Right then, I’m back. And it’s fair to say that this past month has been a bit of a write-off. A few things forced me to take a break from blogging for a little while, and prevented me from getting out and about the majority of the time. So I apologise for not posting recently, but I just haven’t been in the mindset for it.
As a result, this post covers both July and August together, as there’s very little to mention for the latter month. To put things into context I’ll start by explaining why I’ve been absent, and I’ve also posted a short video in relation to that. Then I’ll go straight on to the more cheerful stuff, and there’s still quite a lot to mention, including a musical, a movie, a comedy show, museums, walks, events, my new computer and TV shows.
So let’s crack straight on with my latest post and video recap. As always, I’m not sponsored by any of the people and companies mentioned below. I hope you enjoy my latest post and video recap!
Personal Independence Payments (PIP)
I’m currently going through my claim for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which are the new benefits payments for disabled people in the UK, replacing the old Disability Living Allowance (DLA). It’s not a nice subject to talk about, but it’s important to highlight that it’s a very unfair and unpleasant ordeal for those who apply. It’s well known that the process is psychologically designed to deter people from applying and appealing, and ultimately to save the government money as DLA was costing them too much. So you really have to fight for what you’re entitled to.
I sent off my claim form and supporting evidence at the end of July, including a very detailed dissertation about how my disability affects me, answering each of their questions in turn. The process of writing that was also disrupted by the fact that my iMac computer died after about 6 years of loyal service, so I ended up buying a new one (which I’ll mention in my next Favourites post). Fortunately we have a laptop as well, so I was able to write up my PIP answers on that instead.
And then in the first week of September I had my face-to-face assessment, where I was able to speak at great length about the impact of my visual impairment, again with a lot of detail to make myself absolutely clear. How much they truly understood and noted down won’t be known until I can get the assessment report. But I’m satisfied that I did the best I could.
So now I just need to wait for the decision. Given their track record, I won’t be at all surprised if my claim is refused. But I will gladly take it all the way to appeal if necessary, as I have access to solid support and evidence to back me up, I’ve got nothing to lose if they’re stopping my benefits anyway, and I’m very happy to talk about myself in detail to more people. Let’s face it, I ramble on enough about myself in my blog posts and videos as it is, and in the few public talks I’ve done. So I’m used to it! But it will nice when it’s all over, hopefully sooner rather than later.
I was also unable to walk much during August after a severe reaction to an insert bite on my foot, which has taken a long time to heal. I’ve never had anything like that before, so it was very concerning. After being prescribed 2 different types of antibiotics, taking antihistamines, applying antibiotic cream and having blood tests that thankfully showed I didn’t have Lyme Disease, it’s finally started clearing up and the skin is now repairing itself. So I’ve been able to get out of the house without any problems lately.
In a completely unrelated coincidence, I also managed to get an infection in my finger after scratching it on something. But thankfully that’s clearing up of its own accord. So my body’s been having a bit of a battle these past few weeks!
Claire and I have brought our relationship to an end, a year after it began. We’ve had an amazing time together, resulting in many wonderful memories that we’ll always cherish, and it’s given me a big boost in my self-confidence. So I don’t regret a single moment of it. But after a sensible discussion we made the mutual decision that it was best to call it a day. And we’ve parted on very good terms. We’re still great friends, we’re still keeping in touch, and we’ll still meet up sometimes as culture buddies. So all is good between us.
So that concludes the less pleasant aspects of recent weeks. Let’s move on to the fun stuff!
Only Fools And Horses The Musical
Going to see Only Fools And Horses The Musical at Theatre Royal Haymarket was my favourite event of July without a doubt. It was very high on my wishlist, because I’m a huge fan of the TV show. And my then girlfriend Claire was well aware of that, so she very generously bought us tickets as an early birthday present to me.
We went to see the audio described performance and had a fantastic time. We had a wonderful touch tour on stage beforehand, which meant we were able to get up close and handle some props that were originally used in the TV series itself. I even got to sit in a very special chair! And the show itself was brilliant, with lots of laughs and great music.
You can see an in-depth review of my experience, and discover why I love the TV programme so much, in my detailed review post.
An Evening Of Unnecessary Detail
I also went out for a night of comedy at the Bloomsbury Theatre with my friends James and Zoe, where we enjoyed An Evening Of Unnecessary Detail. This is a show by Festival Of The Spoken Nerd, covering all sorts of random science and maths related topics in a funny and interesting way. It’s a regular event at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green, and I went to one of those smaller gigs with James in March 2018. But they also do larger theatre shows, so it was great to be able to attend one of those for the first time.
