Hello again. I hope you’re all keeping safe and well. Many of the restrictions are being eased at the moment, which is good, but a few are also being reimposed as and where necessary. So please keep taking all the necessary precautions that we’ve all come to know so well, including the new requirements for wearing face coverings (which are perfectly safe and there are valid exemptions, including for some disabled people). And do be aware that the self-isolation period has been extended to 10 days in England if you have symptoms or test positive for the virus. We mustn’t let our guard down now.
I have started going out a bit more regularly again, in this lovely hot weather we’ve been having, particularly for some nice walks around my local area. I’ve also been to my local supermarket to get a few things for the first time in 12 weeks, and had no problems there. I was in and out very quickly, with a mask on of course, and it felt very safe. And that was just during normal shopping hours on a Saturday, not the priority slot for disabled and elderly customers (which I’m very glad they’re still doing). So things have really settled down there, and all the hard working retail staff deserve a lot of credit, among the myriad of amazing people who have kept vital services operating in recent months.
But perhaps most importantly, I’ve finally got my hair cut! Even if it doesn’t look much from the photos, I can tell you it feels so much better, it’s much more manageable now. And everything was done safely – we now have to book appointments with our hairdresser instead of just walking in (and it doesn’t have to be far in advance, we got a slot within a few days), plus they’ve got hand sanitiser for customers, the staff are wearing visors and there’s a stringent cleaning routine.
I do intend to venture back into the city as well, now that we’re allowed to use the Tube again. The last time I travelled on the network was March 14, nearly 5 months ago. But I have been keeping an eye on the situation. And because TFL have a very strict cleaning regime with no reported problems, there’s lots of travel advice on their website, the passenger numbers are still relatively low, others I follow on social media have recently been getting back on the Tube and other trains and feel safe doing so, and I’ve acquired face masks and bottles of hand sanitiser, I do feel it would be safe to travel at quiet times to see what it’s like. So if things continue to be alright, that’s what I intend to do during August. Hopefully that’ll enable me to start meeting up with friends again too. And, incidentally, talking of meeting special people, congratulations to Captain Sir Tom Moore on receiving his knighthood recently!
But of course, I’m still keeping myself happily occupied at home as well, so I’ve got various bits and pieces I can mention from the past few weeks in this latest post and video, none of which are sponsored or gifted to appear here as usual. So I hope you enjoy!
If you haven’t had time to watch the video for my appearance at the CXCon accessibility event recently, there’s now an article summarising the key points, including quotes from yours truly. So do check out our Dos & Don’ts of Designing For Disability to learn about some of the barriers we face when trying to use websites. And don’t forget you can watch all of the other videos from the event too, they’re very informative.
The annual Sight Village event is always a fantastic opportunity to check out the latest products and services available to visually impaired people. But this year they were naturally unable to put on any exhibitions in person. So they created a Virtual Sight Village instead, with content from lots of different people and organisations, and you can now check out the videos from Day 1 & Day 2. They covered a great deal, so do take a look through those playlists, as there’s a good chance you’ll find something that interests you.
There are also a few things by fellow bloggers that I thought I’d mention:
- There’s a new podcast called Rare With Flair by Casey Greer (from How Casey Sees It) and her best friend Cassandra Mendez, both of whom have the same visual impairment. In the podcast they aim to “showcase the beauty and normalcy in disability, while having fun together”, including chat about accessibility, friendships, style and more. So do check them out and give them your support.
- Emily at Fashioneyesta has made an informative video about How to Help a Visually Impaired Person Whilst Social Distancing, which she’s also written a blog post about recently too.
- And if you have an interest in audio description, check out Juan’s interview with audio description narrator Roy Samuelson, which is very interesting.
Talking of audio description brings me nicely on to Disney+, who provide AD on the vast majority of their catalogue, which is fantastic. I signed up recently in order to see the much-hyped Broadway production of Hamilton (which tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton). Not only does it have audio description, but there’s also an audio described introduction by VocalEyes that I found really useful to hear beforehand, giving an overview of the characters, costumes, sets, etc.
