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.