Ooh, that smarts!

On Friday my energy provider told me that I couldn’t have a smart meter because I’m blind!

 

Unable to read my account number from my paper bill in order to allow me to register for a smart meter on my energy provider’s website, I called their customer helpline.  I was put through to the smart meter department, to whom I explained my predicament.

 

Initially, after putting me on hold for an age, they said that their smart meters “don’t talk”, so I’d have to wait for a talking smart meter to be developed, which was a couple of months off.  I told them that I don’t want a talking meter, that I’m perfectly happy to have a standard one which removes the need to regularly read my meter, and get people to read it for me so that I can see how much energy I’m using.  I was placed on hold again.

 

After speaking to a superior once more, the decision remained the same: “as the key feature of a smart meter is to allow you to see how much energy you are using, as you are blind and unable to use this feature we can’t give you one”.  I told them that I had people who could read it to me, so I could use the feature, but the decision had been made and wasn’t to be changed.

 

As the only reason they had given for not allowing me to have one was because I was blind, I said that I felt that they were discriminating against me, but all they did was raise a customer complaint.

 

I subsequently wrote a very snotty email to their customer complaints department, setting out various action points that I needed them to undertake in order to stop me taking it further; this elicited a telephone call within 12 hours!

 

We had basically the same conversation again; “it’s not that we are discriminating against you because you are blind, it’s because we have a duty of care to do what’s best for you, and we think that what is best for you is to wait for a talking meter to be developed; we don’t think that giving you a standard smart meter is what is best for you”.

 

I told them that I detested such attitudes of companies and organisations who think that they know what is best for me; “surely I know what is best for me and what I want? What is it that makes you think you know what is best for me and my situation?” She was unable to answer this question, rather unsurprisingly!

 

I repeated that I had people who could read it to me; my parents call a couple of times a week, my GF does likewise, my PA picks me up and drops me off at home three times a week, and I have two children that live with me who can all read it to me if I need. The representative had to put me on hold for a while whilst she thought about this.  “What we are concerned about is that because your children are 18, they may move out soon and then you won’t be able to use it again ….”  I repeated the host of people that I had who could read it to me; not for the first time, the children were an irrelevance!

 

After 10 more minutes of toing and froing, the complaint handler eventually summed up the situation: “I think what is happening here Mr Curtis is that we are getting bogged down in what we think is best for you, and what you think is best for you. You are an adult and you sound like you are of sound mind (!), so I think it’s fair to try to see if our planning team will alter its position on this”.

 

This all puts the current advertising campaign into a different light!

 

“Homes are about to get smarter, with heating you can control on your mobile, smart meters so that you can see what you’re using … [unless you’re blind, wanting to get someone to read it to you, in which case we won’t let you have one because we don’t think you should want one!]”

 

As it happened, because my gas is transported by an independent gas transporter (allegedly), I can’t have a smart meter in any event due to incompatibility, but that still doesn’t lessen the way their behaviour made me feel. I’m not one for normally highlighting such treatment, but I’ve rarely been so angry and upset by such behaviour.

 

Perhaps they should have offered to send that flipping annoying pointless gimmick penguin round to read the meter display to me – it would have saved me a lot of time and annoyance!!

Oh, to be a care-free teenager again!

Three FB posts to hopefully start what is going to be a fun weekend with a smile!

 

17 October 2015

 

How old do I feel? Managed to hurt my ribs by holding the phone up to my ear this morning…. Nice quiet afternoon watching Leeds United should do the trick!!

 

21 October 2015

 

Societal norms suck!! According to the second episode of The Apprentice the phrase “the grey pound” applies to the over 45s – can’t even claim to be young, free and single anymore lol!! Up the revolution comrades!!

 

21 October 2015

 

J has lost his house key, so like the good little boy that he is, he went into town to get a new one cut after school today. The only problem was that he forgot to take a key with him, the dosey plonker!! At least it proves that I’m half right when I call them both the Twits!!

 

Whoops! Looks like someone’s peed on the floor!

Suffice to say that tonight has not gone according to plan …

I was too hungry when I came in to cook, so I chose a warm-up from the freezer for my evening meal; I’d been looking forward to it all day! As I struggle to tell what the frozen meal is until it starts to heat up in the microwave, I like to refer to this style of cuisine as a freezer surprise.

