Hello again, welcome to my latest Favourites roundup. Once again it’s a varied package, with some disability blog posts and events, a museum tour, no less than three musicals, another outing with Fashioneyesta, my first trip to a Lush store, the delights of the Lord Mayor’s Show, and more. So I hope you enjoy looking through it al!
- Other Outings
- TV Shows
Blog Posts & Videos
This month I’ve been inspired to produce a few posts and videos answering questions about my visual impairment and describing how I get around London, so I wanted to flag those up first. Do go and check them out, and I hope you find them interesting:
- Nystagmus Tag – Blog post & video
- Q&A: Aniridia & Nystagmus – Blog Post & Video
- Planning My Journeys In London – Blog post & video
- Travelling Around London – Blog post & video
After my first visit last year, I went to Sight Village in Kensington again this month. It’s an event that showcases technology and services available to visually impaired people, so is attended by visually impaired people, their partners and carers, and professionals who work with people with sight loss. So it’s a great place to find information and chat to people. The main Sight Village event is in Birmingham every July, but they do roadshow events like this around the UK during the year as well, so it’s well worth looking out for events near you.
On this particular visit, I ended up talking to people at various stalls, namely:
- Traveleyes & Seable Holidays – These companies organise accessible holidays for visually impaired people, providing sighted guides as companions, and organising accessible activities for you to enjoy, while also giving you plenty of opportunity to explore. So if you don’t have anybody to go on holiday with, they’re worth checking out. They work in different ways though, as I understand it. Traveleyes organise group holidays on particular dates, and you have a different guide each day, and being a group event it gets very social. Seable, on the other hand, allow you to create your own personalised, accessible holiday in one of the 4 destinations they work with, at any time you like, going on your own or with your partner or friends or family, and you have the same guide throughout your stay. These two companies intrigued me the most at this event, as they are very tempting. Now I’m accustomed to exploring London, this could be a good way of exploring further afield. Have you had any experience with these companies? How have you got on?
- Vocaleyes – They organise audio description and touch tours at museums, theatres, etc, and I’ve written about them a lot. I highly recommend seeing what they offer.
- WESC Foundation – This is the school I used to go to, so it was great to catch up with them. We were chatting for nearly an hour I think! It’s very different to when I was there, as many of the children they work with have more complex disabilities, as well as all of them having sight loss. If you’re a parent of a visually impaired child, I can recommend getting in touch with them. I appreciate I’m biased there, but they genuinely do a lot of great work.
- OrCam – I saw this device last year. It’s a camera that attaches to the arm of your glasses, which will then speak text to you, and will recognise faces you’ve programmed into it. It’s now smaller and has some improved functionality, including the ability to scan and read a full page of text held in front of you (but you can still point at specific areas too if you wish). They’re also working on getting it to read barcodes as well.
- RP Fighting Blindness – An information and support service for people with Retinitis Pigmentosa. That doesn’t include me, but it was a pleasure to chat to the lady at the desk nonetheless, so I’m more than happy to give them a shoutout.7
- Sight And Sound & Pamtrad – A couple of the various companies at the event showing things like CCTVs, portable magnifiers, software, braille embossers, etc. To be fair, CCTVs and magnifiers don’t change that much year on year – the cameras improve in quality, as does the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) in terms of accuracy, but otherwise the devices do much the same as they always have. That said, some companies are making more use of things like tablet computers now as well, given that they have decent cameras already built in. So that’s becoming more prevalent. If the technology exists, it makes sense to use it.
- Barclays – As well as having contactless payment wristbands, which I saw last year, they were also demonstrating a 3D printer, and showing how it’s been used to make prosthetic hands for children. It’s all part of the Eagle Labs scheme they run. The limbs aren’t designed to be long-lasting, because children grow up fast – but it’s a very cost-effective and easy way of giving a child independence while waiting to get a more permanent prosthetic, which can take time and money. It’s a great idea.