Although we’ve had Hamilton in London for a while, I haven’t been to see it because rap and hip-hop don’t particularly appeal to me, so I didn’t feel interested in it. But the online stream has been hugely popular, and was highly recommended to me by a couple of friends across the pond in the States, so I decided to check it out.
And I get what all the fuss is about now. It’s a massive production that’s incredibly well written, choreographed and performed, there are some catchy numbers, and it tells a very important story. There’s no faulting it in any of those respects, and I have a lot of respect for everyone involved in it.
However, I did find it really difficult to keep up with, especially as some of the lyrics are sung or rapped very fast (or certainly a lot faster than I’m used to – I appreciate for fans of the genre it’s probably nothing out of the ordinary). There’s a huge amount packed in, and it’s not always easy to understand or take it all in. There are a few traditional-sounding musical numbers in there as well, but they’re not the predominant style.
Some people have relied on captions to help them keep up, but with my dodgy eyes I can’t focus intently on subtitles for nearly 3 hours. Although, to their credit, Disney+ have a huge range of options to customise how captions are displayed for those who can use them, which is awesome. They really do seem to have given a lot of consideration to accessibility, which is fantastic.
So I was able to get the general gist of what was going on, and enjoy it to some degree as a result. But there were lots of things I missed or didn’t fully understand, and it felt like I had to concentrate really hard rather than just sitting back and enjoying it as I’d hoped to do. So I did lose interest somewhat as a result, despite the fact that it’s a good show. I think at some point I just need to listen to the soundtrack album on its own, a bit at a time if need be, perhaps with the lyrics up on screen, to properly appreciate it. I don’t think it would persuade me to re-watch the show, but it would flesh out the story better. I probably should have done that first really.
Ultimately, it is an amazing musical, there were aspects that I enjoyed and appreciated, and I’m very glad I tried it out. But it’s not really for me, and there are other musicals I’m much more keen to see in person, that’s all.
Although, that said, my hopes of seeing Phantom Of The Opera appear to have been dashed for the foreseeable future, very sadly, as I had booked to see that earlier this year. Let’s hope they are able to return one day. I’m sure they will if at all possible. I saw Phantom online earlier in lockdown and it was awesome, so I really would love to see it in person one day.
Moving on to things that have gone viral in a very different sense, and I finally got around to watching Contagion on Netflix recently, which stars Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet, among other big stars.
This is a film from 2011 about a worldwide pandemic and the attempts to keep it contained until a vaccine can be produced. Sound familiar? The film has inevitably been very popular in recent months, but I decided not to watch it straight away as I’d seen quite enough about our own pandemic on the news as it was!
But more recently the time felt right to check it out, and now I can see why it’s had so much interest. Although the virus in the movie is different to Covid, there are many aspects of the story that mirror the events we’ve been going through, eerily so sometimes, including things like lockdowns, face coverings, panic buying, protests, conspiracy theorists, etc. Which may sound scary, and perhaps would have been if I’d watched it a few months ago.
But I actually found it quite reassuring really, as it helps to put things into perspective. It’s good to know that human behaviour is predictable and that what we’re going through is relatively ‘normal’ for such an event. Sure, it’s a film rather than a documentary, but a lot of research clearly went into it. So I do recommend it, it’s very interesting. And there is audio description available too.
On a similar theme I also watched Outbreak on Netflix, about another virus that spreads across the world, but it doesn’t relate so closely to our current situation. This is an action thriller from 1995 in which the virus is much more lethal, posing even more urgency, and there are big stunts like impressive helicopter chases that keep the pace moving nicely. So it’s fun to watch, with a good mix of action, drama and humour, And it also has an impressive cast list, including Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Donald Sutherland, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey and Patrick Dempsey. There’s no audio description on this film though, which didn’t matter too much to me in this instance, but it may be a hindrance to others who have to rely on it a lot.
- Lamp Life – a 7-minute film showing where Bo Peep went before she returned in Toy Story 4.
