Happy New Year everybody! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and that 2018 is a joyful and prosperous year for you. 🙂
This Christmas marked my first anniversary of moving to London. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already. And 2017 has been an amazing year! Although I was already used to getting around the city from my previous visits, it was still a leap into the unknown in many respects to actually live here. I had no idea how well it would work out, how safe or comfortable I would feel, how accessible events and attractions would be, and how easy it would be to make friends.
But it’s been more than worth the effort, and I’m extremely happy with how well it’s gone, given all the friends I’ve made, places I’ve explored, new things I’ve tried, and the opportunities I’ve taken up. A year ago I never imagined that I would be doing many of the things that have transpired in the months since.
I’m also pleased that my blog, Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages have had a steady increase in followers over the year. Sure, I don’t have big numbers compared to the bigger bloggers out there, but relative to where I was a year ago it’s been a substantial leap. And my goals for this haven’t been about the numbers anyway. Making connections, sharing my experiences and spreading a bit of awareness was always my aim, and I’ve been achieving that. It’s resulted in numerous opportunities and new experiences, including guest posts, a public speech (with another planned for next year), participating in a research study (which is continuing next year), being interviewed by a journalist, and more. My efforts have been paying off more than I could ever have imagined, and I’m loving it.
But above all, thank you so much to everyone I’ve met and interacted with during the year, whether it be in person or online. By reading, liking and sharing my content, leaving comments, asking questions, sending me private messages and emails, giving me opportunities for guest posts and public talks, and even meeting up in person, you’ve helped to make this year a very special one for me. Especially Aniridia Network UK, Nystagmus Network, London Vision, Thinking Bob, VocalEyes, RNIB, Scope, Fashioneyesta, Life Of A Blind Girl, My Blurred World, Luke Sam Sowden & All The Stations, but also everyone else that I’ve had any kind of contact with during the year.
Everyone has been very positive and supportive, and your involvement has enabled me to start this new chapter in my life with confidence and comfort, and fun and friendship. And for that I’ll always be very grateful. 2017 will forever be one of the most significant and happy of my life, nothing will take that away.
And I’ve had a lovely Christmas to finish it off in style, so I wanted to bring you up to date with how it went and the various things I enjoyed. This is quite an epic post as a result, and I’ve also filmed a video that mentions some of the stuff here along with my general reflections on 2017 as a whole. So I hope you enjoy!
- Arts & Culture
- Blog Posts & Videos
- Christmas Celebrations
Arts & Culture
I’ve had a couple of enjoyable visits to museums this month, each of which I’ve written a special blog post about:
- Victoria & Albert Museum: Europe 1600-1815 Exhibition – This was a very interesting visit to the V&A in order to help a wonderful lady called Rafie Cecilia with her PhD research into accessibility at museums, which will be continuing during 2018.
- Wellcome Collection Tour – This was an audio described tour by VocalEyes at The Wellcome Collection, which I really enjoyed, as we got to explore a few of their exhibitions.
I’ve been to a few different shows over the festive season, which again I’ve written dedicated blog posts about:
- Christmas With The Stars – This was a really nice charity show in aid of Bloodwise at the Royal Albert Hall, which I went to with members of the social group Thinking Bob.
- Beauty And The Beast & Rapunzel Pantomimes – I took Mum to see Rapunzel in Stratford in December, and then at the start of January I saw Beauty & The Beast with some friends from East London Vision. Both shows had audio description, though it worked much better in the second show, which also had a touch beforehand as well.
Blog Posts & Videos
As well as the museum and theatre reviews above, I’ve written quite a few other things this month as well:
- I made another post and video for the RNIB’s How I See campaign about using a cane – or, more specifically, why I don’t use one.
- I wrote a message to parents of visually impaired children, with an accompanying video too, as I’ve had lots of parents finding and enjoying my content, which is great.
- I’ve shared my responses to the Getting To Know Me Tag, Blogger Recognition Award, Disability Misconceptions Tag & Colours Of The Rainbow Tag, for which I was very kindly nominated by some great bloggers.
