Cycling without sight – my tandem experience

I didn’t go for long bike rides as a child. We went walking with the dog, and my Granddad drove us for miles around the UK in the Summer Holidays, but I only discovered cycling as an adult.

I would say the easiest and safest way for people like me, who have no sight, to cycle, is to do tandem cycling.

My first introduction to it was on an activity weekend. Half of the time was to be spent canoeing and the other half cycling. As it turned out, I preferred being out of the water, but having tried both, I definitely prefer canoeing to kayaking because I don’t like being closed in, and if the thing tips, it’s easier to get out of a canoe than a kayak!

Anyway – back to the cycling. As a child, I didn’t have balance issues, but I didn’t have enough confidence in where I was going to pick up enough speed to stay balanced. Having someone else in charge of the direction took this problem away, but there is still an element of trust involved.

I don’t just mean you’re trusting the front rider not to stop peddling and let the blind person do all the work! I mean you need to communicate about what the other person is going to do – if they are going to turn, slow down or need to stop suddenly. You need to react quickly to what the other person is telling you. The faster you go, the more you need to trust them!

It was also my first time covering longer distances, so I was fighting with the fear that I’d do something stupid and everyone would think I was an idiot, but fortunately that didn’t happen either! After a couple of hours I was fine!

After the introduction weekend, I went on a week-long cycling holiday in Dorset with a mixture of blind and sighted cyclists. I was paired with a sighted cyclist at the beginning of the week, and it was great that we got on, because we spent the rest of the week together on the same bike. The evenings were for socialising, but the point of the trip was mainly to get in as much cycling as possible. The weather was mostly kind to us, but I got to experience cycling in heavy rain showers as well!

The blind person always goes at the back, because they are not in charge of steering. My front rider gave me information about what was coming up, where the hills were,, whether there were any sharp bends, intersections, or loose dogs! But we had time to chat as well and enjoy the countryside. You have to find a rhythm and work together – if you fight for control, you will just annoy each other and topple over! That didn’t happen to us! Generally I let the other person set the speed, especially where other traffic was around, but made sure I pulled my weight as well, especially on the uphill stretches.

I knew nothing about bike repairs or looking after the bike. The guy with me was more experienced, and explained things, but I felt an equal share of the responsibility for helping out if there was a problem.

That week I shared a room with a Paralympic cyclist. I was a complete beginner, and I enjoyed listening to her stories as someone who had got really good, and really fast! We didn’t do anything like that during the holiday, but it was great to see how this is a sport that is not only a fun thing to do, but also something at which blind people can become successful.

After the holiday my front rider and I stayed in touch for a while. I stood in for another blind rider who was unable to make the yearly cycling around churches in Kent – I believe to raise money for them. The idea of visiting a bunch of churches wouldn’t usually have interested me, but the bike ride did!

I’ve cycled with a few different people, and the most relaxing experiences were with people who were relatively confident and who didn’t lose their nerve and swerve around all over the place, though I have experienced that too! It makes life interesting!

You don’t experience the same sounds and smells if you’re in a train or a car. It’s different when you’re outside and responsible for getting where you want to be with your own energy! I enjoy walking too, but obviously you can cover more ground on a bike. Or a horse!

I’m not sure how the experience is different for the person on the front of the tandem. Again there is that element of trust, so you need to believe that the person behind you won’t do anything erratic. Your bike is twice as long and twice as heavy as normal, because of the extra seat and extra weight behind you. You need to be able to look ahead and communicate.

I have heard of one student who cycled to school on a tandem with an exchange student for a while, which I think was cool. The tandem was used in just the same way as other students would use a bike. For me, tandem cycling has been more of a fun thing to do, rather than a means of getting from A to B. You always need to have someone who needs or wants to go to the same place at the same time, and in most situations such as going to work, that isn’t the case. Still, I know that some blind people get their own tandems – which is fine as long as they have someone, or some people, with whom they can cycle regularly.

