Hi there, welcome to my next update! My birthday month has been marked by a number of special outings, including my first meeting with one of my favourite Youtubers, my first audio description experiences at a theatre and a cinema, my first visits to a few places outside London, a park outing with a visually impaired social group, a music pub quiz, some talking statues, and a couple of other walks too. So yet again there’s a lot to cover here, with lots of photos and video footage accompanying it, and I hope you enjoy!
- Audio Description Experiences
- Solo Walks
- TV Shows
Audio Description Experiences
This month I had my first experiences of using audio description at a theatre and a cinema, both of which were really enjoyable and interesting. I’ve also spoken about them as part of a new video discussing my first audio description experiences, which you might want to check out.
Theatre: The Mousetrap
I love the theatre, even though I haven’t really been that often in the past. When I visited London with my family as a kid, we used to go to pantomimes and musicals, and I remember going to see shows like Oliver and Wind In The Willows. I also went to see The Lion King a few years ago with some friends of mine.
But none of those shows had audio description, and I had no idea that you could get AD in the theatre. So when I started reading about it before we moved last year, I was naturally very curious about it.
So I recently booked for Mum and I to go and see The Mousetrap at St Martin’s Theatre, where we would get a touch tour and then the audio described show itself. And it turned out there were quite a few people there for it, so it was clearly popular.
The touch tour took place a couple of hours before the play, and there were two describers from VocalEyes there to help us. We got taken through the back corridors of the theatre and up on to the stage, where the cast got to say hello and tell us who they played, which also gave us a sense of their voices. They didn’t stay for the touch tour, because they obviously had to go off and relax and get ready for the show, which is fair enough. But it was nice of them so say hello.
And then the guys from VocalEyes described the stage to us and everything that was on it, before letting us go around and have a close-up look and feel of everything, talking us through it as we did so. For instance, there’s a big old clock on the mantlepiece, which is the only item that’s been there for the entire run. Everything else has changed in one form or another over the years, but that clock is the one constant that’s always been there. And there are a couple of photos on the mantlepiece, one of which is actually of Agatha Christie herself, who wrote the play. And we were allowed to sit in the seats as well, which were very comfy.
And then we got led around the back of the stage, where we got to feel things like the jackets, ski poles, fake snow, etc, and have a look at how they generate the sound of the wind and the knocking on the front door. All these little secrets of the backstage area were really interesting. And it all helped to give us some great context for the show, including where everything was, such as where certain doors off the stage lead to in terms of the story. Then we got to go outside and have a walk for half an hour while the theatre was getting ready to welcome everyone.
When we got back to the theatre again, we got presented with our headsets for the performance. I hadn’t known what to expect there – I assumed it would be headphones that go over your head, but they actually hang down. It’s a bit like a doctor’s stethoscope, but instead of the wire at the bottom, it’s basically just a unit that hangs under your chin. It’s perfectly comfortable too.
There are just a couple of small controls on it as well. The main dial turns it on or off and adjusts the volume, while another little switch changes the channel, so you can tune into the frequency of the VocalEyes describer. They are elsewhere in the auditorium, presumably behind a window or something so they don’t disturb any people near them. And they will have seen a previous performance, either on DVD or live in person, in order to write their audio description script. Then they speak it to you live on the night. You can’t really pre-record audio description for a theatre show, because it’s not quite the same every night. After all, the timings are slightly different, things might go wrong, the director might change something, etc. So it has to be done live on the night.
And it worked really well, Mum and I were both really impressed with it. It really helped us to understand key things like the facial expressions, and there were a few little props which were crucial to the story that we had to know about, so it was good that they were mentioned. It really helped to fill in all the gaps that we would otherwise have missed. If I’d watched the show without it, it wouldn’t have been as satisfying, I’m sure of that. You need to know all the elements, whether they be clues or red herrings, to fully appreciate it.
Indeed, The Mousetrap itself is a brilliant play. If you’re not sure if you’d like something like that, go anyway. Trust me, it’s really well written and put together. All the different guests that arrive at the house all have their own story and characteristics, they’re all very different. And it all comes together nicely, with twists and turns and red herrings. I was never entirely sure who the murderer was. I had one or two names in mind, but I didn’t guess the final outcome. So definitely go and see it if you can.
