1992: My first Paralympics, part V

When it came round to the 400 relay we were pleased to find out that there were to be no heats. Only four teams had eventually entered, so we really did fancy our chances. However, we still had to decide what the make up of the team was to be. The usual rules applied to team selections (no fewer than one B1, no more than one B3) but which B1 and which B3 was to be used? The team management, and the rest of the relay squad, were satisfied that I had proved my fitness, and as the fastest 400m B1 runner I was chosen. However, our fastest B3 runner, SB, had failed to finish his 400m final, pulling out after only 120m with a torn hamstring. The relays were also his only chance of a medal, so we were all a bit skeptical about his claims that there was nothing wrong with his hamstring. A meeting was called to air our feelings.

The rest of the team turned up at the meeting wanting AH to take SB’s place in the team. He wasn’t quite as fast, but he wasn’t injured either. It was a very tense meeting, was it better to ensure the virtual baton got around even if a bit slower, or to really go for it and risk the virtual baton not getting round at all?

We all had our say (even JW tried to vocalise his thoughts on the subject). The athletes who were assured of their places, namely myself, NT and MW, knew that if the baton got round we would win silver at least, and possibly gold. We didn’t want our chances ruining by SB if he said he was fit when in fact he wasn’t.

We all had our own ideas about what was going on inside his mind. SB had come to the championships as the favourite to win the 400m, but he had bombed out in that, so this was his only realistic chance of returning home with a gold medal. He had pulled out apparently with a hamstring tear. Some of the team suspected that it may be possible that the injury wasn’t as bad as he had made out, and wondered whether he had pulled out because he didn’t think he was going to win and opted instead to save himself for this shot at gold instead. If that was the case and he had admitted it I’m sure the team would have understood, We might have thought a bit less of him, but we would have had no concerns about putting him in the team. But SB wasn’t stating that. He stated his muscle had torn, but that he was now better. We found this difficult to accept but as SB was prepared for a fight he had gathered medical opinion and advice to support his case. The other problem was that we all knew that SB sometimes had greater belief in his abilities than was actually the case, which isn’t a bad thing for an elite athlete, so what he said had to be taken with a pinch of salt. The one nagging doubt was that he had nothing to lose, and there was a possibility that he was too proud to admit that he wasn’t up to it. More frighteningly, we thought he was being reckless in risking our medal shot. In the end, after a very uncomfortable hour or so, we had to accept that it was his dream and not ours alone, and so, begrudgingly, he was in. We just prayed he was right in his confidence.

When the race came round we all warmed up together as a team. MW’s warm up consisted largely of sitting around and theorising, SB’s involved looking cool, NT’s involved jogging around a lot but doing nothing really at speed, whilst mine involved getting psyched up to such an extent that NT was scared by my race face, never mind the opponents.

We had concerns about the changeovers before the race. The problem was that the changeover zone was 20m long, which meant that with all the noise of the partisan crowd it would be impossible for the incoming runner to make himself heard by the outgoing runner when he hit the changeover zone. Therefore, KA had decided he would stand on the infield and provide the calls that were necessary. There certainly would be no chance of 70,000 Spaniards drowning KA’s shouts out.

I was to run the first leg, and despite mild fears surrounding my injury I did a reasonable job. I had set off a little bit more conservatively than usual, and despite fading somewhat in the home straight, I handed over to MW only 5 metres behind the Spanish. However, as he left the changeover box we were more than 10 metres behind them.

MW ran a stormer and closed to only a couple of metres behind the Spanish athlete at the end of his leg. However, despite us executing the changeover perfectly the Spanish team again exited the zone with a 10m lead.

SB’s hamstring held out well and he also ran a screamer, again closing up on the Spanish athlete, giving NT a real chance on the last leg. But surprise, surprise, the Spanish team left the box with another massive lead on NT. Despite his best efforts he couldn’t close enough. The Spanish went crazy, and we went mad. We immediately placed an appeal with the judges asking them to check the changeovers. I don’t know why we bothered though. Almost immediately the judges came back to us saying that the video tape had been lost, so we were stuffed. In the end we had to settle for a silver when we deserved gold. It was suggested by some that KA must have got the calls wrong, but as anyone will testify who knows KA, KA doesn’t get things wrong. To coin a phrase, we was robbed.

4X400 scoreboard Barca 1992

4X400 podium Barca 1992

After spending a joyful half hour with my parents and JW, the team, guides and coaches returned to the village and planned our celebrations. Being the party animals that myself and JW were, we escaped down to the Pizza Hut that was just outside the village on the beach and drank ourselves silly – well, we had half a lager, but everything is relevant – and stuffed our faces with a whole pizza each. JW really went for it though after he had escorted me back to my bed. When we returned to the village he found RL wondering around in the mood for partying. They decided to go into Barcelona for a drink or two. They had every intention of getting a taxi into the centre of the city, but decided instead to accept a lift in a van with a group of Spanish Rastafarians. They couldn’t speak any English, but they understood the lads were looking to party. They took them to a club in the city. JW said that when they got into the club they were greeted by full size stuffed lions and other such jungle accompaniments. He soon realised that he and RL were the only English people in the club, and for that matter, they were the only white people in the club. All eyes were trained on them as they drank exotic drinks, danced exotic dances choreographed mainly in Liverpool, and smelled exotic plant based smells. A great time was had by them if the state they returned in was anything to go by, and I was content just cuddling my silver medal whilst tucked up safely in my bed. I still had another race to do, then I would party.

Our last race was the 4 x 100m relay. I was really excited. I had won the medal that I had longed for, and now my leg was starting to get so much better that I didn’t even think about it now. The warm up was still the same routine of strapping up and extensive massage, but I didn’t have any doubts about my ability to finish the race, and I was even able to do some flat out sprints in my warm up. We found out fairly early on again that there would only be four teams entered, so we had a great chance of getting another medal. We knew that the Spanish were going to be nearly impossible to beat, but we were not sure about the others. The Italians and the Americans were a bit of a mixture of really outstanding sprinters and outstanding athletes who weren’t necessarily outstanding sprinters, so it could just be possible, despite the diverse nature of our team, that we might snatch some more hardware.
JW was very excited as well, but not for the same reasons. KR, an experienced part of the management team, had repeatedly told JW about the famous guide runner relays which always traditionally occurred at the end of each championships. JW had at every opportunity asked the guides from the other countries how fast they could do the 400m. He really did think he was the fastest athlete there and just couldn’t wait for the opportunity to prove it. He had decided that he was going to do the last leg for the GB guides team, and I think he was secretly hoping to take the baton in an unpromising position before snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with a scintillating final leg. I’m sure when he visualised this he could hear 70,000 people cheering his super-human feat as he crossed the line, arms aloft soaking up the plaudits. He would have to wait though until after our 100m relay which was the last official track event of the championship.

When we arrived at the warm up track we headed for the drinks tent to fill our bags up with the free drinks as it was very warm and dehydration was always an issue. I chose several bottles of water and a couple of the branded sports drinks. We took our booty off to the side of the track and laid back in the shade until it was time to start warming up. I took out a bottle of sports drink and was just about to break the seal on it and drain the contents when JW shouted out “stop”. I wasn’t sure what JW was on about, but that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but I chose to stop anyway. JW grabbed the bottle and held it up to his face. He burst out laughing and everybody gathered round to see what he was looking at. The sight which had grabbed his attention was a small lizard which was floating in it, as if pickled in a laboratory. The younger Andy thought what a good job it was that he hadn’t opened the bottle and drank it, but the older Andy now thinks what an opportunity missed – probably one of the biggest brands in the world’s products with such a foreign body in it. It would make the Donahue v Stevenson case (the famous snail in a ginger beer bottle which laid down the modern law of negligence) look like a storm in a tea cup.

