Christmas 2018 Favourites

Glen smiling and wearing a red and white Santa hat.

Welcome to my epic Christmas Favourites post for this year! I hope you’ve all had a lovely festive season, or found some support, solace, comfort and company if you needed it. And if you were working over the holidays, especially if you’re in the emergency services and other essential jobs, you have my utmost admiration and respect.

Also a very big thank you to everyone who has supported my blog and my adventures over what has been an incredible second year in London for me. It’s been full of even more amazing surprises and adventures than the first year. Raising £920 from my charity abseil for nystagmus research and giving a speech to primary school children about growing up with sight loss were my 2 biggest and most surprising achievements this year without a doubt. But there’s been so much more going on as well, as you can see from all of my Favourites posts for the past 12 months.

I really do feel like I’ve settled into London properly now. I’ll always want to experiment with new things and meet new people, that’s one of the many great things that living in such a wonderful city enables you to do. But the foundations I laid by doing that in 2017 definitely enabled me to have more confidence in 2018, so I had a much better idea of the things I enjoyed doing most, I was less shy around people, and I made more friends on an individual level beyond just going to social groups.

And my blogging has also gone well this year. It’s only ever been a hobby on the side really, so I’m delighted that people are taking an interest. And my efforts have already been far more rewarding than I could ever have anticipated, with all the wonderful opportunities and feedback I’ve received, and the friends I’ve made along the way. I’m getting far more success and satisfaction from this than I’d ever expected. So again, many thanks to everyone for your support. It’s greatly appreciated that you find my posts interesting, entertaining and inspiring.

So with all that in mind, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what 2019 brings, and I hope you’ll stick with me for it!

But first we need to wrap up 2018, and there’s a lot to tell you about, including theatre shows, light displays, walks, food, clothing, TV & radio shows, online entertainment, music and more.  So I hope you enjoy this bumper post and video about my yuletide adventures!

A Christmas Carol

This is the last thing I did for Christmas. In fact, it happened on January 8th, after the 12 days of Christmas had technically finished. But I wanted to mention it first because it was easily one of my favourite Christmas activities this year, and it’s the only thing I’ve written a separate dedicated post about. So I’m not going to say a lot here.

But in short, it was a wonderfully festive, immersive, fun and moving production. Stephen Tompkinson played Scrooge perfectly, and during the touch tour we got to meet a wonderful young boy called Leo Lake, who plays Tiny Tim (one of 4 disabled children who share the role), as well as Michael Rouse, who plays a couple of roles including Jacob Marley. The music, costumes and lighting also enhanced the experience wonderfully. And the audio description was really useful too. So please do check out my review for the full details, as I had an amazing time.

The Old Vic theatre building, all lit up in a deep blue colour, with red letters above the entrance saying A Christmas Carol.

It’s A Wonderful Life

Going back to December, and my first bit of festive entertainment was a trip to the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, which is well known for showing lots of classic older films as well as more modern ones, and they often do special events such as sing-alongs and epic movie marathons. So they’re well worth checking out if you like classic films. I saw the original Halloween film there last year.

On this occasion I saw a film that I’ve never watched before, even though it’s been hugely popular for decades. It’s A Wonderful Life dates from 1946, and stars James Stewart and Donna Reed, and was being presented in a 4K restoration apparently. My eyesight isn’t good enough to confirm that, but nevertheless the picture did seem very clean for such an old film, as far as I could tell, and the sound was great too. This wasn’t the colourised edition that I’ve heard about either, this was the original black and white film. And it was really good, better than I expected it might be, given its age and my love of more modern movies.

It’s a very sweet story about a man who works hard to help others, and when everything seems to go very wrong a guardian angel shows what life in the town would have been like if he hadn’t existed. That might not sound like much when worded so simply, but it actually works well. And what surprised me and helped me to enjoy it was how funny it was. There was a lot of humour in the script and a lot of comedic moments, more than I’d expected. Although the movie is of its time, the humour hasn’t dated, it still holds up, which is no mean feat. There were people of all ages in the cinema, and we were all chuckling regularly throughout, and getting absorbed in the more emotional moments.

So even though it does actually get quite dark at one point, given the reason for the guardian angel’s appearance, it doesn’t drag the movie down and make it depressing, because the guardian angel himself is also very funny, as well as having an important role to play in the man’s decision making. It all helps the movie to convey a lovely message by the time you reach the end – which, being a Christmas film, is of course a happy ending. Given that the movie is over 70 years old, I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say that!

So I finally understand why people like it so much. It’s not a movie I would watch every single year, like some people traditionally do. But I would be happy to watch it again in the future, and I’m very glad I’ve seen it to understand what all the fuss is about. If you’ve never seen it before, I do recommend checking it out, if you see it pop up on the TV or online or in a cinema. Don’t be put off by how old it is, it’s still great.

It's A Wonderful Life

Dick Whittington Pantomime

Pantomimes are also an essential part of Christmas, and this year I went to the Lyric Hammersmith‘s 10th anniversary pantomime, Dick Whittington. This is yet another new theatre venue for me, and it’s a lovely place. And, as per usual, there was a touch tour and audio description, which were very useful.

