Monday 26th February
These days, social media is moving so fast, it waits for no one. If you’re late for the party, you’ll probably be covered by all the noise and you might not be able to get your voice across. It could only mean that if you want to be heard by the crowd, you have to be fast; and on social media, that means you have to be really fast. If you are not able to respond to comments within a short time of them arriving you will lose following.
You can never go wrong by investing in communities and the human beings within them, trust us when we tell you that for many social media is their community just the same way that maybe your parish is to you.
Always remember your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth or criticism you receive on social media will drag you down.
When you lose followers because of where you stand – you strengthen your tribe. We have found this to be so true many, many times, never sacrifice principals for numbers.
Try to use social media as an idea generator, trend mapper and strategic compass for all of your ideas. Often God will use social media as a way of confirming what you might be thinking or even as a way of stealing you away from what may have become a wrong path.
What makes you different, makes you unique and therefore makes you stand out. Don’t be afraid when you are told that you are not saying the same things as others in the same field, there is probably very good reason for that. Find your own voice and don’t be tempted away to use someone else’s.
Social media is here. It’s not going away; not a passing fad. Be where people are just as Jesus did.
Good content always has an objective, be clear in your own mind what the objective is and above all pray about it, get your followers to pray for you. We have a huge number of people praying for our ministry via Twitter and their prayers are tangible things that we feel all around us, propping us up, moving us forward.
Everyone starts out on Twitter or Facebook with nobody listening to them and nobody to listen to. How and who you add determines what Twitter will become for you. Choose carefully and prayerfully. Don’t just follow anyone and more importantly don’t just let anyone follow you.
Social media will help you build up loyalty of your followers to the point that they will willingly, and for free, tell others about you.
The importance of gratitude is never forgotten. Always remember to thank followers for their help, support, prayer and encouragement, don’t ever take your followers for granted.
Engage, Enlighten, Encourage and especially…just be yourself! Social media is a community effort, try to see everyone as an asset.
Don’t be one dimensional, it is good to occasionally go off topic, to tell a funny story, to share something from your own life, it is important you show yourself and your organisation as rounded, that you can have fun and that you have concerns beyond that of your main cause.
This is a learning process and sometimes you have to fall in order to learn things.
Whenever possible reciprocate, if someone has been generous in sharing your posts with their followers then we must do the same wherever possible unless what they want shared contradicts the ethos of your organisation. There have been a few occasions when for that reason, we have had to say no.
People want to engage with you because you help them get what they want. They don’t engage with you to help you get what you want.
If you love what you do and have a sincere interest in those individuals that you meet along the journey, then not only will you benefit by your own efforts, but those you surround yourself with will be blessed with your knowledge and friendship.
Sunday 25th February
So through this blog I have tried hard to give you some insights in to the story of a stubborn old blind man. However there is absolutely nothing wrong with his hearing, but he will often simply refuse to listen. He doesn’t want to and you can’t make him. That man is me, David Lucas, a man who has gradually lost more and more of his sight. I’m the hero of my own story and instead of being tall, dark and mysterious, as I’d always intended, it turns out I’m rather short, fat and grumpy. Ah well!
This blog has not always shown me in a good light. Indeed, it will sometimes have shown me as a bad-tempered old fool, full of self pity and more than a little bitterness. You might ask why I would risk being seen in this way... Well, above all I wanted to give you an honest account of my experience of sight loss, warts and all. The world of the severely sight impaired (who used to be called ‘blind’) is strewn with obstacles, often placed there by sighted people who are simply unaware of the effect their actions can have on the life of a sight impaired person. You have heard me rant and rave and generally stamp my feet about these things and I know this may be difficult. At one point, I thought about removing all such material from the blog and had often gone as far as highlighting huge tracts of text, ready to delete them. Then I realised there would be very little left as I rather like ranting and in any case it would in no way represent my true feelings as they arose along this journey.
I eventually decided to give you the unedited version – including the tears and tantrums, the anger and joys – and let you form your own opinion. Sometimes what I have said may have surprised you. Sometimes it may have made you sad. Sometimes it may have shocked you. I suspect it will even caused offence to some. (I don’t really write off whole groups of people, as you might sometimes suspect... but I have made this mistake at various times in my journey.) Occasionally, my thoughts may have given you a laugh. And I earnestly hope and pray that just once or twice they might have just inspired you.
