Friday, 29 June 2018

Yosemite Sam

I thought it’d be nice to interject a few funny antidots. I did say in my last post I didn’t exactly live the life of a normal person with a disability. Here’s an example. This one takes us to the firing range up in Kilbride. The following is unofficial and never happened if anyone asks.

If you recall back in the mid 1990’s I was in the Air Corps. A year after I’d initially lost my sight the lads thought it would be great craic to bring me on annual range practice. They were going anyway so why not bring me. Now you must remember this is the military, so they don’t just let anyone on the range, you must pass a test every year. Off we went to the depot for our annual war week – fitness test, rifle drills, we did other stuff too, but I can’t remember what. Anyways for a day or two you go through all your rifle drills, stripe and assembly and safety drills, then you are tested to see if you are competent enough and safe enough to go on the range. The NCO’s were trying to figure out how I was going to get through all this. The Steyr is not that complicated and the safety checks were second nature anyway. However, some of the little parts were a bit problematic when it came to the stripping and assembly, but I got through it. Sure, in theory you’re meant to be able to do all this blind folded. Forgive the pun.

Well I past the tests much to the amusement of everyone. But the depot NCO’s were like ‘hmm ok, but we know you can’t see through the optical sight’. ‘I can do it, trust me’ I said. Of course, my right eye is a lot worse and that’s the eye you look down the sight. I said, ‘I can use my left eye’, eh no that wasn’t going to work. The rifle isn’t geared for left sighted people although you can get them. Mind you it would have made no difference I can’t imagine my left eye being able to see the target either. And trying to use your peripheral vision doesn’t exactly work either on the range.

Anyway, off we went. For most of the day on the ranges I was put filling magazines under the armourer Sergeant (As this never happened I won’t be putting down his name). I didn’t mind. He was sound, and I felt useful. For those who don’t know what happens on the range, it’s not like here’s a hundred rounds off you go. There are several distances you have to fire from – 100m, 200m, 300m. Then there’s a whole sequence of practices such as ten rounds at 200m. It goes on and on. For me and the Sergeant it was a day of fifty magazines with five rounds, another fifty with twenty, another fifty with twelve. (I can’t remember exactly the sequences or what went into what). While some of the guys were on the range, others were in the butts putting up and down the targets, indicating where the person hit and then putting a patch on the hole. Then everyone swoops around.

After a while I was like ‘um excuse me when’s my turn. I did pass the test’. There was a bit of a discussion amongst the NCO’s. ‘Come on so’. Onto the range I went. But just to make sure I at least fired in the right direction one of the NCO’s stood over me. Needless to say, I could not see the targets at 300m or 200m. But at closer distances I could make out the mountain behind the range and I knew from being there before the white line and the mucky colour was the targets and the earth behind them. At 100m though I could kind of make out the general direction of the targets but not through the sight, which was frustrating. The lads in the butts (the sheltered area underneath where the targets go up and down) were warned I was firing and to take cover. I’m not kidding. They told me after laughing that there was muck flying everywhere in the butts. They said I hit everything but the targets and there were ricochets all over the place. Funny as hell. Every now and then the NCO who was standing over me would tip the rifle up or down. Just to be clear I was pointing it straight and there is a big mountain behind the Kilbride ranges, and no, no sheep were harmed in this exercise. 

Then the NCO’s from the Apprentice School were like ‘Wes come on with us, we have a job for you’. Up to the pistol range we went. “I’ve already filled these magazines so what crappy job am I going to get landed with” I thought. ‘Here you go Wes’ and they handed me a BAP. Pistols are great craic. You get to stand at 50 - 25m if I remember correctly. All rounds hit the target, I swear. I was however standing about 20m from it. The silhouette man that was the target I think got away scot free. The silhouette man beside my target went down big time. I’m not sure who got more fun out of this me or the Apprentice School NCO’s. If you thought some of the guys in my class were wired, you should have met some of our instructors. So that was my impression of Yosemite Sam. Not the first or the last time we got up to antics like this. Remember this never happened if anyone asks. Next time I might tell you about the time the lads gave me driving lessons around Baldonnel. Or there was that other time the drivers from Transport gave me lesson in the Nissan patrol when we were in Ballymullen Barracks in Kerry. I took it too far, apparently starting up the Civil Defence fire engine was not a good idea.

