Miraculously we’ve made it to the halfway point in the year, although admittedly it feels like a lot more time has passed. Months effectively haven’t existed for a little while now, with all the weeks just blurring into one continuous sequence. If it weren’t for the titles of these posts, I would have lost complete track of how much time had passed since lockdown started!
So I hope you’re all continuing to keep safe and well. Our lockdown measures here in England are going to be eased significantly further from next week, and the government have ended their daily briefings, but as the virus is still in circulation we all have to remain very cautious. There will inevitably be local outbreaks, which may lead to lockdowns of certain towns and cities as and when necessary, but we just have to hope the entire country won’t be shut down again. The most vulnerable people who are still shielding will have to remain indoors until early August, when they can finally go out again if they feel ready to do so.
Regular readers will know that my mother and I have been voluntarily shielding, even though we’re not explicitly required to do so, for my mother’s safety in particular. The last time I went out, to do a little bit of shopping to top-up an online delivery, was just over 7 weeks ago. And that’s only the second such outing I’ve had over the past 14 weeks. Mum hasn’t been out at all since lockdown began.
However, by the time you read this, we will both have been out together to attend my Uncle’s funeral with my Aunt, so I’ll let you know how that went in my next post. I’m also starting to feel that the time is right to venture out for local walks soon for some much-needed exercise, as it does seem to be the case that being outdoors, socially distanced from others, is relatively safe. But I still don’t intend to use public transport for the time being, even though there are safety measures in place for train travel, as the risks still feel too great and there isn’t anywhere that I need to go. Some museums are reopening, but I’d rather continue to wait before I visit them again, and support them online in the meantime.
So that’s where I’m at currently. But now let’s look back at the past couple of weeks in my latest post and video, to see what’s kept me occupied and entertained, none of it sponsored or gifted as usual. I hope you enjoy!
21 June was Aniridia Day, which was celebrated by people from all over the world. So it was only appropriate that we held the UK’s Aniridia Network Conference that day, which replaced the European Aniridia Conference that has been postponed until next year. And despite being the first Zoom conference that we’ve ever tried to run, it went very well, with a great variety of speakers and plenty of discussion amongst the attendees. Thank you to everyone who took part!
I was only half paying attention, mind you, as I was busy on social media all afternoon promoting Aniridia Day and the various different presenters at the conference. But I do now have the full recording, from which I’ll be editing selected sections for publication on the Aniridia Network’s Youtube channel over the coming weeks, enabling me to watch them more closely in the process. So keep an eye out for those videos if that interests you.
The day before Aniridia Day was also Nystagmus Awareness Day, organised by the Nystagmus Network, which many people celebrated online to help raise awareness. The charity have also been posting interesting articles on their website recently about topics including Nystagmus In Lockdown and Homeschooling and Nystagmus.
But, most excitingly, they’ve announced that Richard Osman will be presenting a Radio 4 appeal to promote the charity! Getting a slot in such an important programme is a huge deal, so it’s fantastic that they’ll be getting national exposure in that way.
And if you’re wondering what those conditions are, check out my personal posts on Living With Aniridia and Living With Nystagmus, and many of my other visual impairment posts, to gain some understanding of how they affect me.
In addition to all of that, I’ve also been involved in another project by Scope’s Big Hack project, following on from the media appearances I made last year about The Big Business of Digital Accessibility. This time they’ve been reviewing the very varied accessibility of online video streaming services, and talking to disabled people including myself about how it affects us. It is frustrating when you can’t fully enjoy, or can’t watch at all, certain films and TV shows because websites are difficult to read and navigate, and there’s been no provision for captions or audio description.
For example, I’d love to watch Game Of Thrones, but I’m rather put off by the fact that NOW TV don’t provide audio description on any of their content, so I know a complex show like that might be very hard to follow. It’s all the more disappointing when I know the TV broadcasts of the show did have audio description, so the audio tracks are clearly available. Consequently I’m much happier to stick with places like Netflix, Amazon and BBC iPlayer who are prepared to make the effort to provide AD on some of their titles, because they have made an effort to be accessible. There is still a lot more they could do, of course, but they’re pretty good in comparison to some of the others.
