Hey there, hope your year’s got off to a good start so far. Apologies that it’s taken a while for me to do another Favourites update, but I’ve had other things keeping me busy over the past couple of months, as I’ll mention during this roundup. However, I have also been out and about as well, and I’ve enjoyed watching various things as usual.
So, as you’ll see from the contents list, there’s plenty to mention in this latest post and video. And none of it’s sponsored or gifted, except for the panto interview post I briefly refer to. I hope you enjoy looking through it all!
- Life Updates
- Meeting Emily
- Other Outings
There are three main things that I’ve been focused since the start of the year.
To begin with, as briefly noted writing my Christmas Favourites, Mum and I finally got Covid in early January, having somehow avoided it throughout the pandemic until then. It appears that Mum caught it when I took her for a routine appointment at our local GP surgery, as she came down with symptoms the very next day, and then my symptoms appeared a couple of days after that.
We are fully vaccinated though, which ensured that the illness ended up being similar to a bad cold. Mum was worse than me, especially on her first night when she was completely drained of energy and couldn’t focus on what she was doing. That was undoubtedly thanks to her immune system pooling all her body’s resources to fight the invader, based on everything it had learned from the vaccines, and getting a good sleep really helped her. We then both steadily improved day by day, until within a week we were feeling pretty much back to normal and testing negative, and we just had lingering sniffles and tickly throats for a further week after that.
So we got through it without any major issues, thankfully. But I am still being a bit careful when out and about, as the virus is still out there. And we’ll continue to get any further vaccinations that we’re offered, including the new spring booster that Mum will be able to have. Clearly the vaccines really helped us, as they have done for many people I know and millions more besides, so we have no qualms whatsoever about continuing to have them.
Following my redundancy last year, I’m delighted to say that I’m now a support worker for Emily Davison (aka Fashioneyesta), funded by the government’s Access To Work scheme.
Emily has landed her dream job as a journalist, having become a trainee reporter for News Shopper. And because she’s registered blind, my role is to help gather, convert and summarise information for her, so she can focus more on writing articles, taking photos, recording videos, conducting interviews, doing more focused research and analysis, producing social media content, studying for a journalism diploma, and so on.
We’ve been good friends ever since I moved to London, after I had helped to add subtitles to some of her Youtube videos. So when she was looking for someone she got on well with and trusted in order to help with her new job, and knowing that I had become unemployed, she very generously approached me in November last year. So we agreed the details and my hourly rate with Access To Work, I registered as self-employed with HMRC, and we started working together in January.
And so far it’s been going very well. I’m finding the job and her diploma course very interesting, it’s great to work alongside a good friend, and Emily’s very happy with what I’ve been doing. Plus I finally received my first month’s payment on 17th March, 4½ weeks after we sent the claim forms and my invoice to the DWP, as I had to wait for my bank details to be added to their system. That’s given Emily and I peace of mind that everything’s sorted at long last, and hopefully future payments will be quicker. We’ll soon see!
I’ve written a lengthy blog post talking about it in detail, so do go and check that out if you want to know more. We’ve also been socialising outside of working hours as well, as I’ll mention further below and in future posts.
It may look like I’ve been quiet here since my Christmas Favourites, until my recent Super Power Panto interview (which is an ad about an exciting new accessible production) and the details of my new job. But actually I’ve been doing quite a lot on here over the past few months. It just won’t have been obvious unless you’re someone who roots around in my old content a lot. I’ve basically been rearranging and reformatting things, so that my old stuff is a bit more accessible than it used to be.
In particular, after I finished sharing my journal entries from 2002-2016 late last year, I had a fresh look at my content from 2017. That was my first year living in London, so it naturally took me a while to settle into the city life and to get in the habit of blogging about it. As a result my posts were very random to begin with, often with very little detail about what I was doing, and there were some things I didn’t write about at all. I got better at it as the year progressed, but it was only in 2018 that I got into a monthly Favourites format.
So, to make things more consistent, I’ve now gone back and written proper Favourites posts for 2017, using information from my old posts along with previously unseen details from my private journals and some photos I haven’t shared before. They won’t have appeared as new posts here or on social media, because I simply overwrote posts that already existed, and deleted others that were no longer required as a result. Plus I updated any relevant links in other posts and my index pages that pointed back to my 2017 material.
