Hey there, welcome back for another big update on what I’ve been getting up to. As usual it’s been a very busy month, as I’ve enjoyed an audio described exhibition and theatre show, a couple of fun tours, events involving lots of chocolate, my first ever afternoon tea, a guest appearance in a special Youtube project on a football field, a craft show in a beautiful setting, a classic scary movie at the cinema, and more. So I hope you find this compilation interesting as usual!
- RNIB: How I See Campaign
- Harry Potter
- Other Outings
- TV Shows
RNIB: How I See Campaign
First up, I wanted to quickly highlight the fact that I made a special blog post and video in support of the RNIB’s How I See campaign, which is designed to showcase the range of sight conditions out there, and thus tackle the misconception that people with visual impairments can’t see at all. My contribution, talking briefly about my aniridia and nystagmus, has had an amazing reaction, with a lot of likes and retweets on Twitter, and a lot of positive comments on Facebook. So do go and check it out and see what you think.
The reaction I’ve been getting on Facebook has also prompted me to set up a proper Facebook page to go with this blog as well, where I’ll share all the new posts I make and anything else I fancy sharing, so do go and follow me there as well to keep up to date with things!
British Museum: Scythians Exhibition
I’ve been back to the British Museum again, this time for an audio described tour of their Scythians exhibition, which is all about a society of warriors from ancient Siberia. I’d never heard of the Scythians before, so that made it all the more fascinating. The tour was put on with in collaboration with VocalEyes, just like the Hokusai tour I’d been on previously.
First we had a handling session, where we got to hold and feel objects that were similar to those in the exhibition – not necessarily identical, but they gave us a very good sense of what to expect and helped to put things into context. And then we got a tour of the exhibition itself – this was after the general public had left, so we had the space all to ourselves. Throughout we had an audio describer and a curator of the exhibition, and together they explained things really well.
What came across very well is that the Scythians were very powerful, ruthless, intelligent people. They were also the first to mount horses and use them for riding, which gave them considerable advantages, and their weapons included arrows with poisoned tips. They also used lots of decorations to show their status, with women even having crystals on the soles of their shoes so they were on display when they were sat on carpets with their soles pointing outwards in front of them. And they had massive log coffins for their dead, one of which we saw there. Most of the objects on display are on loan from a museum in St Petersburg for the exhibition, so it’s a great opportunity to see them.
Chocolate Museum: South East London Vision
I’ve now met up with another London Vision social group – South East London Vision (SELVis). I’m already a member of East London Vision (ELVis), but I met Jessica from SELVis during the Hokusai exhibition tour at the British Museum a few months ago, and she said I could join up with them too.
So first of all I went down to a lunch social at The Partridge in Bromley and had a lovely time, chatting and drinking while having some good food (their Steak & London Pride pie is very nice). The SELVis members were very friendly and welcoming, and I even met a guy who used to live near my area of Devon, which was cool. So that’s given me an even wider variety of social things to do, as I’ll be attending more events with them in the future, which is great.
Then a couple of weeks later I visited The Chocolate Museum in Brixton with them, and it was a lovely morning. It’s a very small place, like a corner shop that’s been turned into this museum. But it’s really good. Size isn’t everything, as some might say!
We all sat around a long table, and the lady there told us about the history of chocolate, how proper chocolate is actually very good for you, and the different uses that chocolate has been put to over the years. We also got to taste cocoa nibs and different varieties of chocolate too, which was great. It’s interesting to see the difference between proper chocolate and branded chocolate that isn’t quite the real deal.
And then we got to make our own chocolates too, cutting out our own shapes from fudge and making truffle balls, then ‘tempering’ a bowl of chocolate to cool it down ready for dipping our fudge and truffle pieces into, and then adding sprinkles of dark chocolate, white chocolate and hundreds & thousands over them. It got very messy, as you can imagine, but we loved that. It brings out the inner kid in you a bit. And my creations tasted very nice when I got them home. So the museum is well worth a visit if you have any interest in chocolate (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?).
