The 20 Questions Book Tag

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been wanting to a) participate in more tags and b) become more involved in the Blogosphere. Also, I’d like to share some book reviews with you all at some point in the future when I have more time – perhaps in the summer holidays? Anyway, that’s why I decided to combine all of these things for today’s post: ‘The 20 Questions Book Tag’, which was genuinely so fun to write! Please bear in mind that my opinions are my own, and that I would hate for anyone to be upset or offended just because I’m not a fan of their favourite book or book series; I’m just one human in seven billion, and promise that I mean no harm by anything stated below. I really hope you enjoy this post – please leave a like or comment if you did!

1. How many books is too many books in a series? This is an incredibly difficult one for me to answer; usually, I’m not keen on a story being stretched out across multiple novels (I’d say I get bored after three), but I absolutely adore Harry Potter, which is comprised of seven books (excluding ‘The Cursed Child’), so I’m absolutely open to reading more series – any recommendations?

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers? To be honest, I much prefer a book to have a definite denouement, wherein the reader at least get some closure. That being said, I completely understand how effective they can be, and do appreciate them in certain books.

3. Hardcopy or paperback? eBook…

4. Favourite book? This question is impossible! I adore Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’, Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’ and Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’, but ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Chaucer, ‘Eleanor OLiphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman, ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou and Plath’s ‘Ariel’ are also some of my absolute favourites.

5. Least favourite book? Other than every book ever written by E. L. James, the narrator (Piper Kerman) of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ really gets on my nerves, and sort of ruined the book for me: she comes across as somewhat entitled, and refuses to accept responsibility for her own actions – much like Piper in the Netflix series, right? Side note: THE NEXT SEASON IS IN JULY LADS. MY WIFE ALEX AND I CAN FINALLY BE REUNITED!!!

6. Love triangles, yes or no? I guess, although not if it’s forced. I tend to find love triangles to be trite most of the time, but I’m sure they work for some.

7. The most recent book you just couldn’t finish? I read almost all of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ entirely in Braille, but simply couldn’t reach the end as it was terrible – I’m sure it’s better as a performance, but just as a text it’s not great (poor character development and confusing plot aside, it didn’t seem authentic to me; I didn’t feel as though it was a continuation of the Harry Potter franchise, but a separate entity unto itself).

8. A book you’re currently reading? I’m attempting to reread ‘The Kite Runner’ (which is one of my A Level set texts), but I’m struggling with motivation at the moment and keep procrastinating as I know certain events in it will end up upsetting me more than I’d like them to.

9. Last book you recommended to someone? ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker.

10. Oldest book you’ve read? I believe it’s ‘The Iliad’, which dates back to around 762 B.C.

11. Newest book you’ve read? ‘Autoboyography’ by Christina Lauren, which was originally published on the 12th of September 2017.

12. Favourite author? DON’T DO THIS TO ME I CAN’T POSSIBLY CHOOSE AAAAH!!! Other than those I’ve already mentioned, I really love Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Sappho and Patricia Highsmith.

13. Buying or borrowing books? If you looked at how much of my money is spent on literary paraphernalia, this question would answer itself…

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love? ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen – don’t come for me, I’ve read it four times and still find it insufferably dull. I’m the worst I know!

15. Bookmarks or dog-ears? eBooks…

16. A book you can always reread? Probably Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ anthology. It’s just beautiful, and she was such a strong-willed, independent, iconic and politically motivated woman.

17. Can you read whilst listening to music? Unless it’s an audiobook (doh!) then absolutely – there’s nothing better than settling down in bed, kindly asking Alexa to bust out some hip tunes (DJ Debussy and MC Mendelssohn are my go-tos), and immersing myself in another world. The only issue is that I’m lazy and perpetually exhausted, so I can never be bothered to actually read (Audible is my friend). Someone shout at me until I practise my Braille please!

18. One POV or multiple POVs? I’m a fan of both; I think that it majorly depends on the novel’s context and diegesis, because the latter can sometimes confuse things if it isn’t entirely relevant to the story.

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days? I tend to binge-read: I’ll either read constantly for hours and hours, or go days without picking up a book – there is no in between. I want to work on pacing myself a little more though – do any of you experience this? Do you have any tips?

20. Who do you tag? Elm, Bethany, Kel and Lu.

Thank you always,

Grace

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The TMI Tag

So, I decided on a whim to do ‘The TMI Tag’, the premise of which is that one answers fifty slightly more personal questions, before posting their responses somewhere online. It’s a completely different kind of post for me, and I will warn you that I’m feeling somewhat sarcastic (as well as painfully exhausted) today, so prepare for some strange answers! I hope you enjoy this chattier, more relaxed type of post – let me know if there are any more tags you’d like me to participate in!

1: What are you wearing?

A pair of dungarees (I’m a child I know, but I love them!) and an oversized that-shirt of some description; I can’t actually remember what colour it is – don’t judge me!

2: Ever been in love?

I’d say I have, once. It was beautiful but ephemeral, as the best things often are. The person and I are literally still best friends and I adore them, which makes me so happy. Can I get a ‘HELL YEAH!’ for platonic love?!

3: Ever had a terrible breakup?

I don’t think so – the only real break up I’ve experienced was super amicable so, although it hurt a lot, it was easier to cope with than if we’d have argued/stopped speaking altogether.

4: How tall are you?

3 ft 2, obviously. And by that I mean 5 ft 10. We don’t talk about it.

5: How much do you weigh?

Around fifty-five kilos I think, which is probably ridiculously heavy. I’ll just tell myself it’s because I’m tall and have another biscuit…

6: Any tattoos?

Nahhhhh.

7: Any piercings?

Just the lobes of my ears. I sort of want my nose doing but that’ll literally never happen.

8: OTP?

CAROL AND THERESE DO NOT FIGHT ME ON THIS!!! Or, you know, Helena Bonham Carter and myself. That works too.

9: Favourite Show?

I’d say ‘Orange is the New Black’, but I need to start watching ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ at some point.

