Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Aah, the little cherubs.

While standing in the playground at my son’s school this afternoon, I overheard a delightful conversation between two of the smaller children as they scampered past me, like a couple of terrier puppies, all energy and mischief.

“Be careful,” said the first boy thoughtfully, “he’s blind!” he continued, in that matter-of-fact way that we adults find so difficult to cope with.

“You what?” shouted back his friend, obviously keen for his pal to have another go at embarrassing his mother.

“Watch out, he’s blind!” the young lad shouted again.

“No he isn’t” retorted the second boy indignantly. “He’s just old!”


Talking of little s**ts, this weekend we in the bogsey household were watching one of those cheap ‘n’ nasty music video programmes when we discovered a little festive gem that had hitherto slipped under our radar – Mr Hankey, the Christmas Poo, featured in an episode of South Park – if you haven’t seen it you must check it out on Youtube. I can see that the little fella is going to be much talked about in our house this Christmas.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Oh, what a night!

Wow! In the words of the song, "Oh, what a night!" I'm still coming down from the buzz of it all. Over 180 people gathered at the second Dogs Dinner. And this time, apart from the organisers to greet them, there were also four of our four-legged friends; Laddie, a retired guide dog, a working dog called Fraser, and two youngsters still in training called Briar and Wallis. They must have wondered what on earth was going on.

As soon as everyone was seated, a finely tuned plan was put into action. First, it was up to me to set the tone for the evening with a few perceptive, cultured and rather philosophical words, which I had cunningly disguised as filthy, sexist abuse. I think I got away with it, although I'm not sure my mother-in-law would agree.
Before long the guests were tucking into their meals and starting to work in earnest on reducing the European wine lake. A tough job, but someone had to do it.

Filled with jive-juice and chocolate pud, some of the dresses, and no doubt trousers, were holding back rather more than they were designed to and there must have been a serious risk of a button popping and putting someone's eye out, but thankfully we didn’t add to the waiting list for guide dogs.

This, of course, explains my appearance in what could be construed as an incriminating photograph of me with my hands all over the chest of a rather well-endowed guest. For the record, I was merely trying to prevent an unseemly spillage, which might have embarrassed some of the other guests. Again, a tough job, but hey, no thanks required.

By now we were well-oiled and nothing was going to stop us strutting our stuff in front of the jazz band who filled the room with classy toe-tappers.

Having filled the guests’ stomachs, we quickly emptied their pockets and as the music died and people made their weary way home, we got down to the serious business of counting up the proceeds, which totalled an amazing £4'700.

As I said, wow! What a night!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Night Fever

Yikes. Only a few hours to go before the big event - Dogs Dinner 2. The last few days and weeks have been manic. Having spent months planning how to do it, the last few days have been spent wondering why.

Nerves are clearly getting the better of me. The other day I was emailing the hotel to confirm the wine order. I was about to click on 'send' when I heard my screen reader read what I had written - "One bottle of red and one bottle of shite per table'. Fortunately I managed to change this request and hopefully it's not a bad omen. That's what I call a close whave.

In som ways it seems strange asking people to donate money, even to a good cause like Guide Dogs, when there is so much financial doom and gloom around. However, I think we are probably doing our bit to prop up the local economy, judging by the number of people buying new dresses, handbags, shoes, jewellry, manicures, spray-tans and the like. And that's just the men.

There's not much more that I can do now, except finalise my speech. With such a diverse audience I'm not sure how cautious I have to be. On the one hand I have to be careful not to offend anyone, on the other hand, who doesn't like a good knob joke?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Regeneration Application

Open letter to Director General of the BBC

Dear (in more ways than one) DG,

Re: Time Travelling Vacancy

Following the recent news of David Tennants planned departure after the next series of ‘Doctor Who’, I wish to apply for the post.

Apart from the fact that I would be considerably cheaper to employ than Mr Tennant (my referees can confirm just how cheap I am), as a partially-sighted licence-fee payer I think it’s about time the BBC started to fulfil its duty under the Disability Equality Duty by including more disabled people in leading roles. Did I also mention how cheap I am?

Rather than seeing a non-seeing Doctor as problematic, why not use the vastly creative skills available within the BBC (you know, the ones who give us the flair, innovation and originality of programmes like ‘Strictly’ and ‘Weakest Link’) to use the VIP as a USP. For example, I could fight off the evil monsters with my sonic symbol cane and surely K-9 would make a fantastic guide-dog. Together, the metallic mutt and I would be an unstoppable pair.

Talking of which, I should point out that I would need to be intimately involved in the casting of any young Doctor’s assistant. I like to take a ‘hands-on’ approach to assessing the attributes of my co-stars and, before you get carried away with this liberal diversity nonsense, no, I don’t think it would be a good idea to introduce a male assistant at this time.

Perhaps my introduction could mark a new direction for the show. How about a new name, such as ‘Doctor Who-said-that?’ or ‘Doctor Where?’

My qualities for taking on such a role should not be over-estimated. I am accustomed to wearing slightly geaky clothes and appearing somewhat barking at times. I am also a seasoned time-traveller. Only a couple of weeks ago I travelled back a whole hour without anyone noticing. I also have experience of working in a higher education institution, so travelling back 20 or 30 years should present no problems to me.

I understand you may have reservations about taking such a big gamble. Perhaps you could use a day’s interest earned on Jonathan Ross’s unpaid salary to give me a trial run?

Yours hopefully


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dirty, stinking northerners

I heard this week with some interest, and some disgust, that a recent survey found disturbing results concerning the cleanliness of the male population in this part of the country. In particular, the research found that over 50% of men in this region had faecal matter on their hands. Apparently our friends down south are not nearly so mucky.

I wonder why this should be the case. Perhaps it's like herd immunity in reverse - maybe we have a critical mass of dirty buggers and no matter how clean the rest of us are, those sticky-fingered individuals make it difficult for the rest of us to avoid it.

It's reassuring to know that, as this region is also famed for the friendliness of its people, visitors from the clean south of the country will of course be welcomed with a hearty smile and a warm hand-shake.

The discrapancy across the country is fascinating, and it makes a change for those of us in the north to be the haves rather than the have nots. It would be really interesting to do some further research into the reasons behind these differences, but it will have to wait as I have a lot on my hands just now.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Points Deducted?

The markets seem to have reacted well following the G7’s announcement of a new 5-point plan to rescue the leading economies and banking systems of the world. Personally, I was a little perturbed.

If they had come out with a 4-point plan, or a 7-point plan, I’d have been reassured, but a 5-point plan is worrying to me. You can imagine the scenario…

Spin Doctor: “Excuse me Mr President, but would you mind dropping the last point of the plan? I’m sorry but all our research shows that a six-point plan just doesn’t sound quite right, and it’s all about instilling confidence in the market isn’t it?

George Bush: “But we’ve spent the whole weekend negotiamating this plan. Every point is crucial!”

Spin doctor: “Mmm…any chance you could come up with four more points? Ten point plans are good.”

My guess is that each of the G7 would have had a key point each, so I reckon at least two got ditched in an effort to make the plan more pleasing on the ear. I hope they weren’t the really good ones.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

If only my head was smaller

I know it’s a corny way to start a post, but a very strange thing really did happen to me today. Well, to be more precise, it was a weird thing that was said to me.

I was having lunch with Jes and Mrs Tips, and we were depressing ourselves with serious talk of financial meltdowns and shrinking savings when Mrs Tips says, “I’ll show you my little hats once the custard is out of the way.”

Yes, you read it right, and no, she wasn’t drunk. I just sat back and drank it in. Lifted from the gloom of our discussion, I sat and marvelled at the unpredictability of a life that, just when you are not expecting it, throws something like that at you, as if to say, ‘ha, what do you think of that then?’. It was a beautiful moment. No-one has ever said it to me before, and never will again. In fact, I could spend the rest of my life researching bizarre conversations and not come up with anything better.

If it all gets too much for me and I pass away in my sleep tonight, then let it be known that I died a happy man. In fact, put it on my headstone:

‘Once the custard had moved
He got to see the little hats. RIP.’

