Luckily for OJ, everyone adored dogs so he got lots of attention. He behaved great, and it was lovely to be able to show them all the dog I’d been waiting to get for years. We got the bus home that night because I was working the next day, so although it was a short trip, it was worth it.

It was brilliant to be able to meet up with people I hadn’t seen in so long. Its strange to hear what people are doing and how things have changed so much, unfortunately not always for the better. I only found out during the summer that one of our housemates passed away from cystic fibrosis four years ago. I don’t want to write too much about it here, other than to say that I’m glad I had the opportunity to live with him, and he is someone I will never forget.
All this has made me think about my friends a lot, and its a good reminder to keep in touch with them all more often.

Do you remember the first time you saw a guide dog?

I remember the first time I ever came into contact with a guide dog. I was in first class in primary school, so about seven years old. A woman called Sheila must have been visiting an older class in the school, and had been asked to come into our class with her dog Beth. I think she was a golden lab retriever. I remember thinking she was quite big and very soft compared to our pet dog, but now I know that’s because guide dogs are so well groomed. I remember feeling the harness on the dog as it sat, and she explained how you weren’t really meant to touch the dog when it had the harness on, but of course i could.
I was fairly shy at this stage, so although I knew from a young age that I wanted a dog, I don’t think I asked her too many questions,even though I was probably dying to. Maybe a year or two later I met a woman from Scotland with a huge German Shepherd guide dog called Tess, and I got my photograph taken with her. I asked more questions then, and even more during the trial walk I had with a guide dog in training called Walter, during a guide dogs open day in Belfast when I was about ten.

Meeting those three dogs had a huge affect on me, as it helped to clarify how much I already knew that I wanted my own guide dog. The first time I met OJ was a special day, and couldn’t have gone better for me.
The reason I’m thinking about this is because a few days ago I found
this video
of little Ellie Clarke meeting a guide dog for the very first time. The instructor is fantastic with her, and its clear from the video and from reading the blog that her parents want to give her every opportunity as young as possible. Ellie seems like such a lovely intelligent child, and I hope someday, if she decides she wants one, she can be as happy with a guide dog as I am with OJ. More importantly for now though, its a coincidence that today is Ellie’s 3rd birthday!

So, even though probably none of us are lucky enough to have video footage, do you remember your first time meeting (or even seeing) a guide dog?