Life of a mature student – TM111 – my first module

I wrote some thoughts about my first module in this post about the first four months of my degree, but my idea is to write a summary post about each module once I’ve finished it. So here are some thoughts about TM111.

As the title says, it’s an introduction to computing and IT. I had some prior knowledge in a few of the areas that we covered. This definitely helped me, but I don’t think it was necessary as all of the information should be in the materials. This didn’t mean that I didn’t go elsewhere on occasion, but that was more about my learning style than a lack of information. Sometimes when you’re stuck, you just need to find someone who can explain it in a different way.
I want to write these posts in a way that’s accessible to all of my blog readers – whether or not they understand the subject matter or what I’m talking about – but if anyone wants more specific information, just let me know privately.

The content

The module is split up into three very distinct blocks. This is great in terms of helping you to focus on one thing at a time. A bit less great if you really don’t enjoy one of the blocks, but if this is the case, you do feel a sense of achievement when you get it finished and know you’ll never have to see it again!

Block 1 – the digital world. This was probably the most varied block because as well as a basic history of how computers have evolved, you get an introduction to some quite different activities from creating and manipulating sound, to designing a simple web page. There’s also an introduction to databases and some content on what you need to think about when designing new products. Each of these sections is fairly short and you get an introduction rather than a deep-dive, but I like the way that the material is varied, giving people the chance to try new things and start thinking about what they may want to focus on in later modules.

Block 2 – creating solutions. Normally I would find something like this really interesting – it was all about solving problems through designing simple programs. I’m a linguist, so learning how new languages work is right up my street. The only thing was that these concepts are introduced within a graphical programming environment that is inaccessible to blind people. So, learning the concepts was a valuable experience for me because I’ll be able to apply them in other programming contexts, but as I couldn’t do any of the practical work independently, it was less enjoyable.

I understand why things are done this way – people can get up and running and start producing programmes quickly without having to bother much about understanding how a text-based language works and the grammar rules or missing character that will break your programme, but for me, it really wasn’t fun.

Block 3 – connecting people, places, and things. This was an introduction to networking concepts, wireless communication, and the internet of things. It also looked at some of the social aspects of the way in which we use technology, as well as data security, biometrics, and the advantages and disadvantages of increased connectivity in our everyday lives. As someone whose business is carried out entirely online, I was interested to look at how people interact online.

I think some of the networking concepts could have been explained in a more straightforward way – I just looked up the information elsewhere because it felt that a lot of space was given to drawing analogies with things that we already know, whereas I just wanted to know about the thing we were supposed to be learning about and how it worked. That’s a learning style thing though. I’m sure some people would have been happy that someone took the time to try and make the concepts more relatable.

Things are changing all the time and I imagine it will be difficult to keep this really up-to-date, but I think the module raised some questions that are relevant to us today and the case studies helped us to think about people whose experience of using technology is different from our own.

Some concepts, such as maths, run through all of the blocks. Others are dealt with individually in one of the three blocks.

Assessment

The marks come from three tutor-marked assignments, which include activities to demonstrate what you’ve learned throughout the course, and three electronically marked assignments, which you complete online by answering multiple choice questions or typing specific values in the box.

I had a really helpful tutor who responded quickly to questions, made sure I had everything I needed if I was going to attend a tutorial run by someone else, and chased up some accessible materials when they went astray.

I worked hard – extra hard in some ways – but in the end I was happy with my mark and it was all worth it!

Learning as a blind student

I want to be positive because I did really enjoy doing this module, but for me it wasn’t an easy introduction into studying with the Open University as I believe the initial courses are intended to be. For me, even though the content will get harder, this was probably one of the most difficult and frustrating modules I’ll take due to the inaccessibility of a large chunk of it. Only my helpful sighted assistant and the knowledge that we’d soon be going onto other programming languages and never have to see OU Build or Scratch again kept me going – along with all the positive vibes around Christmas (because this was block 2)!

On the plus side, I could access all of the material, either as downloadable documents or as web pages on the site. Descriptions were provided for the diagrams in the material. There was an active community on the forum, which is run by the Open University, as well as a student-led Facebook group where students can socialise or ask questions.

But, even if you’re doing an open degree as I am, if you want it to be an IT-based one, there’s no getting past TM111. In many ways you wouldn’t want to either, because a lot of basic concepts are introduced that you will be building on in later modules. If you can’t use the visual programming environment because you are blind, you need to be prepared to work with a sighted assistant as there is really no other way round it if you want to complete that part of the course in its current form. The work will need to be your own, but you will have to have someone carrying out tasks for you with a mouse, and also giving you feedback about what the programmes actually do when you run them, so you can check that this is what you wanted or expected.

Most IT modules do have a degree of inaccessibility, but when comparing percentages, this is one of the highest I found, so in this respect, things will only get easier.

All information is correct at the time of writing, though of course things may change when the module is run again. If you are interested in studying it, it’s best to get the most up-to-date information directly from the Open University.

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My 2019 – products to talk about – part 2

I’ve collected together another 15 products to tell you about. I’m doing these less regularly now and not featuring repeat products. There’s less make-up now too as I don’t get through it as quickly as the skin care. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these products and what you thought of them!

