I had to send a letter

I had to send a letter

I don’t know how long ago it is that I sent my last letter. I just don’t do it. All of my business correspondence is sent online and I generally encourage people to write to me online too, because that’s how I can read it. Even my bills are paperless!

Great for me and great for the planet!

The postman and parcel delivery people don’t count – they bring me the things that I order online! That’s definitely something I didn’t have 20 years ago, and for me, even though I grumble about a lack of online retail accessibility at times, it’s definitely progress!

But generally things I receive in the mail, with the exception of birthday or Christmas cards, are junk mail, advertising, and stuff that finds its way straight to the recycling.

So anyway – I had to send a letter for the first time in years.

I have access to a printer now, but I went for years without even that.

We did have a couple of issues though, such as not having an envelope big enough (a quick online order fixed that) and no stamps (fortunately my supermarket does them, so I could just add it to our shopping. But this all delayed the sending off of the letter, not least because we’re still shielding and couldn’t just pop to the shops.

Eventually the letter was sent off and I started thinking about my 21st century mini problem and how things have changed.

When I was growing up, my Nan always had a cupboard full of stationery, and she always had stamps in her bag. She wouldn’t have run out of either.

As a teenager, I was the same, with English stamps, international ones, free postage labels for my international library books, and envelopes of all shapes and sizes.

I had various penfriends in Germany, which was fun, but challenging at the same time. When the handwritten notes came, I couldn’t see to read them. My Nan could, but she couldn’t speak German. So she tried to read them phonetically and I tried to figure out what the letters meant, taking down the letter myself in Braille or on my laptop so that I could reply later without having to ask for help again.

At the time it was good, because it gave me a reason to improve my German – so that I could communicate with my friends (I would type my replies and print them out). I was grateful for my patient Nan who helped me transcribe letters in a language she didn’t understand. It almost became like a game – uncover the hidden code! Those letters were never particularly long though – when I think now of some of the lengthy emails I write to my friends – transcribing the answers to those would be a lot more work!

I don’t miss getting personal letters that I can’t read myself though. I communicate with people all round the world every day, and I am so grateful for the technology that allows me to do this independently – without having to bother someone else, or have them read all of my correspondence.

Ok, my teenage letters weren’t that deep or meaningful, but it’s still like taking someone with you every time you meet up with someone for coffee, and never actually getting to chat with them on their own.

That’s before you even get to things like love letters! Who wants someone else reading those?!

I know some people are happy to receive handwritten letters in the post. They feel it’s more special and more personal.

But apart from the minor inconvenience of not having what I needed to send off this particular letter, I’m glad about how things have moved on for me, and how far technology has allowed adult Kirsty to be more independent than teenage Kirsty ever was!

As for stamps – I remember what they used to cost before and was actually quite surprised!

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Winter is coming – but it’s not all bad!

I started thinking about writing this post after listening to a podcast, in which the topic was winter, and how we should use nature and being outside to help us through the long winter months. I can get behind that – particularly if I’m not feeling my best, nature can really help to lift my spirits – whatever the season. It grounds me somehow.

I’m possibly in the minority in that I’m not really a summer person! Yes, I like to be outside in the sunshine, but I don’t like getting burned and I get bored just lying around in the sun.

My favourite season is autumn, but winter is ok for me too.

I know it’s easy for me to say that because I have warm clothes, I can put the heating on if I want, and I don’t have to trudge to work in all weathers as I used to. I’m aware not all people have these things and I don’t take them for granted.

But I’m talking about a more basic level of learning to make the best of and appreciate all the seasons, rather than wanting summer all year round.

One of my students moved from Europe to a climate where there isn’t really much variation in the weather from month to month, and she misses the changing of the seasons. I think I would miss the transitions too, even if our weather has been a bit erratic in recent years.

Growing up

When I was a child, we always walked to school. In the morning, there was no other option. My Granddad needed the car for work, so my Nan and I had to walk. In the afternoon, my Granddad would pick me up, and we usually walked then too. Occasionally, if it was raining hard, he might bring the car, but otherwise, we walked.

It was quality time. We didn’t always talk, but we enjoyed the company, and the nature. The smells of freshly-cut grass, or the distinctive smells of the trees that showed me where on our route we were.

In winter, we would wrap up warm in coats, gloves, scarves, and hats. It made you appreciate the warm home after school, or when you came in from the snow.

We lived a lot further north when I was growing up, (although I’m originally from London), and it snowed more there. As children we got really excited about snow days – because school would be closed – but also because we could play out in it, build snowmen, and go sledding. Even the dog got involved in the games! (I am the child in the picture, and the dog is our pet dog Cindy)

My Nan loved Christmas, possibly more than the children did! She was always really enthusiastic about the day itself, but also the time before. All the preparations – buying things, wrapping things, making things, decorating things… And that enthusiasm was infectious! The activities are different now, but I still like the pre-Christmas time, which is why I had plenty to write about for the couple of years that I did Blogmas.

What winter means now

Ok, I don’t enjoy going out in the rain, and I’m glad I could say goodbye to freezing waits on train platforms and walking to work in the sleet. I do enjoy a good wintry walk though, when there’s a fresh breeze to blow away the cobwebs and clear my head. Maybe now, in this unusual time, it will also guarantee us more seclusion when we do go out for our walks. That will help me feel safer, and in turn make the walks more enjoyable.

I like making winter food – ok there is all the Christmas stuff, but also warming dishes like soups and stews. I like snuggling up on the sofa with a good book and a hot chocolate! I like hearing the sounds of the howling wind or lashing rain – as long as I’m inside! I like the snuggly, fluffy things that we bring out to wear during this time!

I listened to a report about winter life in places that have a lot more snow and a lot less light than we have. Of course they have problems too – no country doesn’t – but I really got a sense that this season is also something to be embraced and enjoyed, often with outdoor activities, rather than something to hide away from.

For me, winter is a quieter time – a time to reflect, to rest, and take stock. It’s a bit like the night time – we might be more active in the day, but you need the night as well, otherwise everything would be too exhausting! Ok I’m a night owl as well!