I guessed/hoped that tonight’s freezer surprise might have been Sunday’s lasagne, so I opted for broccoli and frozen peas to accompany it. That’s when I dropped the entire bag of frozen peas on the floor …..

Peas.jpg

I (or rather R) managed to rescue a sufficient amount for my dinner needs, only to subsequently find out that the freezer surprise was (essentially) a massive portion of stir fried vegetables and mushed up noodles! As you can guess, 1kg of vegetables (with three very thin strips of beef) did not exactly hit the mark!

Not long after my “meal”, I was laid on the lounge floor chatting on the phone with GF when Alfie the dog started nudging me. Thinking he was wanting his food, I decided to ignore him. As I rolled over into a substantial warm puddle of pee, I realised that I was now dealing with two incidents of someone having peed on the floor!

A long night in the most blind-unfriendly hotel room in the world!

Congrats; we’ve made it to another weekend! Here’s a couple of FB posts to start the weekend off with a smile (hopefully!).

 

4 October 2015

 

Oh yeah baby, still got it!! Just told J how to work out the answer to one of his A Level algebra maths questions – woop woop!! Still top dog for a few months yet, methinks!!

 

5 October 2015

 

Thanks for all the birthday wishes. Got a bit over excited and have overdosed on chocolate liqueurs – how rock ‘n’ roll am I?! I feel quite queasy – need to lie down now.

 

14 October 2015

 

Been at a conference today, and now stuck in a hotel room in London where everything is operated by a touchscreen!! Can’t even use the bloody telly! Tried to order a large glass of red to drown my sorrows, but after finally figuring out how to use the hi-tech telephone, I didn’t know my room number so had to go without! It’s going to be a long night … Fecking technology!

1991, my first blind Championships-Part 2

JW and I were extremely excited at the prospect of running in a European final and having the chance of winning a medal; all our hard work and sacrifice had been worthwhile. These high spirits combined with the general joy of youth may well explain JW’s subsequent actions!

Shortly after arriving back at the hotel, JW informed me that he was going on a date that night with B. So, JW left for his hot date and I spent some time with the rest of the team (who were fine with looking after me) before turning in for the night at a fairly early hour. I struggled to get to sleep, as I always did, but I eventually nodded off around midnight.

I was woken by the key in the lock and the door opening, and judging by how groggy I felt it must have been two or three in the morning. At least he’d made it back to the room I thought. However, he wasn’t the only one who had made it back to the room ……

“Don’t worry, he’ll be fast asleep” I heard him say in a whisper.

I was furious. I had to be on the track at 9:30 am, which meant warming up at 8:30, which would mean getting up at about 6:00 am at the latest in order to take on sufficient fuel at breakfast. I couldn’t believe what he was doing.

All I could do was to try to make the best of a bad job, so I tried to get back to sleep without letting it wind me up anymore. However, after laying there listening to the two of them doing the kind of things two young people do at that time of the night I finally flipped. I stood up with my cover wrapped around me, my pillow in hand and snarled “You’ve got 20 minutes and then she’s out of here”. I trudged off to the bathroom and tried to fall asleep sat on the toilet with the young lover’s giggles ringing in my ears. After about 15 minutes she left. I returned to my bed ignoring JW.

We woke in the morning, neither of us mentioning the night before. Breakfast and warm up was tense, but then again it always was. The race time came round and we stepped out onto the track. I was in lane 1, with three Spanish athletes completing the line-up. The gun went and I flew out of the blocks.

After only twenty metres or so of the race I got one of the shocks of my life. One of our athletes, SB, was competing in the heptathlon and was waiting for her throw in the shot put, which just happened to be at about 20 metres past the start line for the 400m. As I ran past her she put all her energy into shouting “go on Andy” as loud as she possibly could. The result could have been worse, I suppose I could have ended up tripping JW up rather than just veering from lane 1 into lane 3. It was like a horse who had been frightened by a back firing car or something. JW reacted quickly and tried to steer me back into our lanes and tried even harder to get the synchronization back which we had lost as a result.

The adrenalin rush the shock gave me must have had some benefit to me as I stormed down the back straight once we had got back into our lane and set off after the Spanish Armada. I clawed back most of the deficit, but the effort had left me with nothing left for the final 30m and I couldn’t sustain my pace through to the line. I ended up agonisingly missing out on a bronze medal by 0.1 secs.

