17 October 2022
I found myself reflecting on the extraordinary gifts that I have been given in the form of my guide dogs. Ronnie, now with me for 4 years, and preceded by Gatsby and before that the late great Barklee.
The reason for this sentimental jaunt is that I have just read a terrific book, ‘Thunder dog,’ by Michael Hingson. Cleverly capturing one’s attention immediately by mentioning in the forward that publication coincides with the sad passing of his memorable guide dog Roselle. Thereafter one is gripped by the story of how Roselle guided Michael down 78 floors of the North tower during the attack and destruction of the World Trade Centre on 9/11.
Afterwards, more impressively, guiding Michael through the drenched and crashing chaos of the lobby and out into the apocalyptic scene outside which included the explosive debris of the collapsing South Tower.
This is obviously a tough act to follow, and of course there can be no amount of training and preparation that can equip a dog, let alone anyone blind or not, to experience this.
But I was reminded of one situation, obviously not vaguely comparable to Roselles amazing feat,
where I witnessed a guide dogs initiative and diligence.
In truth, actually, we are guilty of being blasé about most of what they do and take for granted what took months and months to perfect with training. However, what Barklee did that day in November 2013 was definitely above and beyond his training.
“How are you going to get home”? said my client as I weighed up my options for going home from town that day. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem as I would have simply walked from Dorp street to the station and caught a train home.
But today, I had totally failed to consider a massive strike and march by COSATU through town, scheduled for that afternoon.
The marchers were now in St Georges mall, Wale Street and lower Adderley. Sadly, this one was turning violent, and we could hear the sounds of destruction from St Georges Mall already.
This meant that I would need to try avoid the masses if I could.
Marches tend to walk in large bunches, so when there was a lull, I took off really fast, hugging the Eastern side of Adderley towards the station
I knew for certain that the station would be out of bounds as I could hear chanting coming from that direction.
So I thought I would be clever and turn Right into Darling street and walk a couple of hundred metres to a MyCiTi bus stop and hopefully catch MyCiTi to Salt River where I could then catch a train.
As I turned into Darling I ran slap bang into a late arriving batch of marchers, marching rapidly towards St Georges Mall.
It was like no experience I have ever had before or since. A body of several hundred people walking with purpose in one direction has a mass of its own and an inexorable momentum.
We were literally swept along, except that I was trying to go across their stream at 90 degrees to their direction. I had no appetite to join the destructive mob in St Georges mall.
I must point out here, that strangely, I did not feel frightened, despite the pace and the martial chanting. The marchers were not interested in me at all and ignored me completely.
I was however very disoriented and literally was not sure where exactly I was.
I raised my voice and said loudly so Barklee could hear, Station boy, station!
Barklee simply took charge.
He powered forward and turned fully 180degrees. I thought he was confused and nearly tried to correct him, but I kept quiet and realised that in the throng, we had both been turned around and were now facing the Cathedral.
Also, we were on the other side of Adderley.
Barklee turned us around, marched us through the now thinning crowd and headed toward the station.
I was right, the station was chaotic, with no possibility of entering or catching any trains.
“I wonder if My Citi will be running,” I thought.
Usually, I walked to My Citi terminal, through the station then across the car park towards the Civic Centre.
But that route was out of the question with the station full of angry marchers.
The only option would be to walk along Adderley towards Herengracht, and cross Hertzog boulevard towards the Civic.
I hate this part of Town since it is very awkward with many busy roads to navigate and the large Herengracht circle is very confusing for pedestrians if you’re visually impaired.
Barklee had certainly never done this route before.
And yet, he was clearly still in charge. I literally said nothing, trusting that he knew what he was doing. I have a very good sense of direction, so I knew where he was headed more or less, but I was fascinated that he knew where I wanted to go.
Past the station building, past the travel agent and the KFC, over the road, past the Metrorail head office, over another road, past standard bank and finally a very busy Hertzog Boulevard.
Crossing that was no problem, but I had no idea exactly where my citi terminal was from this direction.
I needn’t have worried, Barklee drawing on heavens knows what inner guide, carried on without hesitating straight to the terminal.
Barklee worked with me from November 2007 untill September 2015. He died on 14 May 2018.