1. Freshly cosmetics serum

This serum from Freshly Cosmetics is part of the skincare set that I bought with a micellar water, a toner, a moisturiser and the serum. It comes in a bottle with a pipette, which is fine till you get right down to the bottom where it doesn’t quite reach. I can’t comment on the technology it mentions – I can’t say I noticed looking radically younger, but who doesn’t want pollution-blocking extracts, especially when they’re derived from natural ingredients such as broccoli and lingonberry? I enjoyed using the serum and felt it was gentle and it was comfortable to wear under my moisturiser and make-up. There are some spelling mistakes on the site, but I received good and speedy service from them.

2. Superdrug vitamin E serum

From the expensive to the budget buy. This vitamin E serum from Superdrug is about hydration, with fruit acids to help retain moisture and stimulate cell renewal. Plus points are the price and the pump bottle, which prevents the air getting in and means that the product stays fresh. It’s described as a lightweight serum, but it’s one of the thickest I’ve used, which isn’t a problem, but if you’re expecting a thinner consistency, you might get a surprise. I tried a couple of products from Superdrug’s own range, and I preferred the vitamin C serum over this one, but you could do a lot worse than this, and it does smell nice and fresh with a coconutty type scent. Despite being a bit thicker, it does absorb well, and it doesn’t sting or feel greasy, so it’s fine to use before other products in the morning.

3. Shampoo – oatmeal honey

This shampoo from Tigi Catwalk was on sale and in fact it’s still on sale as I right this now. The massive 750 ml bottles last a long time and if you like the product, it’s definitely a bargain. This one is for dry and damaged hair. I don’t have that, but as my hair is so long, I like to use moisturising products on it to make sure that the ends are taken care of. This smells like Christmas somehow – like cinnamon baking! I was happy with the shampoo and my hair was soft and silky after using it. I’d get it again.

4. Korres crocus serum

This is incredibly expensive and I only had a tiny tester to use, which isn’t enough to really know how well it works for me. But Korres is a good brand, and saffron is expensive! It’s referred to as a skincare booster, which should be followed by a serum or moisturiser. I enjoyed the couple of uses that I got out of the sample, but I’d probably wait until the crocus serum was on sale before splashing out on it!

If you’re wondering why I have so many serums in this post, I’m on a mission to use things up, and I had several that were nearly empty!

5. Rituals body lotion

I only discovered Rituals last year and I think my favourite so far is the ritual of Sakura with cherry blossom and rice milk. This whipped body cream is light and fluffy, but also rich and nourishing. Nice as a gift or when you want to treat yourself. These products smell amazing, leave your skin feeling soft for ages and make you feel special. I am slowly trying out other ranges, but I think this is going to be the one I like most.

6. Mango shower gel

Could I do a product post without mentioning something from the Body Shop mango range? I don’t think so. Recently I used up their mango shower gel which I got for my birthday and which is my favourite shower gel from the Body Shop. I just love the mango goodness!

If you like Body Shop products, don’t forget that they have a new recycling scheme – I posted about it recently.

7. Madara mask

I got this Madara SOS instant moisture plus radiance hydra mask in a giveaway that Sussex Sandra was doing on her YouTube channel. I mentioned that I liked moisturising masks and she sent me some, which was really nice of her. This one was a multi-use mask in a tube. I really like Madara products, both for the quality and the way that they live up to their promises on moisturising. It says you can leave the mask on or wipe off after 20 minutes. I just left it on and let it soak in overnight. I also like the way that these products are described on the site – they tell you what’s in it without making ridiculous claims. I first discovered this brand in the Lovelula boxes, which was my first venture into more natural products.

8. From dusk till dawn serum

Laidbare is another brand that I discovered in the Lovelula boxes, and I did like a number of their products. However, this serum was not for me. It is a rejuvenating and hydrating vitamin C serum. Oil-based serums are fine, but I found this one felt particularly greasy and although I don’t think it’s a bad product, I didn’t like it very much. You might like it more if you use more oils in your skincare regime.

9. Rêve de Miel cream

I’d heard bout Nuxe products, but I didn’t try any until I got a gift set for Christmas. I think my friends know I like skincare by now, but it’s always great to try something I haven’t had before! My friend got it right too because this product is for dry skin. This is the day cream. It says “treat your skin with the restorative power of honey” and contains honey and precious oils. It’s a luxurious cream and it feels as though you’re giving your face a treat! I’d like to try more from the range!

10. Nuxe hand cream

I also got the hand cream from the same range in the Christmas set. This is a non-greasy handcream with honey and sunflower. I popped mine in my handbag – it’s a good one to use on the go because it is good for moisturising your hands and cuticles, but it absorbs quickly for when you’re out and about.

11. Body Shop rose hand cream

This was one of the products in my advent calendar from last year. I thought the large hand creams were just for Christmas, but you can still get the rose one in the larger size now. It’s fine as hand creams go, but I prefer roses in the garden and not on me. When do we get to see the mango range in this size?

12. Elemis marine cream

I only had a small sample of this, not surprising really when you consider the price, though at the time of writing there is a discount at John Lewis, so I used that link. There has been a lot of hype about the marine cream lately. I like Elemis as a brand and I enjoyed using the sample. However I do think you can get creams that also give good results, but are at a cheaper price point.

13. Body Shop almond milk and honey body lotion

I thought I’d tried everything from the almond milk and honey range, but I hadn’t seen this before I got it in the advent calendar and I’m sold! The body lotion is thinner than the butter and comes in a squeezy tube. I like to use it especially if I’ve had an allergic reaction and I want something kind and gentle on my skin. For me it seems to have soothing properties too. I’ve already bought another tube of it!

