Hey there, hope you’re all continuing to keep safe and well! Here in the UK lockdown has been eased further, including the re-opening of non-essential shops, the compulsory use of face coverings on public transport, and the partial re-opening of schools. So some small sense of normality is returning, albeit with lots of distancing and hygiene measures in place.
I’m still happy staying at home though, because I have no compelling reason to go out and my priority is still protecting Mum by not bringing the virus home. Our shopping’s being delivered every week, and despite the new rules public transport is still a no-go, as it’s only for essential journeys and distancing is much harder on a Tube train or bus. So there’s little incentive to go anywhere. Mum and I will be leaving the house to attend my uncle’s funeral with my aunt in a couple of week’s time, and I’m starting to feel more open to having a socially distanced outdoor meeting or picnic with a friend or two, as that appears to be relatively safe having been aware of others who have done it. But that’s about it.
In any case, I’ve been keeping myself very busy lately. I’ve actually been using Zoom for the first time recently, to talk to workmates, some friends and other people I’ll mention a bit later in this post. It’s strange how I didn’t get asked to do any video calls for the first 2 months of lockdown, then had one last month, followed by loads in June, about half of which are on Zoom. It’ll probably go quiet again in July!
And I’m also busy on my blog too. Hopefully you’ve already seen my Def Leppard – London To Vegas Unboxing, which I produced after they very kindly set me a copy of the box set to review. But if you haven’t seen it yet, do go and check it out. It’s the first time I’ve ever been sent a product to review, and I had no hesitation in accepting the offer as it’s from one of my favourite bands! I also have some other blog posts I’m working on too, by which I mean a couple of big series that should guarantee me regular posts over the summer and beyond. So I’m in no danger of running out of content just yet!
And of course my Favourites posts will continue, now on a fortnightly basis for the time being, as that frees up my time much more. So here’s my latest recap, with plenty to cover, including disability events & discussions, theatre, Blu-rays, comedy, music and more. So let’s get on with it, and I hope you enjoy my latest post and video!
I’m taking part in a couple of big events this month, both on Zoom, which I wanted to mention first.
The most significant is CXCon: The Accessibility Edition on 30 June. It’s a completely free event, taking place all day, featuring a variety of presentations and discussions about digital accessibility. And I’m on a panel of disabled people at 10:20am, discussing the barriers we face with digital inclusion and the impact that has. It’s a half-hour pre-recorded chat followed by a live Q&A on the day. So please do join us if you can! I’ll be joined by:
I’m also attending the free Aniridia Network Conference from 2pm-4pm on 21 June (Aniridia Day), where we’ll have a wonderful variety of guest speakers and opportunities for discussion. I’m not a participant in this case, just a volunteer helping with social media in the background. But if you have any connection to aniridia, do come and join us. And also don’t forget that Nystagmus Awareness Day is on 20 June, so do be sure to celebrate the day and help to educate others if you know about nystagmus.
But that’s enough looking forward. I also want to show you some things that have been posted recently. And, as you can imagine, there have been various articles looking at the impact of the pandemic on the lives of disabled people. Here are some of the latest:
- Chloe Tear – As a disabled person, I’m not ready for lockdown to end
- Forbes – Blind people’s social distancing nightmare to intensify as lockdowns ease
- Forbes – How the pandemic has proven the social model of disability
- Liverpool Echo – Student praised for highlighting issues faced by visually impaired people during pandemic
- RIDC – Third survey into the impact on disabled and older people
- RNIB – Tips on interacting with people with sight loss
It’s also worth noting that visually impaired people can now get priority supermarket slots by calling the RNIB helpline on 0303 123 9999. Worth knowing if you need the help.
Looking more specifically at art and culture, the audio description charity VocalEyes recently consulted their trustees and members of their user panel – including myself – about our access to museums and theatres at the present time and in the near future. So do check out these 2 articles, which include thoughts from myself and various others:
- Will it be worth it? The re-opening barriers facing visually impaired people
- Online culture for blind and visually impaired people after the pandemic
If you’re into assistive technology, then there’s a BBC job vacancy for an Assistive Technology Tester in Glasgow (closing date 26 June), which some of you may be interested in. And if you want to know how big an impact accessibility can have, and how much meaning it has to disabled people, check out blind gamer Steve Saylor’s overwhelmed reaction to the huge range of accessibility features in The Last Of Us Part II that has gone viral on social media. Accessibility makes a huge difference to so many people, it should never be overlooked. Chloe Tear sums it up nicely in her retweet.