10: Favourite bands?

I’m really into ‘First Aid Kit’ at the moment, but I mainly listen to musical soundtracks.

11: Something you miss?

Having any romantic prospects or genuine sources of happiness in my life whatsoever- I mean, um, McDonalds?

12: Favourite song?

This is so difficult! I’d have to say ‘Alabanza’ from ‘In the Heights’ (AKA one of the most incredible musicals ever).

13: How old are you?

I’m seventeen, but eighty-eight if you ask Josh. It’s a loooooong story, trust me.

14: Zodiac sign?

Libra, although I relate a hundredfold more to Virgo – not that I obsessively check the signs’ personality traits (despite not believing in Astrology) as a way of validating the way I’m feeling/acting or anything. Pssssh.

15: Quality you look for in a partner?

Someone who can make me laugh and has some type of drive or future aspiration.

16: Favourite Quote?

‘The soul takes flight to the world that is invisible, but there arriving she is sure of bliss and forever dwells in paradise.’ – Plato.

17: Favourite actor?

Helena Bonham Carter. MARRY ME PLS.

18: Favourite colour?

Blue. It’s the warmest colour, did you know? (Get it? Get it? ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’, mmm? The epitome of over-sexualising lesbianism in cinema. Yeah, that one…)

19: Loud music or soft?

The former if I’m wearing earphones, but the latter if it’s playing on a speaker or out loud somehow.

20: Where do you go when you’re sad?

My duvet-cave. I may or may not spend approximately ninety-seven percent of my free time there.

21: How long does it take you to shower?

About thirty years. Elm wins this one!

22: How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?

Far, far, far too long, especially if I’m wearing make up.

23: Ever been in a physical fight?

Absolutely not! #PacifismForTheWin, lads.

24: Turn on?

Hearing someone speak with passion, but also honesty and affection.

25: Turn off?

Arrogance, lying and bigoted people.

26: The reason I joined WordPress?

I’m not entirely sure. As a hobby, I suppose – I need to get more involved in the community though, everyone’s so amazing!

27: Fears?

Birds and dying alone. You know, the usge.

28: Last thing that made you cry?

Feeling lonely, oops.

29: Last time you said you loved someone?

Earlier today to my one of my best friends and her incredible mum.

30: Meaning behind your Blog Name?

Once you know I’m a blindie it’s pretty obvious. ¡Estoy viviendo sin vista, muchachos!

31: Last book you read?

I just finished re-reading ‘Carol/The Price of Salt’ by Patricia Highsmith.

32: The book you’re currently reading?

‘The Colour Purple’, which is astounding.

33: Last show you watched?

I haven’t watched anything in what feels like forever – I literally can’t remember the last thing I saw on TV or Netflix.

34: Last person you talked to?

Does Alexa count as a person? If so, her (I have no friends help).

35: The relationship between you and the person you last texted?

We’re close friends – she’s the best.

36: Favourite food?

I make this joke far too much but: cake??? Chocolate??? CHOCOLATE CAKE???

37: Place you want to visit?

France, and also anywhere in Spain or South America!

38: Last place you were?

Excluding my bed, the kitchen, and excluding that, the car. My life is exciting – promise!

39: Do you have a crush?

For once in my life, I don’t.

40: Last time you kissed someone?

A week and a half ago at a party, which is hilarious.

41: Last time you were insulted?

About an hour ago when my seven year old step-niece told me I wouldn’t suit a nose piercing… Rude.

42: Favourite flavour of sweet?

Chocolate??? Cake??? Chocolate cake??? I need to stop.

43: What instruments do you play?

None because I am utterly void of talent!

44: Favourite piece of jewellery?

Probably my late grandmother’s opal ring.

45: Last sport you played?

Sp- Spo- Sport? What’s that? Who is she?

46: Last song you sang?

OUR LOVE IS GOOOOOOOOODDDDD!!!

47: Favourite chat up line?

Hi. Just so you know, I’m not a snack, I’m the whole damn meal.

48: Have you ever used it?

Absolutely never!!! I hate myself just for writing it down to be honest…

49: Last time you hung out with anyone?

Today, when I visited my friend and her family for a few hours.

50: Who should answer these questions next?

Anyone who wants to and has the time – it’s actually pretty fun!

Thank you always,

Grace

A Lil Creative Thing I Did

Grain upon grain sifting through her splayed fingers, momentarily made buoyant by the breeze before stooping to kiss the ground, spreading out, covering every inch in sight with their affection. She watches them, transfixed. They are ballet dancers, gymnasts, trampolinists; one moment they rise en pointe, only to fall mid-full-in the next, effortlessly sticking their landing on an elastic bed pulled taught by spring and seaweed. In them, she sees little-her: running, giggling, with crinkle-cornered eyes and pointed tongue. She sees lavender, lilac, Lily; she sees colour, comfort, calm; she sees embrace, entity, epitaph – this does not sadden her. It lifts her, carries her, keeps her breathing. She is okay again. With a handful of sand and the world at her feet, she is okay again.

///

The rise, the fall, the vacant sway. The leap, the crash, the bellowed roar. Stasis in azure or tumble in current – he is never quite sure which to expect. This doesn’t bother him; he is at one with the tide, a boy made entirely of whale song and salt.

Today, the ocean swells to kiss his calves, the waves clamour for his attention and the ground underfoot instantly fades away into nothingness – he is floating, embracing the lullaby of blue and silence. Eyelids flutter shut, their whispering lashes curving gracefully – they arc and he weakens, allowing himself to play boat and them, passengers.

After all this time, he is home.

///

Thank you always,

Grace

So, I Re-Read the Harry Potters…

When the Greek words ‘nostos’ (return home) and ‘algos’ (pain) have a baby, and the German noun ‘heimweh’ is appointed as Godfather, what is the end result? Nostalgia, of course! So, what is the relationship between this Latin love-child of mixed descent and the ‘Harry Potter’ book series? Well, I suppose that’s what I’m going to explore in this post, although I can’t guarantee that it’ll be entirely coherent (I read seven books in just as many days and my head remains full to the brim of Quidditch and Hogwarts, give me a break!).

