Mainstream or specialist school – my thoughts and experiences

This is often a subject that evokes heated discussions. Sometimes objective, sometimes verging on the aggressive. People seem so easily caught up in the “us and them” mentality, whoever the us and them happens to be at any given time.

I don’t want to do that though. I have strong opinions on this subject, but I’m certainly not here to tell other people what to do, and I’ll listen to anyone who can stay civil!

Originally, the plan was always for me to attend a specialist boarding school for blind children. I really didn’t want to go. I liked living with my family and couldn’t think of any reason why I would want to go and live somewhere else with people that I didn’t know. Who would do that?

However, Before the time I was due to be sent away, my family had a change of heart. Thanks partly to the new technology I received, I was able to attend the local primary school. I attended four schools in total and was the only totally blind child and Braille reader there.

What was it like?

I can’t make a comparison as some people can who attended a mixture of specialist and mainstream schools. Mainstream school was all I knew. I had my specialist equipment – at first a Braille machine and the old BBC micro. Later I updated to a Braille notetaking device from which you could get printed or Braille copies of work, depending on whether you connected it to a normal printer or a Braille printing device. Later I moved to a laptop, and this is what I’ve continued with throughout my working life.

My books and any worksheets that I needed were prepared by an assistant so that I had them in Braille. I also had huge Braille books for my lessons – the German pocket dictionary was 10 large A4 volumes! The books that I studied for English A levels were 7 or 8 volumes each. I had so much to carry – at one point I was banned from carrying books for more than one lesson at a time due to worries about manual handling and the strain on my back! Now I do a lot more electronically, but I still maintain that it’s important for children to learn to read in Braille. Nowadays, electronic Braille displays are much more common than they were when I was at school.

At the beginning I had a learning assistant with me all the time. This lessened as I grew older and in the end I only had the support for maths, or practical subjects where I might be let loose with an electric saw or equipment for experiments in the science lab. During A-level lessons, I didn’t need any support.

My favourite subjects were languages – in my case English, French and German. I preferred science and humanities to the arts. Maths drove me crazy, although I still got a decent grade, and PE and games were the worst. Not because I was lazy, but I thought some of the activities I was asked to join in with were pretty pointless. I became more interested when I was allowed to do things that made sense to me, like using the gym equipment or going swimming. Cross-country in the snow was just the worst, and I didn’t enjoy learning about games that I would not be able to play. I enjoyed school because I didn’t struggle academically. Games was a reminder of what I couldn’t do, which is why I was glad when I could go swimming instead. And of course I had my horse-riding outside of school!

I’ve since learned that there are team sports for blind people, but I’m not sure I’d have been interested if I’d known about them before – too rough – too dangerous – I’d rather have had my head stuck in a book!

I always had friends, but I preferred smaller groups of good friends to socialising with lots of people and being part of a big crowd. I was never bullied, but I was never that fussed about being popular either. Some people would like me – others wouldn’t. That’s kind of how I go through life now. I saw no point in changing myself to fit with whatever expectation was popular at the time, and my main point of being there was to learn.

Having said that, I made some lovely friends and have good memories of the things we got up to.

I was often resistant to socialising in the way people wanted me to – that shows in the school reports – but part of the deal there was that I just didn’t like being in the noisy lunch hall or outside.

Apart from some differences, such as art, where I was allowed to work with clay rather than to draw things, I did pretty much the same as everyone else. I had friends who helped me, but I helped them too. I gravitated towards specific roles in group work, such as presenting or writing, rather than gathering the information from inaccessible books, but at the end of the day, someone needed to fulfil that role and often others were happy for me to stand up in front of the class because they didn’t want to.

Teachers learned that my friends shouldn’t be used to compensate for their lack of preparation – I needed accessible materials and it wasn’t ok to ask people to read things to me that were still warm because they’d just been dashed off the photocopier! Supply teachers didn’t always get this, but I think on some occasions nobody had even told them that I’d be in their class!

Of course not everything was easy at school. I had the same exam stress, friend troubles, achievements and disappointments as everyone else. I was strong-willed and determined, which got things done, but didn’t always make me popular! It said on my year 7 report that I didn’t suffer fools gladly, and that included adults who thought they knew best, but were suggesting things that had no chance of working. But somehow this set me up for life in a world where things aren’t always accessible and you do sometimes need to stand up for yourself to get the things that you need.

As a younger child, I was always involved in the school productions. Acting wasn’t my thing, but I wasn’t scared of reading in front of a hall full of parents, and that type of job was always going to be available!

For the last two years (12 and 13) I moved to a different school because my one didn’t have a sixth form. I wasn’t the only new girl, but a lot of the other people knew each other, and I was welcomed accepted there.

Maybe there are a few things we could have done differently. I’m an “all or nothing” kind of girl – so I can’t be kind of interested in things. I either like them or I don’t. I think at some point I gave up with maths because I just didn’t get it, and maybe we should have stuck at it and found other explanations for me for the things I wasn’t getting. But hey, I did ok in the exam, and we can always come up with smart ideas when looking back! Overall my grades were above average and I got the highest grades in the things that really interested me.

Being different

I guess I was different, but I never had a hard time because of it. I think I sometimes tried to take control of the difference – to be different because of something other than my blindness. Something of my choosing. So I was Kirsty, the one who loved languages. Kirsty, the horse-mad girl. Kirsty who got top marks in the exam. Kirsty – the Hermione Granger type who annoyed everyone by learning lists of dates off by heart, but who could get a class credit to benefit the whole class by reciting them. My hyper focus could be annoying, and a problem when others didn’t share my interests. However, on more than one occasion, the history class asked me to engage the teacher in an in-depth political discussion so that everyone else could chill out for half an hour! I was happy to oblige.

Kirsty who had the cool tech! Ok there were the obligatory “can you make the speech software say rude words” questions, but in time some of my friends were learning Braille too, and if a teacher’s talking, you can get a lot more down when typing on a laptop than you can with a pen and paper.

I wanted to own the narrative, and not just be different because I was unable to see. Obviously this was a big difference, but thanks to the good support I received and my friends, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage because of it.

Knowing what I do now about additional needs, I wonder whether other things were missed as my differences were generally assumed to be visual impairment related. I don’t think they were entirely. But neither do I think that I missed out on any help that I needed – I either asked for the help, or said all the right things and then continued doing things my own way (“I will try harder to socialise more…”)!

Advantages of attending mainstream school

I think for me, the biggest advantage was that a mainstream school set me up to thrive in a world that isn’t only made up of blind people. It’s a world where the edges aren’t rounded off for you and you will come across inaccessibility, things that are twice as hard for you as they are for others, and things that you need to speak up about.