To find out more, check out The Big Hack’s League Table & Analysis of the big streaming services, their views on which are the Best Services For Accessibility, and the feedback from their survey of disabled people about their use of such services.
The National Theatre At Home project continues to generously provide free shows to watch each week, and recently I tried Small Island, recorded at the theatre last year. I’d never seen it before, and I’ve never read the novel by Andrea Levy or seen the TV adaptation, but my friend Claire recommended it to me, in particular because the National Theatre had provided an audio described version narrated by Roz Chalmers.
So I gave it a go, and I really enjoyed it. It’s all about the immigration of Jamaicans to England, first taking part in World War II, and then moving here permanently, including those who travelled over on HMT Empire Windrush. We follow the story from the perspective of 2 Jamaicans and a lady from England, along with various characters close to them, with all the stories interweaving along the way. The experience changes all of the characters significantly, and of course deals with the impacts of racism, sadly still a hot topic in current times.
It’s all handled really effectively, telling an important and interesting story without getting too heavy, and there’s actually a lot of humour throughout as well. Plus the acting is brilliant from everyone involved. The staging is really nicely done too, with simple props used to indicate certain rooms and places, nice use of the revolving stage in scene transitions, clever incorporation of projected video on the back wall, and a beautiful music score that was composed by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell. And the audio description really helped me to follow everything, including a nicely detailed introduction at the start to set up the main characters, costumes, locations, etc, just like we get for audio described shows we see in person.
So I’m very glad I saw that show. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, and it looked like it would be quite long at nearly 3 hours, but it was definitely well worth the time. Although the show is no longer available to view, there is an hour-long discussion about the making of the show if you want to dig deeper, and other clips on their playlist.
I also saw Reasons To Be Cheerful by Graeae Theatre, filmed at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 2017, and being streamed online until 3 August. This is a fun, lively musical featuring disabled performers, about a group of friends who are desperate to get tickets to see the legendary Ian Dury in concert. As such, the play features many of his songs, performed very well by the cast, along with the great new song If It Can’t Be Right, Then It Must Be Wrong. It’s very funny as well. If you watch it and enjoy it too, any donations to support Graeae’s work would be greatly appreciated.
I first saw the play back in November 2017, so check out my original review for more details. Back then I had audio description for the show, which was cleverly delivered by one of the characters on stage via a telephone, as if talking to one of his friends who couldn’t be there. That audio description has also been provided for this online edition, as a separate audio version on Soundcloud. And it’s fantastic that they’ve done that, but it’s not the way I personally prefer to use audio description. As I do have some sight, I like to use the AD with the visuals to marry the two together, as the description often helps to explain or point out details that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, allowing me to pay closer attention to them if I want to. So I didn’t actually make use of it, I just watched the video instead, and was able to follow it reasonably well. It’s also great that they supplied captions with the video too, so they are being as inclusive as possible.
I attended an online exhibition tour for the first time, a slow look at Against The Light by Jan Svoboda, from The Photographers’ Gallery – which was audio described by Caroline Dawson. A couple of people from the museum were also present on the Zoom conference, to give some background and contextual information, and there were about 20 people on the call altogether, so they had good attendance.
And it was very interesting. When I initially saw the images on the website, I wasn’t sure how much there would be to talk about, as at first glance they look like very simple pictures of things like tables. But in learning about the artist and their methods and intentions, and understanding the details like the items they captured, the wear and tear of the photos, and even what’s on the backs of the photos, it made more sense and was quite enlightening. We were therefore given a great insight into Svoboda’s work from the 4 images we looked at in depth.
So thank you to Caroline for delivering the audio description and inviting me to the event. There isn’t a recording of the tour, but you can listen to audio descriptions of each image on the exhibition page.
The next audio described tour, at 3pm on 4 July, looks at the work of Hannah Reyes Morales. The images that will be discussed are shown towards the bottom of the information page, they look very colourful and interesting. So do book on to that if you want to take part. Audio descriptions will be supplied by Zoe Partington, and recorded descriptions will be made available after the event too.
