“Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” – The Warner Brothers Studio Tour “The Making Of Harry Potter

The ‘Harry Potter’ series by J.K Rowling will always go down as a classic books series along with the likes of ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia’ by C.S Lewis and ‘Sherlock Holmes’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Back in August of this year, me, Guide Dog Blossom, my girlfriend, and family got the chance to go to the ‘Harry Potter Studio Tour’ in London. All have always been huge fans of the series, so we were all really looking forward to this immensely. This trip had been booked a few months before, which is highly recommended as the tickets will sell out really quickly.

Once we had arrived (in a bit of a rush and a panic, as we were running a little late) we made out way through the crowds of people to the ‘Guest Services’ desk. Back when booking the tickets, I had also phoned them up to tell them that both I and my girlfriend were visually impaired so, I wanted to find out what was available to us in terms of accessibility. They answered, by saying that some commentary headsets would be available and that also we would get our own tour guide to take as round the tour.

Once we got the ‘Guest Services’ a lovely staff member by the name of Carmen greeted us! We said that we had booked some assistant and once she came back after checking with staff, she said that she would be happy to take us around. Carmen, help us to the entrance and said that she would return once we had reached the other side. We walked through into a giant room with some huge screens on both side walls showing all the Harry Potter film posters.

Once the staff had filled the room with guests, they began to play a short film, showing an interview with the director of the Harry Potter films David Yates. After, the film had finished, the doors open to a small cinema screen. As I had Blossom with me, the staff kindly placed us on the front row so Blossom could happily lie down. Once everyone had settled and were seated, another staff welcome us again and said that we were going to watch all eight Harry Potter films back-to-back and that he’d see us to three days! Some people were actually quite happy about this!

Photo shows the Goblet Of Fire standing in Great Hall surrounded by the 'age circle'.

I don’t want to go into detail about what happened next, as I don’t want to spoil it for everyone, but what I will say what happened next was amazing! Once we had been through the introduction and were free to roam about as we pleased, Carmen met up with us again and started to takes us around and showed us some key things that you get to see! Whilst going around with her, she showed us some key props and sets from the films and told us somethings that you wouldn’t get to know if you were just going around on your own.

Some of the things Carmen showed us we got to touch and feel to get a better understanding of what it looked like and how it was used in the film. Some of the things Carmen showed I didn’t even think were physically real. When you watch the films, in some scenes you sit there and think ‘ah that was probably done my computer!’ But actually it wasn’t, which was amazing, some things actually moved and worked! It was brilliant! Not only were there things to look at, but there were also things to do! As we were going around the tour, there were several activities using a green screen, that you could dress up as a Hogwarts student and take part in! This was so much fun! Whilst I was going all these, Blossom was left with my mum. I got told later that Blossom had this confused look on her face as if to say: “why is dad sitting on a stick?” After the various activities, your photo and some videos were taken, after which you purchase them. Which of course I did!

Photo shows the set of the Gryffindor common room with red arm chair and a roaring fire place in the background.

Whilst we were going round we got to ask Carmen all these types of questions and almost every question she expertly knew the answer to. There were a few she didn’t know, but to be fair they were some pretty daft ones, mostly asked by me! Once we had got halfway around the tour, there was a large cafeteria, where you could buy food and drink, we had already eaten before we had arrived, but it was a chance for us to take a breather and take the load off. I went and bought a ‘Butter Beer’ whilst my mum, brother and my girlfriend all had normal soft drinks. Carmen showed us to a table and said that she would go off and have a break and come to us.

After about twenty minutes, Carmen came back and we continued the tour. We moved on and went to see some physical sets, which the actors had actually used, we got to go in them!! Which was again amazing! Every time I sit and watch a Harry Potter film now, I sit there and think ‘I’ve seen that’ or ‘I’ve been in there’ or I’ve touched that!’ Carmen showed us some special effects props which again we got to touch and feel, at one point she showed us a hand that we got to touch. At the time we felt really strange because even though you knew it wasn’t real, it felt like it was, so my brain wasn’t sure how to process that! But then came the one thing that blew us all away! We turned around a corner, and there ahead of us was…the Hogwarts castle! The sight was absolutely beautiful, it was all lit up and cycle from day to nighttime. At night all the lights in Hogwarts Castle lit up, and it felt as though it was alive! We spent some time taking numerous photos, I had taken so many photos that day, but one of the photos, of me, and my girlfriend standing in front of the Hogwarts castle is by far my favorite photo of the whole visit! To the point where now, I have it framed and sitting on display at home.

Photo shows a photo of the giant 'mirror of erised' reflecting some of the crowd.

We could have spent hours in that one room alone, and truthfully I didn’t want to leave! They had music playing from ‘Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire’. Now, when I listen to that song it always that’s me back to that one moment!

Erm…anyway moving on! Once we had exited, we then came to the end of the tour and into the shop! Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I really enjoy shopping, so combining ‘Harry Potter’ with shopping…fatal! Now granted I went online to their website a few days before so I already knew what I wanted. There were a few times where my mum had to say to me: “now are you ever going to use or wear that?” “probably not…” I said, “but it’s Harry Potter!” In the end, I only came out with two items, a Gryffindor jumper, and a Gryffindor backpack and was red with gold zips!

