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 facs. 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. Fro 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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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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Animal adventures – tales of dungeons and doggies!

You may think that D&D stands for Dungeons and Dragons – but in this case you’d be wrong! It’s Dungeons and Doggies!

<a href=”https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/russrmc/animal-adventures-tales-of-dungeons-and-doggies”> Dungeons and doggies</a> is a kickstarter campaign that at the time of writing this has 13,825 backers! S pointed it out to me last year as we both play DnD, and the thought of DnD with cute doggies, especially Cornelius the golden retriever, was right up my street! As I don’t share golden retrievers, we ended up getting his and hers sets!

I particularly like minis because they’re tactile. The dogs are grouped into small, medium, and large breeds, and they come complete with a rulebook PDF, so you can either incorporate them into a Dungeons and Dragons 5E game or make a party entirely of sentient dog characters who go adventuring together.

The rules include dog-specific breed and class feats to help you build your own characters, or you can take one of the pre-generated ones. There’s even an adventure for you to play – “who’ll let the dogs out?”

Will you choose Cornelius the golden retriever wizard – the only dog with a hat? Or maybe you’d rather be Nightingale, the Pomeranian monk? Or maybe you’d like one that can slink into small places such as Tedric the Chihuahua rogue? Or if you think that every party needs a bard, maybe you’d like to be Montague the Cocker Spaniel! Or if druids are your thing, you can be Freya the German Shepherd? Or the biggest one of all, Cyresse the  St Bernard cleric? The choice is yours!

All the minis came pre-assembled – well-protected in their doggy box. I love the attention to detail, from Cornelius’ spell bones to Montague’s panpipes. They have tiny weapons such as Hartley the fighter’s sword and Flint the cattle dog ranger’s bow. There’s such attention to detail and as a blind player, I love how tactile they are! Of course, there’s the doggy factor too! I’d picked up a few random dire wolves and battle pugs for my mini collection, but a set of 13 lovingly-created D&D dogs made my day!

You also receive a set of post card-sized cards with prints displaying the various dogs.

The team behind Dungeons and Doggies was really good at keeping people up-to-date about their pledges. WE received regular pupdates with details of how the project was coming along, insights into the creation and production process, sneak previews of rules and game mechanics, and requests for feedback.

If you’d like your own set of doggies, check out the kickstarter page!

 

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Life of a mature student – how to find time for studying when you don’t have a fixed timetable

When I was at school, it always filled me with dread – that first week back when you got your timetable. I was fine once I knew what was happening, but the thought of whether my Monday morning would be full of my least favourite things such as maths and PE always made me a bit anxious – until I knew what my week would look like for the rest of the year, and then it was ok.

Generally I enjoyed school. But I felt better when I knew how it would all fit together. Which rooms I’d have to go to and when. Which homework tasks would be set on which days. Then there was order to the chaos!

Sometimes people seem to think that I was just born organised, but there’s more to it than that. As human beings, we generally take the path of least resistance, and being disorganised stresses me out way more than planning a bunch of systems and processes does. I know we’re not all the same.

So, with no lectures to attend, how do you get organised and plan your study time for a long-distance degree course?

How does it work at the Open University?

The Open university is different in that you don’t attend weekly lectures. Most learning happens when you’re working through the materials on your own. Some may find this lonely – I find it liberating because you can set your own schedule and are not restricted by what others are doing.

There are tutorials, which in a way can be like lectures, but there is a list of them for you to choose from, so you’re never tied to having to be in a specific place at a specific time, unless you want to attend a particular face-to-face event, or to go to all of your own tutor’s tutorials. The tutorials are not mandatory, but they can be useful when you’re planning your assignments or if you don’t understand something.

I opt for the online ones, and so far there have been tutorials available on weekday evenings, so I can just hop on to the call from my desk after work. That works well for me because I don’t actually need to take time out of work to do it.

There are some deadlines, such as assignment deadlines. In my last module, there were six to do.

Some people leave them to the very last moment, but again, that would stress me out too much – what if I got ill or something? So I did most of mine around a week before the cut-off date.

Otherwise though, you don’t have someone sitting there telling you what you should be doing, and you don’t have a group of people sitting in a physical space together, working through the materials together. There are forums where you can ask for help, and most modules have a Facebook group, but you really need to be responsible for your own learning strategy and time management.