Harry Potter & The Cursed Child
This month I spent a whole day at the Palace Theatre, seeing both parts of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child. I’ve enjoyed the books and films in the series, and this had rave reviews, so it was naturally high on my list to go and see. I had booked this particular performance because it included a touch tour and audio description for the visually impaired. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The touch tour was an amazing experience. There were quite a lot of us there for it, so they split the group into two. I was in the first group that went up on the stage, where we were able to explore and feel the set close-up, with the help of the cast themselves as well as the VocalEyes staff.
It was a really special privilege to chat to the actors about their work on the show, while they showed me some of the secrets of the set. It revealed to me many things that I would never otherwise have been aware of, and it definitely enhanced my watching of the play later. There were no spoilers involved, but what they did show me really intrigued me for the show to come. My favourite aspects were the bookshelves beneath the staircase, which are really detailed and have quite a few special secrets, and the costumes for the dementors, which are delightfully creepy and feel great to touch. That’s just two of many things that we were able to see there, it was a really immersive experience.
Then our group went to sit in the auditorium seats, swapping with the other group who went up on stage. This second part of the experience involved some of the actors coming down to us, bringing props for us to hold and feel while we were talking to them, including wands, a broomstick and a time-turner. So that was really cool as you can imagine – the wands are really nicely designed, and the time-turner is very impressive. Again, it all heightened my curiosity for what I was about to see, as I had no idea what the story was about. Again, the cast were extremely friendly, and really seemed to enjoy interacting with us. The staff from VocalEyes and the Palace Theatre were also wonderful throughout the day, it must be said.
As for the show itself, I’m not going to give any spoilers away, I’ve said enough by mentioning some of the props above. But considering it’s a 5-hour play (with a 2-hour gap between the shows), the time didn’t drag at all – it just makes it seem all the more impressive considering how complex a production it is. The cast were superb, the set changes were wonderfully choreographed, the story was great and linked into the original stories very nicely, there was a good mix of tension, emotion, humour and action, the beautiful music complemented the action perfectly without getting in the way, the special effects were very cool, and the audio description was perfect at ensuring I didn’t miss out on anything. So I enjoyed it immensely, it’s really engaging from start to finish, and I highly recommend it. For me it lived up to all the hype.
Tour For Muggles
There are quite a few Harry Potter walking tours out there, but the Tour For Muggles caught my eye first when I was Googling them. It has loads of good reviews and awards behind it, and at 2½ hours it’s a very generous length, so it seemed well worth a go.
Initial interactions with them were very promising as well. The confirmation email they send you has a wealth of information in it, with clear details on how to find the meeting point, who the host will be and how to contact them, and even some fun Potter facts as well. And when I found I had to switch the date of my booking, they were very quick to respond to my email enquiry and I was able to change to the next day at no extra cost. I also like the way that the lady who responded to my email had a very appropriate name (Hana Potter), as did the tour guide (Joseph Lockhart). A little detail, but fun.
So I found Joseph easily, and he was very cheerful, friendly and welcoming, carrying a Harry Potter folder and a wand (which I got to hold and have a close look at towards the end). He reminded me a bit of Daniel Radcliffe in appearance, which could be just me, but given their attention to detail it could easily be deliberate.
They can take up to 20 in a group I think, but for us there were only 9, which was good – it’s a relatively quiet season for them as it’s outside school holidays, so I picked a good time to go. And perhaps unsurprisingly because of that, it was mainly adults in attendance, there were only a couple of children in the group. Mind you, it is also 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was released, so a lot of its original fans are adults now anyway. Though it does make you feel old to realise it’s been that long!
So we started off near London Bridge station, and went to places including Borough Market, the Millennium Bridge, The Golden Hinde, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, among others, taking in various streets and alleys along the way, and finishing close to Leicester Square station. We mainly walked from one stop to the next, but there was also a short Tube ride from London Bridge to Westminster part-way through, with Westminster station itself being one of the key sights. But even the Tube journey was entertaining, as Joseph shared facts with us and pretended to do a bit of ‘magic’, to the amusement of our group and probably the bemusement of the other passengers!