- Metro Blind Sport & Goalball UK – I really ought to try one or two sports at some point, so it’s always good to be aware of groups like this. I know the London Vision groups have taster days for sports sometimes, so next year I should try and get on to one or two of those for a bit of fun. By sheer coincidence I bumped into Jess from South East London Vision at the event, which was nice. I’ve booked on to their Christmas lunch, as well as one with my local branch of East London Vision – so with those, and my work’s Christmas lunch, and my one at home of course, that’s 4 Christmas lunches I’ll be enjoying this year. Mmmm!
- RNIB – They need no explanation really. I’ve had various interactions with them recently though, as they’ve been sharing some of my content on their social media platforms, and I’ve had a bit of private contact with them too lately, so it was only fair to go over and say hello to them.
And that’s just a selection of the many stands that were there. I spent a nice few hours there. It’s always well worth looking around that event, especially as it’s free.
Aniridia Network: Meetup
After Sight Village I went to the Aniridia Meetup at Caffe Nero across the road, which I helped James from the Aniridia Network to promote on social media. We had a very good turnout as well, with 10 people altogether, some of whom I’d met at last year’s meetup, and some of whom were new. Everyone was very sociable and chatty, so we had a very pleasant evening getting to know each other.
This was just a small get-together of course – the main event for UK people connected with aniridia will be the 2018 Aniridia Network Conference, which is being held in London. You can register your interest via the link on the conference page if you’d like to attend. I’ll be going, which will be the first aniridia conference I’ve ever been to, so I’m looking forward to it.
East London Vision: Bank Of England Museum
I also met my friends from East London Vision, when we went to the Bank Of England Museum for an audio described tour. We were split into 2 groups to make it easier for the staff to take us round, so each group started at a different part of the museum. But we all saw the same things.
We were told about the history of the Bank Of England and how the production of money has changed over the years, all of which was very interesting. And we were allowed to touch various things along the way, including an image of the Roman goddess Britannia, a huge metal chest, and a plate for printing raised text on banknotes. Plus, best of all, you can hold a real gold bar as well. It’s locked away very securely in a box of course, with CCTV cameras pointing at it from every angle, as you can see on the screens above it. But you can put your hand through a hole to grab the bar from underneath, and lift it up a short way. It’s great to be able to feel it, and it’s very heavy too!
So it was a very interesting visit, and I came away with a few items from the gift shop as well – including a £50 note fridge magnet, a large gold-covered chocolate half-penny coin, a gold bullion shaped chocolate bar, a keyring with a small replica of a gold bar attached, and a big money box in the shape of a gold bar. Obviously the chocolate’s been eaten now, and very nice it was too!
Reasons To Be Cheerful
At the start of the month I went to see the musical Reasons To Be Cheerful at Theatre Royal Stratford East. When I was a child, I used to come to this theatre with my family for pantomimes at Christmas, it’s always been great for those (indeed, Mum and I going to see Rapunzel there in December). This is the first time I’ve been to the venue as an adult though, so I don’t really remember it after all this time. But it’s a lovely place, with very friendly and helpful staff.
Reasons To Be Cheerful is basically a story built around the music of Ian Dury and the Blockheads. And it was an amazing show. If you’re aware of Ian Dury’s music – and most people know a few of his biggest songs, including the title track and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – then you’ll know what a great talent he was. And there were plenty of his greatest hits in here, performed brilliantly by the cast. And the audience were all standing and having a good sing-along for a few songs in the encore, it was great.
It was a very lively and happy atmosphere, just like singing along with the guys in the pub. I have got a greatest hits compilation for Ian Dury, but I’m very tempted to check out the actual albums as well now, as there were one or two songs here I didn’t know that were good fun.
The show has been produced by The Graeae Theatre Company, who put disabled actors centre stage, including amputees and deaf performers, and it’s fantastic. Everyone in this show is absolutely great, it really comes across that they enjoy what they’re doing. And the energy they have to summon up for every performance is incredible.
