Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

To keep, or not to keep? Thoughts on de-cluttering.

Don't you just hate it when you see a bargain and circumstances prevent you from taking advantage of it? Various airlines are offering some good flight deals for long haul departures after Christmas. Normally, I would already have booked by now for our escape-the-winter trip, but we're in the midst of a protracted house buying/selling saga that is dragging on and on, preventing any form of forward planning. We don't do summer hols... we do winter escapes.  But it's not working out this year. In fact, I'm looking to experience my first full winter for eight years.  HELP!  Where did I store all those hand-knitted gloves and scarves my mother made?

Meanwhile I'm in de-cluttering mode. Husband is not taking this seriously yet. Everything I put into the charity shop pile he picks up and says, 'You're not giving this away are you? I like this.' Oh yeah? He likes it so much that he's not seen it for years because it's been up in the loft or buried in the bottom of a drawer.

Not normally given to nostalgia, it's amazing how much de-cluttering time is spent reminiscing - re-living the time that this dress or suit (yes, once upon a time I was a 'suit' person) was a favourite. Unwrapping lovingly wrapped odds and ends from years ago only to wonder what it was you ever saw in it. Finding bundles of old letters and cards that just have to be read from start to finish... largely because they're in grown up hand-writing, fashioned with real pen and ink, and so the personality of the writer... just a little bit of that long lost person... remains in the lift and swoop of the letter formations.

As a child of the fifties UK to Australasia government assisted migration programme I've always been a compulsive letter writer. Writing to the folks back home was part of colonial life. Letters just for the fun of keeping in touch, but, because of their hand crafted nature and extended length,  saying so much more than an email or text.  I also had pen-friends in several exotic countries and loved the look and feel of an envelope arriving in my letterbox that had been passed from hand to hand; transported, I imagined, by donkey, ship, aeroplane and bicycle, and bearing that tiny piece of art work in the top right hand corner that had actually been licked by my friend. Mmmm. I could almost smell the dust of India or the spices of Hong Kong when I held the envelopes up to my nose.

When I came to live in England in the swinging sixties I corresponded regularly with my mother back in New Zealand and collected, over many many years, a huge number of stamps off her letters. I still keep them in clear glass ornamental jars.

New Zealand has always produced exciting pictorial stamps. But what's special about the stamps I collect is that they're taken from the corners of the blue aerogrammes that kept families in touch with each other before the days of emails and skype. And so, on the back of each tiny square or rectangle, there's a snippet of my mother's handwriting.

Hope this finds you     sunny day today...           Dad went to...    sorry to hear...                                         
          You'll never believe...

And this brings me to what turned out to be a disastrous spate of de-cluttering over 20 years ago. My sister-in-law had been visiting and pointed out to me that I really ought to de-clutter the end of my kitchen work surface where I keep mail and such like. Pens, telephone, note pads, rubber bands, appointment cards and lots and lots of the blue aerogrammes that arrived, sometimes two or three times a week from my mother.  So, with another spate of visitors due, I threw myself into de-cluttering mode,  tidied up and threw out lots of letters, perhaps the previous few weeksworth, that had been cluttering up my kitchen.  I didn't know that within a few months my mother would no longer be with us. After her death, when I searched the house, I couldn't find any of her letters... such was the extent of my tidying up. So now I only have snippets of her handwriting on the backs of the used stamps.

Sometimes I spread them out on the carpet and read them one by one. This brings back vivid images of my mother. I hear her voice and and sense her gestures -  the twinkle in her eye or the
worried frown. Now and then an expression of despair, but mostly an assurance that everything was fine, when often I knew it wasn't.

'When in doubt, chuck it out,' we're urged. But hang on a minute... what about giving a thought to that old Yorkshire saying, 'When in doubt, do now't'.  With that in mind I think I'll give the de-cluttering a rest for a while. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Seeing Eye - Guiding Light

Today I started my day by sitting on the station platform with my Guide Dog puppy, Kristal, watching trains go by and people embarking and disembarking. I'm a puppy walker for Guide Dogs and today is the start of Guide Dogs Week. A celebration of 80 years of providing guide dogs for people in Britain who are blind or partially sighted.

The idea that dogs could be used, on a large scale, to guide blind people sprang from the experiences of German soldiers trying to locate their blinded comrades in the trench warfare of the First World War, where, like British soldiers, many were blinded by mustard gas. However, there are several much earlier indications and documented evidence of individuals having trained pet dogs as guides going back to the first century AD... in fact there is a depiction of a blind man being guided by a dog in a fresco in Roman Herculaneum. Dogs were being trained to guide blind people at Les Quinze-Vingts hospital for blind people in Paris in 1780. In 1788 Josef Riesinger, a blind seive maker from Vienna, trained his pet dog to guide him so successfully that people doubted he was blind. In 1847, a Swiss man, Jakob Birrer, wrote about his experience of being guided, over a five year period, by a dog he'd trained himself. However, it's from experiences that sprang from mustard gas and the blinding of soldiers in the trenches during World War I that the modern Guide Dog story begins. A German doctor, Gerhard Stalling, treating blinded soldiers at a re-habilitation hospital, observed his own pet dog, untrained and working purely on instinct, clearly guiding a blinded patient. From this, in 1916, sprang the first formal training programme. Soon, there were nine major training centres in Germany providing 600 trained dogs a year for clients in many countries.

In 1927, a wealthy American lady, Mrs Dorothy Harrison Eustis, living in Switzerland, heard of the German successes and went to observe their methods, following this up with an article for the Saturday Evening Post magazine (November 1927). Considering that this might be an answer to his prayers, a blind American man, Morris Frank, wrote to Dorothy encouraging her to think of introducing guide dogs to America. Dorothy Eustis saw this as an opening and trained a dog for Mr Frank who journeyed to Switzerland to work with the dog. Training completed, he returned to America with his guide dog, Buddy. The pair were followed by reporters and photographers convinced that an accident was bound to happen... but no, the partnership was a huge success. Frank was reported as saying that the 5 cents he'd spent on purchasing that magazine was worth a million dollars to him. The Seeing Eye organization was launched in America and encouraged two British women, Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond to embark upon their own training programme. This was the origin of guide dog training in Britain. In 1931, the first four British dogs completed their training.

Now, 80 years later, the Guide Dogs Association produces about 1,300 puppies a year. They have just over 5000 working guide dogs. Many more are required. There are over a million people in Great Britain registered blind or partially sighted and of these, over 250,000 would benefit from a guide dog partnership. However, Guide Dogs is a charity and receives no government funding so can only produce the number of working dogs it can support. (Support being in the form of breeding, training, veterinary costs, feeding, equipment etc.) Under the guidance of the 900 or so staff, Guide Dogs is supported by over 11,000 volunteers who take on a wide range of roles such as fundraising, puppy walking, assisting kennel staff, speaking at functions, driving dogs from one end of the country to the other and many more.   

Although training dogs is Guide Dogs main role, many people will be unaware that the organization also contributes a large amount of its funds towards research into eye disease and it is second only to the RNIB as providers of mobility and independence training for blind and partially sighted people with or without a dog.

You never know when you might need the services of an organization like Guide Dogs. We're told we can expect to live longer these days. The problem is that our bits and pieces are wearing out at different rates...  

That said... I think it's walkies time!

   For further information: www.guidedogs.org.uk