So if you want to look back through my first year in London, feel free to look at my posts for January, February, March-April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November & Christmas, and I hope you enjoy doing so!
The other big thing I’ve done is I’ve added anchor points (i.e. bookmarks) throughout a lot of my posts. That’s enabled me to do two things that I’ve been wanting to sort out for ages, which should help you (and me) to find things more easily:
- I’ve added contents lists at the top of all my Favourites posts, and many others as well, so you can see the topics and headings at a glance, and click the links to jump to any sections that interest you.
- If you click on links in my posts or index pages that point to other posts on my blog, you’ll now be sent automatically to the relevant section of the post where appropriate.
And beyond all that, I’ve also done some other editing and reformatting here and there to tidy things up a bit, and I’ve made sure the links on my index pages are up to date. And for the techy nerds reading this, a lot of these changes have come about because over the past year I’ve finally got comfortable with the block editor in WordPress. I resisted it for a long time as it was too frustrating to use, but it seems to have improved over time. It still has irritating little quirks here and there, but it’s a lot better than it was.
All of which means I now consider my old posts locked off, as I have no intention of editing them any further, unless there’s a major need to do so or I happen to spot something by chance I can fix quickly. After all, it is accepted by blogging audiences that older posts are more likely to have invalid links, out of date information and occasional typos. That’s just the nature of this medium (although I will still check over my index pages every so often of course, as they do need to be kept up to date).
So I didn’t have to update my old posts in the first place necessarily, but these were adjustments I had wanted to do for a long time, and I know a lot of people like to look at my old stuff, so I decided to tidy things up while I had the time. It now means that things are more consistent and it’s easier to find things, so it was worth doing. And it now means I can focus purely on writing new content again.
I’ve met up with my friend and new boss Emily Davison (and her adorable guide dog Rosie) a couple of times over the past 2 months, and we’ll continue getting together every so often as our working partnership goes on.
Natural History Museum
In January Emily and I spent a good 5 hours exploring the Natural History Museum, which is always an amazing place. One particular highlight was when a volunteer in the Mammals gallery gave us the opportunity to feel the skeleton of a dolphin’s head as they spoke to us about it, so that was very interesting. The massive Hintze Hall that you enter when you arrive captured our attention for quite a while too, as it has done on some of my previous visits, because there’s so much to admire in that space alone, including on the upper levels. Emily had me taking some photos of her there, as it made for a beautiful backdrop. I’m not an expert photographer like her, but with her guidance and by taking plenty of shots, she was able to dig out the best images, and used one in her Instagram post about the visit.
After leaving the Natural History Museum, Emily and I then decided to mark Chinese New Year by getting the Tube over to Chinatown and having a lovely meal at San Chiu Dim (which is facing you at the end of Leicester Place where the Prince Charles Cinema is). So I enjoyed having chicken wings for starters, followed by sweet and sour pork with shredded chicken rice, while Emily had satay chicken followed by a crab dish with jasmine rice.
She then took me a few doors down the street to introduce me to bubble waffles, which I’d never heard of before. I had a bubble waffle cone with matcha ice cream, whipped cream and Kit Kat chunks in it, which was very nice, while Emily opted for a cocoa base with hazelnut ice cream, Nutella and strawberries.
She also filmed a short clip for Instagram, showing us enjoying our desserts as she announced my new role as her support worker. It was clear that my new boss was already teaching me fun new things, and I look forward to more of that, as she’s a lot more experienced with food and culture than me!
Museum Of London Docklands: Executions
In February Emily and I paid a visit to the Museum Of London Docklands. It was the first time I had visited there since my audio described tour of Sailortown in 2017, so it was great to finally go back for more of a look around. And the staff who greeted us at the entrance were very friendly and helpful.
We were there to explore their Executions exhibition, which is running until 16 April. It’s really interesting, and was much bigger than we’d expected, looking at the various methods of execution that were used in London, the locations they took place, the preparations for them, the parades and spectacles that surrounded such macabre events, the pleas for reprieves, people’s final letters, and the eventual abolition of slavery, amongst other things.
There’s also a Smartify audio guide that you can access on your phone, either via the website or using QR codes in the gallery, which discusses one object in each area in detail. So we enjoyed listening to that as we made our way through, and I found the large print guide they supplied useful too.