I know that this year it will be harder for some people – fewer chances to meet outside, if those activities are weather-dependent, probably a very different Christmas. We need to adapt, to make sure our friends are ok, and not be too ashamed to ask for help if we need it.

The clocks are going back, and the darker nights are coming. I know for some people that will be harder, in a year when some are already feeling isolated.

I’m not talking about people who are facing hardships right now, such as struggling to pay the heating bills or afford enough to eat. But I do get frustrated when people, many of whom still have a lot more freedoms than I’ve had all summer, want to dismiss the next few months because some things will be a bit different this year.

I’ve been shielding since March. I haven’t been able to do all the things I want, go all the places I want, or hug all the people I want to. But I still believe I have a lot to be grateful for. I intend to make the most of the winter when it comes, because every season has something to offer, even when you have to look a bit harder to find it.

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Let’s not lose the positive things after the lockdown

People’s experience of the lockdown has been very different. I talked about that in my walk a mile in their shoes or stay a day in their self-isolation house post, so I’m not going to cover the same ground again. But whatever your experience of lockdown has been, in a general sense, there have been some good things to come out of it, and I think it would be a real shame if the lessons we learned were lost when things start going “back to normal”, whatever that is.

Also, I’m fully aware that it’s not over for all of us. Many people are going out and meeting up with some of their friends again, and many shops are set to open again next week, whereas others of us are still shielding. I hope we won’t be forgotten about because we can’t join in just yet. I don’t mean that people should not do things just because some of us can’t, but it would be good if our contact didn’t dry up as some people’s need for online contact decreases.

The environment

One of the business Facebook groups that I’m in did an activity where you can link up with local business owners for a one-to-one chat. I really enjoyed it, because I prefer one-to-one conversations anyway, and I got to know some lovely people through it too.

At least two of the people said they had noticed a lot more litter just in the week after people were told they could go out more. Just one week. Previously there had been less of it, but as soon as people started going out again, back came the litter.

They were from different areas too, and I’ve seen similar complaints from people that work in national parks or other beauty spots.

One of the bloggers I follow mentioned how many discarded face masks she’d seen in the supermarket car park.

Can we not do better than that?

Getting happy about the small things

Many people are feeling a bit unsure about the advice that people who’ve been shielding can now go out once a day, especially as it came sooner than we were supposed to be doing that. In our house, we haven’t been out for non-essential journeys for about 3 months. Last weekend we decided to go for a walk, choosing somewhere that we knew would have less people around.

It’s true that I will always get more excited about walks than S, but it felt so good to be out walking in the countryside again. We’re fortunate enough to have a garden and I can get fresh air whenever I want to, but there’s something so good about being out in the nature and going for a walk.

One of my students was telling me about her son’s reaction to seeing all the things he hadn’t seen for a while after a period of quarantine. “Woooow!” Several weeks is a long time for a small child, but I do get where he’s coming from! Let’s not get so busy again that we don’t take the time to say “wow!” or at least still appreciate the little things.

Doing things online

Ok so I’m biased. I have been running an online business since 2012. For me, doing things online isn’t something that we do because of the virus – it’s how I choose to work all of the time. That doesn’t work for all businesses, and some things definitely are more of a challenge online. It’s been fun to see people’s creativity though!

But online anything – not just learning – doesn’t have to be the second-best. Sometimes it can run really well alongside or as an alternative to the face-to-face things.

I’ve been doing online networking in one of my business groups. I’m sure it’s not going to finish, because we have members from different countries there. International networking makes sense to be online! But there are other activities that I’ve done during the last weeks, other people I’ve caught up with, other groups I’ve been involved with online – and it would be a shame if they all just fizzled out because some people can start to meet up again.

As I mentioned before, there are people who are still shielding, and even if you take that out of the equation, online meetings are the easier option for a number of people due to circumstances around a disability, not being able to drive, other caring responsibilities etc. We’ve had a more equal playing field in some ways, and it would be a real shame to lose that.

Catching up

There’s something about this time that has made people look up others from their past, or message people they haven’t been in touch with for a while. Mostly it’s a good thing – sometimes not so much. There is a reason why some people are in your past, not your present. You don’t need to feel the need to contact all your exes before the apocalypse strikes and you never get the opportunity again! Because really, who needs that?

But generally it’s been a good thing to reconnect with people, or to spend a bit more time with people that we’ve kept meaning to contact. Let’s not get so busy again that we stop making time for that.

Finding time for things

I got sooo tired of seeing that “now that we’ve all got more time on our hands” assumption – because some of us were still working, and then trying to fit in all the extra social stuff that kept popping up! But at the weekend I found myself with a bit more time and have done some baking, cooked more home-made meals (because we wanted to try out some new recipes. After the initial shortages, this became possible and I’m sure we’ll keep on doing it.

With other activities outside the home being put on hold, I made more of an effort to separate work time and non-work time, which meant I had more time for other hobbies. Those habits aren’t so bad! It’s so important to have these boundaries, especially when you work for yourself, work from home, or both!

New skills and hobbies

As I said, I haven’t had a lot of extra time, but I do have a break from my part-time university course now, so I decided to take up Turkish again. I’ve started reading and listening to more in Turkish, and have a regular online meeting with a Turkish friend.

For everyone who has taken up new skills and hobbies or brought old ones back to life, it would be nice if we could build them into our schedule and make them part of our new normal.

Final thoughts

My lockdown has been pretty ok. I’m in a house with my partner, and it’s easy for me to catch up with other people whom I care about -even though it’s not face-to-face, I can still talk with them online or in the many other ways we have of contacting each other. I dread to think of my phone bill if this had happened 25 years ago!

I miss physical contact, but I’ve made a point of keeping in touch with people in the ways that I can for now.

I have food. I can still work, if a bit less than usual. My health scare last year is not so far in the past that I don’t remember how I felt, and how lucky I felt to still be here with no lasting damage. That makes me grateful, but it also makes me not want to be reckless.

Some may say I’ve had it easy, but it’s never really that simple is it? It’s true, some people have had more physical hardships to endure. Some have been far away from loved ones, or going through each day knowing that loved ones are in danger. Some have had to close their businesses or are worried about their jobs when all this is over.