Now all the cycling I do is just the exercise bike in my fitness room, but if I had the opportunity again to get on a tandem, I’d definitely take it.

A blind person may not be able to see everything around them on a bike ride, but it’s a good way to keep fit, and it’s good to be outside and enjoy nature.

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One size doesn’t fit all – my problem with noise-cancelling headphones

You struggle with loud places or sensory sensitivity? No worries! Get yourself some noies-cancelling headphones.

But for me that’s the worst possible thing to do.

Without being able to see, that takes away the noise, sure, but it also takes away the main sense that I use for communicating or getting information to understand the world around me.

It’s like saying to a normally-sighted person “if the bright lights are bothering you, blindfold yourself completely”. Then good luck and just carry on as normal. You can’t!

The only time I can use something to completely block out the sound is perhaps with ear plugs, when the rainwater dripping on some random stuff in next door’s garden is driving me crazy and waking me up. That’s ok. I don’t need my ears in the night time, and I know that my alarm clock is loud enough to wake me up, even with the ear plugs.

I know that noise-cancelling headphones work for some people, and that’s great. But with any kind of difference or problem to solve, we have to be smarter about finding solutions, because one popular solution won’t work for everyone. And sometimes people have more than one thing going on.

This is one of the reasons why I locked horns with specialists in secondary education. I need to read things and write them down myself if I’m going to learn them. I don’t care how many blind people you know worked well with audio materials – I don’t! Audio books for pleasure – no problem. Audio texts for learning information are not so good when you don’t learn best that way.

As a teacher I try to be really aware of people’s differences.I know that what works for some of my students won’t work for others.

When I managed staff, I tried to do it as well. Treat everyone fairly, but don’t treat everyone the same, because different staff members will need different support from you as a manager.

We hear all kinds of things about the need for inclusivity and diversity, and I agree that these things are important. But what we often miss is the need to accept that sometimes you have to go through a bunch of different solutions before you find the right one for someone.

Awareness about different needs is great, but everyone is different. Not everyone with noise issues is like me – some people are hyposensitive to noise, which is the opposite to my problem and they may not be aware of loud sounds, especially when they are making them.

Sensory differences are not just about sound either – there is also sight, smell, taste, touch, balance (including the need to move to get sensory input, or difficulties related to balance), and proprioception (where are bodies are in space and this relates to spacial awareness, motor skills etc).

People might be over-sensitive in some areas, and undersensitive, or seeking stimulation, in others. Two people that are oversensitive to the texture of objects or clothing may not have issues with the same fabrics. The same goes for seeking sensory input – what works for one person to give them the input that they need might not help someone else. People are amazing and unique.

Which brings me back to the headphones, which I can’t use when I’m out! Feeling vulnerable because you’re completely oblivious to the world around you is for me just as bad as the original problem!

Sometimes for me, avoidance is a good strategy. I just don’t put myself in situations now and pretend that they’re going to be fun, when I know they really aren’t.

Honesty – it doesn’t mean you need to tell everyone, but the people closest to you probably want to help. They can’t do that if they don’t know what’s wrong.My partner has got good at predicting when I’m not going to be ok with excess noise, but I don’t expect him to be a mind reader.

Breaks – if I’m feeling sensory overload coming on and don’t want to or can’t just go home, I try to find a way to find somewhere a bit quieter, or go outside.A walk in the garden at a noisy wedding venue. A lounge at an airport (I know this is more expensive, but if you have a long wait, it can be worth it if you can afford to do it).

Exit strategy – plan how you’re going to leave somewhere, and don’t rely too much on others who may want to stay longer than you do. If you are offered a lift, great – but how can you get home in some other way if you’ve had as much sensory stimulation as you can take and nobody else wants to leave yet?

Signing – this is more tied in with my bllindness, and the fact that I can’t lip read in loud places. I already knew deafblind sign language because a friend taught me when I was younger. S is now learning too, so that we can communicate with one another, even when it’s loud.

