2020 has got off to an enjoyable and eventful start, meaning there’s plenty to tell you about for this past month, including a musical, a comedy show, museum tours, research projects, walks, social events and entertainment.
As ever, I haven’t been sponsored or gifted by anybody in order to mention them here, and these are all my own opinions. I’ve also produced a video to go with this post as usual. So I hope you enjoy!
I kicked off the year by going to see Wicked with a couple of my friends, who were visiting as part of their festive holiday. It was their first time seeing the musical, while it was my second. And it was fantastic, we all really enjoyed it. This wasn’t an audio described performance, unlike the one I went to a couple of years ago, but we managed to keep up with the most important things that were going on. The theatre staff were great with us too, and were happy to look after my friend’s guide dog for the duration of the show.
Then afterwards we had a lovely meal together at the Doggett’s Coat & Badge pub by Blackfriars Bridge, which I’ve been to a few times before. I had the Hunter’s Chicken followed by the Chocolate Brownie, all of which was delicious. And the lady serving us enjoyed meeting my friend’s guide dog, they had no problems with him being there. So we had no accessibility issues that day, I’m happy to say.
Check out my original review of Wicked for more about the show, as my opinions are still the same, and it explains what an audio described performance is like.
An Evening Of Unnecessary Detail
I also went to An Evening Of Unnecessary Detail at the Backyard Comedy Club with my friend James. This show, organised by Festival Of The Spoken Nerd, features a variety of performers talking about some of their niche interests in a very funny and interesting way. And this is now the third time I’ve been to the show, as I previously attended in March 2018 and July 2019. The Spoken Nerd team have also shared some videos from previous shows online too.
On this occasion the show was hosted by the wonderful Helen Arney from the Spoken Nerd team. She did a great job keeping the show moving, entertaining us in between each of the performers by sharing people’s facts that they were sending her, and also going off on other tangents. The eventual unlocking of her iPad also generated the biggest cheers and applause of the night, but it was one of those moments where you had to be there to appreciate its significance.
Her Spoken Nerd colleague Steve Mould was also there (while the third team member Matt Parker was away in America). Steve did a set about the strange behaviour of lip gloss seen in recent online videos, while other guests, including comedian Heidi Regan, spoke about topics such as cricket, genealogy, e-cigarettes, terrible scientists and more.
The highlight for James and I, however, was railway enthusiast Geoff Marshall from the All The Stations project. He went into detail about his annual World Cup Of Tube Lines game on Twitter, which uses the polling feature to pick a winner in each round until one line wins the final. It was very successful in 2017 & 2018, so he ran it again in 2019 as well. He was inspired by, and got the blessing of, Richard Osman, who started this kind of thing with his World Cup Of Biscuits and other contests since.
The key focus of Geoff’s talk, however, was the fact that Transport For London had attempted to do their own World Cup last year, having seen how popular Geoff’s game was. So, just for fun and to get his own back, Geoff worked with his followers to sabotage it, ensuring that the Cable Car won! A silly thing to do, sure, but very funny nonetheless, and TfL took it in the good spirits that were intended.
So that was a particularly enjoyable section in a show that was great overall. The wide variety of guests always ensures that it never gets boring, and they were all very knowledgeable in their chosen fields.
My first audio described exhibition tour of the year took place at the Design Museum, where we explored their Moving To Mars gallery. It gave us a fascinating insight into the huge difficulties, engineering skills, technology and other resources required to make Mars habitable, if people were to move there in the future. It would be an amazing achievement to do that, but there was a consensus among our group that we should really be focusing on making our own planet more habitable first, before we start destroying another one. But still, the research being conducted into preserving life on Mars is very interesting, and could result in useful knowledge for preserving life on Earth too.
There wasn’t much to interact with in the exhibition, but there were a few things to smell, an area where you could take your shoes off to walk on a Mars-like surface, a small rocket-like pod that 4 people could squeeze in together for travelling to Mars, some small pellets that could be used for 3D printing objects, and an example of a small home that people could live in on the red planet. And in general there was a nice selection of exhibits to look at. So it’s well worth a visit. See my Instagram post for more photos.
I also went to an audio described tour of the Buddhism exhibition at the British Library with my friend Claire. It was led by audio describer Karly Allen and was very interesting. The exhibition features many beautifully detailed and colourful artworks, often in concertina style books, plus lots of manuscripts, lovely statues, and more.
It was great to get an insight into the religion, and to see the ways in which its traditions, stories and messages are recorded and illustrated. They have a helpful large print guide as well, which we used after the tour while having a further look around by ourselves
So it’s worth checking out. You certainly don’t need to be religious, it’s an exhibition that everyone can enjoy and get something out of. See my Instagram post for a selection of photos.
I’ve also continued to be involved with accessibility projects in various ways this month.
I went to the RNIB offices in Judd Street, Kings Cross, to take part in research looking at the use of audio description for virtual reality and 360-degree video. It wasn’t about watching any visuals though, Rather, I listened to different variations of descriptive tracks for a music video and a documentary series, and gave my feedback on the scripting and the style of delivery. It was very interesting, and I may be asked to go back when they do the next stage of the project. I did receive a small payment for helping out, but I wasn’t asked to say anything about it here. I’m just mentioning it as I enjoyed it.