It’s basically a play within a play, whereby professional actors are pretending to be a group of people putting on an amateur production. So, you as the audience are guests in the pub where the characters hang out. The characters are putting on a play for you that they’ve made, about their attempts to see Ian Dury perform live, and they perform lots of his songs throughout. And consequently they use elements of the pub to represent other locations during the play. It’s very cleverly put together.
One aspect where it gets particularly creative is how accessible they’ve made the show. This isn’t something they’ve just tagged on – it’s a central and important part of the piece. So for the hearing impaired, one of the characters was putting up slides on the back screen, with full captions for all the spoken parts and song lyrics, along with imagery relating to the time period, people, locations, etc that were being referenced. And another character was interpreting the spoken parts in sign language as well.
And for me, I had the audio description, which was particularly well done. One of the characters was using the phone in the pub to talk to those of us who had headsets on. And he stayed in character throughout, so he was basically a mate on the phone telling me everything that was going on, so I didn’t miss out. Consequently, not only was he describing what people were wearing and doing (and getting some of the cast to introduce themselves early on too), but there was banter there as well. He was regularly throwing in jokes and funny comments relating to what was happening, which nobody else in the audience knew about. So those of us using the headsets were getting something extra special out of it. It was very effective and unique, and blended into the show seamlessly.
The cast also came out for a post-show chat afterwards, which was very kind of them, and it was very interesting too. On the accessibility front in particular, one of the cast (to everyone’s agreement) said that all performances of theatre shows should be accessible, not just selected ones like we get with organisations like VocalEyes now, or that theatres do in-house. And she was absolutely right of course. It would be great if you could get audio description or captions at any show, not just on specific dates. Whether that will ever happen in practice, I don’t know, but with this show they’ve proven that it’s possible, as it’s purposefully built into every performance from the outset.
The tour has now come to an end, but I strongly recommend you keep an eye out for its return, and I’m sure it’ll be back again. It’s been going for 7 years as it is, and has toured the world, so it’s clearly very popular. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it appeared again. And I also recommend checking out the new song they’ve included in the show – If I Can’t Be Right Then It Must Be Wrong – written by two original members of the Blockheads group and performed by the cast. It’s a protest song against austerity cuts, and it’s very catchy and timely.
On Monday night I went to my latest theatre show – Young Frankenstein, a musical comedy by Mel Brooks – which I had been very keen to see for a number of reasons. Firstly, it sounded like great fun. Secondly, it stars Ross Noble, one of my favourite stand-up comedians. And thirdly, the show was recommended to me by Emily Davison after she watched it with her mother, and anything that Emily recommends is guaranteed to be good.
So I eagerly booked up to see the show at the Garrick Theatre. This is the first play I’ve been to without audio description this year, but that’s fine. As long as I have a good seat for a show, I don’t mind if audio description isn’t available. It is possible that an organisation like VocalEyes may offer audio description for this show one day, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. But I was keen to see it, and Ross Noble is only in it for a limited period I believe, so I didn’t want to miss him. I managed to get a good seat in row C for this performance too, so I was able to look at things closely with my monocular at various moments during the performance, and that worked out nicely.
And it was amazing. I can’t give anything away, naturally. But I didn’t stop smiling from start to finish, because I was laughing a great deal. It’s a delightful, feel-good, hilarious comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you can tell that the cast are enjoying themselves.
Ross Noble is an inspired choice for his role as Igor, he nails it. Even when he’s not saying anything, his facial expressions and body language always make you laugh. The other familiar name to me was Lesley Joseph (Dorien from Birds Of A Feather), and she’s also wonderful here. As are the entire cast, they’re a superb ensemble. The music and choreography are brilliant too, I had a few of the songs running around my head aftewards. So I highly recommend going to see it, it’s well worth it.
Matilda The Musical
The touch tour took place a couple of hours before the performance. This and the audio description are done about 4 times a year, and it’s all in-house by the theatre, so it’s not organised by VocalEyes this time. And they also do captioned performances as well – check out their accessibility page for info.