But I also think that if you decide straight off that everything’s awful, you hate it, nothing is fair etc – you’re probably going to have a really miserable time.

However you feel about the lockdown, are there things that you have learned from it, things that you want to do differently, or new habits that you want to continue? Why not share them in the comments?

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Same storm – different ships

It occurs to me that even when all the norms are thrown out of the window, it doesn’t take long for a sense of pressure to build up about what is “normal” behaviour, or what people should be doing or feeling in these new and different times.

That’s a bit crazy, isn’t it?

In some ways, this is the perfect chance to take a look at our lives, listen to our bodies, and do what works best for us within the boundaries of what’s allowed at the moment.

I first noticed it with socialising. Many people are really struggling with the lack of contact with others. I understand that. But I felt a real sense of social overload in the first couple of weeks – partly because I wanted to be at all the parties, but also because unlike a lot of people right now, I’m fortunate enough to still be able to work – so after a day with lots of online calls, more online calls weren’t what I really needed.

Not that I don’t want to keep up with my friends – I still book some in and have some that I really need to organise, but not every night. Because it was only in my crazy 20s that I went out every night and still made it into work the next day, running on coffee and not much else.

Then there’s the whole – learn-a-new-thing phenomenon, but I’m already doing a part-time degree on top of working full time, so I don’t tick that box either. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that people are gaining new skills, especially if they have a lot of time at the moment. It’s way better than being bored. But if you don’t have the time or capacity to learn something new – if you’re exhausted at the end of the day after running your business or home-schooling your children – that’s ok too! Don’t feel bad about it.

Then there are the creative projects – I’m not doing those either. I can create things with words, but I’m not making, painting, or restoring anything! I did make some banana muffins last night and we’re still doing our monthly spice boxes where we try new recipes. Maybe that counts?

I did have a bit of a moment in the sales last week –my guilty pleasure – but I can’t join in any of the “I’ve eaten/drunk too much” conversations either. I don’t drink alcohol, and I guess I’m used to being at home where the same food is available all the time because I work from home. I’m not going to lie just so I can take part in the conversation, but I’m not going to be the one who joins in to say it’s not a problem for me either, because that just sets you apart even more. So I stay quiet.

I’m not trying to make myself out to be some kind of saint – I have a nicely-stocked chocolate drawer! What I’m saying is that I’ve noticed new pressures springing up around the new normal. Pressures to say you fit in or mirror the experiences others are having. And some people just don’t – which is ok.

I’ve never cared that much about peer pressure. We were having this conversation the other day about school. I care what people think – especially if I know I’ve been unfair or unreasonable in some way – but I don’t care enough to change who I am or what I want just so that I can fit in with what’s currently popular. Of course there are people whose opinions I really do care about, but it’s more based on reasoning that I can follow, rather than “you have to do x to be cool/part of our club”. Especially if I don’t think that x is very cool or interesting!

I’m not knocking any of the really cool stuff that is going on right now, but I am saying it shouldn’t feel like a competition or extra pressure if you’re already struggling to stay afloat.

This is a very long way of getting to my point, which is I hope people don’t feel even more stress by the new norms that are emerging, if those norms don’t reflect who you are or what you like doing with your time.

It’s ok if you aren’t a domestic goddess.

It’s ok if you don’t need as much social contact as some of your friends.

It’s ok if you can’t whip up a restaurant-style meal or if your chocolate cake flops in the middle!

It’s ok if you can’t join in with friends who are complaining about how absolutely awful the lockdown is because you’re just happy to be healthy and making the best of each day.

Of course, if you’re not ok and you’re not going from one fun activity to the next, it’s ok to say that too.

It’s ok if you just need a rest. Adapting to new things can be tiring. We sometimes give being busy much more prestige than it deserves and it feels as though some people have switched a crazily busy social life for a crazily busy home life with no time to just be still and recharge.

It’s ok if you need someone to talk to.

It’s also ok if your experience of the lockdown is different from many of the people around you.

There’s a post doing the rounds on social media about how this is the same storm, but we all have different ships. The experience is not going to be the same, because we are not on the same ship. We can help each other out and support each other for sure, but nobody ever really knows what it’s like on another person’s ship in this storm.

Oh, and if you don’t start doing all the things you haven’t been able to as soon as you are allowed to – even if everyone else you know is doing them – that’s ok too. Especially if you have health concerns that they don’t have!

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Sometimes you need to stop and walk away

I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, before social isolation and the country was on lock-down, meaning that many of us had more time on our hands at home. But I’m still going to post it, because things will go back to normal and then these things will become relevant again.

Sometimes you need to stop and evaluate what’s really working for you.

Not being willing to give up is often a good character trait. It helps you to keep going when others have thrown in the towel. It gives you the resilience to push through on tough days. It helps you to see things through, even when there are no quick wins.

But it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes it helps you to keep going when the smarter thing would be to walk away or cut your losses.

I have this character trait. A lot of the time it helps me. That bloody-mindedness that keeps me going despite setbacks, struggles, many of which have to do with finding solutions to living in a world that is often inaccessible, and often not built for me to succeed. All the little things – I talked more about them in my I am tired – the disability truth that we don’t like to talk about post.

But it’s not all disability-related. I have done it in failing relationships too. Keeping on till the bitter end, when most smart people would have walked away. I convince myself I can turn a failing situation round, or live with the thing that’s a massive inconvenience, or just be the stronger person. Coupled with my unwillingness to ask for help and tell anyone when things are falling apart, it can be a big surprise to my friends. Like the time when one of my closest friends found out just what a mess I’d got into with a guy that should have been sacked weeks before. It’s hard to turn around and walk away when you’ve put a lot of yourself into something or someone – emotionally, financially, or just in terms of your time and effort trying to make things work.

It’s the same with jobs. Sometimes I’ve stubbornly stayed in a job that was making me miserable because I didn’t want to admit it wasn’t working out. I’m not the kind of person who just quits without a new job to go to or a plan B, but sometimes I think looking back, it would have been smarter if I’d begun the job search sooner.

