Happy New Year! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and have a wonderful and prosperous 2020 ahead. 🙂
2019 was a bit of a rollercoaster year for me, but it worked out well overall. I was very busy and active for the first half, with highlights including a holiday in Liverpool, filming my What Is Normal? documentary, giving a speech at the Aniridia Network Conference, attending the Naidex event and seeing the Only Fools And Horses musical. Then there was a big dip during the summer, with health issues, my PIP application, and my first relationship in London coming to an end after a year (but we’re still very close friends). Then the final few months gave me a chance to recharge and get back to normal, before I made radio & TV appearances on the BBC World Service & 5 News to talk about digital accessibility. So there’s been a lot going on, and you can find out all the details through my Favourites posts from the year.
So December was very good for me all in all, and I was kept happily occupied over Christmas as usual. So there’s lots to mention, including a podcast appearance, museum visits, Christmas displays, socialising in London & Devon, Christmas food, TV shows, movies and audio entertainment, and more. As always, I’ve not been paid or gifted for anything I mention here, I’m simply expressing my own opinions. So I hope you enjoy this festive post and video roundup!
I was featured on one more podcast at the end of the year, to conclude my 15 minutes of fame for 2019.
The disability charity Leonard Cheshire have relaunched their podcast under the new name of The Disability Download, and have taken the opportunity to re-release some of their interviews from the past year.
So the discussion about the assistive technology that I use, originally posted on their old podcast in June, has been featured again in Episode 5 – Talking Assistive Tech. So do give it a listen, and subscribe to their feed too.
British Museum – Troy: Myth & Reality
I went on an audio described tour of the Troy: Myth & Reality exhibition at the British Museum, which happened to be a nice follow-on to the Parthenon course I did last month, looking at another piece of Ancient Greek history. I vaguely knew the Troy story, because everyone knows about things like the Trojan Horse, but it was great to hear about it in much more detail here.
The tour was led by wonderful describer Lonny Evans, who I’ve often seen at events like this, along with a curator from the exhibition and Fiona Slater, the museum’s Equality & Diversity Manager. We started off with a nice handling session, where we could feel objects that were similar or related to those displayed in the exhibition. And then we had an extensive tour of the exhibition itself, which is epic in scale to reflect the epic nature of the story. Many of the most important exhibits were described and discussed in detail, including statues of figures like Achilles, and paintings like Ulysses And The Sirens, so it was very thorough and interesting.
The next audio described tour in January is already sold out, as it’s been very popular, so they’re looking at putting another one on in February. So keep an eye out for that if you’re interested. Otherwise, you can visit the exhibition at any time until the 8th of March. It’s well worth a look. See my Instagram post for more photos.
Wellcome Collection – Play Well
The other exhibition I went to was Play Well at the Wellcome Collection with my friend Claire, and we used the large print guide to help us read things on our way through it. The exhibition looks at the importance of play for children in particular, as well as for society at large, illustrated by photos and artworks of children playing, and a selection of toys and games.
One particular message it drives home is that children aren’t playing outdoors anywhere near as much as they used to in the past. They are often reluctant or prevented from doing so due to addiction to screens, urbanisation destroying parkland, overly-protective parents, health & safety fears, and so on. And that in turn is contributing to problems like obesity, poor self-confidence, mental health issues, etc. So it’s a great shame. I used to love going out as a kid, otherwise it would have been boring to be stuck indoors all the time, and we didn’t have smartphones or the internet to get distracted by back then either. So children should be greatly encouraged to go out more.
It was also nice to see a small selection of dolls with disabilities there. Of course, not all disabled children will necessarily want to play with toys that have impairments, as play is often about escapism from life and using your imagination in all sorts of ways. But equally, many disabled children are reassured and empowered by having toys they can relate to and who represent them, which is a huge benefit to them. So it’s very important that disability is recognised by toy manufacturers.
Some toys were also deliberately impaired in other ways though, as illustrated by the Barbie Liberation Organisation, who switched the voice boxes of Barbie Dolls and G.I. Joes and put them back into shops, in protest at the gender stereotypes. So that was one of the more unusual parts of the exhibition, which added to the interest of it.
There aren’t many interactive parts of the exhibition, but there is an area for children to experiment with a bit of live action role play, and there are a few interesting digital games to play at the end. Not all types of play were covered by the exhibition though. As well as a heavy emphasis on outdoor play, the exhibition did also mention things like teddy bears, dolls, Lego and computer games. But it omitted things like board games and card games, which was a bit of a surprise, as they’re hugely popular and very educational. I appreciate there’s only so much they can cover in a gallery, but it was a shame to see that kind of play left out, unless it was there and I didn’t spot it.
