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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New products from the Body Shop

I decided to pop into the Body Shop the other day as I had run out of a couple of things, and I’d also heard that there was a new haircare range. I’m a fan of the banana and strawberry ranges, so wanted to try the shea one too. All of these products were bought by me. None were gifted and these are my honest thoughts.

First for the things that I wanted to stock up on. After discovering the Vitamin C skin reviver back in December, it’s now become my new favourite primer! I like the silky smooth finish either on its own or as a base for make-up, and it’s a cruelty-free alternative to some of the other primers I’ve used in the past. It’s slick without being greasy, and it promises to enhance natural radiance and cheer up “dull grumpy skin”. That just about sums up me in the morning!

I’d also run out of the mango body sugar scrub which is the only physical exfoliants that I will use. And it smells amaaazing! Like the rest of the Body Shop mango range.

I’d definitely recommend these two products!

The new shea haircare line

There were some other new shea products, but I just picked up the three haircare ones.

The shea butter shampoo does what it promises in terms of leaving the hair feeling nourished. The range is especially good if you have dry hair or want to give it some love to stop breakages or dry ends. It has a fresh but non-intrusive scent. I’m really fussy about hair products that smell of chemicals, and this range definitely doesn’t.

The shea butter conditioner is for dry to damaged hair and promises to leave hair feeling intensely nourished and richly replenished. I don’t have damaged hair, but because it’s so long, I like to give it nourishing treatments from time to time to stop the ends drying out. It definitely felt in good condition afterwards, and it was nice and silky, but I’m less convinced about the claim that it helps with detangling. I didn’t feel this and I think there are more effective detangling conditioners out there. Still, the community shea butter from Ghana is definitely something that will perk up dry hair.

The shea hair mask is similar to the conditioner, but it’s a thicker treatment to apply for longer. I actually preferred this, both in terms of the nourishment and glossiness factor, but given the choice between this one and the banana, I’d still take the banana!

So, overall, I thought the new line was nice enough, but I do prefer the fruity ones more, so I probably wouldn’t buy these again. If the banana and strawberry are too strong for you though or you’re already a fan of the shea line, you might enjoy something to keep your hair soft and with a less intense fragrance.

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Are we really aware of what is going on around us?

This is a post that I started writing last year, then I got frustrated with it and shelved it to come back to it later. It touches on politics, though isn’t a political post. It’s still somehow as true as when I started writing it last autumn…

We live in our little bubbles and are then surprised when we come across people whose experiences are so different from our own.

I didn’t think this applied to me. I have a group of friends which is really diverse in terms of people from different cultures and backgrounds, many of whom face different day-to-day challenges from my own. Nowadays my friends are more my own age, but I also spend time with people who are older or younger than I am. Previously they were always older, but that was when I thought people my own age weren’t very interesting.

I would say my friends are also pretty diverse in terms of what they do for a living. IT professionals and teachers are perhaps over-represented, and I know a lot of people working in the legal field from my past job. But other than that, my friends and the people I talk with do a wide range of jobs.

I can’t really share why I even began thinking about this post, but I was taking part in some research. Apart from the thing that we were actually talking about in the focus group, my biggest take-away was the amount of negativity some people have towards social media. And that’s fine – I wasn’t trying to convert anyone. I see problems with it too, both in terms of the way individual platforms are managed and the way in which people use them. But most of my friends are on at least one social media platform – often more. Apart from a couple of people that I know, I genuinely don’t come across that many people who aren’t present on at least one social media site.

It’s the same when you look at internet access. According to some research that I was using in one of my classes, 95% of the people in the UK have access to the internet. But what about those other 5%? Who are they? What’s life like for them without something that I struggle to go even a few hours without? (I munched through all my data the other day and had to top it up because I couldn’t go just a couple of weeks without mobile data). But there are people who don’t have an internet connection at home. There are even people that don’t have mobile phones. What’s life like for them? In Germany the figure goes down to 85%. What about the other 15%? I have no idea.

Before the 2016 referendum, I thought it would be a done deal. We would vote to stay in the EU and then we would carry on as normal. That’s what all of my friends were saying. And then I was so shocked at the Brexit referendum result. I’m not here to make this into a political post, but I genuinely thought that it would be a clear-cut win for remain. Why? Because most of the people I spoke to on a day-to-day basis agreed with me and thought that the alternative would be a disaster. So I somehow had the impression that was representative. That turned out not to be true. Maybe some leave voters were shocked in the same way that the margin was so narrow – if all of their friends felt the same, the number of people wanting to stay may have also been a surprise to them.