At each stop on the way we were told many interesting and insightful facts about the films and the books, and also about London and its history. Some locations were used in the films, for which Joseph had photos to put everything in context, while others were key inspirations for JK Rowling when writing the stories. It quickly becomes clear that everything she wrote in the books was there for a reason. Nothing is random in Rowling’s world, especially character names.
Joseph was clearly a Harry Potter enthusiast and he was enjoying sharing his knowledge with us. And we weren’t just quietly following him either – he was happily chatting to people in the group as we walked between the different stops. He made the effort to divide his attention among all of us, so we always felt included and were able to get to know him throughout the tour, which was great. He enjoys his job, and it showed.
The tour didn’t feel like the 2½ hours it was, the time didn’t drag at all. And the walks between stops were never very long, so none of the time was wasted. And at the very end of the tour, Joseph did a proper magic trick, which impressed all of us. I’m sure to professional magicians it’s a pretty simple trick, but to mere muggle humans like us it was very cleverly done.
So it was a really enjoyable afternoon, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are loads more group walking tours that I want to do as well – Dickens and Shakespeare tours are next on my list in particular, as they’ve been recommended them to me. But there are loads of others around as well. If anyone has been on any walking tours in London that they’d particularly recommend, by all means let me know
When I lived down in the Westcountry, Halloween was never a big deal. We probably marked it in some small way at school, but I don’t recall it. Certainly we never had big fancy dress parties with people dressing up in costumes, be it at Halloween or any other time of the year. And I haven’t done fancy dress as an adult, nor have I never picked, carved or tasted pumpkins. We never went trick-or-treating either, and we hardly had any trick-or-treaters knocking on our door at home – for a few years we might get one or two at most, but then it just stopped happening altogether.
We did do a Dracula-inspired comedy musical for our Christmas school play one year though, which I still have the video of, digitised and saved with a couple of other school productions for posterity. It was great fun too, one of my favourite plays we ever did. But that’s the closest I’ve ever got to doing anything in the horror vein. And even in that instance my character was a normal person, as we were one of the innocent kids in the story.
So, all in all, Halloween has always just passed me by without incident, it’s not something I’ve ever got involved with. Which is a shame really. I could probably make a good scary zombie with my height and wonky eyes, they can probably freak out people enough as it is! If I were to dress up and attend anything horror-related though, apart from fancy dress parties, I’d love to go to the Rocky Horror Show one day. That’s long been a bucket list item of mine, it’d be awesome.
Still, now I’m in London, Halloween-related activities were going on all over the place during the month, and it would therefore have been silly not to do something to mark the occasion. I didn’t go out on Halloween night itself, as I wouldn’t have felt safe doing that on my own. But there were lots of things going on before the day itself, so I ended up marking the spooky festival in a variety of ways.
Fashioneyesta: Ghost Bus Tour
From the moment you get on the 1960s Routemaster bus, you can tell it’s going to be something special, with the dim lighting, sound effects and music helping to set an appropriate atmosphere. Emily and I sat at the very front on the top deck, where were able to clearly see out of the windows, and also had a good view of the monitor in front of us, on which we saw our tour guide and other… things… via the CCTV cameras on board.
We were a bit delayed in setting off due to some protest march and an accident around Trafalgar Square, but the tour guide filled the time well and kept us all in good spirits. She also kindly explained the alternative options available if the tour had to be cancelled (either being put on a later tour or being refunded). But thankfully it didn’t come to that, much to the guide’s relief and ours!
Once we did set off, the tour was really enjoyable. Lots of interesting and enlightening facts and stories were delivered with good humour by our enthusiastic and friendly guide, as we passed various well known sights, and a few hidden delights that I’d not heard of before. So I learnt a lot and had a good laugh while doing so. The guide really seemed to enjoy doing her job, it must be fun observing people’s reactions on a tour like this!
This was all cleverly interspersed with disturbing discoveries and eerie events on the bus itself, through an unfolding story acted out by our tour guide and her inspector. And the final segment of the tour was dark, powerful and memorable. The tension that had been built throughout the ride reached a very satisfactory and appropriate conclusion, that’s all I can say. It would be wrong to reveal more than that!
