Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Talking Books

Today, RNIB are celebrating 80 years since the launch of their Talking Book service for blind and partially sighted readers. Personally, I have been using the service for about five years now and would be lost without it. Books offer so much including entertainment, education and escapism. Up until now, I have paid an annual fee of £50 in order to take advantage of the service, but was pleasantly surprised to learn today that RNIB are scrapping the fee, so from here on Talking Books are free to loan.

Recently, my portable Daisy player broke, which is a device needed to access Talking Books. As is the case for most products for the visually impaired, it would have been very pricey for me to replace it, approximately £300. Although a bit hesitant at first due to my lack of ability when it comes to technology (long live my Nokia with Talks), I decided to trial Overdrive. Overdrive is a relatively new service offered by RNIB, which allows its users to directly download Talking Books to their smart device. The app also links to other libraries, but I’m yet to master that side of things.

I have had my ipod touch for about 18 months now, which I originally got to help me learn how to use a touch screen, knowing that one day my trusty nokia will pack in (nooooo) and I’ll have to transfer to the Apple world. Having little patience for difficult tasks, well technology in general, I found myself only using my ipod touch to tell Sirri to ‘play music’ and ask him silly questions like ‘how much do you weigh?’. Hence, getting Overdrive was a big step. Maybe I should give myself more credit for my abilities or maybe the app is just really simple to use that even I can manage it with little trouble. The search facility is easily found, you just tap the ‘borrow’ button to obviously ‘borrow’ a book and then you go to your bookshelf on the RNIB Library to download the book to the app. The Overdrive app is VI friendly with clear controls for play, pause, rewind etc. I like that you can increase the speed of a book too, but I believe that facility is only available on IOS devices (if that’s what they are called). Nothing is perfect and the downside to the app is returning books with Voice Over enabled. It is really temperamental, sometimes the options appear, but more often than not when you double tap and hold, it begins to play the book instead. Nevertheless, each book you download has an expiry date, which you can choose to be 14 or 21 days and then the book will return itself to the library. You can checkout six books at a time. Overall, I’m satisfied and would definitely recommend it. It beats sending RNIB a list of books you want to read and then wait for the CDs to arrive in the post.

Whilst the Talking Books service is great, my only gripe with it is that a few times now, I have begun to read books in a series, only to find that RNIB don’t have the entire series and due to commercial reasons won’t be getting them either. I have had this problem with authors, such as Ally Condie, Veronica Roth, Charlaine Harris and P.C. and Kristin Cast. It’s quite frustrating, will I ever find out what happens next?! At present I am hooked on books written by experienced foster carer Cathy Glass. RNIB have four of her novels and I sincerely hope that they get more soon.

If like me you’re always looking for new things to read, you can find below a list of authors that I have enjoyed in the past. My preferred genres are chick flicks, true stories, fantasy, dystopia and young adult fiction.

Authors of note:
Dorothy Koomson
Cecelia Ahern
Lisa Jewell
Lauren Weisberger
Sarra Manning
Jane Fallon
Jane Green
Kate Jacobs
Sheila O’Flanagan
Jodi Picoult
R.J Palacio
Jane Costello
Jenny Colgan
Jojo Moyes
Harriet Evans
Alice Sebold
Lucy Dillon
Michele Hauf
Lucy Robinson
Gina Blaxill
Malorie Blackman
Carole Matthews
Aidan Macfarlane/Ann McPherson
Melvin Burgess
Louise Rennison
Allyson Braithwate/Ally Condie
Lindsey Kelk
Suzanne Collins
Lucy Diamond
Veronica Roth
Lisa Genova
S.J. Watson
Paula Daly
Charlaine Harris
Meg Cabot
P.C. and Kristin Cast
Sara Gruem
Cathy Glass

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

1 Year To Go...Again?!

Yesterday marked a year to go until the Paralympic Games in Rio. Scarily, I remember blogging when it was a year to go until London 2012. How time ticks on, yet my goals and ambitions remain the same.

