THE CHALLENGE- Each Step of the Way.

The tempting sound of sizzling sausages and the aroma of frying bacon wafted towards us as we entered the field where the GD marquee stood. No sooner had we arrived and a huge cholesterol filled sandwich was shoved into my fist and I was busily chomping through it. After all, it would be silly not to replace the calories I was about to use up and it did bring four of my senses nicely into play.

It was still early morning and my two sons and I had left home an hour earlier to arrive at Horton in Ribblesdale in good time to meet up with the rest of our team and other supporters of Guide Dogs, for the 7:30am start. We were about to spend the day negotiating the mighty Yorkshire Three Peaks.

It was an incredible challenge for everyone doing it but even more incredible for Matthew & Adam who would be guiding me each step of the way.

As we all assembled, there were many old acquaintances renewed, some surprising ones too, official Guide Dog T-shirts were donned, photos taken and then it was time to hike.

Within two minutes I came across my first hazard. With everyone else viewing the Peaks and me contemplating what lay ahead, I crashed into and tripped on the up-kerb after crossing the road. Who would expect a kerb on a country lane? Anyway, it wasa reminder to switch on and concentrate.

As we progressed gently along the tracks and pathways leading to the craggy, higher slopes of Pen-y-Ghent the weather was pleasant enough with light cloud overhead and a bit of a breeze, just enough to keep us cool, although, I was told, the dark clouds rolling in and out of the Peaks looked ominous.

We came to our first technical challenge and the climbing began. I discovered that it was easier not using my walking pole here but using that hand for gripping while still hanging on to Matthew with the other. On one particularly hard bit we rested for a couple of minutes, for me to catch my breath, then valiantly carried on to the summit. Touching the point at the top felt exhilarating.

Here the wind was howling and although I still felt sweaty from the climb it was time to remove one of my two T-shirts and replace with my lightweight, stormproof jacket. A good thing too as it wasn’t long before the first rain hit us.

I think we all enjoyed the descent, although very steep we slipped and slithered mostly down grass  and at times wading through bogs. Great fun!

The undulating hike across the valley was as pleasant as any countryside walk, with only bleating sheep for company and a few inquisitive field mice.

As we started the long gradual ascent of Whernside the wind became relentless and the rain intermittent. One scary moment was climbing steps onto tops of walls and down the other side. Stood on top of a high wall with nothing to hold onto and unable to see where the step down was did make me feel a little exposed. In another incident we had to cross a stream by using stepping stones with shouted instructions, a bit disconcerting but at least others, not so deep, we just paddled through.

I found the last couple of miles up quite difficult., not so much the steepness but the continuous knee high boulders to clamber over. They were too low to be able to use my hand for purchase but nevertheless we persevered and eventually and gratefully leaned on the point at the top. We found a ledge in a sheltered spot to rest for a little while, then standing back up the wind took my breath away and I was leaning into it to stay upright. I pulled my gloves on and off we went just as torrential rain came driving at us. At least the rain let up even if the wind didn’t.

The descent of Whernside was for me the hardest, most ponderous and in some people’s eyes the scariest part so far. I was fortunate, as on Pen–y-Ghent, I never saw the deep drops.

After such an ordeal it was heart-warming to see Sue who had come along to meet us along with my Guide Dog Spencer.

No rest there though, as we hot-footed it the next two miles to the support team at Chapel-le-Dale, grateful for the flat, level terrain. All there was in front of us now was Ingleborough.

I found somewhere to sit, had a welcome coffee, a banana and a snickers bar before changing into fresh socks and T-shirt, ready for the final push.

But it did not happen, at least not for me. A decision had to be made and it was decided hat the terrain and the shocking weather conditions it was not safe to risk a blind man and those with him on this occasion.

YES, I was extremely disappointed but on reflection I knew it was the right thing to do. I was so pleased to have done approximately 18 miles, taking in the heights of Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside and having such a fantastic day with so many wonderful people. A BIG thank you to everybody involved and also to all you fantastic people who have supported us with your donations. The money raised for GD’s has far exceeded my expectations and is still coming in.

I am especiall proud of my lads who stuck to the task and completed all three Peaks with the rest of our team. Magnificent performance all of you.

I also enjoyed Tony’s bubbly at the end. What a team

A “Tale” For Facebook.

Mended!