Be kind – to yourself! I used to feel as though I had something to prove. I can do anything if I set my mind to it. But there is a cost to that, which usually involves me having to be somewhere quiet and alone the next day. Is it worth it? Often it isn’t. And people who genuinely care about you wouldn’t want you to put yourself through that.

There are times when I still put myself in situations that I know I will find overwhelming because of too much sensory input. Maybe it’s a special occasion that I don’t want to miss. Maybe it’s an exhibition or something that I find interesting, but that I know will cost me in terms of social energy and sensory stimulation. But now it’s more of an informed choice than an “I-can-do-anything-and-will-just-power-through-however-bad-I-feel” decision.

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21 bath and skincare empties from September

This is apparently my 201st post!I didn’t realise I’d written so many on here! Anyway, these posts don’t need any introduction now – here are some of the things that I finished in September and what I thought of them. Have you tried any of these? Let me know in the comments! A couple of them were birthday or Christmas gifts from friends and family, but otherwise these are all things that I have purchased myself

1. Banana hair mask

I’ve talked about this before, so I won’t ramble on, but this banana hair mask from the Body Shop is one of my favourite masks. It leaves your hair lovely and soft, and I know it’s hard to sell the idea of hair that smells like bananas, but trust me, it’s good!

2. Dragon’s blood serum

I’ve mentioned this before too, but it was last November, so here it is again! This serum from Nip+Fab is one of the most versatile serums I’ve found. It’s fine for daytime and absorbs quickly, so you can apply moisturiser and make-up over it without worrying about it all balling up and peeling off. It smells – kind of manly in a way – but I don’t hate it, and it promises to moisturise skin, plumping and smoothing expression lines. I’m totally down with calling them expression lines, not frown lines or wrinkles. I have some other serums, but this is a good daytime one.

3. bubble mask

I’d seen a lot about bubble masks, but hadn’t tried one until I got one in my Glossybox. I can’t see demonstrations, so I was imagining bigger bubbles. In reality it’s a bit like a foaming micellar water, not like the bubbles you get in your bath. The idea is that it’s a cleansing and detoxifying mask, so you don’t leave it on as long as moisturising ones. As it foams up, it is a bit more messy than other types, so I did mine in the bath! It talks about micromassage from the bubbles, which I didn’t really notice, but my skin did feel better afterwards and maybe it’s one to keep at hand for those wonderful times of the month when the hormonal breakouts come. You can get the BeautyPro detoxifying mask from FeelUnique.

4. scalp treatment

I got this grow gorgeous scalp detox from Glossybox (the link goes to Lookfantastic as Glossybox don’t sell directly). The first time I did a scalp treatment, I thought I was having an allergic reaction to it because of the tingling sensation! I was wiser this time, but I am not a fan of the gritty bits! Aaagh! I have very thick, long hair, and all in all this was just a pain to get anywhere near my scalp and equally annoying to wash out!

5. grapefruit shower gel

One of my all-time Body Shop favourites! I can’t remember why I picked up the pink grapefruit shower gel. I think it was a “buy 2, get 1 free” offer, so I just wanted to stock up on something I would enjoy! Body Shop shower gels are great anyway, and this is one of my favourite scents.

6. Elizabeth Arden 8-hour cream

I hadn’t tried any skincare from Elizabeth Arden before. I’ve tried fragrance, which I liked, so I thought the skincare would smell great too. But I was really glad only to have a little sample of this 8-hour cream that I got as one of my Latest in Beauty products. It was indeed really good at moisturising – my face felt wonderfully soft the next day – but it smelled like something I’d got out of the first aid kit! Almost like an antiseptic. Maybe there was something wrong with my sample, but I’m really glad I didn’t invest in a full-size! That’s one of the great things about a build-your-own beauty box. I did use it up, because it was only tiny, but I’ll be steering clear of it from now on!