We’re trained to think of diversity as covering things such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation etc. That’s true, and for me at least, I don’t find that difficult.

But a key part of diversity in the wider sense that I think we often overlook is difference. People who are just different from ourselves. People who think differently or see the world differently – not because of something like another culture, but another political view or another view on what role technology should be playing in our lives, including the role of social media.

I don’t read the newspapers that those people read. Maybe I should once in a while. Not because I want to change my mind, because in many cases what these particular people believe is so different from what I believe, but at least knowing what they think and why might help me to understand them better. Or at least to be aware of their reasons. But that brings me onto the other thing that I find hard. So much now is based on emotional decision-making rather than actual facts. Article headlines and advertising are written to appeal to our emotional responses and not to our brains. I really struggle with this kind of discussion and I don’t have an answer to that!

I don’t have the energy for pointless arguments. Discussions, maybe. But they have to be built on measurable facts and logical conclusions – otherwise I get bored!

The discussion about social media and use of technology to communicate really opened my eyes. In a broader sense, the discussion was about how best to communicate information. And as is almost always the case, I think the right answer is somewhere in the middle of the scale between social media is evil and it’s the answer to everything. Use it to communicate your information to the vast number of people who will see it that way (including many people like me, who won’t see a big sign or a leaflet through my door). Don’t expect it to solve all your problems, but don’t see it as the enemy either. Take what’s good about social media, and work with that. Any kind of extreme views are usually unhelpful, whichever end of the scale they veer towards. And we as a society are becoming so divided with our us-and-them mentalities. The problem is, “they” are people too. We might not agree with them, but if we stop even listening to or acknowledging them, there are no communication channels open for dialogue. And that’s not a good position to be in. Seeing people as the enemy quickly dehumanises them.

Going back to the point about social media, or even discussions in general, we seem to be living in such a polarised society. I believe we should stand up for what we think is right, rather than trying to dilute it to make it acceptable to everyone. And there will be things that I will not agree with others on – particularly in the politically-charged post-referendum climate in the UK. There are people with whom I won’t discuss politics now because I know it won’t lead anywhere good. I’m much more likely to respond to a logical reason why my argument might be flawed than a “you’re an idiot because you think that and you must have been listening to fake news”. It’s ok to be passionate, but I find it hard when discussions become emotional rather than objective.

We had debating club in years 12 and 13 at school. I really enjoyed it, but I can’t remember whether I chose to join or whether it was mandatory. I don’t remember doing anything like that in years 7 to 11, and I think these are such useful skills. I didn’t always agree with the motions I was given to argue, but I enjoyed the challenge of looking for arguments to support or contradict them. I learned a lot from that.

Sometimes the only smart thing to do is to walk away – from the discussion, if you see it’s not going anywhere, or even from a friendship if the values that the other person is promoting are so far removed from your own.

But where did all the hate come from? Someone disagreed with us on Twitter, so we decide to make a big drama out of it. Someone has a different opinion, so that’s all the justification we need to start attacking them verbally? There are world leaders who lead by their bad example in this, but surely we can do better than that? We might still agree to disagree at the end, but there must be a way to do it that’s more classy than the mud-slinging that I see all the time on social media, and even the bad attitudes I sometimes witness in real life.

I think we all need to be aware of the echo chambers. We surround ourselves with people who think like us. Social media algorithms see what kind of content we respond well to and fill our feeds with more of that content. It feels good when we post things and others agree with us. None of these things are bad in themselves, but there is another part to our society – maybe people we go to work with or see every day at the school gates. We don’t have to agree with them, but we can’t just deny their existence or dismiss them because they don’t fit with our view of the world.

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Mainstream or specialist school – my thoughts and experiences

This is often a subject that evokes heated discussions. Sometimes objective, sometimes verging on the aggressive. People seem so easily caught up in the “us and them” mentality, whoever the us and them happens to be at any given time.

I don’t want to do that though. I have strong opinions on this subject, but I’m certainly not here to tell other people what to do, and I’ll listen to anyone who can stay civil!

Originally, the plan was always for me to attend a specialist boarding school for blind children. I really didn’t want to go. I liked living with my family and couldn’t think of any reason why I would want to go and live somewhere else with people that I didn’t know. Who would do that?