And what lovely little hats they were. Once Mrs Tips had checked my hands for custardy remnants, I was even allowed to fondle them. Like little egg-cosies, all different designs, all soft and woolly. Apparently they are to be worn by smoothy bottles in a promotion to help the aged. Of course, why didn’t I think of that? For a moment, I thought the world was going mad.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ultimate Humiliation

Even when they told me it was ‘circuit training’ I was slightly concerned. After all, I hadn’t been to the gym for ages, hence the sudden foolish urge to book myself onto an hour-long workout. Checking the class time in the leaflet they had helpfully given me, there was no sign of ‘circuit training’. However, winking at me from the page was a session called ‘Ultimate Challenge’. Wow – I hadn’t even put on my trainers and already my heart was pumping faster, not to mention my twitching sphincter.

What the heck was ‘Ultimate Challenge’ I asked myself, and more to the point, what was I thinking of booking myself onto it? But I couldn’t wimp out now. I mean, how hard could it be?

There were a few ‘pre-ultimate’ challenges along the way. First, I had to walk past the door to my local, which sounded and smelled friendly and inviting as I trudged past. My nerve held out and I made it to the door of the gym, where my next challenge was to find the buzzer for the door. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before a passing motorist took pity on me and we enjoyed a little game of ‘golden shot’ as she shouted instructions from her car – “up a bit, left a bit, down a bit’. Finally inside, my penultimate challenge was to part with my class fee. There seems to me to be something quite perverse about paying to be tortured but I coughed up all the same.

It was with some relief that I was introduced to the tutor and he wasn’t Ross Kemp. He demonstrated the various exercises involved in the circuit, and after the first few I was feeling o.k. I even managed to hold the ‘plank’ for the full minute, although an impression of my face may still be visible in the mat. Suddenly I was getting very tired. By the time I made it to half way through the second round it became clear what the ‘ultimate challenge’ was. It was to avoid vomiting in front of a room full of strangers. At one point even standing up was tricky. It must have looked like I was doing a little dance as my thighs decided they had had enough and I’d have to carry on without them.

You’ll be pleased (I hope) to hear I managed it. After a small rest I completed the second and third circuits without giving the cleaner an ‘ultimate challenge’.

However, I should never have put my trust in the instructor. Taking advantage of my visual impairment, the swine followed me home and somehow crept into the house behind me. As I slept, he came into my bedroom and silently injected my legs and arms with concrete.

Do I not like that.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ecoutez et Repetez: Je suis un plonker

In a country where foreign language skills aren’t exactly abundant, I’ve always considered myself a reasonably competent French speaker. I took to it straight away at school and have tried to keep my hand in with the odd evening class.

I’ve particularly enjoyed helping (she may not agree with my choice of word here) my daughter with her French school work, even suggesting at times that her teacher must have got it wrong, so confident am I of my own linguistic abilities. Somehow I don’t think she shares my confidence.

So when we arranged a short holiday to Euro Disney, I thought it would be a great opportunity to prove to her, and myself, that I still had it in me, so to parler. Of course, opportunities to speak the native lingo were few and far between as even the French, as protective and proud as they are about their language, quickly revert to English when they spot a stupid Englishman. My best chance came when I was sitting by myself as the family were busy terrorising themselves on one of the rides. A big guy in some sort of costume, which I think was a pirate, approached me and, to my surprise, asked “Comment allez-vous?’. Here it was, my big chance to speak the beautiful language, to converse in the native tongue and show that we’re not all beer-swilling idiots. Confidently I replied “Richard” in my best French accent. As I waited for his response he backed away, muttering under his breath.

By the time the family arrived back, I had realised my mistake and despite my better judgement, owned up to having answered a polite “How are you?” by giving him my name. :-0

Still, this was a momentary lapse. I could still fall back on reassuring my daughter by telling her, again, that I once got 99% in an end of year French test. At least, that was until she got 100%.


Monday, August 25, 2008

The Real Meaning of Christmas

The other day my sister-in-law in Australia sent me a s**t e-mail. That is, an e-mail that purported to explain the derivation of the word. Apparently it was to do with the shipping of manure below decks, leading to catastrophic explosions and so ending up with the instruction “Ship High In Transit”.

Although somewhat concerned that she should think of me when she read a story about poo, I felt duty-bound to reciprocate with some edumacational nuggets about the derivation of some of our favourite traditions. With our British summer feeling distinctly autumnal, thoughts are already turning to the festive season, so consider the following when you start planning for Christmas.

First, the word Christmas is commonly mistaken for meaning Mass of Christ, but it actually goes back much earlier than this, to an old Celtic festival called Cris T’Mars, which translates as Cross The Marsh. During the depth of winter each year, tribes who populated the higher lands would send out messages to the lowland dwellers who struggled to survive the cold and wet in the bogs and marshes. In a show of apparent humanity and kindness, they were invited to ‘cross the marsh’ to share in the spoils of the higher, more fertile land. However, as the lowlanders extended the hand of peace in return, it was invariably hacked off and roasted over an open fire, as turkey was not easy to come by in those days.

You might also be forgiven for believing that the tradition of placing an angel on top of the Christmas tree has a spiritual basis derived from the story of the nativity. In fact, it relates to the time of the Saxon invaders, who were responsible for bringing Scandinavian pine trees with them, mainly as building material for the repair of their ships. Early Saxon settlers, in an attempt to scare off the local Angle population, would plant a tree outside their dwelling, having first rammed it up one of the tribal leaders. Thus, Saxon warriors were responsible for displaying dead Angles on their trees, a tradition adopted in a slightly less brutal fashion by Christians.

Under the Christmas tree, all is not what it seems either. The tradition of placing beautifully-wrapped gifts under the tree also has a rather sinister background. In the 12th Century, poor people living in what we now know as Essex were known for thieving from the aristocracy who would gather in London for opulent celebrations at Christmas. Legend has it they would conceal their loot by wrapping it in early copies of OK magazine and putting them decoratively under their tree. Not to be outdone, the working population of Essex soon wanted to outdo their neighbours and started wrapping their own presents. One thing led to another, and soon the whole country was doing the same and more, using lights and other pretty things to adorn the tree.

Some of our festive food would also taste a little different if it was still to its original recipe. You will no doubt be aware that Christmas pudding started off life as a good old Victorian plum pudding. Or did it? Parish records in areas of the west country reveal that long before any record of plum pudding, they celebrated the festive season with ‘plump pudding’. This wasn’t just a food, but a spectacle in which the local landowners would carry a large, boiled fruit pudding, strapped to their stomach and covered by a large shirt. In a ceremonial show of gratitude to the local peasants who had worked their land during the year, the landowner would lay on his back in the town square where locals would cut into his fat belly and suck out his juicy innards. Apparently the tradition suddenly ceased after an unfortunate incident one year when a particularly portly landowner filled himself one evening with too much scrumpy and forgot to attach his pudding before offering himself to the locals.

Finally, even the most famous royal tradition of the Queen’s Speech started off very differently. The tradition dates back to Queen Siobhan, a sixth-century ruler who one Christmas, after a particularly hard year of drought and disease, decided to cheer up the population of old London town by riding around in her horse-drawn carriage, displaying her royal backside for all to see. So, the tradition of the ‘Queen’s Peach’ was started. Only when Queen Siobhan abdicated after a nasty shaving accident did the tradition change to something less vulgar and interesting.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fast-Track Treatment

This week I was lucky enough to have not one, but two hospital appointments. Lucky old me, and before any rumours start, it was just regular eye clinic stuff, nothing sordid or interesting.

Except for one thing – a little wave of excitement in the otherwise flat pond of ophthalmalogical ordinariness. “How so? Do tell!” I hear you clamour. Well, it all started several weeks ago when my appointments came through, accompanied by a map of the hospital. My NHS notes obviously include an erroneous entry that suggests I have a PhD in Orienteering, so I sent said map on its way to a new life after recycling, when it might come back as something useful, and decided that I would make my way to the main hospital entrance and ask for assistance.