After we had paid (well, I paid), Carmen then escorted us back to the car, I let Blossom go to the toilet as she had been so good whilst going around, that she hadn’t had a chance. I think even she enjoyed herself, there was one moment where we went into the forbidden forest and she wasn’t a fan, so Carmen asked for the sound effects to be turned off whilst we were going through which was lovely of her to think of. Blossom then came face-to-face with a big mechanical version of Buckbeck which she was not a fan, so she quickly decided to pull me away from.

photo shows me, my girlfriend and blossom standing in front of the Hogwarts Express

Overall, we had such an amazing time! Carmen if your reading this again you were amazing! You really made our trip the extra little bit special for us thank you! I would highly recommend you go if you blind or visually impaired. If you are worried about not being able to see anything, don’t! All the staff were great and super accommodating! If you have certain accessibility requirements, they will be more than happy to accommodate!

Some top tips then if you are, or deciding to go in the near future:

  • Book Months in Advance – I highly recommend you book your tickets months in advance, they will book up so quickly. This isn’t something you can just turn up to, as it is so immensely popular!

  • Phone up the studio tours to book disability assistant and access tickets – If you want to book disabled tickets, you will need to phone and do this. You will need to book one adult ticket to allow for a free entry for a carer. The way I did this, was I phoned up asking about disability tickets, and what they told me was I had to go online and book the adult tickets first, then phone them back and book the carer tickets. However, I think there now is an option to phone them and book everything together. But phone and check with them,

  • Going Around the Tour – When going around the tour either with a tour guide or on your own, take your time, the majority of the props and sets that you get to see is in the FIRST section, so take your time and look at everything, because once you leave the first section you can’t go back!

  • Take Plenty Of Spending Money – Throughout the tour, and shop there is so much you can buy and purchase, these things are not cheap, they are quite expensive! There are now two shops at the studio tours, One during the tour and one at the end. There might some items in one shop that you can’t get in the other. So have a look in both, but in my experience, the majority of items are in the bigger shop at the end.

  • It’s going to be very crowded – As the Harry Potter Studios is so popular all over the world, you will get lots of people going to the tour at the same time as you, both people from the U.K and tourists from around the world. If you struggle with crowds or struggle to find your way in them, then let the studios know before you arrive, that way you can be accommodated and help with this as much as possible.

  • Going to the tour with your Guide Dog – obviously, by law, your Guide Dog can accompany you throughout the tour and other areas, when I went with Blossom they had no problem with her being that what so ever. However, it is a good idea to bring your Guide Dogs I.D booklet with you just in case you are asked to present it. They didn’t ask me in my case, but that doesn’t mean to say they might not. Also throughout the tour, once you start, there is nowhere for your dog to go to the toilet, so make sure your dog gets the chance to go before you enter the building.

  • Going through security – When you arrive you will have to go through a security check. Don’t worry it is not too intense, but they will have to check your bag before you enter, so be mindful of this before you arrive.

The ‘Harry Potter Studios’ is a fanatic place to visit, I would highly recommend it to anyone. If you haven’t got the chance to go yet I strongly suggest you do! You won’t be disappointed!!

The last photo shows me and my girlfriend standing in front of the Hogwarts castle (my favourite photo!)

Until Next Time!

The VI Critic!

Nicola Werenowska’s – ‘Silence’

Hi Everyone,

Coming back to you with another review, look at that two shows this month! On Wednesday night I went to see ‘Silence’ by Nicola Werenowska at The Mercury Theatre in Colchester.

‘Silence’ is the story of three women: one a mother, a daughter and a grandmother all of polish decent. The way, the show was written and was directed brilliantly, but very interesting. I have been going to shows for many years, but this is the first time I have seen a show where it is performed entirely in third person.

This was very interesting to me. I was expecting it to be a very traditional play with normal scenes where the characters would interact with each other, and yes there was some of that, but it was kind if here and there, only to expand on the story. There was very little scenery and very little props which I think only added to the character of the whole show.

Photo shows all three characters, the grandmother is holding a new-born baby, looking at her granddaughter. Whilst the mother is looking over her shoulder all looking very happy.

The show tells the story of one family but from three very different perspectives. one from a young twenty-something year old, about to come out of university, to a middle-aged mother, who is struggling to connect with her husband and daughter. To a polish grandmother very set in her ways and likes everything just so.

With all these things put together, comes a show that I have never seen before, but comes across wonderfully and brilliantly. Acting from all three actresses was amazing! You could really tell and touch upon the emotion that each character had, and you could really understand what each character was going through. 

Photo shows all the three characters. Both the daughter and the grand mother are sitting on grey chairs, both looking concerned. Whilst the mother, is leaning over her daughter with her hand on her left sounder trying to reassure her.

Having all three characters, all on stage, all doing different things, in different places, all at the same time, was a little confusing at first, but after a few scenes of the show, you picked it up quickly and were able to keep track. There were times where I didn’t quite understand something, but then the show would touch upon it again, so then it made it easier to understand. One thing  I wanted to outline is the great use of costume. As the stage, set, and three chairs that were used throughout the show were all grey. It made the colours of the costumes of all three characters stand out hugely, so I can only give massive praise to the director here because then the characters more so much easier to see! I later found out whilst talking to the director, that through the show the character’s costumes would get brighter as the show progressed. Which I didn’t spot at the time, but it wasn’t until they said that I could see it, and that was brilliantly done!

Onto the rating then:

People Who A Visual Impaired: You will have no problem here, as the show is performed in the theatre’s studio it was nice and close so you can see that was going. The use of colour against the grey background, is great, because if you can limited vision then you will be able to track each character quite easily.  