However, Before the time I was due to be sent away, my family had a change of heart. Thanks partly to the new technology I received, I was able to attend the local primary school. I attended four schools in total and was the only totally blind child and Braille reader there.

What was it like?

I can’t make a comparison as some people can who attended a mixture of specialist and mainstream schools. Mainstream school was all I knew. I had my specialist equipment – at first a Braille machine and the old BBC micro. Later I updated to a Braille notetaking device from which you could get printed or Braille copies of work, depending on whether you connected it to a normal printer or a Braille printing device. Later I moved to a laptop, and this is what I’ve continued with throughout my working life.

My books and any worksheets that I needed were prepared by an assistant so that I had them in Braille. I also had huge Braille books for my lessons – the German pocket dictionary was 10 large A4 volumes! The books that I studied for English A levels were 7 or 8 volumes each. I had so much to carry – at one point I was banned from carrying books for more than one lesson at a time due to worries about manual handling and the strain on my back! Now I do a lot more electronically, but I still maintain that it’s important for children to learn to read in Braille. Nowadays, electronic Braille displays are much more common than they were when I was at school.

At the beginning I had a learning assistant with me all the time. This lessened as I grew older and in the end I only had the support for maths, or practical subjects where I might be let loose with an electric saw or equipment for experiments in the science lab. During A-level lessons, I didn’t need any support.

My favourite subjects were languages – in my case English, French and German. I preferred science and humanities to the arts. Maths drove me crazy, although I still got a decent grade, and PE and games were the worst. Not because I was lazy, but I thought some of the activities I was asked to join in with were pretty pointless. I became more interested when I was allowed to do things that made sense to me, like using the gym equipment or going swimming. Cross-country in the snow was just the worst, and I didn’t enjoy learning about games that I would not be able to play. I enjoyed school because I didn’t struggle academically. Games was a reminder of what I couldn’t do, which is why I was glad when I could go swimming instead. And of course I had my horse-riding outside of school!

I’ve since learned that there are team sports for blind people, but I’m not sure I’d have been interested if I’d known about them before – too rough – too dangerous – I’d rather have had my head stuck in a book!

I always had friends, but I preferred smaller groups of good friends to socialising with lots of people and being part of a big crowd. I was never bullied, but I was never that fussed about being popular either. Some people would like me – others wouldn’t. That’s kind of how I go through life now. I saw no point in changing myself to fit with whatever expectation was popular at the time, and my main point of being there was to learn.

Having said that, I made some lovely friends and have good memories of the things we got up to.

I was often resistant to socialising in the way people wanted me to – that shows in the school reports – but part of the deal there was that I just didn’t like being in the noisy lunch hall or outside.

Apart from some differences, such as art, where I was allowed to work with clay rather than to draw things, I did pretty much the same as everyone else. I had friends who helped me, but I helped them too. I gravitated towards specific roles in group work, such as presenting or writing, rather than gathering the information from inaccessible books, but at the end of the day, someone needed to fulfil that role and often others were happy for me to stand up in front of the class because they didn’t want to.

Teachers learned that my friends shouldn’t be used to compensate for their lack of preparation – I needed accessible materials and it wasn’t ok to ask people to read things to me that were still warm because they’d just been dashed off the photocopier! Supply teachers didn’t always get this, but I think on some occasions nobody had even told them that I’d be in their class!

Of course not everything was easy at school. I had the same exam stress, friend troubles, achievements and disappointments as everyone else. I was strong-willed and determined, which got things done, but didn’t always make me popular! It said on my year 7 report that I didn’t suffer fools gladly, and that included adults who thought they knew best, but were suggesting things that had no chance of working. But somehow this set me up for life in a world where things aren’t always accessible and you do sometimes need to stand up for yourself to get the things that you need.

As a younger child, I was always involved in the school productions. Acting wasn’t my thing, but I wasn’t scared of reading in front of a hall full of parents, and that type of job was always going to be available!

For the last two years (12 and 13) I moved to a different school because my one didn’t have a sixth form. I wasn’t the only new girl, but a lot of the other people knew each other, and I was welcomed accepted there.

Maybe there are a few things we could have done differently. I’m an “all or nothing” kind of girl – so I can’t be kind of interested in things. I either like them or I don’t. I think at some point I gave up with maths because I just didn’t get it, and maybe we should have stuck at it and found other explanations for me for the things I wasn’t getting. But hey, I did ok in the exam, and we can always come up with smart ideas when looking back! Overall my grades were above average and I got the highest grades in the things that really interested me.