- I’ve marked the festive occasion by creating a special Christmas Q&A and compiling a list of my Christmas music collection, which I intend to keep up to date every year.
So there’s plenty for you to check out if you haven’t done so already, I hope you enjoy looking through them.
I had a nice little getaway to Devon this month, first of all to have Christmas dinner with my work colleagues at the Harvester in Torquay. And it was very nice. I had a mushroom dish for starters, a turkey dinner for the main, and a chocolate and orange torte for pudding (which was a strange looking long dessert with a dollop of cream next to it, but it was very tasty and filling). I also had a pint of Strongbow Dark Fruits cider to drink, which my manager generously bought, as well as a glass of Prosecco, which I don’t think I’ve ever had before, but it was nice.
Some of us went on to a couple of other pubs after that, where we continued to have fun drinking and chatting. It was wonderful to see so many people again, all of whom were very interested to hear about what I’ve been doing in London over the past year, and some of them were quite envious I think! You can also see some photos from Torquay on my Instagram.
Then the next day I went to Exeter, meeting up with a good friend of mine who I’ve known since school, with her adorable guide dog. We had lunch together at thePizza Express near the cathedral, where I had one of their specials called the Maple-Glazed Gammon pizza, described on their website as “Maple-glazed gammon, spiced apricot chutney, goat’s cheese, garlic oil, tomato and mozzarella, finished with fresh parsley and Gran Milano cheese”. It was very nice too. My friend had pasta rather than pizza, but enjoyed that as well, and they even gave her a braille menu, which was good.
After that we had a quick look in the Christmas market on Cathedral Green, and we saw the scaffolding up outside the Royal Clarence Hotel, which had been all over the news when it burned down in October 2016. The Costa shop on the high street, which was round the back of the hotel, is also boarded up, as that was gutted too.
We then went to the Princesshay shopping centre, where we looked at the long line of Christmas trees that had been set up by various charities – including the WESC Foundation (our old school), which won the contest for the best tree, as well as Guide Dogs, Sense, RSPB, RSPCA, NSPCC, Down’s Syndrome Association, Marie Curie, Hospiscare, Devon Air Ambulance, and so on. They were all really nicely decorated. The Christmas lights in Princesshay were nice too, and there were a few in the high street as well, although obviously with it being daytime I didn’t see the full effect.
So it was a lovely day. My friend and I really enjoyed catching up with each other’s lives and reminiscing about old times while we were together for a few hours.
Back in London I had some lovely Christmas dinners with a couple of the London Vision social groups, the first being with South East London Vision at the Gate Clock pub in Greenwich.
For my main course I had the stuffed turkey breast and winter vegetables, for £8.99, which is described as “turkey breast slice filled with sage & onion stuffing and served with roasted Chantenay carrots and parsnips, Maris Piper mash, pigs-in-blankets, peas and gravy”. And it was nice – not the most amazing Christmas dinner ever, but still good, with a nice chunky piece of turkey breast. And I had Magners cider on draught to drink, and it was just £1.99, which is really cheap for alcohol, especially in London!
Dessert was more chaotic though, as it transpired they didn’t have any Christmas puddings left! I’m not sure how they could be quite so ill-prepared for that, but they offered to either go to M&S and get Christmas puddings from there, which they would prepare for us, or we could have any dessert off their regular menu for free. So we went for the latter option, and I had a cookie dough with ice cream, which was very nice.
And then later in the month I had a Christmas meal with East London Vision’s Newham group at Meydan Sofrasi in Canning Town. I had a lamb pizza dish for the starter, and a lamb casserole for my main course. Although for some reason the waitress brought both our starters and mains together, because we’d ordered them at the same time, so everything arrived all at once and made the table very crowded!
She seemed quite defensive when it was explained to her that, in most restaurants, you get the starter first, then you get the main course afterwards, after you’ve finished that they bring you the main course. And I think there was a bit of confusion over what one or two people had ordered. So it was agreed with the manager that we wouldn’t pay the service charge. But apart from that, the food itself was nice, and it was great to see everyone again.