Overall though, it is a very nice exhibition, with interesting exhibits, some of them quite nostalgic, and a big message about the importance of play, especially for children but also adults too. So it’s well worth checking out.
There’s an audio described tour of the exhibition on Thursday 23rd January at 6pm. Or you can visit the exhibition yourself at any time until the 8th of March. And there are more photos in my Instagram post.
Lights & Displays
As usual for this time of year, I’ve been out for a few walks to look at some of the Christmas lights and shops and other festive treats in the city. As I said at the start, I didn’t get out too much over Christmas due to a cold, otherwise I would have checked out more of the lights and decorations. But I was very pleased with what I did see.
This was the first place I went to, as there are always interesting things to admire. For a start they had nice lights across the street as usual, and John Lewis had their Excitable Edgar character on display in its windows. Click those links for my Instagram photo sets.
Excitable Edgar was the character featured in the John Lewis & Partners Christmas advert this year, for which they also produced an audio described version, so well done to them! They weren’t the only retailer to have done so this year to be fair, but their commercial is always one of the most highly anticipated and entertaining at this time of year.
In addition, the Flannels store had a cool animated montage of photos by David Bailey on the large screens covering the front and side of the building, featuring famous faces like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, David Beckham and rock band Queen. Check out their promo video and Evening Standard article to find out more.
Also check out my video of the lights and the Flannels store to see it all in action.
I also had a lovely day attending the Christmas Shopping Event in Chelsea. Lots of the shops there were offering discounts and treats that day, which I didn’t actually check out as most of the stores didn’t interest me. But they had beautiful decorations and lights up, which were well worth looking at.
They had quite a lot of musical entertainment too, including a delightful group of Chelsea Pensioners singing Christmas songs (one of which you can see at the end of my November Favourites video), and an enjoyably catchy set from a trio of ladies called Satin Dollz. So I really enjoyed listening to them, as did many others in the big crowd surrounding them. They got us all into the festive spirit very nicely.
And of course I couldn’t visit the area without checking out the lights and window displays at Harrods. The building always looks stunning when it’s lit up at this time of year, and the window displays I saw had a very cute animals theme.
I also had a little walk around Barking as it’s not too far away from me. There wasn’t much to see there, but I did like the decorations in their Vicarage Field Shopping Centre.
Food & Drink
London & Devon Socials
I didn’t go out to as many Christmas meals as last year, but I did enjoy a lovely meal with the Visually Impaired People of Newham (VIPON) at the Golden Fleece pub in Manor Park. It was a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and it was very nice.
I also went down to Devon for a fleeting visit. It’s the only time I’ve been able to get down there this year, but it was worth the wait. First of all I had a wonderful meet up with an old school friend in Exeter. It was lovely to see her again, and the lights in the high street were beautiful.
Then I went on to Torquay, where I had a great time catching up with my colleagues during our Christmas meal at Bistrot Pierre, followed by a few drinks in nearby bars afterwards. I’m a homeworker for anyone who doesn’t know, so it was lovely to see everyone after a year away.
The staff at the Torquay Premier Inn were also wonderful as usual, including Rebecca and Paul who kindly helped to dish up breakfast for me each morning when I explained I was visually impaired. I always enjoy staying there.
And I came home with a bottle of McGuigan’s Black Label Chardonnay and a box of Fox’s Fabulously Collection chocolate biscuits that I’d won in our office raffle. Mum and I enjoyed having the Chardonnay with our big dinners on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and we kept happily nibbling at the biscuits right through to the New Year. There weren’t as many biscuits in the box as the size of it seemed to imply, but there was still a nice selection in there and it was free, so we’re not complaining!
In the lead up to Christmas I had a Lindt Milk Chocolate Truffles Advent Calendar this year. The numbering was quite hard to find and read, but it was worth the effort as the chunky chocolates behind each door were delicious! And there was a lovely big Lindor bar to enjoy on Christmas Eve.
Marks & Spencer
As is now traditional for us, because it makes things so much easier, we used the Marks & Spencer Food To Order service to get in our main Christmas food. This year we went for their Free-Range Turkey Crown with Pork, Chestnut, Bacon & Thyme Stuffing, along with stuffing balls and pigs in blankets in their Outdoor-Bred Garnish Selection, and their Turkey Gravy. Granted, we didn’t need the stuffing balls to eat with a turkey that was already stuffed, so we saved those to have with other meals later on. But it was all lovely in any case, as you’d expect from M&S.