This blog won’t provide you with all the answers about sight loss because as yet I haven’t found them. What I have done, however, is reach an accommodation with my sight loss so that I’m no longer at war with it. I’m now able to wear the label of a blind man and not feel embarrassed or hurt by it. It has taken well over 40 years to get to this point... Even if I had known years ago what I know now, I cannot honestly say that I would have done things any differently.
Through this blog I want you to gain a sense of what life is like for sight impaired people in the UK in the early 21st century. People with sight impairments still face prejudice, abuse and ridicule on a daily basis, causing them to lead lives of segregation, isolation, fear and – all too often – loneliness. I long to see many things but more than anything I want to see a world where opportunity is open to sight impaired people on an equal basis. I’m sad to say, we still have a way to go.
If more sight impaired (and severely sight impaired) people are to achieve their full potential, then society needs to change. This will only come about when we’re able to face the issues honestly, all of us together, sighted and sight impaired. This little blog is simply one man’s attempt to create a debate about how that will be possible.
As a sight impaired person, life isn’t perfect. But it can be such fun. And it really can be fulfilling and worthwhile. Sight impairment is bearable and it is possible to lead a full life despite it. Believe me, I do and I thank God every day for brining Abbot and Jarvis in to my life. The journey so far has been a thrill and here we are close to starting a new adventure when Jarvis retires and a new guide dog comes along.
I've no way of knowing what lies ahead on the journey but I look forward to meeting some of you on the way.
Saturday 24th February
Being back in London today at the very hospital my sight loss was diagnosed stirs up all kinds of fealings and memories. I think it's partly why I always feel anxious when I'm in London, I associate the place with bad news.
In 1987 when I first got news of my sight loss my life fell apart, I lost my career, my home and came close to losing my marriage. Much of the next ten or so years are simply wiped from my memory as I lost myself to a world of anger, rage, drink, blame and simply running away, not just metaphorically but physically.
Why did I choose to link this blog which is largely about sight loss and guide dogs to the season of Lent? Well quite simply because the most unexpected part of guide dog ownership for me is what I have learned from Abbot & Jarvis about faith.
I now believe that faith is about hurling yourself in to the unknown trusting in a God that loves you to keep you safe, Abbot and Jarvis taught me that. Faith is about journeying, pilgrimage, sharing the journey, another lesson learned from my boys. There is no plan, there is simply trust. God simply says to us "come" and when you ask him why he simply asks us to wait and see, to join the adventure, the not knowing where we are going should be part of the fun.
This journeying together has become central to the life of Disability and Jesus. We are learning that it is all about interdependence, again a lesson I first learned from my boys, the relationship I have had with both of them is based on that. I look after their welfare, their needs and they look after mine. I've said it before, my boys have been free thinking sentient beings who have worked for me out of love, a love that is deep, mutual and very much heartfelt. The kind of love that Jesus demands we have for one another.
Let me leave the final word to the Abbot of our little community as he offers you his blessing.
May your bowl always be full
May your walks be long and happy
May there always be space in front of the fire May there always be someone to hold your paw In return you must lead gently, guide true. And remember... forward, always forward.
Friday 23rd of December
Our friend Stephen Gardener asked a question on Facebook last Lent. He asked "will there be guide dogs in heaven"? To which I whole heartedly respond that I believe so. I have no theology to back it up but you won't change my mind on it.
All this reminds me of what I wrote back in my book in 2008, long before we lost my beloved Abbot.
I’ll arrive at heaven’s gate and St Peter will want to know why he should let me in. I will have to admit that I don’t deserve it.
He’ll say: “I’m sorry, you’ve been a liar and a cheat.” And he’ll be right. “You’ve been a drunk,” he’ll add. True. “You’ve been bitter and bad-tempered.” True again. “You’ve been unfair to the people of Sunderland.” Ah, yes, I’ll admit it. “I’m sorry,” St Peter will go on, brisk and business-like. “You’re in the wrong place.” Then Abbot will pop his head round the gate and say,
“It’s OK Pete. He’s with me.”
Thursday 22nd February
Today's thoughts come in the form of this video at the bottom of this page, made back in 2005 when my predecessor Abbot was working.
Wednesday February 21st
Dave again, some of you will have heard this before but it is worth repeating.