14. Pomegranate hand cream from Wileda

I really liked the body lotion from this line, so when I noticed in Ocado that there was a hand cream too, I decided to try that as well. The Wileda pomegranate hand cream smells great and does what it says on the tube. No synthetic chemicals and another brand like the Body Shop that doesn’t test on animals.

15. Lavera night cream

Sometimes those little sachets that people seem to like complaining about actually pay off! I got a sample of this night cream and was so impressed with it that I went and got some! It’s a very lightweight cream – I have used it in the day before too – but leaves your skin feeling really smooth and soft in the morning, so don’t be put off by the light consistency – it is hydrating too. And though this shouldn’t be a key selling point – it smells amazing!

Let me know if you’ve tried any of these products and what you thought of them!

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Why I’m glad that I learned languages at school

I can’t contribute much to the current debate about whether the new language exams are too hard – I haven’t seen them. I do remember though, back when I did my school exchange with a school in Germany, and based on my experience of teaching current German students, that the expectations seem lower here in terms of what students should be able to accomplish in another language. Lowering the bar might make the subjects more appealing again, but overall, English students won’t have a competitive advantage in the job market if the language qualification doesn’t count for as much, or require as much effort as other European counterparts have had to put in.

I was at school before the decision was taken in 2004 to make languages a non-compulsory subject at GCSE. I think there are individual circumstances in which this makes sense, but overall I believe this was a step in the wrong direction. Since then, take-up of languages at A-levels has also been falling overall, with German falling by 45% since 2010 *see this article from the Guardian). Still, things are looking up for Mandarin!

I’m biased, because languages were some of my favourite subjects, but here are some of the reasons why I enjoyed learning languages at school.

They opened up a new world and new people to talk to

Knowledge is only really useful when you find some way to take it out of the classroom. Many people don’t do this or don’t have the opportunity to, which is why I think some students in the UK feel that learning another language isn’t relevant.

Once I got a taste for languages though, I started finding reasons to use them. My German pen-pals. My school exchange and the lovely host family. Some German relatives of local friends. Later new people that I met online. I got to travel outside my local town and discover other perspectives, other ways of doing things, and challenge some of my own ideas.

Something I could be good at

It wasn’t the smartest choice, but at school I always spent extra time on the things I was already good at, rather than using it for the things where I really needed more practice. But I enjoyed languages and however well I did in them, there was always more to learn and discover. There were things that I needed help with in everyday school life, but I understood how the languages we were learning worked, so I had something to offer others too.

I like patterns!</h3

I have creative moments occasionally, but languages made sense to me because if you take some time to learn the rules, you will be allowed to play the game, and importantly, not make mistakes. There will always be exceptions – “exceptions confirm the rules” was one of our German conversation teacher’s favourite sayings! But rules give things structure, and if you can understand the structure, you can understand the thing. There’s a logic to it – you just need to invest a bit of time at the beginning.

My blindness isn’t relevant

Ok, it may have been relevant for picture-based learning activities or watching movies, but we didn’t do much of that at school. My listening skills probably came in useful, and as long as I had access to the texts that we were working on, it was a completely level playing field, in a way that some more visual subjects weren’t. This may not have been the case if I’d been learning languages with different writing systems – there is always a way – but for French and German it certainly wasn’t a consideration. I did both at GCSE level and then went on to do a German A-level.

I think it was one of the first times I realised I could do something that the sighted people around me couldn’t do. I remember interpreting for some friends and feeling really good about being able to facilitate the conversation between people who would otherwise not have been able to communicate. They helped me get around the unfamiliar places that we visited, but I had a role to play too – and that made me happy!

Learning other languages helps you to understand your own language better

Training to become an English teacher definitely does that as well, but when you start learning about tenses, sentence structure, and ways to communicate ideas in other languages, it helps you to understand how your native language works too. If you’re a language nerd, it’s interesting to see the differences and similarities.

They were useful for my career

Well, German was. I haven’t done anything with my French since leaving school, but I remained interested in German. For many years it was just a hobby – something I did in my free time. Originally the only suggestions people could come up with were interpreting (too stressful), sales (not my idea of fun!), and translating. Translating was the most appealing out of the three, and I do some translation now, but I didn’t want to spend all of my time doing it.

I now work as an English teacher for adults, most of whom come from German-speaking countries, so I speak and write German every day. So the basic knowledge that I picked up at school is still helping me now, though it took longer for me to actually feel comfortable speaking.

Other languages

After finding out that I enjoyed learning languages, I tried a couple of others after I left school – Hindi and Turkish. German is the only one that I really kept up with, although I can still understand a fair bit of Turkish. I keep saying I’ll maybe go back to it some day.

I think understanding basic principles of grammar – having parts of the language that perform different functions, and the fact that you have to do things in a certain order for the language to work, also makes it easier for me to understand the coding languages that I’m learning in my IT degree.

So overall, learning languages opened up a lot of opportunities for me and it was one of my favourite things to do at school.

How was the experience for you? Did you love or hate your French or German lessons, or did you learn a different language? Have you used the skills since? Let me know in the comments.

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Our visit to Island Farm donkey sanctuary

​I’ve always like donkeys. I think they’re cool and I’ve supported various donkey charities over the years, but the only time I tried to visit one, it was out of season and the sanctuary was closed to the public. One donkey came up to the fence to bray at us, but it wasn’t the same as going inside!