Being different

I guess I was different, but I never had a hard time because of it. I think I sometimes tried to take control of the difference – to be different because of something other than my blindness. Something of my choosing. So I was Kirsty, the one who loved languages. Kirsty, the horse-mad girl. Kirsty who got top marks in the exam. Kirsty – the Hermione Granger type who annoyed everyone by learning lists of dates off by heart, but who could get a class credit to benefit the whole class by reciting them. My hyper focus could be annoying, and a problem when others didn’t share my interests. However, on more than one occasion, the history class asked me to engage the teacher in an in-depth political discussion so that everyone else could chill out for half an hour! I was happy to oblige.

Kirsty who had the cool tech! Ok there were the obligatory “can you make the speech software say rude words” questions, but in time some of my friends were learning Braille too, and if a teacher’s talking, you can get a lot more down when typing on a laptop than you can with a pen and paper.

I wanted to own the narrative, and not just be different because I was unable to see. Obviously this was a big difference, but thanks to the good support I received and my friends, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage because of it.

Knowing what I do now about additional needs, I wonder whether other things were missed as my differences were generally assumed to be visual impairment related. I don’t think they were entirely. But neither do I think that I missed out on any help that I needed – I either asked for the help, or said all the right things and then continued doing things my own way (“I will try harder to socialise more…”)!

Advantages of attending mainstream school

I think for me, the biggest advantage was that a mainstream school set me up to thrive in a world that isn’t only made up of blind people. It’s a world where the edges aren’t rounded off for you and you will come across inaccessibility, things that are twice as hard for you as they are for others, and things that you need to speak up about.

Overall, I had a lot of really nice, kind, motivated teachers. However, none of the classroom teachers had worked with a blind person before and I had to work with them to establish how we would do things. I did lock horns with people in the education system at times, but it was never these classroom teachers who were doing their best to make their lessons accessible.

When I was about to leave high school, one teacher admitted how she had been apprehensive about working with me and how I would learn in her class. But we did it together. We tried things out, and if they didn’t work, we tried something else. Teachers learned to dictate as they were writing on the board and describe what they were doing as they demonstrated things in the science lab. I’m aware that this was extra work. One teacher used my report as a place to point this out, which wasn’t the appropriate place for it, but in general, most teachers did the extra work willingly and in doing so, made their lessons more inclusive.

I actually enjoyed working with people who had never taught a blind person before. They don’t think they know everything and are generally more willing to listen. Ok, they may not have the experience of blindness that teachers in a specialist school would have, but everyone is different, and one size doesn’t fit all.

So as well as the teachers learning about inclusivity, my classmates also saw someone working alongside them. Maybe I didn’t do everything in the same way as them, but unless there was a really graphical element to what we were doing, I was expected to meet the same standards as they were. I just did it with a laptop and huge folders of Braille!

They did absolutely help me – whether that was getting somewhere unfamiliar, reading inaccessible information, or doing visual parts of presentations. But I can also remember trades, such as me giving help with German in exchange for having my nails painted (I still can’t do it now!) or someone explaining what’s going on in the German video whilst I tried to translate and tell them what was being said.

I think it’s really important for non-disabled children to learn alongside children with disabilities so that the idea will be nothing new when those same children grow up to be adults in charge of recruitment. We can’t expect to have inclusion and integration if it doesn’t start at school.

I wouldn’t want to be segregated because of other characteristics. Most of the time I thought boys were annoying, apart from the quiet ones who wanted to learn stuff, but I wouldn’t have wanted to go to a school just for girls.

In year 12, we had a Japanese exchange student join our class for a while. We became friends and she taught us about Japanese food, language and culture. I had had no experience of any of these things before, and as well as improving her English and learning about life in the cold UK, she taught us a lot too. Diversity is a good thing and we can all learn from different perspectives, or people who do things differently to us.

Specialist schools

I can’t write a lot about this because I didn’t go to one. I know some people who did. Some of them are not that different from me. Maybe it was easier for them because they never had to think about anything being accessible. Their teachers were all familiar with blindness-related things. But bullying can happen anywhere, and blind kids can be as mean as sighted ones. As I’ve listened to other people’s experiences, I understand that it’s not as nice and easy as we may think.

On the plus side, these young people had more exposure to the blindness community and specific activities that had been organised for blind children. From mmy point of view though, I never missed this.