As I stood there, hands on knees wondering if I could make it to the grassy area to throw up you could say I was a bit annoyed. Would I have won a medal if I had got a full night’s sleep? Would I have won a medal if I hadn’t been partially deafened and run 405m? I’ll never know, but it couldn’t have helped.

Although in the long run it doesn’t really matter but at the time it hurt like hell. The prospect of these championships and the chance to win a medal had kept me going whilst I had been losing my sight. They were my first thought in the morning and last thought in the evening and formed the major part of most of my dreams. Two separate events which I could not control had robbed me of my dreams. My time of 53.4 secs showed I was in good form, but the medal I craved still eluded me. As I lay on the grass, slightly lighter than I had been several minutes earlier, I wondered if the chance to win that elusive medal had passed me by.

The first event of the following day was the 4 x 100m relay. The relay rules for blind athletics try to ensure that no team gets an advantage from running four less impaired athletes and so each team must include at least one B1 athlete, and no more than 1 B3 athlete. This meant that we would run two B2 athletes, me being one of them. I was to run the second leg. The hardest thing to get right in blind relays is the changeover. At that time there was no baton, not even a need for the athletes to touch. All that we had to do was to make sure that the incoming runner and the outgoing runner were both in the designated 20 metre changeover zone at the same time. To maximise overall speed the outgoing athlete would start to accelerate as the incoming runner approached, and hopefully the incoming runner would step into the zone at the same time as the outgoing runner exited it. Due to pushing changeovers to the absolute limit in order to shave off as much time as possible, it was usual for the relays to involve several red flags and numerous disqualifications.

The race went well. I ran a strong second leg, all our changeovers were good and although it was a very close call our last leg runner BM, an endurance athlete drafted in as he was our only B1 athlete, just did enough to hang on to a bronze medal.

I was ecstatic. Sure, it wasn’t like winning an individual medal, but what the hell, it was a medal, something to show the folks back home. JW and I danced our way back down the back straight at great speed and returned to the rest of the team. Caen had better prepare itself for some serious partying was the gist of our conversations.

4x100 1991

But celebrations had to be put on hold, at least for a while, as we still had to run the 4 x 400m relay. I was to run the first leg and hopefully keep us in contention at least. BM was to run the second leg, and as our slowest runner his job was also to try and keep us in contention. If we were anywhere near the other three teams we were confident that our last two runners could bring home the bacon as they were probably two of the fastest 400m runners in the world, never mind the championships. NT was to run the third leg, and although he was at the time an 800m and 1500m runner he was ridiculously quick over the shorter distances as well. And so he should have been, winning the 800m in a time of in the low 1 minute 50’s and a 1500m time of somewhere in the high 3 minute 50s. Our last athlete was SB. He had won the B3 400m by a mile, and consistently ran near to the 50 second mark for his 400m’s.

All I had to do was to run a time somewhere near to what I had done in the individual 400m, and that I did, thanks in no small part to having had a full night’s sleep and not having taken the long way round the track! BM took up the virtual baton and kept us well in contention with the other three teams. As soon as NT grabbed the virtual baton the gold medal was in the bag. He steamed around the track with a split of sub 50 secs and blew the field apart. We were now clear by a long way. SB didn’t push the takeover opting instead to keep it safe as we were so far clear and set off on his victory parade. When he crossed the line we were something in the region of 80m ahead of the other teams. The gold medal was ours, and not only that, the world record had been smashed.

It was one of the few times that I managed to get to my feet within five minutes of finishing a 400m, and we were soon celebrating. JW proved his worth once again, miraculously producing several bottles of beer from his bag. One could only guess if he usually carried them around with him; it would have explained many things if it were the truth!

Our lap of honour was more like a slight amble of honour in front of the stand, and we were soon stripping off our vests to demonstrate our manly physiques. A camera was soon produced and we lined up with a Union Jack Flag for our photo’s taking. The result, a photo that looks like we were naked with only the Union Jack Flag to hide our modesty. The medal ceremony was a very proud moment, and the gold medal felt great hanging around my neck.

4x400 1991

When we returned to the hotel JW decided we did not have enough beer for the night ahead, so off he trotted with a massive bag and a kitty of money from all the team. An hour or so later JW, true to form, turned up back at the room with a couple of foreigners in tow. The two Eastern European athletes, surprisingly male, had been commandeered by JW in the local super Marché to carry several dozen bottles of beer back to our hotel. Their reward – a beer each. Times really must have been hard in Eastern Europe.