Arriving in good time, I found the reception desk and requested the help, which I fully expected to be in the form of a porter’s arm to hold onto, and depending on the budget, possibly a porter’s body to go with it.

Wadda-mistaka-to-maka! Not only did I get a whole porter, but he had his own battery-powered motorised vehicle. Me had a ride on the choo-choo! Again, again!! It was all I could manage not to cal out “Wheee” as we sped…ok, crawled past the peasants made to walk the long Victorian corridors. To add to the excitement, the driver tooted his horn as we approached every corner, shouting hilarious remarks like ‘I’ll get you next time’ to the pedestrians.

I tell you what, don’t let anyone tell you that the billions invested over recent years in our NHS haven’t been wisely spent.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

If you wanna be the best, if you wanna beat the rest..

Being something of an armchair sportsman, I have to admit that, despite some of the appalling commentary and punditry, I am rather enjoying the sudden deluge of Olympic sports. You have to admire the dedication that goes into the elite athlete’s training and preparation for their moment of glory. This is perhaps epitomised by the 100m sprinters – the fastest men on earth – who spend, if we believe the hype – four years preparing for their 10 seconds of performance. It’s not easy to comprehend that input-output ration, so I’ve done a few calculations:

The Olympic sprinter has 4 years, or 126,144,000 seconds to prepare for the 10 second race, a ratio of 12,614,400:1 – and just for clarity, I haven’t included an additional day for a leap year – no need to get anal about this is there?

Let’s say you put the same dedication into preparing a meal that takes 15 minutes to scoff. You’d have to have started shopping 360 years ago. Some of my meals might taste like they were prepared that long ago, but I can assure you it’s not down to culinary dedication.

Or, what about those career-minded amongst us. What would be Olympic preparation for a 45-minute interview? Around 1080 years by my reckoning. Just imagine if you didn't get the job! Gutted or what?

On the plus side, life might be a bit easier for mums – a 9-month pregnancy could end in a 1.875-second labour. Not even enough time to swear at hubby.

As for conception – it would be very bad news for us chaps. Those of us who think 15-minutes of foreplay is more than generous would need supersonic sperm – never mind little Duncan Goodhews – we’re talking Phelps on acid!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

From Bosnia With Cheese

The Eurovision Song Contest is something of an institution in the Bogsey household. Like watching England football matches, you know it's going to be painful but there's a certain attraction in putting yourself through it again. so, the new musical show "Eurobeat - almost Eurovision" was a must see event. Besides which, having two kids, Mrs B. and I had a valid excuse for going.

No sooner had we entered the lobby when we were allocated our adopted countries for the evening and, armed with flags, clackers and hooters, we entered the auditorium feeling that this was going to be a different theatre experience, and we were not disappointed!

Having whipped up a frenzied sense of anticipation, the ridiculous Bosnian hosts, Boika and Serge, introduced the ten entries with more ham than a Tesco meat counter. What followed was a wonderful collection of the bizarre, the camp, the kitsch and the very funny, all done with superb singing and dancing that the real Eurovision would be delighted with. All of which had me hooting my horn in a way that I haven’t done for many a year.

The night's winning entry was a Russian boy-band, “The K.G. Boys”, whose slick dance routine and tight white trousers certainly scored douze points with the ladies. Mrs B. nearly choked on her ice cream at the sight of the fifth member of the four-piece group thrusting in her direction. I'm all for European co-operation but sitting in Newcastle, cheering for Germany, in a contest in Sarajevo, watching a Russian with a Pole down his jocks was admittedly taking it a bit far.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Rowing takes the biscuit (just)

I’m sure he meant no harm by his words. After all, he’s a nice chap, and I had just about forgiven him for his earlier misdemeanour…the one where he had spoiled the little mental game I play with myself whilst on the dreaded rowing machine. The one where, after about two minutes, I pretend that I’ve only done a minute, in the desperate hope that when my five minutes are done it’ll come as a nice surprise. Being told that I’d done 3 minutes, when I was busy telling myself I was approaching 2 minutes, was upsetting, but nothing compared to what was to come.

The words slipped out so easily – an afterthought – an ‘oh, by the way.’ – he told me my five minutes were up and then he just said it. “You rowed 1,084 metre’ which I was quite happy with, followed by ‘you used up 61 calories’. 61? Never has 61 felt like such a pitiful number.

I knew, from recent attempts at ‘watching what I eat’ that 61 bloody calories equates to about what you get from one very low fat biscuit, or about half a pot of low fat yoghurt. I couldn’t believe that I’d spent five minutes on what can only be described as a torture machine that left me sweating, weak and breathless, to lose such a pathetic amount of calories.

So, I’ve just checked what else I could have done to use up 61 calories. And guess what, I could have had an hour’s sleep and used up the same amount of energy! Now that is something worth remembering. Apparently I could have had a 15-minute shower, or spent half an hour arguing on the phone! I could even have had about 40 minutes of ‘sexual intimacy’!! 40 minutes! Mmm…perhaps the rowing machine suits me after all.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Eyes Have It

Research has shown that around 70% of the meaning we convey when we talk to others is actually transmitted by our body language. Our posture, gestures, facial expression and our eyes reveal so much more about what we say than the words themselves. Being oblivious to these critical signals is therefore one of the most disabling aspects of my visual impairment.

The inability to make eye contact is one of the most difficult things I have learned to live with. Our eyes are so demonstrative, so individual and so meaningful. They are windows into our minds that tell people our state of consciousness, our mood, our level of fear, excitement, interest or honesty. Being visually-impaired is like having a curtain drawn over those windows which not only stops others looking in, but stops me peering into theirs for those vital clues that give that extra dimension to our daily communication.

I suppose, over the years I must have developed alternative strategies. I probably listen more carefully for auditory clues, like someone’s tone of voice or the rate of their speech. The sound of snoring is usually a good clue that I’ve lost the listener’s attention.
Cultural conventions demand that we maintain a typically British amount of personal space, so standing very close so that I can see a little more tends only to be possible with my immediate family, an even then it depends what I’ve been eating.

The two types of situation when it bothers me most are quite different. At work, I can find myself talking to a group of colleagues when it dawns omni that I have no idea whether they are listening intently or shooting bored glances at each other. Suddenly, I feel like I’m talking to an empty room and feel desperate for someone to jump in and set off a discussion – clearly, my deep psychological need for feedback cannot go denied for more than a few seconds. My other nightmare scenario is the social gathering where mixing and mingling is the order of the night. All too often for my liking I find myself caught between conversations, unable to read the visual clues that allow a timely contribution. Anxiety creeps in and, wanting to avoid the risk of the person disappearing and leaving me talking to thin air, it’s not uncommon for me to lean forward attentively and head butt them instead.

I wonder if this type of problem is as great in countries like India, where I’m told the culture encourages avoiding eye-contact, as a sign of respect. I could be so respectful in a place like that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Finding cheeses may be good for your soul, but not your digestion.

If you are of a sensitive disposition, please read no further. Just knowing what I am about to write about makes me feel quite queasy.

However, I do feel it my civic duty to offer this warning to any Brits abroad, not least my brother-in-law and his wife who are currently in Greece and living on a diet largely composed of local cheese.

They are there to be with their oldest boy, who is recovering from a nasty accident out there, so they have all been very much in our thoughts over the past week or so. Having watched last night’s episode of “The F Word” I felt particularly compelled to get this warning to them.

The show featured a local Sardinian ‘delicacy’ – billed as the most dangerous cheese in the world. Made in the traditional way, the sheeps cheese is matured and then the crust is broken and it is left in a dank barn. Here, it attracts flies that have presumably got a bit bored with treading around in cow dung and come to cheeseland for a bit of a holiday. While they’re there they lay their eggs and in a few weeks, the cheese is teaming with maggots. Apparently it’s the little critters’ excrement that gives the cheese its ‘distinctive’ flavour.