 

I’m not sure exactly how old I was when I came across Rowling’s magical masterpieces, but I know that I was definitely still in primary school, and that – thanks to my movie-obsessed sister – I’ve seen each of the films at least thrice. I can’t help but reminisce when I think of the books, though; I immersed myself completely in Harry’s world, idolising Hermione and abhorring Voldemort in equal measure. I would curl up on the sofa, novel in hand, and read until my eyes burned. I miss picking up a copy of ‘The Order of the Phoenix’ or ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ from the side table or the arm of a chair, getting comfortable (this process usually involved sitting in a number of precarious positions and cushioning my head with a pillow), and simply reading. I miss the smell of pages, the sound they make when turned, I miss pouring over strange neologisms such as ‘Azkaban’, ‘bludger’ and, perhaps most importantly, ‘skrewt’, and I miss doodling in the margins, sketching outlines of lions and lightning scars, broomsticks and Basilisks. In short, I miss childhood, my initial, far-from-critical reading of the books, and the musty, inviting quality of the printed page. I absolutely detested mealtimes, because it meant ripping me from my sanctuary, my vicarious paradise. I would dream of flying alongside Harry, snatching the Snitch from under his nose just as he noticed it, of comparing O.W.L. results with Hermione and of swapping chocolate frog cards with Ron. I also imagined the terror, confusion and loss of the second Wizarding War, and even wrote a creative piece of my own about a battle which took place in the Forbidden Forest and ended in Voldemort’s demise (this was before I’d read ‘The Deathly Hallows’ – I was about nine at the time, and it was shown to my mum on Parents’ Evening, which almost made me faint with glee).

 

Whenever the world around me seemed overwhelming and scary and downright uninhabitable, Hogwarts was my safe haven, my fictional security guard: I would become lost inside my head, chatting to moving portraits and cursing the ever-changing stairs; I wasn’t drinking apple juice, but Butterbeer, and I didn’t just have a pet owl, but a cat and a toad as well, all of whom shared my secrets, my likes and dislikes, my fears, my hopes and dreams – I’ve always had a knack for daydreaming, and even now allow myself to become consumed with a storyline, overthrown by a diegesis. As a child, I needed an escape, and – although I also systematically devoured anything written by Jacqueline Wilson, Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl – J. K. Rowling was the one who provided me with this outlet, this world in which to liberate myself and my thoughts. Unlike the aforementioned authors, Rowling created an entirely new universe from scratch, meaning that I was able to run somewhere totally, novelly (that was an unintended pun, but I’m proud of it nonetheless) different whenever I so desired. Now, I can recognise Hermione’s feminism, the parallels between house elves and minority groups, and Snape’s bewildering, mercurial personality which acts as a catalyst through which Rowling can express the multiplicity of human character, but then, all that mattered was the obvious, the explicit. Sometimes, I long to experience that beautiful, natural naivety once more, but no one can turn back time (other than Harry and Hermione in ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’, that is).

 

Upon re-reading, the series seems far more political, and it’s clear that Rowling herself alters her writing style (albeit subtly) throughout the course of the publications: the language becomes slightly more complex, some of the concepts more nuanced, and the dialogue flows with increasing ease between characters. Rowling’s ability to describe scenery, to balance didacticism and overt expression and, of course, her unchallenged, idiosyncratic plot twists remain steadfast throughout the series, however, meaning that Harry Potter, his friends, family and schoolmates never lose their wonderful authenticity and constant character development as they age. I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed delving into the whimsical world of wizardry once more, and not solely because of the plot, but because of the personal memories it evoked. And that, I suppose, is the link between Harry Potter and nostalgia – one of them induces the other almost accidentally. So although my favourite characters are now Snape and Dobby as opposed to Hermione and Dumbledore, and despite the fact that I can now see flaws in every single character, even Harry, whereas I point blank refused to seven or eight years ago, I have never felt closer to my younger self. If I could, I’d give her a hug and say, “You’re going to be okay. Keep that imagination, nurture it, and you’ll be fine. You never know, maybe at some point in the future you’ll re-read the whole series and someone will ask, ‘After all this time?’ and you’ll respond with, ‘Always’.”

 

Do you like Harry Potter? If so, who’s your favourite character? I’d love to hear about your take on things – especially whether or not you consider the events in ‘The Cursed Child’ to be canon, which I know is a controversial topic! Have any of you approached these texts from a particular standpoint – marxist, feminist, psychological etc.? I feel as though there are a million and one ways in which we can critique these novels, and perhaps limiting ourselves to one in particular is doing a disservice to the author. I don’t know; I’m essentially just an enormous, unabashed fangirl! Either way – whether you love or hate Harry Potter, if you roll your eyes at the notion of ‘nostalgia’ or revel in it on a daily basis – I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you’ll leave me a comment below or even send me a quick email with some feedback attached.

 

Thank you always,

Grace

I’m Blind, But I-

Am:
Creative. Determined. A day-dreamer, distracted. Sociable, excitable. A dad-joke-extraordinaire. Stressed. Tired. Hopeful. Desperate to learn, to know, to understand. Growing, changing. A bookworm. Myself.

Enjoy:
Fashion, make up, reading and writing. Chatting with friends. Junk food. Travelling alone on trains (always an eminently therapeutic experience, I assure you). Watching films. Trampolining. Hugs!

Dislike:
Stereotypes, assumptions, deliberate and persistent ignorance. Exams. Eating meat/meat based products. Racism, sexism, bi/trans/homophobia, bi-erasure, non-binary-erasure, misogyny, disability discrimination.

Love:
My family and friends. The people who work with me at school or have done in the past (teachers, support staff). Chocolate. Cake. Chocolate cake. Tea, teapots, mugs. People who make me laugh, bring me up. Giving presents. Others’ birthdays.  Thoughtfulness.