This landmark provides the perfect opportunity for me to look back on my season. After the euphoria of competing at the 2014 Commonwealth games, I was revved up for winter training and ready to progress. However, I just ran into one barrier after another. After starting back at training for a couple of weeks, I got ill and spent a month feeling dreadful and constantly coughing. This meant I immediately fell behind in training. In November I already had a holiday booked to Mauritius to visit my Grandma, which forced me to miss more training. Then in December, I needed an eye operation, which led to further disruptions. Nevertheless, January arrived and although four months behind, it was a fresh start. I planned to start racing in June. In April I began a part-time job, which tested my energy levels and by May the fatigue caught up resulting in another virus with a terrible cough. Racing in June went out of the window. I thought my season would be over by my birthday in July, so didn’t think a holiday for my birthday would be a big deal. Annoyingly, I was wrong. However, all was not lost, I could race in August. So within the space of twelve days, I competed four times. Nowhere near as prepared as I wanted to be, I had no choice, but to go for it.

Race 1 – Watford Open
The last time I had raced was in front of forty-four thousand people. I would be lucky to have a crowd of forty-four in Watford. Despite this, my nerves were worse than ever and definitely contributed to my poor opener. 14.57 with legs that felt like jelly all the way down the track. Far from impressive.

Races 2 and 3 – Lee Valley Sprints Evening
Thankfully, I had raced the nerves out of my system in Watford. I had two chances in Lee Valley, which is a rare opportunity. My start wasn’t brilliant, but I managed to sprint to an illegal 14.04 on my first run. The wind was +3.7 and the legal limit is +2.0. On my second run, I executed the start and was flying until 50m in where I hit a wall and struggled the rest of the way. This is where the lack of winter training showed, as my speed endurance was seriously lacking. On a positive my second run was legal with a time of 14.28, the same time I ran at the Commonwealths.

Race 4 – Godiva Classic
This race was the big one, as it was not only my final chance to clock a decent time, but I would be racing other para-athletes. Generally, I executed the race fairly well. The only area I was disappointed with was my pick-up, which again relates back to my issues with winter training. I finished third in the race behind partially sighted athletes and ahead of those with CP, which is where I hoped to place. I clocked 14.25, a modest time, but it was into a minus 2.6 head wind. Therefore, I was satisfied, as I truly believe I would have dipped under fourteen seconds if the wind was in my favour.

In short, I failed to run a PB for a second year in a row. It really hit home how essential winter training is and the ability to stay fit and healthy. I am currently ranked 4th in Europe, which is ok, but I genuinely believe I can top the rankings. Hence, I resigned from my job and whilst I am young and able, I’m going to concentrate on trying to challenge the world in athletics. These days being a para-athlete can’t be a part-time job. The standards are exceptional. I want to be exceptional.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

27 Years

For my birthday this year, I decided very early on that I didn’t want to be in this country and booked to go to Fuerteventura with my family. Partly because I need my annual sunshine fix and partly because I felt I needed an escape.

It has become apparent that as we reach certain ages, different things are expected from us and are considered the norm. For example, in our teens the majority start dating and learn to drive. At 18 many go to university and now I’m in my mid to late twenties, I’ve noticed it is common to have a career, house, be in a long-term relationship or married and/or have a baby. If you don’t meet what is deemed the social norm, you can be left feeling like a failure.

They say in school that all anyone wants to do is fit in. I’ve learnt that this doesn’t stop when we leave; we’re constantly striving to be socially accepted. If you can’t get a boyfriend at school, you’re a loser and in the same vein, if you can’t get or don’t want a job in your twenties you’re a lay about.

Last night, a Saturday evening I was home alone and scanning through my Face Book. The posts included: someone celebrating their wedding day, a couple celebrating their 2 year anniversary, another couple going on their first holiday together, a friend pleased that she had passed her 6 month probation at work, a friend excited to get a job and snaps of my friends child doing something worth cooing at.

Whilst all of that is lovely and I’m genuinely pleased lots of people I know are sharing happy experiences, it got me wondering whether they are in their respective predicaments because they have always dreamed of such things or because they are just trying to meet the social model.

Personally, I have always wanted to keep up with my peers and be like everyone else. Although, on reflection attempting to do this just isn’t right for me. Like most school girls, I was desperate for a boyfriend and was lucky enough to get one. However, I don’t believe I was ready for all it entailed. It was suggested to me that because of my gradual sight loss, I should do my A Levels over 3 years instead of 2. I refused. My grades were fairly good, but could I have done better? At 18, I didn’t go to university like many of my friends, as I think I knew it wasn’t the right time for me. I was 21 when I started my degree with The Open University and 25 when I graduated. Not going to a brick university, studying part-time and at an older age is not the average way to complete a degree, but it was right for me. Now at 27, I do feel like I’ve been left behind, I know I shouldn’t, but I constantly compare myself and my life to others. I long for what others have and yet at the same time know I’m not ready for what they have. I keep telling myself it’s ok to go against the grain and it’s fine that I’m not winning the race. Nevertheless, I can’t get rid of that pang of failure deep within.