I’m talking about this now because ever so often I realise I’ve overcommitted myself, and in true Kirsty style, I’m too stubborn to admit it until I’ve really had enough.

It doesn’t show itself in not getting things finished. I’m a finisher, so if I set out to do something, then do it I will, but often without thinking about the cost. Not necessarily financial cost, but cost in terms of my own time, energy levels, or resources.

I have lots of ideas. I’m involved in a lot of cool stuff, in my businesses, social life, studies and hobbies. But sometimes it’s good to step back and think about what’s really adding value.

Today was one of those days. I pulled the plug on some activities I’ve been doing because they’ve been taking up time, but not adding value.

It’s hard to do that. It’s not nice to leave a job unfinished. I take commitments seriously, so if I sign up for a course or plan to do something over a number of weeks, I like to see it through. But if that thing is driving me mad and not giving the promised results, sometimes the best thing is to cut your losses and focus on the good stuff. Or at least focus on having some quality time for relaxing.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Programmes don’t deliver what they offer, or they might just not be the right thing for you. Sometimes it’s just a case of priorities changing and something that was massively important to you at one point slides down your priority list till it’s hanging on somewhere at the bottom. Sometimes life just happens and you have new responsibilities, more hours at work, or unexpected demands on your time.

There comes a point where it’s good to take stock and look at how we’re spending our time. Because even for those of us who don’t like to admit we can’t do something, there are only 24 hours in the day, and we only get one chance to spend each day. So if you have overcommitted, signed up for something that isn’t working out for you, or taken on a bit too much, it’s sometimes the stronger person that faces up to that and walks away.

It’s best not to make these decisions when you’re feeling emotional though, or you run the risk of letting negative feelings cloud your decisions. In my case that’s wanting to cancel everything, not just the thing that was causing the problem. That’s not a good way to be. I try not to make any big decisions when I’m angry/sad or just feeling some other kind of negative emotion.

But what I have learned is that a sustained period of being constantly too busy isn’t good, and sometimes it also takes us away from the things that really matter or make us happy.

Of course it makes a difference if suddenly quitting something will let others down, lead to some kind of financial loss or additional problems for you to solve, but I think it’s still worth having the conversation with yourself once in a while!

Do you ever feel like this? Let me know in the comments.

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Every night in my dreams – a blind woman talks about dreaming

Of all the things I wonder about when it comes to people who are different from me for whatever disability-related reason, dreaming isn’t one of the first things that come to mind. But I’m often asked about it.

Do you dream in colour?

Do you see in your dreams?

Do you dream at all?

So I thought I’d answer the questions here in case anyone else was wondering!

You’d probably get different answers to these questions if you asked someone who used to be able to see, or whose vision had decreased throughout their lifetime. Their brain would have a visual frame of reference to draw on. Memories, colours, things that they’ve seen on TV. My brain doesn’t have this, so it can’t create what it has never had access to.

So my dreams don’t have a visual element to them because I don’t know what it is like to see. I might see the sunlight, because I can see the difference between light and dark in real life, but that’s about it.

So, in my dreams, dialogue is important – I hear things and sense things, but not in a way where everything is heightened, rather in a way that doesn’t focus on the visual side of things – because I’ve never had access to that.

I feel things – like the soft fur of a dog, the warmth of the sun, or the water on my skin as I swim. I feel emotions, like anyone else, depending on the type of dream – excitement, fear, happiness, loss, or enjoyment.

I can’t steer my way through the dream, but I am often aware that I’m dreaming, so if I’ve decided I don’t like it, I can usually wake myself up by concentrating really hard and then moving part of my body, which in turn wakes me. That’s quite useful and especially when I was younger, it saved me from a couple of nightmares! I often remember what I’ve dreamed about, and can easily trace links to what I’ve been doing/thinking about, even if things are not exactly the same as in real life.

Being blind doesn’t feature in my dreams that much. I still often dream of walking with a guide dog, even though my golden girl hasn’t been around for coming up to five years. I think this is the way that I felt most comfortable getting around. In contrast, the white cane rarely features in my dreams. I think even though I’ve chosen not to work with a dog at the moment, I was happiest getting around with one at my side.

I remember once I was surprised that I could navigate a completely new and unfamiliar place, even well enough to run after someone. I somehow just knew where the obstacles were and how to avoid them. Maybe it’s like when people dream about flying. We can’t do it, but we can imagine how it feels, and therefore the brain is able to build that into a dream.

Languages are important because most of the time when I’m awake, I’m working in a multilingual environment. So my dreams are usually in English, but occasionally in German or Turkish. Then it’s really funny because people who don’t speak these languages suddenly gain the ability to! That’s always quite bizarre when I wake up, but it seems perfectly normal at the time.

So, have I answered all the questions?

It’s important to remember that every blind person is different, and other people’s experiences will be very different to mine.

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Finding friends when you move to a new area

This is one of the suggestions that came up when I did the survey (thanks for that!) and I thought it would be an interesting conversation to have. So if you have some extra tips, please leave them in the comments. Also, if you haven’t done my short survey yet and you have a couple of spare minutes, you can find the survey here.”

I’ve moved house several times. When you’re a child, you have different issues – you’re thrown together with a bunch of kids whom you don’t know and whether or not you make friends with your new classmates straight away, you see them every day. When you’re an adult, it’s different. You don’t always need to come into contact with the people who live on your street or in your neighbourhood. Sometimes this is fine – especially if you’re someone who enjoys peace and quiet, but if you are looking for new contacts, it’s good to have some ideas about where to start.

I’m not the most gregarious person around. I’m an introvert. You might not see it, but the list of people who don’t take my social energy is very short! With everyone else, I need to recharge afterwards!

I have a group of people whom I know and spend time with, but rarely at the same time. I much prefer small groups to big ones, and this is reflected in the kind of activities I enjoy. One of my things this year is to try and be better at staying in touch because sometimes people just fall off my radar.

Still, when this topic was suggested for a post, I realised I had developed some strategies, so here they are. I’d be interested to read yours too.