Let me tell you about the very first walk I did with a guide dog, here is an excerpt from my book.
Eventually, later on that same day Lynne takes me out with my first-ever guide dog, a dog named Bumble. Bumble is a beautiful, two-year-old golden retriever bitch, very like my own dear Tessa. Someone is trying to win me over, knowing I have a soft spot for dogs that look like this. Well, it isn’t going to work. I’m wise to this strategy and made of stronger stuff.
I desperately want to ruffle Bumble’s fur and make a fuss of her but I know that once I do that the game will be up and I’ll be getting a guide dog. That simply isn’t about to happen. Lynne follows along behind us constantly nagging me to praise my dog but I resist again, so poor old Bumble gets none of the praise she deserves. Lynne carries on repeatedly nudging me in the back, telling me to praise my dog but I simply don’t listen.
Little do I know as I stand on the kerb outside the centre that my life is about to change forever.
I’m convinced the whole thing is a waste of time and am on the verge of passing the dog back to Lynne and walking out on the whole thing. But then we come to our first junction and something special happens... For many years now I haven’t been able to stand on the edge of a kerb without losing my balance and swaying like a drunk. This is a side effect of my condition and has led to a great deal of ridicule, leaving me feeling very self-conscious. Crossing roads has become something I fear not just because I can’t see the oncoming traffic but also because I’m always expecting someone to make a wisecrack about the drunk about to fall off the kerb. I’ve even begun to plan routes so that I cross as few roads as possible, often taking routes that take me far out of my way simply to avoid crossing as many roads. This is a highly impractical solution but it’s nonetheless become the norm for me. Journeys needed extra planning and extra time must be allowed.
But now, as we reach the kerb Bumble places herself at once between me and the edge of the kerb, forcing me back from the edge and freeing me from that swaying sensation. Suddenly, in one life-changing moment a guide dog has grabbed my attention. I’d never have thought such a thing possible. This was not part of the plan.
Later on, back at the centre, I sit down for my evening meal, ready to take a new look at things. This is my first meal with my fellow blindies and somehow it doesn’t seem as bad as I’d always imagined it would. Around the table I see people who are vibrant, interesting, witty and intelligent. There is no sign of a dodgy haircut. They are just like me in fact: cool, trendy, lovable and modest. There is no sign of a hand- knitted, baggy jumper and no one offers to take me on a trip to the seaside. It’s not at all what I’ve been expecting.
For years I’ve deluded myself into thinking I wasn’t like these people. I’ve always refused point-blank to accept my sight impairment. It’s never occurred to me as I’ve been about my business crashing into things and staring myopically at things for ages on end, unable to read them, that other people already perceive me as being sight impaired, irrespective of the impression I try to create. As far as I’ve been concerned, if you have no dog and carry no cane then no-one knows. How wrong can you be? Yet for years that really is what I’ve truly believed.
Gradually, I start to realise that we each have very little control over how other people perceive us. What matters is who we know ourselves to be. Bugger! How could I have been so stupid?
Later that evening Lynne takes me out for a second session with Bumble. It’s 6.30pm and since it’s October it’s already pitch dark, moonless and definitely a night when the old Dave Lucas would have found some lame excuse not to be out. I use various ploys to avoid facing the fact that on a night as dark as this I simply lose all confidence and become totally night blind... (Night blindness is a recognised diagnosable eye condition and one of several I suffer from).
Perhaps it’s too cold. Or I’m washing my hair. Or maybe there’s this program about dung beetles that I just can’t miss.
But tonight here I am out in the dark with this dog, being followed about by this strange woman who keeps giving us instructions in a very loud voice. And yes, I’ve even been persuaded to wear florescent clothing. They told me it’s for insurance reasons but I reckon it’s just so they can get a cheap laugh at how uncool I look. I plod along, feeling cold, uncomfortable, embarrassed and frightened.
I’m about to take my third lesson. Bumble and I are settled at the kerb. Lynne says that when I’m ready I should give Bumble the command forward and cross the road. Until now, I’ve never been able to judge the speed of traffic and for years I’ve been crossing roads using my ears alone. The logic goes if you can’t hear anything it must be safe. Of course, this is not a foolproof system and I’ve been run over twice because of it. I’m also used to being frequently screamed at by terrified motorists as I step off the kerb in front of them. (I must admit, this has almost been happening every day recently.) As Lynne explained to me earlier on, I’ve even been in constant danger of being run over by a milk float – let alone by a No. 57 bus.
