2019 is already flying by isn’t it? I hope you’ve all had a lovely start to the year. January for me was pretty busy, particularly at work, which pushed me behind on my blogging a little bit. But I’ve got plenty of things I want to post about.
So today it’s time for my first monthly favourites post of the year. They seemed to work out well during 2018, as they’re a nice way to summarise things, and I notice they’ve inspired one or two other bloggers to do monthly updates. So I’m going to carry on with them, and I hope you enjoy this latest post and video summarising my activities.
As per my usual disclaimer, nothing in this post is sponsored or endorsed by any of the companies mentioned unless otherwise specified, and all opinions are my own.
When it’s cold and wet outside, museums are a very good place to go. So I visited a few during January, and my girlfriend Claire joined me for a couple of them. I’ve mentioned her as just a friend in previous favourites posts, and for a little while that was very much the case. But we’ve actually been dating for 5 months now, though we’ve only just announced it properly on social media. You can read about how we got together in my recent post called Somebody To Love. Suffice to say, I feel incredibly blessed to have met someone so special.
Our most notable visit was the day we spent at the Tate Modern. It started with an audio described tour of the Anni Albers Exhibition, featuring lots of beautiful woven artworks. The audio description was very useful as always, as it really helped us to understand and enjoy the exhibits fully, and learn about the context behind them.
Then we took part in a Conductive Coding Workshop, where we had a go at weaving our own creations, with Claire and I working together on ours. That in itself was fun and gave a good insight into the weaving process. But there was more to it, because all of our pieces contained conductive thread. This meant we were able to connect them to a computer, and generate sounds by touching and grasping them. That really brought our creations to life, it was very impressive. It was all part of a fascinating research project into e-textiles.
There’s a full review of the experience in my post entitled Conductive Coding At Tate Modern, which on Twitter has had great feedback from Sarah Wiseman, the researcher on the day, and was shared by artist Emilie Giles, who was also involved. So do go and check it out. It was a great day, especially as I’ve never been on on one of their access tours before, so I was very pleased with how it went.
Museum Of Brands
Claire and I also decided to explore the Museum of Brands during the month. It’s a relatively little-known museum, just around the corner from Ladbroke Grove Tube Station. I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be, but I was very curious to see what it was like. And it was better than I’d expected to be fair.
The most extensive and absorbing area is their Time Tunnel gallery, which has an absolutely enormous variety of consumer goods from the Victorian era right through to the present day, with the 1900s divided into each of its decades. So there’s food packaging, household items, toys and games, TVs and radios, advertising posters (including one for my old home seaside town!) and loads of other things. It’s very easy to spend a lot of time looking at everything. It starts off as an interesting history lesson in the products people used in the past, and then becomes a feast of nostalgia as you approach periods of time that you remember. It brings back a lot of nice memories.
That felt like the highlight of the museum, but the other main gallery room was also nice to look around, as it had a video screen showing a lot of old adverts, some of which are very memorable and nostalgic, plus a selection of lovely chocolate boxes & biscuit tins (on display until 31 May 2019), and a gallery of 50 Time Out covers to mark the magazine’s 50th birthday (until 3 March 2019). So there’s a nice mixture of things in that museum, it’s worth a look.
I also went to another museum by myself, taking part in a tour for the visually impaired at the Design Museum, where we got to explore a few of the items in the Home Futures Exhibition. It was interesting to see how architects in the last century predicted what might be in the home of the future, with some very unusual designs for furniture and other objects. It included a sofa that looked like a pair of red lips, a large cactus coat rack, a bed that you put together yourself (in the days before IKEA came along), a portable and inflatable office space, and a cubicle that’s modular so you can easily convert it into a shower, a toilet or a bed. We were allowed to feel and sit on some of the exhibits as well.
There was also a workshop after the tour, where people could design something they would like to see in the home. I didn’t draw anything myself, I’m not that creative. But there were interesting and novel ideas from some other members of the group. For example, the guy I was chatting with next to me imagined an inflatable bed that’s held in place by velcro straps. So it was an interesting end to the morning. The event wasn’t as engaging as the one at the Tate Modern perhaps, but it was still worth a visit. And I’ll have to go back and check out more of the Design Museum at some point, as that was the first time I’d ever been there.
I had a little walk through the neighbouring Holland Park after that as well, It’s a nice area, including the lovely Kyoto Garden, which I bet looks amazing in the spring and summer time. Even in winter it feels like a very tranquil place, especially with its little waterfall.
