September 2017 Favourites

Glen sitting and smiling with a long wooden drum across his lap. It has lengths of string that cross over as they stretch from one end of the drum to the other in diagonal lines. A further length of string goes around Glen's neck, with each end attached to the side of the drum. Glen's hands are positioned on each side of the drum, ready to tap out a beat using both ends of it.

Hello again, nice to have you back for my next roundup. It’s been my most significant and eventful month of the year so far, with my first ever public speech, a holiday overseas, a walking tour and a meal with a fellow blogger, audio described tours of an art exhibition and a few special buildings, a day trip to another town, and a music and drama workshop. So I hope you enjoy!

Contents

Nystagmus Network: My First Public Talk

I never imagined that I would be doing public speaking within a year of moving to London. Before then I had only done a best man speech in 2015 around friends of mine, and the idea of talking about myself in front of complete strangers wasn’t something I was keen on and thus hadn’t considered.

But Sue Ricketts from the Nystagmus Network clearly though I was capable, when she invited me to speak at their Open Day in Birmingham about my life with nystagmus. And as my confidence has improved since settling into London and getting more involved with blogging, I thought I’d bite the bullet and give it a go. I was still really nervous about doing so, but I gave it my best shot, and it went pretty well. And the whole Open Day was enjoyable too.

As it is such a big achievement and milestone for me, therefore, I’ve written a lot about it, across a trilogy of blog posts, as well as filming a video of the speech. So I hope you enjoy checking it all out:

Guernsey Holiday

I had a lovely holiday staying with a friend in Guernsey for 5 days this month. I’ve been there on several occasions before, but this was my first time travelling from London. So it took a few moments to find the Aurigny airline desk at Gatwick, but once I did everything went smoothly. For both the outward and return journeys I got assistance through the airport to the plane, and off again at the other end, without any problems. All the staff were very helpful and friendly.

The only odd thing is that, with Aurigny, you have to book wheelchair assistance when you contact them in advance – which didn’t fill me with confidence to begin with, I must admit. But my friend in Guernsey has also had to do that when flying to the UK, so it’s not an anomaly. And he assured me that I could just say to the staff that I needed a guide because I was visually impaired, and it would be fine. And he was right, there was no attempt whatsoever to give me a wheelchair.

Which begs the question why it had to be called wheelchair assistance in the first place? Surely they can just call it “special assistance”, or even just “assistance”? It may seem like a minor quibble, and it did no harm to my journey, but it still matters a lot. It gives a rather misleading impression, especially when you’re booking with them for the first time, that they don’t fully understand disability, which makes you feel a bit anxious before you travel as to whether things will work out. Like I say, I did get the assistance that I wanted and needed, and the airport staff were great, it’s just the wording during the booking process that confuses me. When I used to travel to Guernsey with Flybe, back in my days as a Devon resident, they never mentioned wheelchairs when I booked assistance with them, because it’s not a necessary thing to do.

Anyway, I had a lovely holiday on the island, which is what matters most. My first evening was spent having a poker night with the lads, consuming lots of pizza and a few drinks, and having weird discussions about zombie invasions and other things I won’t mention!

And another group night, with girls and boys involved this time, was a game of Cards Against Humanity, which was a great laugh as always. One of the guys had got all of the expansion packs, so that gave us lots of new cards to play with. There was one about watching a cat video that cracked us all up with the way it was described, and one about a cartwheel that also sticks in my mind. But I won’t quote them here – if you’re a keen player of the game, you’ll know the cards I’m referring to!

Other things we did included a lovely walk along the coast (during which we went past a car racing event on the beach), a game of Pirate Bay Adventure Golf (which is very well designed, with impressive models, atmospheric music, rafts and some fun shortcuts) and a delicious carvery meal.

And on my last full day, we took a trip to Herm Island. We were hoping to go to the Cider Festival, but they’d had to cancel a couple of days beforehand, because of the weather stopping supplies getting to them. So we just went for a walk instead, which was still very nice with gorgeous views. And we even bumped into someone running with the baton for the Commonwealth Games. And I recorded some video clips during the day as well as taking photos.

So it was a lovely break, it was great to get away for a few days having not had a holiday so far this year. If you’ve never been to Guernsey, or the Channel Islands in general, you should, it’s a beautiful place.

Tours

Fashioneyesta: Ripper Tour & Redemption

Following our first meeting at Knole Park in August, I got to hang out with Emily Davison from Fashioneyesta twice this month, and I’ve written blog posts about both occasions:

VocalEyes: Open House Weekend

The annual Open House London weekend took place this month, where hundreds of buildings in London open their doors for free for the public to look around. And VocalEyes arranged special audio described tours of 4 of the buildings for visually impaired people.

I was able to go on 3 of those tours – Salters’ Hall, Lloyds Register & Freemasons’ Hall – and I’ve written a detailed blog post about them all, so do go and check that out.