Overall, I had a lot of really nice, kind, motivated teachers. However, none of the classroom teachers had worked with a blind person before and I had to work with them to establish how we would do things. I did lock horns with people in the education system at times, but it was never these classroom teachers who were doing their best to make their lessons accessible.

When I was about to leave high school, one teacher admitted how she had been apprehensive about working with me and how I would learn in her class. But we did it together. We tried things out, and if they didn’t work, we tried something else. Teachers learned to dictate as they were writing on the board and describe what they were doing as they demonstrated things in the science lab. I’m aware that this was extra work. One teacher used my report as a place to point this out, which wasn’t the appropriate place for it, but in general, most teachers did the extra work willingly and in doing so, made their lessons more inclusive.

I actually enjoyed working with people who had never taught a blind person before. They don’t think they know everything and are generally more willing to listen. Ok, they may not have the experience of blindness that teachers in a specialist school would have, but everyone is different, and one size doesn’t fit all.

So as well as the teachers learning about inclusivity, my classmates also saw someone working alongside them. Maybe I didn’t do everything in the same way as them, but unless there was a really graphical element to what we were doing, I was expected to meet the same standards as they were. I just did it with a laptop and huge folders of Braille!

They did absolutely help me – whether that was getting somewhere unfamiliar, reading inaccessible information, or doing visual parts of presentations. But I can also remember trades, such as me giving help with German in exchange for having my nails painted (I still can’t do it now!) or someone explaining what’s going on in the German video whilst I tried to translate and tell them what was being said.

I think it’s really important for non-disabled children to learn alongside children with disabilities so that the idea will be nothing new when those same children grow up to be adults in charge of recruitment. We can’t expect to have inclusion and integration if it doesn’t start at school.

I wouldn’t want to be segregated because of other characteristics. Most of the time I thought boys were annoying, apart from the quiet ones who wanted to learn stuff, but I wouldn’t have wanted to go to a school just for girls.

In year 12, we had a Japanese exchange student join our class for a while. We became friends and she taught us about Japanese food, language and culture. I had had no experience of any of these things before, and as well as improving her English and learning about life in the cold UK, she taught us a lot too. Diversity is a good thing and we can all learn from different perspectives, or people who do things differently to us.

Specialist schools

I can’t write a lot about this because I didn’t go to one. I know some people who did. Some of them are not that different from me. Maybe it was easier for them because they never had to think about anything being accessible. Their teachers were all familiar with blindness-related things. But bullying can happen anywhere, and blind kids can be as mean as sighted ones. As I’ve listened to other people’s experiences, I understand that it’s not as nice and easy as we may think.

On the plus side, these young people had more exposure to the blindness community and specific activities that had been organised for blind children. Fro mmy point of view though, I never missed this.

Then there is another group of people that seem to have difficulty adjusting to life after specialist school. They didn’t make sighted friends as a child, because there weren’t any around. They don’t know how to respond to people who are different to them because they only knew the homogenous group where everyone else was blind. They can then find it harder to socialise or integrate into the sighted world, or to cope when things go wrong. This isn’t true for everyone of course, but I’ve seen enough examples of it to identify a pattern.

Even though it may be uncomfortable at the time, I’d argue that it’s better for a child to learn how to self-advocate from a younger age, than to have all the obstacles taken away from them, and then fall at the first hurdle after school.

Specialist school may be good at developing blindness and other independence skills, but I’m not convinced that it prepares people as adequately for what comes next as a well-supported mainstream school experience can.

Children today

So, where does that leave us now?

I think choice is important. If mainstream education would be detrimental to a child’s learning, then of course there should be alternative provision to help them reach their potential. This could either take the form of specialist provision elsewhere, or a unit, allowing for some classroom time and some work in smaller groups or one-to-one.

If the local educational authority is not providing enough support, then I can understand why a parent would opt for an alternative. I was lucky. I got the hours of support and the equipment that I needed. It makes me sad to read how some children nowadays don’t. Ultimately though I believe we should strive to have a system that allows children with additional educational needs to learn in a mainstream classroom, both because of the skills they can develop there – skills that have nothing to do with academic learning – and because I believe an inclusive society starts in the classroom.

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments!

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Restaurant review – The Real Greek in Reading

Earlier this week I talked about my trip to the Clinique counter in Reading. After we’d finished there, S and I decided to go for a late lunch at The Real Greek – a treat for us, because we don’t have a Greek restaurant near where we live.

We’ve been a couple of times now, and unless it’s in the middle of winter after a trip to the Christmas market, we try to sit outside. It’s nice to get some fresh air, and restaurants are always less loud if you can get a table outside! There are several restaurants alongside the canal, but we generally get drawn back to this one.

The staff are friendly and helpful, and the food is both delicious and reasonably priced.

We usually get a selection of meze dishes. The menu recommends 3 or 4 per person, but we found 6 between us was plenty!

We began with humus and flat bread, which was then followed by a selection from the hot and cold meze selection.

One of my firm favourites is the grilled aubergine, but I am also a big fan of the filo parcels stuffed with creamy leek, spinach and feta. On other trips we’ve tried the haloumi fries and the falafel – all very good!

In terms of meat, we tried char-grilled traditional Greek pork and beef sausage, and we also recommend the lamb meatballs that come with yoghurt, tomato sauce, and onions, or the minced lamb served with Anatolian spices.

Stuffed vine leaves are a total pain to make yourself, so I often take the chance to get them when they’re available at a restaurant!

There are various seafood dishes too, but as neither of us is a fan of fish or seafood, I can’t comment on how good they are!

I have to be careful with my allergies and unfortunately the ingredients I can’t have often feature in this type of cooking, but the descriptions on the menu are good, so it’s easy for me to avoid the things I can’t have. I guess it wouldn’t be a problem if you do the traditional English thing where you order your own dishes and guard them against all inquisitive forks, but we tend to put everything in the middle and share!

It’s harder to eat this way when we’re in a big group, but S doesn’t mind, and if he really wants something I can’t have, he has to eat it all himself while I munch on aubergines or lamb!

There is also a children’s menu and a vegan menu – we didn’t need either of them, but it’s good to know that they’re available for anyone who does!

When it comes to dessert, I’m always tempted by the baklava or mango sorbet, but as we usually go at lunchtime, I just have a coffee – either regular or a Greek coffee. If you do still have room though, there is a good selection of desserts.

At the time of writing, there are 15 restaurants listed on the site, so it’s worth checking out whether there’s one near you if you don’t live near Reading.

Have you been to The Real Greek? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

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This post was not sponsored – it’s just a review of somewhere where we enjoy going for lunch!