So one of the things I put on our list of things to do on our week off was visit a donkey sanctuary. I discovered the Island farm Donkey Sanctuary near Wallingford in Oxfordshire and we drove there on a sunny day, earlier this week.

There is no entrance fee, but donations are appreciated and you can also support the sanctuary in other ways such as by adopting a donkey, or buying gifts from the shop. The sanctuary is open every day apart from Christmas day from 11 till 4, and they sometimes hold special events. There is one planned for the 2nd Bank Holiday weekend in May (2019) so check out the site if you’d like to go!

Visitors are encouraged to interact with the donkeys, though children should be supervised to ensure they don’t scare the donkeys and any treats should be given in at reception. It’s hard to make sure that all donkeys have a balanced diet if people give them too many treats, and some of the donkeys are on special diets, which means certain foods would be harmful to them.

When we arrived, we saw a lot of donkeys out in their fields. The donkeys are in various fields with groups ranging in size. Donkeys like company!

Speaking of company – going on a weekday during term-time was great, because when we were walking around, there was hardly anyone else there apart from a couple of visitors and people who worked there. I like donkeys more than people!

There was also some information around on the walls to teach visitors about donkeys, what they like to eat, differences between horses and donkeys, and further information about individual donkeys who live at the sanctuary.

After popping into reception, we were encouraged to walk around the grounds and see the donkeys. Many of them were behind electric wire fences. I did reach across to pat one who came right up to us, but I don’t suggest that anyone else does that! Also we later found that some of the donkeys were wandering around on the path area, so I could get up close and talk to a couple of them who were grazing or standing around in the sunshine. As someone who can’t see the animals, I’m always especially happy if I can get to meet some!

They didn’t solicit attention like your average golden retriever! Well maybe they would if they know you, or if they know you’ve come to feed them! But they stood still while I stroked and talked to them, with one of them twitching his ear in my direction. I think they like to know what’s going on!

Jack was definitely up for a stroke, and stood patiently while we had a chat.

Pollyanna must have been tired, because she was chilling out on the floor, happy for me to stroke her lovely silky coat!

Many of the donkeys come to the sanctuary with problems associated with neglect, such as skin problems, parasites, and worst of all, overgrown hooves. These are very painful and if not treated, can lead to problems with walking. This of course means extra vet bills to get the problems sorted out.

The donkeys seemed content, chomping at the grass, or trying to get their friends to play!

As well as around 120 donkeys, and over 50 more living with foster families, there are other animals at the sanctuary such as a couple of Shetland ponies, some chickens, goats, and a pig!

The donkeys have plenty of space to graze and enjoy the sunshine, and as they don’t like getting wet, there are also shelters for when it rains. Some of the ones whom I stroked had been enjoying a roll around, which keeps the pesky flies at bay, and also helps to remove any loose hair.

Some of the donkeys are active in the local community, attending fairs, starring in nativity plays, or taking part in country shows. This raises the profile of the work of the sanctuary and introduces new people to the donkeys. The donkeys have also starred in some TV shows – from animal rescue programmes to children’s TV.

I wanted to support one of the donkeys and decided to adopt Loppy, a 32-year-old mare who has what are believed to be the longest ears (around 45 cm) of any female donkey in the country. She came down from Scotland in 1996 and was bought at a livestock market and offered to the donkey sanctuary where she would have a good home. Loppy is an Andalusian donkey, which is in danger of becoming extinct. Loppy is one of the larger donkeys at 14.2 hands, but she is very gentle and friendly. You can read more about Loppy here.

You could sponsor a donkey at reception, but I chose to just do it myself online because I wanted to take my time and read through the individual stories.

I could complete the adoption process using my screenreader. The only slightly tricky thing was the payment types, because they were neither radio buttons nor check boxes, so a blind user can’t be sure which payment method had been selected because there was no feedback apart from the fact that it was highlighted visually. But I chose the one I wanted and hoped for the best – and it worked!

I would recommend this as a place to visit for anyone who loves animals or who wants to learn a bit more about donkeys.

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The Body Shop – earn rewards for recycling your empty product packaging

It’s not just kitchen waste that needs to be recycled. It’s sometimes a bit more difficult with beauty products in terms of identifying exactly which bottles and tubes can be recycled, but it’s something we need to take seriously because so much waste from beauty products ends up in landfill, or even worse, in the ocean.

Yesterday I heard about someone diving to the deepest part of the ocean, only to find sweet wrappers and a plastic bag down there. We have to do better.

Some shops are going down the route of naked products – with no packaging, but this can be quite messy, and it’s not suitable for all product types. The Body Shop has a different strategy. If you have a Love Your Body® card, and it’s really easy to sign up if you don’t, you can earn £5 on your card for every 5 eligible products that you return.

Once the empty product containers have been collected, they are either recycled, or repurposed and made into new products, such as park benches children’s play equipment.

In order to receive the £5 reward, you have to return 5 eligible containers at the same time. They must be clean, so wash them out first. A shop assistant does it with you, so you can find out exactly what can go in the recycling container, and the shop assistant will update your card with the reward points. The reward could take up to 48 hours to appear on your account, but after that, your points will be available to spend.

You can also return recyclable packaging from other brands, but this will not count towards your 5 products that qualify for a reward.

Some types of packaging are exempt, such as cardboard boxes, although these should go in your home recycling. Single wrappers from things such as soaps or bath bubbles are not part of the scheme. Also, you can’t recycle perfume bottles or anything that contains alcohol.

