Hello again. Hope you’re all keeping well and have been enjoying the summer safely. Thank you for the many birthday wishes too, they were much appreciated. I went out to celebrate the occasion, and bought a few things to treat myself, which I’ll mention during this post.
Apart from that, I’ve been out for a few walks, and have continued to keep myself occupied and entertained in various ways at home. So as always there’s plenty to mention for the month in this latest post and video, none of which is sponsored or gifted. I hope you enjoy!
I went out for a meal with my friend James in a local Wetherspoon pub to mark my birthday – the first time I’ve met any of my mates or used the Tube in 5½ months, so it did feel quite special. It was lovely to catch up with him, and everything was done safely of course, following the rules. The Wetherspoon app still needs a bit of work on the accessibility front though, as you get limited or no room to scroll through certain options if you have your text size set too large. But we got there in the end.
We were also taking advantage of the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, where you could get 50% off meals out on Mondays to Wednesdays during the month (up to a maximum of £10 discount and excluding alcohol), so we saved a decent amount on our delicious steak and chips. Some restaurants are going to continue the scheme in a similar fashion during September, including many in London, funding it out of their own pockets instead of using government money. So they’re worth looking out for.
I’ve also continued to take a few walks around my local area. To keep things a bit interesting and varied, I’ve begun using the Strava app to record my routes, and I’m syncing it with a free website called CityStrides, which combines it all into one map. This means I can see which streets I’ve already walked down, and therefore do different roads on later outings. I’ve tried a couple of other sites that do similar things, but they haven’t been pulling in all my data correctly.
Strava also do a personal heatmap showing everywhere you’ve been, if you sign up for their Subscription service – but only for a few selected activities like running or cycling. They don’t have the option to generate a heatmap for walks, even though you can select Walk as the type of exercise when you’re out and about, and they therefore have the data about the routes you’ve walked on. I can see there have been many requests to add the feature, but they haven’t done so, which is a shame. And I don’t want to falsely label my walks as runs.
So CityStrides has been the best option so far, as it’s captured all of my routes and they show up in good contrast on the map, plus it’s free (though you can pay for some extra functionality too). The lines don’t snap to the streets exactly, as the iPhone’s GPS tracking isn’t perfect, but they’re close enough for me to see where I’ve been at a glance. I’ve found that it’s good at encouraging me to walk a little bit further, just to complete an extra few streets to fill out the map before I come home. And it’ll be interesting to see how much of my local area and other parts of London I can complete over time. So far I’ve done just 69 streets in Newham (3.95% of the 1745 streets in the borough), so I have a long way to go!
I couldn’t go out as much as I’d hoped though, as I had a bout of cellulitis caused by an insect bite on my foot, which happened at exactly the same time as last year. Thankfully it wasn’t quite so severe (although it was still nasty), and it cleared up in a couple of weeks with the help of antibiotics and steroid cream. But next summer I’m going to have to see if I can do something to deter mosquitos from the house, as they seem to be the most likely culprits.
Despite that setback, however, I’m pleased that I’ve been able to get out and about a little bit more overall, and start meeting up with people again, and I hope to continue doing that in the weeks ahead.
Covid Test Invitation
Staying on the health front, and I’ve tried not to talk about the dreaded C-word very much in my posts, as it’s not a very cheerful subject. However, there are a few related things I want o mention this month.
I was randomly selected from the list of NHS GP patients to take a home swab test, which is picked up by a courier and taken to a lab. This is a test to see if I currently have the virus – it’s not an antibody test to tell me if I’ve had it in the past. While my chances of having the disease are extremely small, my recent outings mean that the possibility is there. And as it’s my first time taking any kind of Covid test, I figured it would be interesting from the perspectives of curiosity and accessibility. It’s perfectly safe to do as well, contrary to the inevitable conspiracy theories that claim otherwise.
If you can’t see very well, then it’s safe to say you’ll need someone to help you. I didn’t have assistance available, otherwise I would have used it, as it is fiddly. Certainly if I felt I had symptoms, I would want a nurse to do the test on me instead, to be sure of an accurate result. But I was happy to do it myself on this occasion as a form of practice run and research, given that I believe my chances of having the virus are extremely low right now, and hopefully I got enough material for the lab to do a reasonable analysis.