Cinema: Beauty & The Beast
The day after The Mousetrap I went to a special cinema screening of the 2017 film Beauty & The Beast, as part of a focus group helping the RNIB test an app called MovieReading. They’ve done some testing once or twice before in a home environment I think, but this was one of the first times they’ve tried it in a cinema. And it’s not an app belonging to the RNIB – it’s an app that someone in Italy has developed, and indeed the app developer was there, along with a lady from the UK Cinema Association who had helped to arrange this special event with the cinema
MovieReading is basically an app that lets you have audio description for movies on your phone. So instead of getting a headset given to you in the cinema – which I’ve not yet tried myself – you just take your mobile phone instead. You download the audio description track before you get there and then, when the film starts, you press Play on your device, and it will synchronise the audio to the film. In other words, it will listen to the film, and work out exactly what part of the audio description it needs to start you off with.
And it worked perfectly for me. As soon as the Disney logo started appearing, I hit the Play button, and the description started straight away. So while the logos are playing, you’ve got a chance to adjust the volume and get it at a level that’s right for you.
The film was enjoyable, with great visuals and music, and Emma Watson is great as the lead, surrounded by further great actors. Her voice has clearly been autotuned for the songs, sure, but thankfully that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie overall, as it was all very nicely put together.
I could have watched it without audio description, but I do think I could prefer seeing movies with AD, having now experienced it for myself, as it was great in this instance. It tells you about a lot of the facial expressions, props that people pick up, elements of costumes that I can’t quite see clearly, etc. All of those things helped me to keep up with the story, rather than missing them or catching up with little bits later. I think I got so accustomed to not using it before that I hadn’t really considered it.
So if that app continues to be developed as the trials go along, I think it would be really useful. I know cinemas have been a bit reluctant to allow people in with mobile phones, but if this kind of app can work, then there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be rolled out more widely. So we’ll see what happens there, it will be interesting to see if anything comes of it.
Fashioneyesta: Knole Park
This month I finally got to meet Emily Davison, a fellow blogger and Youtuber who’s become a good friend since I moved to London. She runs a blog, Youtube channel and social media pages under the name Fashioneyesta, where she talks about her visual impairment, beauty, fashion, places she’s visited, etc.
When I discovered the online community of disabled bloggers and vloggers before my relocation, she was one of the first that I stumbled across, and was an encouraging inspiration for me to have a go at sharing my own experiences online. So in return, while I had spare time, I helped to write captions for several of her Youtube videos, and we generated a connection that way.
Consequently, she offered to meet up and show me around one of her favourite places – the beautiful Knole House & Park in Sevenoaks. And we had a wonderful day together.
I’ve written a long blog post all about it, and Emily’s also posted a lovely video of our day. So do go and check them out for all the details.
East London Vision: Richmond Park
I had a lovely day with East London Vision in Richmond Park this month. A big group of us met by the steam train outside Stratford station, and from there got the Overground all the way to Richmond. It takes over an hour, but the time soon went by, as we were chatting all the way, and our group had a whole section of the carriage to ourselves. We then got a number 65 bus from Richmond station to Richmond Park, and then had a gentle walk through.
There are lovely views throughout the park, and we saw a few deer along the way. Plus we had lunch at the café midway through the walk, where I bought a steak pasty to go with the sandwiches, crisps and water that I’d bought along. So it was a lovely stroll with good company. We only got to see a small part of the park, so I’ll definitely have to go back there on my own one day to see more of it.
I also had a nice time meeting some friends in Guildford, including the parents of a close mate who passed away 5 years ago, who had popped over from Portsmouth. I’d never been to Guildford before, but it was easy to get there from Waterloo. And I met everyone at a Wetherspoons pub called The Rodboro Buildings, where we had a lovely catch-up over burgers and drinks. There isn’t much else to say about it really, as I’m not going to share our personal conversations of course. But one of my friends in the group, who lives in Guildford, has offered to show me around the town one weekend in September, so that should be nice.
Thinking Bob: Pointless
On my 34th birthday I had another fun evening out with members of the Thinking Bob group. And this was loosely based on the Pointless quiz show.