We also got their Beef Wellington, but that didn’t work out quite so well. They only had one left when we got there, and the pastry was split across the top. In fairness to M&S though, the guy serving us pointed it out, explaining that they didn’t have another one, or anything remotely like it that they could exchange. So he offered us a bottle of champagne or a discount to compensate, and we went for the latter as my mother isn’t a fan of champagne. So it was classed as faulty stock and we only paid half price. And it was still nice when we did get around to eating it, as the pastry surrounds a lovely huge joint of beef. It just wasn’t quite as good as the turkey crown, so we probably won’t get it again. It was well worth a go though.
For treats and desserts, meanwhile, we got their Sticky Toffee Pudding Trifle, a Christmas Rainbow Cake (layers of different coloured sponge with buttercream between them), and a Woodland Yule Log. They were all really tasty, but the stand-out favourite was undoubtedly the Yule Log. It was so chocolatey, yet somehow avoided being too rich, so it was amazing. But the trifle and cake were wonderful as well, I can recommend all of them.
In addition, separately to that order, I had also popped into M&S during the month to have a look at their general festive offerings that you don’t have to order in advance. And I got a chocolate Yule Log then too. It was a different product to the one I mentioned above, but it was also really nice for the same reasons. Yule Logs seemed to be a real speciality of theirs this year. But I also picked up their lovely mince pies, naturally, along with a Big Selection Tub of chocolates, which we enjoyed over the holiday. My aunt gave us a tub of Quality Street as well, so we combined those with the contents of the M&S tub to give us a nice mixture.
Normally we do our regular grocery shopping in Sainsbury’s, so of course we picked up some Christmas treats from them too. Our weakness with them tends to be the pack of 4 Puff Pastry Mince Pies you can pick up in their bakery section. They’re always nice either warm or cold. We also got some Pork, Sage & Onion Stuffing Balls and Pigs In Blankets to have with our meals leading up to Christmas too.
And for desserts, we enjoyed their Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream Log and Santa’s Raspberry Belly Cheesecake. The log wasn’t as good as the ones we got from M&S, but it was still very nice with the ice cream inside it. And the cheesecake had a lovely strong raspberry flavour.
Our new discovery this year was Walkers Shortbread in Scotland (a completely different company to the other Walkers who make crisps). A friend of mine told me that they had enjoyed Walkers Mince Pies, which prompted us to go and have a look at their website. And inevitably that led to us getting quite a few things to try.
We bought their Luxury Mince Pies, a Rich Fruit Christmas Pudding, a Chocolate Shortbread Selection box, and packs of Ginger Royals, All Butter Sultana Biscuits and Treacle Toffee Biscuits. And as we had spent over a certain amount, they threw in a free Salted Caramel Fruit Pudding as well.
And it was all very nice indeed. Their shortbread is lovely and buttery, the biscuits were delicious, and the Christmas puddings were nice and fruity. So we’re glad we gave them a go. M&S is still the best of the shops we’ve bought things from, but we may well buy from Walkers again in the future.
This is a new series by Mischief Theatre, well-known for their brilliant stage shows, such as The Comedy About A Bank Robbery that I saw in November 2018. They’ve also had Christmas specials on TV in the past, with A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong a couple of years ago, and Peter Pan Goes Wrong the year before that.
And now they have a full series, which is based on the same premise, where a fictional drama group attempts to put on a different play each week, with disastrous results. It’s a wonderfully farcical slapstick comedy that everyone can enjoy. Because the fictional actors have to try and keep performing regardless of what happens, it means many of their misfortunes have ramifications later on in the show, resulting in multiple payoffs for many of the gags.
It’s a lot of work deliberately getting things wrong for comic effect like this, with all the writing, choreography and timing required. But this group have turned it into a fine art. We’ve already had a great Christmas special, and then a funny play set during the Second World War, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series.
Following their recent Halloween special, we were also treated to a Christmas special of this sitcom this year. It sees Lee and Lucy heading out at the last minute to pick up the last inflatable Santa Claus in stock at their nearest store, which their children really want. However, when Lucy’s wallet and phone are stolen, she and Lee give chase to the criminals, which takes them on a very long journey and just makes things worse.