7. Cranberry hand cream

I’m a fan of the Patisserie de Bain hand creams, and there have been quite a few of them on Latest in Beauty recently. This was the cranberry one (from Superdrug). These creams feel a bit sticky at first, but they dry right down, leaving your hands feeling great and moisturised for ages. This cranberry one makes me think of Christmas! They are all quite sweet scents, but you’ve got the fruity scent as well, so I don’t find the sweetness overpowering. This is a good handcream for a decent price, and I would definitely buy more of them. My favourites are the cherry and lemon ones, but I would get the cranberry one again too.

8. Green tea primer

I seem to be fussy when it comes to primers! I will try new ones, but I’m hard to please. I ended up with a couple of these green tea primers from Evelyn Iona cosmetics. I think at least two subscription boxes included them (Glossybox and Pink Parcel I believe). I had about half left in this one when I gave up on it. It didn’t play well with some of my other skincare products, and I didn’t find it as moisturising as some of the other moisturising primers that I use, one of which is much cheaper! I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad product, but it wasn’t one for me!

9. Body Shop vitamin E day cream

I know I’ve talked about this before. This was another 3 for 2 when I only had 2, so I picked up a small pot of the Vitamin E day cream. It’s just a good all-rounder! It’s gentle on the skin, leaves your face feeling soft, isn’t greasy, and although I try out lots of different creams, I often come back to the vitamin E range.

10. Korres toner

I picked up this Pomegranate toner from Korres, because I wanted to try out some of their face care. It doesn’t smell much like pomegranate, but I found it to be a decent toner, and even better, you can just pick it up at the supermarket. I got mine from Ocado. It contains pomegranate extract, rich in antioxidants, along with witch hazel and salicylic acid. I’m looking forward to trying out more from the Korres skincare range because so far I’ve mainly used bath and haircare products from them.

11. soaper duper vanilla shower gel

I only had a mini of this body wash that I picked up in Latest in Beauty, but these shower gels smell great, and they’re thick and creamy, with shea butter to moisturise even when you’re still in the bath or shower. It smells of vanilla and somehow that’s just right now that Autumn is here!

12. Grapefruit bubble bath

This is another Ocado find – and ridiculously good value! At the time of writing, it’s just 99p for 750 ml of grapefruity bath bubbling goodness! So I’ve got through another one! I do switch out my bubble baths, but you can’t go wrong with this grapefruit one.

13. Origins moisturiser

I was sad to see the end of this Origins moisturiser that I thought smelled like oranges! I discovered it in the M&S beauty box, but you can also get it in Boots. It’s lightweight and contains ginseng and coffee bean extract (no wonder I like it) to give you a healthy-looking, vibrant glow.

14. Throat cream

I got a small pot of this throat and décolletage cream from Prai in a beauty sample box. It’s nice enough I guess, but the throat doesn’t need specific ingredients that the rest of your face don’t need. Yes, people should moisturise their throat and neck, but having a separate product for it is a bit of a marketing gimmick. So yeah, I’ll use up products like this, but I wouldn’t go out and buy them because my normal moisturiser will do fine!

15. modern muse nuit – Estee Lauder

We even have S’s dad looking for products to be tried out on Unseen Beauty now! He had a voucher in a magazine to get some samples, and he got me a sample of this Modern Muse Nuit, which you can get from Boots among other places. It’s marketed as “exploring the deeper, nocturnal, more addictive side of a Modern Muse. Blends of sophisticated floral with creamy woods for an extraordinary scent that is lushly vibrant yet luxuriously warm.” I think the reason I like it is the jasmin, which is paired with musk and amber.

16. almond milk and honey yoghurt

I just had to buy another one. I surprise myself how much I like the almond milk and honey collection, because it’s not strongly-scented, like some of my other fruity favourites, but it’s just so fresh and gentle on the skin, which I appreciate if my allergies are annoying me or if I just want something a bit more subtle. I love this almond milk and honey body yoghurt – like a body butter, but lighter and faster to absorb.

