Where do I start? How quickly priorities and perceptions can change! I was disappointed about withdrawing from the Hampton Court Half Marathon of 15th March even though it was the right and sensible thing to do in view of the Covid 19 pandemic sweeping the world. Three months on, the word “disappointment” seems irrelevant in the light of so much heartache and loss in our communities. The words “Marathon” and “Challenge” on the other hand have taken on a whole new meaning.
“Lockdown” was to bring us problems of social isolation, in common with many other people in the population. Suddenly, we were unable to see our children and grandchildren living in different parts of the country or, even more frustratingly, to visit the ones who live just round the corner! Fear of not doing enough running practice was suddenly replaced by unexpected separation anxiety and a deep concern for the welfare of every member of our family. Agonizingly, we were unable to visit our dear Aunt Lydia, in hospital, in Cornwall, before she died alone. Afterwards, it was so distressing not to be able to attend her funeral and say a proper “good-bye”, a pain shared by so many others in similar situations. Our hearts go out to all those people facing unprecedented challenges during these difficult times.
Our Aunt Lydia loved Spencer and after an initial “stand -off” with her three disdainful cats he would always greet her with great excitement and furious tail wagging. She would have showered him with treats if we had allowed her to! Instead she provided us with a regular supply of towels for drying him after his soggy adventures and also his favourite paw print blanket to languish on when dreaming about those adventures (or maybe the treats he missed out on!)
Thinking about it, Spencer loves meeting most people who show that they like him. Over our 5 years together, Spencer has been responsible for opening up numerous interesting and unexpected conversations with many people we have encountered ,often evoking memories of their own faithful, doggy friends. More locally, in the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch area of Dorset, he has taken part in fundraising events for Guide Dogs at places such as Bournemouth University; quite happy to be the chilled out dog giving the students a chance to de-stress! At other times his gentle manner and patience has allowed nervous children and young folk with learning disabilities to engage with a dog confidently and without fear, perhaps for the first time ever. Inevitably, the recent isolation has impacted on Spencer too, clearly he misses the social interaction but even harder is the change in routine for a working dog who needs to be kept busy and stimulated. How do you explain to a lively “keen – to – go” guide dog that he might be semi – redundant for a while and only go out once a day for a short, restricted walk close to home? Just as well things on that front are now easing. We are running out of ideas on how to keep a large, bored dog amused indoors. You can only play “hide and seek” so many times and stay sane! As for our small back garden, well that was never going to cope with the ravages of a boisterous “stay-at -home” dog .Sadly the so -called “lawn” now more closely resembles the surface of the moon.
Keeping Spencer fit and alert is one thing but keeping his human buddy fit and motivated is another story! Despite all my good intentions back in March it has been a struggle to stay focused on a goal with no specific date in mind, no runs with Cliffe, my inspirational guide and no park runs with all those lovely, kind volunteers. Joe Wicks on Youtube could have been a “ keep fit” alternative but Spencer wasn’t a big fan! Not sure if it was the man himself or my feeble attempts to do star jumps that was the trigger but either way we couldn’t cope with a frenzied dog running round the room barking his head off! Plan “B” was for me to skip or run on the spot in the garage, but with the space now full of junk and the council tips closed, my wife deemed it an unsafe activity for someone with little vision. At least I tried!! Undaunted, I moved on to plan “C”, trying to cram as much energy, vigour and distance as possible into our permitted daily walk. This wasn’t exactly foolproof seeing as Spencer is happy to stride out when he is well motivated but prefers to saunter when he is bored.
This brings me to the next problem. Spencer is a clever, well trained dog but, unsurprisingly, nobody taught him about social distancing and the 2 metre rule! Most people adapted really quickly to this requirement, but it is virtually impossible for a blind person to cope with it. Maybe I had a lucky escape from the initial shock of shelves stripped bare in the supermarkets and battles over loo rolls, but I suddenly realized that almost overnight my independence had gone out of the window. How could I negotiate my way around the shops, even with Spencer, if I couldn’t find where the queue started, where the 2 metre markers were or which way to follow the arrows on the floor? Would any of the harassed and overworked staff be free to help me and would I just get in the way of anxious shoppers who just wanted to grab their items and escape from the shop as quickly as possible? On balance, “stay at home” seemed the only sensible choice: I am lucky, not every blind person would have that option if they lived alone without family support.
Well it’s hard to believe that twelve strange weeks have now passed since the abandoned half -marathon run.
With routines non-existent and diary dates a distant memory we hardly know what day of the week it is sometimes .Who would have thought that the main excitement of the week would be a highly prized delivery slot for supermarket shopping? Thankfully, the lovely weather has been a real blessing too. We are fortunate to live near country lanes and riverside pathways, so daily walks with my wife and Spencer have been a welcome distraction from all the other worries. My wife has described the meadows, radiant with buttercups and daisies; the,soft long grass swaying in the breeze; the delicate pink or white blossom adorning the trees. I can smell fragrant bushes in the hedgerows and hear the baby moorhens cheeping at the river. It has been a daily joy to just stop and listen to an amazing array of birdsong, more striking than we have ever noticed before. The highlight this week was to hear the Cuckoo calling!
As the “ Lockdown” is beginning to ease, dare I start looking forward to running again? Clearly Cliffe and I can’t run together while 2 metres apart so who knows when it will be safe to do so? My muscles are telling me it will take quite a while to get back to full stamina and fitness! Am I “cuckoo” for wanting to persevere with the challenge of running a half marathon? Sometimes I think I am but then I remember the other visually impaired people who may be helped by our efforts and the kind folk who have already sponsored us and that keeps me going.
Thanks Cliffe, for your support and encouragement as my V. I. guide prior to Covid 19. As you once said to me in a previous life, “We don’t do failure do we?”