After we’d finished with that exhibition we then went up to the top floor – which is where you’re meant to start if you want to explore the museum chronologically – and had a little look around there, before coming down to the second floor, where we were able to catch a very interesting talk about the history of the British whaling industry. So all in all we had a very enjoyable and educational visit.
The Real Greek
After leaving the Museum Of London Docklands, Emily and I took a Thames Clipper from Canary Wharf Pier to London Bridge, which was a very pleasant ride. And then we walked along the South Bank towards Tower Bridge, where I took some photos of Emily with the iconic landmark in the background for an Instagram post.
We then went into a restaurant called The Real Greek just by the bridge, as Emily had a Groupon deal for 2 people to share 10 items between them for £25.95. And as that had already been paid in advance, we just had to pay for the drinks separately on the day.
The deal meant we got crudités and flatbreads as mandatory items, and then there were 4 other sections on the menu from which we had to pick 2 items from each. So we chose hummus, spicy feta dip, chips, saffron rice, lamb meatballs, chicken skewers, baklava, and portokallo pita with ice cream. I had never had Greek food before, but it was pretty good – not something I’d want to have regularly, but it was perfectly nice for an occasional outing like this, and it filled us up nicely. And Emily has ideas for other foods she wants me to try on our future get-togethers, which I’m looking forward to as she has good taste!
I’ve also met other friends and been out for walks by myself since the start of the year too.
Aniridia Network Meetup
To mark Rare Disease Day in February, the Aniridia Network held a couple of meetups for people with the condition. They’re always a great opportunity to meet others with aniridia. So I went to the meetup in Westfield Stratford City with my friend James, and we were joined by a lovely group of people for lunch, with a mixture of adults and children. It was a fun few hours altogether.
London Zoo: Monkey Valley
I used my membership card to visit London Zoo at the end of January, and had a nice afternoon looking around. There weren’t lots of animals wandering about given the time of year, but I saw the alpacas, camels, squirrel monkeys, butterflies, a pelican and some other birds.
My main reason for visiting, however, was their new Monkey Valley, which is in the former Snowden Aviary. It’s in the area of the zoo that’s on the other side of the main road, that you get to via a tunnel, and houses a group of colobus monkeys.
The footbridge that takes you over the canal to the monkey habitat has a large print and tactile map to give you a sense of how it’s laid out. And, as marked on that map, there are 4 audio description points around Monkey Valley, which you can access via the website or by scanning QR codes (on signs that have large print and braille).
It’s recommended that you use headphones to listen to the descriptions, as I did, so as not to disturb the animals (especially as one of them contains monkey sounds). And they were all interesting:
- Track 1 tells you about the architecture of the aviary, and describes some related objects you can touch on the footbridge, including a model of the structure.
- Track 2 talks about the walkthrough. This is a special pathway you can take through the aviary, led in small groups by a guide, where the monkeys can move around close to you. Sometimes it’s shut to let the monkeys rest in their Colobus House, which unfortunately was the case when I was there, but the description was still nice to listen to.
- Track 3 describes a statue of a colobus monkey family, which you can get up close to and touch, and the track also demonstrates some of the sounds that the monkeys make.
- Track 4 is about the big Colobus House building that the monkeys rest inside, and I was able to see a few of them through the huge windows.
So, while I need to go back again at some point to experience the walkthrough, I enjoyed seeing Monkey Valley for the first time. It’s wonderful that they’ve made it accessible with the tactile map, audio description tracks and touch objects.
I’ve also been for various walks recently, including a nice stroll around Regent’s Park with my friend Claire, and general wanders around Pall Mall, Soho and Mayfair. Along the way, as shared in a couple of posts on my Instagram, I saw:
- A few garden spaces in Mayfair – namely Grosvenor Square, Berkeley Square Gardens, and the easy to miss Brown Hart Gardens that are accessed up some stairs.
- Bronze sculptures of fashion photographer Terence Donovan taking snaps of model Twiggy, which are situated in Bourdon Place.
I’ve watched a couple of major dramas over the past couple of months, neither of which I’m going to say a lot about as I don’t want to give any spoilers. But they’re well worth a watch.