17. Woman – Ralph Lauren

Another sample from S’s dad – this time Woman from Ralph Lauren – also available at Boots. It’s described as fruity, floral and woody, mixing three very different types of scent together, but somehow it works. I think I’m drawn to the blackcurrant, but it also has tuberose in it. I’ve always thought I don’t like floral scents, but I do, as long as they are not overpoweringly so. Add some fruitiness and I’m a happy girl!

18. Breathless color tattoo

Kirsty finally finished a make-up product! It takes me longer than skincare! Actually this wasn’t finished, but it was beginning to dry up and had probably been around long enough anyway. These Maybelline color tattoo pots are good cream shadows, and they don’t dry out as quickly as some.AT the moment I’m feeling the love for the eye shadow sticks more, but I do still have some of these little pots.

19. Elf hydrating primer

After complaining about the green tea one, this hydrating primer from ELF is one that I like to use. It’s quite thick, and if you don’t like that, you won’t like this product, but I like it because it moisturises and creates a good base. I’m not a fan of watery primers. This wouldn’t be good for someone with oily skin, but then you wouldn’t be looking for a hydrating primer would you? It doesn’t feel greasy though, and doesn’t react badly with any of my other skincare products.

20. Bath fizzer – lemon and green tea

Yes, Ocado does bath fizzers too! This one with lemon oils and pineapple extract smells good enough to drink. But don’t – let it fizz and whizz around your bath instead! It was a birthday gift, but I will be checking out more of the range myself.

21. alpha gold rose

This is something that I got in my advent calendar last year and have only just finished up as I had another exfoliating toner on the go. I love the concept, but if I were buying it again, would probably just go for the normal one, and not the one with rose. Still, I enjoyed using this Alpha gold rose from M&S, which promises to “gently resurface skin and improve skin texture and appearance”. Basically an exfoliating toner for those who don’t like physical exfoliants – which I don’t! I still have another similar product to use up, but would get this again!

Wow – that was a lot of products. A lot of them were sample sizes, but that’s a good way to try new things. Let me know if you’ve tried any of them!

Discounts and offers

And finally if you’ve made it this far – just a reminder that I have some affiliate discount codes for you:

Feelunique – you can get £10 off your first Feel Unique order by going onto the site using my affiliate link. This offer is open to new customers only, and the minimum spend is £30.

Glossybox – you can get 20% off your first box by using my code KIRSTY-RGE when you place your first order on the Glossybox site.

Ocado – if you would like me to send you an invitation to Ocado, just fill out your details using the form below. You will receive a £20 voucher for your first shop, and a free smart pass, which gives you free deliveries for one year (minimum spend applies).

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The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested.

Blogger writing prompts – crossed wires

The Ginspiration prompt for this week is “crossed wires” which means a bunch of us bloggers are writing about the topic and then Lorna from GinAndLemonade will collate them in a round-up. Here’s my contribution.

I hate mornings.

I hate people talking to me before my first cups of coffee – note the S on cups.

I hate it when people expect me to make sense in the morning or ask me anything deep and meaningful.

S knows this.

My dog knew it.

Most of the time my Mum knows it too, but nearly 4 years ago, in the time before s and I were a thing, she called me in the morning. Not really early, but I wasn’t up and my brain wasn’t working. I think it was a weekend.

It was because I’d asked her for some advice about a Christmas present I wanted to buy for S. We weren’t a thing yet, but I was hoping that would change, and in any event he had invited me for dinner, or a date, or something – I wasn’t really sure. In the end we ended up skipping the whole dating thing, and going from dinner to being together, but that’s a different story.

So I needed to get the present and make sure that it looked ok. I love internet shopping, but sometimes get a second opinion from someone with a functioning pair of eyes to check the picture online. And this is where my mum came in.