 

Thank you always,

Grace

My Experience (CUSU Shadowing Scheme 2017)

At some point in the latter half of last year – I can’t remember for the life of me exactly when – I stumbled upon what seemed to be an exciting opportunity; the Cambridge University Shadowing Scheme looked interesting, challenging and incredibly enlightening, so I applied, asking teachers to write references and my mum to fill in the consent form along the way. A few weeks later I discovered that I had been offered a place, and could barely contain my joy! That being said, though, the nerves definitely began to kick in – I realised that I’d be in a completely strange city with potentially no support, and this petrified me. My lovely QTVI (Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired), however, saw that I was having… Reservations, shall we say, and so called the University Students’ Union (as these were the people who organised the event) herself. I will point out that I had attempted to call using the number given on every email multiple times, but was never answered or given a call back even after leaving at least one message. Anyway, J (we’ll call her that from now on!) spent a good while talking to the people running the scheme, explaining the adaptations I’d need and asking if school or my local authority would be required to send someone down with me for the duration of my visit, to which they confidently assured her that no external support would be required. In accordance with her advice, they told J that I would have two mentors as opposed to one (what with guiding, providing descriptions and assisting slightly at mealtimes/social events, it may have been a little too intense for one person who has never met a blindie before!), my mentors would both be sighted guide trained, there would be someone to do some familiarisation work around the college with me when I arrived, I would be met at the train station and any work would be sent to me in an accessible format. Absolutely none of these stipulations were actualised.

The university had J’s contact details, and said that they would, of course, not hesitate to contact her if they needed anything (she never heard another word from them). Four or five days before the event, my mum was called by the university, which was not only ridiculously patronising but also ineffective as I had been making the arrangements independently (this is how I’d needed it to be: I wanted to show that I could arrange something massive if I felt so inclined; I wanted to prove that I was autonomous and able enough to do something completely out of my comfort zone without my mum’s help!) and so my mum, who thought – as I did – that all the arrangements were sorted, didn’t have any qualms or queries (of course she was nervous for me, incredibly so, but she had no specific questions). So, a couple of days proceeding that phone call, I rang them to double-check the arrangements for my stay. Nobody answered, and so I left a message. Instead of calling me back – you guessed it – they rang my mum, who didn’t even know that I’d called them in the first place (for the reasons stated above). This infuriated me beyond belief – did they not think me capable to talk on my own behalf? If it wasn’t appropriate to contact someone of my age over the phone without an adult present, they could have emailed me just as easily. By this point, they had sent my lecture notes and timetable to me as completely inaccessible, image-based PDFs, and so this – coupled with their increasingly patronising and avoidant behaviour – had me doubting whether or not it was a good idea to partake in the scheme at all. After the VI unit spent hours changing my notes into .docx documents, I was informed that the lectures would no longer be taking place. Forgive me, but isn’t this supposed to be the fifth best university in the world?!

Still under the illusion that everything would be fine once I arrived, we decided that someone – we’ll call her C – would travel down on the train with me and get me settled, so to speak. Although C is sighted guide trained, she only had the opportunity to do a brief refresher and quickly look over some familiarisation training resources with my habilitation specialist a few days before we set off. Not that this was a problem, of course, because Cambridge would cover the familiarisation side of things, and C would be leaving me in eminently capable hands… Right? Wrong. We arrived after a relatively painless train journey, and I was incredibly nervous. This is where their first assurance fells flat: they had said that I’d be met from my train in the station, which – quelle surprise at this point, honestly – I wasn’t. Luckily, I had C with me but, if I didn’t, as was almost the case given their insistence that being accompanied was unnecessary, I’d have been completely lost. There were some really lovely students waiting in the station, holding up a board with the scheme’s title emblazoned across it, but how useful would that have been to a solo blind traveller?! You tell me, Cambridge. Then, after over an hour of waiting, we hopped into a taxi and travelled to Emmanuel College, where our welcome talk was to take place. Other than waiting for over half an hour for the talk to start, meaning that C and I didn’t have a lot of time to sort things out due to her return train time, we were told that my mentor wouldn’t arrive until 04.00pm (this genuinely wasn’t her fault at all though), about twenty minutes before C had to leave, which set alarm bells ringing in my head.

After C was spoken to instead of me multiple times, it was clear that the university itself had appalling disability awareness, and when we were shown to my room we were shocked when we were left alone, with no one to provide familiarisation training as had been promised. As soon as the door closed, I broke down in sobs as I had just realised that I was in a city I didn’t know with people I didn’t know, and I couldn’t see any of it. I’ve never felt more vulnerable because of my disability in my entire life. Once I’d calmed myself down a little, C showed me my room and bathroom, which was communal. That’s right, because they assumed – without asking! – that I needed a first floor room (blind people can’t walk upstairs, didn’t you know?!), they shoved me somewhere with a communal bathroom, when there were many other students in ensuite rooms on higher floors. The problem with a communal bathroom is that people’s products were strewn all across the bottom of the shower, there was water on the floor (slipping hazard) and can you imagine if someone had left a razor out?! When I showered in subsequent days, I was ridiculously anxious and careful, not wanting to be hurt or even to accidentally pick up something that wasn’t mine if the bottles looked the same.