The weekly planner

I don’t know whether everyone uses it, but I find the weekly planner on the student home page really useful. Ok, there is a certain satisfaction to ticking off tasks and sections of the book once they’re complete. This makes the percentage bar go up and you feel as though you’re getting somewhere!

More than that though, the content is broken down into weeks. I found it really helped to follow this plan and pretty much stuck to it all the way through the first module. I find it bizarre that the week starts on a Saturday, but I just choose to ignore this and pretend that it starts on the Monday!

There are no penalties for not following the planner though – nobody checks – and you’d only have problems if you missed one of the assignment deadlines.

Some people will try to cram everything in at the end. Others will steam off ahead and ask about things that nobody has even seen yet! What people do is really up to them, but if you’re doing a collaborative activity, complaining about the fact that nobody else is participating when it is in fact you that is 4 weeks ahead of everyone else is not going to make you any friends!

General tips for staying on track with your studies

Whether you’re at the Open University or doing other distance learning courses, these tips might help you to work through your study materials.

  • Don’t leave everything till the last minute. Your brain can only absorb so much information at once, and cramming is a risky strategy, especially if unexpected personal circumstances come up, there are technical difficulties, or you discover there’s something that you need more help with.
  • If your course provides a timetable, try to use it. It can make three big books of information and tasks feel a lot more manageable. If you don’t have the material broken down for you, invest the time in making your own weekly planner, taking into consideration any holidays or weeks when you know you’ll have less time.
  • Understand that you’ll be able to sail through some sections because it’s something you know already or something that comes naturally to you. Other things will take a bit more time. With me, it’s always the maths, but I know that and can plan in extra time for it.
  • Once you have your weekly plan, try and break it down further. I generally try to do a bit each weekday and then finish off anything I didn’t manage at the weekend. I’m lucky because I’m self-employed and can set aside some time for this during working hours if I need to. But whether you do it in your work day or a bit each evening – you need to work out what works best for you. You may find it better to have two longer sessions at the weekend – but then bear in mind that there is less time for slippage. Blocking out time in your diary can help – I put mine in like meetings that I have to attend. There will always be other things that need our attention, which is why it’s useful to schedule study time in advance.
  • Find somewhere that feels like a place for working, and try to work there. Set it up in a way that’s comfortable, with less distractions, and try to make it somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Keep all of your books and materials there, so you won’t waste study time hunting around for them. Try to limit distractions there. I just use the desk in my office, but if you don’t have that, try to identify a place where it will be easy for you to work.
  • Focus on what you’re doing, not what everyone else is doing. I understand that some people feel more relaxed if they can get themselves a few weeks ahead and hand in their assignments as soon as possible. That’s cool. But some people like to brag about it, which is not so cool. The people on your course can be good allies – you can help one another, have interesting discussions, and be there on days when either of you has had enough. But ultimately you are never going to see these people again unless you come across them on another module. So sure, be inspired by them, but don’t let them make you feel inadequate if someone is boasting about how quickly they did a task or how easy something was for them. What’s really important for your success is how you’re doing.
  • Don’t leave it too late to ask for help. I can’t move on to the next section if I don’t understand something because it will keep bothering me. I won’t be able to stop thinking about the thing until the thing has been resolved! In some ways this serves me well, but I have seen other people really struggling alone with things and only admitting it very late in the module. There are so many places to get help – tutors, other students, friends, the internet. Some of these people will be under more pressure as exam or assignment deadlines get closer, so it is often better to get your questions in as they come up. Sometimes rereading the same thing multiple times won’t make it any clearer – you need to find another strategy to understand the concept.
  • Know when to take breaks. I’m better at this if my partner is around. When he isn’t, I’ve been known to still be sitting at my desk at stupid o’clock trying to get something finished! But generally that’s a one-off. We aren’t machines. We need basic things like sleep, food, water, exercise. It’s tough because distance learning students often have a whole bunch of other stuff going on such as jobs, family commitments etc, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It won’t help if you burn yourself out because you overestimated how much you could do in one sitting.
  • Expect to have good and bad days. I wasn’t fond of one section in my last module. My motivation levels were down. I couldn’t wait to see the back of it! But that’s normal. Each module covers a range of information and some things will be easier for you than others. Some things will be more interesting than others. Don’t let how you feel about yourself and your ability to do the whole course be determined by how you feel about one particular task.
  • Celebrate the small wins – it makes you feel good before moving on to the next assignment or chunk of learning. Who doesn’t like a celebration? But seriously, breaking the material down into more manageable pieces can certainly help if at first you feel a bit overwhelmed.