It was the sort of thing which increased the sense of fun within the team, and as we took up our positions on the track, anticipation of what might be started to rise in my stomach. Whatever happened on the track, we only had a couple of hours to wait until we would party like never before. We had been drawn in lane 1, and I wasn’t looking forward to trying to cope with the tight bend, dodgy hamstring or no dodgy hamstring. The crowd was buzzing, they were well aware that it was the last race and the home team were the favourites to win. It had been a great championship, especially for the Spanish, and they were going to enjoy this last race. Random people kept calling out from the stands, “come on Curtis, give it some welly” in a broad Yorkshire accent and “go for it Andy” in an Aussie voice were just a couple of the calls I heard on my way to our starting position. I couldn’t wait to blast around that bend.

BR ran the first leg, and from the little bit of commentary JW could manage before we had to take up our position he thought he was doing alright, we certainly weren’t leading, but we weren’t completely out of contention either. The second leg runner was RL. He had been in and out of the medical room all the championship, but now came his chance to bring home the bacon. He had damaged his hamstring at the start of the championships, but had recovered from that, only to suffer from one of his usual self inflicted injuries. This had happened in the long jump. RL would take up his position on the run way and his caller would stand behind the pit and call him towards the pit by means of a mega phone. RL would set off sprinting, arms and legs flailing in different directions, a vision of ginger frenzy, trying his best to keep count of how many strides he had taken. The only problem with this was that RL insisted on counting every single stride. I had always counted every second stride on my left leg whenever I ran so that I would know exactly where I was on the track, but RL was too old a dog to be taught new tricks. The result was that RL often miscounted. Take off at the right time and, as long as he got the direction right, he would land in the pit with a good distance. Take off too late and he would have already reached the pit, maybe even trip over as his feet lost traction in the sand. However, RL’s default take off position was two strides before the take off board. This would result in RL flying through the air with all the grace he could summon up before executing the perfect landing on the hard run way. Scraped and burnt arse cheeks were the order of the day on such occasions, and Barcelona was one such occasion.

However, his cheeks had recovered to such an extent so as to allow him to take his place in the team. I no longer felt sorry for him, it was his guide that I now felt sorry for. One of the staff, a scot attached to the cerebral palsy team, had been drafted in to guide RL. RL was a law unto himself when it came to guiding. The usual practice is to try and run as one, to be perfectly synchronised so as to increase bio-mechanical efficiency. But RL always used to run as if tied to a prison officer from whom he was trying to escape. That was the case on that night, but despite his best efforts his guide managed to keep him in his two allotted lanes and eventually, after what seemed like an age I heard the call which set me on my way.

I had already heard loads of shouting, some what seemed like an age earlier, which signified that all the other teams had set off ahead of me. I guessed we were quite a way behind in last place, but I also knew that two of the other three teams had put their slowest runners on the third leg. I also knew that those two teams had put their fastest runners on the last leg, so I really did have to run the leg of my life if MW, who was to run the last leg, was to have the slightest glimmer of hope.

As I charged around the bend it seemed that my arms and legs were moving faster than they had ever moved. I could feel JW struggling to move his arms as fast as mine, which encouraged me even more. If he couldn’t keep up with me I really must be flying. The crowd were getting louder and louder, presumably because the Spanish were winning, but I drew on this imagining that they were cheering for me, the best third leg they had ever seen. With the added confidence I flew around the bend. As I neared the changeover zone I could tell from the shouts around me that I had moved us into second place, ahead of the Yanks and the Italians.

As soon as JW had given MW the call he started to congratulate me on my leg. I slowed down a bit, but carried on running down the track after MW. I wanted to be there at the celebrations. I asked JW how we were doing. After what seemed like an age he replied that he couldn’t tell exactly, but he thought that we were definitely in second place, but his demeanour didn’t match this statement.

I didn’t care though, I had already started celebrating as we ran down the home straight. We crossed the line and JW took me to MW. I jumped on MW’s back shouting and cheering about another silver medal. He said that he wasn’t too sure, but I said that JW said we were definitely in second. But JW was busy staring up at the big screen. I was the only one celebrating. MW had joined JW asking him what he could see on the screen, but I was still cheering about winning another silver.

Eventually after 30 seconds or so they started to cheer “yes, silver!” I wondered what they were on about, I knew we’d won silver ages ago, so why the confusion? Apparently, JW, who never was that good at counting, had meant that we were definitely in third place, not second, being confused by the fact that the Spanish team were miles clear of everybody else (more than two seconds in fact). We had in the end managed to beat the USA team by 0.06 secs. MW had run a stormer to not only hold off the Americans, but also AM of Italy, the fastest blinky athlete at the champs, which was an amazing feat in itself.

I was still whooping and yelping like a demented idiot and grabbed JW and MW who had now started to get excited as well. As they had finished ages before everyone else, and didn’t have to wait for a photo finish, the Spanish athletes were nowhere to be seen (pardon the pun) so we were unable to congratulate them. We had deduced that the Spanish had already set off on their lap of honour. What a good idea I thought. Who cares that we had only finished second, it was the last race after all. By now BR and RL plus guide had joined us. The Spanish, if the cheers were anything to go by, were already down the back straight, so we wouldn’t be gate crashing their party. I suggested a lap of honour and they followed. I jumped on JW’s back and off we went piggy backing around the bend. The crowd were going crazy celebrating the Spanish gold but when we passed their clapping, which had died down as the Spanish disappeared around the track, started to increase again. They cheered us on, and my sense of achievement swelled to bursting point. By the time we entered the home straight we were all cheering and waving like we’ve never waved and cheered before, and the crowd were responding in a similar fashion. It wasn’t just polite applause, they seemed genuinely to be saluting us.

I decided to take the bull by the horns as I wasn’t likely to get such an opportunity to do this again for a while. I slowed down and waited for the others to catch up. I got them to line up in front of the packed main stand. When we were all lined up I counted down “three, two, one” and then we bowed to the cheering crowd. They cheered even louder and it really did make the championships for me. Although I couldn’t see the crowd, the sheer volume of their cheering and clapping was more than enough to cement the memory in my mind forever.

4X100 score 1992 Barca.jpeg

4X100 podium Barca 1992

We had the formality of the medal ceremony to get through before we could start to party. Never one to miss the opportunity to hum loudly along to the Spanish national anthem, I heartily joined in with the tune, which was fast becoming one of my favourites. During the ceremony, JW leant over to RL and told him that the person giving him the medal was a most attractive scantily clad glamour girl. RL did as expected and grabbed her for a kiss: he was soon spitting after kissing the bearded medal bearing dignitary on the lips.

As soon as we had exited stage left JW dumped me in order to go and pursue his dream in front of the over excited capacity crowd. However, things didn’t go exactly to plan. When they walked onto the track in their Great Britain kit JW and his fellow guide runners were not greeted by the applause that they were expecting, but instead all they heard was the sound of thousands of plastic seats slapping back into position and the footfall of thousands of hungry Spaniards. When the gun went it was clear that JW’s plan to receive the baton in an unpromising position was working, but unfortunately for JW it was working a bit too well. Instead of receiving the baton 30m or 40m behind his competitors JW ended up taking the baton 80m or 90m behind them. Although JW ran a really fast leg he still ended up trailing in last some 60m or so behind the others. I believe a couple of stragglers put their hands together in polite applause, but it wasn’t exactly the resounding ovation he was hoping for.