1. Don’t lose touch with your old friends

Moving doesn’t have to mean cutting ties. Actually, when I moved to where I live now, it was easier at the beginning to stay in touch with my friends in Germany than the friends from where I used to live. My German friends and I have been chatting online for years, but I didn’t do that with many of the people whom I saw every day. It takes a bit more effort to change the relationship into one where you still keep in touch even when you don’t see people, and if you want to meet up, at least one of you has to travel. But if you want to prevent feelings of isolation and more importantly, if the relationship means something to you, it’s worth the effort to find other ways to stay in touch.

2. Work can be a source of friends

Many years ago, I first moved to London because of a relationship. That relationship didn’t work out, but I stayed. When I arrived, I only new my ex’s friends, but after that, I developed a whole other network, at first mainly through work, and that was how I got to know some people with similar interests to me, or whom I wanted to spend time with after work.

The tip doesn’t work so well if you’ve gone to work in a new town where you don’t know anyone yet, and workplaces have different cultures in terms of how much people mix work and pleasure, but you may find some people whose company you enjoy.

When I lived in London, one of my closest friends was someone whom I originally went for a glass of wine with because we were both too busy to keep our coffee appointment in work time!

If you work for yourself it’s a bit harder because you don’t have colleagues in the same way. Some people like to join co-working spaces. I don’t want to do this, but there are networking groups around for people who want to meet other business owners and chat on a level that you perhaps couldn’t with other people who aren’t in the same situation.

3. Meet the neighbours!

This is never been something that I’ve been particularly good at. The most I’ve done is introduce myself to them, and anyway, it’s a lottery as to what kind of neighbours you’ll get. But you never know – when I moved here, my neighbour invited me for dinner with her and her partner. By the end of that year I was going out with one of their friends –S, who I’m now engaged to! So you never know where these things will lead!

4. Join a club

I’ve always been in lots of online forums and groups – I find that kind of thing easy. Joining a face-to-face club was actually a terrifying prospect, but I decided to do it after I’d been living here for a couple of weeks.

I chose a walking club, because I wanted to get out in the nature at the same time as meeting people, but it could be anything – a hobby, a sport, a club for people with dogs, or just something local.

The walking club had a social evening in a local bar and when I first got there and still hadn’t even figured out which bunch of random people was the group I was there to meet, I wanted to run for the door. I ordered a large glass of wine before I could change my mind! But once I got talking to people, I enjoyed the evening and did a few walks with them. I don’t belong to the club now, but it was a good way to meet people when I first arrived.

The walking club was on Meetup – a site with all kinds of groups from activities to games to general social groups.

5. Take online friendships offline

If you are someone who likes to suss people out a bit first, or who doesn’t want to do a big group activity, there are plenty of ways to use the internet to find people who share your hobbies or interests. At least then you’ll have something to talk about and not have to hunt around for things to say.

I’ve found language tandems can be good for this. I started talking to a lady online as part of a Turkish English tandem (where you help each other to learn a language). We arranged to meet in a café not far from where I lived. As it turned out, she only lived a couple of roads from me and after our first meeting we met up several times for language practice and cooking together.

One of my other language tandems did not live as close, but I took the train to Cambridge and spent the weekend there with her and her family. Another time she came to London with her daughter and we did a self-guided walking tour where her daughter took some pictures for her art course. I would never have met them if I hadn’t been active online.

You might not like languages, but maybe there’s another hobby that lends itself to forums, Facebook groups, or other ways to find people with similar interests. This can be particularly good if you don’t enjoy small talk because you can go straight to talking about the subject that you both enjoy..

6. Your dog can help you to find friends!

I don’t think it’s good to get a dog if your main motivation for doing so is to find friends – having an animal is great, but it’s a lot of work and responsibility too! But having a four-legged friend alongside you can get you into all kinds of conversations when you’re out walking. Some of the ones I ended up in were just bizarre – not sure if that’s a guide dog thing or a dog in general thing – but there were some friendships that developed out of them too!

7. Local free events

I haven’t actually done this, but a friend of mine joined a Facebook group for people who were new to her part of London. They organised activities such as trips to the cinema, visits to a museum, meetups etc. Everyone was in the same position and looking for some new friends. I think she had a good time.

If online groups aren’t your thing, you could look for notices about local events.

Go at your own pace

I used to feel I had to be the one always doing something, always going somewhere – and sometimes you just need a rest. I’m better at carving out time for myself or to spend with my partner now – getting a long-term partner definitely made that easier! But I don’t have such high expectations of myself or my social life now because I’ve learned that I do better when I’m not out till the early hours every single night of the week. Maybe it’s also just what happens when you hit your 30s!

My point is though that you don’t need to know everyone in the village after the first week, and even if you are up for building a bigger social network, it doesn’t have to happen over night. You need time to figure out whom you really click with and which people’s company will make you happy!

So, let us know – how have you met new people when you moved somewhere new? Or did you move to where you live now so you could have a break from people? Have you tried out any of these tips?

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Lego is for adults too!

We use Lego for all sorts of things in our house.

When we needed to renovate the garden and change it from the overgrown danger zone of weeds and rubble to something that we could actually use, we built a Lego model to show how we wanted the end result to look. Sketching it out would not be useful to me, but if I could feel where things were going to go, I could have meaningful input.

When I was struggling with picture descriptions of technical diagrams on my course, we recreated them using Lego bricks. Descriptions are good enough most of the time, but sometimes you need a physical representation in front of you to get across a concept.

As a child, I created all kinds of things with Lego – not so much following how things should be built because I couldn’t see the diagrams, but creating my own. It’s a versatile, tactile toy – and there were horses too!

Now, as an adult, building Lego is also a fun activity for S and I to do together. You need good teamwork skills, especially when one person can’t see what you’re trying to build, or the steps that you need in order to get there.

You see it as an activity in team-building workshops, or even language learning classes, where one person gets to see the instruction pictures and the other has to build something based on the instructions from their partner.

That’s real life for us and it can be fun creating something together.

