Well, what a year this has turned out to be, huh? Perhaps we should just rename it 2019B or 2019.5 and start 2020 again next January. It’s like we’ve had a faulty software update in the calendar that needs serious debugging and virus-checking before it’s rolled out again.
Obviously I’m not dismissing the tragic side of things by saying that. My heart goes out to everybody who has lost loved ones or been severely affected in some other way, and I sincerely hope you all stay safe and well as best you can. Please follow the guidelines on hygiene, distancing, isolation, etc, because it really will save many lives. It will take a few weeks at least before we start seeing the impact of such measures, but they will help, and we will get through this. Huge thanks to all our incredible health and care staff, as well as the many other people providing essential products and services.
Beyond this introduction, I have no desire or intent to write posts about the situation, as it’s not nice and there’s enough about it online already. However, I have created a Covid Resources page, where you’ll find many links for information, advice and support, plus many ways to stay connected and entertained at home, which I hope you find useful.
Clearly this is going to change what I’m able to do and post about for a while. So in this post and video I want to wrap up my recent museum and theatre visits, as well as disability related updates and TV favourites, for both February and March. That way, I can move forward with a clean slate as I settle into a temporary new routine.
All of which means there’s a fair amount to cover here, making it a good distraction from everything that’s going on. I haven’t been sponsored or gifted by anyone to mention them, and all opinions are my own. So I hope you enjoy!
Magic Goes Wrong
In February I went to see Magic Goes Wrong at the Vaudeville Theatre, with a touch tour and audio description. This Olivier-nominated show is a production by Mischief Theatre, who are also responsible for The Comedy About A Bank Robbery (which I saw back in 2018) and The Play That Goes Wrong (which I’ve yet to see).
The show is about a group of amateur magicians who put on a charity event, with calamitous results. It was written in partnership with world-renowned illusionists Penn & Teller, which is a huge stamp of approval. Of course, with both magic and farce being heavily visual, the use of audio description was crucial here, and it worked very well.
As with many audio described performances, it began with a touch tour for the large group of visually impaired people in attendance. This is always very special, as the general public don’t get such an opportunity. It allows us to get close to the set, props and costumes, the details of which we wouldn’t be able to appreciate fully otherwise, which greatly enhances our viewing of the show later on.
So we were able to examine and handle a variety of beautiful costumes, including some Egyptian outfits, along with special contraptions and boxes which the actors had to stand inside or curl up into like a contortionist, plus a set of long wooden stakes and a large fake samurai sword, among other things. The general design of the set was also described to us, and by walking around the stage we got a good sense of its layout and size.
We also got to meet the cast as well. This doesn’t always happen on touch tours, as the actors are busy getting ready, so it’s always a privilege when they’re able to put time aside for us. They were very cheerful and friendly as they described their characters, including their personalities, costumes and voices. And they answered a few questions from us too. So it was really interesting to talk to them.
After that I was given a headset to listen to the audio description during the show, which was very easy to use. The audio started with an introduction 15 minutes before the performance began, which explained key details of the sets, characters, costumes, and so on, including elements we hadn’t seen on the tour. This saves time later on, and is also a good test that the headset is working.
And then during the show itself, the audio kept me up to date with what was happening, by describing the magic tricks, dance moves, facial expressions, costumes, set changes, the use of props, and so on. The description was spoken during gaps in the dialogue, so I didn’t miss what the actors were saying. And the jokes and illusions weren’t revealed too early either. Their descriptions were timed so that I was able to laugh and enjoy them together with the rest of the audience.
I was also able to use my monocular (a small telescope) to look a bit closer at what was going on. Of course, it would be too tiring and impractical to use for an entire show, and I could only focus on one bit of the stage at a time. But the audio description really helped me to pick out where on stage I should be looking, and allowed me to rest my eyes at other times so I didn’t strain them.
So on the whole I felt fully involved in the show and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The jokes come thick and fast, there’s a lot of very clever choreography, stunts and special effects, and there were some fun surprises too. The theatre staff were also lovely and very helpful. So it was a great way to spend an afternoon, and I can highly recommend it if you like a good laugh.