I listen to the traffic and decide that the nearest car sounds far enough away to be of no danger so I give Bumble the command ‘Forward’. Nothing happens. I actually feel her dig her paws in and refuse to move. Hey, I think, this dog is faulty. I want my money back! Then I hear Lynne behind me sniggering. I don’t know what you’re bloody laughing at, I
think. I change the tone of my voice to what I think sounds a more authoritative one and once again I give Bumble the command to move forward. Still nothing. Not a flicker. This dog is definitely a dud. They can have her back. This whole guide dog thing is a waste of time. Then, very suddenly, I hear a roar as a bus thunders past, inches from my nose. Bumble had spotted it and had judged it too close for comfort. So no matter how many times the fool at the other end of the harness asked her, she was not going to move. Guide Dogs refer to this as intelligent disobedience.
Tuesday 20th February
I'm running a one man campaign to stop what I see as a misappropriation of words associated with blindness being used in negative, phrases such as "he's blind to", "turn a blind eye" etc. Such phrases have far more to do with a conscious refusal to see something rather than actual blindness.
Please don't misunderstand me here, I have a very thick skin and in no way do such phrases hurt me, I'm a rough tough Geordie lad and it would take far more than that I just feel that to use such phrases perpetuates a perception in people's minds that to be blind must be far more terrible than it really is.
This theory of mine also has a lot to do with our collective misunderstanding of the difference between healing and cure, two words that many have come to regard as somehow interchangeable where as I see them as radically different. To understand what the gospel has to teach us about healing and cure we must first realise that we are talking about two completely separate things.
When I was first given the news of my sight loss back in 1987 I was angry, confused, hurt and as a result spent years in what I can only now describe as a rage, lashing out, hurting others, blaming others, wanting others to experience some of the pain I was feeling.
It took me until the year 2000 to calm down sufficiently to even contemplate that I was going blind and that I should begin to explore what help might be out there, until that point my response had simply been to tell the whole world to F off!
Eventually in 2001 I was matched with my first guide dog Abbot.
Abbot was a very special being, in a very short space of time he took away all the anger, the bitterness, the sense of unfairness, to this day I still don't really know how he did it but I remain totally convinced that he did. This for me was a healing. It made what had been previously unbearable, bearable. More than that my blindness became part of my identity that I embraced, my blindness informs who I am, it causes me to place my faith and trust in a God that leads me who knows where in complete safety and love, it took Abbot to teach me that.
So now some 30yrs on I can say to people my blindness has been healed, not cured but healed. It is no longer the monster that rules my life, fills me with rage and sets me running. My blindness is now something that informs my faith, it helps me relate to others, it causes me to trust. It is by far more than just a negative. So much so that I don't believe in a Disney heaven where my sight will be fully restored, I'll be a guide dog owner in heaven too, it is part of who I am.
So back to this idea of banning the use of blindness related terms in every day conversation. I believe that such use contributed to the view I used to have of blindness before it actually happened to me. Everyday expressions had taught me to believe that to be blind was failure, was ignorance, was a refusal to see. I now know this to be far from the truth, so if you can see this too please join me in my campaign.
Monday 19th Februa
There is a phrase much used in the Church Of England lately, a phrase called "mutual flourishing". I've spent my fifteen year career as a guide dog owner and my understanding of that phrase is not something I recognise when I hear it bandied around the good old C of E.
All through your training with your dog they constantly bang on about the "bond" between dog and owner, almost to the point of it being obsessive. I have to admit that all those years ago when I was first training with Abbot I was starting to get cross with Lynne my trainer because like a broken record she kept repeating over and over that it was all about the bond.
I was so wrong the bond I had with Abbot and now have with Jarvis has taught me about prayer, it is a relationship of "mutual flourishing". Let me try and explain.
I always tell people that Jarvis is a sentient being who works for me out of love, love that is mutual, deep and heartfelt.
All his life Jarvis has been lavished with love and care, he has never been mistreated. It is that love and care that he responds to. Every time I put on his harness and we leave the house, it is that love he is responding to.