I’ve finally caught up with Stranger Things on Netflix, having rewatched the first 3 seasons again before going through the new 4th season from last year.
This is a science fiction series by the Duffer Brothers about a small town called Hawkins in America, that finds itself connected to a scary parallel universe called the Upside Down, after a portal is opened up in a local laboratory. A lot of the action centres around a group of children, and a young girl with telepathic powers they meet called Eleven (and she has a fascinating story arc across the seasons). But, as the episodes progress, their families, a few school mates and a local police offer get increasingly involved as they discover the truth and find themselves in ever more danger.
So it’s very good, with lots of drama, action, humour, etc. It’s not without its flaws, sure – some of the episodes are too long and could easily have scenes cut out to tighten things up (especially in Season 4), there are a few instances where characters make decisions that are clearly stupid and dangerous, there are one or two characters who feel like they’re just shoehorned in as a plot device before they disappear again, and there some plot holes. But, nevertheless, the overall experience makes up for things like that, it’s very entertaining.
I also like the fact that the series is set in the 80s, meaning there’s some great music in the soundtrack and other nostalgic details from the period. There’s also a very atmospheric theme tune and original score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein from an electronic band called Survive. And the audio description by Tansy Alexander is really helpful and well delivered.
Shooting is due to begin on the 5th and final season in a few months’ time, so it’ll be a while before we see it online, but at least we know it’s on the way. There’s also a series called Beyond Stranger Things on Netflix where the cast and crew are interviewed about Season 2, but it’s not particularly exciting. There are occasional nice insights into the making of the series, but a lot of it is just people saying how much they love being on the show and how great everyone else is. And there are other extensions to the franchise including books, games, podcasts and a future anime series, but I don’t have any interest in those.
I am, however, intrigued by the new play coming out in the West End, which will serve as a prequel, called Stranger Things: The First Shadow. Here’s hoping they put on audio described performances, because it should be really interesting to go and see that.
The third and final season of crime drama Happy Valley was the talk of social media at the start of the year, with many people raving about it, as the long 7-year wait since Series 2 had apparently been worthwhile. And my best mate Simon also recommended it, having been told about it by one of his colleagues. So I decided to check it out on BBC iPlayer to see what all the fuss was about, and it is very good.
It stars Sarah Lancashire as police sergeant Catherine Cawood, a strong woman who is excellent at her job and takes no nonsense from anyone, yet is also vulnerable as a result of traumatic events that have led to her having a complicated personal life. And that trauma is reawakened when the man responsible is released from prison and happens to be involved with a case that Catherine is investigating. Each wants revenge against the other, to see that justice is delivered, in their own particular way. So while there are other storylines in the show as well, Catherine’s situation lies at the heart of it, and the other strands all link into it in some way.
It’s all very nicely written and acted, with well-rounded characters, plenty of drama, emotion and tension, a few very dark moments and some unexpected twists. And with cliffhangers at the end of each episode – including occasional instances where the music over the credits (Trouble Town by Jake Bugg) is stripped out for extra impact – it’s very adept at making you want to tune into the next instalment. The audio description was also very useful too. So I’m glad I watched it. I’m not going to buy the DVDs, as I don’t need to see it again any time soon, but it was well worth looking it up.
Sarah Millican: Bobby Dazzler
Last year I very much enjoyed seeing Sarah Millican at the Hammersmith Apollo, and now a recording of the same Bobby Dazzler show filmed in Dartford is available to buy on her website, where you can stream it for a year or download it to keep forever. That was meant to be the only way you could watch it, but due to popular demand a DVD is also being released in April, in a limited run.
So, for a one-off payment of £10 on her website, you get 3 videos. Subtitles are available for both the streams and downloads (provided as SRT files in the latter case to go with the MP4 files). The videos are as follows:
- Bobby Dazzler (1 hour 21 minutes) – This was filmed at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford, and is very funny. As well as explaining the show’s title, Sarah Millican talks about a variety of subjects including birthdays, bad compliments, eye tests, dentists, birthday parties, yoga, Couch To 5K, aromatherapy, online grocery shopping, chores, sleeping naked, pyjama slogans, falling over, the 7 signs of ageing, Madonna, sanitary towels, periods, pre-sex routines, smear tests, mammograms, dieting, pretending to play a recorder, having IBS, and cutting off the top of her finger. She also asks the audience about what they did during moments of madness during the pandemic, with responses including a baby, an engagement, a divorce, a lightsaber, a hot tub, and big poos!