An hour or so later, the GB team assembled in the foyer for a civic reception and banquet at the town hall. We were not sure how far it was, but we all had to walk anyway so we took lots of provisions with us – about 100 bottles of beer to be precise. Eventually we arrived at the banquet and found the food and drink most acceptable. Towards the end of the meal a Polish athlete, known to us lovingly as Valdek, came over to our table and deposited a bottle of polish vodka for our pleasure. This bottle was passed around the table until it was all consumed, which took no more than two minutes. The results were immediate – the guy next to me, BR, shoved some smelly cheese up my nose. It really did smell and burnt slightly as well.

Fatigue started to take over, 9 races in four days is far from a holiday after all, and so I returned to the hotel early with MF and BR. The walk had invigorated me enough to make me want to watch the world title fight that was on television that night. We entered the room and as the television was wall mounted at just over six feet MF pulled up his chair and stood on it with his face pressed to the screen in order to be able to see it a bit better. Several people had walked into MF’s room unannounced during the week and caught him in this position trying to find some French pornography to watch on an evening, which only served to perpetuate his reputation for being sex mad. The fight was the ill-fated Chris Eubank versus Michael Watson bout. It was a thrilling fight, so much so that MF nearly fell off his chair on several occasions. The ending of the fight left a sick feeling in my stomach, and if I hadn’t been drinking fairly heavily I doubt I would have got to sleep as quickly as I did.

I woke in the morning feeling a little bit rough to say the least, and quickly finished off my packing. As I was doing this JW and B turned up still inebriated and giggling a lot. I told them that I would leave them alone to say their good byes and wandered off into the hall way to find out who was up and about and what happened after I had left the party the previous night.

I was soon informed that MR had been dancing on the table and performing many songs with accompanying actions to great hilarity, everybody had joined in, and plenty of alcohol had been consumed. It was then that I heard a horrible noise coming from down the corridor. It was a cross between a fog horn and a cow giving birth. It sounded like someone was in pain, so of course I stumbled down to see who it was as this was a potential piss taking opportunity. I wasn’t disappointed, for there on the floor, apparently wearing nothing but a single sick stained sheet covering only certain parts of his body was MR. He was hugging the toilet like a long lost friend and making that awful noise every time his insides tried to escape their confines. According to BM he had spent most of the night doing this.

As the time was now 7:15 am and we were supposed to be on the bus in 15 minutes I thought I’d better give JW the hurry up. After about 10 minutes banging, I thought it was time for me to knock on the door. JW eventually answered, claiming that he had fallen asleep and wasn’t aware of the time – that old chestnut. Bags were dragged to the bus and we were on our way to the ferry. The trip over was bad enough, but a six hour ferry journey on a sea with quite a swell after the night most of our team had had was too much for most of them to bear. Most of the team spent the journey hanging over the side. I managed to keep everything down, but it was a close call.

The drive home was long and tiring. KR drove again, MW, being 6 foot 5 sat in the front, and I sat in the middle of JW and MR who were obviously suffering badly. MW, although not being able to see much, could tell when the car was veering off to the side for no apparent reason and thus appointed himself the designated person to try and keep KR awake. I had purchased myself a large bag of tortilla crisps as my hangover food and they helped pass a good chunk of the journey. As we sped up the M6 to Manchester MR woke from his slumber.

“Andrew, am I right in recalling that you were eating a bag of tortilla crisps earlier?” he calmly asked.

I replied that I had and that I had indeed consumed the full bag.

“What did you do with the packet?” he asked nonchalantly.

I told him that I had passed it to KR to put with the rest of the litter.

“KR, I believe that Andrew passed you his empty packet of crisps, is that correct?” he asked still portraying no outwards signs of any panic.

KR replied that he was indeed correct.

“Do you still have it?” he asked.

She replied that she did indeed still have it.

“Do you think you could pass it to me please?”

As the bag was passed back to him he still appeared calm and his intentions were unclear. He unfolded the bag and opened it up wide before doing his impression of a cow giving birth again. A service station was found as soon as possible and the offending article deposited in a bin.

My first experience of an international athletics championship had been nothing like I had expected. One thing was clear, I was going to enjoy this aspect of being blind, and I was going to be good at it, I would make sure of that.