There were just 2 of us on the touch tour – myself and a young lad being guided by a lady who I assume was his mother. So it was great that the staff at the theatre did the tour just for us, as I didn’t know if they had a minimum requirement for the numbers attending. And it meant we got very close personal attention, without having to wait for anybody else to look at things first.
So we got to go up on the stage to meet a few of the people who work behind the scenes on the show. They helped us explore the myriad of props on the birthday party table, as well as Matilda’s bedroom, the blackboard in the classroom and the school gates. As always with these kind of tours, it really helped to put everything in context and enabled us to be familiar with what was on stage during the actual show.
As an added bonus, I was also given one of the paper aeroplanes that the children throw into the audience during the show. They’re all folded up school reports, so mine is the report for Nigel Fleabottom! Unsurprisingly, Miss Trunchbull doesn’t like him very much!
I then had audio description on a headset during the play itself, which worked really well. Unlike the VocalEyes earphones, which sit just in your ear, these were small headphones that go over your ears. But that didn’t stop you hearing the show – they’re not big enough to block out the sound, plus the sound of the play gets piped through the headphones along with the audio description anyway. So you don’t miss out on anything, and the description is really well done. You get all the information you need at the key moments without it interrupting anything. And it enabled me to pick out things that I wouldn’t have otherwise spotted, which was great. I was also using my monocular to look at things too, including when the description alerted me to something I hadn’t noticed.
The most important thing, however, is the show itself. And it’s incredible. It’s based on the Roald Dahl book of course, but I haven’t read that since I was a kid. So I don’t really remember it and can’t make a comparison with the show. But in this musical the story moves along nice and swiftly, without feeling rushed. And it has lots of fun and humour, along with some emotional, tender moments too. And everybody in the cast is brilliant, including the guy playing Miss Trunchbull and the lady playing Miss Honey.
But the biggest praise has to go to the children, because they’re absolutely brilliant. They act superbly, they harmonise well when they sing, they’re wonderful dancers, and above all they’re clearly enjoying themselves when they perform!
And the big star of the show is, of course, Matilda Wormwood. There are multiple girls who play the role because of the regulations for children, so for this performance we had Emma Moore. And she was astounding. She has a huge amount to do, including lengthy monologues and lots to sing, and she even speaks in a foreign language at one point! The page I linked to there claims that Matilda delivers over 2,500 words and has solo parts in 7 songs, during the 1 hour and 35 minutes she’s on stage, and that sounds pretty accurate to me. It’s an incredible amount, that most adult actors would find daunting I’m sure, and she nails it perfectly, making it look effortless and completely true to the character. She’s got a great singing voice too.
And the music itself is fantastic. Of all the musicals I’ve seen this year, the songs from this show have stuck in my head the most. Tim Minchin has composed songs that are enjoyable and thoughtful, with great orchestration and very clever lyrics. A lot of people will know him for his more adult comedy, so he may have seemed like an odd choice for composer – but it was a genius move. His command of both music and language shines through here.
When I Grow Up is the big number, and has sentiments that resonate with all of us from our own childhoods, and wishes that as adults we still wish were true! It’s an optimistic vision of the future from the children, coupled with our wistful looks back at the past as adults, so it really does tug at your heartstrings.
Songs like Naughty, Bruce and Revolting Children are also really great fun. And the School Song performed to the new arrivals at the gates incorporates the alphabet very cleverly, I love that. I downloaded the soundtrack after I got home, and it’s a joy to listen to. Even now, looking through the videos to include in this post, I still don’t get tired of hearing the songs and hearing the performances again, they’re really magical.
So all in all, it is an amazing play, which I highly recommend seeing. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s sweet, and it’s really memorable for all the right reasons. It’s my favourite show of the year by far without a doubt.