And lastly for this section, here are some long-form video discussions, lasting at least an hour each, which you might want to check out if you have the time:
- Ability Net – Working with Diversity, is the new normal here to stay? – This is the latest in the extensive series of webinars on their channel.
- Thomas Pocklington Trust – Accessible tech at home and work – This is their first attempt at an accessible webinar, so if you enjoy it and want them to do more, do let them know. Their contact details and social media links are on their website.
- Thinking Out Loud – Top Disabled Travel Bloggers Share Thoughts On Lockdown – Sassy talks to some of her blogging friends about the impact the pandemic has had on their lives.
The Old Vic have now started posting full shows, and they began with A Monster Calls, which was online for a week until 11 June. I saw this in person with my friend Claire, with audio description and a touch tour, back in August 2018, but I was keen to see it again.
It’s a wonderfully performed and deeply emotional play, based on a book by Patrick Ness, which in turn came from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. It’s about a teenage boy called Conor, who is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s terminal illness. Responding to the boy’s mental anguish and behaviour around others, a monster visits him on various nights, telling him 3 stories, after which Conor must tell a 4th story, and it must be the truth. So yes, it is dark, and I would defy anybody not to be deeply moved by the end, as it’s very powerful and relatable. And yet it has light and humour sprinkled throughout too. It’s a beautifully heartfelt production about the love between a son and his mother, ultimately.
The acting is fantastic, particularly by Matthew Tennyson as Conor of course, and the staging is cleverly done, with entwined ropes used to create the monster’s tree, and all of the actors becoming observers and stagehands as they sit at the side of the stage during scenes they’re not part of.
The emotive music by Benji Bower also elevates it really well too. He gave a special interview about making the music to accompany the upload of the show, which gives a great insight into how it came together, and he’s released a lovely album of the score, which can also be heard on Spotify. There was also a very interesting pre-show talk as well.
So I loved seeing it again, and it did resonate with me. As I’ve said before, the reason I’m staying home in lockdown is so my Mum doesn’t go to hospital with the virus where I can’t visit her. Whenever her last day comes, I want to hold her to let her go, and this incredible play shows why it’ll be so painful yet so important.
It wasn’t audio described unfortunately, but I was able to see enough on my nice big TV screen. However, it’s great to know that The Old Vic are providing captions and audio descriptions for all of their live streams of Lungs, starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith. These are special socially distanced performances broadcast live from their stage via Zoom, with no set, minimal lighting, and as few people in the building as possible. If you want to get tickets, I suggest you book very quickly, if they’ve not already sold out by the time you read this.
So it’s worth keeping an eye on The Old Vic, as there will be other interesting productions coming up, hopefully more of which will be audio described. They promised me that their streamed stage performances would be, which I had assumed meant their recorded shows as well, which would be awesome. But knowing they’re doing it for a live show is still brilliant, it’s great that they’re making the effort.
For more online theatre options, The Guardian have a nice list of what’s around at the moment (thank you Claire for that), and you can find out about accessible online productions via the VocalEyes Interval newsletter and the Official London Theatre list, both of which are updated regularly.
And talking of culture, I’m also trying out an audio described tour of a photographic exhibition on Zoom this coming Saturday 20 June, so do sign up for that if you’re interested as well.
Last time I mentioned that I had bought all of the Blu-rays for the Jumanji series of films, having enjoyed them online recently. I didn’t need to watch the films again so soon, but I have enjoyed going through the extra features on each one. Robin Williams is very funny in the gag reel and other special features on the first film, as are all the cast members in Welcome To The Jungle and The Next Level. You get a nice selection of extras for all of the films, covering all the important aspects of how they were made in a concise way, particularly all the fantastic special effects. In the original film they were very advanced for their day. There is going to be another sequel to the most recent 2 films, hopefully with Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and the others, whenever they’re able to make it.