1991, my first blind Championships-Part 1

Starting blocks 1991

My last preparatory race before we left for the 1991 European Championships in France turned out to be a massive non-event.

The team coach left Bridlington, where both JW and I lived, at 6:00 am. I got on with my Dad and I went straight to the back of the bus where the best chat was usually to be found. We waited for the other Bridlington athletes to get on before we set off. Eventually JW rolled up grunted and slouched into one of the seats near the front. I wasn’t surprised by this behaviour as JW was notoriously bad in the mornings. After travelling down to Hull, across the M62 and up the A1, we eventually arrived at Gateshead at lunch time and we encamped in the main stand. JW, who I had not heard from on the way up to Gateshead, took himself off away from the rest of the squad to a different part of the stand. I presumed he was preparing himself for his race as it was going to be a tough one.

I had watched, i.e. had it described to me by a teammate, JW’s 400m race from the 200m start as I was warming up for my race with the help of another of our athletes. As I waited for JW to turn up so as to start the running part of my warm up another of our athletes came round with a message from JW. Apparently he was too tired after his 400m to guide me. I was extremely disappointed and shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing as unlike me, JW seemed to be able to run at full pelt all day without suffering any ill effects or slowing down.

As a result of this I had to wait until all the races had finished and then do some very short sprints down the back straight running towards my dad’s voice, although I was too scared to run anywhere near flat out. JW slept all the way home at the front of the bus. It wasn’t until later that he told me the reason why he had acted the way he had throughout the day. As it turned out, he had slept so much not due to a bug or illness as I had suspected but due to the fact that when he stepped on the bus at 6:00 am he had only been home to change into his kit as he had been seriously partying all night before and had drunk his own body weight in beer!

The journey to join the rest of the GB team was convoluted. It had been arranged that JW and I would be driven to Headingley in Leeds where one of the other athlete’s guide runners would give us a lift to the team manager’s house in Manchester. From there we would travel by car to Portsmouth where we would get a 6 hour ferry to Brest and then by coach for a short drive to Caen.

We arrived in Leeds where we met MR. He was the guide of BM. He was very quietly spoken and drove a Vauxhall Chevette. From Headingley we travelled to Bingley where we were to pick up MW, who I had not yet met at that time. MW sat in the front seat and chatted to MR all the way to Manchester whilst JW and I sat silently in the back, too nervous and scared to talk. The main reason for our silence was the subject matter of their conversation. MW had told MR that he was a B2 athlete, the same as me. He had told MR that he was competing in the 200m and 400m, again the same events as me. Therefore, he was no longer a team mate he was a competitor. This made the butterflies in my stomach start fluttering around more like bees than butterflies. When they started discussing times I started to feel sick, and upon discussing it later so did JW. The times that MW said were his personal bests were much faster than I had ever run, even as a sighted athlete. There was no way on earth I was going to win a gold medal now, even if I had thought I might have done before. I remember thinking that silver was the best I could now hope for.

At that stage of my blind career I wasn’t very good at gleaning information from a person’s voice. I could tell from the way MW’s head banged on the roof of the car that he was very tall, and I could tell by the way the car sank that he was very heavy. However, I thought, from the tone of his voice, that he was a big black man with a West Yorkshire accent. Therefore all I could imagine was getting my arse kicked by a Linford Christie look alike and being made to look stupid. As it happened I was wrong about his colour, and also wrong about getting my arse kicked, well, at least by him.

We turned up at the house of KR, the team manager, in Manchester. When JW guided me into the house and then had to show me where to sit MW couldn’t believe that I was in the same category as him. MR and KR went out for fish and chips and after eating them rather embarrassingly we retired to bed. This sense of being embarrassed eating in front of others occurred at every meal time on that trip, and still occasionally happens even now, usually only at formal events in front of people I do not know now though. One of my abiding memories of the trip was trying to eat chicken off the bone using a knife and fork. I can still feel the colour filling my face as the frustration built to bursting point. Now I would leave it or just pick it up with my fingers if I was really hungry, but I wasn’t ready for that at that point in my life.

The ferry crossing took 6 hours and although the sea was not very choppy at all it was still bad enough for the majority of us to feel sea sick, and for a small minority to actually be sick. The GB team must have looked a sight, crocodile chains of blind athletes staggering about a rolling boat with the effect of the rolling exaggerated by the lack of sight and the consequent diminished sense of balance. I was surprised that an accident didn’t happen.