Me: so what do you think of the present for S?
Mum: Looks good.
Me: Ok, I’ll order it then. He’s invited me round for dinner, but I don’t suppose it’ll arrive in time for that. Never mind, it’s a Christmas present and it’s not yet Christmas.
Mum: did you tell A? (My friend who introduced me to S)
Me: no, not yet. I’ll do it later.
Mum: don’t you think she’ll mind?
Me: what, going out with him? I don’t suppose so, but it’s not really anything to do with her is it? We’re all adults!
Mum: but you can’t do things like that! She’s your friend!
Me: I don’t see why not. It’s not like I need permission is it? (Lack of coffee and exasperation beginning to set in).
Mum: but you’re going on a date with her boyfriend and you don’t think she’ll mind? ….

Oh dear!

The whole time I’d been talking about S, and she thought I meant my friend’s partner, whose name also begins with S, but even so – they don’t have the same name. Ok, I’d been talking about both of them and I don’t expect my mum to keep track of all my friends … it was a simple misunderstanding!

We had been talking about different people! My next problem was that I was laughing so much, I couldn’t explain the misunderstanding to her. Which of course made it worse because she just thought I was laughing at her and didn’t see what was so funny.

So the morals of this story are:

1. Names are important
2. Don’t ask me anything before I’ve had coffee and
3. If what someone is saying really doesn’t make sense, make sure you’re talking about the same thing!

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Autumn giveaway winner

I’ve done the draw for the autumn giveaway and you can find out who won here:

Siri is still a bit quiet, but I boosted her as much as I could. I couldn’t rerecord it because then she would have chosen another number, and that wouldn’t have been fair.

To anyone who didn’t win, as long as you said that I could, I will transfer your entries into the next giveaway, which will be happening around Christmas time.

Again I was interested to see what products people were interested in. Some people chose the L’Occitane products or the wipe-out cloth, but the clear favourite was the shampoo bar, and I’ll bear that in mind for the future.

For me, these giveaways aren’t about attracting loads of new followers, who then disappear as soon as the giveaway is over. It’s more about giving something back to my readers, which is why I do the thing with transferring entries.

Some people already have 2 or more entries in the next giveaway, so it’s good to keep entering because that increases your chances. The person who won today had more than one entry.

Have a great week everyone!

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The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

An afternoon at Hogwarts – Harry Potter studio tour

It’s been on our list of things to do for a while, and on Tuesday S and I went to the wonderful world of wizardry in Watford! We drove to Watford for an afternoon of spells, magic, and snowy owls!

Outside you can see the wizard chess pieces, which are enormous. I was only able to reach a hoof. Ok I’m not very tall, but they weigh around 226 kg, so you can imagine how big they are.

If you need a signed tour or one with audio description, these are available, but you need to book two weeks in advance because people are brought in specifically to do them. We booked quite spontaneously and wanted to go during our week off, so we didn’t have audio description, but S described what he was looking at, and there was also a lot of information available on the digital guide. The guide is mainly interviews with people who worked on the film, designers, make-up artists, directors, and the cast themselves. A person with no sight will not be able to interact with the guide independently as it’s a touch screen, but it certainly saves someone else with you from doing a lot of reading!

I think my favourite interviews were with the animal trainers – no surprise to anyone who has been reading my blog for a while. How they trained the dogs that played Fang, how the ravens were easier to train than the owls, and how a large hare patronus was actually a deerhound in a glowing coat. The owls took six months to learn how to carry the letters. In dangerous scenes, part of it was done with real owls, but when it came to an owl flying into a window, the real owl flew through an open window, and the bit where it connected with the glass was done using special effects.

Yes, I loved all the information about the animals, but it was also good to hear from the characters themselves about what it was like to basically grow up on the set during the 10 years in which the films were produced.

Everyone seemed really passionate about their work and about getting every little detail right – every prop, costume, and set. It didn’t just seem like a job to them. They wanted to recreate the Harry Potter world and make it as good as it could be on screen.

You watch a short video first, and then you are taken into the great hall, where so many important scenes took place. The floor is made of real York stone – they needed something robust that would stand up to so many feet walking over it. You then visit other places such as Dumbledore’s office, the potions classroom, the Weasley’s house, the night bus and Diagon Alley with its cobbled streets.