For the touch tour, we were brought on to the stage, which had lots of brightly coloured sets, props and costumes that we had fun looking at, and cartoon-like scenery representing parts of London. And we also got to meet a few members of the ensemble cast, plus the guy playing Dick Whittington himself, who were very friendly and happy to chat to us. It’s always very generous of cast members to do this considering they have to get ready for the show, but it was especially appreciated here because they had just finished a matinee performance that had run a little bit late, and hadn’t had much time to rest. So that was really kind of them.

And the show itself was great. It was basically about Dick Whittington coming to London to seek his fortune after moving from Wales, and he ends up becoming Lord Mayor to stop the Queen Rat from getting the job, as well as falling in love with a girl named Alice. It was really funny all the way through, with lots of comedy for the adults as well as the children. It included various Dick gags as you can imagine with a name like Dick Whittington – all done in good taste of course, there was nothing that wasn’t family friendly here. And they also made a few topical jokes about Brexit and references to social media, as well as general fun wordplay and silly situations. And even if there was a slight fluffing of lines once or twice, they dealt with it brilliantly, with some enjoyable ad-libs. You could tell they really enjoyed doing the show, which is why it worked so well.

Stage curtain for the Dick Whittington pantomime, showing a large red bag with white spots strapped to the end of a wooden pole, like the one Dick carries his belongings in over his shoulder during the show. A large gold label attached to the bag says Dick Whittington in large letters.

It was also very lively, with lots of great singing and dancing performances, and lots of interactivity in the usual panto style, with things for us to call out, sing along with and even dance along to. And the audio description worked great. It was really useful throughout the show and there were no technical issues. Even when we had to sing a song near the end, the describer was reading the next line to us through our headsets while we were getting to the end of the previous one, to keep us in the loop. Sure, it was a song we all knew anyway – the chorus to I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston – but it still really helped.

So we came out of that feeling very happy, and it’s a theatre I’ll definitely keep an eye on for future shows, not just pantomimes but also other productions. It’s well worth a visit.

Carols From Around The World

There are always lots of concerts that go on at this time of year, some on a much bigger scale than others. Last year I went to Christmas With The Stars at the Royal Albert Hall, so this year I went to a much smaller venue – a church. I’m not religious and thus not normally a churchgoer, but I do make an exception for Christmas carols, because they are lovely to listen to and do help you feel very festive.

So I went to see Carols From Around The World 2018 at St. Saviour’s in Pimlico, and it was a wonderful evening in a beautiful building. The Colla Voce Singers were amazing, and sang a variety of carols from different countries, some of which I knew and some of which were very unfamiliar, so there was a nice variety. And they were all beautifully performed. The harmonies all sounded great as they echoed around the church, and the carols I knew had some fun and original arrangements that I’d never heard before. So it was a very uplifting occasion, and we were all invited to sing along with a couple of the carols as well.

Programme for Carols Around The World, including A Great And Mighty Wonder from Germany, I Wonder As I Wander from Switzerland, Infant Holy Infant Lowly from Poland, The Shepherd's Carol from England, Ding Dong Merrily On High from France, The Wexford Carol from Ireland, Away In A Manger from Normandy, Coventry Carol from England and Deck The Halls from Wales, among many others. The congregation are asked to join in with Once In Royal David's City and O Come All Ye Faithful.

Then at the end, the conductor, who had been happily talking to us in between the songs, did a performance of O Holy Night, revealing an astonishing singing voice of his own! He was incredible. And that was followed by a wonderful medley of a few carols by the choir that was arranged really beautifully. Neither of those performances had been in the printed programme, so they were lovely surprises to finish the evening with, and we all left in a very happy, festive mood. They do that concert every year, so I recommend looking out for it next year if you enjoy carols and choirs.

A statue of Jesus on a large ornate cross with religious statues stood on each side.

A Time Traveller’s Christmas

I also spent an afternoon at a National Trust property, by going to see A Time Traveller’s Christmas at Fenton House. They had decked out different rooms in the house to represent different eras of Christmas as they would have been celebrated, particularly the Georgian, Victorian, 1920s and 1970s periods (click those links for my Instagram photo sets).

The 1970s room was most relatable to me, despite being a child of the 80s and 90s, as many of the games, foods and other items on offer were still familiar and brought back fond memories of my childhood. But all of the rooms were beautifully decorated and very interesting to look around. They had a lot of musical instruments there, including old harpsichords and lutes, which were nice to see. The view from the roof balcony was lovely as well, despite it being a cloudy day.

Victorian Christmas room at Fenton House, with a Christmas tree adorned with lights that look like candles, a small dining table with a couple of candles and some items of food on it, and Christmas cards on a desk.

In the 1970s Christmas room at Fenton House, a huge Christmas tree is covered in baubles, lights and other colourful decorations, and is surrounded by presents on the floor around it. Next to this, a game of Twister is laid out on the floor, with a Monopoly box next to it. Behind that, a large harpsichord sits in front of the fireplace, which has tinsel stretched across the mantlepiece and a large star hanging down in the centre.

1970s Christmas dining room at Fenton House. A very long table is covered with a huge variety of cakes, snacks, fruit and other food and drink items, plus a couple of tall candles. At the far end of the room, a fireplace in the centre has tinsel across the mantlepiece, and a portrait painting above it. To the left of the fire is a small 70s television set, and to the right there is a purple lava lamp.

