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.

Stuff that’s in my head…

With a silly post title like this, you’re probably afraid to read on. The stuff that’s in my head at the best of times is usually a bit nuts, especially when I don’t have a clear plan for a post. I’m having one of those times when I’m wondering what’s the point of writing at all. There’s nothing exciting to report guide dog wise these days. We aren’t going anywhere extraordinary, so Sibyl’s work is as good as it needs to be for now. Recently though, I’ve been reading back over posts, and it’s nice to have memories of things I’ve done and how things have changed. Sometimes I feel like I did a lot more and was happier at particular times, but suppose that’s the way life goes. It’s nice to look back over conversations I’ve had through the comments on my posts, and the 30 challenges idea is helping me to stay motivated to write as well.

Things have changed a lot over the last 18 months, from the time that I went training with Sibyl. Many of these are things about me that people would never notice, but I do. Having to go training sooner than I expected pushed me out of my comfort zone, and made me think about what I was doing and what I wanted and needed for myself. I questioned a lot of things, including myself all the time. I made decisions that were tough, but were probably better, even if it didn’t always feel like it. I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way, and I’m still learning! I won’t bore anyone who is still reading with the details about how I’m doing that, but basically if you have to change things, you really have to be in the right frame of mind to do it. For me, learning about cognitive behaviour therapy (purely out of curiosity) really helped me more than I’d expected. Spending lots of time outside walking, cooking and eating better, yoga and volunteering, among other things help.

I’ve been asked to speak to approximately 90 children in my local primary school next week as part of a program they do called ‘friends for life.’ It’s also based on CBT, and this is the second year that I’ve been involved. I have to tell them about my experiences of school, life in general, friends, people who have been my positive role models, and how I face and overcome challenges. These are all things I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. So now I just have to put something together to make it child-friendly and interesting to eleven-year-olds. I’m going to finish by telling them about my own 30 challenges idea, and encourage them to challenge themselves to do one new thing that they’ve never done before that will put themselves out of their comfort zone. I want them to see that challenges don’t always have to mean scarey things that we don’t like doing. I wonder what they will come up with?

30 Ted Talks

Here’s the list and quotes from some of the 30 Ted Talks I challenged myself to listen to in August. Some were recommendations, but most were chosen related to the things I’m interested in and thinking about these days. Hopefully you’ll watch and enjoy some of these as much as I did. I should put the links, but that’s effort!

1. How to find and do the work you love
Scott Dinsmor
“80% of people work in jobs they don’t enjoy because they think they have to.
Surround yourself with people who inspire you.”

2. How to find your passion and inner awesomeness
Eugene Hennie
“Ask yourself what do you like? Embrace yourself. Once you embrace it, everything else becomes easier.
Make the impossible the new possible.
Embrace confrontation.
Do what’s right.”

3. Every kid needs a champion
Rita Pierson
A must listen for everyone who teaches or works with children in any way.
“While you won’t like all the kids you teach, the key is to never let them know.
Teaching and learning should be a joy.
Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them.”

4. The power of vulnerability
Brene Brown
“The ability to feel connected with people is why we are here.
We need to believe that we are enough.”

5. Dog friendly dog training
Ian Dunbar
I love the work that this man does, and he always makes a lot of sense.
“You get a little puppy. His only crime is that he grew!
Dogs, horses and humans are the three species that are so abused.
They are so beatable, that’s why they get beaten.
Teach a dog to want to do what you want it to do.
Let the dog think that it is training us. Allow what was once the distraction in training to be the reward.
We have to learn to enforce a behaviour without force.
Training dogs and teaching children is very similar if approached in the correct way.”

6. What must our dogs be thinking when they look at us
Billy Collins

7. Which country does the most good for the world?
Simon Anholt

8. How to get your ideas to spread
Seth Godin

9. The single biggest reason why start-ups succeed
Bill Gross
“Execution definitely matters a lot. The idea matters a lot. But timing might matter even more.”

10. The dangers of wilful blindness
Margaret Heffernan
“People know there is a problem with something, but they say nothing.
Humans are all, under certain circumstances, wilfully blind.”

11. Every conversation can change a life
Pat Divilly
I listened to this again after hearing it first in February when it went online. One of my favourite talks, and definitely worth a watch.
“The world is a mirror and when you go out there smile at people and take an interest in people … believe in people when you don’t believe in yourself then your whole world changes.”

12. Measuring what makes life worthwhile
Chip Conley

13. How to make work/life balance work
Nigel Marsh
He talks a lot of sense!
“. We should stop looking outside. It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead. If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance.”

14. The happy secret to better work
Shawn Anchor
This is very funny!

15. in the key of genius
Derek Paravicini and Adam Okelford
I absolutely love Derek’s story and Adam’s work. Reading his book is brilliant, and this talk gives a small idea of what it’s about.