So that’s what we did on Christmas Day! We built the great hall from Harry Potter, and Hagrid’s hut, and a thestral-drawn carriage! (I had told S that I wanted to arrive at the wedding in a carriage drawn by fathiers, the mythical creatures from The Last Jedi. No chance of that seeing as fathiers don’t exist, but I have a thestral now!) And of course Buckbeak is adorable! But where was Fang?!

We laughed, we got frustrated when we thought one of the over 1000 tiny pieces was missing (it wasn’t!), we built something together, and we really had to think about how we communicated ideas – always a good skill to have. It was funny too that we both had the idea of buying Lego, among other things, for each other!

I’ve been to the great hall at Harry Potter world – you can read about it here. It was a lot of fun, but I think the best way to really understand how something like a building looks is to touch a shrunk-down 3d model of it. I don’t like touching random architecture in the real world – it’s often dirty, and in any event it doesn’t give you the whole picture – just lots of tiny, often insignificant random parts.

We created a slightly terrifying bendy snake, the great hall with all its tables and elaborate windows, impressive doors and arches, the tower with multiple levels, the phoenix, the huge roof beams, and all the little embellishments. Then there was Hagrid’s hut, with the pumpkin patch, the horrid executioner and poor Buckbeak, who was chained up.

Back of Harry Potter Great Hall and Hagrid's House Lego sets showing inside of buildings

I have read about some online text-based instructions for Lego. I think this is a really cool idea, but as we didn’t use them, I can’t review them here. I’ll certainly come back to it though if I get any sets and download the instructions so that I can try to do it myself. I wouldn’t get the colours right though unless maybe the colour sensor on my Seeing AI app could help me distinguish them.

I think the role of Lego in my life has changed now as an adult. I’m too old for the creative play that a child enjoys, but it definitely comes in handy for practical things, and I like the way that it can give a 3d representation of things from films that have previously only been described to me, or places that I’ve been loads of times, but still have no 3d image in my mind of how they look. Now we’ve built it, I plan to leave it up. Some people have pictures on the wall – so do I as it happens because my horses are a statement about what I like – but 3d scenes are also a lot of fun and a cool tactile addition to a room!

Thank you Lego, and thank you S!

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Facebook memories, free coffee, and 7 years of working for myself full-time

So, yesterday Facebook reminded me that 7 years ago, the guy outside the station gave me free coffee.

I didn’t know his name and I don’t think he knew mine.

He sold coffee outside my local station and, as I started and finished work late in an attempt to miss commuter traffic, there wasn’t usually a queue when I got there. This was a good thing because I was often late. I don’t like mornings anyway. Mornings when you have to go to a job that you don’t want to be doing any more – that’s a recipe for lateness!

So, there were no other customers and the coffee guy and I got chatting. He knew I was counting down the days to finishing life as an employee. To be fair, some of my colleagues knew about this countdown too. One of the lawyers used to joke with me and asked me most mornings how many days it was.

Saying goodbye

When it was 50 days away, it seemed like for ever! Then it was 30, 20 – then single figures! It was getting real!

On the last day, the guy selling coffee said he knew how long I’d been looking forward to this day and the coffee was on him! Such a nice thing to do!

I think things are always hard in the last few days of a job. I’ve never left a job to not have one – it was either to move to another job or to go self-employed. But you either find everyone that you ever knew wanting you to do stuff that apparently only you can do, just before you leave, or you end up doing the most boring things ever because everyone thinks it’s pointless for you to start something new. Or someone who hates you decides to give you a really awful project to do as a “parting gift”.

I’ve experienced all of these. But as I sat there on the train, drinking my coffee and doing the commute for the last time, I was excited!

A manager (not my manager, but one who often made time for me and helped me out) took me for lunch. I did very little work. I had a speech planned, but in the end couldn’t be bothered with most of it. Those who mattered knew how I felt, and those who didn’t, didn’t matter!

I went for hot chocolate with my team mate, one of the few people I’d genuinely miss, and then I got back on the train for the last time as a commuter.

I reached down and patted my golden retriever girl. Things would be different for my guide dog too. NO more cramped trains. Visits to the park in the daytime. I thought she might miss some of our friends, but she’d probably like self-employed life too. We’d both had a little taster of it when I tried to work from home once in a while, but that’s really not the same as doing it full time.

And all of that was seven years ago now – it feels like much longer than that! I’ve moved house twice, once to a new town, started a relationship, got engaged…

First months

The business isn’t actually seven years old this month – I began it in the April and worked on it part-time. But it really felt like it was happening when I handed in my laptop for my old job, gave back my security pass, and said goodbye to the people who were now my ex-colleagues!

I’d given myself 9 months to decide whether it was going to work out. After all, I had no idea. I had a concept and a couple of customers already, but no guarantee that the idea was viable. I was the sole breadwinner, so I needed it to work. Perhaps if I had been really happy in my last job, I wouldn’t have felt as empowered to leave, but I knew I was taking a risk. The couple of people who said I was crazy actually inspired me to prove them wrong, and everyone else was pretty supportive.

I decided that if things weren’t working out after 9 months, I had a couple more months to find a new job before things got really desperate! “Working out” didn’t mean earning the same as I used to, but it did mean that things were going in the right direction and I thought there was a realistic chance of English with Kirsty providing me with a reasonable income and way to pay the rent, have some kind of social life, and facilitate me doing the things I wanted to do.

I worked really hard during those first months. Too hard actually – I didn’t make time for friends or take any time off. So that was my first lesson. I’d always thought my time management was pretty good, but I can get hyper focussed on something to the detriment of everything else. I still made sure my dog was taken care of and basic things like that, but life had got a bit out of balance!

Once I’d got into the swing of things, I loved it. I knew I’d love working from home and not sharing my office with anyone. I was disciplined enough to make it work, and I enjoyed having the ultimate responsibility for decisions. If something goes wrong, it’s my fault and I’ll do better next time, but I’ll never again have to pay lip-service to something that I think is a really stupid idea!

Seven years later

I’ve learned a lot since then! I’ve learned that some months are better than others, and you need to take a longer-term view, not letting how you feel about yourself be determined by how busy you are on any given day.

I’ve learned that not everyone who offers training in the areas that you need will do a good job, but there are some fantastic people out there.