Back to the first day, I met M, my mentor, who was absolutely lovely. C gave her a whistle-stop sighted guide lesson because, you’ll never guess, she hadn’t been trained at all! Not only that, but M was my only mentor – where was the second?! Anyway, M and I went for coffee, which is where C left us, and we ended up having a fantastic conversation (if I’m honest, she wass the only redeeming factor to this entire experience) and really bonding over literature. I should mention that M is an English student, which was the course I chose to shadow, and so a plethora of nerdy, bookish chats ensued. After our drink, M guided me back to my room and we both studied for a while. Except, well, I didn’t study, I cried. None of the other shadows had talked to me during the welcome talk, precisely zero of the accessibility measures agreed upon had been put in place and I only knew how to navigate between my room and the bathroom. I was isolated and afraid, but managed to stop crying a little before M came to collect me for formal, which was a huge fancy dinner held in Trinity College. Unfortunately, M had not been trained in this area either (again, all responsibility falls on the university here), so I felt incredibly uncomfortable and didn’t eat (after all, I didn’t have much of an idea what was on my plate!). Before we had gone in to Trinity for the formal, someone had spoken to me (I’m still in touch with them, which is fantastic), but throughout dinner no other shadows talked to me (M did, of course, but I found the echoey hall incredibly disorientating and struggled to locate the voices I could hear in order to join a conversation – I tried once or twice, but to no avail) which made me feel incredibly ostracised and even abnormal, as though I had some sort of contagious disease or something! We returned to our rooms and M was concerned that I would be hungry so – without telling me first, as I’d have definitely stopped her! – she picked me up some snacks from a local shop and brought them to my room, which was insanely kind of her.

Other than meeting M’s boyfriend, who was really, really nice also, and having a chat/getting a picture with Ibz Mo, the next few days passed in a bit of a blur; chatting to M was great of course, and I managed to speak to a few other students who were fantastic too, but I felt so isolated, so disorientated and so vulnerable that every time I’d make it back to my room I’d burst into tears, and wouldn’t be able to think about anything other than my sight loss. When my mum, grandad and auntie picked me up, I was insanely relieved, although saying goodbye to M was sad. I had been left alone in a busy lecture hall all morning, where everyone else was conversing and chatting loudly – I had no one to ask to show me where the bathroom was, to help me find my friend or to describe the powerpoint slides to me. In short, it was a terrible end to a terrible few days, and I was elated to finally leave, especially when leaving meant eating a full pizza to myself and drinking more diet coke and hot chocolate than formerly thought possible…

On a serious note, I am absolutely disgusted with Cambridge University and the absolute lack of provisions it made, despite it being disclosed from the start that I couldn’t (well, can’t) see. I’m angry, I’m upset, and I’m now questioning my entire academic future, which is making A Levels crazily difficult (I can’t go to university if it’s like that – I won’t survive. Why am I studying, then, if I’m not going to go to university? I might as well just not do that homework, etc., etc.). This post isn’t perfect; it’s worded badly, it’s confused and scattered, but it’s raw and furious and sad, and I’m not going to change it because of that. Cambridge, why was my experience so terrible? What are you going to do to improve your disability awareness? Will you, the next time a blind person attends one of your schemes, not lie and promise things that will never come to fruition? Will you provide training for mentors? Will you provide mentors, or will it still just be one? Will you leave future students in turmoil after their stay with you? I hope not. I hope that you provide the Students’ Union with far more support in the future, and I hope that you treat your disabled students as respectfully as you treat your able ones.

M, however, if you’re reading this then I want you to know that you were absolutely amazing – keep being you, regardless of anything else, keep being you! I’d also like to thank C and J for the time they spent both preparing resources and assisting me with anything I needed; you both know how much I appreciate you and I can confidently say that you, along with M, were the best things about the trip, even if you weren’t there in person!

My experience in Cambridge has shown me exactly why visually impaired university applicants are at an all time low, and, therefore, why it is so difficult for us to find jobs – so many careers require degree-level (or equivalent) education, and how are we supposed to access that if universities put precisely zero accessibility measures in place? According to this article, 66% of visually impaired people in the UK are unemployed, and why? Can it be attributed to the lack of disability awareness in both places of education and work environments? Should we be expecting more from these institutions? I think so. I’d be more than interested to hear your thoughts on the matter; I feel as though my experience in Cambridge has enlightened me to a myriad of previously unknown (or unrealised) truths about leaving home to study, but also about the difficulties disabled people face in receiving equal levels of education as their able counterparts. Education generates job opportunities, opens up career paths and allows one to be more selective about their profession, therefore enabling students to be truly passionate about their work and, hence, facilitating people’s lifelong autonomy and happiness. As visually impaired people, we shouldn’t have to fight for the right to equal educational opportunities. Yet, sometimes we are forced to. So let’s fight, let’s open up the discussion, and let’s improve awareness and accessibility in all aspects of our lives.

Thank you always,
Grace

Should I Be Proud of my Disability?

In many minority groups, such as the BME, and LGBTQ+ communities, there is a strong sense of pride (which, I hasten to add, is absolutely justified); the notion of people reclaiming their oppression and using it for good is – of course – irrefutably excellent, and this post isn’t meant to bash the closeness of these communities, but to question why this isn’t the case in one particular minority group: disabled people as a collective. I don’t know about you lovely lot, but I frequently feel awkward or even ashamed of my blindness, despite the fact that it’s absolutely not my fault! I find myself scratching the back of my neck uncomfortably before asking what a picture is of, or standing, confounded and disorientated, in the middle of a room for a ridiculously long time before requesting directions or a guide for the next couple of minutes. These occurrences and other seemingly irrelevant minutiae have caused me to ask myself and those around me a couple of incredibly important, to me, at least, questions: should I be proud of my disability? And, regardless of the answer, would I stop feeling like an imposter in my own body if there were disability pride events held annually?

As for the former musing (we’ll call them ‘musings’ because ‘crises’ sounds far too dramatic…), I’ve been mulling it over for a considerable amount of time now, and I’ve almost-concluded that ‘pride’ is the wrong word for it. I suppose that I could be proud of the way in which I handled sight loss, or any special achievements I’ve had, particularly in the past three years, but I definitely am not proud to be blind. That begs another question – why don’t I feel proud of something that I can’t help, but other minorities can? Again, I’ll just reiterate that absolutely everyone should be proud of themselves, and I’m not angry in the slightest, more curious. Disabled people have been oppressed for centuries, locked up, cast out and even killed, and the fight isn’t over yet. Similarly, LGBTQ+ people have been and are still fighting the raging war on inequality, and nobody chooses or decides on a sexuality, making it as innate as my blindness (although they’re too very different things, of course), yet the vast majority of non-straight/non-gender conforming/trans people are proud of their idiosyncrasies, their journey and their sexuality/gender, and rightly so! I’m a little envious, I’ll be honest; be it through the media or certain people I’ve encountered, I find myself frequently wishing to dissociate myself from my own visual impairment, as well as the community as a whole. Why is this? I have no answers, honestly. My only thought is that disability is still very much a taboo in society, whereas – slowly but surely – people seem to be becoming slightly more accepting of all ages/genders/races/sexualities. I could be completely, wildly incorrect – my head’s a little fried from thinking about it so much to be honest, which is why I’m writing this now: I want your advice/opinions!