Royal Academy Of Art: Matisse

Every month, on a Monday, the Royal Academy of Arts holds ‘In Touch’ events for visually impaired people, where they get an audio described tour and a handling session relating to one of the exhibitions. So my mother and I decided to try one out, and we had a lovely morning.

For the first hour we were taken on a tour of the Matisse In The Studio exhibition, where our guide described some of the objects that Matisse collected, and a few of the artworks that were then produced with them as inspiration.

We then went into a big room and sat around a large square table, so we could handle various objects relating to everything we had just looked at. It gave us a good close-up and tactile representation of everything. It was all really interesting, because our guide was clearly enthusiastic about Matisse and his work, and was very good at describing it. I’m not sure I’m a fan of Matisse myself – Hokusai’s art at the British Museum appealed to me more – but that didn’t stop the exhibition here being enjoyable. Matisse’s work is still clever and impressive, so it was still well worth seeing.

Guildford

After meeting a few friends at a pub in the town last month, one of them had offered to give me a tour of Guildford if I wanted to pop down there again. So we managed to arrange it on a beautifully hot and sunny day in September, and we had a lovely time.

To begin with we saw the castle, walking up to the top to look out over the town. It’s a shame they have to cage you in up there, to stop people jumping off, but it is an interesting building and the view’s pretty cool. After that we got some lunch from Burger King and ate it in a park next to the River Wey, which was nice.

Then in the afternoon we got a bus to see Guildford Cathedral. The castle, while nice, has nothing on this, as the cathedral is much bigger and more impressive. We couldn’t stay in there for long, as they were about to hold a wedding, but we did have a quick look inside and a wander around the grounds, which was lovely.

Other than that, we had a little wander around other parts of the town, including the high street, and took a look at a village-style shopping area with lots of small cabin-type buildings, including a library that you could borrow from and donate to as you pleased, and various little shops. So that was something different. But the cathedral was the best sight of the day for sure.

East London Vision: Music & Drama Day

This month I met up with my friends at East London Vision again, and this time it was for a music and drama day at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. I haven’t done either of those things since school, so this was going to be something very different for me. But I felt sure it would be fun and interesting to try it out, especially as I was with a group of people I got on well with. And I was right, it was a really enjoyable day.

Music Workshop

The music workshop in the morning was led by blind Indian musician Baluji Shrivastav OBE from the Baluji Music Foundation, and we got to hold and play with various Indian stringed and percussion instruments. The big sitar was the most fascinating I think. It’s large, but not as heavy as you think it’s going to be. And it has 18 strings on it, with half on a higher level than the others. It was very impressive when Baluri played it, as it sounds like there’s more than one playing at once.

There was also an instrument called a gopichand, which we called a gopi for short. It was just a single string hanging down between 2 diagonal arms of wood, opening up to a bulbous part at the bottom. Whereas the sitar needs tuning, this one doesn’t – you can just squeeze the arms and use your fingers on the string to get all sorts of sounds out of it, as Baluji showed us, again impressively. It takes a lot of skill to play music with it.

We also learnt a few types of Indian rhythms, and different modes as well (variations in the notes of our traditional do-re-mi scales in effect, which can get confusing!). And we got to play and sing together as a group on the various instruments, which we all had a lot of fun with. And we were given a CD by the Inner Vision Orchestra at the end, which was nice to listen to later.

So it was a great session – Baluji’s a very talented musician indeed, especially as he’s good at playing quite a few different instruments. And he’s a good teacher too.

Drama Workshop

We then had a drama workshop in the afternoon, led by Maria Oshodi from the Extant drama group for visually impaired people. She was really friendly and enthusiastic, and had us doing a range of activities during the afternoon. We did a few warmup exercises and games to get us all interacting with each other – such as exchanging facts about ourselves, and throwing imaginary balls around the room to get used to everybody’s names and voices (which got very confusing when 2 imaginary balls were flying around!).

Another game had us moving around the room in any way we liked, making exaggerated gestures and getting in any positions we liked. Maria would then clap her hands to get us to freeze in the positions we were in, and when her assistant tapped us on the shoulder, we had to say what we were doing in that position. So I ended up saying that I was a flying superhero, catching a baby falling from a burning building, and holding back an unstable wall, on each of the occasions we had to freeze.

Another exercise, also involving freezing, had us building up a scene one person at a time. A scenario was laid out (e.g. a party, or a bank robbery, or the Titanic sinking), then one person would come up and freeze in a pose from that scene, followed by another, and another. We did this in 2 groups of 6, and once all 6 people were in position, we had to unfreeze and play out the scene from there. That often proved to be quite amusing.

We then played a game where we had to tell a story one word at a time – which inevitably got pretty weird! It ended up being something like “Once upon a time, there were some sheep, and a stupid old wicked witch. She barked loudly at trespassers, and they jumped and bounced around the Christmas tree!” Random but fun. But it had a purpose, because it helped Maria to discuss with us the important parts of a drama – the characters, locations, emotions, conflicts and so on. So it served its purpose.