Christmas At London Zoo

For my final outing of the year, I went to see Christmas At London Zoo, where they’ve had a Christmas lights trail taking you all through the attraction, with lit-up animal figures, trees, light tunnels and so on, along with food stalls, fairground rides, merchandise you could buy. It was a lovely walk, as all the lights looked very pretty, and the animal figures and light tunnels were very impressive.

Sculptures of a penguin family, with a mother, father and baby penguin, made out of lights.

Sculpture of 2 giraffes together, one much taller than the other, made out of lights.

There were parts of the path that were very dark, in order to avoid disturbing the sleeping animals, so I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet in those cases. But by walking slowly and carefully, following other members of the public along the way, I was fine.

So I enjoyed my visit all in al, it was a beautiful evening. You can see some of my photos on Instagram here and here, and I’ve also posted some video footage on my Youtube channel.

I’ve also posted a video from my walk around Regent’s Park earlier that afternoon, where I saw a squirrel and watched some of the birds by the lake. And after my visit to the zoo I finished the evening with a walk along Oxford Street & Regent Street, to see some of the Christmas lights and displays (click those links for photos). So it was a lovely long walk to finish off 2018 and get rid of just a few of the many calories I’ve consumed this Christmas!

Christmas Meals

As is to be expected, I’ve been indulging in lots of lovely Christmas food. Not just at home, but also at the many Christmas meals I’ve been fortunate enough to share with family, friends and social groups. Thankfully they were spread out over the month, with 2 a week at most, so I wasn’t in a situation like Geraldine in The Vicar Of Dibley, where she had to have multiple meals with her parishioners in one day! I love that episode, and have already watched it again this year.

So the meals I’ve had with friends during the month included the following…

RNIB Connect East at The Mallard (Harvester), Hemel Hempstead

I went along to this with my friend Claire, and the food was really good, with generous portions for the roast turkey main course, and a huge slab of deliciously rich chocolate fudge cake for pudding. So I was very pleasantly stuffed after that. But the event was particularly notable because I got to meet a fellow blogger – the lovely Elin from See My Way, who was very friendly and interesting to talk to. So do go and check out her blog if you can. Even though she hasn’t updated it in a while, it’s still well worth reading. Her time as a volunteer in Belgium was a great experience.

London Vision South East at Bill’s, Clink Street

It’s always great to meet Jessica Beal and the rest of the group, and this was no exception. Everyone was really friendly and enjoyed themselves, and the food was great too. I had wild mushroom soup, followed by roast turkey with all the trimmings, and finally chocolate orange bread and butter pudding, the latter being as amazing as it sounds!

Glen with his arm around Jessica as they sit together and smile at the camera. Both are wearing Christmas hats from their Christmas crackers. Glen is wearing an Only Fools And Horses Christmas jumper, with large yellow letters saying Cushty Christmas above the yellow 3 wheeled van owned by the Trotters in the TV show, surrounded by snowflakes. Jess is wearing a white top covered in little Christmas trees, holly leaves, etc, with red sleeves.

London Vision East at JRC Global Buffet, Ilford

This is my local group, so I always enjoy hanging out with Bhavini and the gang when we get together. This meal also made a nice change from all the other big Christmas dinners, because this was a buffet where you go up and choose from a whole variety of things, having as much as you like. So for my first plateful I had some Chinese food, mainly with chicken plus a bit of fish too, and then on my second plate I had things like chicken balls, fish fingers, chips and onion rings. And for dessert I had pieces of chocolate gateau and strawberry gateau, along with a few profiteroles. So it was a nice variety.

London Sports Club For The Blind at Marquis Cornwallis, Marchmont Street

This turned out to be a rather noisy pub, so it was quite difficult to have conversations unfortunately. But it was still nice to see everyone, and I enjoyed my roasted pumpkin and lentil soup for starters, turkey for the main course, and chocolate tart for dessert. This was the first dinner where they had Christmas crackers on the table as well, as most of the meals I went to didn’t have those. But given the noisy environment, I think they’ll be aiming for somewhere else next year. It’s a nice pub, don’t get me wrong, but not ideal for that kind of occasion unless you can afford the expense of a private room.

Work Christmas Dinner at Bistrot Pierre, Torquay

Being a homeworker, it’s always great to see my colleagues again after a long time away. So it was wonderful to stay in Torquay for a couple of nights and have a catch up. You can see photos of the town’s decorations on my Instagram.

Lit-up blue snowflakes over the high street in Torquay. Behind them, a Christmas tree with blue and white lights is on a canopy above the entrance to a shopping centre. Further down the street are more arrangements of white lights in between the windows of the buildings, and other lit-up decorations suspended across the street.

We had a really nice meal, for which I had tomato & red pepper soup, followed by pan fried chicken breast, and finally sticky toffee pudding. And then we went elsewhere for drinks afterwards. We were sensible about it of course, and I was able to get safely back to my hotel room at a reasonable hour on my own. But it was a great evening. Credit to the Yates bar in particular for maintaining a safe party atmosphere, putting on decent music (including 80s hits and Christmas classics) that we were all merrily singing along to, and giving us free Santa hats!

Glen smiling and looking through a small blue kaleidoscope that he got out of his Christmas cracker at the restaurant. He is wearing a Christmas jumper featuring the band Queen. The central image has headshots of the 4 members of the band, arranged as in their Bohemian Rhapsody video, but each is wearing a red and white Santa hat. This image sits between the words Snowhemian Rhapsody in large white text.