16. How autism freed me to be myself
Rosie King

17. The world needs all kinds of minds
Temple Grandin

18. What I’ve learned from my autistic brothers
Faith Jegede Cole
“Normality overlooks the beauty that differences give us, and the fact that we are different doesn’t mean that one of us is wrong. It just means that there’s a different kind of right… The chance for greatness, for progress and for change dies the moment we try to be like someone else.”

19. How I learned to communicate my inner life with Asperger’s
Alex Generous
A very funny insight into the life and challenges of someone with Asperger’s.

20. How I use sonar to navigate the world
Daniel Kish
“It’s impressions about blindness that are far more threatening to blind people than the blindness itself.”
I love this quote!
He’s a funny guy. Echolocation has its uses, but I’m not going to give up my dog to use it any time soon!

21. Questions that move us forward
Hugo Pereira
“What have I experienced in life that is worth sharing?”
“We are the average of the five people we spend most of our time with… Are they challenging you enough?”
“Would you do anything different in your life if you knew you could not fail?”
“If there is a small hint that you want to change something, then what is holding you back?”

22. Try something new for 30 days
Matt Cutts

23. Kids, take charge
Kiran Bir Sethi
“When children are empowered, not only do they do good, they do well.”

24. Why would God create a tsunami?
Tom Honey
I don’t know, and I still don’t after listening to this!

25. Rethinking foster care
Molly McGrath Tierney
Someone recommended this. Have no experience and not sure if I totally agree.

26. The transformative power of classical music
Benjamin Zander
This is really good.

27. How architecture helped music evolve
David Byrne

28. When meds fail: a case for music therapy
Tim Ringgold
I totally get everything he says. The connection that people have with music and how it affects us is powerful.

29. How I started writing songs again
Sting.
I really like Sting, so it was a nice surprise to find this. The songs are great, as well as his down to earth talk.

30. Do schools kill creativity?
Ken Robinson
“I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
This was an entertaining and educational talk to end my Ted talk challenge.

Surfing!

Even though I’ve lived beside the beach in Buncrana for most of my life, I’m a little bit afraid of waves. I’m afraid for a good reason though. When I was eight, I was knocked over and turned head over heels by a wave on holiday in France. Ten years later I was on holiday in Thailand with my family. We spent a good part of Christmas day on the beach. The following morning we found ourselves in the middle of what we knew later to be the Asian tsunami!
Not only have I still continued to go places on holiday and swim in the beach, I decided that one of the 30 new things I wanted to do this year should be related to water. I knew that Torie had gone surfing before, so I knew there were people not too far away who were willing enough and crazy enough to help a blind person overcome a fear of waves. After finally finding the courage to contact Dan from
Long Line Surf School
by email, I knew there was no going back. Challenge 13 was planned for 1st September, and my PA Donna and I found ourselves at the surf school just outside Limavady at ten o’clock this morning.

Dan was full of enthusiasm when he met me to bring me surfing. I was nervous and not so enthusiastic. When I say I’m going to do something, I stick to it, so I put on the wetsuit and we headed for the beach. Benone beach is one of Ireland’s longest beaches. At seven miles long, there was plenty of space for Donna to walk Sibyl and let her off for a run. The surf school has been operating for five years, and there are six instructors in total, based in Benone and Portrush beaches. Their passion for what they do, along with the fact that they want to make surfing an option for as many people as possible with different abilities through their
disability surf lessons
is very impressive.

After chatting with dan for a few minutes, I quickly relaxed because I knew I could trust him. He’s a trained lifeguard after all. We walked in the water so I could feel the size of the waves and how deep we’d be going. It was always shallow enough which was perfect for a first lesson. I knew if I fell off I could stand up really quickly. Then he showed me how to lie on the board on the sand, before taking it into the water. The nine foot board means it’s long enough for the instructor to move and direct from behind. The first while was like bodyboarding, and I went into a few waves facing them, and then out to the shore. The feeling both times was brilliant, even though I found facing the oncoming wave a bit freaky at first. After a while Dan would tell me when to kneel, and I’d move quickly from lying to kneeling on the board as the wave took it into the shore.
We went back on to the sand again to learn how to balance and put one foot forward after kneeling on the board. I did this lots more times in the water. Apparently I have good balance on the board, especially for a beginner. All that yoga must be paying off!

Obviously the point of surfing is to stand on the board and ride the waves. Dan had a brilliant way of building me up to this gradually, though there was never any pressure to do anything. He’d suggest different things I could do, but If I’d wanted to stay on my tummy on the board for an hour, he’d have let me. The more I went on one knee, the more I was tempted to stand. The more I thought about it, the more I put myself off. We decided I’d do it three more times, as the weather was starting to change. The waves became a bit bigger, and it was harder to walk out towards them. I got a few ear-full and eye-fulls of water along the way, but when you’re totally soaked, you don’t care anymore. On my second last surf in to shore, I stood up before I even had time to think. The feeling was amazing, and I wished I could have balanced longer. Instead I half fell into the water and poor Dan nearly got his hair pulled as I tried to kneel in the sand. Did I mention he had the patience of a saint? I stood again for the final time before jumping into the water and laughing. I was buzzing at that stage. I could have ran the length of the beach!

