June 2017 Favourites

Glen sitting on a bench that's decorated with a painting of Paddington Bear, so it looks like they're sitting next to each other and both smiling at the camera.

Hi there, welcome back to the next instalment of my monthly updates. It’s hard to believe that it was the 6-month anniversary of my move to London in June, that’s certainly flown by!

Of course, I appreciate that this month is one that some people would rather forget, given the despicable attack on London Bridge and the devastating Grenfell Tower fire, and my thoughts go out to everyone affected by those terrible events.

But for me, I’ve happily continued with my explorations of London, taking advantage of the glorious weather to walk around a lot of different places, capturing lots of photos and videos along the way, as well as celebrating Aniridia Day, seeing TV shows being recorded and socialising with friends! Hence this is a very busy post, and I hope you enjoy it all!

Contents

Aniridia Day

On 21 June we celebrated the first ever Aniridia Day, which went very well. Aniridia is a rare genetic condition that means I don’t have irises, and as a consequence my eyes can’t control how much light they take in. So I’m very sensitive to glare and bright sunlight, and I find it harder to adjust in the dark too.

It was a great opportunity to bring together people with aniridia from around the world, and to raise awareness of the condition with others who weren’t familiar with it. The Facebook group in particular was very busy throughout the day, with hundreds of people who were clearly enjoying sharing stories and photos together, which was wonderful to see.

And I enjoyed celebrating the occasion in a few ways:

  • My Shining Success Story & Video – The Shining Success theme of the day was about showcasing the many different things that people with aniridia are capable of. So this post gives a short overview of my own achievements to date.
  • Guest Post for East London Vision – This was a short post I was kindly invited to write about my condition, for the blog run by the East London Vision social group I’ve become a member of. They also shared the blog post and video above on their social media channels too. And I went on another outing with them this month, as you’ll see later in this post.
  • Promotional Video – I edited and narrated this little film to raise awareness of the event, with the help of my friend James Buller from the Aniridia Network, incorporating clips from others with the condition (with particular thanks to Liza and Gleb). It was a fun little project to put together and I’m proud of how it came out, considering I’ve never put together a video like that before.

TV Audiences

For the first time ever I had the opportunity to be in the TV audience for a couple of my favourite shows this month, both recorded at the ITV Studios, and I had a fabulous time. I applied for tickets to both of them through SRO Audiences, and by sheer fluke happened to get lucky both times. And because I told them I was disabled, I got plenty of help and great front row seats each time!

So do check out my posts about Mock The Week and The Last Leg to find out all about my experiences, as well as my video about being in a TV audience.

And apart from that, I did enjoy watching various other programmes at home too of course. But they’re all things that I’ve talked a bit about in previous posts, so I don’t need to elaborate on them here. Suffice to say that Doctor Who, The Flash, Taskmaster, Have I Got News For You, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown & Dara Ó Briain’s Go 8 Bit have all been good this month, as have Just A Minute & I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue over on the radio.

Socials

East London Vision: London Zoo

This month I went on an outing with some fellow members of East London Vision (ELVis), following on from my first meetings with them at the Natural History Museum and London Marathon back in April.

On this occasion we went to London Zoo, and it was great. I could only stay for the morning unfortunately, as I needed to meet two of my close friends in the afternoon, who were also visiting the city that day. But I still got to see quite a few things, including penguins, bugs, coral, monkeys, flamingos, pelicans, a macaw, a camel and meerkats (a favourite for many, including me, as they’re so cute!). The lions were hiding away unfortunately, keeping cool from the hot sunshine no doubt, and it’s a shame I didn’t have time to see other animals like the giraffes that the rest of the group saw later.

But it was lovely to spend the morning with the ELVis group and chat with various people along the way, whose names and faces I’m becoming more familiar with now. So I’m looking forward to going to more events with them. And I’ll also have to go back to the zoo for more of a look around, because it is a wonderful place. You can see the footage I recorded there over on Youtube.

Thinking Bob: The Question Bobbers

I only went to one social with the non-disabled group Thinking Bob this month, but it was another of their fun quiz nights. It was held at The Castle in Farringdon, where I’d previously played their Quiz Of The Year.

The Question Bobbers was very loosely based on a show called The Question Jury, which had its first series on Channel 4 last year. I’d never heard of it before, but basically it’s a team quiz where they have to unanimously agree on the answer to each question, like a jury in court. But only one player can go away with the prize money in the end.