Jarvis cares for me and I care for him. I am Jarvis's sole carer. I am responsible for feeding him, I groom him each day, we play together every day, I administer any medicine he might need, I keep watch over his health and take him to the vet whenever needed. Now dare I say my fellow Anglicans, one of the most important parts of that bond, that mutual flourishing is that I am the one that quite literally clears up his shit.
In return Jarvis has kept me safe for seven years now without a murmur of complaint, he lives to care for me and does it brilliantly.
For me this echoes loud about the kind of relationship God wants with us and just as with Jarvis there is work to do in forming that bond.
Sunday 18th February
Let's talk a little about what being a guide dog owner has taught me about faith.
I remember when I was training with my first dog Abbot, there was a day when Lynne my trainer drove us to the other side of town and left us with nothing but a set of directions and saying she would meet us back at Guide Dogs office in an hour.
This was not my home town and I was terrified. As she drove away I stood on the pavement with that "I'm really stuffed now" feeling, thinking this would never work and I might never find my way back.
So with nothing but a set of memorised directions and a black dog this blind man set off to find his way across a town that was not his home town absolutely sure he was doomed only to find that 45mins later Abbot had him back at guide dogs office, tail wagging like a demented helicopter. An experience I will never forget.
In all my now 57 years as a ChristianI have heard many descriptions of what faith is. They're all not quite nailing it.
As a guide dog owner I have learned that faith is hurling yourself willingly in to the unknown trusting in the one that loves you to keep you safe.
Abbot was my first guide dog and as such he was not just a guide, he was instrumental in helping me to come to terms with my blindness, to accept it, indeed to embrace it. Abbot stayed with us after his retirement and lived on till he was almost sixteen. The first couple of years after his retirement were amongst some of the most difficult in my life but when I came home with my new dog, Jarvis, Abbot was always there checking to see if I was ok. Sadly in August 2015 the old boy finally passed away but I feel his presence with me every day, looking out for me just like he always did.
Saturday 17th February
As someone with a background in Celtic Christianity the fact that I had been given a dog called "Abbot" was never lost on me, indeed it was one of the ways I felt God present in the process.
You might ask why I loved him so much?
I loved the way Abbot filled a room. His presence was and still is a tangible thing. When he entered a room I could almost hear him shout,
I loved the way he leapt into our bedroom as it began to get light. Every day was brand new adventure to him and his enthusiasm was infectious. Even on a cold winter’s morning at six o’clock Abbot would bound into the room at the sound of the alarm, ready for a new set of mischief and it always made me grin.
Days when my sight was at its worst and depression was tapping on my shoulder, Abbot would deposit a toy at my feet as if to say ‘Stuff them, Dad.’ Who could stay unhappy when my boy was grinning at them?
Abbot had an in-built sense of when my sight was particularly poor. He slowed his pace down, he moved in close to my leg and I could feel the twist in his harness as he looked up to check if I was OK.
I loved walking him through a busy shopping area. These used to be the places I was most frightened of. Now I can almost hear him shouting ‘Coming through!’ The crowds would part and he would give a little swagger. I'd sometimes go out in the dark just because I could. I used to be scared of the dark like a child is scared of the bogeyman but Abbot has reclaimed the darkness.
I loved 8 o’clock in the evening, which was ‘treat time’. Abbot would go and sit by the cupboard and point with his nose:
‘It’s in there, Dad.’
Friday February 16th
As I mentioned before, I’ve always had an interest in Celtic Christianity and the monastic life. Traditionally, monastic communities live by a rule, which is laid down by the abbot. This rule is like a mission statement and it expresses their raison d’être.
In true monastic tradition Abbot has given us a rule to live by, which is as profound as any I’ve seen. We, his humble followers, should aspire to it, so here it is:
Always greet those you love with warmth and enthusiasm. Don’t be standoffish, dive straight in and nuzzle them. Roll onto your back and let them tickle your tummy.
When someone new comes through the door, find them a present and stick it in their face.
If those you love are going out on an adventure, make it quite obvious you’d like to go too. Don’t wait to be asked. Shy bairns get nowt, as my dad says. Go and sit at the front door so they don’t forget you.
Savour pleasures such as fresh air, the wind in your face, a run on the beach and – with luck – a dip in the sea, even in December.
Be obedient, especially if there’s food on offer. It always works for my owner – you should see the size of him!
When someone has invaded your space, growl at them gently. Let them know where the boundaries are but don’t hold a grudge.