I was able to read the instructions and I watched the video demonstration, which I found really helpful. The actual act of swabbing my throat and nose was a little uncomfortable, as expected, and I have no way of knowing if I swabbed exactly the right spots or if the swab inadvertently touched something it shouldn’t have. But I did what I could. The other tricky aspect I found was folding the box together to return it in, as the diagram on the box itself isn’t at all clear. It was only when I found someone else’s video about how to assemble the box that I was able to figure it out. But I got it done and the courier picked it up, so I just have to wait for the result now.
September 7 Update – I got the result 6 days after doing the test. It was negative.
The fact that I live in the London borough of Newham also means that I’m eligible to take part in the trial for the new NHS Test & Trace App (along with residents of the Isle Of Wight and NHS volunteers elsewhere in the UK), and we’ve received our unique codes in the post to sign up. So I was really looking forward to downloading and reviewing something that has the potential to be really important in the fight against this irritating invader that has disrupted everyone’s lives this year.
Unfortunately, it’s out of my reach. It will only work on operating systems that are at least version 13.5 on iPhones, or version 6 (Marshmallow) on Android devices – and I have an iPhone 6, which Apple have stopped upgrading beyond iOS 12 (unlike the iPhone 6S, 6S Plus & SE, which can get iOS 13). And I know from social media comments that I’m not the only person in that position. So that’s quite disappointing. But hopefully there are enough people in the area who can run the app to make it worthwhile.
However, there is another app that I have been using throughout lockdown, which means I’m able to do my bit in some way. It’s the Covid Symptom Study App, which has been downloaded by over 4 million people already, and I strongly encourage you to get it as well. The data being collated is giving the researchers a really important insight into the health of the population and any viral hotspots that are springing up. And now we’re attempting to resume some kind of normal life, this information is more critical than ever.
All you have to do is open the app every day and answer a couple of very quick questions – do you feel physically healthy, and have you had a Covid test? That’s it, and it only takes a minute. If you say that you don’t feel well, or that you’ve had a test, then you’ll be asked a few additional questions about your symptoms or rest results. Once a week you’ll also be asked a few questions about your time spent outside the home, and every so often they’ll throw in one or two additional questions about you as well. You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to. You can also report for other people in your household as well as yourself, so I complete it for Mum each day too.
I find it really easy to use, it’s responsive to the larger text settings on my phone, and it’s well worth doing. Scientific data is a vital weapon in the fight against the virus, so the more we can all contribute to it, the better.
Quite a few disability related bits and pieces have caught my attention over the past month.
Rising Phoenix is an excellent documentary on Netflix about the Paralympic Games, including interviews with Sir Philip Craven and Jonnie Peacock, along with many other Paralympians and people connected with the movement. It covers the origins of the Stoke Mandeville Games through to the success of the London 2012 event and the difficulties faced in Rio in 2016, and so much in between. And it’s really interesting to learn about the stories of many different Paralympians. It’s all stylishly edited and very interesting, and the audio description is done really well too. So definitely very highly recommended. Check out the RNIB Connect interview with producer Greg Nugent for more details.
From sport to other forms of entertainment, and the theatre and concert industries are having to make a lot of understandably tough decisions at the moment. But this has led to widespread concern amongst the disabled community that accessibility will become an even lower priority than it already was, as discussed in these interesting articles this month:
- Shona Louise – Don’t Forget Us: Disabled people’s thoughts on returning to theatre
- NME – Normal Wasn’t Good Enough: Why gig-going needs to change after lockdown
And on that note it’s well worth re-sharing these articles from VocalEyes too, that were published a few months ago, and which I helped contribute to:
- Will it be worth it? The re-opening barriers facing visually impaired people
- Online culture for blind and visually impaired people after the pandemic
In addition, do check out the latest edition of The Interval newsletter by VocalEyes, for details on a new survey for audio described theatre users, and a selection of online audio described content that you might enjoy.
Another hot topic that has come to the fore again is pavement parking, which is a persistent nuisance and very dangerous for people who are blind and visually impaired, people in wheelchairs, the elderly, parents with pushchairs, and so on. If this is an issue that you feel strongly about, then please:
- Respond to the Government’s new consultation on the issue, and
- Sign the Living Streets petition to outlaw and enforce it properly.
You can also read the article in the Guardian about the consultation, and watch the Guide Dogs video to understand why it’s a problem. This is your chance to make your voice heard, if you wish it to be, so don’t miss out.