I’ve also enjoyed looking at many of the Christmas displays around London, as they always look really pretty. You can see them split across a few videos:
- Seven Dials, Oxford Street & Regent Street
- V&A Museum, Natural History Museum & Covent Garden
- Oxford Street, Carnaby, Piccadilly Circus & Trafalgar Square
Christmas At Home
My mother and I had a lovely quiet time at home over the festive season. This is the most relaxed Christmas we’ve had for quite a few years, given how long it took for us to move to London after my father died 7 years ago. We were very happy to move to London last year, but having only just moved the week before Christmas, things were too chaotic to fully enjoy it, and we didn’t have things like a fridge or an oven or central heating, so we had to make do as best we could.
But now we’ve properly settled in, and during December I was even able to buy my Aunt’s half of the inherited house ownership from her, meaning Mum and I now own it jointly (which makes sense as we’re the two living in it). So with all that sorted out, we were able to celebrate Christmas properly this year, including getting a tree and decorating the lounge. And we got some scented diffusers to make the place smell nice.
We didn’t go big on the presents, because we never do. Mum is blind, so relies on me to do shopping anyway. So we just ask each other what we want, and I arrange to get it. My present to Mum was paying for the Rapunzel pantomime, because she likes being able to go to occasional theatre shows and enjoy them with audio description. And I wanted a Blu-ray drive for my Mac, so she paid for that and the software I had to download to read the discs from it (Aiseesoft’s Blu-ray Player if you’re interested). And it works nicely enough with the few discs I’ve tried. It’s not a full substitute for a proper Blu-ray player attached to the TV, but it’s good enough for playing them on my Mac.
We also indulged ourselves on plenty of food and drink of course, as we felt like we’d earned the right to treat ourselves after a successful year. So we decided to try getting our big Christmas meats from the Marks & Spencer Food To Order service, where you order food online and pick it up in the store. And it worked really well.
We got a turkey crown with pork, chestnut, bacon & thyme stuffing, plus a 4-bird roast (turkey, duck, chicken & pheasant), and a sugar-baked gammon joint, along with a pot of their Posh Turkey Gravy to go with the turkey crown. And they were all delicious. We got a few days worth of dinners and sandwiches out of the turkey crown, and a few days each out of the other meats as well, so we’ll definitely be ordering from them again. And we had the traditional accompaniments with our Christmas dinner like pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, sprouts and other vegetables.
All of that filled us up nicely, although we still had plenty of room for treats too of course. In the lead-up to Christmas, I had my first advent calendar for years. This was a Lindt advent calendar, with 4 flavours of chocolate in it – mint, sea salt, orange and dark. And there were 2 different flavoured pieces of chocolate behind each door, so I was able to share the chocolate with Mum each time I opened it. We’ve also got through loads of mince pies since about November, as we always start them as soon as we see them in the shops.
We’re not particularly into Christmas pudding or big rich fruit Christmas cakes – so instead, Mum had a stollen cake and I’ve eaten my way through a couple of Tunis cakes (madeira sponge with a chocolate layer on top) from Sainsbury’s and M&S. We’ve also tried a chocolate Yule log from both of those stores, and we’ve had little nibbles from Mr Kipling, namely his Frosted Fancies and his Christmas Cake Slices. And we had sweets to pick at as well – we got tubs of Celebrations, Cadbury’s Roses and Cadbury’s Heroes, and mixed them all together to give us a good variety.
So we’ve eaten well, all in all, but spread out over the Christmas period, so it’s not all been in one go. And our waistlines seem to have survived the onslaught, our clothes still just about fit!
I’m always able to find plenty to keep me entertained over the festive period, so there are lots of things to mention here. It’s mainly comedies, but there are some well-known dramas to begin with as well.
- Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time – Peter Capaldi has been a great Doctor, and I’ve enjoyed his final series this year. Steven Moffat’s reign as showrunner is also over with this season and, while there were those who complained whatever he wrote (as there were for Russell T Davies and will be for Chris Chibnall), I think he’s done a superb job. So it’s sad to see this season of the show come to an end. But what a way to end it, with Peter’s Doctor meeting his very first incarnation in the Christmas special, it was a lovely way of linking the show back to its origins, with some very moving moments and some lovely cameos. And now we move on to a new era of the show, with Jodie Whittaker as – shock, horror – a female Doctor! You’d think the world had ended judging by some people’s very predictable reactions when that was announced. But I have absolutely no problem with it. We know that Time Ladies are possible, so there’s no reason why The Doctor can’t become one, and I think it will add an interesting and fresh new dynamic to the show. Jodie’s very brief entrance at the end of the Christmas special was great for what little it was, and I wish her the very best of luck for the role. I hope people give her the fair chance that she deserves.
- Black Mirror – the 4th season of this show launched on Netflix near the end of December, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a very dark vision of the future, in terms of what we might do with technology as it continues to advance, so it can be quite shocking and thought-provoking. Even though the situations portrayed in each episode might appear extreme, they are potentially plausible (and some things have happened in the real world that appear to mirror earlier Black Mirror episodes to some degree). So it can mess with your head and feel a bit unsettling for that reason, and that’s what makes it good. Season 4 perhaps isn’t the very best season, I think I might rate season 3 better, but it’s still very good and worth a watch.
- Outlander – Emily Davison from Fashioneyesta recommended this time-travelling action drama to me when we first met, and I’m glad she did, it’s amazing. I’ve been working my way through it on Amazon since August, and was able to catch up in time to finish series 3 at the same time as everyone else in December. It’s a brilliant story, in terms of the basic concept and the way it plays out and evolves. It’s basically about a lady called Claire Randall, a nurse in World War II, who gets transported back 200 years to ancient Scotland, and the adventures and relationships that result from it. Every series has a new story arc, situation and locations, progressing nicely from the previous series, and there’s a great selection of characters. I love how gritty it is too, it gets quite dark and a bit violent sometimes, with quite a few shocks and twists throughout. And it’s visually stunning – I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland, even more so after watching this, and the period details and costumes look wonderful too. The music is also gorgeous, especially the title theme (the Skye Boat Song), the instrumentation of which varies whenever the location of the story changes, which is a nice touch.
- Game Of Thrones – It might be hard to believe that I’ve never watched this massively popular programme before, but I haven’t been able to, because I don’t have access to Sky Atlantic and it’s not on the streaming sites I’m signed up to. So Emily very kindly lent me Season 1 on DVD, and I watched it during November and December. And it’s an amazing show – albeit very difficult to follow without audio description, because it’s very complex, with lots of locations and characters involved. So I haven’t got my head around it properly after just one viewing, that’s for sure. It also takes a while to really get going, because there are lots of things to set up and pieces to move into place. But it does pick up the pace in the second half of the series, with some genuine twists and surprises that I hadn’t seen coming, so I was able to enjoy it to some extent. All the characters in the series are great, but you quickly learn you mustn’t get too attached to any of them, because none of them are safe. Like Outlander, it’s very gritty and doesn’t shy away from being graphic, yet isn’t horrific just for the sake of it, while the sex scenes aren’t too revealing and seem to be a good excuse to do a bit of story exposition when the characters talk. And the visuals and music are outstanding, with the wonderful theme music accompanying an impressive title sequence with its elaborate and clever flyover of the very detailed map where the series is set. So I would like to carry on watching it when I get a chance. If it were fully available on streaming services or repeated on a more widely available Sky channel, preferably with audio description (which it does have on the TV), that would be ideal.
I don’t watch many nature shows, purely because I don’t have enough time on my hands, and watching too many of them would start to feel a bit repetitive. But the original Blue Planet series was amazing, so I had to watch the sequel, Blue Planet 2, that they broadcast this year, and I’ve also bought the Blu-ray. It took them 4 years to make, and it was absolutely worth the wait. It’s a stunning programme, with David Attenborough narrating it as wonderfully as ever, and I was delighted that the BBC included audio description for it too. It’s just incredible to see all these weird and wonderful creatures and the lives they lead. I defy anyone to watch it and not be drawn in and moved by it.