If you don’t know the show, then each round is about a different category, within which there are several possible answers, all of which have different values. Some rounds involve lists of questions to answer, anagrams to solve, words with letters missing, photos to identify, etc, and in other cases you’re just given the name of a list and you have to figure out what might be on it. On the TV show, the questions and lists have been posed to sets of 100 people beforehand, and the score for each answer is the number of people who said it. For the Thinking Bob version, they just made up the scores themselves of course.
The more well-known and obvious the answer, the higher the score will be. Whereas the more obscure answers get very few points – and that’s exactly what you’re after, because the winner at the end is the team with the lowest score. But you have to be careful as well, because giving a wrong answer means you’re awarded the maximum 100 points, which you really don’t want!
The ultimate goal is to find those elusive Pointless answers – i.e. the correct answers that nobody said – because that gives you a score of 0 and a lot of respect from the other players. On the TV show, finding a Pointless answer during the main game also adds a bonus to the final jackpot, and then the couple that reaches the final (because it’s played in pairs) has to find a Pointless answer from a selection of categories to win the money. If they don’t find one, it rolls over to the next show with more added to it (but they do still go away with a nice trophy to say they made it to the final).
So, for the Thinking Bob version, a category was read out for each round, and each of the 4 teams in turn had to give an answer. Round 1 started with Team 1, Round 2 with Team 2, and so on, so every team got a chance to answer first. The categories included words ending in “ind”, photos of boyband members who had won Rear Of The Year, names of other people who had won Rear Of The Year but with alternate letters missing, US presidents ending in N, African countries with a coastline, states in America smaller than the UK, Mr Men book titles containing the letter Y, and countries that have won the Eurovision Song Contest. They even had the music and an accurate reproduction of the graphics for Pointless on the screen, with the countdown tower showing how many points your answer was worth.
I was pretty rubbish at most of it, as the answers I could think of tended to be the more obvious ones. And I couldn’t see what my team were writing down, so I wasn’t able to help in that way either. But I did get us a low score for suggesting Felicity Kendal (as I solved the alternate letters in the second Rear Of The Year round), and I thought of some good words ending in “ind”.
And in the end our team won, which is what matters most! So while it’s probably one of the quizzes I won’t do again – because I found it difficult to think of answers and see my team’s answers – it was still a fun way of spending my birthday!
A few months ago I wrote about sponsoring All The Stations, a special Youtube documentary series being made by Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe as they travel through all the stations on the national rail network. It’s been really interesting and fun to watch, so it’s a shame it’s nearly over.
However, recently they set a challenge for each of their viewers to book a train ticket to explore somewhere they had never been to before, on a special Have An Adventure weekend. So that was the perfect excuse to take my first ever day trip out of London.
So I decided to go to the seaside by visiting Southend, and I was able to get a train straight through from Barking (the station I sponsored) to Southend Central.
The journey took about 40 minutes, passing through various stations I’d never heard of, and there were some nice views on the way. I ended up coming out of the back of Southend Central station in the end, it turns out, so I didn’t get to see the front of it. I never did work out how to get to the front side, but no matter. Coming out of the back of the station, you just walk past a pub and you come out of the alley into the High Street, which is really long with lots of shops.
As you get towards the seafront, there’s the Royals Shopping Centre, which is a fair size – nothing like Westfield in London, obviously, but still a variety of shops in there. I thought I’d see if I could find the toilets in there while I was wandering about – which I did, but it’s a fair walk, they were well tucked away!
I then had a little walk along the Cliff Gardens, looking at the view over the seafront and the pier, then walked down and crossed the road, going into the Adventure Island amusement park, which is massive. It’s free to enter, although you have to buy wristbands to go on the rides. I didn’t bother doing any rides or getting anything to eat or drink though, I just had a little look around.
Then I went to Southend Pier, which the longest pleasure pier in the world, at 1.33 miles! You have to pay to either get the train both ways, or the train one way and walk the other, or walk both ways. I decided to get the train to the head of the pier, then I could walk back at my leisure. It’s a pretty cool train as well, and the views over the sea are wonderful. It took about 8 minutes, and I filmed the whole journey.