Christmas Food Shopping

We’ve also got plenty of goodies at home of course. And as it is only once a year, we’ve been treating ourselves to goodies from Fortnum & Mason, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose during the month. We very rarely shop in those places the rest of the year (Fortnums in particular we only go to at Christmas), so it makes them all the more satisfying and rewarding when we do check them out. And we’re really enjoying everything we’ve got, of course.

We ordered the food for our Christmas dinners plus some Christmas cakes online from Marks & Spencer and picked it up on the 23rd, so we were all set for the festive fortnight. Our haul consisted of these delicious goodies (which you can see photos of on my Instagram):

  • British Boneless Oakham™ Turkey Breast with Pork, Sage & Onion Stuffing
  • The Collection Easy-Carve British Four-Bird Roast with Turkey, Duck, Chicken & Pheasant
  • A British Outdoor-Bred Garnish Selection (stuffing balls & pigs in blankets)
  • The Collection Posh Turkey Gravy
  • The Collection Ultimate Yuletide Log Sausage Roll
  • The Collection Outdoor-Bred London Cured Ham
  • The Collection Six-Month Matured Golden Shimmer Tree Christmas Cake
  • The Collection Winter Woodland Cheesecake
  • Hand-Decorated Christmas Postbox Cake

IMG_7222

Marks & Spencer hand decorated Christmas Post Box Cake. The large cake looks like the top round section of a red post box, with the black letter box opening on the side, and a layer of white snow covering the top, with a robin perched on it.

We also did an online order from Fortnum & Mason earlier in the month, getting some of their lovely mince pies, a Christmas pudding, a Melton Mowbray pork pie, a chocolate selection, a marzipan fruits selection and a couple of ribeye steaks, all of which was great.

And we also visited Waitrose and Marks & Spencer in Westfield Stratford City (a couple of weeks before we picked up our M&S food order). In Waitrose we got a couple of the wonderful Charlie Bigham ready meals they do (Beef Bourguignon for me and Lamb Moussaka for Mum), as well as a Fruited Panettone (an Italian cake that we’d never had before, but we thought it was ok when we tried it), and traditional things like Christmas puddings and mince pies, among other bits and pieces. And in M&S we got a Tunis Cake (which seems to get harder to find in the shops each year), more mince pies and a Yule log.

IMG_7033

A box of 6 Waitrose All Butter Mince Pies, in an all butter puff pastry.

We also got a delightfully chocolatey Yule log, tasty mince pies, Pringles, some Strongbow cider and other treats in Sainsbury’s, as part of the regular shopping we do there. I was able to use our saved up Nectar loyalty points to get most of the money off our shopping on a couple of trips, which worked out really nicely. And we also had a couple of advent calendars from Hotel Chocolat this year – both identical, but one contained milk chocolates and the other had caramel chocolates. That way, my mother and I could have a chocolate each per day, and we could choose which we wanted.

So we’re eating well, without a doubt. Like I say, it sounds like a lot, and it is when you add it all together. But it’s all been spread out over the month, and it is only once a year.  And we have achieved a lot during 2018, so we feel we deserve to treat ourselves. So we’re very happy with all of that.

Christmas Clothing

I bought a couple of fun new Christmas jumpers this month, bringing my total up to 4. I already had an Only Fools And Horses jumper and a London skyline jumper, which you can see in my Christmas Q&A.

So this year I got a Doctor Who jumper, which has the phrase “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey” over an image of the Tardis surrounded by snowflakes. And the other is a Queen jumper, showing the members of the band in the centre wearing Santa hats, in between the words “Snowhemian Rhapsody”, which I thought was very cool, and very apt given their recent movie. Both jumpers are very comfortable and cosy, so not only do they look great, but they are actually very practical for the winter too.

A dark navy jumper with a white design in the centre. The centre shows a large white Tardis with snowflakes falling around it. Above it are the words Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey, and below is the word Christmas. At the very top and bottom is a row of snowmen, snowflakes and Christmas trees.

IMG_6766

And finally, I also got a very useful clothing gift – a pair of nice warm woollen gloves from Marks & Spencer that are designed for use with touchscreens. This means they have special padding on the fingertips that allow you to interact with a mobile device without taking the gloves off first. They work nicely with my iPhone 6, so I’m really pleased with them, they’re very comfortable and practical.

Thermal Gloves With Touchscreen Technology

New TV Equipment

Before I get on to what I’ve actually watched, we’ve actually bought some new equipment to watch things on in the first place. We needed to replace the old TV set that I think has been in the house for well over a decade, so it was time to bring ourselves up to date. So we bought ourselves a HD Smart TV for the first time ever, along with a couple of additional items.

Samsung UE32M5520 LED Full HD 1080p 32″ Smart TV

Samsung 32-inch LED HD Flat Screen TV, black in colour

The main thing we bought was a brand new Samsung 32′ LED TV. And it’s one of those that has the Voice Guide feature, which was a big selling point for my mother in particular, who is blind.

And so far it’s working very well. The picture is lovely and clear and sharp for a start. I compared the standard and HD versions of a couple of channels through my Virgin Media box, and there is a very noticeable improvement even with my eyesight. The various apps (Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, Youtube, etc) all load up quickly and work well.