Bottles, tubs, pots, and tubes should be fine. There is no comprehensive list on the Return, Recycle, Repeat page, but this is where you can find further information. Also, this information is correct in May 2019, but if you’re visiting my site after this time, it’s best to check the terms and conditions directly on the Body Shop site.

Most stores are taking part in the scheme, but there are a few exclusions, so check the list on the above link to make sure that your local store is taking part.

Doing the right thing for the planet should be enough of a reward, but I think it’s a great idea that the Body Shop is offering this scheme to encourage people to recycle. There are plenty of little treats that you can get for £5, or you could save up points on your card and put them towards something else (points are valid for three months).

What do you think –have you heard of this service? Will you be using it? Let me know in the comments.

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Broadlands country show a day out for all the family

Recently I’ve taken to signing up for tourist information so I know what’s going on. I can’t see flyers or adverts for upcoming events, so the alerts and newsletters work well for me because they come directly by email and I can look through to see if there’s anything we would enjoy.

That’s how I found out about the Broadlands Country show that was held in the grounds of Broadlands country house near Romsey over the bank holiday weekend.

It’s a day out for all the family. We saw lots of families with children, and plenty of visitors brought their dogs along too. Parking was free, and there were various events and displays throughout the weekend.

We decided to go on the Monday. After buying our programme and getting inside, one of the first animals I met was a very friendly Labrador. He was competing in the gun dog trials and very eager to meet some new people!

I enjoyed walking through the big tent with all the animals. I believe there were some competitions going on, and some of the animals were getting ready for those. I heard lots of chickens, ducks, and some very noisy cockerels, who sounded as though they were all competing with one another to see who could be the loudest.

S described the chickens, ducks, and fluffy bunnies as we walked past, and some of the animals could be stroked. This is how I met my first ferret – I knew roughly what shape they are, but didn’t know how big they were or what they felt like. I think the one we met was a bit shy, but he was happy enough to get a gentle stroke.

I also met some cute guinea pigs!

At lunchtime we got a table near where the falconry displays were going on. We had already walked round the falconry section and spotted a harris hawk and a very sleepy owl, but from the table I was in a good position to hear the handlers talking about the birds and how they trained them.

There were various options available for lunch from burgers and hog roast to a noodle bar.

We didn’t end up trying any of the activities, but there was a climbing wall for children, as well as things like crossbow shooting! I wonder how good I would be at that?!

As well as the displays and activities, there were a lot of stalls where you could buy locally-produced goods such as food and craft items. A bit like the kind of stalls that you see at a Christmas market. We were tempted in by the fudge stall (mmm chocolate orange, banana, and coffee fudge!), and I also stopped by the woodcraft stall to get a new fruit bowl and an owl door stop! Just because I needed a couple more owls for my collection. My grandad was really good at making things out of wood, and I guess that’s why I like them.

I also found a little donkey brooch, and S got me some owl earrings. It was meant to be a surprise, but the lady on the stall started talking about them, so I guessed there was something owl-related that was being bought in secret.

Some of the stalls were more for people interested in falconry or dog training so that they could pick up new equipment or supplies, but there was plenty to see if you were just a regular visitor.

On our way back, we stopped by at the gun dog trials to get some pictures and see what they were up to and how they worked with their handlers.

The good weather definitely helped, but it was a fun day out and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of going next year.

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How far should we really go when fixing other people’s problems?

It’s one of those rambly posts with more questions than answers, so be warned if you’re not a fan of those!

People wear me out sometimes – in a way that my dog never did!

Not all people – although having a job, which I love, but which involves a lot of people contact, I do get to the point where I’m all peopled out sometimes and just want to be left alone in the bath or with my book. This doesn’t include S – but sometimes if I’m feeling overstimulated, the last thing I want is more social interaction.

But no, I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about the comments I read on social media or blog posts.

“You should cut her out of your life”

“Demand that they”

“You need this right now…”

“You’ll never feel better unless you”

“Your problem is that you…”

“you need to eat more/less/try … and then you’ll feel better/then your medically diagnosed condition will be gone! I know that, even though I have no qualifications and don’t actually know anything about your problem or medical history!”

You get the idea.

When did we all become such experts about what complete strangers should do with their lives, and why do we have to be so emotionally charged and demanding? How can we sound like we have the definitive answer when we might not fully understand the problem? We go straight in there with our solutions, without even fully understanding the context or what consequenses our great advice might have. Hey, it might even make the problem worse – but never mind. The main thing is we were seen to contribute somehow!

It makes my head hurt!

It’s not that I haven’t fought for my rights or put people in their place or made sure that someone did their job properly. But all this advice about someone else’s life? Is it really justified, when we can never completely have all the facts from a few lines on Facebook? Isn’t there a better way to show we care?

Ok, there are stories online that just make me angry or incredibly sad. There are stories that make me want to get involved and offer up a suggestion of something that I’ve tried. There are times when I see a way out of a situation, or just want to tell someone to hang in there because I don’t actually have anything useful to add, but I equally don’t want to just click on past as ifI hadn’t seen it.

But sometimes people aren’t actually asking for our advice. They just want a place to offload their feelings, or someone to listen in a world of people growing gradually worse at doing just that.Listening. Without interrupting or offering well-meaning, but unqualified advice.

Paper, or rather a laptop keyboard, is patient. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t chime in with “yes I had a vaguely related but completely different situation like that and I…”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t empathise, but so often people don’t even get a chance to finish their story because someone else is champing at the bit to add their input, give some advice, or share how they felt in a similar situation. But it’s not about them right now. It’s about the person who wants to share.