Blogger event – consultation and make-over at the Clinique counter

On Saturday we took a trip to Reading, where I’d been invited to a blogging event by Jenny, who runs the South East Bloggers’ Circle, which brings together and organises events for bloggers in the South East. It was lovely to meet Jenny and to take part in an event for which we didn’t have to travel to London! Yes, blogger land, there is life outside the capital!

The event was held at the Clinique counter at Boots in Reading, and I was excited to try out some new products, as well as to pick up some make-up tips during my consultation with Amy from the Clinique counter.

I hadn’t tried much skincare before, but I was already a fan of some of the make-up products such as the contour chubby stick, the highlighter stick and the blusher stick. As someone who has a visual impairment and who finds it easier to work with cream products, these sticks are great. I knew there were also some for lips and eyes, and although there is only one shade in the highlighter and contour stick, I thought I might find another blusher to try.

The staff at the Clinique counter were very friendly and helpful. I had a skin consultation, followed by a make-over, and as well as discovering some new products and getting shade-matched properly, I also picked up a few new tips – as did S, who was watching and taking photos! Not his favourite way to spend the morning, but we made up for it later when we spent the rest of the day in Reading!

Clinique ID range

Clinique has a new set of moisturisers called Clinique Id, which you can customise to get the best moisture for your skin type. You first choose your base – out of moisturising lotion, hydrating jelly, or oil control gel. Then you choose a cartridge to treat whichever concern you want to focus on – reenergising, addressing lines and wrinkles, evening out skin texture, dealing with uneven skin tone, or soothing irritated skin. Once you’ve made your choices, you can have your own personalised moisture with the formula that you need or prefer, and the cartridge best suited to your skin type. Find out more about Clinique ID here.

Skincare

We started with a skin consultation so that Amy, my make-up artist, could find the best products for me.

As well as trying out a moisturiser, I had my first experience with an electric cleansing brush – also available at Boots. The bristles give you a deeper cleanse than you would get with normal exfoliation and help to clean out your pores before you start applying skincare or make-up. It was an odd sensation at first, but not unpleasant, and I could get used to it!

At the time of writing this, there is a gift with purchase offer at Clinique. If you buy two products, one of which must be foundation or skincare products, you can get a free gift – a make-up bag with six products inside (conditions apply). I did end up going shopping after my consultation, meaning I got one of these bags too, which included 3 skincare and 3 make-up products (micellar gel, eye make-up remover, moisturiser, lipstick, lip gloss, and mascara). I’m not sure how much longer the promotion will be running, but it’s fantastic value, and I see at the moment it’s available online at Boots too.

Make-up

I don’t usually experiment with foundations, mainly because I can’t swatch them myself or work out which one I should buy. It’s like clothes sizes. You might know what size you are in one shop, but somewhere else that same size means something else. It’s kind of annoying when you can’t see for yourself, so I tend to just buy the same thing over again.

So we got a couple out and Amy advised me on which one to get. We actually tried two types of foundation – the liquid one and the chubby stick one. However, I felt more confident with the liquid one as that’s what I usually use. The stick one gives fuller coverage, but that also means that any blending mistakes would show up more, and I wasn’t up for that!

I also took the opportunity to get colour matched for a concealer, because this is also something I would struggle to do on my own without being able to see it.

I didn’t need another blusher, but I picked up the amp’d up apple one that Amy used on me, as well as one of the shadow tints for eyes, which are like crayons and really easy to apply.

Finally, after confirming with S that I didn’t have anything that colour in my ridiculously large lipstick collection, I also got all heart from the dramatically different moisturising lipstick range.

Overall experience

Before we started, we had a chat about how I do my make-up, what kind of products I like, and which ones I avoided. This gave Amy a better understanding of how I work as someone who can’t see what they’re doing, and helped her to pick out products that I would actually use again.

I didn’t feel flustered by having to make decisions about colours that I can’t see, which is one thing I was concerned about. On the contrary, it was relaxing and I was glad of the recommendations I got during the consultation.

I think that especially if you can’t watch your friends or see exactly what other people are doing on YouTube, having your make-up done by someone else can really help in terms of feeling how and where to apply the products. I did buy a bunch of stuff, but I felt under no pressure to buy.

Also, the fact that you’re going for a skincare and/or make-up consultation means that you can turn up with no make-up on. Not a plus point if you can’t leave the house without a full face of make-up, but if you don’t feel so confident about your own make-up skills, you don’t have to worry about a professional seeing them!

If you want to, you can also open up a Clinique profile, which means that the products you’ve bought are stored with your details. This means that even if you forget which shade of foundation you are, you can just buy it again because the store has a record of your previous purchases.

Thanks to the team at the Clinique counter in Boots Reading, and thanks to Jenny for organising the event.

How about you?

So tell me – do you have any favourite Clinique make-up or skincare products? Do you enjoy skincare and make-up consultations? Let me know in the comments.

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Animal adventures – tales of dungeons and doggies!

You may think that D&D stands for Dungeons and Dragons – but in this case you’d be wrong! It’s Dungeons and Doggies!

<a href=”https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/russrmc/animal-adventures-tales-of-dungeons-and-doggies”> Dungeons and doggies</a> is a kickstarter campaign that at the time of writing this has 13,825 backers! S pointed it out to me last year as we both play DnD, and the thought of DnD with cute doggies, especially Cornelius the golden retriever, was right up my street! As I don’t share golden retrievers, we ended up getting his and hers sets!

I particularly like minis because they’re tactile. The dogs are grouped into small, medium, and large breeds, and they come complete with a rulebook PDF, so you can either incorporate them into a Dungeons and Dragons 5E game or make a party entirely of sentient dog characters who go adventuring together.

The rules include dog-specific breed and class feats to help you build your own characters, or you can take one of the pre-generated ones. There’s even an adventure for you to play – “who’ll let the dogs out?”

Will you choose Cornelius the golden retriever wizard – the only dog with a hat? Or maybe you’d rather be Nightingale, the Pomeranian monk? Or maybe you’d like one that can slink into small places such as Tedric the Chihuahua rogue? Or if you think that every party needs a bard, maybe you’d like to be Montague the Cocker Spaniel! Or if druids are your thing, you can be Freya the German Shepherd? Or the biggest one of all, Cyresse the  St Bernard cleric? The choice is yours!

All the minis came pre-assembled – well-protected in their doggy box. I love the attention to detail, from Cornelius’ spell bones to Montague’s panpipes. They have tiny weapons such as Hartley the fighter’s sword and Flint the cattle dog ranger’s bow. There’s such attention to detail and as a blind player, I love how tactile they are! Of course, there’s the doggy factor too! I’d picked up a few random dire wolves and battle pugs for my mini collection, but a set of 13 lovingly-created D&D dogs made my day!

You also receive a set of post card-sized cards with prints displaying the various dogs.