Now, call me a fuddy-duddy, but what the hell is that about. I’m as partial as the next man to a spot of mouldy stilton, but I use a ruler and a fat black felt tip when it comes to drawing a line at spreading rotting, maggot-infested cheese on my digestives. I don’t remember it being

“Little Miss Muffet
Sat on her tuffet
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
And sat down beside her
Attracted by the smell of maggots on her breath.”

I mean, if that’s a delicacy, I could empty my wheely-bin each week and set up a bloody deli-bar. If I run short of rotting scraps I can scrape up some road-kill.

Sorry, I had to get that out of my system. So for goodness sake, be careful if you are offered any local specialities – remember, ‘tasty grub’ might be more than you bargained for.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Gonna have to face it you're a dick-head..."

After a weekend in which I almost made my young nephew throw up by proudly showing him evidence that “my rolls of tummy fat are bigger than your dads”, and having been offered the use of my wife’s bra to hold my man-wahoolies, I figured it was time for a concerted effort at the gym.

Apart from burning a few calories, I often find it a good place to think about things. This morning I was thinking about whether to go to a school reunion later this year to meet up with a bunch of people I haven’t seen since 1985. In a bizarre twist of fate, I found myself mulling this over when I noticed that the CD playing in the gym was an 80s collection. A few seconds of The Housemartins’ ‘Happy Hour’ and I was transported back to the sweaty school hall disco – oh those heady days when we took real coke (none of this diet stuff), and only danced with members of the same sex. Lets’ face it, there was little point in trying to tap off with a girl after 3 packets of pickled onion Monster Munch.

Then came Tears For Fears – “Everybody wants to..” be as fit as the good looking one, but most of us turned out like the ugly one. Thing is, if I do go, I won’t have a clue what people have turned out like. If they politely say “oh, you’ve hardly changed” I’ll know they’re lying but won’t really be able to get away with returning the compliment. “You’ve lost a lot of facial features” probably wouldn’t go down very well.

Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” brought me back to reality. I’ve never been working out when that record has been playing before and I have to say it made me feel a bit of a wahooly. I don’t know about Rocky, but I did feel a bit unsteady when I got off the exercise bike.

It was a relief when this was followed by Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”. For a moment, as I pounded the treadmill, I have to admit to indulging in a little fantasy whereby all the sweaty porkers in the gym turned out to be 6ft stunners and stopped exercising, picked up guitars, and in a Dennis Potteresque moment, danced around me.

Feeling my breathing getting a little stronger than it should have been, I didn’t follow this fantasy through to its rightful conclusion and was glad when Big Country’s “In a Big Country” came on. One of my favourite bands at school, but it also reminded me that this is a big country and I now live at the opposite end of it from where the reunion is taking place. 350 miles is a long way to go to satisfy your curiosity.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Get Your Tickets for Dogs Dinner 2

I notice from reading other blogs that some of them are nothing more than glorified advertisements, selling all sorts of products and services under the guise of a blog.

Personally, I find this quite outrageous. I mean, let's say, for example, I was organising a charity fundraising ball on 14 November 2008 at the Holiday Inn, Seaton Burn, there's no way I'd use my blog as a cheap way of advertising this fantastic event. Even if it is for Guide Dogs, and even if it does promise to be a brilliant night out, with a 3-course dinner, live band and disco until 1am. I just wouldn't stoop so low. Other, less worthy sites will even blatantly try to sell their wares by saying things like "Tickets are £35, tables seat 8 and you can get your tickets by emailing bogsey@talktalk.net" I don't know how they have the front.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Are You Talking To Me?

If someone approaches you and says “hello” then my guess is, like me, you instinctively say “hello” back to them, even if you don’t know them. “And what’s wrong with that?” I hear you ask. Well, nothing, except that the increased use of mobile phones means that I now regularly say “hello” to people who, quite sensibly, have no intention of speaking to me at all. Maybe in the ‘80s, when mobiles were the size of house bricks, I might have stood a chance. Now, someone walks past me with a friendly “Hi mate” and, so as not to be rude, I quickly reply “Hi”, by which time they’ve walked past and I hear them continue their conversation, which probably goes something like, “Hang on, mate, some nutter is trying to talk to me.” Rather like when you trip on a loose paving stone and do a little jog, as if it’s going to hide the fact, I find myself needing to do the same thing, creating a little song like – “Hiyaa..ya..ya..la..la..la”.

Another thing I’ve noticed more recently that can catch me out if I’m not careful are those little notices that shops put outside – I think they’re called ‘A-boards’ – presumably the A stands for accident. Worse, a new supermarket on my local High Street, put out huge great signs. They’re certainly more visible than the usual ones, but they take a bit of getting around. I wonder why they don’t go the whole hog and just build a brick wall across the pavement, with a big arrow painted on it directing people into the shop.

While I’m being a grumpy old git, there’s one more thing I noticed the other day that is a potential disaster zone. I was happily walking through the main pedestrian street in my local city centre, when I realised the way was almost entirely blocked by one of these pavement cafes that seem to be springing up everywhere. God knows why people want to sit out in near arctic conditions – mainly smokers I guess – but they are at serious risk of ending up being splatted with latte or finding their cappuccino in their lappuccino. If I’m not concentrating, I could just plough into one of these cafes and really run a mocha.

I just hope that next time I go that way, I don’t inadvertently head into it having tripped on an A-board when I was distracted by someone on a mobile saying hello to me.

Monday, May 5, 2008

"I am the muffin man, and I come fromround your way"

From my experience, there are two main risks for the visually-impaired shopper – risks that can turn retail therapy into retail trauma. I have to preface this by admitting that, in common with many blokes, it’s not exactly my favourite pastime in any case. Being lured into a trip into town normally requires a large carrot, or more precisely, piece of carrot cake and large cappuccino. Once you can’t see what it is you’re trying to buy, the coffee shop becomes even more important.

Supermarkets are particularly dangerous places. The sheer size of them and range of goods on offer makes it just about impossible to find what I need quickly and without a fuss. I’m now resigned to the fact that I need to ask for assistance which, although invaluable, is by no means free of danger. Usually, I am assigned some poor shop assistant who spends most of their waking time sat at the tills. So the opportunity to help me around the shop is not one to be wasted. “Are you sure that’s all you need?” “Yes, thanks.” “Do you not need any milk?” “No.” “What about bread, do you need bread?” “No.” and so on. That’s after I’ve done their induction training for them, explaining the general direction of where things are in the store. That’s after I’ve explained why I want guacamole and chillis. That’s after I’ve explained what guacamole is. That’s after I’ve explained what I can or cannot see. That’s after I’ve explained where the dog has gone. That’s after I’ve explained that no, I don’t need a trolley and that a basket will do. That’s after I’ve explained why I’ve not been in for a while. That’s all before I decide that I won’t be in again for a while.

Experiences like this make internet shopping an attractive option, but this too can be problematic. I remember the time when I earned the name “Muffin Man” after a slip of the finger on my supermarket order went un-noticed. Having thought I had ordered two packets of 4 chocolate chip muffins (in place of the coffee shop stop, you see) it was with some disbelief that I set about unpacking the 22 packets I had ordered. It was at this point that a new local event was created. The Great North Bun-Run involved sending the kids running to friends and neighbours with offerings of muffins. Next door even got theirs posted through the letterbox. Funnily enough, I’ve not ordered any since.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Watch Your Back, Washy!

Learning Braille has been both a fascinating and frustrating experience. It has been a test of my memory, sensitivity and patience, made worse by the adventures of ‘Washy’. Washy is a cute wee doggy, around which all my Braille reading exercises are based. Unfortunately, he has become the focus for my frustration and one day, when I feel confident in writing it in perfect grade 2 Braille; I will write a fitting story about the little mongrel that will bring his chirpy tail-wagging to an end once and for all.

I decided to take the plunge into this weird and somewhat archaic language as I think it will give me another option in terms of communication. As anyone with a sensory impairment will tell you, communication is everything – I think the equation goes something like

Communication = information = knowledge + understanding = power + independence = self-esteem.

But, hey, I’m no psychologist. I do know that I’m getting increasingly fed up of squinting at screens trying to read ever bigger, brighter, higher-contrast letters. The words ‘dead horse’ and ‘flogging’ could be appropriately used, so I decided to invest in learning to use some nerve endings that aren’t, to use a technical term, knackered.