The Voice Guide is also very useful – I don’t use it as I can see well enough, but for Mum it’s great. The voice isn’t as nice as Alexa or Siri, and your options for adjusting it are very limited (just speed, pitch and volume basically, you can’t change the voice itself), but it does the job adequately. If you change channels, for instance, it tells you what channel it is, the programme that’s currently showing, and what time the programme starts and finishes. It also reads the TV guide as you go through it, tells you when you turn the volume up or down, and reads all the menus. It won’t, however, read things in most of the apps, and it obviously can’t speak the menus on our Virgin Tivo box as that’s a separate device. But it reads all of the basic functions of the TV, which is really helpful.

I was also able to turn on a high contrast option for the menus to make them easier to read in white on black. And when watching digital channels through the aerial, the TV also allows you to access audio description whenever it’s provided (just like the Virgin Tivo box does for its channels – and actually, now I have a HD TV, I should be able to upgrade to the Virgin V6 box at last).

So it’s a very good TV all in all, and quite accessible if you’re visually impaired. Samsung have a good reputation for that, and I know some other big manufacturers also have similar features. Charities like the RNIB and current users of smart TVs on Facebook forums can give you more details on things like that. My friend Emma over at Rock For Disability also wrote a Samsung TV accessibility review recently, which helped to influence my decision as to which brand to go for, so do check that out as well.

Sonos Beam Compact Smart Sound Bar with Alexa Voice Recognition & Control

Sonos Sound Bar, a long narrow speaker with curved ends, and a few small buttons on the top to adjust the volume and activate the Alexa voice assistant.

We also got this sound bar to go with the TV, because that’s a common accessory these days, given that TVs are thinner than in the past, and thus limited as to the sound they can produce. In fairness though, the Samsung TV produces quite good sound on its own, so it’s not essential to get a sound bar for it if you’re happy without one. But I do like movies and music, and I like to get really good sound from them, so I did want to get one.

The sound bar sits nicely in front of the TV, and the audio quality is great. One of the very first things I heard through it was the theme tune for the BBC News, and it had quite a bit of power to it, with a good bass sound. Other things I’ve watched since then also sound great through it. I haven’t tried Alexa with it, partly because we’ve also got an Echo Dot in the same room, so it’s not really necessary, and some of the reviews suggest that Alexa through the sound bar isn’t quite as good as through an actual Echo device. But I may give it a go at some point.

The setup process for the sound bar is quite interesting though, because you have to do it on your mobile phone. I don’t know if the app is accessible using Voiceover, but it didn’t use the dynamic enlarged text setting that I have enabled. The interface is nice and clean though, and as I have colours inverted it was still easy enough for me to read. It detected the sound bar straight away and took me through the setup process with clear instructions.

Part of the process involved walking around the room while waving my phone in the air, so it could use my phone’s microphone to hear the tones being played from the sound bar all over the room. You feel very silly doing it, but it allows the app to calibrate the sound bar to give the best performance all through the room. I don’t know if it made a difference to be honest, but we do get a nice sound from it, so I’m assuming it was worth doing.

Sony UBP-X700 Smart 4K UHD HDR Upscaling Blu-Ray/DVD Player

Sony Blu-Ray Player, slim in size and black in colour.

Finally we also bought this Blu-ray player, because apart from my Mac we’ve had nothing to watch discs on since we moved in 2 years ago. And this new machine is doing the job very nicely. I’ve watched a recently purchased Blu-ray on it and it looks great, and DVDs of older shows are also looking pretty good on it too. The player also has apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime built in, but as they’re already on the TV I won’t be using those there. But the player can update its software over the internet as well, so it’s still worth being connected to the web for that.

So we’re really pleased with all of that equipment. Even though all 3 items are from different manufacturers, they all work well together – adjusting the volume on the TV actually adjust the sound bar, for instance, and the TV automatically switches to the Blu-ray player when that’s switched on. It’s all been worth the investment and will hopefully last quite a while.

Christmas TV & Radio

Black Mirror – Bandersnatch

I love Black Mirror, the sci-fi series that is often very dark, disturbing and thought-provoking. There will be a 5th series in 2019 apparently, but ahead of that they’ve produced a very special, and rather brilliant, interactive episode on Netflix. Don’t worry, I’m avoiding spoilers here.

Set in 1984, it’s about a young guy named Stefan, who is developing a video game based on an old choose your own adventure book. And, just like those old books, you’re regularly asked to make decisions about what he does, with only 10 seconds to decide. A few early choices are designed to get you used to the concept and have relatively minimal impact (though there are one or two callbacks to them later). And a few choices are eventually forced upon you in some way, with good reason.

But most decisions have a major impact, affecting the scenes and available choices that you’re presented with later on. The more you watch and try out different choices, the more you realise and appreciate that many scenes have multiple variations, some more subtle and important than others, and there are loads of different endings. There are even one or two paths that are a bit tongue-in-cheek, feeling a bit ‘meta’ and breaking the fourth wall, which are good fun. It’s all very impressive and the transitions when you make choices are seamless on a technical level. It must have been mindbending to write and film it all.

The overall story, if you make it through to one of the main endings, is about 90 minutes, but there’s over 5 hours of footage to find altogether. Each time your story does conclude, you’re given the chance to go back a bit to try something else, but you’re often still limited by the choices you made earlier (and the film neatly and concisely recaps the route you’ve taken to remind you). So if you want to see everything, you will need to go back to the beginning and take different paths sometimes. You can fast forward through the scenes you’ve seen before, of course, though as soon as you make a new choice you’ve never done before, keep watching normally from that point, as many later scenes that seem familiar will have changed in some way.