Fashioneyesta: Blackheath Fireworks
I was very kindly invited by Emily Davison from Fashioneyesta to join her and her family at the Blackheath Fireworks this month. This is one of the only displays in London that’s still free to attend – although they were keen to ask for donations on the website and over the tannoy on the day, so I don’t know how long that aspect will last. It wouldn’t surprise me if they start charging for it at some point. In a way it is only fair really, given the severe constraints local authorities have on their finances these days. So it’s great that they are still prepared to put it on for nothing.
And because it was free, the area was packed with people. Not so much that you couldn’t walk around, but still extremely busy. I held on to Emily’s mum Emma just to be sure I didn’t lose them in the crowds in the dark, though Emily’s cute white wooly hat was a good target to focus on too.
We found ourselves a good spot to watch the fireworks pretty easily, and it was a lovely 10-minute display, which I’ve posted a video of, and Emily posted a photo on Instagram too. Emily’s guide dog Unity was safely at home, but I’m told she wouldn’t have been bothered by any firework noises going on nearby, she’s very calm around that kind of thing.
We did have a look at the funfair to see if we could go on one of the rides for a bit of fun, but it’s not a good place to be when you’re disabled. The number of people made it very difficult to get around for a start. And because we were inevitably taking a few seconds longer to pay at the one ride we did approach, we were being pressured by a drunk guy behind us and the staff at the booth in front of us to hurry up, which slowed us down further. So we left. It wasn’t worth fighting, as the ride clearly wasn’t going to be worth the £5 cost. A shame, but not unexpected. It had been wishful thinking by us really – accessibility is rarely a concern of travelling funfairs like this to be honest, at least in our experience over the years. It’s all about the moneyn
So we drove to The Station pub in Hither Green, as it was less busy there compared to the overflowing venues in Blackheath. And that was a very wise move, as we were able to get a table together, and we all had a lovely chat there for a while. I then got a train home from Hither Green station across the road. It was easy to go one stop to London Bridge and then change to the Jubilee Line from there. So I got home safely.
All in all, ignoring the funfair blip, it was a really lovely evening. The fireworks display was great, and it was wonderful to meet Emily’s parents, so thank you to all of them for inviting me along!
Lush: Oxford Street
Emily has also introduced me to the delights of products by Lush this year, as she works there and is a big fan of their stuff. Mum and I had bought some stuff online back in August, and were very happy with it, so this month I decided to pop into their big Oxford Street store to have a look around. I didn’t know if it was going to be overwhelming in there with so much choice, and I was hoping I wouldn’t be pressured into buying anything I didn’t want. But it was all fine.
I spoke to a lovely guy called Rob when I went in, telling him I was visually impaired and the sort of things I was looking for. And he took me all around the store, to various sections on the different floors, showing me 2 or 3 items in each area that were most relevant to me. He didn’t rush it or put any pressure on me, and didn’t try to sell me anything I hadn’t asked for, so it was lovely.
There were lots of nice smelling things in there, and it was interesting to learn about the different products – e.g. bath bombs are used once, while bubble bars can be broken into segments and crumbled into the water. The lady at the checkout, Laura, was also very friendly and chatty, which was nice, as I rarely have a conversation with people at tills.
So I felt really well cared for and enjoyed looking around in there. And as result I did buy a lot of stuff, all coming to £91.68, which was less than I had feared it might be! I ended up getting:
- Brightside Bubble Bar
- Plum Snow Bubble Bar
- Avobath Bath Bomb
- Never Mind The Ballistics Bath Bomb
- Lullaby Shampoo Bar
- Jason And The Argan Oil Shampoo Bar
- Brazilliant Shampoo Bar
- Veganese Conditioner
- Karma Kream Body Lotion
- Sleepy Body Lotion
- Aromaco Deodorant
- The Greench Deodorant
- T’eo Deodorant
- Pumice Power Foot Soap
- Softy Foot Lotion
So that was well worth a visit, and thank you to Rob for his time and assistance!