- Interview (21 minutes) – Here Sarah is interviewed by Mickey Noonan, who runs the Standard Issue podcast, with some questions from Mickey herself and others from Sarah’s fans. They talk about how Sarah’s act has changed over the years, topics she would avoid on stage, the best audience responses to questions, using comedy to cope with tragedy, life lessons from doing stand-up, Linda Smith, honking, potatoes, snacks, pets, Muppets, school and superpowers. So it’s quite fun and interesting, they pack plenty into their discussion.
- Guide for Americans (5 minutes) – Sarah performed in the US for the first time on this tour, and therefore had to adapt her script by changing some names and phrases that wouldn’t have made sense over there. So as the video special is from her British tour, in this extra feature she goes through the various translations for the benefit of her fans across the pond. It’s interesting to see just how much she had to alter.
The upcoming DVD will include all of that content, along with a 4-minute extra scene from the interview about Sarah’s experience on Taskmaster, and a fleeting clip of Sarah explaining that she buys her dresses from a company called Zuri. Both of those clips are currently on Youtube, though it’s possible she could take them down when the DVD comes out.
And as a final bonus, because I was one of the first set of customers to buy the show on her website, I also received a signed postcard from Sarah through my letterbox, which was a lovely surprise!
Paul Zerdin: Hands Free
Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin has released a brand-new hour-long show called Hands Free on his Youtube channel for free, which is very generous of him. It was filmed at the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil and is pretty funny.
It features his usual puppets Sam, Douglas the roadkill urban fox, the baby, Roger the bodyguard and old man Albert, plus a couple from the audience are turned into human dummies as well. So there’s plenty to enjoy, including routines about Americans, nursery rhymes and a card trick with remote-controlled puppetry. And it’s all interspersed with clips of Paul using his skills on the streets to play fun little pranks on members of the public. Then for his finale on stage Paul talks to Albert, Sam and the baby all at once as Albert tries to do a crossword, which is a very impressive way to finish an enjoyable show.
As usual I’ve enjoyed watching new episodes of things like QI XL, The Last Leg, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Would I Lie To You? & Live At The Apollo. But apart from those I’ve also watched a few other bits and pieces.
- Michael McIntyre’s Big Show – After an understandable 3-year absence, this finally returned for a new series in January. As usual I’m not a fan of every single guest or performer he has, so there are bits I skip here and there. But on the whole I enjoy watching it. My favourite episode this series featured Chris Ramsey in the Midnight Gameshow, Jonathan Ross doing Send To All, and the legendary Nile Rodgers with Chic playing disco classics. And another memorable episode featured Stacey Dooley‘s problematic flip phone in Send To All and Alexander Armstrong‘s late night awakening. Meanwhile the Unexpected Stars are always deserving of their surprise performances, and it was very sweet to see an elderly blind lady amongst them. So it’s been an enjoyable series, and I will also try and catch Michael McIntyre on his upcoming stand-up tour if I can.
- Hancock’s Half Hour – Gold have produced colourised versions of the classic episodes Twelve Angry Men and The Blood Donor starring Tony Hancock, so Mum and I enjoyed watching those. We didn’t bother watching the documentary about him though, or any of the other black and white episodes that were available online. We’re not massive Hancock fans, but those are his best and most famous episodes, and it was interesting to see the colourisation, which was painstakingly done but works really well.
- Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em: A Celebration Of A Comedy Classic – This radio documentary celebrating the classic TV sitcom was originally broadcast on BBC Radio Solent to mark the show’s 40th anniversary in 2015, so we didn’t hear it at the time. But more recently it was repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra, so Mum and I got to listen to it then, and it’s a lovely tribute to the programme, with interesting details about how it was made.
And that’s it, I hope you enjoyed catching up on my first couple of months of the year. It’s a pleasure and a relief to be working again, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the year ahead has in store, including for my 40th birthday that I’m planning for in the summer. I hope you’ve had a good start to the year as well, and I’ll see you soon for my March Favourites!
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