People With No Vision: Again with this show I think your do fine here, most of the show is dialogue with never little action, the actors will move from one end of the stage to the other from time to time. But as the space is so small, you should be able to track this very easily, and know where all three characters are at one time. There is an Audio Description available (see website for details) but if you can seem to get a ticket then if you go to a normal performance then you should have no problem.  

‘Silence is running at The Mercury Theatre in Colchester from 12th – 20th of October, but it is also touring around the UK. So if for some reason you can’t get a ticket at The Mercury, Then I will leave a link for the show below also so you can see where they are going to be playing next.

As always I will leave a link to The Mercury website, you can find a link to show and ticket information: Here

You can also find a link to the actual show: Here

Until Next Time,

The VI Critic 

Daniel DeFoe’s ‘Moll Flanders’

Hi Everyone,

Now I don’t normally do this right at the beginning of a review, but please before you read this go and get tickets for this show! Was Absolutely brilliant!

Right now I’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to the review of ‘Moll Flanders’.

‘Moll Flanders’ based on the novel by Daniel Foe is about the life of young ‘lady’ during 1683 London. The story talks about her rather miraculous life, and what she has to go through during that time.

This is one amazing story! accompanied by the absolutely amazing cast, set design, lighting, costume everything really. When I got to the theatre I had bought myself a drink and some sweets, but not once did I touch them, as I was so engrossed into the show and story. There was a great use of light and darkness, the acting by all the cast was sublime. Some of the best I’ve seen in many years.

Photo shows full cast of stage, with the character 'Daniel DeFoe' setting the scene. The light is a mixture of reds and oranges. Daniel is standing centre stage with the title 'Moll Flanders' behind him on a canvas.

There were a few times where the cast one break the cast would break the ‘4th wall’ to encourage the audience and to make them feel part of the show, which I loved and I thought was an excellent touch. The use of light and costume and lighting put together, made the show gorgeous to look at. There are some singing numbers throughout the show, which the cast sang beautifully especially the main leading lady Eva-Jane Willis. She definitely stood out for me during the show.

Moll Flanders (Eva-Jane-Willis) is stnading in a church in a green and gold coat looking up into the distance, wondering what she should do with her life.

Though-out the entirety of the show, you could see that the whole cast had a great deal of fun, and enjoyed themselves immensely. There was a fair number of jokes and ‘gags’ which was a very nice touch and made the show very, very enjoyable!

‘Moll Flanders’ is running at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester form 28th of September until 13th of October! I’ve I can find some tickets, I will definitely be going again for sure!

Onto the ratings then:

People With A Vision Impairment: You will have no problem watching this show. There is a great use of lighting during the show and a great use of colour with the costumes. The theatre is traditional so as it is quite small I would say if you can I would sit in row D or E and you’d be fine.

People With No Vision: Here I think your do fine. There is plenty of dialogue that tells the story and definitely enough to understand what is going on in certain particular scenes. But an Audio Description performance with a Touch Tour is available, so get the website for details.

Honestly, everyone if you have the time to go and see this show then I highly recommend you do! It has an excellent story with an extraordinary cast, and trust me it is not to be missed!!

Until Next Time!

The VI Critic

Song From The Show: ‘London Town’

‘Babe The Sheep Pig’

Hi everyone, and welcome to another review. This time, I went to go and see ‘Babe – The Sheep-Pig’ at The Mercury Theatre in Colchester!

This is definitely a show for all the family! ‘Babe’ tells the story of a farm pig who dreams of becoming a sheepdog, and all his friends at the farm help him to fulfill his dream. But without some scary things happening along the way.

As usual The Mercury Theatre and their ‘Made in Colchester Production’ didn’t disappoint. The show was fun, lively, and upbeat, there was never a dull moment.

There was a lot of humorous moments both for children and adults alike. As this show has a somewhat small cast, most of them having to play multiple characters or animals. The only person who didn’t was the puppeteer who was operating Babe, along with the actress playing ‘Fly’.

'Fly' the sheep is a black and white sheepdog, and she looking at the audience smiling

Like I said at the beginning, this is a show for the whole family, however, there are some scary scenes that younger children may find too much. But I believe if this is the first time taking your children to the theatre, this would be a good show to start them off with! It has elements of a professional production, and I came away with that feeling, which is good for the adults and parents. But there is no doubt this show is aimed at children. The show has a very good message of friendship for children which is always lovely to see!

Also another thing I wanted to point out whilst I was there, was that The Mercury Theatre have now installed boxes in the auditorium, so you can go and sit with your family or party without having to be around the crowd of people, if your children aren’t a big fan of crowds, or has a visually impaired person, like me you find it difficult to walk about in crowds of people!

Overall, ‘Babe’ was excellent and would thoroughly recommend during the school holidays and summer season!

Picture shows Babe and the farmer meeting for the first time, as they look at each other, under a single white light.

People with a visual impairment: I think your do fine here, there’s plenty of light, throughout the show, and plenty of colour. There are a few scenes which are set at night and are quite dark along with strobe lighting!

People who have no Vision: Again, I think your do fine here too. The show will be very easy to follow without audio description and it is very audible and not so much visually, but if you prefer audio description there is a touch tour and audio description performance available!

‘Babe The Sheep-Pig’ is running at The Mercury Theatre between 27th July – 29th August! If you wish to purchase tickets or find out more about the show. You can do so by clicking Here!

Until Next Time,

The VI Critic!

Photo of the full cast and Babe, at the end of show with all the cast playing musical instruments and singing and dancing to the final song of the show.

Get to Know Me – ‘The VIP Tag’

Hi All!