The Goes Wrong Show
Staying with Mischief Theatre, and I also bought the Series 1 DVD of their sitcom The Goes Wrong Show. I’ve mentioned it before, but in the show they attempt to put on a different play each week, with wonderfully farcical results. It’s very funny, with great gags and choreography that build throughout each episode.
There are some very clever staging setups, including an undersized courtroom and sets at 90 degree angles, and all the actors are great. It takes a lot of preparation and skill, from the writers and cast and production crew, to do things ‘wrong’ in the right way like that, so it’s very impressive. They’ve turned it into a fine art.
The TV broadcast had audio description available, which is important given the visual nature of many of the jokes. It’s disappointing, therefore, that the description tracks aren’t included on the DVD. It’s not surprising, as it gets left out for most DVD releases of TV shows, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. A lot of visually impaired people have attended their theatre shows and enjoyed their TV programmes with audio description, so it’s shame they’ve overlooked it for the home release. I would quite happily buy a 2-disc set if need be. However, there are English subtitles for those who need them.
Apart from the episodes, there’s also a short extra feature on the DVD where you meet the people behind the show. It’s not very substantial, but it is fun and interesting to watch. I wish they had also included the Peter Pan and Christmas Carol specials from 2016 and 2017, as they’ve never been on DVD before. That would have been another good reason to make it a 2 disc set. Perhaps they’ll get a release of their own one day, they deserve to. But all in all, I’m very pleased I’ve got their sitcom in my collection, and I’m delighted to say that a second series has already been commissioned, so I’m really looking forward to that.
I haven’t been on any more audio described museum tours in recent weeks, but I have visited a few places for a look around by myself.
Firstly I went to the Science City exhibition at the Science Museum, which shows how London became a major global hub between 1550 and 1800. It has a huge number of objects on display, relating to science, trade, navigation, timekeeping and much more, some of which you can see in my Instagram photos. There’s also a useful large print guide, containing many of the most significant object labels in each section of the gallery. And one section of the gallery even has a few objects you can touch, accompanied by braille labels and audio description tracks recorded by VocalEyes. So it’s a very interesting exhibition, and it’s great that it has some accessibility features.
Victoria & Albert Museum
I also went to the V&A Museum to check out Laughing Matters: The State of a Nation. It’s a small gallery about the development of British humour, including a look at how we’ve used comedy in wartime, to poke fun at royalty and the government, to mock other cultures and races (in less enlightened times), and of course to have a laugh at ourselves. It can’t go too in depth given the size of the space, but it was fun to spend about an hour looking at what’s on display, some of which you can see in my Instagram photos. I enjoyed watching the various video clips they had too, from TV shows like Dad’s Army, Only Fools And Horses, Keeping Up Appearances, Yes Minister, Spitting Image, Inside No. 9 and more.
Before leaving the V&A I also had a quick look at some of the nice Buddhism objects that they have on display, and again you can see photos on my Instagram. It felt appropriate given my tour of the British Library’s exhibition on the subject in January.
Natural History Museum
In early March I spent a lovely long afternoon at the Natural History Museum, focusing on a few different areas.
First I explored Hintze Hall, which is the main hall of the museum. I’ve seen some of its delights in the past, using the audio described guides for the ground floor and first floor, but I knew there was still a lot more to see. So I had a detailed look around this time, from the ground floor right up to the painted ceiling. It’s amazing how much is in that incredible space, before you get to any of the galleries, as you can see in my photos of the blue whale skeleton, ground floor displays & decorations, upper floor displays and painted ceiling. And if you want to learn even more, there’s a great audio guide by Sir David Attenborough.
I then visited a couple of galleries to use the audio described guides available on the museum’s website.
The first was Treasures In The Cadogan Gallery, which has a variety of important objects spanning the entire history of the Earth, including fossils, skeletons, books, models, etc. You can see some of them in my Instagram photos. The audio guide discusses every object in depth, giving lots of historical information as well as a description of how it looks, and lasts about an hour in total. You can also see a description of every object, and listen to individual clips from the guide, on their mobile-friendly site. The online guides are slightly out of date, as the very last item in the gallery (a Neanderthal Skull) has been replaced by something else, but otherwise it’s a great guide to the exhibition.