And talking of transport, I was among those consulted for a recently published study into the journey experience of visually impaired people on public transport in London by Renna Low. This is a study that took place before the pandemic. The paper itself is behind a paywall, which you’re very welcome to spend on if you wish, but the abstract gives you a sense of what it’s about. It was great to chat to Renna about it and I’m glad my feedback was useful.
And that’s not the only place where I’ve made my mark recently, as I’ve also had the honour of being included in two lists of disabled bloggers this month:
- BBC Ouch – Guide to the Disabled Blogosphere (under the General category)
- Feedspot – Top 25 Visually Impaired Blogs and Websites To Follow in 2020 (#16)
Thank you to BBC Ouch and Feedspot for including me amongst so many prestigious names! And if anyone’s found me via those lists – hello and welcome! 🙂
This month I found a Youtube video of the Madness musical Our House, which I’d never seen before. I was prompted to look for it as a result of my old journal entries I’ve been posting each week, where I mentioned the soundtrack album (basically a Madness Greatest Hits album with 2 new songs). It’s probably not supposed to be online as it’s not an official theatre channel, so at some point that link will stop working, but it’s a good quality upload of the old DVD release, which is no longer available to buy unless you get it second-hand.
And it’s a great show. The story focuses on a 16-year-old boy from Camden called Joe Casey. He’s on the verge of starting a wonderful relationship on his birthday, with a beautiful girl named Sarah, but makes a risky decision that has serious consequences. From here the play follows two parallel storylines, each showing the outcomes depending on the path Joe chooses to take. His dead father acts as a link between the two, trying to dissuade Joe from making the wrong choices and making things worse than they already are.
There’s lots of humour throughout, and some thoughtful, moving moments too, and of course the show is filled with the band’s biggest hits, all slotted in very nicely and brilliantly adapted for the stage. It’s a very entertaining couple of hours.
I finally finished my Blu-ray box set of The X-Files, 7 months after starting the first series. Granted, I had a short break about halfway through lockdown, so it probably took around 5 months overall, but it’s still a while! I’ve really enjoyed going through them all, there’s such a great variety of storylines, characters, action, drama and humour.
It’s at its best during the first 5 seasons in particular, and then later hits a low point in seasons 8 & 9 when Mulder has little to no involvement and they’re clearly struggling for ideas a bit. But even then there was enough going on to keep me interested. And it was great to see Mulder back properly in seasons 10 & 11. Although those mini-series didn’t quite match the brilliance of the show’s heyday, they were still fun episodes with some exciting moments and plot twists. The movies were also good too, and it was great to see Billy Connolly in the second film as well.
So I’m very happy with it all. The series hits some bumps in the road in its later years, and over such a long run there are naturally some episodes that fall flat, but it’s well worth sticking with to the end. And there are lots of extra features too. I haven’t listened to the audio commentaries, as the ones I tried were a bit dull, but I enjoyed the documentaries, deleted scenes, special effects breakdowns, gag reels and other goodies that were packed into the discs.
I also watched the spin-off series for The Lone Gunmen, which I found on Youtube. They’re great characters in the main series, being very funny as well as very clever, and their own show does have amusing moments too. It’s also a scary coincidence how the pilot episode bore similarities with 9/11, considering it was broadcast 6 months before the real-life terror attack.
But ultimately I didn’t get into the show much. It didn’t work quite as well for me, and new character Jimmy Bond just became irritating rather than funny. I’m glad I tried it though. I also know there’s also another very different spin-off called Millennium, but that’s not available online, and from the synopsis I don’t think it would particularly interest me anyway, so I’m not bothered about that. I’m quite happy sticking with The X-Files itself, that suits me fine.
And talking of science fiction, I added the Blu-ray Steelbook edition of Doctor Who – Series 6 to my collection this month, as that was the latest release in that format, again with lovely artwork. That replaces the old Blu-ray version I had before.
There have been a few interesting shows recently looking back at classic TV series, featuring new interviews and insights from their original creators and cast members, and showing many classic clips.
My favourite was easily the celebration of The Fast Show on Gold, in a programme called Just A Load Of Blooming Catchphrases, along with a bonus episode called More Blooming Catchphrases with extra material. It was great to see the original cast back together again, and they revealed a lot of interesting details about how the various characters and sketches came about. They also resurrected their characters as well, to give interviews from their perspective, which was a nice touch with some amusing moments. And there were lots of funny clips from the original sketches too.