And it was really good fun. The performers included Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe from All The Stations looking back at their recent Ireland trip, comedian Bec Hill performing her delightful Edith Piaf and food lyrics flipchart routines, an interesting talk about the history of broadcasting from Gemma Arrowsmith, clever laser art by Seb Lee-Delisle, Spoken Nerd member Helen Arney performing songs about the elements and cryogenic freezing, and comedian Ria Lina singing about her life with autism. And we also learned about Swiss railways, Pacman, Blankety Blank, tuning forks, rats and blue skies. So there was certainly something for everyone! It was an enjoyably nerdy way to spend an evening.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
I went on a couple of very interesting audio described tours during July. And the first was to the Sir John Soane’s Museum, which is a truly fascinating place. The guy who led us around was great, telling us a lot about the renowned architect after whom the museum is named, and the various items he’d collected during his life, many of which we could touch as we looked around.
Sir John Soane had instructed the house to be left as it was after his death, and so it’s been very well preserved. It’s basically a historical Tardis, being far more extensive on the inside than you expect before you enter, because it actually spans 3 houses joined together. And it’s packed full of all sorts of artworks, sculptures, models, ornaments, furnishings, architecture and much more.
There’s a particularly fascinating picture room, for example, with large and beautiful paintings filling the walls, and then the wall panels open to reveal even more. It’s very cleverly designed. Downstairs, meanwhile, there’s a large sarcophagus containing a mummified body, which was the architect’s most expensive possession. It’s in a glass case of course, but we were able to walk around it to get a feel for its size as we looked through the glass. And talking of glass, even the windows in the museum give the place an interesting atmosphere, including yellow glass for a Mediterranean feel in some rooms, plus stained glass windows and skylights in others.
All in all, there’s a huge amount to see there, and I know we only scratched the surface with our tour, which lasted an hour and a half. No space is wasted with the thousands of items on display, and it would be easy to go back there a few times and see things you hadn’t noticed before. It’s a real hidden gem in the heart of London by Lincoln’s Fields, so I highly recommend a visit. Check out their accessibility page as well, which includes information about booking tours if you’re visually impaired.
I also had a wonderful audio described tour of the Manga exhibition at the British Museum. This was led by Lonny Evans and Anna Fineman from VocalEyes, in conjunction with exhibition curator Hiromi Uchida, and support from Fiona Slater, the museum’s Equality & Diversity Manager.
I’ve never explored the world of manga before, so I didn’t know how interesting I would find it or how easy it would be to understand. But I was very curious to find out more about it. And I’m glad I went, because it proved to be a very enjoyable and accessible introduction to the art form.
From the start we learnt how it’s meant to be read, with the frames going from right to left as you go down the page, and the pages going back to front in books and comics. And we were shown some of the many conventions and symbols that are used to express meanings, emotions, actions, etc, because there’s a real visual grammar involved. It’s all much more descriptive and detailed than you might expect at first glance. All of that, in conjunction with the audio descriptions, really helped us to fully appreciate the many impressive examples of manga throughout the gallery.
So I really enjoyed seeing all the creative and expressive artworks and comic strips, and it was fascinating to learn about the history and development of manga as well. It’s incredible how hugely popular it is, and I’m glad that I now have a better understanding of it.
The exhibition has now closed, but check out my Instagram photos to see more of the items that were on display. And if you want a much more detailed account of the exhibition with even more images, please do check out the comprehensive review by Nanjiba at My Eye My Way of the previous audio described tour.
I also spent time outdoors enjoying the summer weather, of course, and had a few nice walks during July.
Firstly, I had a nice walk along the North Bank of the River Thames, from Blackfriars to St Katharine Docks. You can see many photos on Instagram of the area around the Millennium Bridge, historical images under Southwark Bridge, the section from London Bridge to Tower Bridge, and my final stop at St Katharine Docks.
And then in early August I explored the Frieze Sculpture Park, a free collection of modern art sculptures spread around a section of Regent’s Park, which will be there until Sunday 6 October. It’s a precursor to the Frieze London art fair, which is taking place from 3-6 October in the park.
There are a wide variety of objects including a model of a Japanese cartoon character, a life-size reproduction of a Matchbox toy car, a cello covered in a swarm of bees, a circle of large sculpted numbers, a hare balancing on some elephants, and a spherical house, among many other things. Inevitably some of the artworks do seem a bit weird or hard to interpret, but I enjoyed looking at them all.
