March 2019 Favourites

Glen smiling as he poses next to a red post box, resting his left arm on top of it. He's wearing a red top and light coloured cargo trousers, and has his monocular around his neck.

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

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.

Naidex

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.

The large entrance to the Naidex show in the Birmingham N.E.C. A large banner with a dark background across the top fo the entrance says Welcome To Naidex, with the first 2 works in large white letters followed by the word Naidex in red. Red circles at each end of the banner contain white text saying Free Entry.
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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.

Standing in front of a tall London Vision banner, Glen is smiling and holding up a white board with handwritten text on it that says What does accessible transport mean to me? Being able to travel independently because of audio announcements.
Photo by London Vision

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.


Disability Events

Disabled Access Day – Guest Posts & St Paul’s Cathedral

Disabled Access Day is designed to promote the accessible experiences that are available for disabled people. And I had the privilege of doing 2 guest posts to mark the occasion, which proved to be popular:

Thank you to both organisations for the opportunity to help raise awareness in that way. Being featured by The Old Vic in particular felt like quite an honour.

I also went to one of the access events held by St Paul’s Cathedral, one of many venues marking the occasion 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.

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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.

Tim Renkow, sitting on a chair on the Backyard Comedy Club stage as performs his set. He is wearing a black t-shirt, the white pattern of which is obscured by his left arm across his chest, which has a tattoo covering his forearm.


Theatre

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

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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 us 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.

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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. And while you’re at it, check out her Disabled Access Day post for the theatre too.

Alys, Always

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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 we 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.

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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.

Stage for Alys, Always. A large white rectangular platform fills the stage, which stretches out into the auditorium. The platform is shallow and doesn't quite fill the stage, leaving a white walkway around the edge. A wooden table and chairs, representing a home environment, are on the stage, with a large gauze screen in the air above it.

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

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.


Museums

I went to quite a few museums this month, for a variety of reasons.

Postal Museum – Audio Described Tour

Glen smiling as he poses next to a red post box, resting his left arm on top of it. He's wearing a red top and light coloured cargo trousers, and has his monocular around his neck.

I was delighted to discover 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! Also check out my Instagram photos here, here & here, and the video by London Vision East about their trip to the museum last year.

Glen smiling as he sits in one of the small carriages of the red Mail Rain train.

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.

View towards one of the tall towers on Tower Bridge. The blue and white curving girders on each side of the bridge curve up to connect with the tower about three-quarters of the way up.

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.

Machinery in the engine room under Tower Bridge, driven by a very large green wheel.

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!

View along the River Thames from the upper walkway of Tower Bridge, with the Shard on the left and the Walkie Talkie building on the right. In the distance St Paul's Cathedral and the BT Tower are visible.

View through the glass floor of Tower Bridge, looking at the traffic on the road below and the river next to it.

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 last month, 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.

The highly detailed and ornate painted ceiling, stretching the length of the long hall in the Old Royal Naval College.

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.

Section of the highly detailed and colourful painted ceiling at the Old Royal Naval college, featuring historical gods and goddesses amongst other characters.

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

Large tactile casts on the wall in the Parthenon Gallery, including a soldier sitting on a horse that appears to be in motion with its front legs up, and a man to the right with his foot up on a rock as he adjusts his footwear.

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.

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 it’s 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.

Model of the Parthenon building viewed from one end, with the triangular roof that slopes down on each side, and 8 pillars across the front of the structure.

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.

Close-up image of the sun using an extreme UV filter, which shows the surface as red with bright yellow light bursting out of it.

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.

An ornate desk clock with a large round base, a detailed gold border around the face. and a mechanism on the round top that can be used to determine the time using the sun's position.

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 Pump House 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.

Glen eating dinner while seated in a old Victoria Line tube train carriage, with the original seating and blue poles.

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.

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Entertainment

Finally, I want to mention a couple of things I’ve been watching, in addition to the usual stuff like The Last Leg, The 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 & 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.

QI DVDs

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.

Collection of 4 DVD boxsets for The Complete QI, for A to D (red), E to G (blue), H to J (green) and K to M (brown). all the cases are designed to look like old fashioned book covers.

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.


Conclusion

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.

Beyond that, I’m going to be speaking at the Aniridia Network Conference on 1st June in Birmingham. Booking is now open if you have a connection with aniridia and would like to attend. All of the speakers and activities are listed on the booking page.

So 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!

Author: Glen

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

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