Take plenty of naps. You can’t beat a good snooze and no one can overdo it. Find the best spot in the garden and stretch out in it. When you wake up, have a good stretch, then a scratch and maybe even a shake.
Run, bounce around and play every day. Encourage all those around you to join in. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Gently take hold of each person’s wrist and drag them into the game.
Thrive on attention and let people make plenty of fuss of you. This has always worked well for me. Do your best to look cute.
If you get told off or shouted at, don’t sulk. Go straight back and make friends.
Eat with great enthusiasm. When you’ve had enough, stop, burp and have a nap.
Be loyal, but never pretend to be something you’re not.
If what you want is buried, go digging for it. Don’t stop until you find it.
When someone’s having a bad day, sit close, stay quiet and nuzzle them occasionally. Put your head on their knee and roll your eyes at them. Trust me, it never fails.
Never refuse a cuddle... unless it’s from a cat lover.
Look out for those that love you.
Get yourself a pink squeaky ball. Squeak it loudly and often until someone shouts at you. It’s always good for a laugh.
Never go to bed on an argument or your master’s bed. But definitely never on an argument.
Start each day with enthusiasm but don’t expect others to join in.
Take pride in your work. The longer the walk, the greater the pleasure.
Lead the way.
Thursday February 15th
Some of you will have heard this before, a story of Dave going in to Newcastle, firstly befor the arrival of his first guide dog Abbat and second, the same trip with Abbot but I'm telling it again because I think it sets the tone for what else is to come throughout Lent.
Walking up my street isn’t too bad because I’m in familiar surroundings. However, when someone steps out of their garden gate I crash into them. This is quite simply because they’ve come from outside the bounds of my limited peripheral vision and I don’t see them until it’s too late. They call me an idiot. Moving on up the street someone opens their car door and again it’s outside my peripheral vision so I walk into it. I apologise but as I walk away I’m sure I can hear someone mutter the word idiot again.
Feeling more than a little hurt I make it the top of the street without further incident. I’m now walking alongside the main Newcastle road. The traffic is very busy and I’m feeling more than a little intimidated. No one seems to be sticking to the 30 mph speed limit and I can feel the tension beginning to rise within me. Before crossing the road I decide to go into the newsagent’s to buy a lottery ticket. The slip that you fill in is too small for me to read so I ask the man behind the counter if he’d mind filling it in for me. He snatches it from me and grudgingly fills it in, muttering something about me being a bit thick. I’m beginning to think about calling off my trip so as to save me suffering any further humiliation.
Leaving the newsagent’s, I head for the zebra crossing so as to get across that busy Newcastle road. A car is approaching the crossing but I can’t judge his speed so I wait at the kerb until he’s completely stopped. The driver is already impatient that I haven’t set off over the crossing as he approached and he’s now revving his engine. I can feel myself getting more and more uptight. As I pass his windscreen he’s tapping his head with his index finger, indicating that I’m an idiot.
I manage to make it safely to the bus stop. After a while I can see something that looks like it might be a bus. It’s big and red so maybe it’s a fire engine. (I have been known to flag them down in the past. I once flagged down a cement mixer.) As the big red vehicle gets closer I realise it really is a bus so I stick my hand out. I can’t read the number while the bus is moving so I have to flag him anyway. As soon as he’s stopped the driver opens the door and I ask him if he’s the 527. His reply is ‘Are you fucking blind or what?’ As he shuts the door he calls me a ‘fucking idiot’. I’m on the verge of going home, I feel so demoralised. This was supposed to be an enjoyable shopping trip but it’s turning into a nightmare of ridicule and abuse.
The next bus to arrive is mine and I manage to make it safely on board. After a short journey I leave the bus to make the rest of the journey on by Metro. In case you’re wondering how I know when to get off, it’s actually quite simple. With my level of sight I can easily recognise the eight-foot high, illuminated sign to Heworth Metro station. Getting through the station and finding the platform is not too difficult but on the platform there’s a moving digital display which I simply cannot read. As a train approaches I ask the man next to me if this is the train for Newcastle. He just points at the digital display and walks off.
“Thanks for all your help,” I mutter. And he walks off muttering abuse.