Thank you to Sonali Rai for the interesting experience and discussion. And thanks also to Nanjiba who greeted me that afternoon. Do be sure to check out Nanjiba’s blog My Eye My Way if you don’t know it already, and you can follow her on Twitter too.
I also took part in a user panel giving feedback on the new website being developed for Enabled Living, my local disability support service. It was a very positive, productive and enjoyable meeting, so we’re looking forward to checking out the site when it goes live.
I’ve also contributed to an accessibility article published on the website for Cibes Lift UK. It has a selection of top tips for a luxurious but accessible holiday, and I was very kindly asked to give some of my thoughts. So do go and check it out, you might find it useful if you’re thinking of going somewhere nice this year.
And looking ahead, I’ve written a long guest post for a great disabled blogger about my life as a visually impaired person, so I’m looking forward to its publication in early March, and I will of course share the link around. If you’d like to invite me to do a guest post for your site, or you have ideas for a guest post you’d like to do here, then feel free to get in touch.
As well as meeting friends through some of the activities above, I’ve also been to a couple of other social events. Firstly, I attended the New Year Party for the Visually Impaired People of Newham and Beyond Sight Loss groups, which was held with the very kind assistance of Enabled Living. It was great to chat with old and new friends from my local area, while we all enjoyed lots of delicious food.
And at the end of the month I went to the ten-pin bowling social held by the London Sports Club for the Blind at the Queens venue in Queensway. It’s been quite a few months since I was last able to get to one of these monthly bowling evenings, so it was nice to go back again, seeing a few old friends and meeting some new people. I got a decent score of 124 as well, which is very good by my standards! And afterwards we had a tasty Chinese meal at the Four Seasons restaurant down the road near Bayswater station.
I’ve also found a bit of time for a couple of random strolls, around areas that I was relatively unfamiliar with.
One such walk started at Waterloo and took me to Burgess Park, where I spent a bit of time watching the birds on the lake, and then I had a little wander along the Surrey Canal Walk nearby. You can see photos on my Instagram. And later on my eyes were drawn to the detailed artwork on the walls of the Everlasting Arms Ministries building in Old Kent Road, of which you can also view my Instagram photos.
My other walk on a different weekend didn’t throw up much of interest for the most part, but as I was thinking about coming home I saw that I was near to Earls Court. And that presented the perfect opportunity to go and find the Tardis outside Earls Court Underground Station. Ok, it’s actually a police box installed as part of a safety project, but it also looks like Doctor Who’s famous method of transport. So naturally lots of people have their photos taken in front of it, and I got a couple of selfies too. You can’t go in the police box of course, at least not in person. But you can explore the inside of the Tardis on Google Street View, which is very cool. Again, there are more photos on my Instagram.
Talking of the Tardis brings us nicely on to Series 12 of Doctor Who, which has got off to a fabulous start this month. It kicked off with an epic 2-parter called Spyfall, featuring the surprise return of The Master, and guest stars including Lenny Henry and Stephen Fry. And Fugitive Of The Judoon was also incredible, with huge twists and new mysteries that are adding to the fascinating story arc for this series, including the fabulous return of Captain Jack Harkness. The other episodes have also been great too, but those particular stories have been the most impressive so far in this run.
Series 11 was very good anyway, but now that showrunner Chris Chibnall seems to have really settled in and found his feet, this series is feeling even more epic and confident than the last. He’s also written for Torchwood in the past, so he was in a great position to arrange for the return of Captain Jack. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what the rest of the series has in store.
Also on a time-travel theme, I’ve been trying out the 90s series Crime Traveller for the first time online, which has previously been out on DVD (and can still be found second-hand). It’s a detective show made by the BBC that only lasted for 1 series, so is often very much overlooked – including by me, as I’d never heard of it until recently. And it’s a shame, because it’s quite good.
It features Chloë Annett, best known as Kristine Kochanski in Red Dwarf, who plays a science officer in the police called Holly Turner. But her secret is that, by continuing her late father’s work, she’s been able to build a time machine, which allows her to travel a short distance into the past (but not the future). Her colleague Jeff Slade (played by Michael French) discovers this, and consequently the two of them use the machine to travel back in time to solve crimes together. This makes them appear very impressive to their boss, played by Sue Johnston, who has no idea what they’re up to.
So it’s great fun, with a good mix of humour, action and drama. You don’t need to like sci-fi to enjoy it, as it only plays a small part in the show for the most part, so it’s suitable for anyone. There’s even a cool reference to Doctor Who in one episode, which is a very nice touch.
I’ve also really enjoyed the new sitcom The Goes Wrong Show, which I discussed last month and have now bought on DVD. Every episode has been delightfully inventive and hilariously farcical, it’s great fun. Some of the funniest and most impressive moments have resulted from the set design too, including a court room that’s far too small, and rooms that are on a 90 degree angle. A huge amount of work has gone into that show – it takes great skill to get it right, or indeed wrong, in such an entertaining way. But the folks at Mischief Theatre have turned it into a fine art. Check out my review of Comedy About A Bank Robbery for an insight into one of their live stage shows.