So the episode focuses on their desperate efforts to get home again, with the inflatable Santa, in time for Christmas, and there were many funny moments on the way. The children and relatives were also in the show, waiting for them back at the house, but inevitably they didn’t have much to do most of the time. Their best moment came at the end when everyone was back together again. But trapping Lee and Lucy in a situation where they had to work together, away from the familiar comforts of home, was the whole point of the episode, and it worked well.
Three more series of Not Going Out have already been commissioned, so we have series 11 to look forward to in 2020, followed by series 12 and 13 over the next two years. So that’s great news.
After broadcasting this much-missed series during the year, the Gold channel were true to their word and put on the Christmas specials this month. Some I already had on the series 1-3 DVD releases (the only ones that ever came out), but the ones for the later series I hadn’t seen since they were first broadcast, so it was wonderful to see them again. Their festive specials were always fun, especially with the musical numbers they performed. The episode where they end up being stowaways on a cruise ship is great too, and makes me think of the QE2 episode from Keeping Up Appearances as well, which has also been repeated by Gold this year.
Indeed, I’ve watched a few classic Christmas episodes from sitcoms during the month, just like I do every year. So I’m not going to mention them here to avoid repetition, but I’ve listed many of them in my Christmas Q&A post.
My main DVD purchase this month was The Simpsons – Season 19, the release of which came a long time after Season 18. They had originally given up on the DVD releases, preferring to offer fans the shows online instead, but owing to demand they’ve released Season 19 this year. Still a long way off from Season 31, which they’re currently broadcasting, and there’s still no guarantee any more seasons will come out on disc. But it’s nice to have another one for the collection, and I’ve enjoyed watching the episodes.
There are audio commentaries on every episode as always, which is the only notable bonus feature on the set. There are a couple of other minor extras – an introduction from Matt Groening and a very brief thank you message – but they’re nothing special and there are no deleted scenes this time. But the episodes are good fun, which is what I buy the sets for anyway, and the artwork on both the box and the menus is great as usual. So let’s just keep our fingers crossed that they release more seasons in future. I don’t mind if they don’t have any extras, it’s really just the episodes I want.
Season 20 has already been out once before in fact. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD back in 2010, to mark the show’s 20th anniversary the previous year, and was the first season of the show to be released on Blu-ray. However, I didn’t buy it at the time – I either didn’t know it was on sale, or I didn’t want to jump that far ahead – and that release has long since been deleted, so you can only get it second-hand now. So we can only hope that they re-release it at some point. After all, season 20 in 2020 would be very appropriate.
ITV2 showed the season 18 festive episode Christmas Is Coming this year, which saw Meg getting rather excited, to put it mildly, by being bounced on Santa’s knee, and Stewie’s trauma resulting from it. As usual it’s crude and not particularly clever, but it’s still fun. I also bought the DVD of Season 19 this month, which actually contains the episodes from TV season 17, as their DVD releases have out of sync numbering. But I haven’t watched that yet, so I’ll probably give it a brief mention in my January Favourites.
It’s hard to believe this sequel to Open All Hours has just concluded its 6th series, but it’s still popular. There’s nothing amazing about it, but it’s still nice easy viewing with a lot of good humour, and David Jason is great of course. And we had a fun Christmas special to finish it off this year, with a very sweet surprise at the end. The DVD of the series is now out, so I’ll be getting that shortly.
Charlie Brooker sadly doesn’t do his ‘Wipe” reviews of the year any more, although there was a compilation of his 2010-2015 specials on over Christmas as well. However, some of the spoof interviewees from that show, along with a few new ones, appeared on this programme, which Brooker also helped to write, and his style of humour is evident throughout.
As the title of the show suggests, the interviewees were led by Philomena Cunk (played by Diane Morgan), and they all gave a commentary on the major events of the year, as a parody of genuine review shows. As well as humorous misinterpretations, there were also plenty of sly well-deserved digs at the less desirable opinions and blatant lies that spread around social media these days. It was all very funny and well observed.
This is another parody review of the year’s events, hosted by Rhys Thomas. It consists of mash-ups of various different clips, so they’re presented in a very different context. For instance, they had the Queen and Princes William and Harry supposedly watching a remixed Prince Andrew interview, all of which was cleverly edited together. So it’s another fun alternative to the run-of-the-mill review shows.
This has been another great series, and if Brexit finally happens in January then Adam Hills will finally get to shave off his beard as promised! There were a couple of specials of this to enjoy around Christmas time – one the Friday before Christmas, which included the Dick Of The Year award, and a double-length edition on New Year’s Eve that was packed with guests. As well as a look back at the events of 2019, the New Year edition included Alex Brooker driving a Formula 4 car at high speed around Donington Park, and Alex Horne with The Horne section performing a very funny song about peas, among many other things. It was a great way to end the year.