So I really enjoyed trying everything out, it was pretty addictive. And I was very pleased with myself that I found most of the different endings. Someone has already, of course, produced a flow chart of all the different paths, and by checking that I was happy to discover that I’d found most things, there was just one path with a couple of variations that I’d missed, so I was able to find that. So I think I’ve pretty much seen everything now, perhaps apart from one or two other minor variations during the story that I’m not so concerned about.

So I do recommend it. It’s not for the faint of heart, it is very dark and does get quite disturbing in parts, as is the norm for Black Mirror. There is some strong language and parts where it can get a little bit gory. But if you don’t mind that, it’s wonderful. It’s also worth noting that there is audio description available, which is great. It doesn’t read out the choices to you, admittedly, so perhaps that could be improved in future. I don’t know if things like Voiceover will already read the options on mobile devices or computers. But the fact that they have recorded audio description for all the footage is appreciated.

It’ll be interesting to see if Netflix do this for anything else in the future – I know they had initially tested it with some kids shows, but hopefully they’ll do it for some more shows for the adults in the future. It’s certainly an interesting new way to enjoy a bit of TV!

Dramas

  • Doctor Who – Resolution – I’ve really enjoyed this latest series with Jodie Whittaker, I think she’s done a superb job as the first female Doctor. The companions have been good too, and it’s been great to see Bradley Walsh among them. It was also wonderful that a recent episode featured blind actress Ellie Wallwork, who was very good. And the New Year’s Day episode Resolution was great. It’s always fun to see the Daleks appear, and Jodie’s Doctor of course had to face them at some point, it’s pretty much a rite of passage. To have this particular Dalek rebuild itself from bits of scrap gave it an interesting look as well. It was also nice that they tied up Ryan’s father’s storyline by bring him and Ryan closer together, and letting the dad in on where Ryan’s been. So I’m really looking forward to series 12. It’s a pity that it won’t be broadcast until 2020, so we’ve now got a whole year without the Doctor, but I’m confident it’ll be worth the wait.
  • Outlander – I’ve started watching series 4 which came out on Amazon Prime recently, and that’s been great as usual. It’s set in another new location, which again has stunning scenery, and it will be interesting to see how the story progresses this season. We’ve even had a blind character early on, which was an interesting surprise. I haven’t yet caught up with all the episodes released so far, but I’m making good progress.
  • The Flash – The current series has been very enjoyable as per usual. To bring them up to their Christmas break they had a three part crossover story with The Arrow and Supergirl (each year they do a crossover with their fellow Marvel shows). It was a bit out of place with the main season as a result, and felt a bit too far fetched and weird even by their standards, but it was still fun. I’m looking forward to seeing the regular season of The Flash resume in the new year though.

Sitcoms

  • Not Going Out Live – They haven’t started a new series of Not Going Out just yet, though apparently a 10th series has been commissioned. But this Christmas they did a special live episode, and it was brilliant. They packed a lot into it, including impressive juggling and singing performances, amusing ad-libs and topical references, and a plot that cleverly allowed them to make jokes at their own expense about performing live. It really felt like they were enjoying themselves. This review by Youtuber Amy McLean (whose channel is worth following) sums it up nicely.
  • Click & Collect – This isn’t from a series, but was a one-off special starring Stephen Merchant and Asim Chaudhry. Stephen’s character Andrew has been tasked with getting his daughter’s dream Christmas present, a sparkly toy unicorn. Unfortunately, it’s the most popular toy of the year, so when he passes up the first opportunity to pick one up, he discovers it’s sold out everywhere. But his over-eager neighbour Dev finds the one remaining unicorn available online. It just means a 4-hour journey to Carlisle to pick it up, so the two of them go on a road trip to get it, with various mishaps along the way. It’s very funny and well paced throughout, with a few sweet moments as well, and it has a good soundtrack too. So I really enjoyed it.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy – I bought the remastered Blu-ray edition of this series recently, and binge-watched all 6 episodes in one night, having not seen it for years. It’s not actually in HD quality given the age of the footage, but it still looks pretty good, and sounds good too (you can even choose between the original and new sound mixes). And most importantly it’s still very funny and enjoyable to watch after all this time. The extras on disc 2 are the same as on the previous DVD release, with a very interesting documentary, plus a few other interviews, outtakes and trailers. And then disc 3 has a whole bunch of new stuff that’s well worth digging through. Here you get all the animated sequences in HD (which look wonderful), some of the surviving live action location footage (also in HD where possible and with some facts shown on screen throughout), a fascinating and extensive compilation of never-before-seen studio footage as they record the programme (giving you a very intimate and revealing insight into how the show was made), a nice variety of other interviews with Douglas Adams and others involved with the series, plus a few other trailers and random things. The song performed by Marvin the robot on Blue Peter, for instance, was an interesting surprise! So it’s a really comprehensive and enjoyable set, one that big fans of the show will love. Even though the actual episodes aren’t in full HD, it still looks good, and I would say it’s still worth upgrading from the old DVD set to this new version given the new extras.
  • The Big Bang Theory & Young Sheldon – I’m still enjoying these on TV as usual. It’s a shame it’s the final season of The Big Bang Theory, but I also think it’s a wise decision, so they go out on a high. And they are on good form with this final season as usual. For Young Sheldon, meanwhile, I was in two minds as to whether I wanted to watch a second series, but I have continued to watch it and it is good, There’s even been a crossover of sorts between the two shows, with characters from Young Sheldon appearing in VHS footage in The Big Bang Theory recently. I also have the previous series of Big Bang on Blu-ray that I bought last month that I need to watch soon, and check out the extra features for.
  • Family Guy – I bought season 18 on DVD this month, and I’ve watched the first few episodes, which are very funny as usual. There’s very little in terms of extras, just a few deleted scenes, but the episodes are what you mainly buy it for anyway.
  • Still Open All Hours – This light-hearted comedy with David Jason as Granville had another nice Christmas special this year. Their festive specials aren’t as amazing or memorable as some of the other comedies I like, but they’re still enjoyable.
  • I’ve also watched some of the festive specials from classic sitcoms of the past of course, like I do every year, as listed on my Christmas Q&A page.