Every year, I always watch a few Christmas episodes of classic sitcoms that I have on DVD. I won’t mention them here, but I’ve mentioned some of the shows I like to choose from in my Christmas Q&A if you’re curious. The one I will give a fleeting shoutout to is Only Fools And Horses, as I bought a Christmas jumper relating to the show this month that I really like (as well as one with a cityscape design).
But beyond that, I’ve also watched these sitcoms on TV recently:
- A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong – This was a really enjoyable, farcical, slapstick, silly production, made by the Mischief Theatre company, who have done other shows like this on the TV and in the theatre before. It ironically takes great acting skill to make this kind of comedy work well, which it does. Mum and I were going to see Comedy About A Bank Robbery by this company last year, but we both fell ill and couldn’t make it. So we need to try and book up for it again during 2018.
- Not Going Out– Written by and starring Lee Mack. The series has evolved significantly since its earlier days, now that Lee’s character is married and has kids. But the core elements of Lee’s comedy are still there, and it’s still very funny. So this year’s Christmas special was very good.
- The Big Bang Theory – I’ve continued enjoying this nerdy comedy on E4, now well into its 11th season. As I’ve said in the past, it’s the only live action American sitcom I watch. The other sitcoms I watch from across the pond are of the animated variety, and on that front I bought Season 18 of The Simpson on DVD this month.
- The League Of Gentlemen 20th Anniversary Specials – This is one for all those who enjoy dark humour. They reunited for 3 special episodes this year, and they were very good. Very wrong on many levels, but fun too!
- Tim Vine Travels Through Time – Stand-up comedian Tim Vine is always very funny, especially with his puns and wordplay. And this show gives him plenty of leeway to mess around, so it’s great fun. Spice Girl Emma Bunton was a great sport for being his guest this time around too, she did very well.
- Still Open All Hours – This is coming back for a 4th series, kicking off with this Christmas special. While it’s not as great as the original Open All Hours, it’s still a nice, easy comedy to watch, and it still works very well with David Jason in charge.
Comedy Game Shows
- Taskmaster: Champion Of Champions – Here they got the winning comedians from the previous 5 series – a fantastic line-up of Bob Mortimer, Josh Widdicombe, Katherine Ryan, Noel Fielding & Rob Beckett – to compete over more silly tasks to claim the ultimate title, and it was very funny as always. it’s one of the best comedy shows out there.
- The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year – This is always good fun, hosted by Jimmy Carr on Channel 4. I have no idea who the guy teamed up with Katherine Ryan was (Big Narstie), and my friends and I agree that he was just annoying. But the other guests were great as usual though – Noel Fielding and Richard Ayoade have an unusual but great partnership on this show, while David Mitchell and Roisin Conaty were good together too. So it was a fun programme on the whole.
- 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown – Jimmy Carr hosts this as well, and their latest Christmas special was good fun as usual, with guests including Catherine Tate and a gospel choir.
- QI XL, Would I Lie To You? & Have I Got A Bit More News For You – These shows all had Christmas specials alongside their regular episodes, and they were great fun as always.
- I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue & Just A Minute – Mum and I enjoyed listening to both of these shows on BBC Radio 4 as usual. In particular, we really liked the 50th anniversary edition of Just A Minute, which cleverly brought together various celebrity contestants from the past 5 decades all at once, as a nice tribute to the show’s legacy and success.
- Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Goodish – This show completed its fifth and final series in December, and was as great as always, because Dave Gorman’s observational humour is brilliant. He’s good at surprising you too, because he sometimes throws in little twists, and has clever ways of connecting pieces of material that seem unrelated at first. The regular highlight of every show is a really funny Found Poem, where he scours the comments sections of the internet for people arguing over completely inconsequential news stories, and puts them all together in a poem structure. So it’s a great shame that this was the final series, but I completely understand his reasons for stopping, so fair play to him, and hopefully he’ll come back on TV with something else one day, just like he’s done other shows in the past.