Do you have any more tips? Let me know in the comments!

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On your bike – 10 advantages of having exercise equipment at home

This week I got a new exercise bike because my old one broke and couldn’t be repaired.

I have a desk job and spend a lot of my time sitting at my laptop – even more when you take into consideration time for the blog and my studies.

I enjoy going for walks, but I need something a bit more challenging to get the heart rate going, and also for it to be something that I can do on my own.

We already had the cross-trainer, so now the new bike has been put alongside it to replace the broken one.

I wasn’t looking for a lot of added functions on the bike because many of them are things that I can’t use. Anything electrical is not useful because I can’t operate the touch-screen to use the programmes. So I needed a basic one, but also not the absolute cheapest, because past experience has shown you often get what you pay for – and a cheaper one is not economical if it breaks and you have to replace it!

If you like going to the gym, I’m not here to stop you! Everyone should do what works for them. But here are 10 reasons why I like having exercise equipment at home.

  1. Saving time – I put my exercise sessions into my diary like meetings that I have to attend. Then I just need to add in a few minutes to change, and time for a shower afterwards, but I don’t need to build in time getting to and from the gym.
  2. Any time of the day – it doesn’t matter if it’s dark outside or not the safest time to travel. I can work out in the middle of the night if I feel like it! I usually don’t, but the option’s there, whereas most gyms are shut at this time.
  3. Always good weather – unlike if you’re going out for a bike ride or a run, it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing. Whether it’s windy, rainy, or the roads are dangerous with ice – it doesn’t matter. Conditions are always good inside!
  4. Hygiene – if it’s not clean, then there’s only one person to blame! But I do enjoy working out in a place where there haven’t been lots of other hot and sweaty bodies!
  5. Cost – there is an initial outlay because you have to buy the equipment, but once you’ve made this investment, there are no additional charges. You don’t have to think about whether you’re getting the best out of your gym membership or whether you’re getting your money’s worth.
  6. No annoying background music – you can listen to whatever you want to at home. For me, it’s usually music, a podcast or an audio book. But I don’t have to think about anyone else’s taste in music or background noise being too loud.
  7. Accessibility – I can’t access the displays on my equipment. If I want to use a timer or measure my steps, I use my phone. But in terms of actually using the equipment, we’ve chosen things that aren’t operated by a touch screen. The bike has a manual adjustment knob if you want to make it more difficult. So I don’t have to worry about equipment that can only be used when sighted assistance is around. In terms of cycling, I’m not reliant on a tandem front rider – although I do enjoy tandem cycling when I get the chance.
  8. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing – nobody is watching me. Nobody sees if I take a break! I don’t have to watch anyone else showing off!
  9. You don’t have to set up the equipment every time – the bike is set up for a short person, which means I don’t have to readjust it each time or do a flying leap just to get into the saddle! Ok, S might use the equipment too, but he generally puts things back to how I had them or doesn’t change them at all. This isn’t the case with equipment in a public place.
  10. No excuses – it’s much harder to find excuses not to do exercise when all you have to do is go to a room in your house! I try to get in there each week day. Occasionally I still don’t make it – especially if I have a tight deadline or a day with back-to-back meetings, but there’s much less that stands in the way of exercising at home, which increases the chance of it actually getting done!

Of course there are some disadvantages – the main ones for me are not actually moving anywhere and not getting out into the fresh air. Some people may struggle for space too, because these things do take up room.

But it’s a way I can be sure that I get regular exercise. For me, that makes it worth the investment!

How about you? Do you have any exercise equipment at home, do you prefer going to the gym, or do you get your exercise in some other way? Let me know in the comments.

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Why I have a problem with the AbledsAreWeird hashtag

Ok so maybe talking about this Hashtag is just giving it more publicity, which is actually the opposite of what I want to do, but still I think it’s a conversation worth having. You know, that old saying that if you sit there and say nothing when something’s going on that you don’t agree with, it’s actually like agreeing with it because nobody knows that you didn’t!