Topical Comedy

  • The Last Leg – This series is always great fun on a Friday night, and they had 2 specials over the festive period. Roy Wood from Wizzard appeared in their enjoyable Christmas special, performing his classic I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. And their extended New Year’s Eve special was great fun, with lots of guests including Lost Voice Guy, Johnny Vegas, Richard Ayoade, The Horne Section and many others. It can be hard to find something good to watch on New Years Eve sometimes, so I’m very glad this was on. It should have been broadcast closer to midnight though really, it would have been great to have them do the countdown.
  • Have I Got A Bit More News For You – This has been as good as usual this series, and I always watch the extended editions rather than the half hour versions. Danny Dyer was an unusual choice of guest host on one episode, but he did ok. I prefer the more frequent guest hosts like Alexander Armstrong, but it’s interesting to have the occasional wild card thrown in like that.
  • Mock The Week – They did their usual Christmas special with some of their favourite moments from across the series, clips of them discussing festive topics, and a selection of outtakes.
  • A Year In The Life Of A Year – This is a spoof review of the year, whereby clips from TV shows and movies are mashed up and dubbed over, to create a very different and very funny recap of the year’s cultural highlights. For instance, this year we had Paddington Bear in court recalling a rather harrowing experience, Derek Jacobi reading a book of the film Trainspotting to children, and a remake of Elton John’s Candle In The Wind in tribute to Geoffrey Hayes from Rainbow. The comedy is often very adult in nature, but it’s brilliantly written and very cleverly edited. And it fills the gap left by the absence of Charlie Brooker’s Yearly Wipe, which I’d love to see come back, that was always good too.

Comedy Game Shows

  • QI XL – Their “Pubs” special this Christmas was very good fun and very interesting as always. The show always find ways to surprise about things you thought you knew, and is always very funny. They had a good group of guests on this special as well, and the show “P” series so far has been very good as usual.  Sandi Toksvig has been very good as the new host, it must be said. The related podcast No Such Thing As A Fish, by the researchers behind the show, is also very interesting. Stephen Fry was a special guest on a recent episode, which was great. And their new Audiobook Of The Year is well worth a listen (see my November Favourites for more about that).
  • Would I Lie To You? – Their Christmas special this year is great, especially the contributions from Noddy Holder from Slade and comedian James Acaster,
  • 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown – The Christmas special for this was good fun as always, with David Mitchell and Kathy Burke being good team members.
  • The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year / The Big Fat Quiz Of Everything – This annual pair of quiz shows hosted by Jimmy Carr are always a good laugh, and the Quiz Of The Year helps to remind me about some of the things I’d forgotten about from the last 12 months. The guests can be a mixed bag, and this year there were a couple I didn’t really know or like as usual. But people like David Mitchell, Richard Ayoade, Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig and Baddiel & Skinner are always good value, so it was great to see them appearing.