Lord Mayor’s Show
The last time I watched the big parade for the annual Lord Mayor’s Show in person was a very long time ago, as a child visiting the city in November 1995. So it was naturally something I had to see 2 decades later during my first year living in the city.
I caught the procession on its return route, by going to Mansion House station and walking just a short way down the road to find a gap in the crowd. I was able to stand right on the edge of the pavement, because there were no metal barriers on our side of the road (whereas there were on the other side, so I got a good close-up view. I just missed the very start of the parade, but I was stood there for an hour watching pretty much all of it. And it was great, with lots of different costumes and music and organisations, all very colourful and exciting.
After going for a random walk in the afternoon, I was also able to watch the fireworks for the Lord Mayor on the River Thames in the evening, from a spot with lots of other people near Blackfriars Bridge. And it was a nice show. Nothing like the elaborate, musical extravaganza London puts on at New Year of course – this display didn’t have any accompaniment, and it was a relatively simple display from just a couple of boats. But it was still enjoyable.
Among the comedy shows I’ve been watching this month, I’ll give honourable mentions to three in particular:
- Red Dwarf – The Dave channel has to be applauded for bringing this classic space sitcom back, as it’s always been a great sci-fi comedy. The Back To Earth mini-series wasn’t their best work, true, but that was basically them finding their feet again I think. Whereas the full series they’ve done since then has seen them back on form. The new 12th series they’ve just completed has therefore been very good, and it was wonderful to see the return of various former characters like Holly in the final episode (and I wish they’d bring him back permanently). Here’s hoping they do more series in the future, they seem to still be having fun making them.
- Michael McIntyre’s Big Show – Series 3 of this show started this month. Michael McIntyre is one of my favourite comedians, because I love his energy and his observational humour, and his shows are always fun. So it’s great that he’s got a prime time entertainment show on the BBC. It’s basically a Saturday night variety show, with music, comedy and surprises throughout. So you get a bit of stand-up comedy from Michael himself, and another stand-up guest later in the show, the Send To All game where a brave celebrity allows Michael to send a funny text message to everyone in their contacts list to see what the responses are, The Midnight Gameshow where someone sets up their partner to be surprised in the middle of the night in their house for an impromptu quiz show, and of course The Unexpected Star Of The Show, where a member of the public who enjoys singing as a hobby gets the shock of their life with a chance to perform at the end of the show. So it’s a great mixture, there’s something for everyone.
- Would I Lie To You? – This is a really funny show with a very simple concept, so I’m delighted it’s back for yet another series. If you somehow don’t know it by now, there are 2 teams of celebrities, and each person has to read out a statement about themselves, which the other team then questions them about to try and decide if it’s true or not. So if it’s a lie, the person telling the story must convince the other team that it’s the truth to win the point, and vice-versa. It regularly leads to very funny exchanges, especially between the team captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack, but all of the guests usually turn out to be great choices. And Rob Brydon is a great host as well (having taken over from Angus Deayton after the first few series). So I’m glad it’s still going strong.
Apart from those, I’ve also continued to enjoy new episodes of comedy shows Have I Got A Bit More News For You, QI XL, The Big Bang Theory & Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Goodish, plus the incredible documentary Blue Planet 2.
And finally I’ve also bought several shows on Blu-ray & DVD this month:
- The Blu-ray of Red Dwarf: Series XII, as discussed above.
- The Blu-ray steelbook edition of Doctor Who: Series 10.
- The DVD set of Family Guy: Season 17.
- Stand-up DVDs Adam Hills: Clown Heart, Sean Lock: Keep It Light & Micky Flanagan: An’ Another Fing.
And there you go, that’s the end of my newest update, I hope you enjoyed that as always. Mum and I are now getting ready for our first proper Christmas in the city of course. We’ve been checking out lots of shops online and in person to see what they’re offering, and I’ve already been out to see some of the Christmas lights too, as you’ll see if you go on my Youtube channel. So we’re already starting to feel festive, and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas too!