I’ve learned that quality of life is more important than climbing the career ladder in the traditional sense, especially if the latter is making you miserable. Yes, it’s still hard when I see what other people are doing now who carried on in the direction that I was going. Sometimes it’s hard not to compare myself to them – usually if I’m having a bad day anyway! But I chose a different path, and there’s a lot to be said for going to work with a smile because you enjoy what you do, and not having the awful Sunday night feeling where you’re dreading Monday morning!

I’ve learned that you don’t only need people in your own industry in your network. There’s a lot of support to be gained from other self-employed people, even if you’re working on completely different things.

I’ve learned that things change, and you have to keep your eye on the ball – things that worked in 2012 are not working now, but there are some new ideas that are working really well.

I’ve learned that people who annoy you before they’ve even signed up will probably continue to annoy you if you decide to work with them. First impressions can tell you a lot, so try to attract the people with whom you’re going to enjoy working!

I’ve learned that some of the best parts of my job are when you see how you’re making a difference to someone’s life.

I’ve learned that it’s good to take stock of where you are and where you want to be – stopping some activities when they’re not adding value, and realising when it’s time to grow. That’s why I added a second website this year called EwK Services, for all my translation, communication, and accessibility consultancy services.

I’ve seen my website grow from something with four or five pages, to one that has a blog, a podcast, and plenty of resources for people who want to learn English.

I’ve developed new skills in marketing, podcasting, bookkeeping – if you don’t outsource, you learn to do things yourself.

I’ve written and published two books.

I’ve met really interesting people from different countries and with fascinating stories.

I’ve found a way to use my German skills –something I always wanted to do, but never managed when I was employed.

I’ve become a teacher – something I’ve been wanting to do since I was about 5!

I’ve been able to move and not remain tied to a physical place – after all, my customers are in at least four different countries and they don’t care where I am as long as I have a good internet connection. This is also great when there’s snow outside, or when I’m managing other health issues – working from home really is the best option for me.

I’ve learned to celebrate the small wins – and the big ones too! To recognise them and acknowledge the work that went into achieving them.

I’ve got something that I have built. I ask others for help when I need it, but this is something that I started, at a time where online training wasn’t as common as it is now.

It definitely hasn’t been easy. Starting something from scratch never is, especially when it means you have no guaranteed set income each month as you do in paid employment. You have to earn it!

There have been setbacks, such as the time when I moved and the stupid phone company didn’t get my internet connection sorted out quickly. There was the time when I could no longer use the site where I’d found a lot of my customers and my main marketing strategy had to be replaced, pretty much overnight. There were times when big customers’ contracts came to an end and they had to be replaced or there’d be a gaping hole in my earnings. There was the time when I had more requests than I could handle – mainly because I was under-pricing my services. But all of these things taught me something as well and gave me tools to use if something similar happened in the future.

It’s good to plan and look forward. But sometimes it’s also good to look back and remember the journey so that you can see how far you’ve come. This little Facebook reminder helped me to do that yesterday.

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Blindness and not being able to drive – getting around without my own car

When I was growing up, my grandparents always had a car. It was only Granddad who could drive it, so if Nan and I needed to get somewhere when Granddad was at work, we needed to walk, take the bus, or wait. I think this taught me that a car was a good thing to have, but when you don’t have one around, you don’t just have to stay at home.

The car certainly came in useful for things like going to riding lessons and meeting my friends who didn’t live in the village. But certainly when I was at primary school, Nan walked with me in the morning – whatever the weather – and Granddad usually came to pick me up in the afternoon. If it was really bad weather, he’d bring the car, but most of the time we walked. It wasn’t far. And really it was nice to spend time with them.

As I got older, I could have lifts, but I had to pay a small amount if I wanted to go into town. I thought this was really mean at the time, but I suppose it taught me that parents aren’t a taxi service. When I see what some kids – and girlfriends for that matter – expect of their parents and partners, I can kind of see my grandparents’ point. Nobody should be taken for granted. Having said that, my friends didn’t charge petrol money, so getting lifts with them was more cost-effective!

At high school transport became more of an issue because my friends lived further away. I did my a-levels at a school quite far away, and then nobody lived nearby. But people were accommodating and if I was doing anything with people from school, I was usually invited to stay over with one of my friends. There was a lot more to do in the big city than the little village where I lived!

At that time I used to hang around with people who were mostly older than me. Many of them had cars. Some didn’t, and not just because they couldn’t see. I couldn’t contribute to the driving around, but I never felt left behind. I tried to find other things that I could do to help. Maybe it made me try to be a better friend so I didn’t seem the one who was taking favours all the time. But I never really thought much of it because most of my sighted school friends weren’t in a hurry to get a car and start driving.

Moving to London

It was a culture shock moving from my little village to the capital. But it was liberating too. As long as I could get myself to the nearest tube station, I could go anywhere. I just had to think about how to get from the tube station at the other end to where I was going. If it was things like work or favourite restaurants, I learned the way. If it was for one-off things, I met up with friends or took a taxi – most stations had taxi ranks outside. There are also travel benefits for blind people in London that you don’t get in the rest of the country.

I got to know the tube network really well. I learned about the trains. I planned how I would get around so that I could always leave when I wanted to, not when others did. If I was meeting someone for the first time, I suggested central places for us to meet, but made sure they were places that I knew too. I asked questions about places so that I could build up a map in my mind. I practiced things until I felt confident. I had bad days – tourists, roadworks, and confusing layouts will do that to you, but each day was a new start and if I fell, literally or metaphorically, I got up again!

I didn’t spend my time wandering round unfamiliar streets hoping for the best. Some blind people rely on their navigation systems a lot more than I did – but I worked hard to be able to afford that luxury and I don’t apologise for it because I don’t think I have anything to prove. Being able to afford to do all the things I wanted to with the least hassle was an incentive for me to work hard and move up the career ladder. I don’t enjoy getting lost!

It probably helped that this was pretty much the same as what most of my friends and colleagues were doing too. We all got the train home. Many of us got our shopping delivered because taking heavy groceries on the bus was a pain. We all walked a lot.