Naturally they’ve had plenty to talk about with the election in this latest series, along with Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and other major figures that has been in the news. so it’s been fun to see their reactions to all of that. Charlie Brooker hosted the last episode of this current series, and as I’ve mentioned before we had blind comedian Chris McCausland as a guest in an earlier episode.
This has also been fun as usual, and we had 2 compilation editions to finish it off this year, one to mark the end of the series, and one to celebrate Christmas and look back over the year. Both featured unseen material and outtakes as always. This series has featured disabled comedian Rosie Jones among its many guests, which was good to see, while other favourite guests of mine at the moment include Angela Barnes, Ed Byrne, Ed Gamble, Kerry Godliman, Nish Kumar and Milton Jones.
Bob Mortimer appeared on the Christmas special of this comedy game show, on the same team as comedian Sean Lock, while their opposing team consisted of Jon Richardson and his real life wife Lucy Beaumont, while Adam Buxton, Joe Wilkinson and Anthea Turner also made guest appearances. This show never fails to make me laugh, so I’m glad they did another festive edition this year. And a new series has now started in January, which is great.
The BBC haven’t given much care to the extended versions of QI in recent years, with episodes randomly appearing and disappearing from the schedules. Even if it’s printed in the TV listings there’s no guarantee it’ll be on, as has been proven a couple of times this series already. Thankfully my Virgin Media box picks them up whenever they appear, so I never miss them, but it’s still frustrating when there are long gaps between them, putting us weeks or months behind the regular editions. However, from the episodes I have seen, it’s been a great series so far as usual, and we did have a very enjoyable Quizmas edition this festive season.
On a related note, I also bought The Audiobook Of The Year 2019 by No Such Thing As A Fish this month. They are a group of researchers who work on QI, and this is the third year in a row they’ve released a book like this. There’s a printed book as well, on which the audiobook is based, but their audiobook is always like an extended podcast, where they look back at many of their favourite facts from the year, and have a little bit of banter and a laugh about them along the way. It’s easy to listen to in small chunks, because they cover so many different things. So I can highly recommend that book series.
We had 2 editions of this show hosted by Jimmy Carr over Christmas – one looking back at the events of 2019, and one looking back at the past decade. There’s always a good selection of guests on these, most of whom I’m already familiar with. There are always one or two I’m not much of a fan of, or who I don’t know at all, but the other guests always make up for that. My favourite guests from these latest couple of shows were Richard Ayoade, Noel Fielding, Dara Ó Briain, Nish Kumar, Alan Carr & Joe Lycett.
Richard Ayoade is still doing a good job hosting this modern version of the show, his style of humour suits it perfectly. I don’t watch it very often, but I did check out the Christmas special this year. I wasn’t too interested in all of the celebrity guests, but I like comedian Nish Kumar, and Richard Wilson had a nice cameo as Santa, and all the contestants did well. So it was very amusing and entertaining. And of course they were raising money for Stand Up To Cancer as usual, which is always important.
This frustratingly got shunted off the schedules for a few weeks to make way for election debates, but we were rewarded on its return with an episode featuring Bob Mortimer. He tends to appear at least once every series now, because his stories are so surreal and hilarious, even the true ones! And we also had a Christmas special of course, with Stephen Merchant being the best in that episode. The series continues on January 17th. And at the end of the series we have 2 episodes of unseen material to look forward to as well, rather than just one. So I’m looking forward to all of that.
Last month I bought Tim’s new live DVD Sunset Milk Idiot, but I held it back to watch as a Christmas treat. And it’s very funny, full of clever puns, silly songs, unusual props and more. It’s a very entertaining way to spend an hour, and fans of his previous DVDs won’t be disappointed. Tim also provides an interesting audio commentary as an extra feature, where he credits people he knows who have contributed jokes to the set, and giving various little insights into the show and the tour.
Other extras include an extra song and a few jokes from the encore that only lasts a couple of minutes, a 30-second clip of Plastic Elvis as a bonus joke from a different show, some entertaining adverts he recorded for specific venues, and a huge photo gallery from the tour that lasts for 8 minutes and is accompanied by the instrumental backing tracks he uses in the show.
I also enjoyed listening to the Christmas special of Tim Vine’s Chat Show on Radio 4, where he interviews randomly-chosen members of the audience and has a lot of silly fun in general. I do listen to the regular episodes occasionally as well, and during his latest DVD commentary he makes multiple references to the radio show, because it’s been the springboard for many jokes that he’s later used on stage.