- The TV specials – Two 22-minute episodes called Toy Story Of Terror! & Toy Story That Time Forgot.
- Toy Story Toons – Short 6-minute animations called Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry & Partysaurus Rex).
I wouldn’t buy them to keep as they’re so short, but they’re as fun as you’d expect if you like the main films, with good stories, humour, animation and music, and it was lovely to watch material from the franchise that I hadn’t seen before. They all have audio description too.
I’ve been enjoying quite a bit of stand-up comedy recently, including:
- Jack Whitehall’s new show I’m Only Joking on Netflix, which has audio description. He’s still on great form as always, with lots of fun observations and stories.
- Ed Byrne’s show Roaring Forties on Nextup Comedy, which is just as good as the other shows of his, he’s always very funny.
- A stand-up compilation from The Comedy Store Live. This is one of many collections they’ve been posting recently, featuring archive performances from their Manchester and London venues. This particular edition featured Angela Barnes, Danny McLoughlin, Larry Dean and Funmbi Omotayo. Angela was easily the best, but they were all good.
- Jason Manford is hosting a Weekly Stand-Up series on Zoom, where he’s joined by a selection of comedians each time. I haven’t watched it live so far, but I have seen a few of the highlights on his Youtube channel. Some of the comics are better than others, and it doesn’t have the same atmosphere as a gig with a proper audience in a theatre, naturally. But there are still some good guests and funny moments, and Jason himself is always great.
Apart from that, some other things that have made me chuckle recently include:
- More fun sketches by Julie Nolke, including On The Set Of CSI, Fake Glasses? & The first person to see germs in human history.
- Another Olive & Mabel video by Andrew Cotter, questioning Mabel who is clearly not a smooth criminal.
And on TV, a brand new series of 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown has just begun on Channel 4, which is great.
But the best TV news this week is that Taskmaster, which has just won a long-overdue BAFTA for the first time, to Greg’s delight, will be back for Series 10 in the autumn, in its new home on Channel 4. The contestants this series are Daisy May Cooper, Johnny Vegas, Katherine Parkinson, Mawaan Rizwan & Richard Herring, which is a pretty cool lineup. I’m most familiar with Johnny, Katherine and Richard, so I’m particularly looking forward to them, but even the ones I don’t know well are often great on this show too.
They started filming last December, and recorded the final episode on 29 July, with all the studio recordings taking place without an audience of course, which is going to be strange. But if past series are anything to go by, the banter between the contestants and the hosts Greg Davies and Alex Horne, and all the crazy attempts to complete the challenges, will still be hilarious.
If you want to get yourself in the mood, or discover what the fuss is about, all 9 series from Dave are available on UKTV Play, and there are lots of highlights on their Youtube channel, along with all the Home Tasks that they invited members of the public to do during lockdown.
Sticking with the comedy theme for a bit longer, as we get into my usual list of music video recommendations, here are some parodies that I’ve been enjoying.
- Bec Hill has treated us to another of her excellent flipchart videos, which are always a clever representation of misheard lyrics in songs. This time she looks at what might happen when you listen to your playlist and you’re hungry. Bec has also posted her own July update video about what she’s been up to recently.
- Shirley Șerban and The Holderness Family have continued to post song parodies regularly as well, including videos based on songs by Celine Dion, Enya, Disney Villains, Hamilton, The Backstreet Boys and more.
Moving on from that, and more groups of people have been getting together to entertain us:
- The Couch Choir have performed an epic version of All These Things That I’ve Done by The Killers.
- The Ida Girls have produced a beautiful Les Misérables medley called Stars, which is available on Apple Music in support of the charity Help Musicians.
- A big group of stars have got together to perform the very catchy version of Sweet Home Chicago to raise money for the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund.
And as for other performers, you may also like to check out:
- Samara Ginsberg – Super Mario Bros for 3 Cellos & Egg Shaker – A very cool version of this classic theme tune.
