Independence or provardo?

If your blind getting out and about isn’t easy even at the best of times. One way or another a lot of us manage it though. Let me take you back 48 hours to Tuesday morning.

Here’s the situation. I had an appointment with my supervisor at Uni in central London. I had not met with him for quite some time and there were a few important issues around funding and the direction of my PhD that I wanted to discuss face to face. Email is great, but there’s nothing like a free flow of ideas. Added to that I had a book to take back to the library. Now you might think this wasn’t so important, accept that the book was from the teaching collection, which most students aren’t allowed to take out for longer than 1 night. Then there were a couple of books waiting for me to collect. Finally, I had to pick up a memory stick that I had previously lent to someone from the Student’s Union and wanted to get back.

So, I woke up late and was in a bit of a hurry. I left home at just after 9.15 in the morning. Discovered how snowy the ground was and then decided to turn round and get a taxi. As soon as I had closed the front door behind me, my 11 years of boarding school kicked in and I decided that if I couldn’t walk down the road how was a taxi going to get in. I also decided that I was perfectly capable of managing a bit of snow. A fruitless effort to prove my own independence?

Well, the fact that I’m writing this suggests that I was in-fact perfectly capable of making that journey. However, walking through the snow is far harder than walking in a usual environment. I use a cane at the moment and it is very hard to roll the cane across the ground as the snow makes the rolling motion very hard. Then its difficult to feel the kerb with the cane, as the snow tends to be deeper near the kerb. Following a wall isn’t easy either as again the snow is deeper near that.

Having all this snow also means that the cane tends to get stuck in it, thus causing painful vibrations to go shooting up your wrist and arm. The ball at the bottom of my cane got filled with snow thus slowing the rolling motion even further.

If that wasn’t enough, with the snow on the ground its far harder to tell if your walking on the pavement or the road, where the road is in relation to the pavement and where crossing points are located.

Sound also becomes deadened by the snow which means its harder to hear cars coming towards you and the sound of buildings, fences etc change. Now a sighted person may not understand this last point, but a blind person will know that as you walk the sound your cane makes, the sounds your feet make, clicks of the tongue all give clues as to the environment the blind person is walking through. With practice you can tell roughly how close you are to a building, if there’s an opening coming up etc.

Finally, I found I was regularly going from snow, to slush, to ice and finally to grit. The constant changes from one surface to another without knowing what was coming next was very off putting. Of course everyone slips and slides in this weather, but then most people can see where they are putting their feet when walking.

Well I did manage it, but by the time I got home just before 2 I was cold and knackered. Was it worth it? Yes in every respect.

Going to boarding school gave me many benefits. But one negative was an inability to recognise that independence doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything by myself. And that is something I need to remember. Perhaps other blind people need to do the same.

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The final presentation

So, England’s bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2018 is now closed. We’ve had our final say and its now down to those 22 electors. I’m in favour of the bid, having the Word Cup here will be great for English football fans who haven’t had a World Cup in our country since 1966.

I must say though I’m not one of those people, like almost everyone who’ve been ringing into 5live who was deeply effected by the final presentation. Nauseated might be closer to the mark.

Yes much of what they said was good stuff that very few people would disagree with. Eddy was particularly inspiring and Beckham was moving.

But, I can’t forget that the organisation they, The Prime Minister and William Prince of Wales have been wooing is clearly mired in corruption. The recent BBC Panorama, articles in the newspapers and common talk amongst sports correspondence over many years suggest that money has consistently been put into people’s pockets rather than development projects.

The voting process is secret and opaque and the number involved encourage corruption. Sept Blatter has presided over this system for quite some time and to listen to our bid team talk about him in glowing terms left me completely non-plused.

And then to say and I quote “in our compact country transport is quick and easy” I hope I’ve got that right, given our current weather conditions had me howling with laughter. But that’s only a minor point, even here it won’t be snowing in June or July, or whenever the Word Cup would take place.

Will the final presentation make any difference? Who can say. Personally I doubt it. Minds have already been made up and they don’t like what our media has been saying about FIFA. And the media was perfectly right to say it.

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A man’s best friend!

I was told today that my first Guide Dog Mick had to be put to sleep this morning. His arthritis had got to the stage where he was unable to move freely and was clearly in a lot of pain. I want to note here my gratitude to Theresa and her whole family for taking care of Mick for me when he retired and I took the decision that I couldn’t look after him properly. They gave him a very happy retirement which he so deserved.

I’ve already said that Mick was my first Guide Dog. We built up an extraordinarily close bond. Mick was the kind of dog that bonded with one person, first it was his puppy walkers, then his trainer and finally me.

When I first went on training in 1999, each time his trainer came into the room Mick would try to get to him. Sometimes, it meant him jumping up from lying down and trying to run across the room and sometimes it meant him trying to turn round whilst we were working. I was taught to be extremely firm with him and there were occasions when I thought that Mick would never like me. And then it just clicked. I had to go home one weekend to see my Great Grand Mother in hospital. When I returned he was so pleased to see me and I realised that we were going to make it.