The big thing to mention on the social front in January is that groups like East London Vision and South East London Vision have been merged into a new London Vision organisation. The local groups all still exist as before, with their names updated to London Vision East, London Vision South East, etc, but they’re all under one umbrella now.
And to reflect this, they now have a single presence online, with a dedicated website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram profile and Youtube channel, instead of separate ones for every group. It keeps everything together much better, so you can see what’s going on across the city. So if you’re a visually impaired Londoner, make sure you’re following them to be aware of what’s going on, and sign up to your local group’s email newsletters as well.
So with London Vision East this month, I went to the New Year Party for VIPON (Visually Impaired People of Newham), which was great fun. There was lots of food, drink and music, and I enjoyed chatting with many people, including one or two I hadn’t seen for ages. I even got up and had a little dance at one point, of which there is a very brief video clip online. Watch at your own risk, I take no responsibility for any nightmares it may cause! But it was a great afternoon. I think that’s the first disco I’ve been to since my best mate’s wedding over 3 years ago!
I also went to a pub social with London Vision South East at the Camel & Artichoke in Waterloo, not far from The Old Vic theatre. That was another nice occasion to catch up with old friends and meet a few new people, as was my latest ten-pin bowling meetup with London Sports Club For The Blind at Queens in Queensway.
And talking of games, I also enjoyed playing Cards Against Humanity with the non-disabled social group Thinking Bob at Heist Bank in Paddington, having not done anything with them for a while. It’s not a game for everyone, especially if you’re easily offended, but I love it. It was a bit of a noisy pub, so not the best environment to have conversations in, but the game was fun.
I finally upgraded my iMac to Mojave 10.14 in January. I always wait a little while before doing big system updates like that, just to keep an eye on how other people are getting on with it, in case there are any issues or bugs that need fixing. But now I have it installed, it’s working fine. There are various new features in this release, and the five that have particularly caught my attention are:
- Dark Mode – This inverts the colours of dialog boxes and menus, and the backgrounds of some apps. But it doesn’t change the content in many cases e.g. it doesn’t change the default white background of websites. So while it might be useful for some people, it has limited use for me. The actual Invert Colours option under Accessibility in System Preferences works much better, as it inverts absolutely everything, and I can easily switch it back with a keyboard shortcut to look at photos or videos. Indeed, it would be nice if the Mac had the Smart Invert Colours option like the iPhone now does, where it inverts everything except photos and videos. All that said, however, some websites and apps do have dark modes of their own, with Youtube’s Dark Mode and Twitter’s Night Mode being particularly useful, so I don’t need to use the Mac’s Invert Colours option in those cases.
- Screenshots & Screen Recording – This places an icon in your dock that makes it a lot easier to do screenshots and screen recording than it was before. It has quite a few options as well, so you can capture the whole screen or just part of it, choose where the output will be saved, set a time delay and choose which microphone to use for audio. So I really like that.
- Continuity Camera – This allows you to take a photo using your iPhone’s camera, and have it instantly appear on the Mac. This is quite a useful feature, if you’re near the computer but want to take a quick snap of something nearby. I’ve tried it and it works as intended, it’s nice and convenient.
- Quick Actions – When browsing files in the Finder, these controls in the Preview Pane allow you to do quick little edits on one or multiple documents, without having to open their actual apps e.g. rotating images and converting files to PDF. So that can help to save a little bit of time.
- News App – This seems to work quite nicely, better than the iPhone app I think. You can set it up with whatever news sources you’re interested in, and then it’s nice and easy to browse through the headlines. You can also get alerts of breaking news stories in the Notifications Centre. I don’t use the app very often – after all, the news often isn’t very cheerful or exciting – but it is handy nevertheless.
Overall though, the experience of using the Mac is pretty much the same as it always was, but those little extras are nice.
One other thing I learned this month was how to stop my Mac giving me static shocks. It’s not the Mac’s fault particularly – the metal screws on light switches have been doing it as well – but as the Mac has a lot of metal on it, it’s been more noticeable. I believe it’s caused by a combination of the dry wintry weather, the carpeted floor under my slippers, and the jumpers I’ve been wearing. And getting little shocks every time I sat down to use my computer was becoming frustrating!
But, after a bit of Googling, the solution was simple – use my house keys. If I’ve been moving around the room and approach my computer, I will now hold the chain of my keyring and tap my keys against the metal casing. This instantly discharges any electricity from my body, without me feeling anything, and I can then touch the computer straight away without it shocking me.