1992:my first Paralympics, part IV

Eventually the first race came around. It was the 200m heats. My warm up was easy. I hobbled from the bus to the physio tent, where NB did everything for me. He firstly loosened up the muscles and warmed them up. Then, as I laid on my front, he made like he was pulling a pint of beer with my ankle, pressing his other hand into my hamstring at various points. After this he strapped me up. Self-adhesive bandages were applied from half way down my calf to the top of my butt cheek. A bit more stretching was followed by my instructions. I was to go into the warm up area and steadily walk around. If I really wanted to I could do a couple of light strides, but nothing more than that. I followed his instructions, but my heart sank when I tried to stride and found that I couldn’t get out of a jog without feeling like I was in the middle of a cramp attack. My nerves were under control, after all, I had other things to think of. My mind wasn’t full of the usual competitive urges, just a fear that I wouldn’t be able to run at all.

Despite not having the usual pre-race nerves because of my injury, I still needed the toilet as much as usual. That proved to be a bit of a problem. What with all the bandages and my figure hugging all-in-one lycra bodysuit, I was well and truly wrapped up, meaning that I have to perform Houdini-esque manoeuvres just to relieve myself. JW helped me out, literally, and at least his hands were warm and it took my mind off my injury for a while.

I kept on the move until we were called out onto the track. As we walked out I could sense the high stands crammed full of excited spectators, and I could hear the buzz of expectancy. The excitement levels were heightened, not by the sight of me or JW, but by the new Spanish wonder kid, ES who was also in my heat. But I couldn’t enjoy the moment as I was so concerned with my fitness.

That was the first time that JW had been under pressure to get the blocks sorted out quickly, and he found it stressful. Before we had time to sort ourselves out we were called to our marks. Shortly we were in the set position and waiting for the gun to sound. All my competitive urges were suddenly in place. My injury was at the back of my mind. The gun exploded, and JW and I blasted out of our blocks.

The noise was amazing. It was early in the morning and the stands were nearly full. I couldn’t hear a word JW was saying. A series of grunts were interpreted as his usual calls which told me we were about to enter the straight. It wasn’t until this time that my hamstring started to feel tight. However, once it started to feel tight it didn’t take long for it to almost seize up altogether. I staggered down the last 50 metres or so towards the line, almost unable to lift my injured leg. My start had been good enough to hold off all but one of the closing pack, including ES, and I was through to the semi-final. Much to my surprise, I had only been beaten by 0.12 secs and my time of 24.96 secs, a personal best at the time, was the fifth fastest time of the heats. I hobbled off the track and back to the physio tent. Not bad for one and a half legs I thought.

When the semi-final came around my routine was exactly the same, except this time I knew it would be fine once the adrenalin started to pump as I blasted out of the blocks, so I wasn’t too bothered when again I couldn’t do any warm up strides. However, although I ran a great bend again, it wasn’t enough to carry me through to the final when my leg tightened in the closing stages. I had finished sixth overall and considering the obstacles I had overcome I was quite satisfied with my performance. The final was won by CL of Portugal, JR of Spain finished second and DC of Australia finished third. I would have run ins with all three of these guys in the future, and several with both CL and JR.

I had a day’s rest before the 400m heats started and so my hamstring had a bit more time to heal. Again I let NB do my warm up for me. I was starting to get used to having to do nothing. If only I could find somebody to do the racing for me I would be sorted. I have previously described the pre-race nerves I had before 400m races, and these again surfaced mainly due to the fact that I was scared that my lack of condition would have serious consequences towards the latter stages of the race. JW tried to convince me that I’d be fine, but I didn’t believe him. As I had already been through the race procedure twice I was well aware that there was no area which was suitable for being sick. A plastic bag was found and strategically placed in my kit bag so that it was easy to find should the need arise. JW, never having made himself sick from running, insisted that I wouldn’t need it if only I concentrated hard enough.

As we set off I found it difficult to set the correct pace. I tried to settle on what felt like a fairly even pace, but as all I had done for a week was flat out sprinting I went off a bit too fast. After about 80m around the bend I eased off the pace and settled on what was probably the correct pace. I usually managed to tell how I was doing in the race by listening to the foot fall around me, but this was difficult due to the noise emanating from the crowded stands. By the time we were rounding the last bend the crowd had started to make lots of noise. It was so noisy that I couldn’t hear what JW was saying, never mind where my competitors were. All I knew was that he was making lots of noise and getting rather excited. The home straight was as usual agony. I was starting to pay for the fast early pace, and the lack of condition in my legs was starting to show. I summoned up every last bit of energy and struggled through to the line.

The noise from the crowd had started to diminish before I reached the finishing line, which didn’t fill me with confidence. I assumed that the winner had crossed the line a long time before I had. As I stood with my hands on my knees gasping for air, the clock at the finishing line burst into action. It was the usual type of clock, but it also spoke out the winning time. “55.54 seconds” it announced. A sinking feeling hit me. That was a fairly average time, and if that was the winning time mine must be terrible. “Who ran that?” I asked JW.
“You did” he replied. “You won it by a mile!” JW had struck again. No chance of him letting me take it easy and conserving energy. It was as if he was on a quest to kill me by the end of the champs. JW was so excited and wanted to show off. “Come on, let’s do a bit of a jog and wave to the crowd” he shouted excitedly. What planet was this guy on? When had I ever had enough energy to do anything apart from stagger to the edge of the track after a 400m? I could feel the volcano about to erupt in my stomach as well.

“Get me off the track” I managed to say between my gasps for air whilst I held out the guide rope.

“No, come on” he said as he grabbed the rope and held my arm in the air and tried dragging me along the track. Expletives shot out of my mouth and he eventually got the message.

It seemed to take an eternity to walk through the mixed zone, the area where the media hang out trying to get interviews and quotes, and into the changing room. JW sat me down and started to work the room, chatting to all the other guide runners in broken English and sign language, and that was just JW. I kept calling his name, but he wasn’t listening. Eventually he heard me when I shouted as loud as I could and he asked me what the matter was. I told him I needed the plastic bag. He had just managed to get it out when I started yodelling. A couple of minutes later I had finished my post-race routine. Whilst I approached the final throws of my performance a Colombian athlete had started shouting “champiole, champiole,” and had tried to grab me. His guide runner dragged him away from me. He was audibly concerned that he had done something wrong, and as his guide runner tried to explain to him why he had dragged me away JW took it on himself to grab the now partly full bag and hand it to the athlete as proof of what his guide runner was telling him. I can still picture it now as JW described it. The blind Colombian held the bag out and tried to judge its weight, before putting his hand under it to try and assess its contents. He then looked at his guide runner and asked what it was. His guide runner explained before both he and JW burst out laughing, leaving the athlete swearing loudly.

The semi-final of the 400m was a strange affair. I was drawn with a Cuban athlete, OP, who had a rather strange guiding technique. His technique was a revolutionary one…He didn’t have one. According to rumour he suffered from hysterical blindness, whatever that means. His guide runner ran about 5 metres behind him, allegedly shouting out instructions to him from that position. That may have worked in a quiet stadium, although I doubt it, but definitely not in a stadium packed with 60,000 shouting Spaniards. I couldn’t hear what JW was shouting whilst standing next to me, never mind if he stood 5 metres behind me. Apparently it was even better in the 800m, where he overtook athletes and returned to running next to the curb as if fully sighted. This guy turned out to be solely responsible for the authorities introducing blind folds or blacked out shades for B1 athletes to prevent cheating in all subsequent championships.

The race itself went very well until the last 60m. I was leading at that point, but then faded badly into third place. The time was very similar to that which I had ran in the heat, but not quite good enough on that occasion. But the most surprising fact was that I managed to keep down what little lunch I had managed to eat that day. CL of Portugal went on to win the final, OP of Cuba winning a controversial silver medal, with DC of Australia winning a second bronze medal.