Surfing with Long Line was such a brilliant experience. The work they do is amazing, and I can’t recommend them enough. It’s a great feeling when you decide to do something completely out of your comfort zone and actually really enjoy it. It takes a certain kind of person to make that happen, and Dan did an amazing job. Believing I could do something that I know nothing about, and describing what was happening during the lesson so well made this challenge work. And it worked so well that I really really want to go back sometime and do it all again.

Going to concerts when you can’t see

I haven’t been inspired to blog much lately for some reason, but I’m hoping a few things happening in September will change that.
I mentioned in my last post that I went to a Beyoncé concert with my friends, and at times it was a very visual experience because of the type of artist she is and the type of show she puts on.
Beth
asked if I would consider writing more about my experience of going to concerts as a person who is blind. It’s not something I’ve really thought about in great detail to be honest. Sometimes it takes somebody to ask you a question to make you really think about it. Although I haven’t been listening to as much music as usual recently, and am not finding opportunities to hear live music, I’ve given Beth’s idea some thought.

I have been obsessed with music for as long as I can remember. I was always really interested in different instruments and different sounds, and how things sounded when they were recorded. I got a tape recorder when I was almost three years old, and I took it everywhere. It was hardly surprising then that when I went to my first live concert to see Bon Jovi at the age of ten, I loved every minute of the whole experience. From the anticipation of going when I got the tickets, to traveling to the venue and walking in with the crowds of people. Finding seats or a good spot to stand, depending on the venue, and recognising most of the songs by the first few notes.
There’s nothing better than discovering a band, listening to a particular album over and over again, and finally hearing them play music you enjoy live. I can see bands perform many times if I really like them, and each time will be different.

It might seem strange because I can’t see, but my seats or where I stand at a gig can really impact on how much I enjoy it. If I go to a rock concert in a venue, I prefer to be standing among the crowd, no matter how busy it is. The closer to the front I can get the better! I’ve stood at four out of five Springsteen gigs, and my least favourite was when I had seats in Croke Park a few months ago. Visually, the seats couldn’t have been better, which was great for my sighted friend who could describe everything to me, but I felt so far away from the stage and the rock N roll atmosphere.

If I attend a musical performance in a theatre, I love sitting near the front because I don’t have to hear people talking all around me. This is particularly good when a few of the musicians I like often play a song unplugged during a gig, or when some of their funny banter can be said off-mic, but I can still hear it. Sometimes the fact that I need the disabled area when I bring the guide dog means that I can’t sit in these prefered areas. People who can see might not really understand why I can be so fussy about where I sit, but others just find it entertaining. Once while I was making my way to my seat in the front row of a theatre gig, a friend who always loved to make blind related jokes loudly called out, “Jen it doesn’t matter how close you get to that stage. You still won’t see a thing!!”

Going to a gig and getting there early to watch the special guest or support act who plays before can be a great way of finding new music. Mostly for me, it’s all about the sound, but sometimes, and more recently for some reason, I find myself becoming more curious about how performances look, or how a stage is set up. I don’t perform on stage myself, so have no real concept of how things look or how instruments might be set up. Sometimes I’ll ask friends questions about that, but usually I just wonder myself and concentrate more on what I’m hearing. Beyoncé’s concert was very different though, and I was very glad to have friends beside me who almost automatically provide audio description. I’m not a fan of pop music that usually involves manufactured bands and lots of singers and dancers on stage who really do nothing. I prefer everybody on stage to sing and play to be heard, not to make the performance look good. If I’m listening to instrumental performers or a trad session for example, I’ll just concentrate on the music. But sometimes if a singer is singing a particular way, I’ll find myself wondering what they look like. It’s no secret that I’ve seen Glen Hansard perform so many times, and although I know what to expect, I’m sometimes curious. He’s one of the most emotional and passionate performers I’ve ever heard. He could be singing quietly and then erupt, and I can’t help thinking how crazy his facial impressions must look!

While I’ll always be curious at times about how things look, for me, a performance is 99% about the music. I consider myself lucky, because when I’m listening, I’m not distracted by what is going on around me. I’m not watching other people. I’m not looking at the stage through the screen on my phone while videoing it. If I’m really interested in something, I’ll hardly speak to the person I’m with until it’s over. It’s one of the only times I can really understand what the phrase living in the moment is like, because I try to do that as much as I can. If the performer is engaging and passionate enough about what they are doing, they’ll make me do that.

So although having eyes that work would come in useful to get around, or when I miss out on a good gig because I have nobody to go with, or nobody likes the same music as me (which often happens), it’s all about the ears when it comes to live music. At the end of the day, I think that’s what the performers would want to hear. Good ears and good music are a perfect combination.