Portraits were used in different ways by different directors, but what we didn’t know before was that many of them were based on crew members, including one guy and his … you guessed it …dog!

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of dogs, here’s another fun fact – Dobby’s ears were based on a dog called Max, who used to hang out under the designers’ desks!

Halfway round we stopped in the café for a butterbeer – well we got the drinks that we wanted and shared a butterbeer, which is actually cream soda with butterscotch on top. I was glad I tried it, but I preferred my coffee!

There are three gift shops throughout the tour. One at the beginning/end, one in the forest, and one at the railway platform. They sell different things, so if you see something you like, you need to buy it in the shop where you see it. I ended up with quite a few things to remind us of our day, including an owl mug (of course!), a Gryffindor top, and a chocolate frog for my slider bracelet. I also got an enormous chocolate frog – which is cute in its own little way and I don’t want to eat him – but I’m sure I will!

I was conflicted about whether to take my white cane or my crutch with me. As S was guiding me, I couldn’t manage both, so I opted for the crutch because I thought we’d be doing a lot of walking. I was definitely glad of it by the end! The staff were helpful and friendly. Other tourists didn’t care and shoved into it several times. It’s good I am not putting too much weight on it now. I resisted the temptation to give people bruised ankles, but it made me think of how difficult it must be for people who genuinely have balance problems or need a crutch/cane for support. People really don’t pay attention to where they’re going.

If you are blind, I would recommend trying out the audio described tour, although I can’t tell you anything about it. I had a good day and was able to get a lot out of it from the descriptions, information, and sound effects. If you like a really hands-on experience, this may not be as good for you as most things are behind bars and you are asked not to touch, and I’m not aware of any touch tours, but I don’t think you need this because there are other ways to enjoy the experience, such as the interviews and the sound effects.

The most impressive thing for S was the huge model of Hogwarts, which is the last thing you come to before leaving the tour. You can walk all the way around it and see every little detail of all the parts of the castle and its surroundings. Every external shot of the castle was filmed using this model, and it kept being remodelled as new parts of the castle were described in the books. This is until the final scenes when parts of the castle were destroyed – that was done with computer graphics so no harm came to the actual model.

I think my favourite part was the enchanted forest – partly because it’s about animals, but also because it was a more immersive experience. You could feel the forest flor under foot, and hear the animals and the wolves howling. You’ll see buckbeak and a centaur as you walk through. Watch out though if you’re not a fan of spiders, because you know that a massive one lives in the forest!

Around the exhibition there are 6 stamp machines, which you can use to collect six stamps to go in your Harry Potter passport. It’s good because the stamps are raised and I could feel them, especially basic shapes, such as the snitch and the 9 on the platform 9 3/4.

If you want photo opportunities, you can take your own, such as pushing a trolley through the wall on the platform, or sitting in the flying car. You can also get pictures in robes for a wanted wizard poster, or you can sit on a broom and watch the scenery as you fly over.

I certainly hadn’t realised how different the wands were. You could buy them in the shop, and there were also wands on display. I knew they were all unique, but not that they were made of so many different materials with different shapes. Also, we learned that the real wands had to be reinforced with strengthening material to make them safe when the actors were using them.

It was a fun day out and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves Harry Potter and who wants to spend a few hours in his world! The tour takes around 3.5 hours, although apart from the first room and the video, you can go at your own pace. I like this because then you’re not stuck with a big group the whole way round, and you can spend more time on the things that particularly interest you. Also if it’s a bit too loud, like the fight with the death-eaters, you can move on. Or if you’re really interested in something, you can spend a bit longer finding out about that.

I’ve actually only read the books and not seen the films – I thought they had not been audio described. Amazon Prime has them with audio description, But it appears only in the US. Grr! Hopefully that will change, but it didn’t matter for the tour as I knew all the characters and film plots. In fact with the books I think you get inside the characters’ heads more, but that’s a debate for another day!