I was supposed to run the 100m the following day, but it was also the day when the 4 x 400m heats were to be run. There were a couple of important decisions to be made regarding this event. Firstly, I had to decide along with the management whether or not I would compete In the 100m. Secondly, we had to finalise the makeup of the relay team, as our fastest runner, SB, had been struggling with a hamstring injury as well. I felt that although I may run well in the 100m I didn’t really stand a chance of winning a medal. However, if we managed to finish the 4 x 400m relay we would definitely win a medal, and there was a distinct possibility that we would win gold. If I was to run the 100m there was a possibility that I would make my hamstring worse, and that would mean that I would be out of the 400 relay for sure. As my Aussie competitors would say, it was a no brainer. My withdrawal from the 100m was signed by the team doctor on the grounds that it couldn’t stand up to a flat out blocks start. It was also noted that I should be able to stand up to a steadier start, which cleared the way for me to compete in the relay without suffering a sanction. The wording was vital, as withdrawing from an event without good reason usually results in withdrawal from the rest of the championships, and that was a consequence which I could not risk.

As it happened the 100m was a very good spectacle for the spectators. At that time 100m races for B1’s were run as a time trial, each athlete running individually against the clock. The main reason for this was so as to allow those athletes who didn’t have a guide runner to compete. As a rule, it was the athletes from the less developed countries who did not have guide runners, but the world record holder, SS, a Russian, also chose to run this way. I could never do it, but he was so brilliant at it that he never strayed out of his lane the whole way down. I put this brilliance down to a great deal of practice, but others more cynical than I commented that he ran as if he could see a bit. Interestingly, whilst SS was brilliant in the unguided 100m, he was less than impressive at the guided 200m and when all 100m races became guided-only races, he was less than impressive at that as well.

After all athletes had run once, the fastest 6 athletes got the chance to race again in the final. When the final came around two athletes, SS and MR of Spain, dead heated on the same time. If it had been a real race it would have been a thriller. The only way they could settle it was to have a run off with both athletes having another go. Dismaying everyone in the stadium they managed to run exactly the same time again – what are the chances??!! As no-one wanted to be there all night two gold medals were eventually handed out. My long term rival, JR of Spain won the bronze medal.
The stage was now clear for the 4×400 relay boys to do their thing

Stich not Caine – not a lot of people know that!

If I was a betting man….I’d bet most people that they didn’t know that 15 October is officially “White Cane Safety Day” – I certainly didn’t!


The following extract from the US National Federation of the Blind explains:


“White Cane Safety Day: A Symbol of Independence


by Marc Maurer


In February of 1978 a young blind lady said, “I encounter people all of the time who bless me, extol my independence, call me brave and courageous, and thoroughly miss the boat as to what the real significance of the white cane is.”


The National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled on the 6th day of July, 1963, called upon the governors of the fifty states to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day in each of our fifty states. On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the Congress, HR 753, was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as “White Cane Safety Day.” This resolution said: “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives”, that the President is hereby authorized to issue annually a proclamation designating October 15 as White Cane Safety Day and calling upon the people of the United States to observe such a day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.’


Within hours of the passage of the congressional joint resolution authorizing the President to proclaim October 15 as White Cane Safety Day, then President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the importance of the white cane as a staff of independence for blind people. In the first Presidential White Cane Proclamation President Johnson commended the blind for the growing spirit of independence and the increased determination to be self-reliant that the organized blind had shown. The Presidential proclamation said:


The white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and special consideration to the blind on our streets and highways. To make our people more fully aware of the meaning of the white cane and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it Congress, by a joint resolution approved as of October 6, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day.


Now, therefore, I, Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States of America do hereby proclaim October 15, 1964 as White Cane Safety Day.


With those stirring words President Johnson issued the first White Cane Proclamation which was the culmination of a long and serious effort on the part of the National Federation of the Blind to gain recognition for the growing independence and self-sufficiency of blind people in America, and also to gain recognition of the white cane as the symbol of that independence and that self-reliance.”


Interestingly, the article continues: “The first of the state laws regarding the right of blind people to travel independently with the white cane was passed in 1930 …”, which suggests that until then it was unlawful – crikey, we’ve come a logn way!


Until now, I’ve never thought of my trusty friend in these terms, but I strongly agree with these powerful words. To mee, it’s simply Michael .. allow me to explain!


If you’re one of those people that names inanimate objects, like your car for instance, then you will understand me when I confess that my white stick is called Michael. There is logic in my madness! ,


Michael, as he shall be referred to in this blog, is not named after Michael Caine, as most people who query it guess, but after Michael Stich (pronounced “shtick”), the 1991 Wimbledon mens’ singles champion.


He’s named after the tennis player because I don’t refer to him as a white cane, but as a stick, or sometimes a bat!


Just for the record, Michael is actually a set of triplets: I have my everyday well-worn 141cm long Michael, my solo walking Michael who is 145cm long (thereby enabling me to detect hazards sooner whilst striding out purposefully, with the ambitious hope of avoiding said hazards), and a spare Michael which leans up against a wall in my office at work.


Michael accompanies me everywhere; if Michael could talk…. unlike yours truly, he’s seen some sights, I can tell you!!


1992: my first Paralympics, part III

It became clear after a couple of days that the doctors were talking weeks rather than days, so I booked myself in at the physio’s for some intensive treatment. The treatment involved ultra sound treatment and interferential treatment (passing an electric current through the joint). That wasn’t bad, but the mobilisation was awful. The physio forced my knee to bend, and then forced it to straighten, and repeated this action. It was very painful, and when I left it stiffened up again after about half an hour. However, after a couple of weeks and lots of physio I could just about bend my knee properly, and so I started training again. I had four weeks to get from a hobbling wreck to gold medal challenger. As was my modus operandi, I jumped straight back in at a high level of intensity. However, as was bound to be the case, having had two weeks out I had lost a great deal of conditioning. This meant that whilst I could run quite fast immediately I soon tired and lost the ability to run fast. If I was going to challenge in Barcelona I had to push myself enough to allow me to run the full distance of each race without tiring badly.


With hind sight, I should probably have re focused and chose just one event to have a good go at, whilst still making myself available for the relays. However, due to the confidence of youth I didn’t and instead I just kept on pushing myself. My hamstrings reacted badly to this. I suffered what I then thought were small muscle tears, but only serious enough to keep me from running for a couple of days. The feeling was like having sellotape pulled off from behind my knee to half way up my hamstring. The prognosis; stop running for a day or two, stretch and then get back into it slowly.


Despite these semi-self induced tribulations, JW and I flew out to Barcelona pleased to be on the plane but unsure as to just how well I would be able to compete against the worlds best. The atmosphere amongst the team on the plane was electric, lots of wise cracks and general excitement filled the air. When we arrived at the Olympic village we had to queue for our accreditation, the passport to all the Paralympic experience. If you don’t have an accreditation you can’t go anywhere or access any of the services, including the dining hall. Whilst stood in the queue the volunteers handed out small food items. I thought I had been handed a round chocolate biscuit, so I removed the plastic wrapper and popped it in my mouth, only to find out it was a small Edam cheese with the wax skin still on it. This was the first time I chose the “I hope no-one saw that” approach and kept my mouth shut and chewed, and while trying to portray enjoyment swallowed the cheese and wax mixture. I think I got away with it, but it hasn’t always worked since then.