The team behind Dungeons and Doggies was really good at keeping people up-to-date about their pledges. WE received regular pupdates with details of how the project was coming along, insights into the creation and production process, sneak previews of rules and game mechanics, and requests for feedback.

If you’d like your own set of doggies, check out the kickstarter page!

 

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Life of a mature student – how to find time for studying when you don’t have a fixed timetable

When I was at school, it always filled me with dread – that first week back when you got your timetable. I was fine once I knew what was happening, but the thought of whether my Monday morning would be full of my least favourite things such as maths and PE always made me a bit anxious – until I knew what my week would look like for the rest of the year, and then it was ok.

Generally I enjoyed school. But I felt better when I knew how it would all fit together. Which rooms I’d have to go to and when. Which homework tasks would be set on which days. Then there was order to the chaos!

Sometimes people seem to think that I was just born organised, but there’s more to it than that. As human beings, we generally take the path of least resistance, and being disorganised stresses me out way more than planning a bunch of systems and processes does. I know we’re not all the same.

So, with no lectures to attend, how do you get organised and plan your study time for a long-distance degree course?

How does it work at the Open University?

The Open university is different in that you don’t attend weekly lectures. Most learning happens when you’re working through the materials on your own. Some may find this lonely – I find it liberating because you can set your own schedule and are not restricted by what others are doing.

There are tutorials, which in a way can be like lectures, but there is a list of them for you to choose from, so you’re never tied to having to be in a specific place at a specific time, unless you want to attend a particular face-to-face event, or to go to all of your own tutor’s tutorials. The tutorials are not mandatory, but they can be useful when you’re planning your assignments or if you don’t understand something.

I opt for the online ones, and so far there have been tutorials available on weekday evenings, so I can just hop on to the call from my desk after work. That works well for me because I don’t actually need to take time out of work to do it.

There are some deadlines, such as assignment deadlines. In my last module, there were six to do.

Some people leave them to the very last moment, but again, that would stress me out too much – what if I got ill or something? So I did most of mine around a week before the cut-off date.

Otherwise though, you don’t have someone sitting there telling you what you should be doing, and you don’t have a group of people sitting in a physical space together, working through the materials together. There are forums where you can ask for help, and most modules have a Facebook group, but you really need to be responsible for your own learning strategy and time management.

The weekly planner

I don’t know whether everyone uses it, but I find the weekly planner on the student home page really useful. Ok, there is a certain satisfaction to ticking off tasks and sections of the book once they’re complete. This makes the percentage bar go up and you feel as though you’re getting somewhere!

More than that though, the content is broken down into weeks. I found it really helped to follow this plan and pretty much stuck to it all the way through the first module. I find it bizarre that the week starts on a Saturday, but I just choose to ignore this and pretend that it starts on the Monday!

There are no penalties for not following the planner though – nobody checks – and you’d only have problems if you missed one of the assignment deadlines.

Some people will try to cram everything in at the end. Others will steam off ahead and ask about things that nobody has even seen yet! What people do is really up to them, but if you’re doing a collaborative activity, complaining about the fact that nobody else is participating when it is in fact you that is 4 weeks ahead of everyone else is not going to make you any friends!

General tips for staying on track with your studies

Whether you’re at the Open University or doing other distance learning courses, these tips might help you to work through your study materials.

  • Don’t leave everything till the last minute. Your brain can only absorb so much information at once, and cramming is a risky strategy, especially if unexpected personal circumstances come up, there are technical difficulties, or you discover there’s something that you need more help with.
  • If your course provides a timetable, try to use it. It can make three big books of information and tasks feel a lot more manageable. If you don’t have the material broken down for you, invest the time in making your own weekly planner, taking into consideration any holidays or weeks when you know you’ll have less time.
  • Understand that you’ll be able to sail through some sections because it’s something you know already or something that comes naturally to you. Other things will take a bit more time. With me, it’s always the maths, but I know that and can plan in extra time for it.
  • Once you have your weekly plan, try and break it down further. I generally try to do a bit each weekday and then finish off anything I didn’t manage at the weekend. I’m lucky because I’m self-employed and can set aside some time for this during working hours if I need to. But whether you do it in your work day or a bit each evening – you need to work out what works best for you. You may find it better to have two longer sessions at the weekend – but then bear in mind that there is less time for slippage. Blocking out time in your diary can help – I put mine in like meetings that I have to attend. There will always be other things that need our attention, which is why it’s useful to schedule study time in advance.
  • Find somewhere that feels like a place for working, and try to work there. Set it up in a way that’s comfortable, with less distractions, and try to make it somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Keep all of your books and materials there, so you won’t waste study time hunting around for them. Try to limit distractions there. I just use the desk in my office, but if you don’t have that, try to identify a place where it will be easy for you to work.
  • Focus on what you’re doing, not what everyone else is doing. I understand that some people feel more relaxed if they can get themselves a few weeks ahead and hand in their assignments as soon as possible. That’s cool. But some people like to brag about it, which is not so cool. The people on your course can be good allies – you can help one another, have interesting discussions, and be there on days when either of you has had enough. But ultimately you are never going to see these people again unless you come across them on another module. So sure, be inspired by them, but don’t let them make you feel inadequate if someone is boasting about how quickly they did a task or how easy something was for them. What’s really important for your success is how you’re doing.
  • Don’t leave it too late to ask for help. I can’t move on to the next section if I don’t understand something because it will keep bothering me. I won’t be able to stop thinking about the thing until the thing has been resolved! In some ways this serves me well, but I have seen other people really struggling alone with things and only admitting it very late in the module. There are so many places to get help – tutors, other students, friends, the internet. Some of these people will be under more pressure as exam or assignment deadlines get closer, so it is often better to get your questions in as they come up. Sometimes rereading the same thing multiple times won’t make it any clearer – you need to find another strategy to understand the concept.
  • Know when to take breaks. I’m better at this if my partner is around. When he isn’t, I’ve been known to still be sitting at my desk at stupid o’clock trying to get something finished! But generally that’s a one-off. We aren’t machines. We need basic things like sleep, food, water, exercise. It’s tough because distance learning students often have a whole bunch of other stuff going on such as jobs, family commitments etc, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It won’t help if you burn yourself out because you overestimated how much you could do in one sitting.
  • Expect to have good and bad days. I wasn’t fond of one section in my last module. My motivation levels were down. I couldn’t wait to see the back of it! But that’s normal. Each module covers a range of information and some things will be easier for you than others. Some things will be more interesting than others. Don’t let how you feel about yourself and your ability to do the whole course be determined by how you feel about one particular task.
  • Celebrate the small wins – it makes you feel good before moving on to the next assignment or chunk of learning. Who doesn’t like a celebration? But seriously, breaking the material down into more manageable pieces can certainly help if at first you feel a bit overwhelmed.