I was also able to use their Frieze app, which includes a map of the artworks and an audio track discussing each one. It wasn’t audio description, but it was still interesting and helped me to understand what I was looking at. And I was able to get close to most of the artworks, which was good. Check out my Instagram photos to see more of the artworks.
I also met people at a few events during July. In particular, I had a great time at the first Young Persons Pub Social held by RNIB Connect London, meeting a number of new visually impaired people. It was hosted by Juliette Parfitt, author of the blog Who Said That?, which is well worth checking out. So it was lovely to meet another blogger as well as the other people who attended. I’m looking forward to attending more of those socials soon.
I also went to the Newham Show, the annual event held in Central Park in the borough, with lots of free entertainment for families to enjoy. I explored an art gallery featuring work by local artists, as you can see on my Instagram, I met a couple of visually impaired friends from the local area, and I said hello to Enabled Living Healthcare, taking a photo with Janet from their team. Enabled Living Healthcare provide sensory assessments and support services for disabled Newham residents, and I also visited their offices during July for a meeting about VIPON (the Visually Impaired People of Newham group)
My trusty old iMac died in July, while I was using it to type up my answers to the PIP application questions, which is typical. Fortunately I have a Time Machine backup, and we have a Macbook laptop as well, so I was able to continue my work there, but it was still frustrating.
It wasn’t really that old particularly, I’d only had it about 6 years. But it was out of warranty and AppleCare, and is now on Apple’s list of obsolete products that they no longer provide parts for. And to be fair it had been showing its age a bit after years of regular use. So I decided to bite the bullet and treat myself to a new one, as it felt like an appropriate time to upgrade. i was also able to get a discount thanks to the savings scheme my employer’s signed up to, so that helped a bit as well. And it’s been working fine so far, I’m very happy with it.
For those with an interest in such things, here are the specs of the model I got:
- 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display – Being visually impaired and needing things enlarged, I love their big screens, so I had to get the largest size.
- 3.7GHz 6-core 9th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz
- 16GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory – There are 2 free slots on the back to add extra RAM if I ever want to.
- Radeon Pro 580X graphics card with 8GB of GDDR5 memory
- 2TB SSD storage – I had a 3TB Fusion Drive on my old machine, because SSD was far too expensive back then, and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of space. But now SSD is more affordable, and it’s easy to get external SSD drives if I do find I need extra space anytime, this option felt ideal. I love the fact that SSD drives are silent, it makes a nice change.
- Magic Mouse 2 – It’s great that you can charge this up by plugging it into your computer, rather than changing any batteries as on the old version. But it’s daft that the charging port is on the underside of the mouse. It means you have to turn it upside down to plug it in, which therefore means you can’t use the mouse while it’s charging.
- Magic Keyboard – Again, it’s great that you can charge this up by plugging it in, without having to worry about batteries. And thankfully the charging port is in a much more sensible position at the back, so at least you can use the keyboard while it’s charging.
- Final Cut Pro X – When I bought my first computer, video making wasn’t a consideration in the slightest. But having since become a small Youtuber, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to upgrade to better editing software. Now I just need to spend time playing around with it and learning what it can do. If anybody knows any good beginner tutorials or has any tips for using it, by all means let me know. But I’m sure I’ll figure things out by playing around with it myself.
Since buying the machine, I’ve also recently installed Parallels in order to run Windows 10. It’s been in the back of my mind to do this for a while, as occasionally I’m sent Microsoft Office files that don’t always render properly in the default Mac apps, or I come across Windows programs that I can’t run.
But the push came from RNIB Overdrive in fact, because they’re no longer supporting the Mac app, which is very disappointing. I assume it’s the fault of the Overdrive company they use rather than RNIB itself, but it isn’t helpful in any case. We use Overdrive to download books for my mum’s Victor Stream player, as she doesn’t have a smartphone or a Windows computer, so the Mac’s the only way of transferring books over.
Thankfully, running the Windows app in Parallels works for this purpose, so we can do it that way. But it’s an awkward hurdle to jump through, and it does make me wonder if other visually impaired people are now struggling to use the Overdrive service as a result. Not everyone has a Windows PC, or a smartphone that allows them to use the Dolphin EasyReader app (though I have tried it out and it is very good).
Apart from that, however, I’m very happy with my new computer. Here’s hoping it serves me well for a good few years to come!