With that in our minds, we were then asked to split into groups of three and create a scene – where one person was the interviewer, another was the interviewee, and the third person was the alter-ego of one of those other 2 characters, acting out what they were really thinking. My group ended up doing a court scene, with me in the dock accused of stealing a 55-inch plasma TV. I was denying I’d done it, while my alter-ego was making it clear I had done it and was desperately trying to get out of it. I’m not going to be in Hollywood any time soon, that’s for sure, but it was fun to do!

The final warm down game had us pairing up again, spread around the room, while Maria stood on a chair in the corner to command us. This time she would shout 2 body parts, and we would have to connect them in our pairs – e.g. touching foreheads, or knees, or toes, or connecting knees to shoulder blades, or foreheads to elbows, or whatever it may be. And then, whenever Maria commanded “people to people”, we had to quickly swap and partner up with another person in the room. A daft but enjoyable game to finish off the session.

So all in all, it was a great day, and the time flew by. Everyone was keen to get involved, and we all had a good laugh and enjoyed ourselves. And it was interesting to try out music and drama again having not done it for so long. I think I’d be better at music if I ever picked up one of those things to go into further, but I really enjoyed trying both!

TV Shows

This month I’ve been watching new episodes of 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown & Mock The Week on TV as usual, and I’m still catching up with Outlander on Amazon Prime (which I’ll review later once I’m up to date with it).

It’s also great that a new series of Taskmaster has kicked off, with another excellent line-up featuring Aisling BeaBob MortimerMark WatsonNish Kumar & Sally Phillips. I discussed what the show’s about in my March-April Favourites though, so I won’t repeat myself here.

But apart from all that, I’ve also been enjoying:

  • The Story Of Only Fools And Horses – This 6-part documentary series on Gold was a wonderful retrospective of Only Fools And Horses, my favourite sitcom of all time. It was a very comprehensive look at every aspect of the show, it was great to see all the stars getting together again to reminisce, and the rare and unseen footage they included was particularly good. Some of it I had already seen and have copies of, thanks to the wonders of Youtube of course – but even so, it was great to see it being shown on the TV, and there were a number of outtakes I hadn’t seen before. So it got the treatment it deserved. If only the BBC would release proper deluxe DVD editions of each series where all the episodes are the proper, uncut, as broadcast versions, not the edited versions we have now, and clearly there’s lots of extra features they could put on them as well. They’re missing a trick there. But in any case, it was wonderful to see the show being celebrated so well in this new series.
  • Duck Quacks Don’t Echo – Series 6 of this show, hosted by Lee Mack on Sky, got underway on the very last day of August, but as I recorded it I started watching it this month. And it’s very interesting and funny. Basically celebrity guests are invited to share a fact each, which then gets tested in an experiment to see if it’s true or not. And then you get the audience and Lee sharing facts as well, with the panel of experts verifying if they’re accurate. So every episode always throws up some interesting and surprising facts, and often in very interesting ways given the experiments they do to prove them. So it’s a fun show for learning random new things.
  • Ross Noble: Brain Dump – Stand-up comedian Ross Noble isn’t releasing a DVD this year, as he feels the market isn’t there for them. I would certainly have bought one though, as his DVD sets have been amazing. Every show he does his completely improvised, and thus unique, so he puts multiple shows in each DVD set without any repetition between them, along with a variety of fun extra features. So it’s a shame he’s stepped back from that. However, he’s released some shows on Vimeo instead from his Brain Dump tour at a very reasonable price too, which Ive bought, and they’re all very funny as per usual. So at least we can still get his material in some way.

Audiobook: The Screaming Staircase

I don’t listen to audiobooks very often, as I just don’t have the time. But I had a good opportunity to listen to something during my trip to Birmingham, and decided to try out another recommendation from Emily at Fashioneyesta. And yet again she has great taste.

The Screaming Staircase is the first title in the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud. In this series, children are able to detect the presence of ghosts and spirits, and banish them from the places that they haunt, whereas adults are unable to do so. Hence agencies are set up where the public can hire children to investigate and deal with any paranormal happenings.

So the story here is told from the perspective of a young girl called Lucy, who joins the Lockwood & Co agency, and we’re taken through her early adventures with them. And it’s really fun. There are enjoyable characters, very vivid and clear descriptions, and lots of tension and mystery. And because it’s told from Lucy’s POV, you feel like you’re with her, experiencing things through her eyes. It’s also very nicely narrated by Miranda Raison as well. So I’ll have to check out the other books in the series at some point, they look like fun.

Conclusion

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed looking through all of that. I feel relieved and proud that I’ve given my first public speech, it’s great that I’ve met Emily from Fashioneyesta a couple more times, it was lovely to have a nice holiday in Guernsey, all the tours I’ve done have been really interesting, and it was fun to try performing a little bit of music and drama. So I’ll see you again next month for another fun variety of outings and entertainment!

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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