I wasn’t going to write about this today. It wasn’t on my list of blogging ideas. But it just kind of hit me as I was reading the comments on someone else’s post. I felt a bit sorry for her.

If any complete stranger starts a comment with “you’ve got to” it immediately makes me want to say “no I haven’t”. Childish? Maybe. But I don’t like being told what to do at the best of times! Never mind by a complete stranger! You win me over with reasoned arguments. There are a couple of people who I’ll listen to just because of who they are – I value their opinion whatever it is – but that kind of respect has to be earned and that list isn’t very long!

Have you considered …? Do you think it would help if …? Have you heard about …? Did you know that …? … might help. You could try …

Sometimes I think people just want to be seen as publicly helping, or an expert on a particular topic, and it’s not even about the one who wants help.

Also, the thing I did before reading random blog comments involved offering up suggestions on a Facebook post – one that was written by someone whom I don’t know, whose child I don’t know, and who lives in a country with a completely different school system to the one I know. She did actually want advice, and hopefully mine helped, but I hope I didn’t boss her around like some of the other comments I’ve seen today.

I think most of the time we want to help. When it’s our friends, we want to be seen to be giving support. We genuinely care. Sometimes it makes us rage to see friends being treated badly or taken advantage of.

I know how that feels to want to charge in and put a friend’s world to rights. But sometimes you can push people further away if you do that. Nobody wins. As long as that friend knows they can come to you for help when they need it…

We can’t make other people’s decisions for them.

Then there are the Facebook rants where people want all their friends to agree. We only ever get one side of the story.

If a friendship falls apart and someone starts ranting on social media – is the other person really to blame, or just a bit more classy because they’re not up for a Facebook mud-slinging match? Is the person who shouts the loudest always right? How much fake news is there in our own newsfeeds because people only present the part of the problem that doesn’t make themselves look bad? How much do we question what we read so that we can get the full context before jumping on the bandwagon and condemning people who have no right to reply because they’re not even aware of what is being written about them?

I’m just churning out questions here, but it’s something I’ve kept noticing, so I decided to write about it.

It’s not that I’m anti-social media either. Yes, there are some bad practices that need to be challenged, but ultimately social media is just a tool that we can either use well or badly. The choice is ours.

People have been giving unwanted or really bad advice for years and years – think of some of the crazy wives’ tales. But social media does give us a microphone to reach further than our immediate circle of friends, and that is something new.

So yes, go and help people, give them advice if you can, show you care, encourage people to stand up for themselves when others want to keep them down. But don’t tell people how to run their lives, what diet they should try, what they’re doing wrong, or the only thing that will work if they want to fix their problems. Often there are many solutions and what worked once for you might not work this time. Offer suggestions, but the final choice is not yours to make.

The daft part about this is that people who read my blog probably aren’t the people who would do any of these things. That’s the other problem.

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Pong a monthly cheese subscription

When I was doing the “gifts that keep giving” post for Blogmas, I was intrigued by the number of cheese subscription boxes that are available. There’s plenty to choose from in different price ranges and I recently had a look at some of the options. This post is not sponsored – I just love cheese and wanted to tell you about it!

I narrowed it down to two subscriptions and the final decision was made by the sign-up process. One was accessible to me as a blind shopper using a screenreader and no mouse, and the other one wasn’t. It’s not difficult to guess which one I went for, but there’s a lesson in there about site design and customer experience. We go for the path of least resistance. We won’t necessarily say “hey your site’s inaccessible”, because it’s just quicker and easier to go to the competition!

Anyway – back to the cheese!

What did I get?

I went for the Pong cheese subscription – love the name – from Pong Cheese! You can choose how often you want your box and there are ways to customise it such as no goat’s cheese, no blue cheese, or vegetarian only. I didn’t tick any of the boxes for mine. You can also go for the premium selection to get an extra special cheese.

The box arrived by mail and it was well-packed, with a couple of cooling packs. There were four cheeses inside:

  • Petit Munster – a soft cheese made from milk produced by cows living in the regions between Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comté in France. It’s traditionally eaten with boiled potatoes, cumin seeds and a glass of wine.
  • Lincolnshire poacher – this is a cheddar-style cheese, matured for 15-20 months and produced in Lincolnshire. It’s made using unpasteurised cows’ milk and traditional rennet. It has a nutty taste and is somewhere between a farmhouse cheddar and a Swiss mountain cheese in terms of the flavour.
  • Cravet – a delicate, Italian goat’s milk cheese, made in the Piemonte region of Italy.
  • Roquefort – a French blue cheese that according to legend, came about because a lovestruck young farmer left his lunch behind in a cave after being distracted by a beautiful woman. He returned for it several months later, and the Penicillium Roqueforti mould had transformed his cheese sandwich into Roquefort!

The cheese comes with tasting information in the form of a leaflet. I couldn’t read this due to my visual impairment, but after contacting the customer service team at Pong Cheese, I received the information by email so I could write it up for you and also know more about what I was eating.

What did I think of the cheeses?

I’m not a professional cheese tester, but here goes….

The first to be eaten up were the Lincolnshire Poacher and the Cravet. The Lincolnshire Poacher was similar to cheddar, but with a different flavour to anything I’d tried before – slightly dryer, less crumbly.