It takes a strong person to be different.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


Life would be dull if we always stayed within our comfort zones. So when I heard that VICTA were organising a trip to Wales involving a visit to Zip World and mastering Mount Snowdon, I was quick to sign up.

Luckily for me I was able to get a place on the trip, which took place between 7-9 July. After meeting at Bangor train station, we went straight to Zip World to fly at around 100mph over a quarry and lake. I’ve experienced zip wires in the past, but none as long or as fast as the ones at Zip World. Usually, I’m used to sitting upright on a zip wire, yet at Zip World you lie on your front and just dangle in the air. The thought of this was very disconcerting, so I was surprised to feel secure and safe in the position. I’m sure it helped not being able to see the earth way beneath me. We first tried the little zipper to get a feel of everything and then it was time for the main event. The sensation of soaring through the air is unbelievable. The wind whooshed against you at such force it temporarily deafens you and it’s impossible to open your mouth to scream. Rain drops pelted against my skin, which wasn’t pleasant, but added to the sensory experience.

The following day, it was time to conquer Mount Snowdon. At first I was a little disgruntled to hear that we would only be climbing down the mountain, as who aspires to descend a mountain?! However, I underestimated the challenge. We got the train up to the top and then climbed to the summit. I thought the wind at Zip World was powerful, little did I realise the winds at the peak of Mount Snowdon were on another level. The cold was biting, my face ached and it was a fight to stay upright. My six layers just didn’t feel adequate. The entire trek was testing, but until the wind settled down, as we got lower, it felt near impossible and generally difficult to enjoy. I expected it to be tricky underfoot, but again I failed to anticipate how awkward it would be at times. Being blind definitely made the walk a million times harder, the amount of occasions I misfooted and twisted my ankles was unreal. Nevertheless, my guide was amazing.

I think it took us around three and a half hours to get to the bottom and the sense of achievement was immense. Two days, two challenges, two unbelievable feats. A big thank you to VICTA and their volunteers for enabling blind and partially sighted young people to push themselves beyond their limits.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

It's Been A While

It’s been a while since I blogged and I’m writing more for myself, as when I look back in a few years time, I won’t remember what happened in the first half of 2015.

Life has felt so busy, mostly in a good way. I’ve been living independently in my new home for nearly 6 months now and love it. It feels so right. I was never unhappy living with my parents, but I think moving out was one of the best life decisions I have ever made. Money is tight these days, food, gas, electricity, council tax, TV license, broadband, house insurance and of course the mortgage all add up. Nevertheless, I often reflect how nice my house is and how ideal the location is. I can walk back to my parents in 50mins, it takes 25mins to get to my local train station and Fosse Shopping Park is only a mile away. I’m also very excited, as next to Fosse Shopping Park there is going to be a new retail park called Castle Acres featuring 26 shops and restaurants. I get to live in a village and still be surrounded by so many amenities. Of course I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere without Calvin and I’m not sure my living experience would be as enjoyable without him. The loneliness would have definitely kicked in if my Monster Munch wasn’t around to entertain me. Though I do wish that Calvin could do the washing up!

I say money has been tight, but I have tried to remain social. I think since I last blogged I’ve seen Blue and S club 7 in concert, Dirty Dancing and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time at the theatre and won a second silver medal at intermediate level with Nottinghamshire Sheriffs goalball team.

I am also regularly working, both paid and voluntary. I started volunteering at my local Brownies pack in January and go every Friday night, which I absolutely love. Initially, I wanted to volunteer at Guides, as I liked volunteering at secondary school last year, yet when I tried Brownies I never looked back. The girls are all so lovely and of course Calvin is a total hit. The Girl Guiding community itself has been extremely welcoming and supportive. I attended a county training day not long after I started and have started my Leadership qualification. Brownies was fun as a child and it’s just as much fun as an adult.

The last time I was in paid employment was in 2008. Finding a job is one of the most emotional processes. Since April, I have been working at RNIB College Loughborough in the residential side, as a Support Worker and do 2 days per week 4.30-10.30pm. The late finishes have made waking up for training the following day tough, but I only have 2 more weeks before it is the summer holidays.

