In 2009 I received my first guide dog: a big black Labrador called Watson. Before I was allowed to take Watson home, I had to spend two weeks in a hotel in Wetherby training with him. It was a really strange experience; the only other visually impaired person I’ve ever known, or spent any considerable amount of time with is my granddad, who has the same condition as me. So when I had to spend a fortnight with a group of other visually impaired people, it made me more aware of my disability that I ever had been before.
There was a real mix of people on the residency, and although we would train in pairs during the day, we would all eat together during our breakfast and evening meal. There was also an older guy who irritated me from day one. He loved the sound of his own voice, and would regale us with stories of his HAM radio and his hobby of sitting in the woods and collecting bird sounds – a kind of audio bird watching. I have nothing against anyone’s geeky hobbies, I write reminiscent music reviews on the internet for God’s sake. But this guy just would not shut up. I’m not sure how he managed it, but every time one of the others would tell a story, he would manage to turn it round back to him. After spending over a week with him, I’d had enough. On some nights I got friends to come over from Leeds to go and get some chips at the Wetherby Whaler (a fine fish and chip establishment if ever there was one), just so I didn’t have to listen to him ramble on and on about bird noises and radio equipment.
Although we were taken out in pairs to be trained, most of the actual training was done on a one-on-one basis. And so I spent half the time during the day sitting in the trainer’s van waiting. On the first day I hadn’t prepared for sitting around for so long, so I sat twiddling my thumbs, trying to find something half-decent to listen to on the radio. After that, I always made sure that I took my MP3 player with me. One of the albums I really got into that week was Mirrored by Battles. ...
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