Abbey House recently removed a benign lump from my back – so I’m mended! Erm . . . not too sure what benign means but I guess it’s something good. It must be really good because Mum looks pretty pleased about it. She looks a bit like she does when someone buys her a box of Maltesers.
I’m Cosby by the way, a Golden Retriever. Five years ago I was one of a litter of ten Guide Dog puppies. Each of us was given a name beginning with the letter “C”. That’s how Guide Dogs name their puppies. Every time there’s a new arrival of puppies the litter is allocated the next letter in the alphabet. A bit like naming hurricanes . . . which I suppose is appropriate when you think of a whirlwind of puppies romping around! That’s what puppies do, romp around, play at lot and have loads of fun. That includes Guide Dog puppies and they get into mischief too. I did. Mum has several tea-towels with rather fancy chewed edges to prove it.
I can recall one of my mischief moments. We were in Marks & Spencer. I was very young, tiny in fact, and on one of my first shopping-training trips. I was paying attention . . . well for the most part . . . you know, learning the SIT, WAIT, and FORWARD commands, but then I spotted something to play with. So naturally I picked it up and carried it . . . around the entire Lingerie Department. It wasn’t until the previous chorus of customers’ OOOhs and AAAhs switched to titters and giggles that Mum was finally shaken free from her shopping spree and noticed the cause – a large pair of black lacy knickers draped from my mouth.
Not good.
She immediately refocused on me. She muttered something – it wasn’t Shakespeare – and I was given one last chance to volunteer exactly where I’d found them. I was no help. I couldn’t remember where I’d found them.
This training day was going really well.
My leash was jerked. We were going on a trek . . . the length and breadth of the Lingerie Department. Gosh, I didn’t know there were so many knickers in the entire world! Still, once the offending garment was returned I did the only thing I could think of doing. I gave Mum one of my big-brown-eyes-looks.
Smart dog.
It was enough. Either that or someone had just waved a box of Maltesers at her.
Anyway, as you’ve gathered, I started life as a Guide Dog puppy for the Blind. However since then things have changed. I am now what is termed a Guide Dog with a “change of status”. My Guide Dog training went well. At least I think it did. I saw a lot of smiling, especially from Mum (you know, the one who likes Maltesers). However I did have one failing. I had a poor appetite. I rarely felt hungry, especially first in the morning. Added to which if I missed a meal I was a bit wonky – felt I had three legs not four. You will agree that a wonky dog is not an ideal candidate for a working dog. I mean let’s face it blind or partially sighted people have enough problems negotiating their way past dustbins and vehicles etc abandoned on pavements without me adding to those problems. So, I was withdrawn, offered back to Mum who promptly adopted me. In fact she couldn’t find her cheque book fast enough, and if I’d known where she kept it I’d had helped her find it!
Despite my withdrawal for health reasons I am still very much involved with Guide Dogs. I do a lot of fundraising (raising cash and seeking sponsorships for Guide Dog puppies). My diary is often busier than Mum’s. Similarly I help to raise funds for other animal charities, including a donkey sanctuary, by taking part in a 41-strong dog display squad, the Tailwagger Dog Display Team. This is a photograph of me performing with Mum at a gala (note the crossed paws and of course my well-practised big-brown-eyes-look). 
 
I love life. I enjoy every day, especially my walks and long snoozes afterwards (I do a lot of snoozing – I think it’s in my genes!) and of course the daily ritual search for a favourite toy which invariably necessitates the complete emptying of my toy box to find it. In addition – and certainly not least – thanks to the wonderful team at Abbey House I enjoy good health and, as previously mentioned, I recently had a lump successfully removed. Furthermore, whilst it has taken a good few years, I am now eating better, albeit it still takes me a while to get started.
I’m dashing out for a walk in a minute but before I wriggle into my harness I want to show you this last photograph in the hope that it might help you to recognise me when I’m out fundraising, and then we can have a chat.
 

Hugs & stuff, Cosby X

(Guide Dog “with a change of status”)

Pavement Parking

We do live in a world where things have to happen yesterday.  An instant society so to speak where entertainment needs to be fed to us, we have to get from a to b in a second and nipping to the shops needs to be almost instantaneous.  However, isn’t there an old saying that short cuts mean longer journeys or something to that effect anyway.  
The issue of pavement parking is upmost in our minds as the push to campaign for legislation on this goes up an extra gear.  Some may say that the upcoming election may distract our law makers from concentrating on such issues, but there’s no better time to make our feelings known to those who are in power and indeed those who are seeking it.  
The issue of pavement parking on the routes that I use continue to be problematic.  The pavements on Huddersfield road in Mirfield for instance can be tricky as people try to take the quick option by dashing into shops and take away whilst leaving their car on the walk way outside.  What they don’t realise or take into consideration is that their car is potentially proving a death trap to pedestrians who need to use the pavements (without moving too); those with buggies, young children and indeed assistance dogs.  If the pavement is blocked then we need to take a route around that and quite often or not this means using the edge of the road.   
Shared surfaces also prove to be hugely difficult and in some instances very dangerous when cars, vans and Lorries park on there.  On my work route, Albion Street, is quite often a difficult route to navigate in the morning or evening as delivery or maintenance Lorries are often parked up and down the street.  This forces us out into the middle (because the space between the vehicles and the shops is too narrow).  There are other pedestrians but  with the nosie of the vehicles, the public and the odd busker (and believe me they can be odd) the sound of any moving vehicles can quite often be disguised – hence causing an unnecessary danger.  
Through guide dogs, we have the vital ability to get out and about; to make choices of where we go and also to feel the wonderful sense of freedom.  It is so sad that through the need to do things there and then, many people are creating barriers to access and freedom by blocking pathways  with their cars, vans and Lorries.  Please think, because the vehicles you drive give you the freedom to move, please ensure that you use them responsibly to ensure that we all gain that sense of independent travel too.  