We were staying in apartment blocks, 8 to an apartment and two to a room. I obviously shared with JW. The rest of our apartment was made up mainly of blinky athletes. MF was sharing with BR, MB, our very poorly sighted B2 marathon runner, was sharing with BS, the guide runner of TH, and a coach TW had a room to himself. The Olympic village had lots of amenities to keep the athletes amused and cared for during their stay. Most were not suitable for blinkies, but I do recall playing a couple of games of “Simon Says”, which back in the day, the late 70s to be precise, was at the cutting edge of technology as I recall.


On the waterfront was a private beach for the athletes sole use, a pizza hut was at the end of the beach at the start of a pier, and there were lots of shops and games areas in the international zone. JW and I spent many a happy hour testing out the perfumes and after shaves in the Perfumerie. We got many an admiring wolf whistle from fellow B1 athletes, but never did find a perfume nice enough, or more pertinently, cheap enough to force us to open our wallets.


One of our most important tasks was to collect our race kit. We had already received an all-in-one lycra bodysuit with the rest of our kit, but we had to personally collect our race shorts and vests. All the sprinters went to JB’s room as he, as the most experienced coach in the team, had been designated as the kit man for our squad. JB sat on his bed with several open boxes of kit strewn around the room. He had a clip board with all our names on it, and as he gave us our kit he marked us off on the list. However, JB got a bit confused, and JW got a bit light fingered. Every time JB turned his back more kit was stuffed down the front of JW’s shorts. By the time we left the room with our issued two vests and two shorts JW looked quite deformed and in need of a truss.


After the initial orientation day we ventured down to the training track to try and loosen out our legs after all the traveling. The first bit of excitement for JW was his first ever sighting of a Kenyan albino. It was probably a good job the Kenyan had bad sight as JW’s stares must have been unnerving. JW wanted me to stand on the track as the Kenyan approached so that he could take a photo of him without making it obvious, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.


The session we did was an easy one to get some life back into our legs after the traveling. However, my hamstring injury resurfaced on the second or third run. JA’s wife, DA, was a physio with the team and tried to deal with it. However, she struggled, as every other physio did, to find the exact area which was injured. This was undoubtedly due to it being a nerve issue, but at the time no-one seemed to realise that. Treatment was given, but I think that was more to reassure me rather than because they thought it was necessary. Looking back this theory is supported by one physio just asking me what treatment I wanted and on what part of my body. My notes obviously said something about me being a hypochondriac and the best policy was to amuse me by doing whatever I asked.


Prior to the games starting in earnest KA, the sprints coach, decided to hold a relay practice. I was to run the third leg. Although this was unusual to ask a B1 athlete to run a bend, we also had another B1 athlete in the team, RL, who was to run the second leg due to him being difficult to guide, and MW was to run the last leg as he was seen to be two large and cumbersome to run a good bend. When it was time to practice the last changeover I had to run flat out towards the changeover zone and MW was to exit it at full speed. I told KA that I would struggle to do this due to my hamstring. KA wasn’t having any of it. He told me that it was all in my head and to just get on with it and stop bitching about it. I complied with his demand, and 40 metres and one torn hamstring later I felt satisfied that I had proved that it wasn’t in my head, but heartbroken that my games were probably over before they had even begun. Injuries were bad enough, but being injured at a championships was horrible; to be surrounded by athletes excited and preparing for the races of their lives whilst you are unable to do likewise is awful.


We still had several days until the opening ceremony, and an extra couple of days until the races actually began, so there was hope that a miracle may occur in the intervening period, but I wasn’t holding out much hope. In short, I was distraught and miserable beyond belief.


I was referred to the teams top physio, NB. NB worked with the able bodied team, and has continued to do so ever since. Our paths would cross again in 1999 at the IAAF championships, and indeed NB would go on to be in charge at UK Athletics. At first he wasn’t impressed that I dared to disturb his sun bathing time while the physio centre was shut for lunch, but despite this initial mutual irritation we soon developed a good working relationship. And to be honest, we had to as I spent over an hour being treated by him three times a day for the next few days.


RL had also suffered a hamstring injury, so treatment sessions were never dull. I remember RL during one physio session politely saying to NB “please step away from the table”. NB took a small step back before RL farted in his face. RL received quite a hammering during that session. All three of us, RL, NB and I, missed the opening ceremony as we were being treated at the time and it was also felt that several hours queuing and standing wouldn’t be good for us. Despite hours of scouring the physio text books, NB simply couldn’t find a single academic that suggested hours of pointless standing around as a form of hamstring repair.


During this period NB told me that my hamstring was fine really and had just gone into spasm, and that come race day I would be fine. All I had to do was stay off my feet, keep trying to stretch it out, and once I blasted out of my blocks I wouldn’t feel anything. JW for once was more informed than I was; NB had told him that I had suffered a really bad hamstring tear and there was little or no chance of me being fit to race. He asked him not to tell me and to tow the party line. JW for perhaps the first time (and possibly the last time) did as he was told.


Due to the excessive treatment my skin, especially around the hair follicles, had become very irritated. I was ordered to shave my leg from half way down my calf to the top of my butt cheek. Although this was the area over which the bruise had spread I didn’t realise why I had to shave so excessively. It would soon become clear on race day …..


1992: my first Paralypics, Part II

The first post-selection task was to collect our team kit at a Paralympic training weekend at Solihull. We took the opportunity to do some intensive training whilst we were there.  The amount of kit we were issued with was astronomical.  Track suits, jogging suits, water proof suits, dress suits, blazers, shirts, ties, shoes, trainers, socks, t-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, rucksacks, hats, base ball caps, water bottles, and most importantly bum bags were all handed out.  We were all asked to make sure our kit fitted us, and unlike the kit we got when the kit was supplied by BBS, the vast majority was an exact fit.  The only kit which did not fit me was the best shoes we were ever given.  A swop shop was held and I managed to get a perfect fit, a pair of Loakes shoes which lasted me until the Atlanta Paralympics when I picked up my next pair of quality shoes.


At the time, other than spending most of my time with my ex, my social life revolved around going out with my friends at a weekend, as most 22 year olds do, and a lot of that time was spent in Bridlington rugby club. Once I had gained official selection for Barcelona a lot more people started to take an interest in my preparations and prospects.  At that time I was receiving no funding from any official body and was living off state benefits of £38 a week.  One of the rugby club regulars, MC, took particular interest.  MC had moved to Bridlington from the Peterborough area, and as a result was known throughout Bridlington as Cockney M.


It must be noted at this point that Bridlington, being miles away from anywhere of any note, is very insular. Non-Bridlingtonians are split into two main camps, Wessies and Cockney’s.  Cockney’s strictly speaking are supposed to be born within earshot of bow bells, but in Bridlington anyone south of Nottingham is a Cockney – they all sound the same to us!  The Wessies are in theory people, who like me, either live in, or originate from, West Yorkshire.  However, Bridlington folk use this term very indiscriminately, and in effect any person who visits Bridlington that is not a Cockney so described is obviously a Wessie.  Therefore, if ever in Bridlington, try wondering around the town centre, aimlessly getting in the way of the locals, or step onto the road in front of a car and pin back your ears to find out if you are a bloody Wessie or a bloody Cockney.  You might be surprised.


Cockney M took it upon himself to raise some money for me to help me prepare for the championships and to give me some money to help me once out at the championships. He badgered most businesses throughout the town and bit by bit the money started to role in.  A benefit night was arranged at the Cock and Lion nightclub,  where a raffle was held using prizes that had been donated by locals and local businesses.  Every time a prize was drawn out the winner donated it back and an auction was held.  It was amazing to see everyone dipping into their pockets to help me out.  It was probably more to do with M’s enthusiasm and popularity that somewhere in the region of £1000 was raised for me.  I owe M a great debt of gratitude and that money certainly helped me to prepare for Barcelona.