It finally hit me that we had bonded when on aftercare, his trainer tried to persuade Mick that he could go to the toilet in the gutter and all Mick was interested in doing was getting back to me. It was then that I realised that Mick had bonded with me.

That bond saw us through university at Manchester. It was the most amazing feeling being able to walk down busy corridors and continue having a conversation with the person I was walking with, anyone who has used a cane will tell you that this is extremely difficult, particularly when the said corridor is full of students and lecturers. Then there was walking down busy streets in Manchester, and particularly Oxford Road. Anyone who knows Manchester will know that, that road can be particularly busy.

When I graduated Mick was there with me and guided me up on to the stage, to the person who presented me with my First Class Honours Degree and back to my chair. I swear he got the biggest cheer of the day.

He survived my trip to the USA and he survived nearly falling down the gap between a train and the platform at Norbury. Some dogs would have been spooked by this, but he was perfectly happy to jump on the next train I took him on. In-fact he was happy whatever we were doing, so long as we did it together.

During my first set of exams I decided to leave Mick in my flat only to return to find tissues from the bin all over the floor, and the bobble on my Manchester United hat unrolled. I gave him such a telling off for that one. Although many people have told me his chewing up of a Manchester United hat showed great taste. Speaking of things he did when I was away. I remember returning from Cyprus to find my pyjamas in Mick’s bed and a warm patch on my bed where he had clearly been lying, until very recently.

And then there are the more embarrassing stories. Like him being sick at my Great Aunt’s house the first time I took him there. And then he peed all over a friend’s leg when he first met Mick. On the same trip he peed into a plastic bag in another friends house.

I will remember all those visits from Guide Dogs staff who all said how well we worked together. I will never forget the confidence I got when walking out the door with Mick beside me. We both suffered from lack of confidence, but when we were together we bounced off each other and were able to handle anything.

There are thousands more stories, but I can’t remember them now. When Theresa told me that Mick had died, I felt empty and its now writing this, that its really hit me. I know that Mick is now with my dad and that when I die, whenever that maybe, my dad and Mick will be waiting for me.

So, Mick, rest in Peace knowing that your love and hard work will never be forgotten.

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Burning for the Ashes

And so the battle is nearly joined. England will be playing Australia in the First Test of the Ashes Series in less than 2 hours and for the first time in my time as a cricket fan, England will have a genuine chance of beating the enemy down under.

So, why will this series be different? We’ve got a collection of excellent bowlers, and that’s where test matches are won. If they can come to terms with the conditions, and given the performances in the 3 warm up games, there’s no reason to think they can’t, we will be able to seriously challenge the Australian batting. Then there’s the preparation, its never gone so well. Our batting, although capable of collapsing, can on its day perform very well. On that subject its good to see Cook back in form. Let’s hope Pietersen can find his touch as well. But, finally and perhaps most importantly, the Ausies themselves are not the side they once were. Well, when you lose players of the quality of Warne, Mcgrath et al, you can’t expect to perform as well as you did with them. They’ve just lost to India as well.

Let’s just hope my PC won’t let me down because unlike my first tour of Australia, back in 94-95 I won’t be staying up all night. I’m too old to manage that trick now.

It would be interesting to draw comparisons between that tour and this one. A few differences off the top of my head. England players are now contracted to the ECB rather than their counties. This places England at the centre of cricket rather than the counties. We’ve got a relatively young team, in 94-95 Gooch and Gatting were taken on the tour, if my memory is write one of them was 39 and the other 40 and they looked it. In 94-95 England were out played in fitness and in the field. Now we are far fitter and more athletic in the field.

I can’t think of any others at the moment but then I’m knackered. Good night and good luck.

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Can I come in?

By the time this post is published the Government will probably have announced its cap on migrants to the UK. As MPs now have to do before making a speech in Parliament, I should perhaps say that I have an interest in this area. Both my parents were immigrants to this country. My mother came here in the 1950s when she was under 5. At that time Cyprus was still apart of the British Empire. I don’t know why my Grand Parents decided to come to the centre of the empire rather than remain in the Mediterranean paradise that Cyprus must have been. Anyone notice the sarcasm in that sentence? My father arrived in 1975, after independence and the Turkish invasion, looking for a better life and a job. Both contributed to British society through their payment of taxes, through the friends they have made and through the money they have spent here.

I was born here and consider myself to be British first and foremost. Of course my identity is multi-facetted, my Turkish Cypriot heritage and blindness, to name but two other identities, all add up to the unique individual that I am. But, oh dear I’m fast getting off the point. Back to migration caps.

We have a serious problem in this country with an aging population and a birth-rate that won’t replace the workers at a fast enough rate from the native population. By native, I mean those who have been born here and consider here to be their home. If we don’t have enough workers, how will we pay for the pensions that all those pensioners are entitled to receive?

The only way is to have a managed migration system that allows those who want to come and work here, to buy into our way of life, to contribute to this society to do so. At the same time we shouldn’t expect conformity, we can learn as much from our migrant workers as they can from us. Curry anyone? Kebab? Some reggae perhaps?