So there’s a little life hack for you, although there were other solutions online as well. Using a coin apparently has the same effect. Or you can tap the back of your hand against the metal – which might still give you a tiny shock, but you have very few nerve endings there, so you’ll barely feel it. Your fingertips are very densely packed with nerve endings, because they need to be sensitive, so that’s why shocks feel worse there.
I’ve been enjoying a lot of entertainment this month. In particular, the fact that we now have a new TV and Blu-ray player means I can finally watch DVDs and Blu-rays and stream content online in our living room, which is more comfortable than watching lots of TV on my computer. So it’s nice to get back into my old viewing habits again.
The most intriguing thing I watched during the month was Bird Box on Netflix, starring Sandra Bullock. This is a thriller about an invasion of unseen entities, that cause anybody who looks at them to kill themselves, sometimes even forcing other people around them to look as well. Consequently, all of the characters who have so far survived the apocalypse can only go out if they are blindfolded, to avoid catching sight of them. Sandra’s character has to look after 2 children in this environment as well.
And I enjoyed it. It’s not something I’d buy to keep, but it was fun and interesting, with plenty of drama and tension. The distress of losing one’s sight and the need to adapt is naturally very prevalent in the circumstances. And I liked the ending too, I appreciate what they did there, although I won’t spoil it by saying why. The film also has audio description available, which is great.
It’s also important to say that it’s not a documentary about what it’s like to be a visually impaired person, and it’s not designed to be either. It’s just a piece of entertainment, set in a very extreme scenario, and doesn’t reflect how visually impaired people have to live and adapt in the real world. So as long as you enjoy it for the entertainment that it’s meant to be, then it’s good fun.
However, the film has also spawned a viral trend called the Bird Box Challenge, where people record themselves carrying out tasks blindfolded. And that in itself wouldn’t be too bad if people were doing small, everyday tasks with appropriate supervision.
But, as is the way with the internet, a lot of people have been thoughtless and irresponsible, even taking it to extreme and dangerous levels like driving cars! And, unsurprisingly, it’s resulted in people injuring themselves and causing harm to others. The disregard for common sense in the pursuit of a high view count and lots of likes is astonishing, but sadly not surprising either.
It’s also fuelling misconceptions about what blind people can and can’t do. When sighted people put on a blindfold and immediately can’t do things – which is inevitable – they can sometimes assume that the same must be the case for blind people. But you’re not comparing like with like that way. Blind people have adjusted and adapted, because they’ve had years to do so, learning how to do things a bit differently and getting to grips with assistive technology. You cannot possibly replicate that by covering your eyes for a few minutes.
On top of that, there’s also been an image of a blind lady, photographed and posted online without her knowledge and consent, who was mocked and accused of faking her sight because she was holding a white cane and using her phone. And now some sighted people are also questioning how blind people can use the new disability emojis that are being introduced this year.
But the simple answer is that blind people do use phones, as they have accessibility features built in, some of which I posted about last year. So clearly we still have a lot of work to do in educating the wider public. Which is a shame really, but hopefully we can keep getting the message out there and enlightening people. So if you’re a visually impaired blogger, do help to make people aware of how you use technology, including the hashtag #BlindPeopleUsePhones, as I’ve done on Twitter and Instagram.
The bottom line is, if you really want to know how a visually impaired person person is able to do things, it’s better to discuss it with them directly (politely and without getting too personal of course). Loads of visually impaired people also have blogs and videos that are well worth checking out.
Indeed, many of my fellow bloggers have already given their own reactions to the Bird Box Challenge, in much more detail than I have here. So if you want to explore this further (and I encourage you to do so), check out the videos by Thinking Out Loud (featured by the Evening Standard on their website), The Blind Life, Derek Daniel, JC5 Productions, Cayla With A C. J. R. Bjornson, Joy Ross, Fashioneyesta & Amanda Gene, among others. There’s also a great blog post by Holly at Life Of A Blind Girl, that gathers together people’s reactions from social media.
Also in terms of drama, Series 4 of Outlander has now finished, and it was another great season. There were some big twists and turns as usual. and the gorgeous visuals and music really brought it to life. The theme tune is always beautiful, especially as they adjust it to fit the theme of each season, but the music during the show is also wonderful. The use of Barber’s Adagio For Strings at the end of one episode was particularly powerful and very moving. Apparently it was just slotted in as temp music during production, but it had such an impact they kept it. And it’s worth noting that there was also a prominent blind character this season, which was great.