Moving onto the latter ‘musing’ (excellent word if you ask me!), I’m not entirely sure. You see, there are VI groups on Facebook and such which I love, but the interactions between people are purely electronic, and very rarely progress to face-to-face chats. Also, I’d love for the various sub-sections of the disability community to interact more – I, for one, would love to meet more people with physical, mental and learning disabilities, and to educate myself on the appropriate terminology to use as well as the various challenges they face on a daily basis. The thing is, there aren’t really any social media groups or chats for people of all disabilities, meaning that our community appears divided and segregated – at least to me. Would pride events help bring some cohesion into our not-so-little group, or would it simply not be possible? How could we ensure entire accessibility when organising it? should there be multiple locations or just one? would it make a difference at all? What do you think?

As you can probably tell, I’m super confused and caught up in this topic, and I have precisely zero answers. So, if you could, help me out! Let’s start the conversation here – let’s educate one another and perhaps even arrive at a conclusion together. How does that sound?

Thank you always,
Grace

My Top Cruelty Free Product Picks!

As you may or may not know, I’m a vegetarian and completely cruelty free; this means that I only use cosmetics, skincare products and other toiletries that haven’t been tested on animals. I wanted to compile a list of all of my favourite products (with one expensive and one slightly less pricey option available in most of the categories), because it can be incredibly difficult to know what is and what isn’t cruelty free, what with brands sidestepping questions and claiming not to test on animals ‘unless required by law’, meaning that they do, in fact, test on animals! It’s a personal pet hate, but on with the list…

Skincare

Face Wash:

This is definitely the either the Superdrug Naturally Radiant Hot Cloth Cleanser or Liz Earle’s Cleanse and Polish.

Toner:

Superdrug strikes again with their Naturally Radiant Glycolic Toner, and the Pixi Holiday Glow Toner is fantastic also!

Facial Oil:

It’s a hat-trick for Superdrug – their Vitamin E Skin Oil is just fantastic, as is a product from Manuka Doctor, the 24K Gold & Manuka Honey Face Oil.

Face Moisturiser:

Okay, okay, I’m sick of Superdrug too, but their skincare is undeniably fantastic! The Vitamin E SPF15 Moisturising Cream is one of my favourites, but sadly doesn’t quite measure up to the Tony Moly Magic Food Banana Sleeping Mask.

Lip balm:

This one’s easy-peasy: Boots Essentials Lip Salve Spearmint is both hydrating and refreshing, whilst LUSH’s Honey Trap Lip Nectar is my favourite balm of all time – it’s intense, sweet smelling and light on the lips (plus, it tastes great… Oops!).

Eye Cream:

Aaaand we’re back to Superdrug! Their Vitamin E Eye Cream is fantastic, as well as the absolutely adorable Panda’s Dream So Cool Eye Cream from Tony Moly.

Body Care

Body Wash:

I promise I’ll stop promoting Superdrug so much, but I adore the scent of their Fruity Berries Shower Gel, although I have to say I prefer the slightly more nourishing qualities of Soap and Glory’s Clean on Me.

Body Moisturiser:

This one is incredibly difficult, as I love and use so many! However, I think the winners have to be the Boots Essentials Body Lotion Cocoa Butter and Vitamin E and – my personal favourite – The Righteous Butter from Soap and Glory, with a little shoutout to The Body Shop for their amazing range of body butters (I know I said only two, but I just can’t help myself!).

Hand Cream:

Simple – the Superdrug Hand Cream 2 in 1 and The Body Shop’s Vanilla Chai Hand Cream.

Haircare

Shampoo:

If I’m honest, most of this section is Superdrug, too, as I’ve not really been CF long enough to try any higher-end hair products. So, that being said, this amazingly-scented shampoo is definitely my favourite.

Conditioner:

… And here is the matching conditioner!

Hair Serum:

After using Frizz Ease for forever, I struggled to find something which tamed my messy mane of hair, but I’ve recently discovered the Style Expertise Anti Frizz Serum, and I’m hooked!

Hair Mask:

As someone with naturally fine hair which breaks easily, I had issues with growth and thickening until I tried the Lee Stafford Hair Growth Treatment, which I have recently repurchased in abundance (there are three tubs sitting in my drawer at the moment… Oops)!

Heat Protectant:

I was surprised to discover that the GHD Heat Protectant Spray – along with their entire collection of haircare products – is cruelty free, and, so far, I’m really happy with it, and would definitely recommend!

Make Up

Face Primer:

Instablur from The Body Shop is truly my favourite primer of all time, as it blurs imperfections, allows product to adhere to the skin and keeps everything in place for hours, yet I usually use it in conjunction with the NYX Honey Dew Me Up primer for a slightly healthier and more natural finish.

Eye Primer:

NYX’s Proof It! Eye primer is a cheaper, cruelty free dupe for the NARS (who have only just started animal testing) Pro Prime eye primer, and I absolutely adore it!

Concealer:

The Collection Lasting Perfection concealer is unequivocally the most fantastic concealer of all time – with a full-coverage finish and a ridiculously long wear-time, it was, is and probably always will be my go to. If you don’t live in England, however, the Tarte Shape Tape and Catrice Liquid Camouflage are great alternatives (although the latter is in serious need of a more inclusive shade range – it’s completely unacceptable for a brand to solely cater for light skinned people).

