Wednesday, 31 January 2018

SRSB Writing Group - Graham

Just found out that it is National Storytelling Week from 27th January and it reminded me of when I used to be a regular contributor to SRSB's writing group 'Mappin Writers' that meets on Fridays at 11am in the Centre on Mappin Street.

I was actually at the very first meeting  and came every week for about three years. I had written a few short children's stories and was just starting to learn to play the guitar so I could write and sing a few of my own songs.

It was a great period and I made some good friends in the process. Mappin Writers is still going and although some people have come and gone,  it is still going strong.

If you have always fancied having a go at writing short stories or poetry I recommend you try the group.

Don't worry that you 'might not be good enough', you might surprise yourself! And don't forget, if you can write or type it but not be able to read or memorise it. Snap! Not a problem as someone will read your work out for you if needed.

Anyway, having said all this I suppose I should give you  an example of the sort of stuff I wrote...

THE LONE RANGER by Graham Marshall

Why was the Lone Ranger never alone?
That Tonto was with him day and night.
He should have been called 'The Accompanied Ranger',
Then again, that doesn't really sound right.

They met when he found Tonto,  his head pressed to the ground.
"Kimosabi, five minutes ago three wagons passed this way" he said.
That's amazing replied the Lone Ranger, how can you tell?
Easy "Kimosabi,"... they ran over my head.

For ten years they 'ranged' as if joined at the hip,
Till one day Tonto was found dead in his tent.
Shot by the Lone Ranger with a single silver bullet.
He'd finally found out what "Kimosabi" meant.

I also wrote some serious stuff, but my main thing was 'daft ditties!

Friday, 19 January 2018

One year of SRSB - Amy

A year ago this January I started volunteering for The Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind (SRSB). It has been the most crazy year ever! In good ways for a change.

I am a client of SRSB and I was regularly in touch with them about various things. One day I was asked if I would like to work on the SRSB Blindlife Blog. I had never done any work like that before, I wasn't completely sure what a blog was. I had a rough idea. I was told that the blog hadn't been used much for quite a while. This was good for me because it meant I couldn’t break it!

Any kind of work was going to be good work. This was also good because it was all down to me, it was my project. I had plenty of support when I needed it from Jane at SRSB and Anne, another volunteer who publishes the articles on the blog, but moving it forward was up to me.

To start with I didn't know many people at SRSB so I thought I would write a few things myself, just to get things started. Around this time I had been looking for a new phone, so I decided to write about this. My next one was about The Weather. I started to realise that I was just writing what was on my mind, but everybody seemed to like it. I didn’t have a clue why.

Quite quickly my confidence seemed to grow. I hadn't been in any kind of work environment for six years. I had never worked with computers, or in an office, or on a blog, or done any real writing. Not since school. I was a nursery nurse, this was completely out of my comfort zone. But because I like playing on social media I thought I might be able to do it.

My confidence was growing more and more, I started going to the creative writing group at SRSB. This was originally just to see if any of them would like to write for the blog. I sat in on a session and it wasn't what I expected. I was expecting to be writing in the session and that you would have to be quite talented. It is so much better than that. It is a group of lovely people sat reading out their stories that they have written during the week. There is no teacher checking your grammar and punctuation, and nobody judges your work. Bill and Andrea who run the group are so welcoming and friendly. I felt at home straight away and felt comfortable telling them about very personal things.

After a few weeks I started to write my own things for the group. Again, everybody seemed to really like them. I had never seen myself as a writer, but everybody was saying I was talented and asking if I had always been into writing.

One day, I heard it was Mental Health Awareness week and I knew I had to write something about this. Mental health and sight loss are not linked together anywhere near enough. Losing some of my sight affected me very badly and I had to make a stand and show people what it can do to you.

I told Jane and Anne my plans and we got my story published on the blog that week. It was a rush, but it needed doing. This post got so many views and I got so many heartfelt comments about it. It really seemed to touch people and make them appreciate what it is really like to lose your sight. It isn't just losing your sight, it really can affect your mind and your general wellbeing. It can completely destroy your life.

This blog post was used in a Living with Sight Loss course at SRSB. After it had been read out, the whole room went silent. That was the moment I realised that I wasn't alone, all of those people felt exactly the same as I used to. That was the moment I realised that I was doing a good job and that these issues have been left unspoken for way to long. These things need talking about, and I was going to do it. This post is still being used today in visual impairment awareness training. I am absolutely thrilled that it is being used for things like this.

Not long after this I was asked if I would like to go on the radio. I was extremely nervous but I said I would. I had wanted to work on the radio a few years ago and I thought this was an opportunity that I might never get again. The show went really well and I sounded a lot better than I thought I would. I sounded like I actually knew what I was talking about!

Shortly after this I was contacted on Twitter by a London-based radio station. They had been reading the blog and wanted to know if I would do a phone interview for their sight loss show. This wasn't just local any more, this was London!!! They told me the questions they were going to ask me so that I could prepare. The questions seemed quite daunting at first, about politics and the government, which I know nothing about but I managed quite well when I had figured out what I was saying.