I’ve already fallen into the trap of referring to Braille as a ‘language’. Of course, it is not. Using Braille, I’m still reading and writing in English (or as near to it as I have ever managed). Braille is simply – no, not simply - a different way of representing that language – a different font if you like. Grade 1 Braille is pretty much a straightforward codification of our alphabet, so one letter of text is represented by one Braille character. A Braille character is a combination of one or more dots in a Braille cell of 6 dots, arranged like the 6 on a die.

Grade 2 Braille is where it gets really clever. Different Braille characters, or the same characters in different positions, are used to represent groups of letters, or even whole words. So, it’s not so different to the modern-day texting, if u knw wht I mean. But actually it’s much better, because it has very strict rules which leave no room for doubt as to what has been written, and some of the abbreviations can really shorten what needs to be written or read. Take the following sentence in normal text:

People have little knowledge and questionable understanding.

By my count, this has 53 text characters. In grade 2 Braille, it can be written in 15 characters. Not bad, eh? Admittedly, there aren’t many sentences that can be shortened this much, but it demonstrates how efficient Braille can be, which is just as well, because hard copy Braille is very bulky.

Having taken ownership this week of a new electronic Braille notepad, I felt very smug demonstrating my newly-acquired skills. Until, that was, my 12-year old daughter picked it up and showed that, just from helping me with my homework, she has almost learned grade 1 Braille without even trying. How annoying is that?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Beware, Penguin Crossing!

I’ve had enough of revealing parts of my somewhat chequered past. My retro has been well and truly spected and I have something important to tell you about an event that is yet to happen. No, I am no more insane than usual, and I have not started reading palms or tarot cards – I have trouble seeing the present, let alone the future! However, I can be fairly sure that this will happen one day, I’m just not sure when.

I will be making my way to work, or maybe home from work. My mind will be busy contemplating the usual fundamental questions of life, like why women like cushions so much. I will wait dutifully at the ‘penguin’ crossing – apparently that’s what they call the new low-level ones that are obviously much better for wheelchair users. I might amuse myself while I am waiting by wondering if my regular stooping to press the button at ‘penguin crossings’ will aggravate my lower back problem and eventually put me in a wheelchair.

Then, the sound of bleeping will tell my brain that it’s safe to cross. My brain, which I have been training for years to be wary of such claims, will be lazy and trusting. It may have been reassured by the sound of slowing car engines. I may even have managed a cursory glance at the traffic before stepping out into the road.

Of course, I will not have seen the cyclist, approaching fast towards the crossing. I won’t have heard the quiet fizz of the bike’s tyres against the road. Of course, he, and I’m pretty sure it will be a he, won’t use a bell, even if he has one. People don’t nowadays, and anyway, he won’t have time.

Then, just before our worlds collide, we’ll become conscious of each other. It will be too late to do anything about it. I might start to shout, but no sound will come out. Then, we will briefly become one mass of tangled limbs, steel and rubber. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll take the brunt of the impact, but I’m glad I’ve had all the children I want.

It will take several weeks, possibly months to recover physically. He will be saved from serious damage by his crash helmet and the cushioning effect of my spleen. Once my nerve damage has settled down and scars are healed, I’ll be back to normal, almost. I’ll joke about it with my friends. I might even write about it on my blog.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rich Pickings

Apparently, it has been noted by a reader of this blog that dog poop seems to make a regular occurrence. At least, I think that was the comment and not “it’s a load of dog poop”.

Should I worry about this? Is canine crap cause for concern? Hopefully not – after all, it’s only one person’s view. Having said that, he may represent 100% of my readership, so perhaps I should come clean about the dirt, and explain why doggy-do-do’s may have seeped deep into the recesses of my psyche, if that’s not too disgusting a metaphor.

The more plausible explanation relates to living with a dog with a dicky tummy for several years. Glen, my first guide dog, found his job quite exciting and this set his juices flowing. So, ten minutes into any walk we’d have to stop to ‘spend’ – a delightful euphemism you learn during guide dog training. So, I suppose Glen was a big spender, and boy, could he spend a few pounds in one go. That wasn’t too bad when he’d spend a nice lump sum – something to keep my hands warm on a cold winter’s morning. But if his tummy wasn’t quite right, he had a tendency to spend a lot of loose change.

A more traumatic reason for being apparently so full of the sticky stuff, happened when I was still at University, many years ago now, but the memory is still painfully clear to me. I was on my way to a special family meal at my girlfriend’s house. Keen to make a good impression with her parents, as I approached their house I remembered that, just the previous day, another visitor had unwittingly trodden dog dirt through the house. So, striding past the front garden, I take the precautionary step of checking the soles of my shoes. Precautionary or not, it was the last step I took, as a ring on my finger became attached to a buckle on my boot. With my girlfriend and her father looking out from the lounge window, I disappeared in an instant as I crashed to the ground behind the garden wall. Helped to my feet, I then entered the house dripping blood, but hey, at least no dog muck!

Surprisingly, they eventually allowed me to marry their daughter. So, at least I have someone special to share all this crap with.

Monday, March 31, 2008

EXCLUSIVE:Bogsey Rescues Viking Vistor After Freak Fall

Last Friday I received a visit from a Viking. As far as I could tell he was pretty well behaved – no reports of pillaging or plundering amongst my colleagues at work. In fact, the nearest we came to a crime that day was my own brief consideration of kidnapping said Viking and keeping him for myself. That’s because he is a handsome, six-year old guide dog who came, with his owner, to show me some new I.T. equipment. However, I reckoned it may have been a tad suspicious, me turning up with a new dog on the same day as a blind visitor is found unconscious at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

Of course, I could have claimed diminished responsibility. After all, I had only the previous day, spoken with the Guide Dogs Association and been told that they still haven’t found a dog for me. Now, I understand that they have to go through a careful matching process to make sure you get a compatible dog, but you’d think they would have realised by now that such a clever, gorgeous, hard-working mutt might be hard to find, and they may have to lower their sights a little.

It’s over a year now since my last dog, Ellis, took ill and as previous postings have illustrated, a long cane is a very poor substitute. Apart from being a well-trained rudder (not to mention a little engine when it comes to steep hills, I admit), my previous two dogs have had other top-pooch qualities which I had not anticipated. Perhaps the biggest of these is the social appeal that only dogs seem able to generate. People young and old adore guide dogs and that has a big effect on how they interact with me. Before owning Glen I used a white cane, which did have certain advantages – it didn’t eat as much as a dog, and subsequently crapped less, but in some ways I may as well have had a sign on my head saying ‘Leper – Kiss Me Quick’. It could be that people just weren’t sure what my cane was – was I about to do a Fred Astaire routine or beat them over the head with it? A dog, on the other paw, is like a social magnet, pulling people into his path. Once they’ve made contact with him, most people notice that he’s brought his ugly friend along, and feel duty bound to offer a courteous social nicety. It’s nice not to be the main focus of attention – the guide dog is the distracting third party who makes it easy to start a conversation – “He’s gorgeous isn’t he” or “How long have you had him?” And of course, particularly important to the male VIP is the guide dog’s pulling power when it comes to the ladies. Not only does he attract them better than your best aftershave, but also offers endless opportunities for outrageous flirting...I mean, who can resist when a woman comes up and asks if she can have a stroke...there’s only one answer isn’t there?

This attention, however, does have its downsides. At 6’4” I’m not the sort to blend into a crowd, but even less so with a guide dog. So slipping out incognito is virtually impossible, and my wife often receives reports of where I’ve been seen (This puts a dampener on the afore-mentioned flirting). It also means that on trips to public places, especially attractions designed for children, you do end up feeling rather like part of the attraction yourself – stand still too long and a queue of kids forms.

A guide dog takes a fair bit of looking after too –exercise, grooming, feeding and the obligatory picking up of jobbies are all additional chores to fit in around raising a career and holding down two kids. And of course, some of their habits leave a little to be desired. Glen was prone to suffering from irritable anal glands, and got some light relief from dragging them along the office floor, or the living room carpet. Suffice to say he was a dog who left his mark.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The One that Like Got Away, Right.