Foundation:

My current obsession is the NYX Total Control Drop foundation, but I’m also a massive fan of the No. 7 Lift and Illuminate foundation for when I’m doing a more natural look.

Powder:

I was surprised to find that the MUA Pro Base Prime and Conceal powder worked as well as it did for me, although I do prefer the e.l.f Translucent Mattifying powder powder for around my nose!

Bronzer:

Not only does the NYX Highlight and Contour Pro Palette have some amazing sculpting powders, but it also has the perfect warm-toned bronze shade for me, and I think that it’s more than worth the price!

Blush:

This is easy-peasy: the Sleek blushes are absolutely wonderful, with my personal favourite shades being ‘Life’s a Peach’, ‘Rose Gold’ (this is an excellent dupe for ‘Orgasm’ from NARS) and ‘Flushed’. If you’d prefer a cream blush, however, the NYX ones are brilliant, with the shade ‘Pinxie Dust‘ from the Bright Idea Illuminating Stick range being my go-to.

Highlight:

Once again, this is simple: the Sleek Solstice highlighting palette, the NYX Born To Glow Liquid Illuminator and, of course, theBalm’s Mary-Lou Manizer all have phenomenally pigmented and blendable formulas which I use without hesitation every single time I decide to do my make up.

Eyeshadow Palette:

My favourite palette of all time is Too Faced’s Chocolate Bar, but I also absolutely adore my Morphe 35T, Urban Decay’s Ultimate Basics and the NYX Ultimate Brights Shadow palette.

Mascara

I absolutely adore the Soap and Glory Thick and Fast mascara – it fills the void left behind by my Maybelline Lash Sensational!

Lip Products:

Not only do I adore the Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Pucker glosses, but their range of matte lipsticks is just incredible! I do also love NYX lipliners and their Liquid Lingerie range.

Fragrance

Perfume:

This is very much a personal thing, but I can’t get enough of Mugler’s Alien, Define from Next, Amazing Grace from Philosophy and The Body Shop’s Red Musk.

Body Spray:

Scents either from Soap and Glory or The Body Shop are my favourites – I simply can’t choose!

Aaaaand, drum roll please… We’re finished! I haven’t included things such as toothpaste and feminine hygiene products, as most of the less advertised items (e.g. Tesco’s or Superdrug’s own brand) are not only cruelty free, but cheap and accessible also – just remember that brands such as Always and Colgate are not bunny-friendly when doing your next supermarket shop, and you’ll be fine!

I hope that you found this post useful, and – if you’d be interested – I can write a post explaining exactly why I decided to a) stop eating meat/gelatine etc. and b) clear out my not-so-friendly collection of cosmetics!

Thank you always,

Grace

A Little Poem

I wrote this poem because it’s okay to be angry and upset about your disability (or any challenges you may face throughout the course of your life) sometimes, and there is absolutely no shame in admitting that you’re finding it difficult to cope. Although I’m not at all in the same mindset as I was when I wrote this, I think that it’s incredibly important to share as much about my experiences with sight loss as possible, even if only to find one other person who relates. If I’m honest, sharing my poetry leaves me feeling extremely vulnerable and exposed, but I was advised by someone who I really trust to start sharing some of it on here, as and when I feel able to.

Regarding this particular piece, I wanted to mention my reasons for comparing blindness with the speedy departure of a partner; of course, both are extremely intimate losses, and are bound to have enormous emotional impacts on the person(s) involved, but this isn’t the only reason I chose this… Analogy, if you like. I felt that the poem would not only be more relatable, but that it would allow sighted people to empathise more easily with sight loss, without accidentally patronising or misjudging those affected by it. Perhaps it works, perhaps it doesn’t – let me know either in the comments or by emailing me using this contact form.

A Premature Loss

I lost my sight like a lonely soul loses a fleeting lover –

It, The Transient,

danced with me, flirted with the notion of perpetuity,

and then left in the morning without so much as a

goodbye kiss.

It didn’t warn me, didn’t leave a phone number I could call when the

dark nights returned;

I consented to Its kiss but not Its departure,

why is that so hard for It

to understand?

I sit on the bed where we were last,

cupping my face just like It did – my hands are

too cold, too rough,

they don’t offer the same kind of inexplicable

security that It did.

We only spent the night together but my body feels

hard done by,

almost as if it is entitled to more, almost as if it fell for a vagrant overnight.

I spend my days trying to reclaim the scent It left behind

on my pillowcases, but

It hadn’t even stayed long enough to scatter

parts of itself about me.

I don’t dance with transients anymore,

I don’t dance with anyone.

Thank you always,

Grace

Education and I

For all of us, education is a tumultuous, idiosyncratic journey; from the age of three until turning sixteen, we study for around six hours a day, five days a week, discounting any additional revision or extracurricular activities we may participate in. Then, we may choose to go on to either college or sixth form after our GCSEs to study A Levels or perhaps a vocational course such as a BTEC or an NVQ. I can’t comment on higher education processes as I’m currently only in Year Twelve, and therefore have little to no authority on the subject.

I decided at the end of last year to take English Literature, Psychology and Spanish as my A Levels, and to stay on at my high school’s sixth form for the sake of practicality and ease. I definitely don’t regret my decision, and I’m lucky enough to have an amazing group of friends and teachers who support me in every way they can. If you didn’t know, I’m blind, and so tend to need a couple of adjustments in order to be able to properly access my subjects and achieve my full potential. In the past, the extra assistance that teachers give me when I need it, alongside the advanced technology I am lucky enough to receive from my local authority, has caused some people to feel irritated or angry, which is understandable I suppose. However, I must stress that I – and every other blind person out there! – love being independent and will very rarely, if ever, ask for help from a teacher in the lesson; personally, I would prefer to catch up after school as opposed to monopolising the subject specialist!