For the Thinking Bob version, each team had a small board with a marker, so they could agree on an answer, write it on the board and hold it up in response to each question, and then rub it off ready for the next one. And there were 4 rounds altogether.

The first 7 questions were asked to all 7 teams at once, with everyone holding up their answers at the same time. For the second set of 7 questions, however, each team was asked in turn. If they got the right answer, they got the bonus points – but if they didn’t get it, the other 6 teams could all hold up their answers together, and any of them getting it right stole the points instead. So there were 4 rounds of 7 group questions plus 7 individual team questions, and with each round the scores increased. And there were a variety of questions on a variety of topics, so some were easier than others.

At the end of it all, our team came second, which isn’t bad amongst 7 teams! I was sitting with 2 guys and 2 girls, none of whom I’d met before, but they were all good fun to be around, and as usual we all managed to chip in answers here and there, although my general knowledge clearly isn’t that great! And Becks, the CEO of Thinking Bob, was there helping out with the scoring, so she said hello to me when I was getting ready to leave, to see how I was, which was nice. So it was another great evening.

Street Festivals

One thing I’ve quickly learned about London is that there’s a village fair or street festival somewhere in the city every weekend. So I’ve been to a few of those in recent weeks.

They’ve all been in nice areas that I’d like to explore further, but they haven’t been as good as the StrEatLife Festival I went to at Alexandra Palace. There it was easier to see what was on each stall, by just looking at the menus with my monocular before joining the queues. And people weren’t quite so crammed in there either. Whereas in the case of Carnaby and Seven Dials below, there are some relatively narrow streets that everyone is squeezing into, and the signs on the stalls were either very small print or were so low down that the crowds of people were often in the way. So it wasn’t as easy to see what was what, and thus they weren’t quite as satisfying. But it was still good to go down to see them, and they did still have things that I enjoyed.

Carnaby Street Eat

I’ve never been to Carnaby before, and they had everything set out very nicely, with a long picnic table down the centre of the main street, lots of stalls around the place, a variety of musicians, and some dancing from Swing Dance UK. And while it was hard to figure out what was available on all of the stalls, I did have a very nice BBQ Pulled Chicken wrap from Whyte & Brown, so I’m glad I found that. I had a can of Camden Hells Lager with it as well, which I wasn’t overly keen on, but it was worth a try. I’m much more of a cider person really though. So it was nice to have a look around, and I recorded a few video clips as well as taking photos.

Seven Dials Fashion Feast

Again, Seven Dials is a nice area that I’d never been to before, and just like Carnaby I’d like to get to know the shops better, as there would probably be things like clothes I’d like to get in some of them. Although, in the case of Seven Dials, the shop that intrigues me most isn’t a clothing one. At their Fashion Feast Festival there were stalls giving out free Magnums – and who can resist that in the summer? So I picked up a white chocolate Magnum, along with a £1 off voucher for their Magnum Pleasure Store, which was opening later in the month. And in that store you can create your own flavour Magnum, which I love the idea of. Apparently they did it last year as well. So I’ll definitely have to go back to Seven Dials at some point to try that!

King’s Cross Canal Festival

I didn’t spend very long in the King’s Cross area, as it was very hot on the day I visited. I don’t know if temperatures in the 30’s are a regular occurrence in London every summer, but it’s still something I’m trying to adjust to! It was nice walking down by the canal though, there were some lovely boats parked up there. It’s great that the Canal & River Trust are looking after the canals in London and promoting them for people to visit, as they are certainly parts of the city I want to explore. There wasn’t so much in the way of stalls in King’s Cross compared to the other festivals I’ve mentioned, but it was still a nice place to stroll around.

Other Sights

I’ve seen all sorts of other things while out and about this month as well, including various parks and gardens, street performers, cycling events and more.

Stratford

Following on from a walk I had with my Aunt in February, where she showed me lots of useful locations, I ended up going back to Stratford a few times this month.

On a couple of occasions I went there with old friends of mine from school who happened to be visiting the city for different reasons, and were keen to see how I had been settling in during the year. In both cases I had lunch with them in the Westfield shopping centre – one being a big meal at TGI Fridays (where I had a cheese and tomato ciabatta, spare ribs, and cookie dough cheesecake with ice cream), and the other just a light snack at a place called Eat (a refreshing mango smoothie and a bakewell slice). So it was lovely catching up with my mates on those afternoons, and they’re very pleased that I’m enjoying my new life in the city.