And don’t forget to check out Tim Vine Televisual (TVTV) on Youtube as well, where he’s uploading a new episode every week for a year. They’re very short, silly and fun clips.
This is a cut-down recording of a show from Dara Ò Briain‘s latest tour in 2019. And it’s very funny as usual, Dara’s always very good. Unlike his DVDs, however, this wasn’t edited to look like one cohesive performance. Rather, it was a set of extended highlights, and at the very beginning Dara listed some of the routines that were cut out. So it didn’t quite flow so well, and it would have been nice to see the full show, but the material we did see was still funny. Hopefully he’ll release a DVD of the show that presents a longer cut of the performance in the future.
This show on Channel 5 presented a selection of sketches that the comedy duo recorded for Australian television, that have never been broadcast in full in the UK until now. So it was very interesting to see them for the first time. Many of the characters, sketches and jokes were copied and adapted from their UK series, so it was interesting to see those alternate versions. But there was some brand new material as well that was fun to see. After a short introduction at the start to explain why they had gone to Australia, including interviews with members of their families, the sketches were then allowed to play in their entirety without the interruptions of any talking heads. So it all flowed nicely and made for a great compilation. It’s well worth watching if you’re a fan of theirs.
I never usually watch this, but I skimmed through the Christmas special purely to see the appearance of Bec Hill, a wonderful comedian who’s been rightly making a big name for herself lately. I’ve seen her at An Evening Of Unnecessary Detail in 2018 and 2019, and she’s very good. One of her specialities is building creative flip charts using artistic imagery and moving parts to represent misheard song lyrics, such as her translation of Non Je Ne Regrette Rien, and the effects of listening to the radio when you’re hungry.
And this time her flipchart had a festive theme, with images incorporating guests from the show like David Tennant (and I did watch some of his interview on the show too, as I’m also a fan of his). And Bec’s routine was very funny. I appreciate that people who are visually impaired won’t be able to follow it without any description, but if you do have sufficient vision to see what’s going on, it’s brilliant.
This was shown on Channel 4 over Christmas, so having never watched Joe Lycett‘s stand-up shows before, I thought I’d give it a go. And it was good. I wouldn’t want to buy it to keep, but it was an enjoyable enough way to kill an hour. Seeing him poke fun at businesses and the idiots you get on social media is always good for a laugh.
This can be quite a mixed bag of comedians by its nature, some of which I like and some of which I end up skipping. But I enjoyed blind comedian Chris McCausland in this year’s Christmas special, following his appearances on Would I Lie To You? and Have I Got News For You, so it’s great to see him doing well. Sara Pascoe was a good host on this edition too. I wasn’t too bothered about Flo and Joan though, who did well but didn’t appeal to me personally. So it was a fun edition of the show overall.
This is always good, harmless fun, and we’ve had a couple of episodes with a festive vibe this year. Shortly before Christmas we had a regular edition, but it featured Christmas songs during the Robbie Williams karaoke segment, and then we had a proper special on Christmas Day itself. And the audience got some big surprises as usual. One lady in particular got to meet her son who she hadn’t seen for 8 years, as he had moved to New Zealand and raised a family there, and they had only communicated by phone and online ever since. So she got to see her grandchildren for the first time. It was obvious the surprise was coming long before it was revealed, as Michael never chooses someone from the audience without good reason, but it was still a great surprise for the lady of course. And a woman who dedicates her time to supporting people with dementia became the well-deserved Unexpected Star for the night.
This is something that has been in development for a while and I’ve only just learned it was published online in November. So this is a bit late, but I wanted to mention it because I was one of the people involved in the consultation process during its production, meaning I got to see a number of early versions and give my feedback.
How To Be Human is a short sci-fi film directed by Bruno Centofanti, set in a world where artificial intelligence has taken over, and the only way for humans to live and survive is to make the dangerous crossing to a place called Cold City. So here we see two sisters learning how to hide their emotions and humanity as they flee their war-torn country, in order to disguise themselves as AI’s to complete the journey safely. It’s a darkly fascinating and immersive piece, and it would be cool if it became a longer movie one day.
It’s the audio described version that I was involved in the consultation for – with thanks to Cesar Portillo for the invitation – and I’m very happy with how it’s come out. So do give it a watch to see what you think. I strongly recommend headphones to get the full benefits of the 3D soundscape. The overall tone is tense and dark, but there’s no violence or gore if you’re put off by that kind of thing. The first few minutes are purely descriptive audio, then the visuals come in as well, while the description continues, weaving in and out of the dialogue nicely. Alternatively there’s also a standard version without description if you prefer (with subtitles available for those who need them).