There was also a very touching tribute to the late Caroline Aherne, who sadly died of cancer at the age of 52 in 2016. The cast spoke very warmly about her, and they marked her absence with the character of Roy sitting on a sofa, looking at the empty space next to him where his wife Renée, played by Caroline, would have been. Silent, simple and effective.
To accompany the documentary there was a very interesting Q&A by the British Film Institute online, featuring nearly all of the surviving cast. That was also funny and interesting, and they did hint that the series could return as a live show, and that Charlie and Paul are working on something new that might bring the team back together in some form. So it’ll be interesting to see if we get anything more from them in the future.
Over on the Dave channel, meanwhile, there was a 3-part Red Dwarf documentary entitled The First 3 Million Years, narrated by David Tennant, and featuring Doug Naylor and all the key cast members. It was an interesting and fun overview of the show’s history. We didn’t learn anything majorly new, as the documentaries and other extra features on the DVDs are already very comprehensive. But there were some nice little tidbits, it was fun to see some classic clips from the series, and it’s great that they’re still keen to make more.
I also saw the Red Dwarf Comic-Con At Home Panel on Youtube, which was an interesting Q&A to mark the release of the Promised Land special on BritBox, with lots of banter between Doug and the cast. And after watching that I found other great panel Q&As recorded this year for The Simpsons (who even got some fans involved towards the end) & Family Guy (including a live read-through of one of their scripts), and a 2019 WonderCon panel featuring the writers of The Big Bang Theory discussing the final season. They were all very entertaining discussions, and there are plenty more for other shows on the Comic-Con Youtube channel if you want to look through them.
And over on Channel 4 I enjoyed the documentary looking back at 20 years of Derren Brown’s TV shows. It was a really nice insight into his work, and there were lots of great clips from his many tricks and stunts, plus we got to see some of the items from his shows that he still keeps at home. It’s scarily clever and quite fascinating what he can make people do.
There have been a few new series that I’ve been enjoying recently too:
It’s great to see Harry Hill back on the box with World Of TV on BBC2. Each week he focuses on a different genre of TV show, and examines it in detail using his wonderful observational humour. It’s a little bit like TV Burp in that respect. It’s not quite as good as his old ITV show, but it’s still pretty funny.
Diane Morgan also has a new show on BBC2 – a sitcom she’s written called Mandy, in which she plays the hapless title character, who makes a disaster out of everything she tries to do. I wouldn’t say it’s anything special or amazing, but there are plenty of fun moments, and as the 6 episodes are only 15 minutes long, it’s easy to get through them quickly. There are some pretty good guest stars too, including Michael Spicer, Sean Lock, David Bradley & Natalie Cassidy.
QI XL has finally begun showing the extended episodes from the R series of QI, months after the standard episodes were broadcast. I’d been avoiding the shorter versions because I enjoy these longer editions. Knowing the BBC they’ll probably spread them out with big gaps, so we don’t get them all in one go, but we’ll see what happens. Some of the episodes had to be filmed without an audience this year as well, for obvious reasons, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects them. I’m sure they’ll still be very funny and interesting though.
8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown had another short new series this month, which was fun as usual. It was filmed before the pandemic but held back for the summer – and the recording of one episode turned out to be rather prophetic, when Jon Richardson declared the word corona! Little did they know!
And coming soon, Michael McIntyre’s new standup special Showman, filmed at the London Palladium on 5th & 6th March this year, will be streaming on Netflix from September 15th. And Jonathan Ross’ Comedy Club starts on ITV on September 12th, featuring comedians such as the wonderful Bec Hill. So those shows could be worth keeping an eye out for.
And finally I have a selection of music to mention as always, starting with a few online videos that I’ve enjoyed:
- Outta My Hands is a catchy song from the new musical Sleepless, performed by Kimberley Walsh.
- Give Me Strength is a beautifully uplifting number performed by a group of young West End stars. It was written as part of Mousetrap Theatre’s Change Your Tune project last year, but in the current situation it’s very appropriate.
- Stomp have made a short but cool panoramic video showing off their skills, in which you can move the carousel of performers left and right at your leisure to see everyone in action.