Then my final visit was simply to explore the area a bit further by myself. In particular I had a closer look at the Stratford Centre (i.e. the old shopping centre), as my Aunt and I had just walked quickly through it before. There are some nice shops in there, including many of the usual stores like Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Boots, Sports Direct, etc. And at the other end, on Stratford High Street, are all the usual fast food places, along with Wilko and Argos.

The Stratford Centre also contains some Amazon Lockers, which could be handy to know about for picking up deliveries on the way home if need be, while there are more outside Morrisons on the High Street that my Aunt had showed me on our previous visit.

I then continued exploring the local area, passing by the Theatre Royal Stratford East and St John’s Church among other places, and I had nice walks through Stratford Park & West Ham Park, before making my way home. So I enjoyed my afternoon stroll, taking some photos along the way, and you can see some random clips from Stratford Station and Stratford & West Ham Parks on my Youtube channel.

Garden Squares & Oxford Street

After spending a bit of time at the Carnaby festival, I was looking at the map on my phone to decide where to go next, and noticed a number of garden squares nearby, which are dotted all over Central London it seems. So I worked out that I could go and see a few of them to give me a nice walk before getting the Tube home, and thus ended up going to Cavendish Square, Bloomsbury Square, Russell Square, Brunswick Square (which has the big Brunswick shopping centre nearby) and Red Lion Square. It was a nice stroll.

You can see some footage I shot from Oxford Street and the Garden Squares on my Youtube channel. I’ve also uploaded a video of a beatboxer called Contrix, who I recorded busking outside Tottenham Court Road station while on my way to the Seven Dials festival. I’d never heard of him before, but since posting my clip of him online it’s become apparent that he’s rather popular!

Victoria Embankment Gardens

I took a random walk after the Seven Dials festival and unintentionally, but happily, found myself in Victoria Embankment Gardens, which were very nice to walk through. There’s a lot of interesting statues in there, and I don’t think I found all of them, so it’s well worth exploring. You can see my footage from the park on Youtube.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields

After my stroll in Victoria Embankment Gardens I walked to Lincoln’s Inn Fields nearby. It’s another lovely area, and the Lincoln’s Inn building nearby is very impressive. There are also free public toilets on the pavement next to the park, which are very useful to know about, as spending a penny can cost a lot more than that at some places in London! Mind you, while I hadn’t expected to find those, there was also a rather surprising cycling event going on there that day, as noted later in this post.

Covent Garden

The day after the Seven Dials festival I spent a nice afternoon walking around Covent Garden to see what it has to offer, as it is an amazing place. I didn’t do any shopping, but there was a sweet shop that looked very tempting, naturally their big Apple store caught my eye, and there’s even a Nag’s Head pub near the Tube station, which makes me think of Only Fools And Horses, one of my all-time favourite comedies.

The London Transport Museum is there too of course, which I fully intend to visit and have a good look around. I loved that place as a kid, so I’m very keen to spend a day there again. And just around the corner is the London Film Museum, which I hadn’t been aware of before, but am very intrigued to look at given the James Bond exhibition they have. So I’ve got plenty of reasons to go back to that area again.

On my Youtube channel I’ve posted a video of a comedy magician I saw that afternoon, along with a selection of general sights and other performers from the area.

Cycling Events

Purely by chance, on the same weekend as the last few walks mentioned above, I stumbled across 3 different cycling events that I hadn’t been aware of in advance, as it’s not the sort of thing I look for. And the first one in particular was the most unexpected!

  • World Naked Bike Ride – Imagine my surprise when I got to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to see a flash mob of naked people on bikes around the park! Apparently it’s a form of protest against the use of oil and other non-renewable energy to power cars, buses, lorries, etc. Pedestrians and cyclists are indecently exposed to their emissions whether we like it or not, so this is a way of turning that on its head. And fair play to them I say, as it’s different, attention-grabbing and harmless fun, and it’s oddly fascinating to watch. Although I don’t know how comfortable it must be – as someone who works in the printing industry, it brings a whole new meaning to ‘saddle stitch’ in my mind! For more details and photos, check out this nicely illustrated Guardian article!
  • OVO Energy Women’s Tour Stage 5 – This was taking place the day after the above 2 events, and I saw a bit of it after I left Covent Garden and was wandering down to the Strand. As with the Rapha Nocturne race, there were metal railings along the length of the pavement to set the course, and I did get to see some of the riders go by. There weren’t so many cyclists nor so many people in the crowd this time, but the audience were being very enthusiastic with their cheering, so hopefully there was enough support all the way around the course for the cyclists to feel the atmosphere. It was lovely weather for it too, just as it had been the day before.