I also got the spin-off Zathura – A Space Adventure on DVD, as it’s not available on Blu-ray in the UK. The Blu-ray can be bought as a US import, but I don’t have a multi-region player. And I’m perfectly happy with just the DVD version anyway. It’s a nice film, but not as special as the main series.
In terms of TV shows, I bought the Blu-ray of Red Dwarf – The Promised Land, their wonderful feature-length special, which I reviewed back in the third week of lockdown when it was broadcast. It contains the documentary, deleted scenes and smeg-ups that were also made available on the UKTV Play website, along with an interesting additional feature that shows how it was set up and filmed in front of an audience. So I’m glad I’ve got that to bring my Red Dwarf collection up to date.
And I also upgraded from my old DVD to the new Blu-ray release of Police Squad!, the delightfully daft and hilarious series that spawned the Naked Gun films. Fortunately I can see well enough to enjoy many of the visual gags that fill every episode, in addition to loving the performances by the late great Leslie Nielsen.
My favourite series from the past couple of weeks has been Staged, featuring David Tennant and Michael Sheen, with their respective partners Georgia Tennant and Anna Lundberg, plus Simon Evans (who also wrote the series). They’re all playing themselves, and the series focuses on Simon’s attempts to try and get David and Michael to rehearse together for a play while in lockdown. So they’re constantly communicating on Zoom, particularly David and Michael for the most part. The two of them have a great chemistry together, and the arguments and distractions that plague the whole rehearsal process are very funny indeed. But all the other actors, including their partners, are fabulous too. And there are a couple of big, surprising guest stars as well, who I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it yet, but they’re great sports and hilarious.
The series is being shown on BBC One over a few weeks, but all 6 episodes have been available on iPlayer from the outset, so I’ve binged watched them all, as they’re only 15-20 minutes each. There are some lovely shots of empty London and scenic landscapes in the scene transitions as well, which are interesting to see. And, if you can read them, it’s worth keeping an eye on the opening and closing credits of each episode as well, as they change to reflect events from one episode to the next, which is a nice touch.
And in another series of short episodes, about 15 minutes each, I’ve been enjoying Comedians: Home Alone. This is a weekly series of short sketches filmed by many of our best known comedians from their homes during lockdown, and they work very well. They’re silly and fun, which is just the ticket these days.
In terms of current affairs shows, both The Last Leg on Channel 4 and The News Quiz on Radio 4 have now finished their latest series, each with the presenters and guests dialling in from home but they will be back later in the year. They’ve given much light-hearted relief in their analysis of the news in recent weeks, but have also been respectful and helped to raise awareness about the more serious issues that have come up.
And we’ve now had the last of the Taskmaster Home Tasks, for the time being at least, finishing with people making big faces out of objects in their home. It’s been wonderful to see so many creative and hilarious entries, this series has really given people a lift during lockdown.
As for stand-up comedy, Jason Manford very kindly donated his show Muddle Class for broadcast on BBC One to give people a boost, and it’s still available on iPlayer. This show hasn’t been released on DVD, so this is the only chance people will have to see it, if they didn’t attend in person. And it’s brilliant. He’s on top form as always, and he has a lovely message of support for people at the end as well. He wants people to escape from the world and have a good laugh, and he achieves that easily. He’s also fundraising for the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), which is a very important worthy cause, especially in the current climate.
I also tried out an improv set from The Comedy Store Live, called The Comedy Store Players Filmed Before Lockdown, featuring Paul Merton and Josie Lawrence among other members of the Comedy Store Players. Having been to the Comedy Store once before, I knew the sort of thing to expect, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was very funny, and the small fee I paid was worth it. Check out their website for the other stand-up shows they have coming up online.
And finally for this section, I’ve also enjoyed the following comedy clips online:
- One Liner Challenge – A selection of jokes told by lots of great comedians in support of the the Heckle The Virus initiative that you can donate to.
- Andrew Cotter – From The Sporting Archives – Another great commentary video featuring his dogs.
- Bethany Baptist Church – Post-Lockdown Church – You don’t need to be a church-goer to enjoy this look at what church could be like in the near future.