A while later I completed a survey on using transport with a visual impairment. Again I was asked to go on a big Sheffield radio station to talk about this. My third time on the radio in a matter of months! I was still very nervous, but good nervous. Once again, I loved it! I felt famous. Everybody wanted to hear what I had to say! And I loved it, I loved all the attention I was getting. I still didn’t really understand why, It was only me, just saying what I thought about the world. Why was my opinion so valued. I wasn't complaining for a second though. It was amazing to have my voice heard and my views respected.

A few quiet months passed, not too much fame going on, but it was still good. Then I was asked if I would like to be interviewed to be on the list of SRSB Inspirational People. Wow!!! That really did mean the world to me and always will. For a long time I felt very unhappy with myself and how I was living my life, so this was a big symbol of how things had changed. I had been doing something right at last, not just right but good. I had been doing good things for charity and for other people. I was really proud of myself.

Towards the end of the year I got a phone call from SRSB asking if I would like to meet the Lord Mayor of Sheffield in two days' time. I would be having photos taken to be on this year's Lord Mayor Charity Christmas Card! YES of course I did! More fame!!! They said they know I liked doing PR work so they wanted to ask me. Even so, I felt really special. I was the one client chosen to represent SRSB. When we went Sue introduced me as the face of SRSB. Wow! Little old me, the face of SRSB! The Lord Mayor Anne Murphy was so friendly and welcoming. She also made me feel very special. It really was a wonderful, fun and sentimental day.

One day I heard the Lord Mayor was in SRSB, she was at one of the Christmas dinners. I decided to go and say hello. She had won a massive box of shortbread in the Christmas raffle, and she said she would like me to have it. Again I thought, why me? Yet again another day when I felt really special and appreciated. Some of you may think, it's only a bit of shortbread, but it isn't. To me it means a great deal and it was another symbol of how my life has changed for the better. When I went back into the office I just blurted out "I've got a Christmas present from the Lord Mayor". Somebody in the office said "Well, I can't beat that"!

And that brings us to the end of a very eventful, sentimental and exciting year. One of the most memorable years of my life so far. Who knows what 2018 will bring. But I do know I am going to keep playing the fame game for as long as I can and getting my voice heard. There is plenty to talk about, and I haven’t finished yet!

Happy New Year Everyone! :-)

Monday, 8 January 2018

My school days - Graham S

Graham S
I have a condition known as Albinism which means that I have white hair and poor eyesight. Because I have no pigment in my skin I have to be very careful in the sun as my skin can't tan. Instead it goes from white to bright red and burning (never brown).

It also means that because I don't have pigment in the skin at the back of my eyes, when I look into a bright light the blood vessels at the back of my eyes make my eyes appear to be red. I find it very difficult to see in bright sunlight and have to squint a lot.

Also people with Albinism don't have something connected at the back of the eyes which most people have (I don't know the correct medical term) and this means that my eyes are moving constantly so spectacles can't be used to improve my vision.

Having been asked to contribute to the SRSB Blog I began to think what difficulties I have encountered through being partially sighted.

Although I am registered as visually impaired, I consider myself to have good eyesight compared to most visually impaired people so I suppose that I have not really encountered too many problems other than the usual one of not being able to see which bus is coming and working out which platform I need to be on at a railway station.

Not being able to drive makes you an expert on bus routes and timetables but I frequently put my hand out for the wrong bus because maybe the bus company has put on a single decker instead of the usual double decker or something similar.

However I hated my school days. I am 65 now so it is difficult to remember all the detail of why I have chosen the word 'hated' but I know that whenever I look back to those days I don't have many fond memories.

From a learning point of view it was very difficult to read the blackboard and the embarrassment which I felt if attention was drawn to me because of it was horrible. Even to this day although I don't think that generally I have any confidence issues, I hate having to speak to an audience of more than four or five people. I would write notes based on what the teacher was saying, rather than copy text from the blackboard. Because of this and the fact that reading textbooks isn't the easiest thing for a visually impaired person I didn't do too well in exams.

The exception was woodwork and perhaps surprisingly technical drawing, both of which I excelled at and both of which didn't rely on the blackboard for instruction.

I look now at little Finlay, a young client of SRSB who must be now be around school age, and I am hopeful for him that these days extra help should be available for disabled people with special needs to provide them with equal opportunities.

The other side of school life is the social life and in particular the time spent in the playground. My memories are mostly of being called names because of my appearance. This would be called bullying these days and dealt with differently. I soon learned that a couple of decent boys were the ones to have as my friends but looking back the bad times seem to mask my memories of the good times.

After leaving school my life changed completely. My employers have all been very understanding as have my colleagues and I loved learning at college. I did OK in my chosen profession of transport management and since work I have, until recently, had a picture framing studio in Sheffield city centre. I have some great friends and I have traveled abroad extensively.

I would like to end with a message to Finlay and his parents. Finlay really has nothing to worry about in his future. If his life turns out half as good as the first half of mine has (you can do the maths) he will have a wonderful time and hopefully he will find his schooldays better than mine.

Going forward, I am currently having a canal boat built so maybe future blogs might be about my boating experiences.