Then I just spent some time looking around the pier. I took my selfie for All The Stations with the sign they’d provided, and I went into the RNLI shop to have a look around. The old gentleman at the desk there queried my All The Stations t-shirt, so I told him a bit about it and suggested he look it up when he gets home. And I did purchase a few things while I was there, as it would seem rude not to, plus they are a good charity. So I got a couple of packs of Christmas cards, a pen and a thick, heavy coaster. I know Christmas is a while away yet, but there’s no harm getting the cards in early!
After that I had a very slow walk back along the pier, enjoying the beautiful views. There are lots of photos of people in shelters along the way – I don’t know why they’re there, but they’re nice. Same goes for the giant chess games I saw as I got back towards the shore. I didn’t buy anything else on the pier, and I resisted the temptation of the tasty smells coming from the fish and chip shops when back on the shore. I was happy to wait until I got home for food – if I was out with someone we probably would have gone to a chippy, but when I’m on my own there’s not so much need to. So I just made my way home then.
All in all it was a lovely long afternoon, and as well as my video of the pier railway above, you can also see other footage from the day in a special compilation I put together.
Seven Dials & St James’s Park
After I’d seen the Beauty & The Beast film I mentioned earlier, I had an afternoon to kill and the weather was nice, so I decided to go for a wander.
I knew that Seven Dials was nearby, so I gave into temptation and went to the Magnum Pleasure Store, which I had seen being advertised when I went to their Fashion Feast Festival in June. I didn’t have the £1 off voucher that I got during that previous visit, as it had already expired, but that didn’t matter. And the queue wasn’t very long, so I didn’t have to wait for ages.
You can basically design your own Magnum, and there were lots of ingredients on offer, so I went for double layered milk chocolate, coconut shavings, raspberry pieces, caramel fudge, raspberry white chocolate coins, and white chocolate drizzle, all for £7.50. Not cheap, but worth it for a one-off. I had to get it out of the way, as it’s a pop-up store that’s only open until September, which I found out from the friendly lady serving me, who also asked me what I was doing today. So it was well worth the visit.
I then went on a stroll that took me past Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus – where I saw and filmed a few buskers – before I ended up at St James’s Park, which I hadn’t explored before. So it was nice to walk through there, seeing the birds by the lake and the various plants and flowers. And I recorded a few clips there too.
I also found Horse Guards Parade, so I had a walk around there as well, discovering the Household Cavalry Museum that I hadn’t known about. I did go in, as I intended to have a look around as it was only small. But I overheard a woman talking to the guy at reception, who answered her question to say that the parade would be at 4pm. That sounded intriguing, of course, so I went outside and looked it up online, and there is indeed a 4 O’Clock Parade, a tradition that dates back to a punishment forced upon the sentries for being caught drinking over 100 years ago. They had to be inspected at 4pm after finishing their duties, which was only supposed to last 100 years, but then the current Queen decided that it should be kept going now it had become tradition.
So I walked a bit more around St James’s Park to kill half an hour, before coming back at 4pm in time for the inspection parade. There were only a few guards there – 5 standing and 2 on horseback – and it took less than 10 minutes, after which the 5 standing guards had been sent away, and the 2 who had been on horses were now standing under a couple of the archways. You can see a video of the parade on my Youtube channel.
After that was done, I finished walking around St James’s Park, exploring the length of the lake. Then I doubled back on myself, heading back towards Horse Guards Parade again – but before I got there I headed up some steps and down a different street instead, turning left at the main road. This took me past The Cenotaph and to the gates of Downing Street, where I looked through the railings to see Number 10, as plenty of tourists were also doing of course. And there were police guarding the big black gates, naturally.
From there I took a short walk down to the Thames and walked along the path there, in order to find the New Scotland Yard building, with the famous rotating sign outside. Then there were a couple of garden spaces – the Whitehall Extension to Victoria Embankment Gardens, and Whitehall Gardens itself – containing quite a few statues and memorials, so I had a look at those to finish my day, before getting the Tube home from Embankment station. So I had a nice long walk all in all!
Cities Talking: Death & Rebirth Tour
Back in April & May I did a Power & Palaces tour of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens using the Cities Talking app, which was quite interesting and narrated very well by Christopher Biggins.