TV & Radio
There’s very little in the way of interesting new stuff at the moment, as is usually the case during the summer, but now even fewer people are making new shows for obvious reasons.
But on BBC2 I’m still enjoying the sketch show Comedians: Home Alone, which will finish in mid-July after 7 episodes. It’s been great to see such a variety of comedians on there. And on BBC Radio 4 my mother and I have been enjoying the recent return of The Unbelievable Truth presented by David Mitchell, where comedians try to hide facts about a variety of topics in amongst a sea of lies, and the others have to spot the truths. As you’d expect, it was recorded from people’s homes without an audience, which is strange but it still works.
But apart from that nothing else has grabbed my attention, which has given me the perfect opportunity to keep working through my X-Files Blu-ray box set, where I’m now well into Season 7. However, I do have plans for other things to watch on the side, so I still have a variety of entertainment. One of those is the new documentary by Alex Brooker, Disability And Me, due on BBC2 on Sunday. That should be very interesting.
It’s been great to see Doctor Who getting some more attention in America though, because the series is now streaming on HBO Max, and they’re quite rightly making a big deal out of it. Which has meant we’ve got to see some of the Doctors reunited on screen for interviews. Jodie Whittaker, Matt Smith and David Tennant reunited for a special HBO Max interview, during which we learnt the name of this year’s Christmas special, that was fortunately filmed before lockdown. Then Jodie and David were also interviewed by James Corden and judged a cosplay contest on The Late Late Show. So those clips have been fun to watch.
It’s also been announced that the Blu-ray steelbook for Series 6 will be released on 10 August, continuing on from the previous ones they’ve released, so I’ll be updating my collection with that.
And also on a sci-fi theme it’s been announced that the brand-new Red Dwarf documentary, The First Three Million Years, looking back at the history of the show, will be on Dave in August. It will consist of 3 episodes, each an hour long, so it’ll be quite in-depth. There will be new interviews with writer Doug Naylor, the cast and crew, and famous fans, along with unbroadcast scenes and the best of the smeg-ups that will be largely familiar to owners of the Blu-rays like myself I’m sure. So I don’t know if keen fans like me will learn a lot that hasn’t already been gained from previous documentaries, but there are bound to be a few new tidbits in there, and it’ll be fun to celebrate the legacy of this classic sitcom.
And finally, here’s another selection of music that I’ve been enjoying.
In terms of parodies and covers, apart from artists I’ve mentioned in previous posts who are still churning out fun stuff, I’ve also been enjoying:
- Hildegard von Blingin’s medieval style versions of What Is Love?, Bad Romance & Creep, and others on his channel. They’re really impressive and fun.
- Phantom Of The Opera lockdown parodies by The Opera Guy and Hand In It Productions, and I’m sure there are others out there.
- Tom Scott’s research into Jingle Bells, Batman Smells and other childish reworkings of the carol. It’s interesting to hear about the different versions people came up with around the world.
If you’d like to hear some classical music instead, you can relax to Alone, Together by Hauser, filmed in front of a stunning waterfall.
Or, if you want to hear a very different type of orchestra, how about the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performing The Lovecats, yet another delightfully catchy cover they’ve produced during lockdown.
Moving on to more mainstream artists:
- Following on from my review of their London To Vegas box set, I also downloaded the Early Years box set by Def Leppard, as it was all available online so I didn’t need to buy the physical box for that too. It contains remastered versions of their first 2 albums (On Through The Night and High ‘N’ Dry), with a related disc of B-sides and rarities, all of which I already had from the CD Collection Volume 1 set. But the other 2 discs in this set contain a live show from Oxford in 1980 and their BBC sessions, which are very interesting and sound great, so it was worth downloading to get those.
- Bonnie Tyler & Lorraine Crosby have released a lovely song called Through Thick and Thin (I’ll Stand By You), in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust, as the charity’s 20th anniversary concerts had to be cancelled this year.
- Matt Lucas teamed up with cast members & musicians from London’s West End musicals for a fabulously epic version of his charity song Thank You Baked Potato, with some big stars, a whole new verse and great editing. Keep watching during the credits for a few outtakes and random bits of fun too. You can still download the song and buy the book, as well as donate directly to Feed NHS.