Talking to my kids, I realise that my normal style of writing may be a little out-dated, so this one’s for the kids.

Oh-my-god, you are like so not gonna believe what happened to me yesterday right cos I was like going to work right, and I was like proper chuffed right, cos I like got to the bus stop right and guess what, there’s a bus already there so I’m like ‘cool, no hangin’ around like a proper loser’ right, so I goes to get in right, like putting my cane in the door, and no that ain’t no euphawotsit you dirty bugger, so I’ve got my cane in right and then summet proper shadies happens right, cos the driver, right, he like closes the bloomin doors, and I’m like ‘Oi, get off my stick!’ and I’m like pullin’ it but it’s not comin out and then the bus just like pulls off right, with my knob still jammed in the doors, so I’m like hangin on right, still tryin to like pull it out, and the bus is like getting further away and the cane is like stretchin cos it’s got like this elastic sort of rope stuff in it and then I’m like thinking ‘s**t, this thing’s gonna go ping in a minute and take me out’ so I like have to let go and oh-my-god, my cane goes flyin out my hand right proper fast like, and I can hear it like bein like dragged along the road, and Im like standin there thinking I so cannot believe that just happened,

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Sun Is Going Out

Gently slip rainbows into soft padded envelopes
Squeeze all the clouds into clean pillow cases
Tear down the sky and roll it up neatly
For the sun is going out.

Cover the mountains in old dust sheets
Scoop seas and oceans into large plastic buckets
Mop up the rivers, the streams and lakes
For the sun is going out.

Pack cities and towns into boxes and stack
Put jungles and forests into large green sacks
Hoover up hedges, bushes and flowers
For the sun is going out.

Lay silhouettes and reflections between sheets of old newspaper
Keep sparkles and twinkles in clear glass jars
Scrumple up time into a ball, and throw it up to the stars
For the sun is going out.

Cover it all with the sand from the deserts
Wrap the moon tightly in silver foil
And put food out for the animals one last time
For the sun is going out.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Chopin 'n' Chips

This week my daughter will sit her grade 2 piano exam. Thankfully for her, she has inherited none of the musical abilities of her parents, so stands a good chance of passing.

She has learned to play on an old, but very nice piano that we inherited from her grandfather. She has persevered bravely with her practice, as the piano now desperately needs tuning again. For some reason, I’ve been putting off getting a tuner to come round, mainly, I think, due to a strange experience I had the last time it was tuned.

I can only describe it as surreal. It started normally enough, if a little busy in the Bogsey household. We were getting some lights fitted in the kitchen by an electrician who was a friend’s partner. On the same day, I had arranged for the piano to be tuned. Keen to have some lunch, but unable to access the kitchen, I had hit upon the great idea of visiting the local chippy, an idea which had gone down well with the electrician.

So, I found myself sitting down to a chip butty lunch with an electrician, his head covered in plaster dust – either that or a very bad case of dandruff. It was at this point that the piano tuner finished his work, and decided to enjoy the results with an impressive recital. It could so easily have been the start of a gay porn movie – “My, what a big toolbox you have…do you want to use the back door?” etc.

Which reminds me of when Mrs B and I were explaining what ‘gay’ means to my son, who was just six at the time, but not too young, we thought, for a bit of birds and bees / ying and yang / how's your father straightforward sex education. Taking it all in, he paused a while and with a cheeky grin asked “So, does that mean Homer Simpson is a homer-sexual?”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Try Something Stupid Today

Bored with the run-of-the-mill cooking routine? Want to add a little excitement to your kitchen? Why not try the following recipe, which I invented recently.

Spaghetti With Toasted Chest Hair

You will need:

Normal Spaghetti
Gluten-free Spaghetti
2 pans of boiling water
1 baggy T-shirt, preferably one bought for you by your partner within the past 2 weeks.
1 glass of red wine (large)


1. Place the two pans of water on two gas rings, one behind the other. Make sure the gas is up nice and high, so that flames lick around the edge of the pans.

2. Place the gluten-free spaghetti in one pan, the normal spaghetti in the other.

3. After about 10 minutes, test the spaghetti in the front pan.

4. Then lean over the front pan, like a stupid idiot, and taste the spaghetti in the second pan.

5. After a few moments, you should smell burning. At this point, put your right index finger to your bottom lip and furrow your brow. Say to yourself “Mmm…smell’s like burning, but I’m only cooking pasta. Strange.”

6. After a few more seconds you may experience a strange sensation of heat as flames lick up your T-shirt.

7. At this point it is critical that you hold your nerve. Swift, sensible action will avoid worsening the already hazardous situation. Alternatively, my preferred method is to dance around the kitchen, fan the flames by flapping your hands around them in a pathetic attempt to put them out, yelping “help, I’m on fire!” in a weak, high-pitched voice.

8. With a bit of luck, the flames will die down enough for you to pull the T-shirt off, dump it on the floor and stamp on it.

9. Now down the red wine – it’ll steady your nerves.

10. Serve the pasta bare-chested, with generous amounts of self-pity. For extra effect, add comments like, “I hope you enjoy that, I nearly killed myself making it.”

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Who Said That?

As I continue to lose more of my sight, I rely more and more upon voices. I don’t just mean those voices we all use, whether it’s the over-attentive shop assistant, the unrelenting waffle of the radio DJ or the quiet personal exchanges of our loved ones. I’m talking artificial voices. I’m talking talking machines, and slowly but surely, I’m filling my house and sharing my life with them.

Malcolm resides in my microwave. It’s a large, robust sort of microwave, and that’s the kind of guy Malcolm is. I think he probably has an armed forces background and I’m sure when there’s nobody around he keeps the others under control. His no-nonsense, “not under my command, you don’t” type of voice is reassuringly trustworthy, if a little officious. If he tells me a chicken needs 23 minutes and 27 seconds to defrost, I tend to believe him, and I put up with him telling me that the door is closed or open – a fact which would only pass you by if you had just microwaved your brain. So he’s a bit of a control freak – if it stops me poisoning myself then I can cut him some slack.

It’s no coincidence that Malcolm’s twin brother, Stuart, is in charge of my kitchen scales. Another cool, unflappable character, Stuart ensures that he tells me precisely how much stuff I’ve managed to transfer from the packet to the bowl without spilling onto the worktop. Of course, he can tell me this in either metric or imperial, and although he does so efficiently and professionally, I can’t help notice a slight favouritism for the old pounds and ounces. At times, I think it would be nice if his stiff upper lip loosened a little and he allowed himself a comment or two. It would be good to know if, for example, he thought I should use organic raisins in my fruit scones, or if the extra half an ounce of sugar would make any difference.

Out of the kitchen, my voices become a little more cosmopolitan. My wristwatch, for example, houses Wendy. She is a perfectly pleasant North American lady. She does a pretty good job, but like many Americans, she is less self-conscious about making herself heard than we Brits. I notice this most during long, boring committee meetings, when I need to check how many more tortuous minutes remain to be endured. Whereas I’m quite sure either Malcolm or Stuart would managed a polite whisper so as not to draw attention to my tedium, Wendy just belts it out without a modicum of self-consciousness.

Wendy spends all night next to Danielle, who is the voice of my digital radio, on my bedside table. And, let me tell you, there’s only one other place I’d rather have Danielle, and it wouldn’t be far for her to move. We are talking smooth talking, self-assured, calm and altogether classy. I’m in no doubt that whoever it was that decided on a voice to wake up to in the morning, it must have been a man.