I’ve also continued to watch the latest episodes of Would I Lie To You?, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown and The Last Leg of course. And I saw Talking Comedy: Rowan Atkinson, shown to mark the comic actor’s 65th birthday, which featured a selection of archive interviews he’s had with Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan and others during his career.
Continuing yet again with the time travel theme, in a slightly different vein, I also decided to try out Happy Death Day on Netflix, and its sequel Happy Death Day 2U on Now TV. They’re comedy horror films, based on a similar premise to Groundhog Day, in that the main character goes through the same day over and over again.
In this case, Jessica Rothe plays a college student called Tree (short for Theresa), who is murdered on her birthday, but wakes up at the start of the day and has to keep repeating it until she figures out who her killer is. The sequel then carries on directly from the end of the first film, throwing Tree back into the same day yet again, but this time with some twists that make it very different.
They’re not perfect movies, sure. There is strong language and crude humour which will put some people off and you could easily pick out all sorts of plotholes if you wanted to take it really seriously. But if you just enjoy them for the entertainment they’re meant to be, and let yourself get wrapped up in it, they’re quite enjoyable, with lots of humour and action, and they’re not gory either. So I liked them – not strongly enough to want to buy them, but they were just fun to watch as a one-off.
DVD & Blu-ray
The main thing I watched on Blu-ray this month was the entire final season of The Big Bang Theory, which I’d purchased last November but saved until now. I had really enjoyed watching it when it was broadcast last year, as it had a wonderful finale, so it was great to go through all of the episodes again.
There’s a decent selection of extra features as well, including the traditional gag reel with funny outtakes, a look at the graduates who have benefited from the show’s scholarship fund, an extensive interview with the warm-up guy for the studio audience, the cast’s appearance on the Ellen chat show, the 2018 Comic-Con panel with the writers and cast members, an emotional look at the making of the final episode, and the behind-the-scenes farewell special presented by Johnny Galecki (who played Leonard) and Kaley Cuoco (who played Penny) that was shown on TV on the night of the finale. So I’m very happy with all of that. It’s sad to see it end, but it’s the right time for it to do so, and they’ve wrapped it up very nicely.
I also watched Family Guy – Season 19 on DVD, which I’d bought in December. It actually contains the episodes from TV season 17, as the Family Guy DVD releases have out of sync numbering. But it’s still good fun.
And there are some extra features too. In particular, for the episode “You Can’t Handle the Booth!”, where the Griffin characters record their own audio commentary on an unaired episode, you can actually watch the episode they were commenting on, plus there’s a proper audio commentary on the episode from the production team. There are also deleted scenes for every episode in the series, and a celebration of the cutaway gags that have become a staple part of the series over the years.
Apart from that, I also bought the Paddington 1 & 2 movies on Blu-ray, and Still Open All Hours – Series 6 on DVD, all of which I enjoyed on TV and online last month. So there isn’t much to add here, but it is worth noting that both Paddington films come with audio description and have a few behind the scenes bonus feature.
Terry Jones & Nicholas Parsons
I very rarely mention celebrity deaths here, because they’re generally not relevant or appropriate for these kind of posts. But there were a couple of particularly significant losses in the entertainment world this month that I wanted to acknowledge, as I’m a big fan of theirs, as are many other people.
The first is Terry Jones, who was a major part of Monty Python. They have had, and continue to have, a huge influence on the comedy landscape. Terry formed a key part of that and had many memorable moments,including the iconic speech “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” from Life Of Brian, and his Mr Creosote character in Meaning Of Life, to name just two examples. But he had a huge body of work beyond Python too, just like all the other members of the team. He was extremely clever with a great sense of humour, so it was very sad that in recent years his health declined due to dementia. But he has left a substantial legacy that people will continue to enjoy and be inspired by for a long time.
The other big loss this month was Nicholas Parsons, who was an incredibly kind and generous man, and a fantastic entertainer. It almost felt like he was going to be immortal, having presented the radio game show Just A Minute for over 50 years, right up until his mid-90s last year. He was also well known for hosting the TV game show Sale Of The Century. But of course he’s done a lot more during his illustrious career.
A couple of things that personally stand out for me are his appearance in the Rocky Horror stage show – and you can hear how much the audience adore him at the start of Over At The Frankenstein Place – plus I recently found out he narrated an audiobook by Joanne Roberts called Confessions Of A Guide Dog. Radio 4 have also repeated his interview with Paul Merton, which was very interesting to hear again, and a compilation of 50 Years of Just A Minute. He also took part in a great interview hosted by Richard Herring last year as well.
So RIP Terry and Nicholas, and also actor Derek Fowlds, who I wasn’t quite so familiar with, but I did enjoy his character Bernard Woolley in the sitcom Yes Minister. They will all be very fondly remembered.
So that’s it for a very busy few weeks, during which I got to catch-up with various friends, and do lots of fun and interesting things. Not all months will be that busy, of course, but it’s been a very good way to kickstart the year. And I’ve already got some very exciting things pencilled in to my calendar for the next few months!