Fortunately, it is in fact the right train and I make it safely into Newcastle. On leaving the train at Newcastle I have to pass through a turnstile. It’s very busy and there are people coming at me from both sides from beyond the bounds of my peripheral vision. I can’t help but bump into one of them and once again a total stranger calls me an idiot. I can feel my temper starting to go.
Now I’m making my way up Northumberland Street, the main shopping street in Newcastle. This is a pedestrian zone with shops on both sides. People are emerging from shop doorways on both sides of the street but because of my lack of peripheral vision I’m simply not picking up on them and I’m bumping into them constantly. ‘Idiot,’ they all mutter. By now my temper is completely out of the bag.
I’ve heard on the radio that there’s a new Jackson Browne CD out so I wander into HMV. The shop is badly lit and once again I’m bumping into people. The combination of bad lighting and the small print on CD covers make it impossible for me to find what I’m looking for so I go off in search of an assistant. Eventually, I track one down and she tells me that if they have what I want it’ll be out there on the shelves and that I should go and look. I’m almost at boiling point now and I’m forcing my hands into my pockets to avoid choking the assistant. I skulk out of the store feeling embarrassed and defeated.
Comfort for such feelings comes in the form of a burger. So off I set in search of a fast-food joint. The menus in such establishments are always situated high up on
a back wall, behind the counter. It’s impossible for me to read the list of food items so I ask the 18-year-old behind the counter what they have. She points at the sign and says:
“Duh, it’s up there.”
The red mist has now completely descended and I’ve had more than enough for one day. I swear at the child behind the counter and storm out of the store. Sod it. I’m
going home, I think to myself. Just then I bump into another man who’s come up on my blind side. His “happy meal” is now spread all down his shirt and he’s not looking too happy at all.
“Fuck off,” I reply as I bolt for the Metro station.
The return journey is just as fraught as the outward one but by now the pan of my temper has completely boiled over.
Before Abbot came along there were many days like this and I had simply stopped going out on my own altogether. I would ask other people to go shopping for me and I avoided socialising on my own. By the time Abbot came along, apart from hospital appointments, it had been over 18 months since I’d been out alone.
Here’s a retake of the last chapter. This time I have the services of a guide dog...
When Abbot and I are all groomed and ready – or at least, when Abbot is! – we set off. Abbot’s in the lead, wearing a white harness (as opposed to a brown one), which proves that he’s fully qualified as a guide dog. I’m following behind, sensitive to Abbot’s every movement.
Moving beyond the familiar terrain of the garden and the gate, we proceed up the street. Suddenly, I feel Abbot’s harness move to the left and I move with it. This is now second nature to me. It isn’t until we pass that I realise a man was coming out of his gate and we have missed him completely. I bump into no one and no one calls me an idiot. Marvellous, bloody marvellous.
We turn right and walk along that busy Newcastle road. The fast-moving traffic holds no terror for me now. I utter that magic key word
‘News’and Abbot heads for the newsagent’s. As we enter, the man behind the counter shouts,
“Hi, Dave. How’s Abbot?”
I give him my lottery ticket and he fills it out for me and we exchange some friendly banter. Once again, no one has called me an idiot.
Coming out I use another one of those key words ‘Crossing’ and Abbot takes me to the zebra crossing. We wait at the kerb for a few moments until the traffic comes to a stop. I give Abbot the command
and Abbot heads purposefully across the road. As we go past one of the waiting cars I think I can see one of the drivers smiling and pointing at Abbot. Marvellous, bloody marvellous.
We make it safely to the bus stop and wait a few moments for the bus to arrive. When it does, the doors open and the driver calls out the number asking if this is the one I need. As it happens this is not the one for me but I thank him anyway and he tells me that the one I want will be along shortly. Sure enough my bus is right behind and we make it safely on board.
On arrival at the Metro station we make it safely to the platform. As we’re waiting a gentleman asks us what train we’re waiting for. He assures me the next train is for Newcastle and asks if I mind if he pats my dog. He’s been so helpful, I’m only too pleased to let him.
As we board the train and I sit down and Abbot begins to play his favourite game. He sits between my feet, head resting on my knee, looking as pathetic as possible. He scans the carriage to see who’s taking notice of him. When he finds his victim he fixes them with his most soulful expression. His face asks the question: ‘Would you like to give me a pat?’ In my experience there are few people who can resist this and you can bet your bottom dollar that within a few moments his chosen victim will cave in and come over and ask if he can give him a pat. It never fails and Abbot, the celebrity, has another adoring fan. Bless him.