Since getting a satellite dish installed, I now also play host to a number of different voices during the week. They provide what’s called ‘audio description’ for a number of TV programmes – providing a running commentary in between the dialogue, describing scenery, action and facial expression to add to the viewing experience. I’m looking forward to the upgraded version that is interactive, and can answer questions like, “Oh, now what was he in before?” and “If I make a cup of tea now will I miss her getting her wahoolies out?”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On the Buses

Now that Spring is approaching, it’s a great relief that the mornings and evenings are starting to lighten up. One of the unfortunate consequences of being without a dog over the winter has been the need to travel by taxi far more than I would like, as even very familiar routes become too difficult without some natural light. It’s not that I have anything against taxis, but I was always told not to get into cars with strangers and I think this advice is still basically sound. I find most taxi drivers likeable, hard-working and generally very helpful, but there is something just too intimate about sharing my journeys to and from work with them.

I much prefer the anonymity afforded by the local buses, although this form of transport presents its own, sometimes formidable, set of problems for the VIP. The first task is to stop a bus and, assuming you’ve managed to stand at the correct bus stop, you might think this should not be too difficult. However, I have found that the sight of a guide-dog and his owner waiting anxiously at the roadside has little effect in stopping most buses as they charge towards their destination. I have considered holding a sign displaying the number of the bus I need but I suspect that even this would not be enough, and that a banner reading “Yes, I know it’s inconvenient and it might make you even later than you already are but I am not doing a charity collection here and would like to get to work before I and my dog die of boredom so please stop counting your change and let me on you ignorant git” might be required. But then again, it’s easier to ask a fellow traveller to assist in stopping one for you.

Once successfully onto the bus, the next hurdle to negotiate is paying for the ticket. Helpfully, drivers are now largely encased within a protective plastic shield. Before the days of concessionary passes, handing over the dosh involved a quick Marcel Marceau impression as I struggled to locate the breach in the driver’s armoury. Thankfully, most drivers spare me an encore performance and kindly retrieve my ticket from the machine for me.

And then the real fun starts. A VIP’s arse isn’t easily parked onto a spare seat and represents a real danger to fellow travellers. In self defence, the more astute (in reality, this is often the older traveller) will offer directions to try to guide the VIP, but in most cases are incapable of translating left and right to someone coming towards them. Mindful of the potential consequences of blindly following such guidance, I resort to groping around to establish whether there is indeed a spare seat, and in which direction it’s facing. It’s amazing how quickly an otherwise silent passenger will offer you more accurate instructions when you start groping around their lap.

The worst over, I now have the simple task of trying not to block the aisle with my guide-dog, or fold up my long cane without putting someone’s eye out, although there would be a nice irony in the latter. Finally, all I need to do is negotiate a successful exit at the correct stop. Not the most relaxing way to start the day, but I find it a lot less stressful than driving.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Animal Antics

Snake Hunt

I hate to have to tell you
But I think your snake is missing
Listen very carefully -
I bet you can’t hear hissing.

Jungle Grapevine

When a large group of elephants
Gathers for a quiet word
They often start a rumour
When their words are over-herd.

Mad Cows

Some cows seek amoosement
Others just mooch around
Some like to play rock moosic
While some like a more mooted sound
Some cows like watching moovies
Couples smooch all afternoon
Some don’t like commoonicating
While mad cows bark at the moon, moon, moon
While mad cows bark at the moon.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mobility Training : What to do if your knob gets stuck in a drain.

Unfortunately, I missed this particular lesson, so was at a bit of a loss as to what to do when the tip of my long cane got well and truly jammed in the grill of a drain, while out for a walk not so long ago. It would probably have taught me not to do what I did, which was pull on my cane too hard so that the tip came off, something my mother had always warned me about.

A long cane is a poor substitute for a guide dog, but a long cane without a tip is, well, pointless. Whereas a dog anticipates obstacles and danger, taking you around them so that, most of the time, you are blissfully unaware of them, with a cane you basically clatter into things and have to work out a way around them. Or, on occasions, you miss the obstacle with the cane and find it instead with your shin. Nor is the cane much use at detecting anything above waist height, such as overhanging branches.

Anyway, despite its limitations I’ve grown very reliant on it in the absence of a dog, so had to set about finding a replacement tip. And what an array there is to choose from – pencil tip, marshmallow tip, Canadian rollertip – I wasn’t sure if I’d accidentally logged onto Boots the Chemist’s website instead of RNIB.

In the meantime, I had to find a new cane quickly. I’d tried using the old one without the tip, but steel on concrete doesn’t feel good, and I was worried that, walking down the street, I was going to create sparks and set someone’s trousers on fire. Fortunately, my local guide dog centre had a spare cane for me to borrow. I say borrow, although they never got it back as within a couple of hours of me getting it, I had tripped on a kerb. To describe the fall as ungainly would be kind. The words ‘sack’ and ‘potatoes’ spring to mind, and I managed to break my fall with my new cane, which was now two new canes. I managed to bravely hobble back to work, where colleagues dished out sweet tea and sympathy.

I do think that the cane manufacturers could be a little more creative with their designs for cane tips. For example, why not the “TasarTip” for temporarily stunning annoying people who get in your way. It would have to be a low voltage as old ladies would be the main targets, for me anyway. And how about the “TrimmerTip” fitted with a small circular saw that could remove hedges and branches with one easy swipe. Of course, the multiple-tip user would have to be careful not to get confused as this could get messy.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

On the Slippery Slope

Really, I should have known better. For pity’s sake, it’s not like I’m a kid any more – I’m 39 years old – hardly a spring chicken. And aren’t we supposed to get wiser as we grow older? I’ve heard about body parts “heading south” when you get to this sort of age, so maybe the same thing is happening to my brain.

Perhaps it was a reaction against my age, a vain attempt to prove that I’ve still got what it takes, that I can still mix it with the young guys. After all, it wasn’t a big slope, and I’d already sledged down a few tricky descents with nothing more serious than a bum-crack full of ice to show for it.

Of course, Newtonian laws of physics did play their part, and, being rather tall, I do have a somewhat higher centre of gravity than your average middle-aged dork. So, it was hardly surprising that, on reaching the bottom of the slope and raising my hands in readiness for a self-congratulatory salute, I began to topple backwards.

It was at this point that I began to hear cries from my onlooking wife and kids. This was strange, as they had hitherto remained very quiet, particularly about the ditch I was now heading towards, and the icy-cold brook that was babbling along it. As I tumbled backwards I remember how appreciative I was that they had decided to offer these late warnings.

Thankfully, the fact that I am about as agile as an arthritic walrus meant that my gymnastics display stopped just short of a self-baptism in the wilds of Northumberland. Even worse, those few inches of water could have done for me – a point which will not be lost on Mrs Bogsey over the coming months, believe me. I’m sure a guide dog would never have let that happen to me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Come Fly With Me

My in-laws will by now be approaching Dubai, en route for Brisbane. Thankfully, the strong winds that we’ve been experiencing in this part of the UK have subsided, so at least take-off should have been fairly smooth. However, I don’t envy them the long flight ahead.

Although hardly a seasoned traveller, I have found that flying can offer some very interesting experiences for the visually-impaired. For example, like other disabled customers, we can arrange special assistance at airports to help get us to and from the plane. In the bad old days, this might simply have involved providing a wheelchair, regardless of your type of disability. Better still, a few years ago on arrival into Amsterdam, we received some rather special treatment to help us get to a connecting flight. Obviously well trained in the need to protect the disabled customer’s dignity, our guide led the way at high speed, pushing through the busy airport and yelling “Blind Man! Blind Man!” at bemused travellers, as we followed on behind, apologetically.

However, it’s not all bad. Once on board the plane, the visually-impaired traveller is often treated to some extra close attention from the flight crew. On my only trip down under, flying with Singapore Airlines, my wife regularly reminds me of the time I accepted assistance for a guiding arm from the stewardess, to help me back to my seat from a trip to the gents. I maintain to this day that it was a complete accident that I grabbed the lady’s breast, and that I let go of it pretty sharpish. My wife claims she has never known me go to the toilet so much, and I think there is a fair chance that, if I ever go to Singapore again, I will immediately be arrested.

I’ve noticed that, with some airlines, assistance sometimes takes the form of being escorted onto the plane first. Next time this happens, as we’re walking past the other passengers, I think I might remark to my guide, in a nice loud voice, that “As the airlines first blind pilot, I don’t want to ruin my first flight by taking off late.”