But how do we manage migration. People have tried to do this for centuries. The Romans tried to keep various tribal peoples out of the Roman world and they failed. As did the Byzantines with the Turks half a millennium later. It is almost impossible to stop people from moving from the parts of the world that have little, to the parts of the world that have a lot. If the Romans and the Byzantines couldn’t prevent it, how can we hope to now, given the improvements in transport.

A country is not a box. There isn’t a finite amount of space. Well, actually there is, at least in terms of physical space. But here in the UK we haven’t even come close to running out of space. There was an article in the .. well actually I can’t remember where, The New Statesman? Possibly. The article suggested that there was plenty of land that could be built on. The only part of the country that could be said to be full was, well you guessed it, the South-East.

In terms of services, the other great argument that those who insist on capping or banning immigration always use is that they can’t cope, services can expand. With more people, you can employ more doctors, nurses etc.

I find it sad that very few people are prepared to stand up and say, immigrants have done a lot of good for this country and we need them. Why has the US been such a successful nation over the last 60 years? Perhaps because of the fact it is an immigrant culture, building on the diversity of its population.

So, when you read in the press another attack on immigrants, or hear a politician spouting on immigrants think of me, the child of immigrants.

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Bang goes the door on improvements to audiodescriptions at cinemas

I was finally able to speak to someone from Vue Cinemas who took responsibility and explained what the situation was concerning the latest harry Potter film and audiodescription. Whilst she was very friendly and polite, I ended the conversation feeling extremely fed up by the whole situation. There now follows a brief summary, based on my notes from our conversation.

Most cinemas only have one screen that can show films with audiodescription. This screen is usually a small one. Cinemas agree with film distributors which screens will be used for their films and how many times the films will be shown. This means that big budget films at least at the start only get shown on the big screens whilst the small ones are used for films that have already been out for a while.

The technology is only available on the smaller screens and because cinemas are planning to go digital, they don’t want to spend money on more equipment to allow other screens to support audiodescription.

They don’t want to move the equipment from the small screens to the larger ones because of the risk of damaging it. Also, and this wasn’t stated its my own conclusion, they, the cinemas, think that the general public won’t want subtitles being shown on screen and currently audiodescribed and subtitled films come on the same disk.

As I don’t use subtitles I won’t comment on that, accept to say that the subtitle track doesn’t need to be turned on for the audiodescribed track to work.

You may well be wondering when this fantastic era of digital cinema is going to appear and give all us blindys access to audiodescribed films quicker? Well, it might be at the end of 2011, or then again, 2012.

For the time being we’ll still be dependant on the good old cinema to let us have audiodescribed films when they think we should see it rather than when we want to.

Does anyone fancy a date with the law?

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How many of you will be watching Harry Potter this week?

Two days ago the latest in the Harry Potter films appeared in the cinemas on general release. As a big Potter fan, I have all the books in DAISY audio format and most of the films on DVD. I was therefore looking forward to going to the cinema to see the interpretation placed on the final story by the director and actors.

As someone who is blind I depend on the audiodescription track. For those that don’t know, this is an audio track mixed in with the standard audio where someone describes visual effects, facial expressions, in-fact anything that isn’t spoken aloud. It is designed to allow someone who has no vision, like me, or poor vision, like many of my friends to fully experience the movie format. We no longer have to whisper to our friends during a movie, thus breaking the code of conduct as set down by Messrs Kermode and Mayo. In-fact we can now go to the cinema by ourselves, if we want and fully enjoy an audiodescribed performance. Or can we!

I had suspected there were going to be problems when I contacted the cinema earlier in the week to be told that they would not be showing the latest Potter film with audiodescription. I have two cinemas near me and only asked the cinema about one of them.

On Friday I received my usual weekly email outlining what audiodescribed films were at the cinemas this week and as I suspected Harry Potter wasn’t to be shown in either of my 2 local cinemas. Worse still it was only being shown with audiodescription in 11 cinemas across the whole of London. Now, I don’t know how many cinemas there are in London, but I’ll bet, and I never bet, that there are considerably more than 11 cinemas in London.

I then began a 2 hour run around to try and find out who decided that both my local cinemas weren’t going to show Harry Potter with audiodescription and get them to explain this decision. I tried both the Cinema and the distributer but got no where.

The broader point here is that this particular film is probably going to be the biggest release of the year. If cinemas can’t appreciate that blind and VIPs will want to go and see this one, how on earth will we get them to understand that we also want to see smaller budget films.

Harry Potter is just the latest example in a long line of films shown at the cinema without audiodescription in their first week. Let’s be clear, the technology is in place, the films largely have the audiodescription track, so why aren’t the cinemas making sure that new films are being shown with audiodescription. Why will no one take responsibility? We’re not asking for charity here, we pay the ticket price same as everyone else. I don’t think its too much to ask that the technology be used to give us full access and an enjoyable cinema experience.

The Government has been talking about getting disabled people off benefits and more integrated into society. Integration isn’t just about getting a job and off benefits, its also about being able to do the same things that the non-disabled do and surely going to the cinema is a good example of this.

I shall be on to the cinema again tomorrow when their head of Customer Services should be back at work.

I mentioned my weekly email, it comes from the following web site:

Take a look and see if your local cinema is showing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part1, with audiodescription.

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