Obstacles

As you have read in my blogs, Evans certainly has a busy and varied lifestyle.  One minute he can be weaving in out of people, obstacles and all kind of barriers in the middle of Leeds to doing his best (in his opinion) and worst (in all others impressions) attempts to qualify for the Olympic dressage competition in our local park.  It can’t be knocked the lad is full of enthusiasm but his dancing style, like mine, is completely flat footed,  full of moves that don’t relate to any rhythm and frankly resembles a nervous disposition rather than a successful audition to strictly come dancing.  We’re matched well in that sense, but guide dog instructors take note, when looking at my next matching, please do not take it for granted that lack of co-ordinated dance skills is a deciding factor for my next four legged work pal.  
As previously described, city commuting is an ever changing business.  Recently, on our route, we’ve experience scaffolding, lorries, trucks, vans, skips, various barriers, tables and chairs (from café’s  and of course people and lots and lots of them.  Evans tolerance of people’s legs must be fantastic (I would love to know his opinion of modern fashion sense though).   If all of these barriers (for the want of a better word) could just stay still then mobility would be an easy game, but his ability to deal and cope with constantly changing environments continues to amaze me.  The best example of this is when we come through Leeds station in the Morning.  As the automatic barriers are now fully available to most ticket holders to scan their tickets and passes, the number of staff in the station at this point has been reduced dramatically.  Along with the moving mass of people, trying to get through the barriers and to find the right one is becoming extremely difficult.  Evans is an absolute star in this situation because we’ll just go to find a place apart from the unpredictable crowds and then just stand and try and gain a member of staff’s attention.  He loves working in crowded areas, but he’s sensible enough to stand away from it if the occasion demands it.  Mind you, it’s at times like this that I wish he did have some slick dance moves; would help us to dodge through the crowds.  However, knowing my ability to be unco-ordinated, I think it would just end in disaster.  

Access All Areas 

Evans, my trusty 7 and a half year old black Labrador guide dog, loves to go everywhere.  Yes, he holds a great spirit of adventure, tendency to explore and yes an ability to be extremely nosy.  If he could speak, he would tell you that he’s purely doing it for me which is fantastic, but really he just likes to look around and check out the scene (so to speak) wherever he goes.  
As a guide dog, he knows he has the responsibility of taking me into places where other dogs (not assistance that is) cannot go.  Coupled with this sense of responsibility, is our knowledge that the law is on our side.  It is therefore a pity that this sense of responsibility and lawful understanding is not entirely shared by the world at large.  
Access all areas should really mean access to all public areas for assistance dog partnerships.  One of the ways in which this has to be re-enforced is through good positive awareness raising and education.  Disability awareness should be fully built in to a taxi drivers training for instance as it could really make all the difference.  

Ideally, this should not only be applied to taxi and private hire drivers, but to all service providers.  This is not implying that there is a wide scale problem of access but really just as a means of raising awareness and continually highlighting the need of access to all.  Guide and assistance dogs enable; they should not be denied this through a lack of awareness and understanding.  
Last week, the prime minister called a snap general election.  Although this could on appearance seem like a larger stumbling block to raising the politician’s awareness on access issues, it could actually be an ideal opportunity to pushing this cause further.  
Candidates, in parliamentary seats across the region, will be campaigning for votes and this is a time to see if they understand and are aware of our access issues.  If they’re not then make them aware and campaign to seek their commitment to support our cause.  
I know Evans will be pushing hard to do this; so be ready those campaigning for the Dewsbury and Midfield seat; Evans is on your doorstep.  