I’ve never read the books or seen the old TV series starring Jon Pertwee, so I can’t make any comparisons with past versions, and therefore came to this year’s new adaptation as a newbie to the story. It was written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, who also plays the eponymous scarecrow that comes to life and is befriended by 2 visiting children. And I enjoyed watching both episodes, as they were very sweet and fun stories, with a lot of humour and gorgeous scenic visuals. It was great to see Michael Palin in the second episode too. There are currently no confirmed plans for a second series. But these episodes had a very positive reaction from viewers overall it seems, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it returns.
As mentioned in my recent posts about my favourite childhood TV shows, I have a great affection for Paddington, because I enjoyed the original TV show, and have used the station that he’s named after many times when travelling between London and Devon. So when I saw that both live-action films were on TV this Christmas, I thought I’d give them a go, as they had very good reviews.
I then noticed they were on Amazon Prime Video as well, where I could watch them in the best possible quality and without adverts. So I watched the first film on Christmas Day, and the second film on Boxing Day, and I was delighted to find they included audio description as well, which did help me to become aware of some fleeting details I would otherwise have missed.
And I enjoyed them very much, more than I expected to. I had assumed the films would be aimed at kids and would be too silly for me. But to their credit they’re charming, funny, action-packed films that everyone can enjoy.
The voice acting for Paddington by Ben Whishaw is brilliant, matched with superb CGI animation, and he’s such a sweet character who can tug at all your emotions. One minute he has you laughing out loud when he’s making a complete mess of things, while at other times you feel very sorry for him when he’s feeling lost and lonely or is in serious danger.
And all of the other actors around him are great too, with an impressive cast list including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi and many more. And the films are produced by David Heyman, who produced all 8 Harry Potter films, so the beloved bear was clearly in safe hands from the outset. Indeed, these movies were so popular that M&S featured Paddington in their entertaining Christmas 2017 advert.
So if you’ve never seen the films before, I can definitely recommend them. Children will be pleased to know that there’s going to be a new TV series based on the films on Nickelodeon in 2020, entitled The Adventures Of Paddington, again featuring Ben Whishaw as the voice of the bear. I won’t be watching that series as it will clearly be for a much younger audience, but there are also plans for a third film, so that is something I will be looking forward to.
A lot of people seem to have this 2003 American comedy film on their lists of favourite Christmas movies of all time, but I’ve never seen it before. So I thought I’d finally give it a go. It has some similarity with Paddington, in that it’s a fish-out-of-water story of someone trying to adjust to life among the human race, with many disasters along the way, until they’re able to fit in and settle down by earning everyone’s love and respect.
In this case though, the central character isn’t a bear, but a person who was brought up as an elf by Santa and his workers. So when he finds out the truth that he’s not an elf at all, but a human being, he heads off to New York to find his father and the rest of his family.
And I can see why people like the film. It has lots of very funny moments with Buddy trying to understand and interact with the strange new world around him, due to his delightful childish innocence. Plus it’s also very sweet, especially towards the end, which is a predictable happy ending but there’s nothing wrong with that.
So it’s a very good movie, although I wouldn’t say it’s the best Christmas film ever, and I wouldn’t want to buy it. I certainly wouldn’t rank it above films like Home Alone (the first 2 films), It’s A Wonderful Life (which I saw for the first time last year) and Die Hard (yes, I class it as a Christmas film). And I think the Paddington films are better as well. But Elf is still good fun, and well worth a look if you haven’t seen it before.
It’s tradition for Mum and I to listen to a segment of this each day while eating our Christmas dinners, and this year was no exception. While nobody can be better than original host Ed “Stewpot” Stewart, current presenter Anneka Rice does a good job, though we would have preferred a bit less chat and more music. But she played a variety of fun songs, as we had everything from this year’s Christmas Number 1 (discussed below), to old favourites like Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West), Right Said Fred and Three Wheels On My Wagon (which we sang in a school play one year). So there was something for everyone.
I am a big fan of classic TV themes and have a huge collection of them. You don’t get many memorable or special themes these days, but there are some absolute classics from older shows. I mentioned a lot of great themes in my recent posts about my childhood TV favourites, looking at animations, game shows and other programmes, and many of the shows listed in my DVD and Blu-ray collection also have great themes.