Claire and I went to see the Yesterday film at Picturehouse Central during July. This is about a guy who wakes up after an accident, to discover that nobody has heard of The Beatles or their music. So he starts to perform their songs, and becomes a big star as a result, because everybody believes he wrote them. It’s an interesting premise, and it’s a nice film, but it’s not one I’d be bothered about seeing again. It’s never explained as to why he ends up in this alternate reality, and the whole scenario just feels too strange and falls a bit flat somehow. It’s also a bit predictable sometimes. But it was worth a go, it was nice to see something a bit unusual like that. And anything that helps to bring The Beatles music to a new audience can only be a good thing.
Also on the subject of The Beatles, Claire very kindly bought me The Authorised Biography by Hunter Davies on Audible for my birthday, which is a very comprehensive and interesting audiobook. And I’ve also ordered the 50th anniversary box set of their Abbey Road album, following on from the box sets of Sgt Pepper & The White Album that I bought previously, so I’m really looking forward to listening to that.
I’ve also continued rewatching some of the films I have in my DVD and Blu-ray collection, particularly those that I haven’t seen for quite a long time. I’ve taken the opportunity to upgrade many of my films to Blu-ray during the year as well. And I think my favourite upgrade has been to Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong because, apart from being a fun film, it’s also got a whopping 13 hours of extras, which are fascinating to trawl through. And I’ve also enjoyed revisiting the Die Hard series, Independence Day, The Mummy series and The Rock, among various other movies.
Talking of Blu-rays, I also got my replacement discs from the BBC for series 3 & 5 of the Red Dwarf box set, which I had bought earlier in the year. This was to correct a de-interlacing error that had taken the fans some time to resolve with the company, which basically meant the video hadn’t been encoded properly. The episodes had still been watchable, but they didn’t look as good as they were supposed to. I had never noticed a problem personally, as I didn’t know what to look out for, and I might not have noticed even I had been told, given my eyesight. But as new discs were being offered I applied for them anyway. So I’m glad they came through.
And talking of comedy shows, I also treated myself to the box set of The IT Crowd for my birthday, something I’ve been meaning to do for some time. So it’s been fun watching those again. I love the menu designs for each series as well, each having a very different computer-based theme, from 8-bit and 16-bit games to the internet age. And there’s a good selection of extras as well, including interesting commentaries by Graham Linehan and the cast, outtakes and behind-the-scenes material. It’s a great package overall.
On TV, meanwhile, we had Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes on Gold over the August Bank Holiday. It may seem inconceivable in today’s age of digital storage, but up until the end of the 1970s the BBC didn’t keep a proper archive of its shows. Instead, they often wiped their tapes to re-use them, not considering that they might need to be retained for future generations to enjoy. As a result, some episodes of Dad’s Army were lost, along with many other programmes. While a few have since been recovered. three episodes from series 2 remain missing. Unless someone recorded them at the time, they’re probably lost forever, which is a real pity.
Gold therefore decided to remake the 3 missing episodes – The Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker, A Stripe for Frazer and Under Fire – with a brand new cast playing the original roles. We had Kevin McNally as Captain Mainwaring, Robert Bathurst as Sergeant Wilson, Kevin Eldon as Lance Corporal Jones, David Hayman as Private Frazer, Mathew Horne as Private Walker, Timothy West as Private Godfrey and Tom Rosenthal as Private Pike.
Along with many fans I was unsure how to feel about this before the episodes aired. It clearly wasn’t going to feel quite the same with different people in the familiar roles. However, they actually did a very good job to be fair, so credit where it’s due. They used the original scripts, had the right mannerisms and behavioural traits for the characters, and faithfully recreated the sets. It really felt like they’d taken the time and effort to replicate the episodes in a very respectful and authentic way. So it was a fitting tribute to the original show. It could never be quite as good as the original, but it wasn’t miles off.
And as usual I’ve also enjoyed watching Taskmaster (for which I’m delighted series 9 has just started), 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, The Last Leg, and the last 2 episodes from series P of QI XL (just in time for the start of series Q). So all in all I’ve had plenty to keep me entertained, even while I’ve been stuck at home with illness for much of August!
And that’s it. That’s a nice big bumper entry to get me back into normal blogging again, even if things weren’t too cheerful to start. September won’t be quite as busy as July, given that I’ve been partly recovering from the events of August, but I’ll still have some things to mention in my next Favourites post. In particular, I’m attending the Nystagmus Network Open Day in Cardiff at the end of the month, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m also going to another RNIB Connect social, and I’m helping out with a couple more research projects. So things are now settling back to normal. Hope you all enjoy the rest of the month too!