Emily’s guide dog Unity was also with us, of course, and she was clearly wondering what the hell was going on sometimes, especially during the final part of the tour! But she was still and quiet throughout, not causing any trouble. The tour guide and other passengers liked her too. Emily, meanwhile, made me giggle when she jumped at some of the louder noises! I know, I’m cruel, but I couldn’t help it! She enjoyed the ride as much as me though. As she remarked afterwards, it would be a great night out for a group of work colleagues or friends.
So I can definitely recommend it, as it’s something different to the norm, and very educational and enjoyable. You’ll have a good laugh and learn a lot in the process. That is, assuming you can survive until the end of the ride…
Fashioneyesta: Halloween Afternoon Tea
Despite living in the Westcountry for 3 decades, I’ve never had an afternoon tea before. Seriously. Nobody I knew went to them, so I wasn’t going to bother doing it on my own. My Mum and Dad didn’t do them, and if I ever met my friends for a drink, it was in the pub. It wasn’t the kind of thing that interested us. It’s perhaps one of those stereotypical misconceptions that only older people do those kind of things – and where I lived that seemed to be true, as the only person I knew who did that kind of thing was an older work colleague. Plus there’s also the fact that I’m not a tea or coffee drinker, as I’ve never been a big fan of either. Hot chocolate’s fine, I like hot drinks like that, but tea or coffee I’ve always avoided. So afternoon tea never grabbed my attention for that reason either.
However, since moving to London, it’s become very apparent just how widespread and popular they are here, with people of all ages going to them and plenty of options for things to drink even if you’re not much of a tea or coffee consumer. I’ve heard about many of them through Emily’s Fashioneyesta blog, especially the themed ones like Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Beauty & The Beast and Alice In Wonderland. These appear to be the most fun, as they’re something different from the run-of-the-mill afternoon teas that everyone else does (although I gather they’re still nice as well). So reading her posts, along with other mentions of afternoon teas in London guides that I follow, definitely piqued my curiosity.
So I knew I had to try one when the chance arose, and Emily kindly offered me the opportunity, when she invited me to join her for the Halloween Afternoon Tea at the Amba Hotel Marble Arch, which is a luxurious 4-star establishment, with very kind and helpful staff. Our menu consisted of:
- Roast beef horseradish mayonnaise and watercress on sourdough bread
- London cured smoked salmon and creme fraiche sandwich on wholemeal bread
- Classic cucumber and cream cheese sandwich white bread
- Witches fingers cookies
- Brownie with walnuts
- Mini muffin with Ghost meringue
- Chocolate milk shake with raspberry couli
- Freshly-baked scones with or without sultanas with a helping of clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam
- English breakfast
- Earl Grey
- Egyptian Mint
- Persian Pomegranate
- White tea with pear and ginger
- A glass of Bloody Mary
You can see lovely photos of the delights on offer on Emily’s Instagram.
And I really enjoyed it. I went for the pomegranate tea, as I like fruit drinks, and it was very good. The scones were amazing, and the sweet treats were really good too. I’d never had a Bloody Mary before either, and it was stronger than Emily and I had expected, but it was also very nice. So I really enjoyed the meal, and I definitely want to go to more afternoon teas if further opportunities arise, because it’s something fun and different from a standard pub or restaurant meal,
Emily and I walked off our food with a stroll through Hyde Park, so that her guide dog Unity could be let off the lead for a run around. It was a nice birthday treat for her, as she had turned 7 years old that day, and she clearly enjoyed herself. So thank you to Emily and Unity for another couple of lovely meetups this month!
Thinking Bob: Halloween Movie
It was being shown at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, presented as a 35mm projection, as it would have been in the cinema all those years ago. So it wasn’t remastered or in digital format, and that gave it all the more charm really, viewing as it as it would have been seen originally.
And I enjoyed it. It’s not the best horror film ever, sure – it’s a lot of suspense and tension which, while very nicely done and very effective, doesn’t really lead to much in the end. It feels quite tame these days. And it even made all of us in the cinema laugh a few times, when it probably wasn’t meant to! But when it originally came out I expect there wasn’t much like it, so people’s reactions may well have been very different. And I still really liked it. It was a great way to kill an afternoon, so to speak.