Then there is another group of people that seem to have difficulty adjusting to life after specialist school. They didn’t make sighted friends as a child, because there weren’t any around. They don’t know how to respond to people who are different to them because they only knew the homogenous group where everyone else was blind. They can then find it harder to socialise or integrate into the sighted world, or to cope when things go wrong. This isn’t true for everyone of course, but I’ve seen enough examples of it to identify a pattern.

Even though it may be uncomfortable at the time, I’d argue that it’s better for a child to learn how to self-advocate from a younger age, than to have all the obstacles taken away from them, and then fall at the first hurdle after school.

Specialist school may be good at developing blindness and other independence skills, but I’m not convinced that it prepares people as adequately for what comes next as a well-supported mainstream school experience can.

Children today

So, where does that leave us now?

I think choice is important. If mainstream education would be detrimental to a child’s learning, then of course there should be alternative provision to help them reach their potential. This could either take the form of specialist provision elsewhere, or a unit, allowing for some classroom time and some work in smaller groups or one-to-one.

If the local educational authority is not providing enough support, then I can understand why a parent would opt for an alternative. I was lucky. I got the hours of support and the equipment that I needed. It makes me sad to read how some children nowadays don’t. Ultimately though I believe we should strive to have a system that allows children with additional educational needs to learn in a mainstream classroom, both because of the skills they can develop there – skills that have nothing to do with academic learning – and because I believe an inclusive society starts in the classroom.

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments!

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Restaurant review – The Real Greek in Reading

Earlier this week I talked about my trip to the Clinique counter in Reading. After we’d finished there, S and I decided to go for a late lunch at The Real Greek – a treat for us, because we don’t have a Greek restaurant near where we live.

We’ve been a couple of times now, and unless it’s in the middle of winter after a trip to the Christmas market, we try to sit outside. It’s nice to get some fresh air, and restaurants are always less loud if you can get a table outside! There are several restaurants alongside the canal, but we generally get drawn back to this one.

The staff are friendly and helpful, and the food is both delicious and reasonably priced.

We usually get a selection of meze dishes. The menu recommends 3 or 4 per person, but we found 6 between us was plenty!

We began with humus and flat bread, which was then followed by a selection from the hot and cold meze selection.

One of my firm favourites is the grilled aubergine, but I am also a big fan of the filo parcels stuffed with creamy leek, spinach and feta. On other trips we’ve tried the haloumi fries and the falafel – all very good!

In terms of meat, we tried char-grilled traditional Greek pork and beef sausage, and we also recommend the lamb meatballs that come with yoghurt, tomato sauce, and onions, or the minced lamb served with Anatolian spices.

Stuffed vine leaves are a total pain to make yourself, so I often take the chance to get them when they’re available at a restaurant!

There are various seafood dishes too, but as neither of us is a fan of fish or seafood, I can’t comment on how good they are!

I have to be careful with my allergies and unfortunately the ingredients I can’t have often feature in this type of cooking, but the descriptions on the menu are good, so it’s easy for me to avoid the things I can’t have. I guess it wouldn’t be a problem if you do the traditional English thing where you order your own dishes and guard them against all inquisitive forks, but we tend to put everything in the middle and share!

It’s harder to eat this way when we’re in a big group, but S doesn’t mind, and if he really wants something I can’t have, he has to eat it all himself while I munch on aubergines or lamb!

There is also a children’s menu and a vegan menu – we didn’t need either of them, but it’s good to know that they’re available for anyone who does!

When it comes to dessert, I’m always tempted by the baklava or mango sorbet, but as we usually go at lunchtime, I just have a coffee – either regular or a Greek coffee. If you do still have room though, there is a good selection of desserts.

At the time of writing, there are 15 restaurants listed on the site, so it’s worth checking out whether there’s one near you if you don’t live near Reading.

Have you been to The Real Greek? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

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This post was not sponsored – it’s just a review of somewhere where we enjoy going for lunch!

Blogger event – consultation and make-over at the Clinique counter

On Saturday we took a trip to Reading, where I’d been invited to a blogging event by Jenny, who runs the South East Bloggers’ Circle, which brings together and organises events for bloggers in the South East. It was lovely to meet Jenny and to take part in an event for which we didn’t have to travel to London! Yes, blogger land, there is life outside the capital!

The event was held at the Clinique counter at Boots in Reading, and I was excited to try out some new products, as well as to pick up some make-up tips during my consultation with Amy from the Clinique counter.