The other exhibition I went to was Images Of Nature, featuring a lovely selection of photos and artworks from the museum’s collection, again using their MP3 audio guide. It doesn’t tell you about absolutely everything, as there’s far too much, but it covers a lot of the important objects in the gallery and is well worth a listen. See my Instagram photos for more from the gallery.
And finally, given the name of my blog and my love of puns, I also very much approve of the subject line in this recent email from them!
Recently I was very pleased to be featured on the Undercover Superhero blog by Ami. She writes about all sorts of disability-related topics, among which is a “Reality of…” series, where a variety of guest posters raise awareness of their conditions. It’s interesting to look through the different submissions, as they describe lots of conditions I’d never heard of before.
I posted about The Reality of Aniridia & Nystagmus, explaining my eye conditions, and it’s had a very positive response. So do go and check it out. Thank you to Ami for featuring me, and to those who have given such lovely feedback on it!
I also attended the latest meeting of the VocalEyes User Panel, where we discussed the various audio described theatre shows and museum tours we’ve experienced recently, and heard about other things the charity is working on. So that was an interesting meeting as always.
Plus I went to another pub social with RNIB Connect London, this time at the Doggett’s Coat & Badge pub in Blackfriars, which I recommended after we could no longer book at our previous venue. There were 8 of us there, and we had a lovely few hours together with good food and lots of chat. It’ll be wonderful when we can resume those socials in future.
And talking of the RNIB, they have completely overhauled their online talking book library, replacing the third party Overdrive service with their own Reading Services website, which I find much easier to use. You have to register a new account on the website first, then you can download books either using the website on your computer, or Dolphin Easyreader on your mobile device. Audiobooks are supplied in Daisy format, giving you full navigation capabilities, and the main audio files will work on regular MP3 players too. A small selection of electronic Braille titles are also available, with more being added over time, while future plans include resources for musicians and the ability to stream to smart speakers. So it’ll be interesting to see how the site develops.
I really enjoyed the 12th series of Doctor Who overall. Series 11 was good fun, but this has been a real step up, with much more intense storylines, action and big twists, including the returns of The Master, The Cybermen and Captain Jack (who I hope reappears for longer than just a cameo in the future). The 2-part stories in particular were excellent, especially the epic finale. There are plans for a Christmas Special (if they’re able to film it this year) and a 13th series is coming as well, so I’m looking forward to those.
I’ve also bought the Blu-ray steelbook edition of series 5 to replace the original Blu-ray edition. I like the artwork on the steelbooks, so I’ve been upgrading my collection as they come out. The new edition has the same extra features as before, including cut-down episodes of Doctor Who Confidential, commentaries, Monster Files, video diaries, additional scenes, outtakes and trailers, along with audio navigation and audio description.
The Doctor has also sent a special message for anyone, but especially children, who are worried about the current situation. There have also been online watch-along parties organised by Emily Cook for people to view and chat about episodes together, and raise money for a special relief fund. It’s even got the cast and programme makers involved, including former showrunner Russell T Davies, who has published a prequel and sequel to Rose.
Another sci-fi show that I’ve started rewatching from the beginning is The X-Files. I haven’t seen it since I was a teenager around 20 years ago, so I don’t remember it in any detail, but I know I enjoyed it back then. So when I discovered it was available to watch for free as part of my Amazon Prime Video subscription, I gave it a go, and it hooked me straight back in. So after watching a couple of seasons online, I bought the Blu-ray box set of all 11 seasons, plus the first and second movies, which I’ll watch at the relevant points in between seasons.
At the time of writing, I’ve nearly finished season 3, so I have a long way to go. But I’m really enjoying it. I don’t remember any of the stories so far either, so it all feels new, which is great. I also like the fact that the episodes are a mixture, in that some are monster-of-the-week stories, while others build up the mythology of the show, often with very exciting 2-parters, and they also have fun with more humorous storylines too. So there’s a good variety, you never know what you’re going to get from one episode to the next!
And there are many extra features as well. For selected episodes there are interviews with series creator Chris Carter, deleted scenes, special effects footage, audio commentaries, clips from episodes dubbed into foreign languages, and more. I’m not interested in the foreign language clips, they’re just a novelty, and the commentaries are a mixed bag as well. But the featurettes have all proven to be interesting so far. And for the seasons as a whole, beyond the episode-specific extras, there are documentaries, gag reels and other featurettes. So there’s a lot to look through. The movies have a lot of extras of their own too.