Our home for the week was a reasonable hotel in Caen. The only problem with the hotel was the food. We sat at circular tables for eight people and had waiter service. The problems with the food were threefold. Firstly, the food, being standard French cuisine, contained very little carbohydrate content, which is not good for sprinters who rely on the energy which carbs provide for their events. Secondly, the taste of the food was not to be confused with nice, in fact, it was on the main part fairly disgusting. Even those of our team who had useful sight struggled to figure out what we were eating. Thirdly, the size of the portions was miniscule. Even though the food was not from the relevant food groups and tasted bad, athletes would sooner eat a large amount of the wrong food than none at all, and so subversive tactics had to be employed.

The man charged with sorting our food problems was one of the coaches, DH. His first tactic was to get in early and steal as much of the bread on the other tables as was possible. He also grabbed as many bananas as he could find as they are also a good source of carbs. But his most effective tactic was to sit and smile nicely whilst the waiters placed our plates on the table, and then as soon as they had turned their backs give us the order to put our plates on our knees and out of sight before attracting the attention of a different waiter in order to obtain seconds. At times it seemed that they might have cottoned on to our plans, but they still brought us our second portions. To solve the problem of them realising what we had done when they came to collect 16 plates rather than 8 we would stack them ourselves hoping that 12 plates would look very similar to 8 plates in a stack, whilst keeping some on our knees and stacking them on the table once the waiter had left. Overall our plans worked and as a result we all ate as much bad tasteless food as we required.

Our Great Britain team kit was handed out to us before the competition started. I was so excited, I had dreamed of this day all my life. I unwrapped the track suit and put it on straight away. It was certainly big enough for me, in fact, it was big enough for me and JW, and possibly a couple of friends as well. The waist band actually reached my arm pits, and the track suit top touched my knees. To make matters worse, it wasn’t the same kit as able bodied athletes wore when representing the country, it was a poor quality cheap kit. The colours were broadly red white and blue, but if the words Great Britain hadn’t been embossed on the back you would not have associated us as GB athletes.

I was entered for the 100m, 200m and 400m and I was in the squad for both the relays. The heats of the 100m were on the first morning of competition so I took the opportunity of visiting the track on the day we arrived in order to get a feel for it. While we were at the track preparing a local film crew turned up. They were interested in filming and interviewing some athletes who were taking part in the event. Apparently I stood out. Apparently it is unusual to see a blind athlete bombing around the bend of a track wearing a straw Panama hat. The result was a feature on local television and my mug being plastered across the local papers as well.

Whilst the eyes of the media were focused on me, JW’s eyes were focused on a member of the Austrian team. As she was wearing team kit and as she was present at a blind championship JW presumed it was acceptable to ogle her openly all day and to point her out to other people. It turned out that B, for that was her name, was only a helper with the Austrian team and did not have a sight problem, but as she was also taken by JW she had not minded his attentions. It would be true to say that they hit it off somewhat, so much so that the athletics were most definitely of secondary interest to JW.

Before the championship officially got under way there was the slight inconvenience of classification to go through. Blind sport is split into three separate categories in order to ensure that like competes against like. These three categories are B1, B2 and B3. When competing in Paralympic Games, these sight classifications are given the titles T11, T12 and T13 respectively.

The classification that each athlete is placed in is determined by their visual acuity. B1 athletes are totally blind, B2 athletes have a visual acuity of up to two sixtieths or a field of vision of less than five degrees, and the B3 category have visual acuity of up to six sixtieths or a field of vision of ten degrees. The best way of describing a visual acuity that I have heard is that a person with visual acuity of two sixtieths can see something at two metres distance which a person with 20/20 vision can see at sixty metres. All the visual acuities are measured at best correction, so athletes are allowed to wear any glasses they use.

I had been classified at home by an ophthalmologist. I went out to the championships as a B2 athlete, as when I stood up and looked straight ahead I could see a patch of the track, probably about a square metre, that’s all. This was enough sight to make me enter the B2 class as I thought I would have been cheating going into the B1 class, despite the team management trying to convince me that I should be in that category. They were probably right, the sight I had was no use to me what so ever, especially as once I started running this bit of sight stopped working as well once my pulse quickened.