I hadn’t tried much skincare before, but I was already a fan of some of the make-up products such as the contour chubby stick, the highlighter stick and the blusher stick. As someone who has a visual impairment and who finds it easier to work with cream products, these sticks are great. I knew there were also some for lips and eyes, and although there is only one shade in the highlighter and contour stick, I thought I might find another blusher to try.

The staff at the Clinique counter were very friendly and helpful. I had a skin consultation, followed by a make-over, and as well as discovering some new products and getting shade-matched properly, I also picked up a few new tips – as did S, who was watching and taking photos! Not his favourite way to spend the morning, but we made up for it later when we spent the rest of the day in Reading!

Clinique ID range

Clinique has a new set of moisturisers called Clinique Id, which you can customise to get the best moisture for your skin type. You first choose your base – out of moisturising lotion, hydrating jelly, or oil control gel. Then you choose a cartridge to treat whichever concern you want to focus on – reenergising, addressing lines and wrinkles, evening out skin texture, dealing with uneven skin tone, or soothing irritated skin. Once you’ve made your choices, you can have your own personalised moisture with the formula that you need or prefer, and the cartridge best suited to your skin type. Find out more about Clinique ID here.

Skincare

We started with a skin consultation so that Amy, my make-up artist, could find the best products for me.

As well as trying out a moisturiser, I had my first experience with an electric cleansing brush – also available at Boots. The bristles give you a deeper cleanse than you would get with normal exfoliation and help to clean out your pores before you start applying skincare or make-up. It was an odd sensation at first, but not unpleasant, and I could get used to it!

At the time of writing this, there is a gift with purchase offer at Clinique. If you buy two products, one of which must be foundation or skincare products, you can get a free gift – a make-up bag with six products inside (conditions apply). I did end up going shopping after my consultation, meaning I got one of these bags too, which included 3 skincare and 3 make-up products (micellar gel, eye make-up remover, moisturiser, lipstick, lip gloss, and mascara). I’m not sure how much longer the promotion will be running, but it’s fantastic value, and I see at the moment it’s available online at Boots too.

Make-up

I don’t usually experiment with foundations, mainly because I can’t swatch them myself or work out which one I should buy. It’s like clothes sizes. You might know what size you are in one shop, but somewhere else that same size means something else. It’s kind of annoying when you can’t see for yourself, so I tend to just buy the same thing over again.

So we got a couple out and Amy advised me on which one to get. We actually tried two types of foundation – the liquid one and the chubby stick one. However, I felt more confident with the liquid one as that’s what I usually use. The stick one gives fuller coverage, but that also means that any blending mistakes would show up more, and I wasn’t up for that!

I also took the opportunity to get colour matched for a concealer, because this is also something I would struggle to do on my own without being able to see it.

I didn’t need another blusher, but I picked up the amp’d up apple one that Amy used on me, as well as one of the shadow tints for eyes, which are like crayons and really easy to apply.

Finally, after confirming with S that I didn’t have anything that colour in my ridiculously large lipstick collection, I also got all heart from the dramatically different moisturising lipstick range.

Overall experience

Before we started, we had a chat about how I do my make-up, what kind of products I like, and which ones I avoided. This gave Amy a better understanding of how I work as someone who can’t see what they’re doing, and helped her to pick out products that I would actually use again.

I didn’t feel flustered by having to make decisions about colours that I can’t see, which is one thing I was concerned about. On the contrary, it was relaxing and I was glad of the recommendations I got during the consultation.

I think that especially if you can’t watch your friends or see exactly what other people are doing on YouTube, having your make-up done by someone else can really help in terms of feeling how and where to apply the products. I did buy a bunch of stuff, but I felt under no pressure to buy.

Also, the fact that you’re going for a skincare and/or make-up consultation means that you can turn up with no make-up on. Not a plus point if you can’t leave the house without a full face of make-up, but if you don’t feel so confident about your own make-up skills, you don’t have to worry about a professional seeing them!

If you want to, you can also open up a Clinique profile, which means that the products you’ve bought are stored with your details. This means that even if you forget which shade of foundation you are, you can just buy it again because the store has a record of your previous purchases.

Thanks to the team at the Clinique counter in Boots Reading, and thanks to Jenny for organising the event.

How about you?

So tell me – do you have any favourite Clinique make-up or skincare products? Do you enjoy skincare and make-up consultations? Let me know in the comments.

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This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested. The consultation was free of charge, but the post was not sponsored. I bought the products  with the exception of the gift with purchase.