Do you have any more tips? Let me know in the comments!

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On your bike – 10 advantages of having exercise equipment at home

This week I got a new exercise bike because my old one broke and couldn’t be repaired.

I have a desk job and spend a lot of my time sitting at my laptop – even more when you take into consideration time for the blog and my studies.

I enjoy going for walks, but I need something a bit more challenging to get the heart rate going, and also for it to be something that I can do on my own.

We already had the cross-trainer, so now the new bike has been put alongside it to replace the broken one.

I wasn’t looking for a lot of added functions on the bike because many of them are things that I can’t use. Anything electrical is not useful because I can’t operate the touch-screen to use the programmes. So I needed a basic one, but also not the absolute cheapest, because past experience has shown you often get what you pay for – and a cheaper one is not economical if it breaks and you have to replace it!

If you like going to the gym, I’m not here to stop you! Everyone should do what works for them. But here are 10 reasons why I like having exercise equipment at home.

  1. Saving time – I put my exercise sessions into my diary like meetings that I have to attend. Then I just need to add in a few minutes to change, and time for a shower afterwards, but I don’t need to build in time getting to and from the gym.
  2. Any time of the day – it doesn’t matter if it’s dark outside or not the safest time to travel. I can work out in the middle of the night if I feel like it! I usually don’t, but the option’s there, whereas most gyms are shut at this time.
  3. Always good weather – unlike if you’re going out for a bike ride or a run, it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing. Whether it’s windy, rainy, or the roads are dangerous with ice – it doesn’t matter. Conditions are always good inside!
  4. Hygiene – if it’s not clean, then there’s only one person to blame! But I do enjoy working out in a place where there haven’t been lots of other hot and sweaty bodies!
  5. Cost – there is an initial outlay because you have to buy the equipment, but once you’ve made this investment, there are no additional charges. You don’t have to think about whether you’re getting the best out of your gym membership or whether you’re getting your money’s worth.
  6. No annoying background music – you can listen to whatever you want to at home. For me, it’s usually music, a podcast or an audio book. But I don’t have to think about anyone else’s taste in music or background noise being too loud.
  7. Accessibility – I can’t access the displays on my equipment. If I want to use a timer or measure my steps, I use my phone. But in terms of actually using the equipment, we’ve chosen things that aren’t operated by a touch screen. The bike has a manual adjustment knob if you want to make it more difficult. So I don’t have to worry about equipment that can only be used when sighted assistance is around. In terms of cycling, I’m not reliant on a tandem front rider – although I do enjoy tandem cycling when I get the chance.
  8. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing – nobody is watching me. Nobody sees if I take a break! I don’t have to watch anyone else showing off!
  9. You don’t have to set up the equipment every time – the bike is set up for a short person, which means I don’t have to readjust it each time or do a flying leap just to get into the saddle! Ok, S might use the equipment too, but he generally puts things back to how I had them or doesn’t change them at all. This isn’t the case with equipment in a public place.
  10. No excuses – it’s much harder to find excuses not to do exercise when all you have to do is go to a room in your house! I try to get in there each week day. Occasionally I still don’t make it – especially if I have a tight deadline or a day with back-to-back meetings, but there’s much less that stands in the way of exercising at home, which increases the chance of it actually getting done!

Of course there are some disadvantages – the main ones for me are not actually moving anywhere and not getting out into the fresh air. Some people may struggle for space too, because these things do take up room.

But it’s a way I can be sure that I get regular exercise. For me, that makes it worth the investment!

How about you? Do you have any exercise equipment at home, do you prefer going to the gym, or do you get your exercise in some other way? Let me know in the comments.

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Why I have a problem with the AbledsAreWeird hashtag

Ok so maybe talking about this Hashtag is just giving it more publicity, which is actually the opposite of what I want to do, but still I think it’s a conversation worth having. You know, that old saying that if you sit there and say nothing when something’s going on that you don’t agree with, it’s actually like agreeing with it because nobody knows that you didn’t!

What is the hashtag>

The first time I became aware of it was at the weekend and it was actually a tweet in which someone wasn’t supporting it, to which I agreed. I hadn’t heard of it before though.

It’s basically a hashtag that people with disabilities are using to highlight some of the odd experiences they’ve had, where members of the public have been offensive, clueless, or said inappropriate things. They are real-life stories. Some just bizarre, but many show the ongoing barriers, misunderstandings, inappropriate comments or strange behaviour that many people face regularly. That’s not cool. These things shouldn’t happen. Discrimination is real and should be stopped.

I’ve had my share too – and continue to do so – but still, I don’t like the hashtag.

Why do I have a problem with it?

If it were just about highlighting some of the bad, maddening, or otherwise crazy experiences, either to bring a bit of humour or raise awareness, I think that’s fine. I’ve had comments that made me angry, sad, or roll my eyes in the past – I’m not exempt from them. How something affects you often depends on the kind of day you’re having. Great day – you think “what an odd thing to say” and move on. Terrible day –then sometimes it all feels too much.

But in the same way that I wouldn’t want someone to call me a “disabled” or “a blind”, I have an issue with the term “ableds”. Isn’t this reinforcing the stereotypes that everyone in a massive group of the population is the same? Isn’t that something that disabled people complain about?

Also, I don’t live in a sub-community that consists of only people with disabilities. Most of my best friends are non-disabled, and I hate the thought of “us and them”. It widens the gap between us. It’s about blame.

Ultimately, if someone behaves badly, or fails to be inclusive, then yes it is down to them. But it’s way too general for my liking to start calling everyone in that demographic weird.

And for the love of all that is good – the first time I was in a group of mainly visually impaired people, I thought a lot of them were pretty weird as well! I attended a short IT course after my A-levels at a centre that catered specifically for people with visual impairments. The way I was hit on there and the bizarre questions I was asked were far worse than anything that happened while I was at mainstream school. So let’s not get too smug in the weirdness comparison stakes!

There are times when only someone who has had a shared experience will know exactly how something feels. You could argue that only someone who has worked with an assistance animal for a number of years can really know how hard it is when your dog isn’t there any more – not just because you were friends, but you were a team too. People who don’t have to deal with accessibility issues every day can empathise, but it’s probably really only people who live that struggle who know just how much it can piss you off.

Yet, having said that, there are many times when I relate more to the “them” than to the “us”, precisely because I don’t live in a world where most people share my experience and disability. I’m more than just my visual impairment. I share other life experiences, interests, challenges and accomplishments with my partner and friends that have absolutely nothing to do with my inability to see.