- Russell Howard: Recalibrate & Jack Whitehall: At Large – These are 2 live stand-up shows that are exclusive to Netflix, as they’re both among a number of comedians who have decided not to bother releasing DVDs this year. Which is a shame, but at least we can still watch them this way, and they are very good shows. I’m looking forward to watching Ricky Gervais’ Humanity show when that comes out on Netflix sometime soon too.
- Live At The Apollo – This stand-up showcase on the BBC has been going for ages. Each episode is hosted by a well-known comedian, and after doing some of their material they introduce a couple of other comedians to do short sets as well. By its nature, some of the performers are better than others, but each week there’s usually at least one I quite like, so it’s always worth looking at. And in the first episode of the new year it was great to see a blind comedian called Chris McCausland, he was pretty good.
Other Comedy Shows
- The Last Leg – I love this topical comedy show, and had a fantastic time being in the audience earlier in the year. And they had an enjoyable Christmas special as usual, with a varied line-up of Stephen Merchant, Georgia Toffolo, Jona Lewie and Ed Miliband.
- Michael McIntyre’s Big Show – This is always good fun to watch on a Saturday night, and for this Christmas special show there was a performance by Seal and a bit of stand-up by Bill Bailey, as well as the usual fun and games like Send To All, The Midnight Gameshow, and The Unexpected Star Of The Show.
- Vic & Bob’s Big Night Out – Completely surreal and utterly nonsensical, and that’s just what you expect and demand from Vic & Bob. So it was very weird, but still a fun way to spend half an hour.
- A Year In The Life Of A Year – This was a wonderfully silly and irreverent look at the news of the year shown on BBC4, poking fun at various aspects of it. It sort of filled the gap left by the absence of Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe, as he hasn’t had time to produce one this year due to other commitments (including Black Mirror). So it’s a shame we didn’t get that, but this was an enjoyable alternative.
- Harry Enfield’s Yule Log Chums – This was an old Christmas special that I recorded on Gold, because I haven’t seen many of Harry Enfield’s shows for quite a while. So that was fun to see again.
- The Two Ronnies: Christmas With The Stars 1972 & Morecambe & Wise: Christmas Special 1977 – It wouldn’t be Christmas without either of these wonderful comedy double acts, so you always get one or two of their Christmas specials repeated, and they’re always a great mix of variety, humour and music.
- Junior Choice – Not a comedy show as such but, in this BBC Radio 2 show that Mum and I enjoy listening to every Christmas, they play lots of classic songs loved by children in decades gone by, including delightfully silly songs like Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) by Benny Hill, My Brother by Terry Scott, Hole In The Ground by Bernard Cribbins, and so on. It’s a lovely bit of nostalgia.
So there you have it. It was a lovely Christmas for both my mother and I, easily our best one for a while, and I hope you enjoyed reading all about it.
It’s amazing to reflect on how much I’ve done over the last 12 months as well. If you’d told me even just a year or two ago what 2017 would involve, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s just been crazy. After living a normal, happy, quiet, routine life for such a long time, this year has been a completely fresh start for me, one that I very much needed. And I’m very glad that I’ve been able to grasp the opportunity so firmly.
I’ve pushed myself to meet so many new people, visit so many new places and try so many new things – and I’ve only just started to scratch the surface of what’s possible. There are so many more things to see and do, and so many more people to meet, and I hope to continue making the most of the opportunities available to me in 2018. I have no excuse not to try things, because I’ve proven to myself that trying even just small things can lead to big results. I’ll always be a bit shy and nervous about stuff, but I have a lot more confidence to overcome that and deal with it, more so than ever before.
So thank you so much to everyone who has been a part of my eventful journey this year. You’ve all had a big impact and ensured that I will always look back on 2017 as one of the best and happiest years of my life so far. And I hope you’ll stick with me in 2018! A very Happy New Year to you all, here’s to more fun adventures! 🙂
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