I hadn’t realised the goat’s cheese rind was edible, but probably wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. This was the smallest cheese, with the typical goat’s cheese taste, but not too strong.

The Munster was a creamy spreadable cheese – quite spicy in flavour, but I enjoyed it. I didn’t try it with cumin seeds, though I could imagine this working well.

If you don’t like strong blue cheese, you probably won’t enjoy the Roquefort as much. I did eat some, but I can’t put it away in such large quantities as I can other cheeses!

Overall I thought there was a good mix of cheeses and I’ll be interested to see what’s in next month’s box!

What do you think?

I wanted to try this out because it’s a way to try new things that I otherwise might not think about picking up to try. The information lets you know a bit more about how and where the cheese is produced, which, as well as being interesting, might help you to discover other things that you like.

Pong Cheese also has a shop, so you can buy other things there such as a selection of themed cheese boxes and hampers.

Have you tried anything like this? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments!

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Good things in April 2019

I got a bit bored with my favourites posts because they were all quite samey, and often focussed on beauty products, which I know is less interesting for some of my readers. So I thought I’d try something else now, to make the posts a bit more varied. So here are my April highlights!

Something I bought

I’ve already been raving about my coffee machine! I’m really glad I got it!

I needed a way of keeping track of the capsules because I can’t read the pods. My first idea was to stick Braille labels on the boxes (text recognition apps don’t work so well on them). Anyway the idea with the Braille worked well enough, but it did look a bit untidy with all the capsule boxes.

Then I discovered some trays that slide out for your pods. The ones I bought hold 60 capsules each, and you can stack the trays if you want to have more than 6 types of coffee. The trays have raised squares to keep the pods in place. They might move about if you’re not careful, and you do need to put them in properly so they don’t get stuck. I now have a Braille list that sits on top of the trays. I’ve numbered the lines and written down which coffee is In each line of each drawer. I can still keep track of them, and it looks tidier in my coffee area – or coffee shrine as a friend recently called it!

Something I tried

Can you believe I’m still getting through advent calendar products? One of the things that was new to me was the almond milk and honey body lotion. I knew about the body butter and the body yoghurt, but I hadn’t come across the lotion before. It’s similar to the yoghurt, but it comes in a tube, so is arguably less messy and a bit more hygienic.

I like this gentle range and find the cream cooling as well. Sometimes my allergies cause a reaction on my skin too and I like something gentle like this for times when my skin has been irritated and needs something soothing. I was already a fan of this gentle formula, but I didn’t know about the lotion – so I’m happy they put one in the advent calendar.

Something I did

I’m all about the online networking. When you’re visually impaired, it really creates a level playing field. You don’t have to care if someone’s giving you eye contact, keep your place in the queue for coffee or see where the nearest toilets are. You don’t have to find your way to places you’ve never been before, or shell out on taxis because there’s no sensible way of getting there with public transport. I would do these things too, but I like the freedom I get from networking from my own desk, and have met interesting small business owners from other parts of the world that way. It’s less hassle, and as it’s not one of the first things I tell people, half of the people I speak with don’t even know I’m visually impaired. It’s not relevant for the discussions we’re having and as far as I’m concerned, not the most interesting thing about me.

Having said all that, I am aware that having an international business does mean that I don’t get to meet many new people locally. Yes, I have my friends, and I meet other people through them sometimes, but a lot of the people I used to meet in London were somehow either on the journey to work, or through work. I don’t have that now.

I decided to look for a local group of business owners. I quickly discounted any that sounded pretentious or that expected people to meet at 6:30 in the morning – because who can even put a sentence together at that time? I can’t! But I have found a Facebook group now and pushed myself out of my comfort zone by signing up to a face-to-face meeting too.

Something I read

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

This is a series of 8 books and I originally found out about them through another blog, though it was so long ago unfortunately I can’t remember who it was so that I can tag them.

I’m glad not to be living in central London now, but reading about it makes me feel a bit nostalgic. Without giving anything away, the books are based on the life and adventures of a young police officer who ends up getting involved in the supernatural cases in a world where the gods of the River Thames are actually people some of the time, ghosts are real, and magic is a thing that can be learned.

Normally I stay away from any crime or detective books. I’ve worked in the criminal justice system and it bugs me when things aren’t true to life. It’s way less glamorous than the TV series make it out to be. But in real life there is no old house where people go when they’re working on supernatural cases, so I had no expectations of it being like real life and could therefore just enjoy it for what it was – a story.

It does make sense if you read the books in order – many of the characters appear again and you build on the knowledge as you go along. However each book is a story and a case that can stand alone.

We listened to the audio books, and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who narrates the Audible versions, does a really good job.

Something I watched

Star Trek – discovery

I wasn’t a Star Trek fan before, but S persuaded me to give it a go and yes, there are action scenes, but I hadn’t realised how much more depth there is in terms of learning about the characters, understanding different cultures, moral dilemmas, and teamwork. Also, this was set before the original series, so it doesn’t matter if you start watching it with no idea what comes next!

I’m not good at TV reviews and I don’t want to post any spoilers, but I would recommend it if sci-fi is your thing – or even if it isn’t!

Something I ate/drank

Pong! You’ll have to wait to see the review, but I signed up for a monthly cheese subscription called Pong, where you get a selection of cheeses sent to you by post each month. It’s a good way to try new things.

Something I learned

In this module of my Open University course we’re starting to work with Python, which I’m enjoying a lot more than the horrid drag and drop visual programming language that we had to work with in the last module. Ok, it’s only the basics at the moment, but this makes more sense to me, and that makes me happy!

