A year of firsts!

Hello once again dear readers.

I hope that you are all well, and that you all had an enjoyable festive period.

In this post I thought I would take a look back at some of the adventures Commando and I had in2015. Mainly because, as I look back on them I realize that a number of things we did last year were things we hadn’t done before.

We, or perhaps more accurately I, started the year by taking part in the give it up for Guide dogs fund raising effort. For the entire duration of January I gave up Coffee, keeping track of what I would have spent and then donating that to Guide Dogs. Although I have for the past several years given up crisps during Lent, more a test of will-power than anything else, this marked the first time that I was keeping track of what I would have spent and then donating that to charity. I was quite surprised when I realized that I was spending around £30 a month on coffee at that time! Fortunately I succeeded in the challenge and of course enjoyed, with some relish, a nice cup of coffee on the first of February in celebration. A little while later though I received an additional donation from someone at University who knew first-hand how much coffee I consumed and was rather impressed that I had managed to go without it for a month.

Craig and Commando at Graduation During January Commando and I also had our first encounter with exams, as I had to sit an accounting exam as part of my degree. Even though this exam was timed for late afternoon into early evening, and so was a situation that Commando was not used to, I am pleased to say that he did extremely well. Whilst I was working on the exam, Commando was extremely quiet, spending some time with the invigilator and making absolutely no attempt to get my attention, aside from when I had to move in order to plug in my laptop. At that point he was immediately at my side, perhaps thinking that we were done and that it was time to go home and get his evening meal. However once he realized that this wasn’t the case he went back to being quiet. In fact over the entire course of the exam, he was so quiet that I can’t really say for certain what he was up to…

In early March Commando and I gave our first ever Guide Dogs talk to a Cub scouts group. Up to that point we had spoken to people of various ages, and a couple of Brownie groups, but this was our first Cubs talk. Naturally Commando did one of the things that he does best at these events, which is to charm just about everyone he meets. Needless to say the Cubs had many questions about him and were very keen to give him some attention at the end of the talk. It always impresses me how well Commando behaves during these talks, just sitting or lying down as I speak, occasionally re-orienting himself to get a good look at what’s going on around him, but never showing any signs of boredom, and always without fail eagerly greeting those people who come over to say hello to him at the end.

The next few months, dear readers, were filled with a massive amount of work on my part as I worked to complete the assignments which would make up the second, and final, semester of my University course. But even through all of the work, of which there was plenty, I was still able to make the time to get out with Commando, both to give him some exercise and to allow myself to wind down a little. Enabling me to once again just marvel at how wonderful it is simply to be able to go out as and when I choose and to be able to take in the world around me as Commando and I move through it.

Not long after completing the course, Commando and I attended our first ever Puppy Room. As the name suggest these are rooms set up to allow people to come and say hello to guide dog puppies. This particular puppy room was at Newcastle University, which meant that Commando and I also took our first trip on the Metro in order to get there. Commando, as he so often does with new situations, took the Metro in his stride, getting onto and off it without any problems and just relaxing calmly as it took us to our destination. He also did extremely well guiding me from the Metro station to the University itself, so well in fact that anyone would think it was a route he had been taking regularly. He even offered me the chance to pop into a coffee shop on route, but unfortunately there just wasn’t the time. I had always found the idea of a puppy room to be a good one and so when we were asked to attend one I jumped at the chance. Although part of me did wonder just how well Commando would do against a room full of adorable puppies. But I needn’t have worried. Although puppies are adorable, Commando himself has an excellent track record of drawing people to us, and that day proved no exception. People were still keen to come and say hello to the fully grown guide dog, and of course ask me, as a guide dog owner, all about what life with Commando was like. Something that of course only a guide dog owner can truly tell those who are interested. So all in all our first puppy room went very well. Even though by the end of it my voice was giving out…

Not long after the puppy room adventure we were on our way back to our old stomping grounds of Edinburgh. I had been asked several months earlier if I would like to give one of the key-note talks at the Guide Dogs Regional Volunteer Awards, where volunteers from our division of Guide Dogs were being honoured. This saw Commando and I embark on our first lengthy train journey. We had of course done a little bit of work on trains during our training, but this was to be far longer than that. Again, as with his adventure on the Metro, Commando took it in stride, settling down at my feet and only occasionally popping up to see what was going on or to react to the attentions of a member of the public. The event itself went well, and my own talk appeared to be quite well received. This was also the first time I had encountered people who were readers of this blog! I was delighted to hear just how much they enjoyed the stories I am able to tell via the blog. After all dear readers, this is all for you.