It would be the same for me with any other type of hashtag that makes a statement about a huge group of People. Something about “men are” or “people over 50 are” or “people with children are” – it’s just not cool. I don’t belong to that demographic, but neither do I have the right to lump them all together and insult them! Especially not if the whole point is to try and get better treatment for a minority group to which I belong.

So what should we do instead?

I strongly believe that as human beings, we have more that unites us than sets us apart.

I believe we need to work together more. To share experiences, including problems, and try to find solutions.

I’m not saying that because I have an unrealistically optimistic view of the world and underestimate the problems. I spent a large chunk of today researching something that would have taken a sighted person far less time because they could have used any of the information, whereas I had to sift through twice as much as I needed in order to find accessible resources. I wish people would design more accessible websites and not think we all learn from inaccessible videos and diagrams.

But I can’t fix that by just insulting those people!

There is a way to share experiences in an objective and not accusatory  way that still gets a message across. One day I’ll write a post about all the crazy things people have said to or about my guide dog. I can also think of some inappropriate things that people have said, things that I don’t necessarily want to give a place on the blog. There’s a way of calling out that behaviour too, and I certainly don’t think we should avoid those uncomfortable discussions.

But I’d be a hypocrite if I used a hashtag that I myself thought was offensive – which is why I won’t be promoting it.

Many people with disabilities have joined in – and that’s their choice. Many more are blissfully unaware of the hashtag as I was, or maybe some are afraid of the backlash for swimming against the tide of popular opinion. Who knows.

The comments I’ve seen have talked about non-disabled people getting offended by the hashtag, but I’m willing to guess that like me, some disabled people are offended by it too!

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Do you want to be able to see?

I have a genetic eye condition. There’s a lot of research going on at the moment into it, in terms of possible treatments. I follow this research with interest. I like to be informed, but more than that, if the opportunity became available to get involved with the research, I’d be interested to know more.

One thing that makes me a less likely candidate for any possible treatment is the fact that I’ve never been able to see before, so my brain would need to learn to interpret any visual stimuli it received, either through gene therapy or implanted technology.

That would definitely be more hard work than someone would have to do if they had been able to see before. They would be able to relate what they were seeing to what they had been able to see in the past.

Still, I don’t know that It would be all bad to start from scratch. Yes, you’d have to learn about things like colours and depth perception like a small child, rather than drawing on your memories, but on the other hand, any sight would be a bonus. You wouldn’t keep saying “this isn’t as good as what I used to be able to see”.

Why I think that being able to see would be a good thing

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see loved ones for the first time, or to look through my possessions and ask myself “did you really wear that colour lipstick?! I don’t know what colours I like because I’ve never seen them. How would I rate the advice about my physical appearance that I’d been given over the years? Would I make changes to my home décor? Would I discover a favourite colour I never knew I liked? What would I find aesthetically pleasing? How good would my visual special awareness be. Of course a lot of this would depend on the treatment and level of vision it afforded, but they are interesting questions nonetheless!

There would definitely be a learning curve involved, but I think of the many practical ways in which life would be easier. Getting around without using a cane, reading things without making sure they were accessible, finding things that were dropped or mislaid, using any website, irrespective of whether it had been designed accessibly.

However hard I work to lead a full and independent life, there are still times when I need to ask for help with things that others can just do without thinking about it. Yes, we all need help at times, but having a disability often involves a lot more planning to make sure you know exactly where you’re going, where something is, or how to put in place alternative strategies for doing things when the standard ways don’t work.

The first time I got really frustrated about being visually impaired was when I was about 9 and couldn’t go and bring the horses in from the big field to be ridden. Yes, there are things I could have done to make this task doable as a blind person. Plenty of blind people ride and have their own horses. But it suddenly struck me as a practical example of a task which was easier for my friends and would require more planning on my part. So I found something else to do and went home and cried about it where nobody could see!

This isn’t supposed to be a negative post, but I want it to be an honest one. Sometimes stuff is hard, and I don’t subscribe to this “nothing is a problem unless it’s a problem other people create for me” mentality. So in a practical sense, being able to see would make life easier.

I continued riding throughout my teenage years and we found other ways of doing things as you can read in my riding post. But sometimes it would be nice just to get on with things without all the additional thought and adaptations. I also touched on this in my I’m tired post.

Then there are the nice-to-haves. Not being able to see a beautiful view, wild animals, or the sunset isn’t going to change the practicalities of your everyday life, but there are some things that even the best descriptions don’t do justice to if you’ve never seen them before!

Many people name not being able to drive as being a major set-back for people who can’t see. I don’t really see it that way. Sure, life is easier now that I have a partner who drives, but I lived for many years in London, where many of my friends didn’t drive, and driving wasn’t essential. It’s a bit different once you leave the capital, but still I wouldn’t say not being able to do it is high on my inconvenience list. It’s maybe no bad thing that I can’t drive given my low stupid behaviour tolerance threshold. I probably wouldn’t be the most calm and forgiving person on the road!

But getting around new places without having to memorise everything would be nice, as would exploring the countryside or visiting new places without having to think about route planning and sat nav. And before anyone comes up with the objection that some blind people do that – I know they do, but I find it stressful! Things are rarely fun and stressful at the same time!

When I was a baby, my family were basically told that there was nothing that could be done about my eye condition, so they should just go home, not think about a cure, and get on with teaching me to gain the skills I’d need. In some ways I can see the value of focussing on the here and now, rather than hoping for something in the future that may never come, but it’s still good to be curious. It’s still good to find out what’s happening in medical research and see whether any of it is relevant.

I agree it’s not helpful for parents of newly-diagnosed children to focus only on what might happen, when they could instead have a very real influence on what will happen. It’s important to teach children how to find other ways to do things that don’t rely on sight, and to focus on all the things that they can do and enjoy, rather than the few things that they can’t. Blind children need to know that there’s a big world out there, which can be explored with or without sight.

Technology has opened up so many doors for us. Using my assistive technology, I can do things independently that I would have needed help with if I’d been born 50 years ago. That’s amazing! You definitely shouldn’t be defined by something that you’re physically unable to do.

But we live in a visual world. If your child wants to experience that for themselves, and the option becomes available – well they should have that option too in my opinion.

Do all blind people feel as I do about sight restoration?

Of course not! It’s a massive group of individuals and I’d be surprised if you could find anything that all blind people agree about!

However, I ask the question because often people generally assume that blind people do want to see, and it even surprised me that this could start such heated discussions.

I had wrongly assumed that most people see the question in the same way as I do, but not everyone does, and that’s ok. It’s their right.

Some people feel there’s nothing missing from their lives as they are now. I don’t really understand this, but it’s definitely something that should be respected.