I’ve also downloaded the soundtrack for the series. Mark Snow‘s score for the show is wonderfully atmospheric and adds a lot of excitement to it, so it’s great to get some of the music from the earliest seasons in this way, including the full version of the iconic theme tune (entitled Materia Primoris). It’s one of those legendary earworms of a theme tune that everybody knows.
I’ve also got the soundtrack album for the first film, which I’ve had on CD for many years. I can’t remember if I actually saw the film itself, as it was so long ago, but it’s possible I did. But in any case, it is a pretty good album with a decent selection of tracks, although I would say the first half of the album is better than the last. That said, there is an easter egg in the last track, if you fast forward to 10:13. I haven’t got the second film’s soundtrack yet, but once I’ve got around to watching that film I’ll get the music too.
So I’m really glad I’ve got back into the series afresh. I’ll continue watching other things as well of course, but this is something that will keep me going for a while. I know there are a couple of related shows too – Millennium and The Lone Gunmen – each of which was ultimately cancelled and had some kind of conclusion within episodes of The X-Files. So maybe I’ll try them one day, but I’m not in any rush to do so.
Another series I’ve tried is series 1 of After Life on Netflix. It’s created by Ricky Gervais, who plays the main character Tony, and is a dark comedy-drama. Tony’s life is turned upside down when his wife dies, but rather than succumb to the temptation of ending it all, he instead decides to punish everyone else around him by saying and doing whatever he likes, no matter how offensive. So he effectively says a lot of the things that we would love to say to people out of frustration but would never dare. But he does things because of his state of mind and, at its heart, the show is a very sad, thought-provoking drama about a man in a serious crisis, and the efforts of those around him to try and rescue him. It’s not something I would buy on DVD, but I enjoyed it more than I perhaps expected to, and I will be checking out series 2 when it drops on April 24th.
I’ve also started watching the new fifth season of Outlander on Amazon, and it’s very good as usual, with interesting storylines, beautiful visuals and a lovely musical score, including yet another wonderful iteration of the theme tune. So I’m looking forward to watching the remaining episodes.
As a culture vulture I recommend Secrets Of The Museum, which was shown on BBC2 recently. It’s a very interesting look behind the scenes at the Victoria & Albert Museum, showing just how much hard work is involved in acquiring, displaying and maintaining the objects in their exhibitions, and the passion they have for their work. So it’s well worth a watch, even more so now you can’t visit in person. There’s also bonus content on the Open University website as well.
Another interesting BBC documentary was Panorama – Spying On The Scammers. It came about from the work of Jim Browning, one of many online heroes who expose scammers and raise awareness of their actions. So do check him out, along with others listed on my scams page. Jim has ways of hacking into the systems of scammers, which are technically illegal, but it gives us a great insight into how they operate. And in this instance he was able to hack into a scamming call centre in India, even getting into their CCTV system, so he could get all sorts of information about them. And as he couldn’t get anybody to shut them down, he went to the media. In addition, he’s also publishing a 4-part video series on his channel detailing his findings, called Spying On The Scammers. So check them out too. He also had some help from fellow Youtuber Karl Rock, who has a related video as well.
I enjoyed the remaining episodes in the latest series of Would I Lie To You?, including the 2 editions of unseen material (instead of the 1 edition they usually do per series), and 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown. Both of those series had episodes featuring blind comedian Chris McCausland, which was great, he’s very funny. And I’ve enjoyed The Last Leg and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway – both of which had to produce episodes without studio audiences for the first time in their history. It’s really weird, and not something I’d want them to do permanently, but they both managed to make it work and give people some much needed escapism.
And I was delighted to see people celebrating the birthday of the late, great Rik Mayall recently, who would have been 62 on 7th March. And I took the opportunity to watch some of his work online that, amazingly, I’d never got around to before. The first was a sitcom called Believe Nothing, featuring him in the role of a professor called Adonis Cnut, the cleverest man in Britain who is often consulted by the government, but is also part of a group that controls everything in the world. It’s written by Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks, who also wrote The New Statesman with Rik Mayall in the lead role, and that was a much better series. But Believe Nothing still has some good moments, and I’ve now bought the DVD for my collection. The DVD has all the episodes, plus entertaining interviews and outtakes.