There’s plenty more funny tales to come.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

I'm back

Hi everyone. My apologies for not writing anything for a long time now. No excuses but I have been very busy. I still can’t get over the response to my first few entries - I even featured in the newspaper, thanks to Fiona Alston. I’ve been under pressure for ages to start up the blog again, but I just kept putting it aside. Recently though I was asked by two people on separate occasions how do you cope with losing your sight and visual impairment? They were wondering as someone in both of their families had started to lose their sight; totally different conditions to mine. And in another case a person with mental health problems asked me to start up again too. So, I said to myself if any of my experiences could help someone well then it would be worth continuing with the blog.

Where to begin to answer their question. Well, everyone handles a challenge in their life completely differently to the next person. Being presented with a life changing condition whereby there will be limited or no chance of reversal for the rest of your life is not exactly a time when you want to throw a huge party. Then again, a party sometimes is not the worst idea. It’s always good to have a bit of craic. Career, family, relationships, daily life are all going to change.  ‘It’s not the end of the world’ I explained. It sounds patronizing and a cliché and it’s easy for me to say as I am well used to it by now; but seriously it’s not the end of the world. You’ll just find yourself on a completely different path.

There’s no point in sugar coating it. It is going to suck big time. And some disabilities suck a lot more than others. For instance, there’s a lot worse visual conditions than mine. Not sure I would have been able to handle losing my sight completely or my hearing for that matter. Imagine not being able to listen to music. I suppose the bonuses for someone who is hard of hearing is they can still see. At the very beginning though you have to learn things all over again, Obviously I’m talking about someone in my case who hasn’t had the condition from birth. I’ll talk about all this again in another chapter but things like reading mail, trying to figure out what things are in the supermarket, or trying to figure out where you are when you fly into a strange airport. And do you know how hard it is to jay walk when you can’t see, especially now with these silent hybrid cars.

Over the years I’ve met people who have lost their sight completely and others who have lost their hearing  completely and I ask them how do they cope. They tell you the same thing I’m telling you; they have adapted and gone down a new path in life. It is funny when you have three young men, two can’t see well and one can’t hear, and the topic of conversation is girls. We’re jealous of the guy who can’t hear because he can see girls and catch their eye. We might have disabilities, but we are guys after all.  Now I digress.

Let’s get back to basics. No matter what type of disability you end up with don’t break the daily routine, and if there is something you want to do, just do it no matter how hard. There is no doubt the daily simple things that we all take for granted will be a new challenge and have to be learned all over again when a disability kicks in, but you have to remember the daily chores are the easy challenges and they have to remain as such. You cannot let them become a trial, they must remain daily life, routine and easy. It’s OK to ask for help by the way. Believe it or not the latter is probably one of the hardest challenges you’ll encounter. Nowadays the majority of people don’t mind helping you out - we’ll talk about that again. So, to keep things in perspective and the daily routine remains a non-challenge, every now and then throw in something that is a real challenge. As in hardcore, one that will scare the bejebus out of you.

I recently joined a hiking group. I love the hills, but since I left my old job I wasn’t getting out enough. The guys in the group are great. A few weeks back we went to Zipit over in Tibradden Wood. This is all about climbing in the trees, obstacles in the trees, and buzzing down ziplines. Really cool stuff. For safety you are given a harness and you have to clip on to wire ropes so if you slip you don’t end up on the forest floor. It had been a long time since I’d done any form of abseiling or rock-climbing and I'll admit I was somewhat nervous. Everyone else can look up and see the various courses and up there they can make out the runs ahead, but not me.  I looked at the carabiner with curiosity and tried to figure out how I was going to make out the wire rope or the obstacles. I explained my case to the instructor from Zipit. He said, ‘what’s the problem, we’ve had complete blind people complete the red course (which is the highest and hardest run)’. “I like this guy” I thought to myself.  If a person who can’t see at all can do it then there’s no reason I can’t. He was right. What was the problem -  so up we went. The guys, or I should say three ladies, from my group helped me out. What can I say, perks of having a disability. It’s hard to explain some of the obstacles. For example, one was a wooden bridge. However, the rungs were not linked together, so every time you stood on one it would move. And that was an easy one. And yes, it scared the bejebus out of me, but it was great craic and some adrenaline buzz, especially the long ziplines. And it was rather amusing to see ‘able’ bodied people struggling and crumbling under the pressure of being up so high.

The point is that when you are faced with a disability at the beginning everything is a challenge, even jay walking. When you start doing things that ‘able’ bodied people find difficult, or even go beyond that, the things that seemed a challenge at the beginning are now made to look trivial.

More stories to follow shortly.

Oh yeah go to Zipit and scare the bejebus out of yourself.