Afterwards we stopped off at Nana’s, a Lebanese restaurant nearby. We got a mixture of small dishes and I can highly recommend the baba ghanoush (smoked aubergines with tahini, garlic, and lemon!)

Have you been to the Harry Potter Studio tour? If so, what was your favourite part?

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September favourites – birthday, chocolate skincare, and eye shadow sticks

Well, it’s the last day of September, and before we get into October, I’d like to talk about the good bits, the things I discovered, and generally things that made me happy.

Also, the giveaway is still open, so if you haven’t done so already, why not check it out? Details are at the end of the post. Closing date is 7th October 2018.

Birthday and family time

September is my birthday month, so it was good to spend some time celebrating with S, family and friends. There was the Chinese meal with S + 11 wonderful friends, the meal for 2 with S at Chiquitos, and the birthday shopping day in Reading, including a trip to the jewellers! There were also thoughtful gifts from friends, a visitor with cake (you know who you are and are probably reading this!), a Braille card from a company that not only brailles the cards, but also describes the pictures, and quite a lot of chocolate. Birthdays are great!

The photo in the post header was taken earlier in the month, when I met up with two of my cousins, whom I hadn’t seen for eight years. They were staying with their mum in a holiday cottage, another aunt and uncle came too, and we had a family reunion. It was lovely to see them after so long.

New finds – skincare and make-up

This could also fit under the birthday heading. I had no idea that Hotel Chocolat also did skincare – until I was bought one of the body lotions for my birthday. You can check out the whole chocolate skincare range here It’s mainly cocoa butter with nuts such as almond and coconut – so not good for you if you have nut allergies, but I don’t, and I think the lotion I got smelled good enough to eat!

I can’t help thinking this next product was bought just because of the name, suggesting that it suits me! However, the lippy cow lip treatment from Cowshed is a good product to prepare for the colder weather.
And ok I may be a lippy cow as well!

Finally, the lovely Joanna from MyPinkRambles was talking about the ELF eye shadow sticks the other day, and I picked up a couple when we went to Superdrug. If you find it hard to apply powder shadows because of a visual impairment, or just prefer something that’s quick and easy to draw on, this may be of interest to you. They are very creamy, and don’t drag on the lids as some of the other eye crayons do. I got rose gold and perfect pearl.

New finds – food and home

I can’t link this because it was a gift, but I was given a sunflower to sit in my office. I love sunflowers, and this one isn’t going to die through neglect because it’s artificial! Some fake flowers can look awful, but if you find tasteful ones, it can brighten up the room without the need to worry about keeping plants alive – which I’m not good at!

If you have children or you’re bored of ordinary-looking fried eggs, I’ve discovered some moulds recently. To be honest, I’m more of a scrambled or poached egg kind of girl, but I got this owl egg-mould to add to my ever-growing owl collection. One of the things I like about Ocado – you can get all the usual food and grocery stuff, but there are also a decent number of toiletries and things for the home on there. By the way, if anyone wants to try Ocado for the first time, there is an offer whereby we both get £20 of vouchers – £20 for you and £20 for me. You also get a free smart pass for a year, so if you like Ocado, you won’t need to pay delivery charges for one year. have to be a new customer to apply – see terms and conditions in your invitation. You can request an invitation in the contact form if you’re interested.

Studying

The beginning of my course is getting closer. I’ve found the Facebook groups really good – there is a specific one for my course, as well as one for my region. The forum on the Open University site is also quite active, but I like the way that Facebook is being used to bring people together so that they can help each other. There is also a Whatsapp group, but maybe I’m too old – I can’t keep up with so many messages lol!

I also went to a meet-up for new and existing students. I was the only one from the IT degree there, but it was still good to meet some other people on different courses, talk about their experiences, and see the wide range of backgrounds that people come from to do distance learning.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Giveaway

Don’t forget that the Autumn giveaway is open until 7th October. Click here if you want to see what you can win and how to enter.