So, you have an idea of where I am now, but it hasn’t always worked in the same way as it currently does for me. As a young child with partial sight, my mum fought for me to be given a statement, which is a legally binding document providing me with things such as additional funding, a support assistant and reformatted work. Throughout my primary school years, other than my eyes becoming easily fatigued and itchy, my vision was fairly stable, allowing me to access lessons as a print user. I used things such as dome and bar magnifiers, enlarged worksheets and a huge device called a CCTV which had a TV-esque screen and projected any piece of paper that you slid under it onto the aforementioned screen as a magnified image, to learn alongside my classmates. It was suggested that I learn Braille and how to use a long cane, but I ardently despised being different from my peers as it was, and totally refused, claiming that the fact that I could read size eighteen print proved that I was essentially fully sighted. Eventually, after acknowledging that my lack of peripheral, depth and distance vision was severe enough to warrant one, I trained with a symbol cane, which is smaller than the typical white cane and is used to show others that you are visually impaired, before learning how to use a long cane during my transition up to high school.

Until my sight began to deteriorate in Year Eight and Nine, I continued to access lessons in this way, albeit with worksheets that were reformatted far better than in primary school, and without the embarrassingly clunky CCTV by my side! Steadily, the print became larger and my ability to read was increasingly impacted by my rapidly disappearing vision. Before I knew it, I was unable to read my own writing, or indeed anyone’s handwriting. Within a short period of time, this had extended to printed type and even bright colours. Now, save for a little light perception (if you shone a torch directly into my right eye I would be able to detect it), I have absolutely no vision. I don’t want to delve into the emotional impact of my sight deterioration, but I will say that it lead to me becoming complacent in lessons, especially as I was using a reader-scribe.

All too often, blind children and adolescents are given a support assistant, aren’t taught Braille or how to use technology, and are expected to manage using their one-to-one support as a reader and scribe, because somebody else reading and writing for you is just the same as actually doing it for yourself, right? Wrong. In actuality, when a student isn’t actively participating in tasks (and you’re not unless you’re doing the note taking, I assure you!) they become disinterested and almost desultory; they ask their support to please write down what the teacher is saying, thereby leaving their mind free to wonder, most likely resulting in them staring off into space and not engaging with the class. We need to encourage Braille literacy, but – as that simply isn’t a viable option for some pupils, and even if it is – we also need to familiarise them with speech synthesis software and other assistive technology from a young age. From iPads to laptops and Braille notetakers, technology for blind and visually impaired people is indeed an esoteric field, but it shouldn’t be! I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic QTVI with an extensive knowledge of all things both blind and techie, but not everybody has that luxury. Schools should be taught, support staff and teachers should be proficient and the student in question should be able to receive educationally beneficial lessons from being as young as possible in technologically pertinent matters.

It seems that digression is a bad habit of mine, so let’s get ourselves back on track, shall we?! As I was saying, I couldn’t read Braille and so was entirely reliant on my support assistant, but I was also learning how to touch type in my free time, and had been briefly introduced to certain letters in the Braille alphabet. Luckily, I had the most amazing teachers in Year Nine and Ten; I had the same English teacher from Year Nine to Year Eleven, and she was simply phenomenal! My Maths teachers for my final three years at school were also brilliant; my Year Nine teacher was extremely innovative and would constantly create new tactile strategies which allowed me to access most of her lessons, and the teacher I had for the other two years – along with a one-to-one Maths teacher who was also fantastic – was wonderful! She bought things with her own money that she thought would help me, and was always willing to give up her time so that we could go through my homework together. My Biology teacher in Year Nine, my Year Eleven Chemistry teacher and my Year Ten Spanish teacher were also fabulous – I’m absolutely grateful to every member of staff who I’ve worked with over the years, but these few teachers constantly went above and beyond, simply so that I could do well in my GCSEs, and I just had to mention them.

After muddling through Year Nine, I got a new QTVI (Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired) who came into school every Thursday in Year Ten and taught me how to read Braille and interpret tactile diagrams as well as supporting me in certain Science lessons. Just before Year Eleven, another QTVI (my current one) came to work with me, increasing my finger sensitivity to enable more fluent Braille reading and graph interpreting, as well as teaching me how to use a Braille notetaker. Both women – let’s call the former Annie and the latter Maria – worked with me throughout Year Eleven, with Annie working with me in all of my Science lessons and Maria working with me in Maths, as well as both of them spending free periods teaching me general-blindie-things and going over anything I’d missed in the preceding two years. I couldn’t have completed my final year without their help, and I am so indebted to both of them! They are inspirational, hilarious, supportive people who not only supported me academically, but enabled me to grow emotionally and viscerally – something I never thought possible after the loss of my vision. They, as well as my excellent teachers and other staff from the authority, have absolutely changed my life, and I am so grateful to be accessing lessons independently now, all because of their dedication and skill.

As it stands, I use a Braille notetaker and an Apple Macbook Air to access lessons, with no physical support in the class with me. I read Braille – both English and Spanish – and use speech synthesis software. Every single teacher I have this year is simply brilliant, with my form tutor/Psychology teacher supporting me in my every endeavour, my English teacher volunteering his time to help me and my Spanish teachers always prepared to catch up with me if I miss anything. I am so lucky, and I recognise that not all visually impaired people have as amazing a learning environment as me, nor do they have the opportunity to learn that I do (although they really, really should!), and I never take what I have for granted. I am a peer mentor, a reading mentor and an A Level student, and it’s difficult, but I absolutely love it. Even on my bad days – because everyone has them – I know that my turbulent educational adventure is finally plateauing, and I am settling into the rhythm of things easily, a privilege I never thought I’d have post vision loss.

I haven’t spoken about mobility traing, which is where someone teaches you how to navigate new environments, how to use public transport and other independent living skills such as cooking and cleaning, in this post because I want to save that for a separate one – would you be interested in that at all? I also haven’t talked about just how equally difficult and amazing it’s been, nor have I explained exactly why so many people have changed my life, because – frankly – if I did, we’d be here forever. I like to think that my friends, family, teachers and support staff know how much I appreciate them! Let me know though, do we share any of our experiences? Are you visually impaired too?

Thank you always,

Grace