Perhaps I see it differently because I’ve never really accepted blindness as part of my identity. It’s something that determines how I do certain things. It’s something that I’m often asked about. It’s something that has led me to focus on and develop my other senses more. But it’s not intrinsically part of who I am. I wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t there tomorrow. Other people view this differently, and that may explain why they wouldn’t want to give something up that they see as part of their identity.

There can also be differences between the opinions of those who have never been able to see and those whose vision has deteriorated.

I’ve even had people say to me “you can’t miss what you never had”. This is true in the sense that I didn’t actually lose something that I had before, but if you live in a world where everyone around you has something that you don’t, and many services, leisure activities, and ways of accessing information are geared to having that sense – then even if you have never had it, there’s still a way in which you can miss not having access to it.

Not everyone feels that way though, and from my observations, there seem to be a higher number of people that have never seen who say they are not interested in seeing or anything to do with being able to see. They know no different and are content with that.

Another comment that often comes up in these discussions is that people don’t want to be “fixed” as though other people see them as broken if they aren’t able to see. I do understand this to some extent – it’s tedious if people focus on what you can’t do, even though in some areas you may have accomplished more than the person feeling sorry for you has. Though I’m sure it’s not their intention, if all someone can do when they meet you is talk about the things that you can’t do, it can devalue all the other things that you have achieved. That doesn’t feel good.

People should be accepted as people, and not seen as broken machines that need to be fixed. I can accept that. However, I see people working in medical research as allies, not as those who want to fix me.

Having said that, I am far less positive about random strangers who come up to me and try to start praying for me to be fixed. This is not ok!

In terms of the medical treatment and broken or fixed debate, there is part of my body that doesn’t work as it should, and if given the choice, I’d like to have something done about that, so long as I understand what’s involved and the risk of no dangerous side effects is not too high.

so what now?

Writing this post is not to say I’m dissatisfied. I have a wonderful partner, some amazing friends, a lovely home, a job that interests and challenges me, and plenty of things that give me enjoyment and fulfilment in my spare time. But there are days when I’m not ashamed to say that being blind is hard work or there are things that I would really like to experience visually. That’s why I follow the research and keep an open mind.

Life is good, but I’m not going to close my mind to something that could make it even better!

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I do expect everyone to be civilised in the comments!

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Hermione Granger – 10 of my favourite quotes and why I relate to her

I’ve always loved books. When I was a child, my Granddad built me a big bookcase in my bedroom to take all of my heavy Braille books. Now, I listen to more audio books because I find it more practical, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed escaping into the world of a good book.

I completely missed out on the whole fantasy genre though. It was only as an adult that I was introduced to the world of Harry Potter and others like it – mainly by my partner. He got me all the Harry Potter books and I pretty much devoured them within about a month. We watched the films too this year, but the books are still my favourites because I think they give you a much deeper insight into the characters, and the films do miss out things that are in the books.

I relate to Hermione Granger in many ways. She loved reading and learning. She was outspoken and sometimes voiced the things that other people were thinking, but didn’t say. More than that, she was from a non-magical family, which in some ways put her at a disadvantage when compared with those who had grown up in the wizarding world. Things that others took for granted were things that she needed to learn. She had to work harder, and rather than just catching up, she wanted to be even better. I’ve often felt like that too. Sometimes having a disability means you have to work harder, learn things that are obvious to others, and prove that you are just as good, if not better at a task because you maybe do it in a different way. It’s hard work, but empowering at the same time because it also gives you a sense of accomplishment after you’ve done what you set out to do!

So, here are some of my favourite Hermione quotes from J K Rowling or the Harry Potter movies, and why I like them.

1. “I’ve always admired your courage Harry, but sometimes you can be really thick.” – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (film).

She’s not afraid to say what she thinks. Sometimes she’s too direct, but she doesn’t do it to hurt people. Sometimes it exasperates her when other people don’t see things that are obvious to her!

2. “Not spew; It’s S-P-E-W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.” – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

If she decides something is important, she’ll pursue it with grim determination! This sense of hyper-focus may drive others crazy, but she does get things done. Generally it’s better to have her on your side than the other side! She’ll stand up for others who aren’t being treated well, and she doesn’t wait for someone else to take the initiative. Sometimes she goes a bit far though, but hey, she was young. I’ve always been a 100% or nothing at all kind of girl, so I do relate to this.

3. “At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in, they got in on pure talent.” – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (film).

She’s not afraid to challenge authority – whether that’s genuine authority, or those people that other people just don’t like to stand up to. If she thinks something is wrong, she’ll call it out.

4. “Well, obviously, she’s feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying. Then I expect she’s feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can’t work out who she likes best. Then she’ll be feeling guilty, thinking it’s an insult to Cedric’s memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she’ll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry. And she probably can’t work out what her feelings towards Harry are anyway, because he was the one who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that’s all very mixed up and painful. Oh, and she’s afraid she’s going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quidditch team because she’s flying so badly.” – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

For all her directness, she can also observe how others are feeling and work out their motivations or what’s making them sad.

5. “Are you sure that’s a real spell?’ said the girl. ‘Well, it’s not very good, is it? I’ve tried a few simple spells just for practice and its all worked for me. Nobody in my family’s magic at all. It was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it’s the very best school of witchcraft there is, I’ve heard – I’ve learnt all our set books off by heart, of course, I just hope it will be enough – I’m Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Yeah! I have learned not to do this now, but Hermione Granger was in year 7 when she said that, and I think I may have been equally annoying at that age! I loved books. I loved learning. I sometimes used them to hide my insecurities, but all you really saw was me trying to get approval by showing what I’d learned!

6. “Assuming I survive our hunt for the Horcruxes, I’ll find Mum and Dad and lift the enchantment. If I don’t – well, I think I’ve cast a good enough charm to keep them safe and happy. Wendell and Monica Wilkins don’t know that they’ve got a daughter, you see.”- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Sometimes she had to make difficult decisions, but once she’d made them, she saw them through. Even if it was painful. She was ruled by her head, not her heart. I’ve been accused of this too, but it turned out to be right! She thinks her decisions through and doesn’t just act on impulse, and in so doing, probably saved the lives of her parents.

7. ‘Because her cat acted like all cats do,’ Hagrid continued doggedly. ‘She’s cried a fair few times, yeh know. Goin’ through a rough time at the moment. Bitten off more’n she can chew, if yeh ask me, all the work she’s tryin’ ter do. Still found time ter help me with Buckbeak’s case, mind.… She’s found some really good stuff fer me…reckon he’ll stand a good chance now…” Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

When she’s angry, everyone knows about it. When she’s upset, it’s only Hagrid … and the other people closest to her have no idea. I do that. It’s not always a good thing. But for me, it makes the character believable.

8. “I hope everything went all right and that Harry is okay and that you didn’t do anything illegal to get him out, Ron, because that would get Harry into trouble, too.