This time, I thought I’d write my thoughts on the ‘VIP Tag’. I know doing ‘tags’ is a very bloggy thing to do, but hey let’s have some fun! 🙂 So here we go!

1. What medical condition caused you to be blind or visually impaired?

It wasn’t necessarily a condition, when I was born I was born 4 weeks premature so as a result I was born totally blind and had no vision what so ever! I then had some eye surgery in order to give me some vision. It worked on my left eye, but not on my right. So for my whole life, I have a condition called ‘Retinopathy Of Prematurity’. From what I understand, this occurs when blood vessels grow and spread throughout the retina. But can be different for each person and each individual case. So what I experience can be completely different from someone else.

2. In three words describe your Visually Impairment.

Brightening, blurry, can be painful.

3. What is the hardest thing to do being blind or visually impaired?

As simple as the task is for most people, the hardest thing for me about being visually impaired, is matching up socks! Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky enough to have enough vision where I am able to tell if I’m wearing odd socks. The hardest thing is match socks of the same colour! So I try and get around this, by wearing mostly black socks that way no one can tell at a glance!

4. What is the best part about being blind or visually impaired?

Honestly, I think the best part about having a visual impairment, is probably the fact I have one because if I didn’t I would not have been able to do some of the things I’ve been able to do! Before my sight got gradually worse, I was a football referee for my county where I live, and I did that for 4 years, I won various refereeing awards, I won a ‘Ward & Partners’ award for being the first visually impaired referee. I also got the chance to go to The Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford and I met some amazing people, who I still talk to today, whilst there I got to go to Stuggart, Germany twice and got to have a look round various places, including the Mercedes Benz Museum!

But most importantly, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog post right now! During the time I have been writing theatre reviews, I have to got to go and see and experience some truly amazing shows, as well as getting to meet numerous cast members, who are always intrigued by what I think, because until they meet me at the press parties, certain aspects of their shows they would not even have thought of otherwise! Sometimes I get feedback from shows saying that if it wasn’t for them hearing my opinions, they wouldn’t have thought to make their shows even more accessible than they already are.

5. What question do you get asked most about or because of your vision?

There are three actually that I get asked all the time, the first one being: “Have you thought about having laser eye surgery?” The second because I have a Guide Dog is: “Are you training her?” and the third one mainly asked by children when I’m out and about which always makes me laugh is: “Is your eye made of glass?” Sometimes, I say “Yes!” and the look of wonder on their faces, with the parents grinning behind them, is always funny to watch.

6. Do you have a cane, a guide dog or neither?

I have a Guide Dog called Blossom (who if your interested to hear more about, you should check out ‘My Guide Dog Experience‘ post) who comes with me everywhere I go, but on the very rare occasions where she doesn’t come with me, I use my white cane and did for years before Blossom came into my life!

7. What piece of advice would you give to someone who is losing, going to lose or has lost their sight?

The one piece of advice I would give is, sure it may seem scary and daunting to have sight loss, but your life isn’t over! There is so much more out there that you can do, as well as Numerous support agencies and organisations who will help you to have a full and happy life!

8. What piece of advice would you give to a sighted person about interacting with someone who is blind or visually impaired?

Throw all judgments and stereotypes of what other people have told you about visually impairment people out the window! We’re all different, don’t be afraid to come up and ask if you need to give us help and support, we’ll happily tell if we need it or not. 🙂

9. Why did you join Youtube/blogging?

As if you can’t already tell I’m a HUGE fan of theatre and have been since I can remember! I can remember my mum taking me, my brother and sister to the local theatre to watch shows, and then every Christmas we go to the local theatre to watch the Christmas Pantomime every year (thanks Mum!) These days I’m lucky enough I get to see it twice, once for you guys, and the other time with my family which is always a lovely occasion. 

But as I got older and wanted to venture more and more out on my own, I was looking for someone who reviewed theatre shows from a visual impaired perspective, but after researching it there wasn’t anyone I could find. Then one day, someone said to me “Is there anyone out there who reviews shows for the visually impaired?” “No, sadly not,” I said. “Well, why don’t you?” To be honest, I had never thought about it before, though I would struggle to get theatres to let me review for them, as probably they had more popular reviewers, publications, and websites already reviewing for them. Fast forward 3 years, and here I am reviewing shows month after month and I love it!! Theatre has always been one of my passions! Do I get paid to do it? no. Do I care? absolutely not! Maybe one day I might be lucky enough to do so, but right now I couldn’t be happier!

10. Name three people to do this tag next.

At this moment in time, I hardly know anybody in the ‘VI’ blogging community, which I would love to change, and calibrate with some other people and try different things! But for now, if your a blogger who is also visually impaired, and want to give this a go, then why not! What’s stopping you!! 🙂

The Inspiration for this post came from a fellow Visually Impaired blogger Glen from welleyenever.com

Until Next Time,

The VI Critic!

Getting to know Blossom! – The Guide Dog Tag

Hi All,

Today, I thought I’d do another Visually Impaired related blogging tag. This time it’s ‘The Guide Dog Tag’. So without further ado let’s do this!

1. What is your guide dogs name?

Her name is Blossom!

2. What is the breed of your guide dog?

Blossom is half Labrador and half Labrador Retriever

3. How old is your guide dog?

At the time of writing this, Blossom is 2 years old, but will be 3 on 12th June!

4. Where was your guide dog trained?

Blossom was trained at The Guide Dogs Training School in Redbridge but was then taken to Hertfordshire to The Welwyn Garden City Mobility Team. If you want to see a clip of Blossom at her time here you can watch the video below! 