Also, not all of my taxi journeys were blindness-related. I was happy to pay for one instead of walking home late at night in the dark. It was just the smart thing to do.

When I moved out of central London, many of my friends were able to drive, but very few of them did if they wanted to go into town, which most of us did during the week for work. So cars were never the main way to get around.

Weekends were different. If you wanted to go into the countryside, you really did need a car. We often joked that my friends shared my dog – because they enjoyed taking her for long walks with me – and I shared their car.

Sometimes my friends offered me lifts – either because we were going to the same place, or they found out I was planning something that would be a nightmare on local transport, such as a really early flight when I was travelling alone. I tried to make it up to them in some other way – petrol money, lunch, a couple of beers – it depended on the journey. They never asked, but it felt like the right thing to do. Maybe that’s because of what my grandparents taught me.

Living outside of London

Since I’ve been with S, I’ve got used to being in a household with a car. I quite like it! No more crowded trains, apart from on the rare occasions when we go to London.

S knew from the outset that we wouldn’t be sharing the driving.

If he’s around, he does give me lifts, but I don’t see him as my taxi service. It’s always good to have multiple options when it comes to getting a job done. Public transport isn’t as good here as it was in London, but we do have taxis.

It is harder here because when people choose venues for things, there is a general assumption that people will be driving there – but hey, car pooling is good for the environment and I think it’s ok as long as you don’t take people for granted. I’ve paid for petrol before. I’ve paid for taxis so that friends don’t have to drive all the time. Sometimes I accept lifts from friends who want to be nice. If I can think of something nice to do for them, I’ll do it.

Ultimately, there are a whole host of reasons why some people might struggle with this more than I do. I have my own sight-related struggles. I don’t want to make light of anyone’s feelings of frustrations about not being able to do this, but I did want to share some of my coping strategies because they might help someone else.

Are self-driving cars the answer for blind people?

I’ve seen articles where some blind people are getting really excited about the idea of self-driving cars. But I don’t think they are the answer.

I certainly understand why it feels better to rely on technology instead of a person. My Seeing AI app is great for reading the post, reading labels on beauty products (most of the time), and checking out things in the kitchen. It takes away that step of the process where I need to find a functioning pair of human eyes. But a car?

My first problem with the idea that self-driving cars are the answer to our independent travel problems is that they’re not the only ones on the road. There are other people doing crazy things too. As a passenger, how many times do I hear friends cursing about some other driver being unpredictable, careless, or just really stupid?

The whole point when in charge of a self-driving car is that someone is supposed to be paying attention and step in if something is about to go wrong. I don’t want to be responsible for hitting someone’s dog or small child that wasn’t picked up by the sensors, or ploughing into a vehicle because it was the wrong colour (I read an article about that).

And to be honest, as a pedestrian, I wouldn’t be happy at a driver’s defence if I got hit by a driverless car with a blind person behind the wheel. Sighted people are not supposed to be sprawling out and watching Netflix when they’re at the wheel of driverless cars, so I think it’s a long way before we can see them as the vehicle of choice for people with no usable vision.

Maybe in 50 years someone will find this and have a good laugh – but given what’s available now, I have no urge to start planning for when I just put my destination into a driverless car and hope for the best.

I have been behind the wheel of a car once – a crazy friend decided to give me a lesson in a field in his car. It was fine, apart from the near-miss with the tree! We had a laugh and I learned some things! If I could see I think I’d probably be a fairly safe driver, but I can be pretty intolerant of other people’s stupid behaviour – even as a pedestrian!

I understand it must be hard for blind people who previously had sight and used to be able to drive. But then there’s always the flipside – they had this experience which I don’t. I always get tired of the “what’s worse” debate, because I don’t think you can really say. It’s comparing two very different experiences.

How to reduce the problems associated with not being able to drive

I’m in some groups for parents of visually impaired children and I do come across people whose children or who themselves really struggle with not being able to drive. The fact that I don’t find this so hard has nothing to do with me not finding my blindness a total inconvenience sometimes. I do. It’s just that driving isn’t high up on my list of reasons for why this is.

There are some things that I have done though that have made things easier for me as someone who is unable to drive:

  1. Think about transport when deciding where to live. London was great for me in this respect. As I moved further out, each time I had a good look at how easy it would be to get to the station from every property I looked at. Nobody wants to feel trapped or isolated, and choosing accommodation with easy links to the transport network will make life easier. This meant moving away from my family, but apart from the lack of job prospects, life for a non-driver in a little country village would have been much harder.
  2. Budget for additional transport costs. I set aside money for taxis because I knew that I would need them. I didn’t want to be a burden on my friends all the time, and anyone with their own car has to budget for transport costs too – petrol, MOT, road tax etc. If I pay for someone to drive me, I’m not being dependent. I’m giving them work. I can do it when I want to, not when someone else has time to help. It puts me back in control of getting the job done, even if I’m not the one driving there.
  3. Take time to get to know your local area.
  4. In some cases, it’s just easier to get the job done online!
  5. Build up a good network. Taking lifts from friends is still hard sometimes, but there are ways to make it a give-and-take arrangement, even if you’re not giving and taking the same things. Maybe you’re really good at something that your friend with a car can’t do. Maybe you can think of something to buy or do for them that would make them happy. If you’re doing something with friends, maybe you can be in charge of organising or sorting out another part of it while someone else does the driving. Also, if you’re not asking the same people for help all the time, it doesn’t feel like such a big ask!
  6. Plan! I plan less now because I know if I find some place for us to go or activity for us to do, it will probably involve S or one of my friends driving there. So we really just need the post code and the sat nav. But previously I got good at planning – finding the easiest way to get across London (I generally liked busy stations with lots of people rather than deserted ones), organised car sharing, planned to do multiple things in the same area to cut down on unnecessary logistical nightmares, or made the effort to make contact with people who would be making the same journey. Ok, planning and organising come naturally to me and I find there’s something quite therapeutic about them, but even if this isn’t the case, a good plan can go a long way to reducing the stress of travelling around.

Do you have any tips to add to this list?

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