Comedians & Entertainers

  • John Bishop: Winging It & Jon Richardson: Old Man – Every year I look out for live stand-up comedy shows on DVD, and these are the 2 that I’ve bought this year. And I’ve enjoyed watching both of them. Their routines are both based on the fact that they’re getting older now and have families, but their material is unique in each case. Jon Richardson was my favourite of the two, he made me laugh out loud the most, and I enjoyed the way he surprised one of the audience members. But both shows are good. The DVDs don’t have any extra features, and John Bishop’s DVD doesn’t even have any music on the menu. But each show is about an hour and a half, so you do get a lot to enjoy.
  • Michael McIntyre’s Big Christmas Show – I’ve been enjoying his Big Show on Saturday nights, and this Christmas special was good fun, with the usual mix of music, games and surprises. It was just like one of his regular shows with Christmas decorations, basically, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it was still good. But I also watched a repeat of his older Christmas Comedy Roadshow on Gold this year, and I think that was better, as it had a much bigger variety of guests, with Jack Dee, Rhod Gilbert, Rob Brydon, Sean Lock, Miranda Hart, James Corden, David Mitchell and Kylie Minogue. It just felt a lot more festive, as the material was a lot more Christmas focused.
  • The Christmas Misadventures Of Romesh Ranganathan – I’ve never seen the other episodes of his Misadventures series, but I was in my Torquay hotel room looking for something to watch and decided to try this. And it was alright, with Romesh going on a holiday to explore the Arctic. His reactions to the conditions and the customs he encountered were amusing, but he also had moments of genuine wonder and thoughtful emotion too, as it did give him pause for thought sometimes. So it was a nice way to kill an hour.
  • The Kenny Everett Video Show – I wasn’t even born when this was first broadcast in the late 70s and early 80s, but I have seen plenty of clips of Kenny Everett, and have had a best-of compilation on DVD which I love, But now Network Distributing, after years of hard work sorting out licensing rights and acquiring the footage, have released every episode on DVD, resulting in an almost complete collection of the series, which I’ve gladly bought. There are a handful of musical performances they’ve had to cut because they couldn’t get the necessary permissions, but the overwhelming majority of content is here. And there are lots of very famous names, as he was very well connected. So my mother and I have started to watch this, and it’s already hilarious even after just the first couple of episodes. It’s utterly nonsensical and bizarre, but a real delight because of it. Kenny Everett was a surreal genius, and to have his complete series is fantastic. So I’m really looking forward to watching all of the episodes over the coming weeks.
  • The Secret Story Of The BBC Christmas Tapes – This BBC4 show was a brilliant look at some extremely rare clips from the BBC’s archives. The VT editing team at BBC Television Centre used to gather together outtakes and other unusual material from the BBC’s programmes and their stars, creating compilations that were only ever meant to be seen by staff at the BBC Christmas party. They were often far too rude and bizarre for the public to see. But the tapes were inevitably leaked, and these days you can see them on Youtube of course. But they’ve never been shown on TV. So to get highlights from those tapes in this documentary, featuring some of the corporation’s biggest shows and celebrities, was a real joy and very funny. And it’s thanks to those tapes that we then had blooper shows like Auntie’s Bloomers and It’ll Be Alright On The Night, so they’re an important piece of TV history.

Music

  • The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge Uncut – This has been another great Blu-ray to add to my collection of live shows by the band, as they’re on fine form as usual. It’s an epic 2½ hours long, with a huge stage, a great setlist, and a few big guest stars including Bo Diddley and Sheryl Crow. And you get 25 minutes of bonus tracks as well. So that’s 3 hours of Rolling Stones goodness, which is wonderful.
  • Madness – New Year’s Eve Concert & London Fireworks – The BBC have got into the tradition of having a famous band performing a concert at Central Hall in Westminster to bring in the New Year, pausing for Big Ben and the huge fireworks display of course. And as Madness are celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2019, they were chosen in this occasion. And they were great, they put on a very enjoyable concert with lots of their biggest hits, which everyone was singing along to. And, as always, London’s New Year fireworks were amazing. I’m always so proud of the incredible show the city puts on every year, as the fireworks are always beautifully choreographed to the upbeat and varied mix of music. It’s the perfect way to start the year.
  • Junior Choice – It’s tradition that my mother and I listen to this on BBC Radio 2 while we’re having our Christmas dinner. In fact, we spread it out over a few days, as it’s a 2 hour show, so we listen to part of it with our dinner each day. It’s basically a show where they play lots of classic music loved by children from across the decades, including old classics like Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West), Sparky’s Magic Piano, Nelly The Elephant, My Brother, and loads more, including some more modern tracks for today’s young generation. So there’s something for everyone here, and it’s just a nostalgic delight to listen to. It’s most well known and popular presenter was Ed Stewart, but since his death it’s been presented by Anneka Rice each Christmas, and she does a wonderful job with it.
  • LadBaby – We Built This City On Sausage RollsFinally, I also wanted to flag up this year’s UK Christmas number 1 single, a charity song by Youtubers LadBaby (Mark and Roxanne Hoyle), who have produced an amazing cover of Starship’s We Built This City, called We Built This City On Sausage Rolls! The fact that this single has reached number 1 in the charts is fantastic, so very well done to everyone involved!All profits from the single are being donated to The Trussell Trust, a food bank charity that tackles hunger in the UK. For all my talk about the food I’ve been eating, and in spite of all the culinary delights you may be enjoying as well, we mustn’t forget that there are millions of people in poverty across the UK, including children, who are reliant on food banks and other forms of support to keep them alive. It’s awful that food banks have to exist in the first place, and that the government aren’t doing anywhere near enough to tackle it. But as it stands, this support is a lifeline for so many people, and they need and deserve our support.So please do watch the video and buy the single, which is available on iTunes and Amazon, and probably elsewhere too. I’m not affiliated with them in any way, I just think it’s a brilliant song and a very important cause. You can then rest in the knowledge that you’ve helped people less fortunate than yourselves this Christmas.

Conclusion

And that’s it, well done if you made it through all of that! It’s been a very busy end to an incredibly eventful year. I’m very proud that I’ve been able to pack so much in to the last 12 months, having lots of fun, achieving so much and getting to know so many people along the way.

My first two years in London have without doubt been two of the very best years of my life, and I know that there’s still so much to learn and explore, as there always will be. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what the coming year has in store. With the exception of speaking at the Aniridia Network conference, I have no idea what lays ahead. So by all means let me know if there’s anything I should look out for and consider trying. But if 2019 is as much fun as these past couple of years have been, it’s going to be great!

So thank you once again for supporting and following me in 2018, and I hope you’ll continue to stick with me in the year ahead. A Very Happy New Year and all the best for 2019! 🙂

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: