It’s safe to say that March was my busiest month since moving to London, with lots of exciting opportunities, events and activities that came along all at once. So I’ve got a lot to tell you about, including disability exhibitions and events, a few guest posts, theatre shows, museum visits, and other entertainment I’ve enjoyed.
On a few occasions I was gifted or had my blog promoted as thanks for my participation, which I’ve indicated where appropriate. That has of course been very flattering and I’m very grateful. But be assured that all opinions are my own throughout, and nobody has had any input into my content.
So I’m going to crack straight on with my recap of the month, and as always there’s a video to go with it. I hope you enjoy!
- Disability Exhibitions
- Disability Events
During the month there were a few exhibitions for disabled people to explore and gather information, and I’ve written detailed posts about a couple of them.
This was the most notable event, being Europe’s largest show dedicated to disability and independent living. I was proud to be an ambassador for the second year running – simply meaning we plug each other on social media, nothing more – and I enjoyed exploring the show too. I saw a wonderful talk by Warwick Davis, tried out a variety of gadgets to help the visually impaired, discovered a couple of useful apps for disabled people, chatted to staff from disability magazines and community organisations, met fellow bloggers Chloe Tear and Carrie-Ann Lightley, and much more. So I had a great day. Check out my Naidex review for all the details.
TFL Access All Areas
This was another interesting exhibition, promoting the accessibility of London’s public transport, including the Tube, Overground, TFL Rail, Docklands Light Railway, buses, taxis and the Emirates Airline, along with apps, support services and consultation groups. I explored the exhibition with a couple of friends from the Aniridia Network, and I got to say hello to my friends at London Vision too. The free ride on the Emirates Airline cable car was a nice way to finish it off as well. See my TFL Access All Areas review to find out more.
Family Information Day
I haven’t written a separate post for this one, as it was a much smaller exhibition and I could only drop in for a very limited time. It was organised by Guide Dogs’ Children & Young People Services in conjunction with London Vision, and was open to families, individuals, children, young people, professionals and organisations.
I went there to drop off some leaflets for the Aniridia Network, but I also had the opportunity to talk to my good friends Jessica Beal from London Vision South East and Sue Ricketts from the Nystagmus Network. And I enjoyed talking to representatives from Seable Holidays, Metro Blind Sport & MACS (Microphthalmia, Anophthalmia & Coloboma Support), so I wanted to give them a quick mention as well.
Disabled Access Day – Old Vic Guest Post
Disabled Access Day aims to promote the accessible experiences that are available for disabled people, and this year’s event was encouraging people to “try something new and send a review”.
The day is important because it helps to raise awareness of the importance of accessibility for all. It is a basic human right for everyone to have equal access to products, services, experiences, etc, including disabled people, because we need, desire and enjoy the same things as everyone else. We’re all human at the end of the day. Yet there are still many barriers to access and things that need to be improved, which is one reason why there are so many visually impaired & disabled bloggers who discuss their accessibility issues on a regular basis
However, it’s just as important to celebrate the positives as well. There are already lots of accessible experiences out there, and Disabled Access Day is a great opportunity to promote them. Because it’s not always obvious what’s available. Even now I’m still discovering things in London despite living here for 2 years! So to have a day full of organised events to choose from is a great initiative, which will hopefully inspire disabled people to discover and do more, and inspire other individuals and organisations to take notice and work to improve access for all.
So to mark the occasion I was delighted to have the great honour of writing a guest post for the Old Vic Theatre, which proved to be popular, called Experiencing Theatre with Visual Impairment – Audio Described Performances. So thank you to them for the opportunity to help raise awareness in that way. They did very kindly give me tickets to a show in exchange for that post, but all views are still my own.
Disabled Access Day – St Paul’s Cathedral
I also went to one of the access events held by St Paul’s Cathedral, one of many venues marking Disabled Access Day with special activities. In this case, I went on a touch tour of the cathedral, which was amazing. I’ve never been in there before, so I really enjoyed looking around the stunning interior and finding out about the history of the building, thanks to our wonderfully friendly and knowledgeable guide.
It’s absolutely beautiful, and the fact that we could get up close and feel things made it all the better. The major features we got to explore included the Great West Door and the Chapel of the Order of St Michael & St George, along with statues and memorials for Lord Leighton, the Duke of Wellington, General Gordon, the Viscounts Melbourne and John Donne, and we finished with the statue of Henry Moore’s Mother & Child. And along the way we were encouraged to examine the finer details of the walls, doors, pillars, floors, curtains and gates, and we stood under the impressive dome of course.
There’s so much amazing detail, and I know we only scratched the surface of everything that’s in there. After all, having a tour of the entire building would take forever. So it would be great to go back and see more of it one day, as I know they do various different tours. Check out my Instagram post for more photos from the day.
Cheshire Chuckle Comedy Night
I went to this special comedy night with my friend James, on the same day as the TFL Access All Areas show. It was the first time disability charity Leonard Cheshire had done an event like this, so they very kindly gave me complimentary tickets to go along and review it. And it was genuinely a great evening, held at the Backyard Comedy Club, featuring comedians Emily Lloyd-Saini (the host), Josh Berry, Steff Todd, Ken Cheng, Twayna Mayne, Sukh Ojla, and the headline act Tim Renkow (who has cerebral palsy and is the star of BBC Three’s sitcom Jerk). Read my full review of the night to find out more.
I usually try and go to at least one theatre show per month, but this time my girlfriend Claire and I went to three, which makes up for the fact that I didn’t go at all during February. All of these shows had touch tours and audio description as well, which was fantastic.
The American Clock
The Old Vic very kindly gave me complimentary tickets to this show, as a thank you for my Disabled Access Day guest post. They’re doing a great job with their accessibility renovations, so I was happy to support them. They also looked after Claire and I and the other visually impaired visitors very well, ensuring we had everything we needed and were able to find our way around the building, given that things are a bit different while the work is going on.
The touch tour beforehand was great. As we explored the stage, we were able to examine costumes, a fake grand piano, a home-made radio, an old style telephone, and a living room armchair. And while we were doing this, we got to meet a few of the cast members, including Sule Rimi (who plays the main narrator and a couple of other characters), and disabled actress Francesca Mills (who plays 7 characters!), both of whom were a delight to chat to. It was clear that they really enjoyed being part of the show, as this interview with Francesca illustrates.
The American Clock is an Arthur Miller play about the Great Depression in America, with the story taking you through different time periods to show how it affected people over time. It was very well produced, with great acting from all the cast members, lovely music from the 4-piece band, enjoyable dancing, and the clever use of a revolve in the centre of the stage. And to acknowledge that it affected people of all backgrounds, the central family were played by 3 different sets of people, occasionally all at once. It sounds confusing, but it was actually quite effective. And the audio description worked well too.
All that said, however, I didn’t end up feeling a strong connection with the characters, and the story didn’t resonate deeply with me, for whatever reason. Don’t get me wrong, it was an enlightening tale about an important piece of history, with elements we can relate to in the present day, and it does have a big impact for some people. And the production values were amazing. But it just didn’t quite connect with me. I think it would have helped if the play had been shorter, with the story tightened up, as it did seem rather long and padded out. I’m happy I gave it a go though, it was worth the visit to try out an Arthur Miller play for the first time.
For a longer assessment, with a deeper insight into the play and disabled access at the theatre, I recommend reading Shona Louise’s review of the show, which covers it really well.
Strangely, I’d never heard of the Bridge Theatre before, despite the fact that it’s very close to Tower Bridge on the South Bank (hence the name) and I’ve thus walked within feet of it on lots of occasions. So I was very intrigued about going to a show there, and Claire and I had a lovely time. The touch tour and audio description were provided with the help of VocalEyes.
The stage tour began with all of the cast members introducing themselves and describing their characters, before they had to go and get ready, which was very kind of them. Most notable among them was Joanne Froggatt, best known for playing Anna Bates in Downton Abbey, and Robert Glenister, who starred in Spooks and Hustle. One of the other cast members did actually stick around for the tour as well, allowing us to examine her police costume as we chatted with her, which was cool.
The stage was also interesting, as it was a ‘thrust’ design that stretched out into the auditorium with the audience around the sides. The large rear section of the stage was able to slide forward, so the action taking place there was visible to all, and a large trapdoor at the front of the stage was used very effectively during scene changes. Large gauze screens were also used to provide backdrops using projected images. So it was really well designed.
And on the stage we got to explore the newspaper office where Frances works, the desk of an author called Lawrence, and a lectern used in a memorial scene. The book on the lectern was fully written, even though the audience would never see it, so that just shows how much attention to detail there was in the props.
And we loved the play. Alys, Always is about a journalist called Frances who comes across a car accident in which a lady called Alys dies. Frances leads a simple life, but is invited to meet Alys’ family, who are very well off and cultured. Getting to know them gives her a more prestigious status among her colleagues and friends, and things evolve from there. I’m not going to give anything away beyond that, but it was very well performed and directed, with a great mixture of characters, and it had some good twists in the story. It’s actually based on a book of the same name by Harriet Lane, which I should try and get around to reading one day, based on what I know from the show.
My girlfriend has written a wonderful review for VocalEyes about our experience too, so do go and check that out. It gives a great overview of what it’s like for us having audio description and touch tours when we go to theatre shows, as well as telling you more about the play itself.
Flight Paths at the Albany Theatre was a very unique and special production. It was produced by Extant, a theatre company who work with visually impaired actors, and the entire play was performed by 2 blind actresses.
Their characters are hoping to migrate to the UK, and are working together on their aerial acrobatic skills, in the hope that demonstrating their talents will enable them to get visas. So the play follows them as they get to know one another and rehearse their performance, with the more experienced acrobat teaching the other girl. This is interspersed with recorded audio about blind performers in Japanese culture, which is an interesting story in itself, and recordings of 2 unseen characters talking about their experiences of blindness and migration.
These separate strands all worked together nicely, and it made for a very interesting, enjoyable and sometimes moving production. The conclusion is a beautiful and very impressive aerial act using long silks hanging down from the ceiling. It didn’t just consist of the few moves we saw them rehearsing, it was a complete sequence, and it looked amazing.
What’s more, because the characters (like the actors themselves) were visually impaired and working together, they were also describing things to each other throughout. Which consequently meant they were doing the same for the audience as well. And it all felt natural as part of the dialogue. So it was a very clever integration of audio description in the show. And the touch tour beforehand was also really useful, where we got to examine the surfaces making up the stage floor, the silks hanging down from the ceiling, and a few of the other props that were used. So all in all it was a great experience.
I went to quite a few museums this month, for a variety of reasons.
Postal Museum – Audio Described Tour
I was delighted to discover that there are now Audio Described Tours at The Postal Museum. It sounded like a really interesting place to visit, especially now you can ride on the Mail Rail, though I did wonder if I might be too tall for that! But I was able to get on the ride, and the rest of the tour around the main exhibition was great as well.
Check out my review for VocalEyes for all the details, with thanks to them for the opportunity to share my experience. I’ve done very well for guest posts this month! And you can also check out my Instagram photos here, here & here.
Tower Bridge – Audio Described Tour
I had a wonderful audio described tour of Tower Bridge with a group from London Vision South East. It’s such an iconic and beautiful structure (see my photos of the exterior), and features very impressive engineering, so going on one of their tours is well worth the experience.
We learnt about the history of the bridge, its construction, and the work involved in the bridge lifts, including a look around the engine rooms (see my photos). It’s incredible how much power is required to lift the bascules, as they’re known, to let boats through. It’s also amazing that a bus had to jump the bridge back in 1952. What a brave driver Albert Gunter was that day! You can also see historical photos and video footage of the bridge throughout the exhibition, which is good.
We also went across the upper walkways, from which we had beautiful views along the river (see my photos), and we got to walk across the impressive glass floor, which is a very special experience (see my photos). It’s very cool looking down on the traffic from above like that. It’s a pity we weren’t there during a bridge lift, as the view must be even more incredible then. They also have a spare section of the glass floor on a table that you can feel and see close-up, which shows you how very thick it is!
I’ve also posted some video footage from the day if you want to check it out. And if you’re thinking of visiting Tower Bridge, which I recommend doing, they have a lot of accessibility information on their site.
Old Royal Naval College – Painted Hall
The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich had the grand reopening of their Painted Hall in March, and I managed to win tickets to the opening weekend in an Evening Standard competition!
So I gladly went along, and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s such a stunning piece of artwork, with so much detail to take in. There are also a couple of smaller rooms at each end of the Lower Hall with impressive artworks of their own, especially the end room with the big wall painting. But it’s the ceiling in the Lower Hall that is of course the big attraction. You can spend ages in here taking it all in, laying on the benches as you look up at it. I was able to use my monocular to view it, and after getting home I was able to zoom in on all the photos I’d taken to see even more details.
For the visually impaired they do have a recorded audio described guide about the Painted Hall, produced with the help of VocalEyes, which you can use while you’re there. Unfortunately, on that very first weekend, the staff I spoke to hadn’t been made aware of it, so were unable to help when I enquired about it.
However, after raising this with the college, I’m reliably informed that the information has now been cascaded to all relevant staff, so they should be able to provide the guide to anyone who requests it. So if you do go along and ask for the guide, let me know how you get on. I’ll be going back to try it out as well, because they’ve very kindly given me tickets to revisit by way of an apology.
But for this first visit, I just used their regular multimedia guide instead, because I fortunately had enough vision to do so. And it’s still pretty good, as it zooms in on many key details of the artworks as it talks about them, meaning I could find the various elements on the actual ceiling using my monocular. So it still enhanced my experience, just not as much as the audio described guide would have done. And I have no problems going back there for that, because I’m perfectly happy to look at such beautiful artistry again.
British Museum – Access All Senses
The British Museum’s Access All Senses event was an initiative giving visitors, whether able-bodied or disabled, the chance to experience accessibility in action, through audio description and British Sign Language. It was organised as part of MANSIL – the Museum Access Network for Sensory Impairments (London). See their British Museum page for more details.
I was very kindly paid to attend and assist by Dr Ellen Adams, and worked with Rafie Cecilia, who I’ve met a few times before as part of her museum accessibility studies. Rafie and I were in room 18b of the Parthenon Gallery, and we were able to demonstrate to visitors, with and without sight loss, how audio description and the ability to touch the exhibits in that particular room can enhance the experience for all.
Rafie was of course providing the audio descriptions, and I was helping to explain and demonstrate why that and tactile interaction is so beneficial, as a user of audio description and touch tours myself. And we got a very good response to it, so we were pleased with how it went. Check out my Instagram photos from the evening to see the room we were in.
Science Museum – The Sun
The Science Museum currently have an exhibition called The Sun: Living With Our Star, which closes on 6 May. So my girlfriend Claire and I went along to check it out, and had a good time looking around, using the large print guide to help us.
The gallery explores how people used the sun to tell the time, its health benefits and dangers, studies into its chemical composition, the use of solar power as a renewable energy source, attempts to create a replica sun on earth using nuclear fusion, and more.
It was all very interesting, and was presented with a mixture of historical and technological objects, short documentary films, and some interactive games for the youngsters. So the information is presented in a nice variety of ways, and it was worth the visit. After all, the sun is a key part of our universe and vital for our very existence, yet we take it for granted as just being there. But it’s really interesting to find out more about its composition and appreciate how much power it has. See my Instagram photos for some of the highlights of the exhibition.
Pumphouse Museum – Tube Train Supper Club
This was a private dinner outing with my girlfriend and a couple of our friends. But I wanted to briefly mention the event, as we enjoyed it, and there are lots of other opportunities to book as it takes place regularly
The Tube Train Supper Club, as the name suggests, is a supper club held on an old London Underground train – specifically an old Victoria Line carriage at the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. The dinner has a Latin American feel to it, and consists of a number of courses – none of which are very big, but you do end up feeling very pleasantly satisfied by the end of it, without feeling over-stuffed.
The food is very tasty and very well presented, and the chef comes around personally to ensure everyone’s happy. Our fish course included cod marinated in yellow chilli and lime, the main course included confit leg of pork and roasted fillet of pork with vegetables, and we had a banana-based dessert to finish. Plus there were other smaller courses around these, including a starter and a sorbet. Their menus do change every so often, so if you go, you won’t get exactly the same as we did. But it’ll be along similar lines.
So if you like eating out and want to try something a bit unusual, give this a go. See my Instagram photos for a brief glimpse of what it’s like.
Finally, I want to mention a couple of things I’ve been watching, in addition to the usual stuff I’ve continued enjoying like The Last Leg, Big Bang Theory, etc.
All The Stations – Ireland
The most interesting thing for me in March was the latest series of All The Stations, Back in 2017, Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe travelled to all the stations on the UK railway network, exploring lots of places along the way and documenting their adventures in a wonderful series of Youtube videos. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, which I supported, and the whole experience concluded with a documentary, followed later by a book called The Railway Adventures.
So this year they’ve followed it up with All The Stations – Ireland, travelling to all the railway stations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. As before, they’ve been capturing it all on video, and it’s been really cool to watch, with stunning scenery, fascinating history, interesting people, humorous banter, and a great soundtrack by Steven Francis. They’re not trainspotters, they just love using trains and promoting them as a form of travel, and you can see why with videos like these. Their enthusiasm is very infectious and genuine, and they’re very knowledgeable.
And talking of epic projects, I’ve also been working my way through the QI DVD boxsets I bought last year. I had set them aside until we got around to buying a new TV and Blu-ray player, which we finally did before Christmas last year.
So I’ve started binge-watching the DVDs, which include every episode from series A to M. That’s the entire run of 13 series hosted by Stephen Fry! Plus there are many bonus features including a lot of deleted material and other behind-the-scenes goodies. What’s more, from the 3rd episode of series F onwards, you get every show in its extended 45-minute XL format instead of the half-hour editions (they didn’t broadcast extended versions of the first 2 episodes). So that’s very much appreciated. You can never have too much QI.
These DVDs are very simple releases, in that there are no subtitles or chapter points, but that isn’t a worry for me personally. The lack of subtitles is rather a drawback for the hard of hearing though. And weirdly, some episodes do have chapter marks, but in very random places, so I’m not sure they’re meant to be there. But I do like the menus on this set though, as they’re unique for every single disc, using background animations and music that relate to one of the episodes on that particular disc. So that’s a nice touch.
If I can keep ploughing through these DVDs – which I’m really enjoying, having not seen most of these episodes for quite a while – then I’m hoping to finish them by the end of May. It’s certainly better watching them here than on Dave with all the adverts and any cuts they may have made. I have still kept the older individual releases for series A to C as well though, because they have extra material that isn’t on these new box sets, but I’m glad we have proper box sets now too, as they’ve been a long time coming.
And that’s it, we finally made it to the end! All in all, March was very busy and very enjoyable. I’m very grateful for the various opportunities I was presented with, and I’m delighted I was able to go out and do so many interesting things with so many wonderful people. I’m also glad April has been a much quieter month though, so I can catch up with things.
May should be relatively relaxed as well, but there is already one exciting opportunity that’s come up, which is looking very interesting. And beyond that, I’m going to be speaking at the Aniridia Network Conference on 1st June in Birmingham, so I’ll let you know how that goes.
But for now, there you have it. Thank you for reading if you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed it and found something of interest. And I’ll see you soon for my much simpler and more relaxed April Favourites!
7 thoughts on “March 2019 Favourites”
Wow, what a month! I don’t know how you managed to fit it all in! Thank you for always sharing information about the accessibility of exhibitions, etc.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you so much Christina, it was certainly a packed few weeks! Glad you enjoyed reading about it all and found it useful! 🙂