We alight in Newcastle city centre and as we progress through the turnstile I begin to realise that no one has bumped into me even though there are people coming at me from all sides. Abbot is very much in control in these situations and it’s now a matter of habit for me to tune into the movement of his harness and to move with it, thus avoiding physical contact with any passers by.
We are now on Northumberland Street and although people are coming out of shop doorways from outside my visual field, I haven’t as much as brushed sleeves with anyone. This is what Abbot lives for. His tail is up and he’s giving it 100% concentration and taking great pride in his work. For the first time in years I’m enjoying a shopping trip. I haven’t made physical contact with anyone and no one has called me an idiot or abused me in any other way. This is such a joy.
I decide to try my luck at finding that Jackson Browne CD again. So off I set for HMV. As I walk into the shop a shop assistant spots us and asks if she can be of any help. I tell her what I’m looking for and she tells me to wait where I am and she goes away to find it for me. I can’t believe it! There’s been no need for me to go through the embarrassment of telling a total stranger about my sight impairment. Wow! I stand waiting, feeling appreciative of Abbot.
By now I’m getting a little big-headed and I’m beginning to think I’ve got this whole shopping thing in the bag. Feeling more than a little pleased with myself, I
decide to have another go at sampling burger cuisine. I join the queue and await the attention of the 18-year-old behind the counter. I ask her if she can tell me what’s on the menu.
“It’s on the board up there,”
I’m standing in front of her wearing dark glasses, carrying a symbol cane and I’ve got Abbot in full working harness, complete with fluorescent markings, but obviously both her neurons are out to lunch. She points again at the board and mumbles:
At this point she is very close to serious harm. I am about to unleash the wrath that has been building up in me over 30 years. Suddenly, I feel a tugging at my sleeve and I turn to find a very petite lady standing beside me.
Addressing her, I completely forget I’m no longer talking to the thicko 18-year-old behind the counter.
“I thought you might like me to read the menu to you,” she begins nervously.
This is another of those ‘Oh bugger’ moments. I’ve allowed my temper to trample all over the feelings of a lovely lady who is simply trying to help. I apologise profusely and she tells me she understands perfectly. She sits beside me as I settle down at a table and Abbot crawls underneath. As I munch happily on my burger she fusses over Abbot and becomes yet another fully signed-up member of the Abbot Fan Club. Membership must by now outnumber that of Robbie Williams’ and Abbot doesn’t even have a tattoo. He doesn’t wear an earring and the only drugs he does are his anti-flea treatment.
So you see... Life with Abbot is a whole lot better than life before Abbot. He’s a wonderful being and his talents are the stuff of legend. Nevertheless, having given you a glimpse into my ‘before and after’ worlds I don’t want to give you the impression that a guide dog is the cure-all for every issue of sight impairment. The world has more than its fair share of people who are ignorant of the issues involved in sight impairment. More on that later...
And yes I got my Jackson Browne CD which included this poignant song.
Ash Wednesday February 14th
My dad and I followed the debate on downs syndrome from General Synod on Saturday and I watched my dad getting very upset.
When a guide dog puppy fails to qualify as a working dog they are offered to the general public for adoption. All well and good you might think but you'd be wrong. The charity Guide Dogs refer to these dogs as "rejects". Imagine how that must make those poor puppies feel. Dad and I prefer to think of them as simply having a different skill set.
During the debate on Saturday, the Bishop Of Carlisle asked that we did not bring forward an ammednment about abortion but at the same time affirm the value of the lives of people with downs syndrome.
Is this not a contradiction?
Are we not saying on onehand "we love you guys" but "given the choice we'd rather there weren't any more of you"?
My dad was a prem baby which is no big deal in 2018 but back in 1960 was a huge deal. Dad's parents were warned there were going to be lots of complications and indeed there were, dad was more than 2yrs old when he finally came home and he was in and out of hospital regularly till he was around 14.
Dad once overheard a conversation which he was not meant to hear between his mother and grandmother where he heard his mother say that if she had been given the option of abortion back in 19y60 she'd have to have given it serious thought.
This converstaion had a huge and lasting affect on my dad.
My concern is that we have just done the same thing to many people with downs syndrome.