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Getting a Grip on Obesity

Consistent use of the afore-mentioned KW turbo-whisk will inevitably lead to an expansion of the old bogsey-belly. This is no laughing matter, as it is not particularly easy for a VIP to lose weight. Having crappy eye-sight makes it easy to lose many things, but not body lard. Walking too fast is fraught with dangers (see lamppost post below) and it can be hard to find a suitable sport in which to take part. So, I have resigned myself to hauling my fat backside to my local gym twice a week. There, I get to shed a few ounces whilst humiliating myself at the same time. For instance, this week, having exhausted my interest in exhausting myself on a bike that goes nowhere, I decided to do some more challenging stuff, and headed for the free weights. The fitness instructor, a nice chap with elbows which I must discuss further in a moment, wasted no time in remindingme what a complete wimp I am. "You'd better start by just lifting the bar without any weights," he explained, following up with "It weighs twenty kilos on its own." But it was too late. By very nicely trying to preserve my physical well-being, he had inadvertently dealt a crushing blow to my ego.

The problem of obesity is one which, although troubling to us VIPs, is also one with which we can be of great service to the nation. You might think that those of us who cannot see would not notice the growing problem of growing waistlines. Not so. Better still, we feel it happening right between our fingers. Every time we accept a guiding arm, we gather evidence of the health of the nation. Forget Body Mass Index, what the Government should be using is Blind Man's Index-finger. Taking hold of someone's elbow gives a very reliable predictive test of their weight. I would estimate that around 70% of the arms that have guided me over the past year have been limbs in need of slims. Of course, there is a huge variety, ranging from the "Skeletor" at one extreme, where care must be taken not to snap the guide's arm, to those where holding on at all is not really possible with only one hand.

Unlike the conventional measures like the BMI, we can also ascertain the difference between a big flabby arm and a big fit arm, like that of my gym instructor, which feels like a smallish tree trunk.

In just the same way that we gather TV ratings or weather predictions from volunteers around the country, an army of volunteer blind people could be out there each day sending back data that could shape the future of services like the NHS. The data could be analysed in a national flaboratory.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Food for Thought

Thanks to the January sales, I am now the proud owner of a spangling new Kenwod Chef. Old Kenneth Wood really knew what boys like when he strapped an outboard motor to a whisk. I wonder why it doesn't come with ear protectors as standard.

The preparation and consumption of food are activities which present their own set of challenges for the visually impaired person (VIP). Difficulties with the latter, from my experience, are the more challenging and, to an extent, more critical for the VIP’s self esteem.

Cooking for me and my family has never really been a problem. Armed with a good recipe book and a few helpful gadgets, such as talking scales, I can be a dab hand with my apron and rolling pin. Checking the instructions or contents can be tricky – taking a chance normally works out okay, but when it doesn’t, you know about it. My most recent disaster of this type involved serving pasta with a delicious covering of carrot soup. However, I generally find that having impaired vision doesn’t have too much of an impact when it comes to preparing a meal. Perhaps it’s because there are so many other senses that come into play. As well as tasting (vital when cooking anything with chocolate in, of course), I can check texture by feeling, sniff out whether I’m using the right herb and listen to find out whether my pan is boiling or simmering. I do have to admit to leaving a trail of destruction in my wake – there isn’t usually a cooking utensil untouched, but I put this down to being a bloke rather than anything to do with my sight. Creation completed, I usually retire, victorious at this point, glowing with the pride of a hunter-gatherer providing for his dependants, armed only with a spatula and half bottle of Shiraz, and let my wife repair the damage.

Eating food, however, is an altogether more tricky business. For a VIP, eating a meal is fraught with physical, social and emotional dangers. Struggling to eat a meal in front of others can be a humiliating, frustrating and embarrassing experience. The basic problem is similar to that suffered by the toddler who, due to a lack of fine motor control, finds it difficult to co-ordinate what he sees with what he does with his hands. For me, the problem is the other way around, but the result is often the same – spilled food, too much food in the mouth, dribbles and spills. The toddler has the advantage of low expectations, a high chair, nice plastic spoons and a bib. For the VIP, there is often only polite attempts not to notice.

Through this experience, you learn that there are ways of managing the risk. Finger buffets, for example, are a potential disaster zone, and I now gladly let someone else fill my plate for me rather than risk picking up one and a half sandwiches or putting my fingers into the salsa dip. Lighting is also key – generally people like to eat in subdued lighting, whereas I will always ask for a window seat in a restaurant, or extra candles on the table. If I have the choice, I’ve learned to be careful about what I choose to eat – there are some things that, however tasty they may be, just aren’t worth the effort. If you think of a scale with porridge at one end and lobster thermodore at the other, you’ll get my drift. I am currently at risk of becoming the world’s slowest eater, as half my forkfuls of food are all fork and no full, and I can spend a mouth-watering amount of time chasing food around my plate. Being told exactly what is on my plate and where can help, such as “sausages at 3 o’clock, chips at 7 o’clock and beans at 10 o’clock ” Unfortunately, some of the food (especially little bloody peas) inevitably ends up in a totally different time zone, but, hey, what else are table-cloths for?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Shedding Light on Lampposts

In the streets all around my house at the moment the local council are busy replacing all the lampposts, presumably with more environmentally-friendly versions.

For a visually impaired person (VIP), the humble lamppost is a double-edged sword, though thankfully not as sharp. On the one hand, it not only provides the sort of additional light that VIPs usually crave, but certain posts provide useful reference points without which finding the way back home can prove that bit more difficult. My last two houses have had lampposts right outside them and while my wife would complain that, in one case, it was too bright to get to sleep at night, I was grateful for its bright glow – my own night star, guiding me back to a safe landing after a night out on the town. Without it, I probably would have ended up being branded a nuisance neighbour “Sorry officer, I know it’s not a pleasant way to water the plants, but I couldn’t get my key in the door. What do you mean it’s not my door?”

On the other hand, I have had several ‘tête-à-tête’s’ with lampposts over the years and I can only hope that they that they that they have not done any permanent damage. This is because, despite the added light they provide at night, they nevertheless also provide a bloody hard obstacle that, from my experience, doesn’t have much’ give’. The forehead normally takes the brunt of the impact, but seems to transfer the shock immediately to the lower jaw, leaving you feeling like you’ve just taken an uppercut from Mike Tyson. For this reason, I tend to avoid walking with my tongue hanging out. It must be tough for visually-impaired dogs, now that I think about it.

One other tip for fellow VIPs is to always carry a polystyrene pizza box (12 inches, preferably). Rushing home one night with my deep-pan pepperoni I remember vividly the crunch of the box as I ploughed into the lamppost. Unlike the pizza-box, I emerged unscathed. Knowing how much I like pepperoni pizza, it’s a fair bet that my tongue was hanging out too! That’s what I call a close shave.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I'm not waving, but blogging!

Yikes, this is a bit scary. For years I've been trying to get stuff published and now I have the world at my mercy, but what the hell do I say? Is this how it is for all blog virgins?

First, let me fill you in on the guide dog situation.

There, that was easy. I don't have one. Nor do I know when I will be getting one. I am, however, a high priority case, having recently lost my last dog to cancer back in October when he was just three years old.

Being without a guide dog is both a traumatic and liberating experience.

3 things I miss about having a guide dog

  • They are so much more sociable than white sticks - they attract people rather than making their ankles bleed (generally speaking).
  • They are fantastically good at what they are trained to do. My last dog, Ellis, once saved me from walking straight in front of a bus - honest - I still have the stains to prove it.
  • They are great family pets.

3 things I don't miss about having a guide dog

  • Picking up doggy doo-doos.
  • I have the use of my left arm back. Although, admittedly, my right arm is now generally taken up with holding a white stick.
  • I do feel a little more independent. This is a bit weird, because a guide dog is supposed to increase your independence...which it does, but you are still dependent on a dog.

Anyway, the advantages definitely outweigh the drawbacks, so each time the phone rings I'm eagerly hoping that it is news of my new dog. Keep your fingers crossed for me.