All first time competitors are required to attend classification. When I entered the room I was guided to a chair by JW. I sat down and the classifier looked into my eyes and examined both. He then started the sophisticated high technology tests that had been developed over several decades in order to assess my visual acuity.

“How many fingers am I holding up?”

You could have knocked me over with a feather; that was it?! That was the entire essence of the test?! As it happened, the room was dimly lit and I couldn’t see any people never mind fingers, and I told him so.

“B1” was all he said.

I immediately stated that he was mistaken and that I was a B2 athlete. He replied that I couldn’t see his fingers. I asked if I could have another go. Although medals would be easier to win as a B1 I felt I would be cheating. He held up his fingers again. Whilst we were arguing my classification I could see wall lights in the tiny area of sight that I had left. So, when he gave me my second chance, I moved my head about and counted how many times the light went out. It worked and I received my B2 classification.

Knowing what I know now, the classifiers must have thought they were in back to front world, as people more often than not try to get themselves classified in the lowest category possible in order to make it easier to win medals. They must have thought I was mad begging to be classified in a category where I would stand little chance of winning any medals. I didn’t care though, my integrity was intact and I would deserve whatever I went home with.

The first event I competed in was the 100m. I was so nervous before the race, it was so different from anything else I had ever competed in. The pre-race call up procedure was somewhat unnerving. It was nothing compared to what we would face at the Paralympics, but having to report 15 minutes before my event and then stay within the confines of the designated area was quite terrifying. Having to stand around in the company of your opponents was something that I had only experienced at the English Schools when I was 14, but this was a much bigger event than that. What did help me was that I was the only athlete in the B2 category with a guide runner. Although this made the call up procedure more bearable it did have the slight disadvantage of making it harder to win medals. Running with a guide runner, holding on to a guide rope and the associated loss of bio-mechanical efficiency makes a massive difference to the speed that you can run. So, although I had JW to keep me company and literally hold my hand throughout this stressful experience, my attempts to get myself classified as a B2 had the unfortunate effects of leaving me running against people who could see better than me and who weren’t tied to a guide.

I ran quite well as it happened, 11.8 secs and I qualified for the semi-final. When the semi-final came around I tried too hard and as a result didn’t manage to improve, running11.8 secs again. I missed out on a place in the final but did finish sixth overall in my first championships. Not bad I thought, but I knew that I would have to improve if I was going to achieve my ambitions of winning medals.

The 200m was a similar story. Again I made it through to the semi-final. I ran 24.6 secs but just missed out on the final, finishing sixth overall again, and I was very satisfied with my time. If I had been running in the B1 category I would have won a medal with this time, but at least I could live with myself as I had not cheated.

JW’s guiding skills were called on by a fellow athlete during the championships. BM, the world record holder at the B1 800m and 1500m required a guide runner for his 800m final. His guide, MR had injured himself in the 5000m. A collision with another athlete at the starting line had ripped MR’s shoe from his foot. As a result, he had to run 12 and a half laps with only one shoe on. The resulting lack of skin on his foot had left it bloodied and made it somewhat sore, so he asked if BM would kindly release him from his guiding duties for a day or too.

JW kindly stepped forward. He did a good job, but guiding is about teamwork, and this takes time to develop. About 2 and a bit minutes after the race started JW had the unenviable pleasure of being able to call himself the only guide runner who had guided BM to a defeat in 11 years of international competition, BM crossing the line in third place.

Having guided a Rolls Royce athlete, JW had to return to his Fiat Panda athlete for the 400m. In every race that I did I was always trying to set a personal best time, which in itself leads to nerves. As my training had all been targeted in order for me to peak during the week of the championships, nothing less than a personal best, or at least a season’s best, would suffice. However, a 400m added extra pressure and nerves. The pressure was to go out hard enough in order to bring it home in a sufficiently fast time. The problem with this was that go too fast and death is almost certainly imminent. Go out too slow and death again is imminent, but this time from the coaches and team management! Good 400m running depends on excellent pace judgment.

The real reason for the extra nerves before the 400m was the little monsters which laid in wait for me at various places around the latter stages of the race. Their aim was simple – to cause me pain. The first little monster would hide behind the water jump barrier at 150m to go. This monster was the first line of attack. Having sprinted for 250m everything would be going smoothly. A target time of somewhere in the region of 31 secs would hopefully have been achieved, and everything would be going to plan. Then the little monster would strike. His weapon of choice was lactic acid, presumably administered by a blow dart. Although the dart was never felt and left no external marks on my body, I would immediately feel the slight heaviness in my legs. To give the little monster credit, he was a fast little bugger as he followed me all the way down the track topping up the levels my legs were having to deal with.