I’ve been really worried and if Harry is all right, will you please let me know at once, but perhaps it would be better if you used a different owl, because I think another delivery might finish your one off.” – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

She thinks things through, even when she’s feeling emotional, such as being really worried about Harry and Ron. She keeps a level head – most of the time! She’s not driven by her emotions, but puts the owl’s welfare first. She is not a fan of breaking rules, apart from when the rules aren’t fit for purpose! But generally she’ll follow them.

9. “Good luck, Ron,” said Hermione, standing on tiptoe and kissing him on the cheek. “And you, Harry –“

Ron seemed to come to himself slightly as they walked back across the Great Hall. He touched the spot on his face where Hermione had kissed him, looking puzzled, as though he was not quite sure what had just happened.” – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Sometimes you just have to go for what you want and show people if they are a bit slow to work it out for themselves!

10. “If being good at Divination means I have to pretend to see death omens in a lump of tea leaves, I’m not sure I’ll be studying it much longer!” – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

She stayed true to herself and doesn’t take the easy option just because it would be less hassle. She isn’t prepared to lie to get approval. Neither will she compromise on what she believes is right, just because that’s what everyone else is being expected to do. That takes courage, but if you can’t feel ok about yourself at the end of the day, you’ve lost your integrity – and that’s worth a lot more than the fleeting approval of others that can be lost as quickly as it’s gained.

So, what do you think of Hermione’s character? Do you relate to her? Would you want her as a friend? Do you have any more favourite quotes? Let me know in the comments!

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5 types of emails bloggers don’t want to receive and what to do about them

I get a lot of interesting emails as a result of my blog – sometimes from blog readers, sometimes from people who want advice about the topics that I write about, and sometimes from family or friends who have something to say about one of the articles, but they don’t want to post a public comment.

That’s all great!

Sometimes I get emails about opportunities for Unseen Beauty. Some of them are things that I want to pursue – others aren’t. But people won’t know that unless they ask.

However, I can think of 5 types of emails that come to my Unseen Beauty inbox that I don’t want to receive, so I thought I’d write a quick post about them with tips for other bloggers. In most cases my advice is to do nothing with them, but a couple might convince or unnerve particularly new bloggers, so I thought it was worth highlighting them.

1. Phishing emails

These are malicious emails that claim to be from legitimate sources, but which take you to their own site in the hope that you will input sensitive personal details such as passwords or credit card details. Previously these were so badly written that they could be spotted a mile off, but the criminals behind them are getting smarter and sometimes they manage to write an entire email without any spelling or grammar errors.

These criminal activities are nothing new, but the relevance to bloggers is that I’ve seen a couple which claim that my blog-related mailbox will be deleted if I don’t take action and follow their dubious link very quickly!

I knew it wasn’t true, but the emotional language used in this kind of mail can get people panicking, and if you’ve got someone reacting with their emotions rather than thinking logically, you’re one step closer to persuading them to make a bad choice.

I don’t actually know what opening the link would have done. It was asking me to update my details, so it could have been after login details to my site, my financial details, or it might have just opened me up to some kind of malware.

The basic advice is, don’t click on links in random emails. Know who hosts your site, and your blog-related mailbox if you have one, and communicate with them directly if you are unsure. Look at the message headers – these will often help you to see that something is wrong or the person isn’t who they claim to be.

Domain registry emails

I have a couple of blogs. I received an email to say that someone was trying to buy the site that had my site’s name, but with the .cn (China) top level domain and asking whether I wanted to buy it instead.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, Unseen Beauty has a .com domain. If I wanted to and it was available, I could for example buy the .co.uk version and redirect it to my .com site – so whether you use .com or .co.uk, you would end up on my site. Sometimes from a business point of view, it makes sense to buy several variations, both in case people make a mistake when entering the name of your site, and to prevent other people from having that domain.

But the list of possible top level domains is endless and the only people who can really afford to snap them all up are multi-national companies with loads of money! This is further complicated by discussions about trademark infringement and domain names, but I’m not going to get into that here because I’m focussing specifically on bloggers and people trying to target them to purchase domain names for countries where the bloggers generally don’t have an audience or do business.

The only site that is really yours is the one that you have paid for – and that is only true for as long as you continue to pay for it. Someone can’t take something away from you that doesn’t belong to you in the first place.

If people want to buy a website whose name looks like mine, but with another top level domain, that’s their choice. There are so many top level domains – as well as all the country-specific ones, there are also the well-known ones such as .net and .com, as well as the newer ones such as .blog .club etc.

Secondly, if you’re going to purchase a new domain or a variation on one that you already own, go to a trusted domain registrar, not some obscure company that nobody has ever heard of until they sent you an email. For all you know, it could be someone just trying to extract money fraudulently that doesn’t even have authorisation to sell and register domains.

3. Horrible comments

I’ve been lucky so far and haven’t got any abusive comments from people trying to contact me directly. They’ve tended to be more of the nuisance creepy variety. But I know some people have had to deal with this. It’s not fair, but if you write something controversial or people just decide to be mean, they may choose to do it privately, where your friends and supporters can’t see it and stick up for you.

Don’t suffer in silence. There can be drama, but overall if you don’t join in the drama, I’ve found the blogging community to be very supportive.

4. Spam and guest post spam

The blog spam filters work fairly well now, although it’s worth checking out your comment spam folder once in a while to make sure there are no false positives – genuine comments that have been marked as spam. For example, if you have people leaving more than one link in a comment, it might be sent to the spam folder because this is a technique that spammers often use to get backlinks from your page to their sites.

I’m a bit of a control freak, so I moderate all comments before they go up. If you’re more trusting and you use WordPress, there are settings to reduce the work for you here.

Guest post spam is also a thing. It’s a term used for people who want to write for your site, but the email looks very generic – they probably don’t even have your name right. It’s all about getting other sites to link to their site or products, because this makes them appear more trustworthy or popular in terms of their search engine ratings.

You don’t benefit from this at all. You may get some content, but it’s often poorly written and more likely to drive readers away than make them want to read more.

I’m not saying this is true of all guest post requests, though I don’t think I’ve accepted any of the ones I’ve received out of the blue from complete strangers. If someone that I had been communicating with already should ask me, I’d probably view that a lot differently. But the point here is about the mass emails that are sent to hundreds of bloggers at the same time in the hope that one will respond, and that really just look like spam.

5. Unwanted attention

I’m not going to write a lot about this because I pretty much covered it in my being female and the face of your business can lead to unwanted attention post. But again, you don’t need to suffer in silence, and don’t think that just because someone emailed you, it means that they deserve a response. Sometimes silence is the smartest, and in their case most annoying, thing that you can do!

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