You don’t often hear them on the radio though. So it was great to hear Matt Lucas hosting a 3 hour special on BBC Radio 2 packed full of many of the best themes of all time, including Minder, Fraggle Rock, Grandstand, The A-Team and so many others, and that was just in the first hour! It was great fun to listen to, a wonderful nostalgia fest.
He also conducted a very interesting interview with renowned composer David Lowe, who gave us an in-depth look at the composition of his iconic BBC News and One Show themes, including how the latter was connected to his work on Touch & Go track Would You?. And Matt also ran a quiz with a few callers to see how many themes they could name. I didn’t put myself forward for it, but I did quite well playing along at home.
Paul Whitehouse resurrected his comedy DJ character Mike Smash for this 2 part show on Gold, first shown a couple of years ago. I didn’t see it back then, but I thought I’d give it a go this year to fill a bit of time. He basically introduces classic Christmas music videos with random chatter in between. Jokey ‘factoids’ also appear on screen during each video, as a parody of the captions you might see on shows like Top Of The Pops 2. So it was all quite amusing. I wouldn’t be bothered about watching it again, but it’s one of those things that’s fun as a festive one-off.
I loved seeing this show earlier in the year, so I was delighted to see a release of the soundtrack, which I gladly downloaded. And it’s great. They’ve done a good adaptation of the theme tune, and my favourite songs specially written for the musical include Bit Of A Sort, Where Have All The Cockneys Gone?, The Girl, The Tadpole Song and Margate / This Time Next Year. It brings back great memories of the show for me, but even if you haven’t seen the musical it’s a fun album in its own right.
Heart On The Line by Suzi Quatro
This surprise single from Suzi during December is a lovely track, and follows on nicely from her great album No Control that she released earlier this year.
WHO by The Who
I bought the deluxe edition of this album, which has a few additional tracks on it. And it’s pretty good. It’s not as great as the big hits of their early days, but even so they’ve still got that unique Who sound with tracks like All This Music Must Fade. So it’s worth adding to the collection.
Christmas EP by Bryan Adams
All The Stations Extras by Steven Francis
All The Stations is the huge documentary project undertaken by Geoff Marshall and Vicki Pipe, where they travelled through all the stations on the UK railway network in 2017, and the Ireland network in 2019. And they’re still posting videos regularly on their Youtube channel as they return to various places to explore them in greater detail. It’s a really interesting tour of the country, it’s not just about trains and railways. And Geoff produces lots of great Tube and rail related videos for his own channel too. I posted about my sponsorship of the original project back in 2017.
The music for All The Stations is composed by Steven Francis, who has previously released a couple of soundtrack albums for the 2017 and 2019 series. And now, as a surprise for the new year, he’s released a bunch of extra tracks from those 2 series, for a limited time. So I’m glad I got those, as they all sound different and fresh in their own way, and are often very catchy, plus they evoke lovely memories of the videos. The 2019 finale mix is particularly beautiful, for example, but the 2017 one is also good. His new Making Waves album from this year is also good as well.
I Love Sausage Rolls by LadBaby
Following last year’s Christmas Number 1 hit We Built This City…. On Sausage Rolls, this year Youtubers LadBaby released a follow-up called I Love Sausage Rolls, a very catchy take on the song by The Arrows, along with a swing version too. And they got to number 1 again! Only The Beatles and The Spice Girls have had consecutive Christmas number 1’s before, and LadBaby are the only act ever to have 2 novelty songs hit the festive top spot in consecutive years. So that’s why it’s a big deal.
It is a very silly song and not at all Christmassy, and there have been far better Christmas songs in the past, many of which I have in my Christmas music collection. But it’s still a lot of fun and, most importantly, it is for a good cause. Just like last year, all profits go to The Trussell Trust, who run food banks used by adults and children across the UK, which LadBaby explain in their announcement and visit to the charity. You can still download the original and swing versions to support them if you wish to do so.
And that concludes my epic festive Favourites post! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about everything that I got up to over Christmas.
It caps off another successful, action-packed year altogether. Despite a few bumps in the road along the way, as we all have from time to time, my London life continues to generate all sorts of wonderful delights, amazing experiences and unexpected opportunities. Thank you so much to everyone who I met and had contact with during 2019, and everyone else who has been following my adventures along the way. Your friendship and support means the world as always.
So here’s to the next 12 months! Goodness only knows what 2020 has in store, beyond the few awesome things I already have planned, but it’s got off to a fun start. I hope you’ll join me along the way, and I hope you have a lovely year too!