Somewhere I went

We decided to make a day of the blogger event that I was invited to in Reading, and we also visited the Real Greek for lunch.

Something random that made me smile

I know that I probably don’t drink enough water. I know that I should probably do something about that – running on coffee alone isn’t the best, especially with the hot summer months coming up.

So I had the idea of putting a pint of water on my desk in the morning and refilling it in the afternoon. If it’s there next to me, I found that I am drinking it. If I don’t make the effort to put it there, I generally don’t bother.

So just changing my habit and making the effort is actually helping me to drink more water! I also decided to get this owl drinking glass so there’s one more owl in my collection!

What have you been enjoying this month? Let me know in the comments!

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The siege of Basing House

On Easter Sunday I found myself sipping a glass of wine in a pub garden. Nothing unusual there, apart from the fact that as I sat there, waiting for our Sunday lunch to arrive, the chatter around me was of muskets, battle strategies, gunpowder, and the King.

We were having lunch at the same pub as a group of mainly cavaliers, ready to defend Basing House in a re-enactment of a battle during the Civil War.

The history

Basing House was built in Hampshire by the Paulet family, and it was a popular place for royalty to visit. Queen Mary spent her honeymoon there in 1554, and Queen Elizabeth stayed there on four occasions. You might think this is an honour for those loyal to the crown, and in many ways it was, but it was also incredibly expensive. Just imagine your guests could bring up to 2000 people in their entourage, and you’re responsible for feeding them all! It’s even rumoured that part of the house was pulled down to make it less attractive to royal visitors.

In terms of the Civil War, Basing House was under siege between 1642 and 1645. Eventually it fell to Oliver Cromwell and his roundheads, but the people of Basing House didn’t give up easily. By 1644 they had already survived one attack by Parliament’s forces, in which even the women got involved – lobbing rocks and slate tiles down on the men below. After several attempts, Cromwell’s forces gave up, partly due to the snow, and partly due to the news that 5000 troops were coming to assist those in Basing House.

That wasn’t the end of the story though and in March of 1644, the Royalist army took refuge with their allies at Basing House, following a battle that they had just lost nearby. That meant more mouths to feed, and more strain on the supplies, some of which had been intentionally destroyed in the last siege to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. Better to have less supplies than to watch your enemies feasting upon them, as was the case in 1643.

In July 1644, following a fight in nearby Odiham, which resulted in many of the Basing House foot soldiers being captured, Parliament forces surrounded Basing House, bombarding it from all sides and preventing fresh supplies getting in. Things were beginning to become desperate. However strong your walls are and however well you can protect them, if your enemy prevents new supplies from getting in, you’re going to starve. Food was running very low and they had only enough left for just over a week.

The Marquess of Winchester, who owned Basing House, sent requests for assistance, but it was felt that the 40-mile round trip from Oxford would be too dangerous and that two many troops would be lost in skirmishes along the way. It was in fact the Marquess’s wife with her powerful connections that eventually got people to listen and send some aid for those under siege.

It wasn’t just a case of winning by brute force either – tactics had to be employed such as wearing the enemy’s colours, skulking through the darkness, and those from inside the walls scaring off the attackers temporarily so that allies, and later supplies (including food and 12 barrels of gunpowder), could enter.

Finally the house did fall to Cromwell’s forces, but not before it had successfully defended itself several times.

What happened on Sunday

After our lunch, we went to buy our tickets and wait in a cordoned off area for the actors to arrive. The re-enactment was performed by the Sealed Knot, which travels around the country bringing history back to life.

Soon the King’s troops arrived and stood in formation, waiting for the Parliamentarians to come down from where they had been camped the night before – or perhaps from another pub! It was a hot day after all!

After a skirmish with pikemen and musketeers on both sides, we followed them all to a field where the front of the fortress had been set up, along with cannons and reinforcements.

There was also someone with a microphone who was trying to explain what was going on. As someone who couldn’t see the action, this was particularly useful – both to understand what they were doing, but also because he was telling us facts from history, and explaining the reasons behind the decisions that each army made. Really his microphone could have done with being louder, but I caught most of it, despite the battle cries, musket fire, and roaring of cannons!

The drums were also ever-present. I believe this was standard practice anyway, but back in the real second siege, it had been foggy, so once the reinforcements had stopped being stealthy, the drums were probably also useful when visibility was poor.

S filled in the gaps by describing what was going on, and tried to warn me when the cannon was about to go off! With so much going on, it must have been so hard to make sure that everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing, especially when each line of musketeers was supposed to be firing together. They were close enough to hurl insults at one another, but fortunately there weren’t any women hurling roof tiles this time!!

The cannon kept going all the way through. What must it have been like to know that the walls protecting you were under constant bombardment from something like that.

The Royalist army were certainly happy when the reinforcements turned up to help them out and mean that they could hold on to Basing House for one more year.

It was loud, and it was obvious that they were fighting, but you didn’t see bodies all over the floor. I got the impression it was a balance between conveying history, whilst still being an event that families could attend, without the grim reality of war. There were people of all ages there, and even a few dogs!

I went more for the history than the battle reenactment, and it somehow feels more real when you’re standing near the place where these things actually happened. I remember studying this period of history in primary school. In those days, I couldn’t understand how a country could become so divided. Now I don’t find it so hard to believe.

Have you been to anything like this? Let me know in the comments.

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