- And Samara Ginsberg continues her cello renditions of classic children’s TV themes with Duck Tales.
A couple of my favourite rock bands have also been posting exclusive content recently.
The Rolling Stones continued to plug the deluxe re-release of their Goats Head Soup album, which came out on September 4th, with a fresh remix of one of the unreleased tracks. Scarlet [The Killers & Jacques Lu Cont Remix] will be exclusively available on the digital edition of the album. It’s a pretty good mix too. The whole album sounds great as well, but I’ll say more about it in my September Favourites.
The Who have been generously posting footage of live performances for free on their channel, in a series called Join Together At Home. It’s the kind of thing I already have on their DVDs and Blu-rays anyway, but it’s well worth a watch if you like the band. And the last video they’ve posted is actually of some previously unreleased footage that nobody has seen before (not even Roger Daltrey himself), from a 2006 performance at Locarno in Switezrland, so be sure to catch it quickly on their channel before it expires this coming week. It’s all for a good cause too, raising awareness and vital funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust. So do keep an eye on their channel to see what they publish next.
Birthday Music Treats
For my birthday this month I’ve focused on two other bands to treat myself.
Firstly, I bought The Beatles Anthology, which is an extremely comprehensive documentary series from 1995 about their career. The story is told by the band members themselves, and others like George Martin who were closely involved with them. It’s really interesting and there’s a lot of interesting footage, including many of their performances presented in full, not just short clips.
I’ve downloaded the albums that go with it as well, containing lots of rare material that had never been released before, plus the lovely new songs Free As A Bird and Real Love. I’ve been wanting to get the documentary and albums for a while, and my trip to Liverpool last year made it all the more tempting, so it was the natural choice to splash out on them at last this year.
And while getting that, I also decided to buy the Concert For George on Blu-ray. As the name suggests, this is a tribute concert for George Harrison, which took place at the Royal Albert Hall on the first anniversary of his death. It was organised by his widow Olivia and son Dhani, and arranged by Eric Clapton. and it’s fantastic.
The first section contains Indian music with Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka, which made perfect sense, although it wasn’t of interest to me personally. But then there’s a very funny section with 2 songs by Monty Python, before the main part of the concert kicks in, with lots of George’s music performed by Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Gary Brooker, Joe Brown, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston and Jim Keltner, plus Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr of course. That’s an incredible line-up of talent, so it should come as no surprise that it’s a brilliant show with a great selection of songs.
But naturally I also had to indulge myself in some goodies from my favourite band of all time, Queen. It was also Freddie Mercury’s birthday on September 5th, so Happy Birthday Freddie!
If you’ve been following my blog over the last couple of months, you’ll have seen that I’ve started celebrating their upcoming 50th anniversary by posting extremely in-depth reviews of their debut album and Queen II, giving my thoughts on each of the tracks as well as exploring alternate versions, live performances, covers, and so on. I’m aiming to post one review per month in this way, so the next album will be posted soon.
As I’ve already got their music, therefore, I bought myself some nice things to wear instead, mostly from their online store except for one item. I haven’t received everything yet, but the items I’ve got so far look really nice and feel very comfortable:
- Brian May Guitars Mask (makes a nice change from just a plain face covering, and it’s washable so it can be reused)
- Gold Crest On French Blue Super Soft Unisex T-Shirt
- The Game T-Shirt
- Made In Heaven T-Shirt (from Amazon)
Part of my shop was also a pre-order for October. Queen + Adam Lambert have announced their very first album, a compilation of highlights from their tours called Live Around The World. It will be released on CD, DVD & Blu-ray on October 2nd, and I’ve ordered the Blu-ray, CD & T-shirt bundle.
It took me a while to warm to Adam when he started working with the band, but he has grown on me, as his performances have got better and it’s clear that he’s not trying to be Freddie, as nobody can possibly match him. So although he isn’t on the same level as the late great Mr Mercury (and nobody could be), I’m still really looking forward to this release, and I will of course review it once I get it. The band have posted a great performance of the The Show Must Go On to give us a taste of what’s in store.
And that’s it for another month, quite a lot packed in there! I hope you enjoyed that and found it interesting. I’ll be back for another catch-up next month as usual, but in the meantime don’t forget to check out my weekly posts from my old journals, where I’m now up to 2003, and my latest in my Queen album review series when that drops later this month. And above all, please stay safe and keep well!