 

5. When did you qualify with your guide dog?

I qualified with Blossom on the 15th September 2017

6. Is he or she your first guide dog?

Yes, Blossom is my first Guide Dog!

7. Summarise your guide dogs personality in five words?

Fun, laidback, cheeky, playful, wonderful.

8. What is the best thing about your guide dog?

I know a lot of Guide Dog Owners probably say this, but the ability to go out anywhere I want and at spare of the moment!

9. What is the funniest thing your guide dog has ever done?

For, the funniest thing Blossom has ever done is during our early days of training, I was in the bathroom getting ready for the day ahead and in the bathroom, there was this see-through shelf that I didn’t see. So, as a result, I whacked my head on it. Afterwards, I looked at Blossom and she just looked at me, sighed, shook her head and went back to her bed sighing again!

10. Has your guide dog ever gotten you into any embarrassing situations?

Oh yes, she sure has! I can think of one incident in particular! At my church, sometimes I am an altar server, at one Sunday, we were getting ready to process back down the aisle. As I came closer to the aisle I noticed, Blossom was laying right in the middle of it! So as a result of this; all the servers, choir, and vicars had to walk around her and continued to walk down the aisle!

11. What is your guide dog like on harness?

On harness, Blossom is excellent! Sure, there are days where she struggles a little and doesn’t want to work as hard, but the way I look at it, is at the end of the day they are dogs and we do ask a lot of them!

12. What are some of your guide dogs quirks?

One of Blossom’s quirks, really makes me laugh sometimes. There is this one thing she sometimes does that makes everyone laugh. We can be heading somewhere or heading home from somewhere, and at some point, we will come across a bus. Blossom will sometimes notice the bus stop, stop at it, and look at me as if to say: “Dad, can’t we just go home on the bus?” People have said she is so like me it’s unbelievable! Also she knows that a night I suffer from ‘Night Blindness’ so she knows when the when to push the buttons a bit, and see what she can get away with! 🙂

13. Where does your guide dog seem to work the best?

Blossom works really well at night. Part of my condition is that I suffer from ‘Night Blindness’ and over the time we have been together, she has worked this out. So at night, I couldn’t fault her in the slightest. She also loves to work in busy and noisy areas like London, there is always a spring in her step whenever we go there!

14. What is your guide dogs favorite thing to do when off harness?

I only have one word to describe this…sleep! If we’re not out and about, she’s sleep. She’s even fallen asleep on buses and I’ve had to wake her up to get off the bus!

15. Has your guide dog ever done anything that goes beyond the call of duty?

I don’t think I can really answer that just yet, as we have not been together that long, but who knows in the near future I think she just might!

So that’s it! I hope you have enjoyed reading this, enjoyed getting to know to Blossom a little more! There will be plenty of photos in the up and coming reviews and many more adventures we have together! Any other Guide Dog Owners, who want to give this tag a go feel free to, I got the questions and inspiring from a fellow blogger & youtuber ‘Fashoneyesta‘ who’s video I will link here! If you want to see more of Me and Blossom, then please follow us on Twitter, that way you get to see all the update information, photos, and videos, plus all else that we get up to!

Until Next Time,

The VI Critic

 

Apps For The Visually Impaired

Hi Everyone,

I have been blogging about my experiences going to the theatre for visually impaired people for a few of years now, and it occurred to me recently that even though yes, I tell you guys about my theatre goings-on from a visually impaired perspective, I don’t really do any visually impaired related content. I did writing about my Guide Dog Experience recently (if you haven’t read that yet, I suggest you do so). But this time I thought I would write and suggest some smartphone apps that I use. Now you may have already heard of some of these already and that’s okay, but there maybe some on this list that you might not have heard of. 

This list is in no particular order, so here it goes:

1. Netflix

Some of you might be sitting there reading this and thinking ‘why on earth have you chosen Netflix?’ Well, along with Netflix being the leading company in online streaming services, it has I believe the largest and best category of films and tv show that have Audio Description! The UK version of Netflix already has big collections of films and tv shows, but what makes Netflix stand out from all the rest is that it has its own category for Audio Description which covers tv or films. Instead of trying to search for films or tv shows and clicking on each one to see if it has AD all you have to do is just click or tap on the category which says ‘Audio Description’ and there you go! Netflix is a monthly subscription service, with their basic package being £5.99 and going far as £9.99 for their ultra package. They do offer a 30-day free trial so give it a shot!

2. TimeBuzz

Okay, now technically this is not a smartphone app, but an Apple Watch app, but hear me out. Have you ever been in a situation where you want to know what the time is, but you are afraid if you check it will look like your bored, or it will distract the people around you? Well, this solves both those problems. TimeBuzz instead of telling you the time verbally, it gives you the time by giving you physical indications by tapping you on the wrist. For example, if the time was 10:15am once you press the button, it will tap you ten times on the wrist, pause, then tap you fifteen times on the wrist, and no is the wiser!

3. Big Spender

This app is for all my fellow Guide Dog Owners out there! Have you ever been traveling in a city or place you are unfamiliar, and your dog needs to ‘spend’ and go for the toilet, and if like Blossom they only want to go on grass? Well, then this app is for you! It uses your current location and searches for the nearest public piece of grass. You do have to use a bit of common sense, as it will show you places at you just can’t get to like grass on roundabouts or it might say there is a patch of public grass, but you get there and it isn’t anymore, but on the whole, it has got me out of a jam and it does come in handy!