Waterloo & South Bank

I had a nice walk around Waterloo and the South Bank a few days before I went to see Mock The Week, mainly because I wanted to ensure I could find the ITV Studios easily. And yet again I got some video footage as well as photos during my stroll.

I had a walk around the main concourse of Waterloo station first, as it’s a station I’ve never been to before. It’s the busiest station in the country and has 19 platforms, so it’s pretty big! They’re doing some improvement works there in August too, shutting a few platforms for a few weeks while they do it, in order to accommodate longer trains and make things more efficient. There are also lots of shops there, including an M&S and a separate M&S Simply Food, as well as Hotel Chocolat, Boots, WHSmith, Lush, a pub called The Beer House and some restaurants, including one dedicated to Japanese food, as well as other small shops selling all kinds of snacks.

So I walked by ITV Studios after that, and then around to the South Bank, passing the National Theatre, BFI IMAX, Southbank Centre, London Eye, London Aquarium & London Dungeons along the way. I actually went into the Southbank Centre to see if I could find the toilets – which I did, and they’re free, so I’ve noted that for future reference when I’m in the area.

There was also an event going on in the Southbank Centre, on the ground floor, relating to National Refugee Week. I couldn’t figure out what exactly was going on at each display, as I didn’t look that closely. But I was approached by someone handing me a piece of paper and a thick marker pen, to write down a hope for the future for everybody. The hashtag was #OurSharedFuture, and I wrote “a fully and equally inclusive and accessible world for all”. That was to go on the wall along with suggestions made by various other people, of which there were quite a few already. They also took a couple of photos of me holding up what I’d written, and asked for my permission to use it on social media, for which I had to sign a consent form. So that was something different!

Paddington

It’s strange to think that I’ve used Paddington Station countless times in my life, when travelling between Devon and London, yet I’ve never explored the station or the area around it. So it was nice to rectify that, as my final walk of the month, during which I again did a brief bit of filming. I’ve certainly packed in some miles and recorded a lot of video footage these past few weeks!

I started off by finding the various shops on the station like WHSmith, M&S, Sainsbury’s, etc, in the area near the departure boards. Then I walked along platform 1 – which you don’t need a ticket to get into – past the GWR Ticket Offices, Paperchase and McDonald’s, until I found the Paddington Bear bench and statue, celebrating the character’s association with the station. I’d always known they were there, but had never seen them, because we’ve never used that platform before.

More surprising was the memorial to the 3,312 Great Western Railway employees who gave their lives in the two World Wars, which I didn’t realise was there. It’s a lovely statue of a soldier reading a letter from home, so it’s a nice way of remembering them.

After that I walked around the nearby Paddington Basin, which is part of the Grand Union Canal, and there are loads of barges parked up there. In particular, I had a little stroll through Merchant Square, again surrounded by tall buildings, a few of which are shops or bars. The notable feature here is Floating Pocket Park, so called because it’s so small and is the only floating park in London. It’s quite nice too – not amazing necessarily, but it is a lovely quiet area to walk around or sit in. And there’s a fountain nearby which kids can play in.

There are also a couple of bridges in that area – the Fan Bridge next to the floating park (which opens like a Japanese hand fan), and a little further down the canal is the Rolling Bridge (which can roll up into an octagon shape). They only open and close the bridges at certain times of the week, which I wasn’t there for, so I just saw them in their open state. But having seen the videos and animations online, they are very unique and impressive.

After that I headed to Paddington Green, with St Mary’s Church next to it, and walked through that, which was nice. To get there, I had to walk under the Westway flyover, and there’s a pretty cool mural under there too. After the Green, I walked on to Rembrandt Gardens, and next to that is Little Venice, which is basically another stretch of the Grand Union Canal. Again, it’s a nice area to walk around, again with lots of barges. So I spent an hour or so just strolling around there, ending up at Westbourne Green before making my way home.

Conclusion

That was indeed quite an eventful month wasn’t it? It was certainly a good way to mark my half-year anniversary of living in this wonderful city. So I hope you enjoyed looking through everything there, and be sure to keep checking back in the weeks ahead to see what further adventures I get up to!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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