- Sheryl Crow – All You Need Is Love – A beautiful cover where she plays an impressive variety of different instruments, accompanied by her dad Wendell Crow on the trumpet. She recorded it for Ringo Starr’s 80th Big Birthday Charity Show in July, to raise money for The Lotus Foundation, which you can read more about and donate to on his website.
- The Scaffold – Thank U Very Much For The NHS – The band published this wonderful reworking of their classic hit in honour of our healthcare workers in April, to raise money for NHS Charities Together, but I’ve only just discovered it. You can download it here.
The Rolling Stones are also quite busy at the moment. Recently they announced a deluxe version of Goats Head Soup on September 4th, which you can pre-order. It’ll contain 3 unreleased tracks, the first being Criss Cross, which they posted a few weeks ago. And now they’ve shared a second track called Scarlet, on which they’re joined by the mighty Jimmy Page, plus the story behind it. And it’s another great song. The official video is being released on 6 August at 7pm.
On top of that, they’ve also announced the upcoming release of Steel Wheels Live in various formats, of which I’ll probably get the 6-disc set as it has exclusive bonus concerts not available in the other sets.
But I have to finish with the mightiest band of all, Queen, as there are a quite a few things to mention, including something special that I’m doing.
- Roger Taylor has posted the official video for his lovely new song Isolation, which you can download here.
- Brian and Roger both celebrated their birthdays during July, just a week apart, while Queen’s album The Game is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. So to mark all of those milestones, Tyler Warren & Neil Fairclough recorded great cover versions of Sail Away Sweet Sister & Rock It (Prime Jive), written by Brian and Roger respectively for The Game.
- River City star Tom Urie has posted an amazing rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, stitching together lots of separately recorded clips where he sings all the vocals and electric guitar parts himself, while playing the piano and acoustic guitar wonderfully too. It was even shared by Brian May, who was very impressed.
- The movie Flash Gordon is also celebrating its 40th anniversary, so a special collector’s edition is being released on 10 August. I’ve never seen the film, so I won’t be buying it, but there’s a huge amount of extra material in there if you are a fan.
Perhaps most importantly though, Queen are preparing to celebrate their 50th anniversary next year, as John Deacon completed the line-up when he joined on 1st March 1971. The name Queen had already been established the previous year though, when they had a different bass player, so technically you could argue the 50th has already begun.
So to honour the fact that my favourite band are hitting such an important milestone, and because it’s going to keep me very occupied until we return to normal, I’m taking a deep dive into their back catalogue to explore it thoroughly. And to begin with I’m going through each of their studio albums, giving my opinions on each track as well as digging out the many alternate versions, multitracks, music videos, live performances and cover versions that are out there. Although I know a lot of what’s out there, being such a big fan, I’m still discovering all sorts of wonderful delights by doing this series, and I hope you will too!
Each post is really long, inevitably, so you’ll probably find it best to read them in sections. There’s a clickable list of tracks near the start of each post, so you can jump to the songs that take your interest.
I’ve already published the first post, about Queen’s self-titled debut album, so do feel free to check that out, and my review of Queen II will be published very soon. On average I’m hoping to post a new album review every 3 or 4 weeks, but we’ll see how it goes. It depends how much I have to cover each time.
And that’s it, that brings me up to date very nicely. I hope you enjoyed reading it and found items of interest to you. I’m going to return to monthly favourites posts now, to reflect the fact that things are returning to some sort of normality.
But never fear, because there will be other posts to keep you occupied in the meantime. As well as the Queen posts mentioned above, you may also have noticed that I’m posting a weekly Throwback Thursday series, sharing entries from my old journals, starting in 2002 with a diary I kept on an old social media site while at university. I’m finding some lovely memories in there as I go through it, and I’ve been getting good feedback on the posts already. I think it’s a lovely bit of escapism, looking back at more normal times, plus it gives you an insight into my history long before this blog started.
So I hope you enjoy reading those other posts, and thank you for making it through this one as well. Please stay safe, taking care of yourselves and thinking of others, while enjoying summer as best as the rules allow. And I’ll see you for another Favourites post next month!