Why join the Navy?I’d been happily getting through university with the vague ambition of becoming a curator at the Brighton museum where I’d spent so much time– doesn’t everyone spend their adolescence with paintings by Magritte and Dali’s Luscious Lips sofa? Earlier on, architecture and law were my top ambitions and have still peeked out as life’s gone on. While I still wasn’t sure what to do, a post-graduate teaching qualification gave me breathing space to apply for anything that seemed even vaguely interesting and I learned masses from all the different interviews.But life changed completely when, after six years’ engagement, the man I was due to marry within months was killed in a car crash. Needing to make a complete break from all the people and places with which I’d grown up– and the Royal Navy seemed perfect (I didn’t even realise at the start that I’d be joining the Women’s Royal Naval Service!)As a graduate in those days, it was basic training with all the Wrens at HMS DAUNTLESS before officer and other courses. It was very unusual but, within a year of joining, my first job was in Naples, Italy, with NATO. The haziest Intelligence work took me around Europe and even to America. We had a wild social life and I became the Vice Commodore of the NATO sailing club with more prestige in starting the races and running the parties than in the title! Having just got my licence and a battered old Fiat, driving in Naples was a steep learning curve: eleven mishaps in the first year but only three went to insurance claims. There was a very liquid lunch celebrating my promotion to Second Officer WRNS meaning I joined the Lieutenants Greenwich Course when I got back to the UK (and was the first woman to win the top prize).Back in Portsmouth, I joined the Navy’s Home Defence and War Planning team. We are talking about Cold war times when nuclear strike was still a possibility so we worked with the police and other civilian agencies to plan how society and Government might survive. All of which was good background when I moved to the Ministry of Defence in London to be responsible for public relations for the WRNS and our sister nursing Service, the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service, and helping test media activity for nuclear accident exercises was even more interesting. Back to Portsmouth, I took the lead for the University Royal Naval Units: giving some of society’s future leaders a taste of naval life. With the added bonus of becoming an Acting First Officer, I travelled around the UK, negotiating with universities for their support, getting permission for women to join as Midshipmen and interviewing every applicant. I was responsible for how many socks were issued to each student to how many fast patrol boats were allocated to the growing number of Units.What to do next? I’d been sitting with someone at lunch who said the Navy needed their first woman barrister – so far, all legal disciplinary work was done by male officers. I grabbed the chance because my computing and programming course seemed to be the wrong direction. So back in London: a year studying academic law, a year at Bar School and then six months pupillage wearing wig and gown in the courts. My first job as a naval barrister was back at HMS NELSON in Portsmouth. We provided the equivalent of the Navy’s largest magistrates’ court handling alleged miscreants landed from ships all over the world. And I kept the administration of one of the biggest shore establishments on track as the Commodore’s Secretary. By now, the WRNS had been merged/amalgamated/taken over by the Royal Navy – I became a Lieutenant Commander with gold stripes. But my eye sight was already becoming troublesome.Within a year of my next job as the legal adviser to the admiral in Plymouth, my deteriorating vision meant I had to step away from the latest court martial. I was home “sick onshore” for the next 14 months while the medics tried to save the sight in one eye but no luck. The side-effects of all the drugs meant that walking was very difficult but one eye meant driving wasn’t out yet. So back to work in Portsmouth again: part of the organisation running the surface ship fleet, managing the headquarters' administration and Secretary to the admiral’s Deputy. On the work side, I was promoted to Commander but my other eye was failing and I had to give up the car –you could see me riding a tricycle around the dockyard! Moving to become the Commander responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the headquarters’ infrastructure – the people, the buildings and the services, I would usually have had a ceremonial stick but had to make do with a white cane.My final job was just a move within the naval base: changing the performance appraisal and reporting systems for over 35,000 non-officer men and women in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. But, by then, although they had been incredibly supportive, the Navy didn’t have a future for an officer who’d been using a white cane for years. I was medically discharged as a war pensioner in February 1999.Why back–to-work for disabled people? I’d seen that the writing was on the wall in the Navy for some time and been planning what to do next. I needed to work and earn money so I could keep my house. But, even with advice from several ex-Service charities, job prospects seemed thin on the ground to put it optimistically! The difficulty in getting any information or help was hugely frustrating so I decided that I’d make this the focus for the future. Just two days out of uniform, I was a newly born “disability consultant” with a specialist company, running a project to help other disabled people get back to work. The following year, I set up Disability Dynamicsand haven’t looked back since. It’s been a mix of business contracts, work with government and pro bono – but all trying to cover some aspect of the problems we face trying to work.On the education and training side, I chaired a local agency responsible for funding about 20 colleges and schools across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. And, with social security so important for many, I led in monitoring the standard of unemployment benefit decisions made by the Government Department. I was part of the team that helped the Ministry of Defence create their new diversity strategy and focussed on the disability issues faced by the Olympic Delivery Authority.My legal training has been really helpful: advising the national organisation that improves police work; looking at how employment tribunals work for disabled people as a member of the Steering board alongside the heads of the judiciary, of the national Arbitration and Conciliation agency and others. I’ve also spent many years working with our national tax agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, first as a member of the Board and now as an external adviser on disability issues.Self-employment hasn’t only been the answer for me: lots of people with different disabilities find this the solution when employers can seem reluctant. Our Work for Yourself programmes ran for over seven years - hundreds of people changed their lives (insert link to success stories). Some return-to-work organisations also needed help to better support disabled people so I built a partnership to share expertise, training and better coordinated help.There have been lots more over the years to keep me busy. I particularly remember all the international conferences with the European and World Blind Unions and the website materials I gathered to feature blind people at work.
Why Baking Blind?I used to do all sorts of creative things: painting: watercolours, trompe d’oeiulle, marbling and other decorative finishes; sewing: embroidery, clothes, curtains, cushions, soft covers for furniture; ceramic and furniture restoration; home decorating, carpentry and electrics. It was a lot to lose but there's always something new to try - building projects are still a passion: designing, checking the build and the interior decoration (I have complete three-dimensional images in my head! ); pottery, when and if I can find a way of firing my pieces; creating some wild and huge flower arrangements for years; recently, I’m learning to beat out bowls in pewter and make the moulds though get help casting the molten metal. But I've always cooked and have learned to adapt over the years. Even since losing my sight, I've tried to learn more on different courses here in England, in Thailand and Italy. I'm known for saying "it'll be a simple drinks do” and ending up with a sit-down meal for 30!What makes all of this feasible are the people around me who believe anything’s possible – with a helping hand when things get tricky. They’ve got over worrying about being embarrassed in case they do or say the “wrong” thing; they just expect me to get on with life and work like anyone else. And that’s what I’m trying to show through Baking Blind.I chose cooking partly because I love it but mainly because it’s a truly international language: anyone and everyone can relate to food whether growing, cooking or eating. You don’t have to be a champion athlete or world-renowned physicist to have a go. When we have the same enthusiasms, whether its food, work, music, sport or anything else, we can come together as equals.I hope that Baking Blind gives a different perspective: not being able to see doesn’t matter most of the time – other senses can be more important. If we can manage to cook like everyone else, there’s no limit to what else we can do too.And I’m looking for guest contributors please, whether sighted or not, who will share their recipes, videos, podcasts, blogs and more: a community of cooks learning from each other who share the passion and want everyone to succeed.Guest cooksHave you got a favourite recipe to share, one that’s better than mine? Perhaps your own video, podcast or blog?I’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.orgIf your material is already online, we can set up links.I can add your recipe to the Baking Blind library so that it is accessible to everyone.It would be good to know a little about you too: your name and where you live, why you like cooking and why you are supporting Baking Blind so that I can give you full accreditation for your contributions.Please do get in touch: like any good food, it is better when shared with friends.