- The Muppets teamed up with James Corden on The Late Late Show to perform a rousing rendition of With A Little Help From My Friends. No comedy or silliness, just a perfect song to bring people together in these times, and I defy anyone not to smile and sing along with it. And if you do want a bit of comedy as well, you can see James being heckled by Statler & Waldorf just before they did the song.
For quite some time I was never quite sure about Adam joining Queen. There was a stigma attached to his time on American Idol, as I’m really not a fan of those kind of talent shows. And to begin with when I first heard Adam performing with Queen, I wasn’t particularly struck on him. It was a bit of a shock, it felt too different. Even now it still seems a little strange with him as their current frontman, as it always will really.
Nevertheless, he has grown on me quite a bit recently, and I greatly appreciate the fact that he’s not trying to be like Freddie or trying to be better than him, because nobody can. Adam’s actually very keen to honour Freddie’s legacy and pay tribute to him respectfully, and sensibly performs the songs in the way that feels best for him rather than daring to mimic the great man. Crucially, he’s capable of performing a huge range of Queen songs, which many artists aren’t given the sheer variety that the band have in their catalogue. And he does it very well. I’m liking his performances more these days now I’ve given him a chance, and he clearly has a real chemistry with Brian May and Roger Taylor.
With all that in mind, therefore, I really enjoyed the documentary The Show Must Go On, which is now on Netflix. It explores how Adam’s collaboration with Brian and Roger came about, and the hugely successful tours they’ve had as a result. It’s the first time I’ve learnt about Adam’s upbringing and his journey as an artist, so it really helped me to understand and more fully appreciate why his partnership with Queen makes sense. The interviews with Adam, Brian and Roger are very interesting, and there was quite a bit of footage of them performing together. And there was also, I’m happy to say, a lot of footage of Freddie Mercury performing and being interviewed back in the band’s heyday. His memory was honoured very nicely. So it was a great documentary, I really liked the way it was put together.
Then, for 24 hours only on Youtube, to mark what would have been the end of their current tour, Queen posted a special Tour Watch Party, with a selection of live performances by Queen with Adam. And it was an amazing selection. Of particular interest were the rarities Love Kills and I Was Born To Love You, which the original line-up had never performed live before, a stunning version of Who Wants To Live Forever dedicated to people who had recently died in Orlando, a beautiful performance of Love Of My Life by Brian at the O2 Arena with a special appearance by Freddie, and a fun version of Fat Bottomed Girls with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. And there were many other big hits in there as well, it was a very enjoyable compilation.
And if that isn’t enough, Queen have also now launched a new Roadies In Lockdown series, looking behind the scenes of the Queen + Adam Lambert tours, including footage from their sound checks. Episode 1 is now online, and I’m sure the rest will be very interesting too.
Moving away from Adam Lambert though, and there are a couple of other ways to celebrate Queen at the moment too:
- There are now official Royal Mail stamp collections honouring the band as we approach their 50th anniversary, as detailed in a post on Queen’s website. I don’t intend to buy them personally, as they’ll be too small to fully appreciate with my eyesight and will just end up tucked away in a box somewhere. But from the pictures I’ve seen online, they’re clearly amazing items for any collectors out there.
- Roger Taylor has surprised us with a lovely new song called Isolation, which is all about very relatable feelings resulting from lockdown. Listen to his interviews from Radio 5 and Virgin Radio to find out more.
There you have it, another busy couple of weeks! I hope you enjoyed that and found things of interest in there.
Once I’ve got my Uncle’s funeral and the CXCon accessibility event out of the way this week – both of which will already have happened by the time this post is published – July looks set to be nice and quiet so far. As I said before, I hope to pop outside for a little bit here and there, depending on how things go and if the weather’s nice. But I also have plans for my blog too, with a couple of series that I’ve been making good progress on to see me through the summer, so I’ll start posting those in July as well, in addition to these Favourites posts of course.
In the meantime, I hope you continue to stay safe and well. I know things are still very uncertain, as we’re still at risk and very much need to be cautious and sensible. But hopefully all of the steps back towards some kind of normality will make things a bit easier for everyone. See you next time!