Moving on to comedy, and a particularly big deal this month has been 2Point4 Children, which Gold have been repeating in its entirety from the start this year. This is a very underrated sitcom from the 90s, starring Belinda Lang as long-suffering mother Bill, and the greatly missed Gary Olsen, who played the more laid back and often childish father Ben. Gary very sadly passed away in 2000 at the age of just 42, which naturally forced the show to end after 8 series. 2.4 was the average number of children per family at the time, and in the sitcom family, Ben represented the “.4” in the title.
Bill and Ben, along with their children Jenny and David, and neighbour Rona, were ordinary people who often found themselves in very funny and surreal situations, for example meeting Anneka Rice in the middle of a challenge, inflating a giant model of the Pope in their living room, putting a goldfish in a blender (and then the microwave), inadvertently killing their neighbours’ pets (on multiple occasions), performing a Blues Brothers song on stage (plus the brilliant musical numbers in their Christmas specials), dressing up in Shirley Bassey’s frocks, running away from a hurricane with Bill’s name on it (having been forewarned by the eerie phrase “Don’t Go Mia”), Ben getting trapped in a a re-enactment of The Prisoner, and so much more.
Yet the storylines also incorporated serious and emotional issues, including Jenny’s battle with bulimia, David’s brush with death from tetanus, and the family’s house being destroyed by fire. So there was a real heart to it as well as humour, it wasn’t afraid to explore darker territory. Andrew Marshall, the creator, was the writing partner of David Renwick, who wrote One Foot In The Grave, and both shows have a similar style.
2Point4 Children was very popular in its time, and still is now. Yet it’s never been released in full on DVD. Only Series 1 to 3 have ever been committed to disc, which I own, but series 4 to 8 have yet to see the light of day. The reason, supposedly, is that sales weren’t high enough to cover the clearance costs – not just for music, but also some visual aspects, in particular a replica of the FAB1 car from Thunderbirds used in series 7. Yet Andrew Marshall has reportedly said that all episodes were produced in clearable worldwide editions, so there shouldn’t be an issue.
So I really hope that they do all get released on DVD eventually, because it was a huge part of my childhood and a great show in general. But in the absence of DVDs, thank you so much to Gold for repeating it again, it’s greatly appreciated!
Note: This video wrongly states that the show ran for 11 series, when it was only 8. But otherwise it’s an interesting look back with the actors who played David and Jenny.
Music, DVD & Blu-ray Purchases
During the month I bought the 50th anniversary super deluxe box set of The White Album by The Beatles, which has lots of great demos and session tracks on it, the Blu-ray box set of Red Dwarf – Series 1 to 8, which I’ve been binge watching since I got it, and the Blu-ray set for Doctor Who – Series 11, which I’ll get into after I’ve finished Red Dwarf. But I’m going to post reviews of all those box sets soon, so I won’t say too much about them now.
I also watched all of The Big Bang Theory – Season 11 on Blu-ray, which was good fun as always. There are a few nice extra features on there too, including a Comic-Con panel and a gag reel. Hopefully the second half of the final series will start airing here in the UK soon. I finished watching Family Guy – Season 18 on DVD too, which again was enjoyable. The only extras on there are some deleted scenes and an animatic with commentary, but they are interesting.
Finally, I just want to quickly look ahead and alert you to this year’s Naidex show. This is Europe’s largest event dedicated to disability and independent living, with a huge variety of exhibitors and lots of interesting guest speakers (including Warwick Davis).
I was an ambassador for the show last year, when I attended for the first time, and they’ve invited me to do the same this year. But to be clear, I’m not being paid or gifted to mention them. We simply give each other shoutouts on social media. So I have to pay my own way to attend, and I’m under no obligation to give positive reviews. But I did genuinely enjoy the show last year, so I’m very happy to recommend it.
There will be some guest speakers covering topics relevant to the visually impaired, including:
Sean Tibbetts – Cyber Eyez Smart Glasses Change Lives
Daniel Vong – Assistive Technology: How Data Analytics Impact Blind Lives
Saverio Murgia – Horus, the wearable assistant for blind and visually impaired
Fernando Albertorio – The Future of Assistive Tech: How mobile, wearable and embedded devices are closing the access-gap for the blind and visually impaired
The 45th Naidex Show takes place on 26 & 27 March 2019 at Birmingham NEC. Find out more and get your free tickets here if you want to attend.
And that’s it. There was quite a bit to mention for January in the end, so I hope you’ve enjoyed looking through it all. Keep an eye out for my box set reviews and other posts I want to do over the coming weeks, and of course I’ll have a few bits and pieces to mention for my February Favourites as well next month. Thanks for reading!