All The Stations: Human British Rail Logo
The day after the Scythians exhibition I took a trip to New Eltham, for an event I had to keep a secret for a week, as did 100 other people. The reason being that we were taking part in a fun little project for All The Stations. For those who don’t know, this was a Youtube documentary project that ran over the summer, where Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe travelled through every single station on the UK rail network, exploring the places, history and people on the way. It was absolutely fascinating, and I highly recommend you go through the videos on their Youtube channel (and the bonus content on Geoff’s channel too). I was one of the Kickstarter backers for this project, as I explained when I wrote about visiting my adopted station a while back.
So a group of their backers were invited along to create a human version of the famous double arrow British Rail logo, to be filmed from a drone. And that’s exactly what we did. Geoff & Vicki greeted us all at New Eltham station (which ironically many of us had to reach via a bus replacement service that day), and we all walked up to Charlton Athletic’s training round together. And we spent over an hour filming a few things. We did a couple of promotional drone shots for Charlton Athletic first of all (as this was the deal for using their training ground), and then we filmed the British Rail logo itself.
It was a great afternoon, everyone really enjoyed themselves. It was wonderful to see Geoff and Vicki at work, say a quick hello to them and actually appear in one of their videos! They were very friendly, cheerful and professional, just as they come across on screen. Being on the ground, it was difficult to imagine exactly how it would look, as we obviously couldn’t see the drone controller Geoff and Vicki were examining. But now we can all see the finished video, it looks amazing! And my tweet about the day has been featured on their blog of the day, so thanks guys!
It was well worth all the standing, waving, backwards walking and laying on the grass, it’s come out really nicely. So please do watch and share it, a lot of work went into it!
Handmade At Kew
This month I went to Kew Gardens for the first time since moving to London. I’m pretty sure I must have visited as a kid, but I don’t remember it. So I had long wanted to go and have a look around. Plus they had a special Handmade At Kew craft show on over a weekend, with loads of people selling their handmade jewellery, ceramics, clothing, furnishings, etc. So I decided to have a look around that too.
I wanted to look at the furnishings in particular, to help us brighten up our home a bit. And I was delighted to find some very colourful and plump cushions being sold by a lovely lady called Mairi Helena. They felt really nice to hold and feel, with a velvety texture printed with artistic patterns of varying colours, and they’re filled with duck feathers. So I picked the Golden Blush Thistle Velvet Cushion and the Cobalt Blue Thistle Velvet Cushion. There’s a black outline motif of a Scottish thistle on each one, hence the reference to it in the name. They look really pretty and are very comfortable to sit against, Mum was very impressed with them when I got them home. I got them for £50 at the show, while on the website they’re £89 each, but even that’s worth it I would say. It’s very rare that we buy things like cushions, so they are an investment that should last quite a while.
I also had a wander around some of Kew Gardens itself that afternoon of course, finding The Hive (a big metal honeycomb structure with lights), the Princess Of Wales Conservatory, and loads of statues, as well as admiring the scenery in general. It’s a beautiful park, and I was only walking around about a quarter of it at the very most, so I’ll have to go back again to see more at some point.
The Chocolate Show
A whole show dedicated to chocolate in various forms – who could resist? I certainly couldn’t! I’ve never been to the Olympia exhibition centre before, so The Chocolate Show was the perfect excuse to go there.
It was massive and packed with people, as I’d expected. And there were loads of stalls showcasing all sorts of chocolate products, including chocolate bars, fudge, marshmallow, flapjacks, brownies, boxes of chocolates, truffles, hot chocolate, champagne and other alcoholic drinks with chocolate involved, and more. You could try little samples of pretty much everything too.
There were also clothes made out of chocolate, or made to give a chocolate appearance, which were pretty cool. And there were various demonstrations and sculptures and things that I didn’t get around to seeing, there was so much going on.
So I went around plenty of the stalls, and ended up buying quite a lot! Partly because I wanted to get a variety of different things to treat Mum and I. And also because many of them were doing multi-buy offers like 3 for £10. It’s impossible to refuse with that kind of temptation! So I ended up getting quite a few things:
- Marshmallow Heaven – A selection of flavoured marshmallow pieces.
- Sloane’s Hot Chocolate – The Ecuador Milk 39% variety.
- Bad Brownie – 4 different flavoured brownies. I can’t remember everything I selected now, but I know the Ferrero Rocher one caught my eye, so I picked that. They also included a loyalty card which can be used at their counter in the restaurant in Selfridges, whereby after making 10 purchases you can get another brownie for free!
- Urban Village – Chocolate bars in vanilla, raspberry and mint crisp flavours.
- Flapjackery – 3 differently flavoured flapjacks, again I can’t quite remember which ones! But they’re from Devon, my old home.
- Duffy’s – Guatemala Rio Dulce chocolate bar, as I liked the sample I tried at their stall.
- Yum Yum Tree Fudge – 7 packs of different flavoured fudge, as if you paid £20 for 7 you got a free large jute bag with it, which was rather useful for carrying all of my purchases in! The flavours of fudge I got were mint chocolate chip, Belgian white chocolate, Belgian dark chocolate, sea salted butterscotch, Madagascan vanilla, double ginger, and strawberry & cream. They also gave me an “Emergency Fudge Line” business card, which you can ring to order, or go via the website, for next day delivery.
- Chocolate Cards – A few greeting cards that contain a big slab of Belgian Chocolate with a variety of messages and images on. They do these for all sorts of occasions – birthdays and Christmas of course, but much more too. Just like the cards you get in any card shop really, just in chocolate form here. They also have smaller pieces of chocolate with people’s names on as well. I just thought it was a really cool concept, and the designs on the chocolate are very nicely done.
As expected they were all really nice too! I wouldn’t rush out to buy all of them in future, sure, but they were well worth trying. The Yum Yum Tree Fudge was my favourite of the lot, as I enjoyed their selection of flavours. The marshmallows weren’t far behind though, and the brownies were very filling.
I also gave the Chocolate Cards, an Urban Village bar, and a couple of packs of the fudge, to Emily Davison from Fashioneyesta, to congratulate her on passing her Masters Degree and to thank her for being such a supportive friend. You can see her reaction on Instagram and Twitter – I think she liked them!
Fighting Cancer: My Online Diary
The one show I particularly wanted to highlight this month is Fighting Cancer: My Online Diary. This is a new Channel 4 documentary about 3 incredibly brave and strong people who shared their battles with cancer by vlogging online. They’re all amazing, but the heart of the documentary is undoubtedly the wonderful Charlotte Eades. I never knew her, but I became a follower of her Youtube channel for a little while before she sadly passed away, via Emily at Fashioneyesta who’s a good friend of hers.
And since Charlotte’s passing, her family have kept her legacy and Youtube channel alive, by setting up the Charlotte’s BAG charity and providing updates on a regular basis. Her mother, Alex Eades, also recently won the Inspirational Woman Of The Year on ITV’s Lorraine show, quite rightly.
So Charlotte was represented very well in this very powerful and moving documentary, which was very sensitively produced and edited. So if you can watch it on catch-up, or if Channel 4 repeat it, do give it a look. It’s not easy viewing, but it’s interesting and important, and a lovely tribute to all those involved.
I’ve also been enjoying a lot of other things on TV this month, with new series of Blue Planet 2, The Flash, Red Dwarf, The Big Bang Theory, Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Goodish, QI XL, Have I Got A Bit More News For You & Family Guy all getting underway, and we’ve now had the last episodes in the current series of Mock The Week, Duck Quacks Don’t Echo & Taskmaster.
I’ve also bought a few things on DVD & Blu-ray, which I’m looking forward to watching:
- The Big Bang Theory: Season 10 (Blu-ray)
- QI: Series H-J & Series K-M (DVD box sets)
- The Rolling Stones: From The Vault – Sticky Fingers Live At The Fonda Theatre (CD & DVD)
- The Who: Tommy – Live At The Royal Albert Hall (Blu-ray)
And there you have it, I hope you found things in amongst that lot that interests you. I’m certainly very pleased that I’m continuing to do such a variety of different things, and I look forward to more in November. So as always, do join me again next month to find out what else has been keeping me happily occupied!