4. StoCard 

This has been a recent find, thanks to another visually impaired blogger/YouTuber ‘Fashioneyesa‘. This has been a lifesaver! When I’m out shopping I’m forever having a blank at to where I have put a certain loyalty card for a certain shop, with this app I don’t have to worry about that anymore. What this app does is instead of struggling to find a certain card in your wallet or purse. All you have to do is store your card into the app before you go shopping. Then when the staff asks if you have a loyalty card, you can open this app and select it, at which point it will come up with that card’s barcode or QR code for the shop assistant to scan! It will add the points automatically to your account, it works with all major UK shops and food chains so start scanning!

5. Tube Map

This app has been brilliant! Even though I’m Visually Impaired, I am lucky that I have some remaining useful vision. But sadly when I go to London and use the underground, I can’t see the large maps on the station walls or on the trains themselves. So this app takes care of all of that. It downloads the full London tube map to your phone, and you can zoom in or out as much as you need. Although the best thing about it in my opinion, is that when you search a route, it tells you how many stops it is before you get to your destination, and which ‘bound’ to use for example ‘West Bound’ or ‘North Bound’ which is for me the biggest difficulty.  

I hope that this list of apps have become useful, and has given you some new apps to try. All links to these apps are in the app titles, so just click on them and it will take you to the App Store. If you have any other suggestions as to what other Visually Impaired topics you would like me to talk about and go into, then please leave them in the comments below, or get in touch or either Facebook or Twitter!

Until Next Time,

The VI Critic!

Shows an iPhone next to a Macbook showing a 'Home Screen' full of Apps'

Europe After The Rain!

Hi Everyone,

Coming at you with another review! This is ‘Europe After The Rain’ by Oliver Bennett. It talks about politics and The EU exit vote back in 2016. The story includes four main characters Will, Max, Marta, and Yana. 

The story covers these four characters as Will owns at large house, and one day comes across two refugees who have come into England. As they have no place to stay, he offers for them to come and stay with him. Will has strong views on the now then current British Government and what he feels they should do. Marta and Yana, however, have no interest in the vote, so throughout the first have of the show, Will tries to explain to them, but with little results. The second half of the show then shows an extreme version of what could happen after the vote to leave the Europian Union. 

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Photo Description: Simon Haines (Max) & Natasha Kafka (Marta) looking together at a tablet.

I feel that writer here is not trying to tell the audience his views on what he thinks of the whole subject. But to show a version of what could happen. I personally don’t take much interest in the subject, as I personally struggle to understand it all. But for those who do, I think this show is a show where I think you’re doing to love it or not. The show was performed in the theatre’s studio and not the main Auditorium, so there was very little space, so this was one of those times where I was glad I’m quite a small person! As it was such a small space to work it, there was a lot of realistic features, for example, the use of candles and realistic cigarettes. 

I thought the play was acted very well by all members of the cast. There was a fair amount of humor which was nice from the character Max. There was also a fair amount of strong language in this show too, I thought maybe too much but again added to the realism. You got a real sense that the household was struggling financially, due to the use of some characters using beach chairs and some using plastic and again same with the tableware. 

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Photo Description: Simon Haines (Max) dancing around, hold a bunch of red flowers laughing.

The whole show was also performed on sand, which I thought was interesting. Along with robes hanging down from the top of the studio, I can only assume that was to simulate rain, or maybe walls as it wasn’t really made clear. But was an interesting visual. If you’re looking for something different to go see, this Definitely ticks that box!

People With A Visually Impairment: Your have no problem watching this show at all, I would suggest you get a ticket within the B or C rows of seats to get the best view possible!

People With No Vision; Again you will have no problem here! Most of the story is Dialogue with very little visuals. every now and again a character will light a cigarette or light a candle but it has very little if at all to the story. The use of sound is also very good in this show, so you shouldn’t really have a problem. There is an Audio Description & Touch Tour available though if you want to have descriptions. 

‘Europe After The Rain’ is running that The Mercury Theatre in Colchester from 25th May – 9th June! If you wish to go and purchase tickets, then you can find the link by clicking here!

Until Next Time,

The VI Critic

 

‘Pieces Of String’ By Gus Gowland

Hi Everyone,

Recently I went to go and see ‘Pieces of String’ at The Mercury Theatre in Colchester!

‘Pieces of String’ tells the story of a man, who is called up to the British Army in World War II leaving behind his wife and family home. Whilst n the trenches he meets a fellow soldier, and they build a relationship together. The story then moves on to present day, where on the day of the man’s funeral his family has the terrible task of sorting out his possessions and home.

It’s a story which is fun, but at the heart of it has a really heartbreaking story. The story at its core discusses the subject of Gay relationships both in the past and modern day. Both the views in 1940’s Britain and today. This is a subject matter, which I have never seen talk in a musical, as I believe that most Play Writers are concerned about what the subject will have on the audience.

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Description: Ella Dunlop (Gemma) & Harry (Gary Wood) sitting on boxes reading a letter and looking at old photos

Photo By Mercury Theatre & Robert Workman

What I think the writer Gus Gowland as come up with here is extraordinary and excellent! More writers of both stage and screen should not be afraid of what the audience might think and just write the play as they believe it to be. This show should be used as an example to show people you can write using any subject matter and it can work. ‘Piece’s of String’ is a musical which is excellent and I strongly believe should have a place in London’s West End! This is by far one of the best shows I have ever seen, and needs to be taken further, not just to stay in local but way beyond.