I also watched the film Drop Dead Fred online, where Rik plays a manic, invisible friend to a young lady, causing chaos wherever she goes. It’s really good fun, better than Believe Nothing, so I’m getting the Blu-ray for that too. I haven’t received it yet, but it’s got a nice selection of extras on it, including an audio commentary, interviews, deleted scenes and an alternate ending.
Fantasy & Horror
Apart from Drop Dead Fred, there are some other movies that I’ve been enjoying recently.
First, I watched the first 3 films in the Jumanji franchise. I’d seen Jumanji when I was a kid, of course, but enjoyed watching it again. However, I’d never seen the spin-off Zathura: A Space Adventure or the first proper sequel Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, so I didn’t know what to expect. And while they’re missing the amazing Robin Williams, they still work in their own way.
Zathura is also a board game much like Jumanji, but it’s set in space rather than a jungle, which gives them the chance to explore things in a very different way. The original Jumanji film is still better, but Zathura is very good fun.
Welcome To The Jungle, meanwhile, upgrades Jumanji to a video game, which makes a lot of sense and brings the series into the modern age really well. It results in lots of interesting characters, action sequences and special effects, along with a great deal of humour too, and it works wonderfully. Plus, as a Doctor Who fan, I loved the fact that Karen Gillan was in it, alongside Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), Jack Black and other great actors. The latest sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level, was released in late 2019, bringing back the cast from Welcome To The Jungle, but I haven’t seen that yet. But I will certainly check it out when I get a chance.
I’ve also watched all 5 horror films in the Final Destination franchise. All of which have basically the same plot, but are all entertaining. The main character in each film has a premonition of a major catastrophe that kills them, along with other friends and bystanders around them, and so is able to rescue everyone by getting them out of harm’s way before it happens. However, cheating death is not a good idea, as each person in turn is then killed in a freak accident instead, which the main character tries to stop happening. And it’s the accidents that you watch the films for. They’re very creative and sometimes very elaborate, with chain reactions that lead to the individual’s fate, and lots of red herrings that make you assume they’ll die in a certain way. So the stories aren’t exactly deep, but the films are good fun, if you like gory things like that.
Finally, I also saw the horror comedy Zombieland, which came to my attention because I noticed it had a sequel released in 2019 called Double Tap, which I haven’t seen yet. But I will watch the sequel at some point, because the first film is good. It’s basically about a group of people taking a trip across America to find shelter from the zombie apocalypse that they’ve managed to survive so far, and it has lots of funny moments.
I also bought a few new music releases this month, although they all effectively reissues of old material.
First I bough the Rock In Rio concert by Queen, which is a brilliant live show from 1985. It wasn’t released by the band themselves, but is an official release from a radio broadcast. The only issue is that We Will Rock You on the CD skips all the way through, and it’s an issue that appears to affect everybody’s copy. Which is a shame, but I’ve been able to replace it with the audio from Queen’s video of the song from that concert on their Youtube channel. So it’s not the end of the world, but it’s not good that the manufacturers have allowed a CD to be released with that kind of error.
And I’ve also bought the latest set of deluxe reissues of some of Status Quo’s old albums – Thirsty Work, Perfect Remedy and Rock ‘Til You Drop – which include lots of B-sides, outtakes and live tracks, so they’re all great to have.
But talking of Queen, this reworking of Bohemian Rhapsody in response to the current situation is brilliant.
So that’s my recap for the last couple of months. I hope you found some things of interest in amongst all of that.
Going forward, given that circumstances are going to be very different for a while, I’ll probably end up doing shorter updates about how things are going, and mention a few things I’ve been watching or listening to as appropriate. But I want to do other things to make up for the shortfall, and to keep myself and my followers happily distracted. I’ve got a few ideas for posts and videos, and for things I can try while I’m at home. Perhaps I’ll try and get more into gaming or audiobooks for instance. But I’m also open to suggestions for things you might want to see from me. So we’ll see what happens. It’s a very uncertain time for everyone, but I’ll keep producing content in any case.
In the meantime, please take care of yourselves, and I hope you all stay safe and well. 🙂