A couple of weeks after the Edinburgh event I got the news which I had been waiting and working for for the past year. I received the formal results for my degree. I was, dear readers, utterly delighted to learn that I had achieved a First in my degree, and a few weeks later Commando and I attended the graduation ceremony. This was another first for us. We were again at the Sunderland Stadium of Light, where we had attended the previous year for my HND graduation. But this time, instead of a function room we were actually out in the stadium area itself, along with a large number of fellow graduates. Again, Commando just made himself comfortable, after looking agog at the initial academic parade, no doubt wondering why so many of the humans around him today had such strange clothing on. During the ceremony he made himself comfortable, popping up every now and then to watch people walking past us on their way to the stage. Until it was our turn to walk the stage. Although I was tempted to allow Commando to take on the guiding duties for the event it was decided in the end that it would be better for us to be guided. So we were taken down to the stage, and then our names were called. I was so pleased that I had been asked if I’d like Commando’s name called along with my own. He and I are a partnership and it seemed only fair that he get his name called along with my own. We crossed the stage to rapturous applause and got the chance to meet and shake hands with ITN’s Alistair Stuart, a very nice man and excellent public speaker, before being guided back to our seats.

Our next first, dear readers, is not a situation I am eager to repeat, but could not really exemplify the work of a guide dog partnership any better. We had set off on a morning walk only to find that road works, which were supposed to have been completed by then were in fact still very much under way. Commando and I found ourselves in a situation where the amount of noise served to make road crossings very difficult, and the work itself meant that on one occasion I was unsure as to whether or not we could proceed safely. After a little help from the road work crew we made it past the works on our way to our destination, with Commando doing some fine work. Then on the way back we found that our path was completely blocked. Commando, dear readers, is an expert in finding a way through some very tight squeezes. But at one point he came to a complete halt, clearly having no idea how he was going to get us out of this one. Fortunately though, this time, I was able to help him. Since I had been able to remain focused on exactly where we were I knew that there was at least a chance of finding a way through, ironically by using something which had caused us some problems during our initial training. An extra raised curb which didn’t really lead anywhere and had confused Commando the first couple of times he came across it. With that in mind I couldn’t be certain that Commando would follow my lead as I indicated for him to move up onto that curb. But fortunately he trusted my judgement and within a second realized that he could follow the curb along and take us across the road. After that it was just a matter of Commando needing to do his usual fine work of taking us around what was in our way and leading us onward and clear of the road works, towards home.

Craig and Commando at Guide Dogs WeekOur next set of firsts came during Guide Dogs Week. I had taken on the duty of writing a blogathon for the occasion, which included the first, but perhaps not the last, blog post written from Commando’s perspective. As well as a number of other entertaining pieces. Guide Dogs Week also saw Commando and I taking part in our first ever bit of Classic fund raising for Guide Dogs, as we took part in our first ever street collection in Newcastle. Fortunately the weather was kind to us and all I needed was my Guide Dogs flees coat to keep warm. But of course this being Guide Dogs Week I was also given something highly luminous to where as well. I was so pleased that so many people took the time to come over and say hello to Commando and I, once again full of questions about life with a guide dog. As well as questions though, these kind people were also only too happy to put money into our collection bucket, and take a sticker from the gentlemen who was acting as our sighted assistant for the day. From what I am told there were a great many people walking around Newcastle that day proudly showing off their Guide Dogs stickers, with some people who had already said hello to other volunteers who had puppies with them also coming over to say hello to Commando and I to take a look at the finished article, as it were.

Craig and Commando at Guide Dogs People Awards

Later that month, Commando and I were honoured to be attending the Guide Dogs People Awards in Birmingham. This journey involved not one, but two, train journeys and also saw Commando and I having to get up earlier than we ever had before. Again, Commando handled the train journeys with his customary coolness. Probably better than me and my guest in fact, as we learned that there were no hot drinks available on the train on the way to our destination… The event itself was a wonderful day. It was truly a privilege to be among people who were being recognized for doing amazing things for Guide Dogs, and humbling to be included among them as a nominee. Even though I didn’t win my category it was still a great day. We then encountered a first time event that we could have done without, dear readers. We encountered the problems that come when one of the two trains required to get home is delayed… This delay meant that we not only found ourselves on an extremely crowded train, with Guide Dogs staff and guests forming a protective shield around myself and another guide dog owner as we travelled from one part off Birmingham to another. But the initial delay also meant that we missed our train home… At this point our Volunteer Co-ordinator swung into action and was able to arrange travel for us on the next train home, assuming of course that there was room enough for us to board. We made it onto the train, fully expecting to have to be standing, given the massive number of passengers already aboard. However some very kind passengers insisted that I and the other guide dog owner take their seats allowing us to ensure that our guide dogs were safely positioned out of the way. Fortunately the rest of our party were also able to find seats, and around 15 hours after leaving the house Commando and I returned, with Commando very eager for his evening meal.

So, dear readers, there you have it. A look at some of our first time adventures in 2015. I do hope that you have found this little look-back entertaining. If you are curious, or would like more details, then just about everything I have mentioned here can be found in the 2015 section of our blog.

So, now we have covered 2015 it only remains to see what adventures await Commando and I in 2016. Be assured that whatever adventures await us will be shared with you, dear readers. After all, there would be no blog without you.


Ted, 9:26pm Sun 17 Jan 2016:

Love the blog and look forward to your adventures in 2016.

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