I’m not sure I can put into words really how much I loved this show, I know it’s early in the year and I have other shows to see this year, but I can see this being the best show I’ve seen this year by a mile! Absolutely wonderful!   

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Description: Me & Gus Gowland after the show, smiling at the camera!

People With A Visual Impairment: You will have no problem seeing this show at all. There is one use of flashing lights but it is over in a flash literally. I feel you can sit six rows back be fine.

People With A No Vision: I think Audio Description is a good choice here, but saying that if you can’t get the Audio Description I think your be fine. There’s enough dialogue to understand the story, if necessary take a friend with you to help describe sections.

Regardless of what I put in the ratings here, please everyone go and see this show now because when it goes to the West End, you might struggle to get tickets! You can find links to The Mercury Theatre website by clicking HERE!

Until Next Time!

The VI Critic

 

Putting My Left Paw Forward – My Guide Dog Experience

So this blog post I thought I’d write because I thought it might be good for you guys to see what the process is like in general and also see what my personal experience. This post will be about my Guide Dog Experience.

So back in 2015, I started studying at a college for the blind up into Hereford. We had a good mixture of visually impaired and blind students. As well as cane and Guide Dog users. Also one of my friends at the time was also a Guide Dog user. It was because of this time at college and being around Guide Dogs and their owners that I decided to go ahead and applied for my own Guide Dog, as well as the struggles I had getting around from day to day.

So one day in between lessons, I decided to go to the Guide Dog website and search for my local mobility team back at home. Once I found out their information I decided to email them to find out a bit more about the process and what was involved. Within a couple of days, I got an email back from someone at Guide Dogs to say that they would phone me to set up a home visit and send a member of staff to come and see me. Now, I must mention that I had applied for a Guide Dog some years before this, but I had been turned down at the time because I was too young. The first meeting was about me and my eye condition and all the boring paper that had to be done, as well as all the information I needed to know.

A few months went by, as at the time I was away studying a college so, my application had to be referred to the local mobility team up near my college. I then got a phone call from that team asking if they could come and see me and conduct a mobility assessment. This involves me walking around as I normally would with my cane, while the Guide Dog staff behind me look at the little things, like my walking speed and how I get around. Whilst doing this, they asked me questions like my distance in terms of my sight and how far I can see before things started to get blurry.

Once we got back to the college we sat down and discussed how we all thought it went. It turned out it went really well and that they were going to recommend I moved on the Guide Dog Mobility Assessment. After the Mobility Assessment, I got six to eight months went passed before I finally got a phone call from Guide Dogs asking to meet me for a Guide Dog Assessment around the college. About a week later, the day finally arrived and I must say I was really nervous, as I really wanted this to go well. We first sat down and discussed me and what type of dog I was personally looking for, and what Guide Dogs thought I needed. Once we had this discussion, we then did a harness walk. This is a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, brings along a harness, but sadly no dog. They hold on to the end of the harness and mutate what a Guide Dog would be doing as well as teaching me the basic commands to work the dog.

We walked around the college and practiced walking up and down stairs, practicing giving positive and negative reactions to a dogs behavior. This went so well and we were both really, really happy with how that went. Therefore I went on the waiting list for a Guide Dog. During this time, I had a number of visits from Guide Dogs including looking at where I was currently living and looking at the size of the garden and where would the dog ‘spend’. I had to do this another time, because whilst on the waiting list I moved house, so Guide Dogs had to come a assess my house again, along with looking and assessing my pet dogs.

As I had moved house, I needed new routes, to get out and about as well as routes for working my future Guide Dog. I had a number of mobility lessons before I went back on the waiting list for a Guide Dog. So fast forwarding to June 2017, at this point in my life, I had moved out of the family home, and living on my own, as well as visiting my girlfriend once a month up in Birmingham which I love to do, as still love to do! During this time, I had phoned Guide Dogs to give them an update and tell them that I had moved out and was living on my own. About a week or so later, I got the phone call I had been dreaming and waiting for almost three years. I got the phone call to say that Guide Dogs, had possibly found me a Guide Dog.

About a week later on a Thursday afternoon. A Guide Dog Mobility Instructor came round with a two-year-old, yellow Labrador Retriever cross. He brought her up to my flat, were my mum and I were waiting. We both said hello to the dog, and started to answer a few questions about where I was living, how the other residents would feel about having a dog around the place, along with my current routes and places a still go. We then went on another harness walk to practice the basic commands again, as it had been some time since I had done them before on the Guide Dog Assessment. Then we walked back to get the dog and do the same walk with the dog in harness. Once, we both started walking we didn’t stop. We carried on and on until we got to the end of the road, which was much more further then me and the trainer had done a few minutes before. After we turned around, we lead walk the dog back, and the trainer guided me back home. On the way home, he started telling me some more things about the dog and a little bit about her personality and characteristics.

Once home, went through how the two walks went. The trainer said that he thought it went really well and that me and Blossom when he then said what she was called work so well together, that he was going to recommend that we got matched as a partnership. After this, I then had to say goodbye to Blossom, which I was a little sad at because even though the chance was slim and wasn’t very likely as the meeting went so well. There was a little of me was sad to see her go, just in case I never got to see her again.

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Photo: Me & Blossom looking at camera on the day we met for the first time!