M’s money was soon required for additional physiotherapy. My friend JK was back home on leave from the army.  Since the first Gulf War, JK hadn’t been back in Bridlington that much, so such events were treated like a sort of homecoming.  It was to be my last night out before I went tea total for the rest of the season.  Being 22 and out for a laugh, it was decided that we were going to do 20 pubs by last orders.  At first I was horrified, there was no way I would be able to drink 20 pints, not if I wanted my usual donna kebab at the end of the evening.  However, it was decided we would only do halves, so being young and foolish I thought it sounded like a laugh.  The last time we had tried such an endeavor we had worn Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and taken out blow up crocodiles with us and wrestled them in pubs around town.  On that night we spent 10 minutes trying to out run a police van before we realised it was JK’s dad who was a copper asking him what time he’d be in at.


The night went well. We entered a pub, I went to the toilet, we downed our halves  and then moved on to the next hostelry where the procedure was followed.  Much hilarity ensued, and by last orders we had managed to accomplish our goal of 20 pubs; we actually did 24!  I felt very drunk, but at that stage in my life that was nothing new, as like the rest of my friends we did tend to put a fair bit of beer away every weekend, and had done so since we had started working at about 18 or so.  However, I didn’t feel like doing a club and having to evade the usual threats of violence, so I took JK and his girl friend M up on their offer to walk me home.  As JK was, and still is, fairly hap hazard with his guiding, I decided to let M guide me.  We were so busy chatting and telling her all about the fun and games we had had earlier in the evening that I lost track of the route we were taking back home.  I was in the middle of describing some hilarious act when M slowed down and said “step”.  As she had said step singular I presumed that we had reached a curb and so stepped off and kept on walking as normal.  However, a few things told me that I was not stepping off a curb.  The first thing was the fact that my second footstep didn’t touch the floor when I put it down on what I thought was the road.  The second was the scream that came out of M’s mouth.  The third was the angular bits of concrete that I kept bouncing off.  When the screaming and bouncing stopped, I realised that I had fallen down a flight of steps.  As I heard water lapping nearby, I immediately knew that I had fallen down the flight of steps that led to the harbour edge.   I had never in all my days gone this way home, and my first thought was “who put those bloody steps there?”  My second thought was that my knee was hurting a bit, but I wasn’t too concerned as I could walk on it reasonably well.  I said I was fine and managed to limp home with no major problem.


When we got back to my house JK, like the good soldier that he was, explained to my Mum and Dad that I had taken a fall and then quickly sounded the retreat, leaving the casualty in the crossfire of one concerned parent and one fuming parent.  He told me later that despite my protestations that it was just an accident, if looks could kill then JK would most certainly be dead, and my dad guilty of murder.  Good old Flynn started to lick the blood off my knee which was poring out of my torn jeans, and after I had got cleaned up I went to bed telling mum and dad not to worry as I was sure it was just a bit of a bang.  However, when I woke in the morning my knee had locked solid.  It was only six weeks before the Paralympics.  My last night out could possibly be my last night out ever if JA found out.  “Gladiators ready?  Athletes ready?” – not really J, my bloody leg wont bend.


The first thing I realised was that I was completely unable to walk. I had banged my knee before, I had sprained my ankle and badly torn my hamstring, all things that meant one leg was useless.  On such occasions I had hopped everywhere, but it was impossible to hop on one leg whilst the other was locked solid in a straight position.  The only way I could move was to walk backwards and drag the leg in its locked position behind me.  Going down steps was less difficult, as I could hold onto the banister and hold the straight leg out in front of me and hop my way down, but going up steps backwards was quite tricky.


After lots of tears from my mum, and angry threats from my dad, we went up to casualty to see what damage had been done. Being guided was extremely problematic.  I had to walk backwards,  dragging my leg along, which meant that the person who was guiding me had to face me, with me holding onto their shoulders for balance whilst they held on to my waist.  The result looked like we were ballroom dancing into the casualty department.  No serious damage had been done according to the doctors, time as usual would heal it.  The question was just how much time?

1992: my first Paralympics

1992 was the year that I found out what disabled athletics was really all about – the Paralympics. Just like able bodied athletics, its all about the opportunity which only comes around every four years for you to win the biggest prize, the one that every athlete dreams about.  Every other medal and championship is secondary to a Paralympic games.


The Paralympics get their name from a combination of the words Olympics and parallel, as they run parallel to the big one. I must admit that I always get a bit angry when people refer to these games by any of the usual set of misnomers.  “Are you running in the special Olympics this year Andy?” would be greeted with a short lecture about the fact that the special Olympics are for people with learning disabilities where everyone gets a medal regardless of their level of performance, as opposed to the Paralympics where medals are handed out on a purely performance basis, and the only people in my races with learning disabilities are the guide runners.  Alternatively, people will refer to the games as the Paraplegic Olympics, or the Wheelchair Olympics.  I have often pointed out that unfortunately I am not eligible for either championships as I am not a paraplegic or wheelchair user.  Using the last two names is like a red rag to a bull, as often the perception amongst the public, whether in a sporting context or social context, is that being disabled is synominous with being a wheelchair user.  Informing a receptionist that you would like to take advantage of the lower disabled entrance fee has on occasions been greeted with “well where’s your wheelchair then?”  I often get irate people complaining that I have used the disabled toilet when I don’t use a wheelchair.  Just for the record, I prefer to use a disabled toilet rather than the standard male toilets for two main reasons.  Firstly, it is less likely that I will bump into the back of someone stood urinating, thereby causing them to either splash their shoes or their leg, or worse still, feel their bums as I’m trying to find the urinal.  Secondly,  it is impossible to get lost in a disabled toilet, but let me reassure you, it is not impossible to get lost in a normal male toilet – some of them are like rabbit warrens!  A prime example being the loos at the Law Society; if it wasn’t for the Law Society President rescuing me whilst attending an awards ceremony, I probably would have still been lost in the bowels of the Law Society today.


It also annoys and upsets me when Paralympic athletes refer to themselves as competing at the Olympics. I know that for some they do this because they don’t expect people to know what a Paralympic games is, but to others it appears to be that being a Paralympian is not good enough.  It is as though the term Paralympic or Paralympian imports some degree of being second class along with it.  This is probably the reason behind calls from many people in disabled sport to merge the Paralympics with the Olympics, but you’ll never hear me espousing the virtues of such a move.  I am proud to be a Paralympian.  I do not want the Paralympics to merge with the Olympic games to give it credibility.  It is quite credible enough thank you very much.  The result would be such a watered down sanitised version that those calling for it would inevitably have no games to compete at.  Only a tiny majority would get the chance to compete on the biggest stage in their chosen sport.  This mindset is absurd to me. The majority of disabled athletes, and disabled people generally, spend a deal of time in our social lives trying to educate able bodied people that we have qualities and skills to offer society, that we are valuable in our own right and should be treated as equals, yet certain athletes act as though the only way to be treated as equal and receive validation is to compete at the same time as able bodied athletes, in the same stadium and in the same championships.


The Paralympics are held every four years about three weeks after the Olympics, or the test event as we like to refer to it; someone has to test out all the facilities for all the disabled athletes after all. The spread of sports is somewhere in the region of 18 or 19 different sports, with athletes competing in cerebral palsy classes, amputee classes, wheelchair classes, sometimes (depending on the current political preference within the International Paralympic Committee (IPC)) athletes with a mental impairment compete, and of course athletes with visual impairments.