Upon entering the home straight, with about 80m to go, the second little monster would strike. His weapon of choice was an odourless, tasteless gas attack. The effect was to cause my lungs to burn and breathing to become nearly impossible due to the tightness of my chest. To give this little monster credit, he was very good at administering it as my guide runners were never affected by it to the same extent as I was.

Meanwhile, the first little monsters constant attacks had now started to reach my arms. Rather than pumping up and down, backwards and forwards providing forward propulsion they were now heavy and difficult to move. The effect resembled someone twisting their shoulders from side to side whilst cupping their breasts.

With about 40m to go the last line of defence struck. This time two little monsters worked as a team. The first little monster managed to tie my shoe laces together with the effect that my stride length shortened drastically. At the same time his partner in crime was coating the soles of my spikes in glue which resulted in super human efforts just to lift my feet from the floor. The end result was a bald man clad in lycra, with no knee lift or stride length, cupping his breasts and gasping for breath, serenely watched by his slightly out of breath guide runner who was busy pleading me to run faster. Throughout the whole of my career, my speed never picked up despite all their urgings. As a result of this my forays into 400m running were quite spasmodic. There was no way I could cope with that happening in training every day for the whole of my career. I had to take breaks from it for my mental wellbeing.

One of JW’s most important jobs prior to competing in a 400m was to identify a place suitable for me to lie down in and be sick after the race. We spotted a grassed area at the end of the home straight. That would do nicely. In the heats I was supposed to run against two opponents, with the first two to qualify automatically for the semi-final with two fastest losers to join them. But when we turned up on the start line one had failed to turn up. Therefore, whatever happened we would qualify for the semi-final as long as we finished the race. As I had already done four races in a couple of days I told JW I was going to just jog around and save my energy. But JW was having none of it.

JW, in his wisdom, thought that my medal chances would be improved if I ran at least the first part of the race as if it was the real thing as it was a while since I had run a 400m at race pace. This he informed me, was the professional thing to do, the kind of thing that he would do. As he could run a 400m faster than I could it had to be the right decision, didn’t it?

But I wasn’t, and thankfully I still am not, JW. I could see the sense in what he was saying, but given my tiredness and suspect hamstrings, I said I was going to run it steadily and save my aching legs for the semi when I would really need them. However, as JW informed me, he was holding the rope and he would make me run at race pace if I wanted him to guide me. I’m sure JW in his own way had my best interests at heart, but I certainly didn’t feel like that after the heat. Although I only ran something in the low 60 second range this could not be described as a jog as it was based on a fast first part of the race which left my legs even more tired than before.

When the semi-finals came around an extra bit of intrigue was added. MW had qualified for the other semi and we were told that whichever one ran the fastest time overall would get a place in the 4 x 400m relay team, a team which was almost guaranteed a gold or silver medal. As if any more pressure was required!

JW’s plans may have worked as I ran a stormer in the semi to scrape into the final as the slowest qualifier. To make me even happier I had run faster than MW by a couple of tenths of a second, so the relay berth was mine. We returned to the hotel in good spirits. My medal prospects had increased greatly. I had a shot at the 400m individual and an even better chance of winning a medal in the relay.

Everything was going to plan ……

Oh dear, what can the matter be; Mr C is lost in the lavatory!!

Yet more FB posts documenting my mishaps!

 

12 May 2015

 

Attending a legal seminar today. The day didn’t start well when I got lost in the toilets and had to be rescued by a fellow-delegate … The only way is up after that!

 

13 May 2015

 

What a beautiful morning! Not only was there no wind at all on my walk, the birdsong, warm sunshine and the occasional smell of freshly cut grass made it a real treat for the senses. One day like this … Would love to be at York races this afternoon…

 

15 May 2015

 

An eventful rehab session this morning, involving head-butting a bus stop at great speed, and walking on the road up the A61 thinking I was on the pavement and now I’ve just sat in my lunch!! Have you ever felt that it wasn’t going to be your day??!! …

 

23 May 2015

 

Gutted that I don’t have anyone to watch Eurovision with – who is going to describe the outfits and haircuts to me??!!