About a week or so later, whilst out having lunch with my girlfriend. I got a phone call from Blossom’s trainer, to say that I had been officially matched with her. I was over the moon! He then said, that some weekend in the near future I would I like to have Blossom for the weekend? Of course, I said yes. So we arranged a date for Blossom to come and stay with me for a couple of weekends time. Those two weekends went by very slowly, but eventually, the big weekend arrived. Once they had arrived, Blossom’s trainer brought her in to meet all the other residents in the building, and have a talk about, what is expected of them and what a Guide Dog does. Once that was all done, he then brought her back to my flat, and we went through the basics on how to look after Blossom, how to feed her and take out to ‘spend’. Once he taught me all that, he went to go and get Blossom’s bed, then quickly send goodbye and left. For the first few hours Blossom didn’t want to come near me, which I can understand. But looking at her now, you wouldn’t believe it. During the weekend, we weren’t allowed to go out anywhere, so we just stayed indoors and spent time together, watching telly, playing with Blossom’s starfish which she had since she was a puppy and still has to this day, and we watched telly together. When the Monday arrived and it was time for Blossom to leave, I got a little upset to see her go, but this time I knew for a fact I would be seeing her again.

A few months went by, then one day, I got a letter from Guide Dogs to say I had been invited to a ‘Client Day’ at their offices. On the day, a nice volunteer driver from Guide Dogs came to pick me up and take me to the office. Once we got their a member of staff took me into the building and introduced me to the three other people that were going to be in my class when I came to start my training the following Monday. Three of us, including me were on our first dog, while one other was on his second dog. The day consisted of a few presentations about dogs in general and then moved onto more specific Guide Dog related topics. After that, we then went down in twos to go and see our dogs and do some basic obedience with them. As I walked up to Blossom’s pen, she looked up at me, as if to say “I know who you are…” then once she was allowed to come and say hello she started wagging her tail as if to say “I remember who you are!” We then went outside into the car park to do some obedience which went really well. We worked on basic things, like walking to heel, following the lead and turning whilst on the lead.

After this, we then went back to Blossom’s pen, and had quick fuss of her, before we had to go back upstairs for lunch. After lunch, we all got to go on a walk with our dogs. We drove to an housing estate and each got to do a route that all the dogs knew well. After everyone had a go, we went back to the office and went through the finer point of training before we started for real the following Monday.

The weekend before training was the longest weekend ever! As I was so excited, I made sure I packed everything I needed, as well as the things Guide Dogs said I needed. When the Monday arrived, another lovely volunteer driver from Guide Dogs came to take me to the hotel where we were going to be staying for the next two weeks. Once everyone had arrived, as we had already met a few days before it was more relaxed a chatty. Then our trainer went through what the two weeks consisted of and what different things we were going to do each day. Then we were each given a bag of goodies! Which had in it all the essentials which included a brand new white harness, a new lead and lead flash, a dog whistle and grooming supplies!

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Photo: A clean white brand new harness and bag of dog supplies on a bed.

The next two weeks were very hard work, but at the same time very, very enjoyable! We were each taught how to put on and take off the harness, in my case i had to learn to look up and straight ahead and not look down, as for years I had got into the habit of looking down at my feet so I wouldn’t trip over them. We also learnt how to feed, groom, and ‘spend’ our dogs. As the days went on, the walks we did got a little more challenging each day, including things like going into shops, full pavement obstacles and even a walk at night. Even though I had an amazing time away training, and I’d definitely do it all again, the time came when we had to go home and start our home training. Home training lasted for three weeks, where I got to do all the local routes that I was familiar with, as well as public transport such as trains and buses. Once we had covered all my local routes and places of interested. I had one final walk, we went into town and done some shopping which I needed to do, and then we walked to catch the bus home. Whilst waiting for the bus, my trainer said that that was my final walk, and would I be happy if she qualified me and Blossom as a fully legal partnership? Of course, I said yes! So once we got home, she got out all the paper and started reading through the contract. Once she read through it, I said I was more than happy with it, and I signed all the paperwork and handed over my fifty pence!

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Photo: Me & Blossom in town, standing in front of aOnly Fools & Horses’ van!

After going through all this, I must say, applying for and getting Blossom, is honestly one of the best things I have ever done! She has given me so much confidence in going out, and people have said that it shows. Now, instead of thinking ‘I can’t go and do this, because I’d need someone to come with me’ now its a case of ‘Let’s go and do this event’ or ‘where have we not gone together’. I know it’s a common thing for a Guide Dog owner to say, but Blossom has truly been a life changer and now I honestly can’t see myself without her. She’s helped me not with just my ability to get out and round, but also with my self-confidence and sense of importance. She relies on me, just as much as I rely on her, and not a day goes by when I don’t thank her for what she does!

So here comes my advertising bit, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association solely run on public donations and get no government funding, it costs over £50,000 for life and aftercare for one dog and their owner. You can also Sponsor a Guide Dog Puppy, or maybe give up some time and volunteer. Whatever you can do I know Guide Dogs would very much appreciate it. If you would be interest, in looking into donating or volunteer for Guide Dogs you can do so, by going to www.guidedogs.org.uk!

If you have made it to the end, then thank for reading all of this, I know this post was a lot longer then what I normally do, but I wanted to write about this for three reasons. One, was to tell you guys about my experience, two if there is anyone out there who is looking to applying for or is think about applying for a Guide Dog, and three I wanted to document mine and Blossom’s experience, so we can look back at our first eight or so months together! She is right fast asleep on her bed as I am writing this!

Anyway, thank you so much for reading this, and I look forward to see you in my next review coming very soon!

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Photo: Me & Blossom (in harness) sitting in the gardens of the hotel!

Until Next Time,

The VI Critic