I knew 1992 was going to be a big year. 3 to 14 September 1992 was etched on my mind’s eye, after all, it would be another four years before I would have another chance just to compete at the biggest festival of disabled sport, let alone a chance to win the elusive Paralympic gold.  It became clear to me at the first Paralympic training weekend that everybody else felt exactly the same, and I don’t just mean the athletes.  The coaches and support staff who would be involved in putting forward athletes for selection and who would themselves form part of the team management were clearly excited at the prospect.


J “Gladiators ready” A was a major force within the GB Paralympic set up as well as the British Blind Sport set up. JA was an important person to impress if selection for Barcelona was to be achieved.  Therefore I was very pleased when he stopped me after a training session and said in his broad Scottish accent “you’ll be fine, if you can find a decent guide runner”.  JW, having a very high opinion of himself and no lack of confidence in his guiding abilities, didn’t bat an eyelid.  JA certainly knew how to motivate athletes and after every meeting we had as a group I always left feeling that my ability had increased just from listening to him.  One thing that was for sure, if he was present at the track athletes worked hard.  I’m not sure whether that was because you always felt like his eyes were on you, or because you could hear him shouting encouragement and abuse at you whilst running, or just because you were scared that his dog (which was the size of a small horse) was likely at any moment to run onto the track and chase after you.


Whilst away from designated training sessions with the rest of the squad I was working hard at the track in hull. BS, my coach since 1988, was working me hard with the intention that I would be able to run a good 100m, 200m and 400m by the September of 1992 if selected for Barcelona.  JW was doing all of my training with me, and often I would wait until he had finished his sessions before he guided me.  JW was just as motivated as I was.  We both had a burning desire to be selected and this permeated into every session we did.  If JW moaned that he was tired after doing his own session I would motivate him by mentioning the B word, Barcelona.  If I got tired towards the end of a session all JW had to do was mention the B word and I used it to drive me forward to the finishing line on every run.


However, one issue still had to be sorted, and that was my classification. My sight had undoubtedly got worse since the European Championships only a few months earlier.  In France I could see a bit of track when I was stood up, but now I couldn’t.  By night my sight was different.  I could see car headlights from long distances and street lights from some distance as well.  But that was of no real utility to me.  I wondered if my sight was now bad enough for me to compete in the B1 category without any feelings of guilt.  My deteriorating sight had been commented on at training sessions, and team staff had suggested I spoke to the British Blind Sport classification expert, Dr IF,  about my sight.


I rang DR IF and asked him what he thought. He told me to ask my mum to get four or five objects from around the house and hold them out about a foot in front of my nose and ask me to identify them.  I was unsure as to whether the very small patches of colour and bits of outlines of shapes that I could make out were really what I was seeing or just part of the usual collage of colours and shapes that I could see.  Whatever, I had no idea of what the objects were that she was holding up.  Once she told me what she had been holding I realised that various bits of the images I saw could have been parts of the objects, but other bits still made no sense.  There was no way I could identify them independently.  After only a couple of objects Dr IF told me that I was a B1 and my classification had been taken care of.  To this day I believe I am the only athlete to have had his sight classified over the phone.  I think this way of carrying out medical examinations was a pre-runner to NHS Direct.


As a B1 athlete my chance of gaining selection had increased, as had my chances of winning a medal. I was in the midst of a paradoxical situation, I wanted to be able to see better, but I also wanted a better chance of winning medals.  As the state of my sight was out of my hands I don’t suppose my views on the subject was either here or there, but I was aware of the absurdity of it all.


I was personally in no doubt that I would be selected for Barcelona, due to being in the easier B1 category (coupled with a hint of youful arrogance!) , but this did not make me rest on my laurels.  Instead, it inspired me to try to improve enough to give myself a real chance of winning medals once I got out to the champs, and I worked as hard as I had ever done.  The resulting early season performances were satisfactory and progress was definitely being made in the right direction.


Despite my self-confidence, it still came as a great relief when I received official confirmation that I had been selected to compete in the 100m, 200m, 400m and relays at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics!! My new-found dreams were going to come to fruition!

A toast to Alfie

It’s been a horrible week as we lost Alfie on Sunday. I didn’t fully appreciate how upsetting it would be, nor how guilty I’d feel having been the one to make the decision to put him out of his misery.


We’re going out tonight for a family meal to wave the Twits off to uni and I dare say we’ll raise a glass or three to Alfie as well.


I’m not sure whether he ever figured out that I couldn’t see, or if he simply thought that I liked kicking him out of the way! Either way, I’ll miss you Alfredo.


In honour of my hairy wingman (as GF referred to him), here’s a few FB posts in which Alfie featured.


1 June 2014


Whilst taking Alfie for a walk this morning a motorist stopped and asked me for directions – I didn’t think I was the most obvious candidate for such a task, and I did point this out to him, but he insisted … Good luck sir, you’ll need it!!.


23 June 2014


Took Alfie out for a walk this morning and a small boy who was with his mother on the way to school asked me if I was looking for something under the ground. Apparently, he had never seen anyone with a white stick before!!


31 August 2014


I’ve heard it all now! I’ve just got back from taking our super manly attack dog Alfie, a puppy sized King Charles spaniel, for an evening stroll, where an old git had a go at me for not controlling my dog; apparently, his extendable lead was too long! When I asked why it was too long, he said that Alfie was going for him! I told him that he might get his knees licked to death but apart from that he had nothing to worry about. When he kept on having a go as he moved on, I’m afraid to report that I wasn’t quite so polite!!


27 November 2014


Well, I suppose it’s almost Pantomime season … I managed to lose the dog this morning after I took him off his lead to explore the grassy area in the lemony snicket, and all the time he was … yes, you’ve guessed it … behind me!! I really should put a bell on the little fecker!


12 March 2015


What a lovely windless still morning today. I’m not sure what time it gets light at these days, but it was most pleasant listening to all the birdsong when out with the dog this morning, even went on the long walk it was that nice. Roll on spring!!


10 May 2015


What a lovely still morning. At times on my walk this morning, apart from the noise of my stick whizzing across the pavement, the only sound was birdsong, very relaxing and uplifting for the soul. Perhaps that explains why I managed to walk 100 yards without using my stick, relying on Alfie the amateur guide dog instead…. unlike last night when I twatted my forehead on a lamp post after only five yards trying the same trick!! Or perhaps it was just something to do with blood alcohol levels … As the sages from Chumbawumba say, I get knocked down, but I get up again … literally in this instance!


3 November 2015


OMG!! I think Golden Balls has taken too many head shots at rugby, as he’s just set out to take the dog for a walk, but forgot the dog! Admittedly, he didn’t get far, but what a muppet!!


20 November 2015


Now that’s what I call a fog! I couldn’t see a fecking thing this morning. It took me ages to find the dog after I dropped the lead! Be careful on the roads you guys, please.


27 February 2016


Oh feck! A mile away from home with the dog and the end has just fallen off my stick! Now here’s where the Jedi training comes in handy!!


20 March 2016


Thanks to the old man who kindly highlighted my faux pas this morning as I was absent mindedly strolling along with the dog enjoying the sunshine and birdsong…. “Mate, you’re in the middle of the road!” All I could manage was a sheepish “thanks” and a rather embarrassed grin! Appears I must have stepped down a curb at a side street and was oblivious to having missed the up curb – whoops!!


Have I got dog breath??!!

Alfie, our beloved family dog, is sadly on his last legs and is struggling with his food at the moment; the result is a very, very, skinny, poorly dog. He won’t go anywhere near his usual food, but still wolfs down ham, chicken and cheese, and over the last few days even some of R’s popcorn and a Weetabix that J dropped on the floor! Even so, he is still losing weight.