Ian looking back

Evans loves his work; something that fills me with a great deal of pride and thankfulness.  His aptitude to pounding the streets makes my life less stressful and easier to manage each day.  Commuting, as I know I’ve said before, is not the easiest part of the day.  If choices could be made, I would make it much less crowded and would ensure that we had a clearer path, but sadly that cannot be.  
The word  is an interesting and well used and applied term.  For nearly 25 years now, I’ve studied and worked in a variety of environments that have necessitated the support of some wonderful guide dogs; all with different temperaments, qualities and senses of fun and adventure.  I qualified back in 1992 with my first dog Lennie; a black Labrador who was fairly quiet but was as steady as a rock.  I was at college at the time and as I progressed onto University, he took to academic life as seamlessly as if it had been his natural home.  When I graduated in 1996, I will always remember him strutting his stuff across the stage at Hull city hall when we went up to collect our graduation certificate.  I remember him raising a laugh from everyone there when he looked out at them with his typical questioning gaze.  
Bertie, my second dog, a golden Labrador/retriever, was the ultimate comic and his approach to life was laugh, love and laugh again.  Mind you, when I qualified with him in late 1998, I was job hunting and you certainly needed a sense of humour to deal with the many interactions we had with the job centre and other similar agencies.  When I started work down in Hereford in 2001, he made to move much easier for me with his willingness to take on all tasks with a laugh and a wag. 
Willis, my third dog, came along in April 2004.  Another golden Labrador/retriever; he was humour and steadiness all piled into one.  He really was a fantastic worker and although he had the tendency to escape from time to time (his hero being harry Houdini), he was extremely loyal.  His adaptability was very apparent too as I had a tendency to move home quite often during the period in which we worked together.  Sadly, I was made redundant in 2009 and it was #Willis who thankfully accompanied me on my reintegration to northern life when I moved up to Yorkshire in 2010 (the best move I’ve ever made by the way).  
Trafford, my fourth dog (golden Labrador/retriever) came along in January 2011.  We only had six months working together as he felt that the working life was not for him.  This can happen and thankfully he ended up living the high life in North Yorkshire; maybe he had the aim of being a country dog and a liking for all things James Herriot?  He was a character and a half; cheeky and lovable.  
This brings me back to Evans; my current companion and partner in crime.  He has a typically welsh sounding name; a pity then his vocal range doesn’t lend itself to a male voice choir.  I think he would have been the perfect accompaniment to les Dawson’s piano playing style in its day though.  Evans has helped me with my daily commute to work; tackling crowds, thousands of obstacles and the lovely challenge of public transport.  He is calm throughout and just seems to love his work.  It makes life easier and more manageable.  If that qualifies within the term life changing then that will do for me.  
All of my dogs so far have come under the banner of lifechangers.  I’m not over exaggerating the point that they have enabled me to live a more independent and fulfilling life so far.  I’ve only touched briefly on the things that they have had to do but their contribution to my life has been enormous.  
This is the journey so far.  Hopefully (touch wood), there are more characters to come along the way and I know that they will make as bigger mark on my life as Lennie, Bertie, Willis, Trafford and Evans have done.  

Audiobook Review- Blind Trust 

BLIND TRUST
Author:       Red Szell
Narrator:    David Thorpe
Duration:    11HRS 00 MINS
The opening images formed are so reminiscent of the time I used my Long White Cane, battling through all weathers and facing much adversity on my regular solo visits to my elderly mother’s. I did think at first that perhaps this book would be more a documentary about a particular eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), than a fictional mystery thriller. That would not be a problem for me, a blind person with the same degenerative condition. No worries for any reader though, it was fascinating story throughout.
Joe is a househusband and a blind man with two young daughters to take to and from school and take care of while his wife’s high-flying job keeps her regularly away in many far-flung countries. 
Set in a middle class district of London where friends from the high finance and big banking fraternity daily gamble massive amounts of money, it is shocking but not overly surprising when suicides begin to happen.
Miranda, a close neighbour and best friend of Joe’s, starts thinking things aren’t quite as they seem. She convinces Joe to help her investigations into a well-hidden corruption scandal. He half-heartedly accepts for friendship’s sake until further devastating events change everything and he is well and truly dragged in.
In this book Red Szell encompasses the love and reality of everyday family life with Joe’s blind, blundering discoveries and his battle against villains who are in pursuit of money at any cost.
He brilliantly describes the symptoms of RP while maintaining that they still belong to the story. I can definitely vouch for all those lamp posts that jump out at him and the bumps and scrapes he matter-of-fact receives on a daily basis from all manner of inanimate objects.A gripping mystery thriller to the end and as good an awareness of blind and partially sighted people’s issues I have ever come across.
David Thorpe has given me a big but good problem. Another 398 talking books to add to my wish-list.