- Jim Dailakis – More Breaking News – Jim’s back again, poking fun at the absurdities of stuff that we see in the media and from conspiracy theorists.
- Julie Nolke – Explaining The Pandemic To My Past Self – Part 2 – This is a great sequel to her original video. All revenue from this part will be donated to the Official George Floyd Memorial Fund and other programs dedicated to assisting people of colour. Also check out Julie’s other recent clips too, including Social Distance Public Shamers and A Casual Chit-Chat Attempt.
Just to quickly mention a couple of other series I’ve been enjoying that have finished as well:
- Season 6 of The Flash has now come to its premature end, as they had to stop short due to the pandemic. So Iris is still in trouble in the mirrorverse, and we’ll have to wait until Season 7, whenever they can film it, to see how she gets out.
- The London Transport Museum have had the final episode of their first series of Hidden London Hangouts, exploring secret areas of old Tube stations and other underground spaces that the public don’t get to see unless they go on the Hidden London Tours. So it’s been great to get an insight into so many different places.
As always, there are lots of music clips to finish with, so hopefully there will be something in this list that you enjoy.
In terms of parodies and comedy:
- The Holderness Family have continued making parodies with a Horrible Parody Medley and a cover of the DJ Jazzy Jeff track Summertime called Bummertime.
- The Kiffness have posted a timely Beatles parody called Hey June.
- The Horne Section have released an album of their comedy lockdown songs called The Most Beautiful, Talented People In The Whole World, some of which were performed on The Last Leg. So I decided to get that and their other albums too, all of which are great.
In relation to theatre and dance:
- Theatrical group Stomp have posted a special performance from their homes, creatively using surfaces and objects in their home.
- Stars of the Royal Ballet have danced in the streets to Living In A Ghost Town by The Rolling Stones, to promote a Save The Arts! fundraiser. See the Guardian article for more details.
Thank you to my friend Tina for recommending a few orchestral stars online, all of whom have covered Queen songs as well as posting many other wonderful pieces:
- 2 Cellos (Youtube & Facebook) – Including The Show Must Go On.
- Hauser (Youtube & Facebook) – Including Another One Bites The Dust.
- Lola Astanova (Youtube & Facebook) – Including We Are The Champions.
And there are a couple of other orchestral performers too, that I’ve mentioned before, who have covered some great TV and film themes recently:
- Samara Ginsberg on 8 Cellos – Thundercats & Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – Thunderball
When it comes to singers, I want to give a special shoutout to the Sing Out Choir, consisting of adults from North London who have a learning difficulty and autism. They either submitted recordings online, or were filmed at a safe distance on their doorsteps, singing a lovely version of Hey Jude. To understand how it came together, check out the behind the scenes video as well. And you can find out more about them on their website, Youtube channel, Facebook and Instagram. Thank you to Camilla for sharing the video with me, you all did great!
And last of all, looking at bands:
- Madness gave us a wonderful surprise with a gig filmed from the safety of their lockup. Two Mad Men and a String Quartet featured Suggs and Mike Barson, joined by The London String Group, all safely distanced from each other. On top of a great selection of classic Madness hits, they also performed new songs Theatre of the Absurd and All The President’s Men, and a cover of Life On Mars.
- The Doobie Brothers performed a home-based version of their hit Listen To The Music.
- I’ve only now discovered, via a podcast, that The Vengaboys popped up out of nowhere a couple of months ago to make a parody of one of their big hits from the last 90s, called Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom!
- And finally, a group of performers, featuring big names like Kerry Ellis, got together to perform a special version of Brian May’s solo hit Driven By You. This was a special surprise for Brian while he recovers from his recent health scare, and he was stunned by the gesture. It looks like Brian is gradually getting better, judging by the videos on his channel, but we all wish them the best for his continued recovery!
And that’s it. Well done if you made it to the end of that bumper crop of random goodies! I hope that makes up for the fact that this post was a little bit late this week, and I hope you found something of interest in amongst all of that. Don’t forget to check out my Covid Resources page and my many lockdown playlists, as well as all my previous Favourites posts of course, for much more.
Until next time, I hope you all continue to keep well. Please stay safe if you’re going out and about more these days, and if you’re stuck at home I hope you’re getting everything you need. See you again soon!