In an attempt to prolong the inevitable, last night I served him chopped up chicken breast in a cereal bowl – he flipping loved it. This morning, I got up early to make him some rice and chicken to see if he’d take rice as well – he’d nibbled on a bit yesterday morning, but wasn’t really interested. As the rice boiled, I located the cereal bowl and placed it on the work surface; there was no point washing it, as I was only going to put more chicken and rice in it, I thought.


The smell of the rice made me hungry, so I started to prepare my granola/porridge oats/blueberries/strawberries/yoghurt concoction. I was a bit miffed though, as all I could find in the cupboard were my least favourite cereal bowls; we have two types, one made of thicker material and with a higher rim, the others being made of thinner material and with a lower rim – I prefer the former as I can fit more in without making a mess! When I say without making a mess, please note that this is of course relative – perhaps I should say without making a massive mess!!


Five minutes later, a right mess made on the work surface, my breakfast eaten and the rice boiled, I started to prepare Alfie’s meal. I located his dirty bowl on the work surface and started to transfer the rice from the pan. It was at this point that it struck me; the bowl I was filling up was a thinner lower rimmed type – Alfie’s bowl from last night was a thicker higher rimmed type. My stomach started to lurch as I checked the bowl from which I had just eaten my breakfast.


You’ve guessed it – I’d just eaten my lovely healthy breakfast out of my dog’s dirty breakfast bowl!!!!


OMG, I think I’m going to be sick…

Howzat for bowling a maiden over?!

Following an invite from an ex-work colleague, I went to my first cricket Test Match last Friday at Headingley, in Leeds.


It was a fun day, and although I behaved myself (for once) with the free booze, thanks to my pocket radio and Test Match Special I did manage to partake fully in the sporting action!


As Headingley is on GF’s route home from work, she picked me up outside the ground afterwards.


“Who won?” she enquired.


“Erm, no-one yet, it’s a test match, so we are only 20% through the game – it lasts for five days” I explained.


Unsure of how to spend our evening, we weighed up the numerous options as we sat in the traffic. As it was a balmy evening, I had the window open, through which I heard the following conversation on the street:


“Excuse me sir, would you be interested in a card that gives you 40% off at Pizza Express on days whenever England or Yorkshire are playing at Headingley?” said a very bubbly young lady.


“No thanks” said the pedestrian.


It sounded too good to be true, especially as PE is GF’s favourite and the Headingley PE is the closest to her home!


“Excuse me, I’ll have one please?” I balled out of the window!


Highly amused, she trotted across and gave me two, one for luck!


My romantic gesture didn’t go amiss; I certainly know how to bowl a maiden over – I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist such an awful pun!


The following day, I returned home for an afternoon of sport in front of the TV whilst GF was busy running errands. Whilst I was cooking dinner in anticipation of her arrival, I received the following call from her:


“You know the five day test match between England and West Indies?”


“Yes” – I was pleased that she’d been listening …


“Do all five days take place in Headingley, or does it move around the country?”




“Because I’m stuck in a massive traffic jam in Headingley!”


Undoubtedly enhanced by the wine I’d had whilst cooking, I couldn’t stop laughing at the lovely naivety of such an innocent comment. I know the rules of cricket can be a bit complicated for novices, but I never thought that I’d either have to explain that particular aspect of the game or that it would take on such a key role in my Saturday night!  I guess it’s true; assume nothing – it makes an ass of u and me ….


Luckily dinner would keep, unlike the bottle of wine I had opened (after the previously opened one was emptied)!!

A senior moment at the Tower

On Friday GF, the Twits and I travelled down to London predominantly to watch the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium. However, I’m not going to focus on the athletics in this post, but instead look at the slightly quirkier blind related events that took place over the weekend, most of which reminded me how nice people can be.  Suffice to say that as expected, the athletics was a great experience and well worth the effort; there really is nothing like being part of an event in which 60,000 other people have invested themselves.


On arrival at Stratford Station on Friday afternoon, before entering the Olympic Park we decided to seek out wholesome nourishment at the Westfield Shopping Centre, but thousands of others had the same idea …… Thankfully, as we stood amidst the hungry hoards in search of a table, a youngish man came over and asked if we’d like the table he and his friends were about to vacate – strike one for the white stick!


Later, as we approached the gates of the Olympic Stadium, I had the same sick feeling in my stomach as I’d had many times before in similar surroundings. However, this had little to do with the excitement or anxiety associated with the forthcoming performances, but a massive amount to do with the semi-digested remains of the best part of a bucket of KFC which I had devoured whilst GF was queueing for her pizza and salad – no-one should have to see me eat KFC, never mind GF, hence the record breaking time it took me to demolish it!!  As I waddled through the throng, without prompting, a volunteer walked over to us and directed us towards the disabled gate where our transition into the stadium would be accelerated – strike two for the white stick!


On Saturday we visited the Tower of London. GF had checked out the website to see how much it was going to cost, and reported that it said nothing about carers being free, but that I would qualify as a concession which would save us £6.


“Hi, can we have one adult, a concession for Andy who is blind, and two students please” GF said to the man behind the glass at the ticket office, as I stood next to her smiling politely.


“Sorry, it’s difficult to hear you, did you say two students?”


“Yes, two please”


“Of course, so that’s one adult, one senior and two students, for a total cost of £82 please” he said.


The Twits both started laughing at the reference to a senior, but I took it simply as nothing more than the clerk needing to put me through as a senior concession because he didn’t have a disabled option, which has happened on numerous occasions over the years.


As GF asked questions about audio commentary and logistics, I unravelled my white stick in preparation to move off. At this point, the clerk suddenly said “oh, erm, oh, I think we can do it a little cheaper for you madam” – hey presto, the price came down to £57 – strike three for the white stick!


Whilst I was glad that carers do get in free after all, and especially at the resultant £25 saving, I was less happy to realise that until the clerk realised that I was blind, he must have thought that I was over 60 – cheeky git! As GF thought this was hilarious too, I did point out that it didn’t exactly reflect very well on her either.


I can’t comment on the quality of the audio commentary, as we decided instead to rely on the brilliant story telling of the Beefeaters – they really bring the place to life and conjur the most amazing pictures in your mindseye.


On Saturday night, after again being directed towards the disabled entrance, a volunteer called Tessa chased after us.


“Excuse me, I don’t want to make you feel like I’ve specifically singled you out, but I couldn’t help notice your white stick and wondered if you would like to have a go with a commentary handset which is provided specifically for visually impaired spectators?”


As this was the first I had heard of it, I had taken my analogue radio with me in the hope of being able to listen to Radio Five commentary, but as I thought it might be useful for the events which would not be broadcast I took her up on her kind offer. The chap doing the commentary certainly carried out his brief to the letter, presuming of course that his main brief was to describe the kit that the athletes were wearing in great detail, as well as the colour of the javelins that they were throwing!! He seemed to be especially fascinated with the size of the shorts being worn, and the colour of the trainers – those of you who know me well will understand how frustrating I found this …. After all, they’re spikes not trainers!


The best thing with the commentary set though was that it relayed what the stadium announcers were saying, which all too often was muffled by the cheers of the overly excited crowd, so it really did add to my enjoyment of the evening – strike four for the white stick!


I’ve not even mentioned the fact that on every tube journey we went on I was always offered a seat by an incumbent sitter, but perhaps that was because I look like a senior, rather than because I’m blind??!!


However, whilst I returned home thinking how great people are, it did make me think that organisations really do need to do more to publicise what is on offer for visually impaired people. What’s the point of having all this helpful stuff if no-one knows about it?