So I thought I’d try another of the app’s tours this month, called Death & Rebirth. And this time it was narrated by a woman, who had a very nice and clear voice. It starts at St Paul’s Cathedral and takes you on a tour of the Square Mile. And it was interesting, but I did get lost a few times – for some reason my position on the map wasn’t accurate, so trying to find where I was supposed to be on the app’s map in conjunction with Google Maps proved to be difficult! I did find quite a few of the places though, including Postman’s Park, Guildhall, and the Bank Of England. So it was still a nice walk overall.
While I was doing the Death & Rebirth tour above, along the way I discovered one of the city’s Talking Statues, which I hadn’t been aware of before. Basically there are a selection of statues in London with a special plaque attached to them, and if you scan the QR code on each one, the person represented by the statue (voiced by a celebrity) will ‘call’ you via the website and tell you about themselves. It’s really cool, and there are some great stars doing the narrations. Some of the statues I’ve looked at before during my walks as well, but I just hadn’t noticed the plaques at the time, because I hadn’t been looking for them.
So I downloaded the map of all the statues from their website, and went out for a day to see how many I could find. I started off at Baker Street with the statue of Sherlock Holmes (voiced by Ed Stoppard), then I walked to Paddington for The Unknown Soldier (Patrick Stewart) and Brunel (Hugh Bonneville), followed by Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens for Peter Pan (Daniel Roche), Queen Victoria (Patricia Hodge), Isis (Joely Richardson) and Achilles (Dominic West). The last two didn’t have plaques that I could see though, and neither did Ariel & Prospero (Mathew Horne) on BBC Broadcasting House that I walked to next. I then got the Central Line from Oxford Circus to Chancery Lane, so I could walk to find Hodge The Cat (Nicholas Parsons), John Wilkes (Jeremy Paxman), another Queen Victoria statue (Prunella Scales) and Rowland Hill (Alan Johnson).
So it was a nice long walk, and the audio from the statues was very entertaining. I’ll be sure to go out and find the other statues on another day.
For my birthday my mother kindly paid towards a couple of new box sets that I wanted by a couple of my favourite artists. They’re both really good, and I’ve produced review posts and unboxing videos for each of them, so do check them out:
- Hysteria (30th Anniversary box set) by Def Leppard – See my review and unboxing video.
- Sgt Pepper (50th Anniversary box set) by The Beatles – See my review and unboxing video.
As usual I’ve continued to watch the new episodes of The Last Leg & 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown this month, which I’ve mentioned before. But I’ve seen a coupe of other shows worth noting as well:
- Outlander – On my friend Emily’s recommendation I’ve begun watching this time-travelling drama over on Amazon Prime. So I’ll write about it more in a later post once I’ve worked my way through it, but it’s pretty good so far. I’ve also watched the film Finding Nemo, after Emily was surprised to find I’d never seen it and urged me to watch it, so you can see my thoughts about that in the post about our first meeting.
- David Jason: My Life On Screen – This was a really interesting 3-part documentary series on Gold, telling us about David Jason’s fascinating life, and showing lots of things he’s done in the past that I had never seen before. They also broadcast a couple of the earlier and lesser-known sitcoms that he had starred in early on, which I’d heard of but had never had the chance to watch before, so that was great too. He’s someone who can truly be called a national treasure, so he deserves to be applauded and celebrated in my opinion. The documentary was broadcast to tie in with Gold’s special 6-part series called The Story Of Only Fools And Horses, which I’ll write more about in my next post after it’s finished, but it’s great so far.
Finally, I’ve also published a video about being in a TV audience, where I discuss my recent experiences seeing Mock The Week and The Last Leg. So do feel free to take a look at the video and those blog posts if you haven’t already. And talking of entertainment on screen, you might also like to check out a special post I did this month about my favourite computer games, as there are a big selection of titles mentioned there. Let me know if you’ve enjoyed playing any of them too.
And that’s it for another busy month, I hope you enjoyed going through all of that. As well as having fun with my usual friends and social groups, it was also fantastic to meet Emily at last, and hopefully we’ll be doing more fun stuff together soon. The audio described theatre and cinema experiences were also cool, so I want to do more of that kind of thing, and I had lots of other nice outings too. So thanks for reading as always, and do be sure to join me again next time to see what else I get up to!
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