I am still training hard and it is crazy to think that this time last year I was getting ready for the Commonwealth Games. I haven’t raced yet, as I’m not quite ready, but hope to be competing in the near future. Athletics is a real passion of mine and I would be truly lost without it. However, I know I can’t do it forever. Before I retire, I desperately want the opportunity to represent my country again at a major championships.

Next month I turn 27. OMG! However, before then I am leading an Action for the Blind family day at Conkers, celebrating my other half’s birthday, climbing Mount Snowdon with VICTA, seeing Matilda the musical in the West End and swanning off to Fuerteventura.

Life is for living

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Seven Heaven

For some reason every year I’m surprised that Calvin has another birthday and becomes that little bit older. My puppy dog is seven! I hate that he’s creeping ever closer towards retirement. I’m fairly sure I will get another dog after Calvin, but if I had the choice, I’d keep him working forever. Not because he is the best at guiding, just today he walked me into a lamppost and decided to take me on a tour of the park instead of finding the way out, but because he is my best friend.

At the end of 2014, Calvin and I moved into our own place. Perhaps selfishly, I knew it was a massive change for me and didn’t really stop to think about the affect it would have on Calvin. Well, he didn’t lose his appetite, yet the weight was falling off him, from what I can only conclude was stress. He developed an ear infection, which was proving a devil to clear, so we were going to the vets on a weekly basis. At first I was delighted he was shedding the pounds, then I began to get worried when he didn’t stop. Nevertheless, after a month or so in our new home, he began to fatten up again and is now back to his former cuddly self.

Our new house has a nice sized garden, which Calvin has well and truly marked as his own. Cleverly, I adapted a section of my driveway into a spending pen, except at present Calvin refuses to do big busys in there. I fully appreciate the garden is a more appealing area to busy yourself, yet come the summertime I don’t want to be stepping into something unpleasant. Note to self, must persist.

Calvin is also having issues sleeping downstairs. He has an extremely comfortable new fluffy bed in the living room and a box of toys that is over-flowing. Only, every night he waits until I’m lost in the clouds and sneaks upstairs. If I send him back downstairs, this doesn’t last long before he creeps up again and goes and sleeps in the spare room instead, as if this is an acceptable alternative. Ever since I have had Calvin, he has slept downstairs. He has become an expert at opening doors, unless it is clicked shut, he somehow manages to open it. I go through phases of shutting the door totally, hoping he learns, but at the moment he is winning.

Calvin thrives on pushing the boundaries and being a rebel. A few days ago, I got out of the shower, heard a grunt as I entered my bedroom and discovered the monster curled up in the middle of my bed. He realised he was too slow to stop himself from getting caught, so slumped back down, crossed his paws and prayed that I would leave him be. Obviously, I used my sternest voice and ordered him to get off of my bed, but through the powers of telepathy, I could hear him grumble ‘ok, ok, chill out all ready, I’m moving’, as he casually jumped off the bed. Admittedly, I did laugh to myself in astonishment afterwards.

I think it is safe to say Calvin has settled into our new home and his dog bowl that states he’s ‘the boss’ is very apt. How could another dog ever live up to Calvin?!

Some say Calvin is a menace, I say he has personality!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Omid Djalili

Last night I was out once again, this time seeing the comedian Omid Djalili at Leicester’s DeMonfort Hall. To summarise, it was a thoroughly entertaining experience.

I appreciated a lot of the cultural gags and it was refreshing to witness a mainstream comic, joke about Paralympians and disability in general (take note BBC). To be fair, Omid managed to cover the entire Equality and Diversity policy within his show, yet managed to remain politically correct throughout. He highlighted many serious topics and beliefs in a jovial manner, meaning you were in hysterics, but actually learning along the way. I was slightly concerned for the lady sitting next to me who seemed to laugh at every syllable Omid uttered, I was honestly afraid she might pass out. It also amused me that Calvin (Guide Dog) decided the aisle wasn’t a safe place to lie and shuffled in between the seats, out of sight just before Omid came on stage.

In the final section of the show, Omid answered questions the audience had submitted. It soon became apparent that I was surrounded by mentally unstable people. The way some people think is truly unbelievable. I’m trying to remember an appropriate question, but other than the ‘can Omid wish me a happy birthday’? There really weren’t any. You had to be there to understand my shock. It was great to see Omid react to them in a humorous way, demonstrating that he can be funny on the spot too.

A ‘funny’ night in all senses of the word!