What is the hashtag>

The first time I became aware of it was at the weekend and it was actually a tweet in which someone wasn’t supporting it, to which I agreed. I hadn’t heard of it before though.

It’s basically a hashtag that people with disabilities are using to highlight some of the odd experiences they’ve had, where members of the public have been offensive, clueless, or said inappropriate things. They are real-life stories. Some just bizarre, but many show the ongoing barriers, misunderstandings, inappropriate comments or strange behaviour that many people face regularly. That’s not cool. These things shouldn’t happen. Discrimination is real and should be stopped.

I’ve had my share too – and continue to do so – but still, I don’t like the hashtag.

Why do I have a problem with it?

If it were just about highlighting some of the bad, maddening, or otherwise crazy experiences, either to bring a bit of humour or raise awareness, I think that’s fine. I’ve had comments that made me angry, sad, or roll my eyes in the past – I’m not exempt from them. How something affects you often depends on the kind of day you’re having. Great day – you think “what an odd thing to say” and move on. Terrible day –then sometimes it all feels too much.

But in the same way that I wouldn’t want someone to call me a “disabled” or “a blind”, I have an issue with the term “ableds”. Isn’t this reinforcing the stereotypes that everyone in a massive group of the population is the same? Isn’t that something that disabled people complain about?

Also, I don’t live in a sub-community that consists of only people with disabilities. Most of my best friends are non-disabled, and I hate the thought of “us and them”. It widens the gap between us. It’s about blame.

Ultimately, if someone behaves badly, or fails to be inclusive, then yes it is down to them. But it’s way too general for my liking to start calling everyone in that demographic weird.

And for the love of all that is good – the first time I was in a group of mainly visually impaired people, I thought a lot of them were pretty weird as well! I attended a short IT course after my A-levels at a centre that catered specifically for people with visual impairments. The way I was hit on there and the bizarre questions I was asked were far worse than anything that happened while I was at mainstream school. So let’s not get too smug in the weirdness comparison stakes!

There are times when only someone who has had a shared experience will know exactly how something feels. You could argue that only someone who has worked with an assistance animal for a number of years can really know how hard it is when your dog isn’t there any more – not just because you were friends, but you were a team too. People who don’t have to deal with accessibility issues every day can empathise, but it’s probably really only people who live that struggle who know just how much it can piss you off.

Yet, having said that, there are many times when I relate more to the “them” than to the “us”, precisely because I don’t live in a world where most people share my experience and disability. I’m more than just my visual impairment. I share other life experiences, interests, challenges and accomplishments with my partner and friends that have absolutely nothing to do with my inability to see.

It would be the same for me with any other type of hashtag that makes a statement about a huge group of People. Something about “men are” or “people over 50 are” or “people with children are” – it’s just not cool. I don’t belong to that demographic, but neither do I have the right to lump them all together and insult them! Especially not if the whole point is to try and get better treatment for a minority group to which I belong.

So what should we do instead?

I strongly believe that as human beings, we have more that unites us than sets us apart.

I believe we need to work together more. To share experiences, including problems, and try to find solutions.

I’m not saying that because I have an unrealistically optimistic view of the world and underestimate the problems. I spent a large chunk of today researching something that would have taken a sighted person far less time because they could have used any of the information, whereas I had to sift through twice as much as I needed in order to find accessible resources. I wish people would design more accessible websites and not think we all learn from inaccessible videos and diagrams.

But I can’t fix that by just insulting those people!

There is a way to share experiences in an objective and not accusatory  way that still gets a message across. One day I’ll write a post about all the crazy things people have said to or about my guide dog. I can also think of some inappropriate things that people have said, things that I don’t necessarily want to give a place on the blog. There’s a way of calling out that behaviour too, and I certainly don’t think we should avoid those uncomfortable discussions.

But I’d be a hypocrite if I used a hashtag that I myself thought was offensive – which is why I won’t be promoting it.

Many people with disabilities have joined in – and that’s their choice. Many more are blissfully unaware of the hashtag as I was, or maybe some are afraid of the backlash for swimming against the tide of popular opinion. Who knows.

The comments I’ve seen have talked about non-disabled people getting offended by the hashtag, but I’m willing to guess that like me, some disabled people are offended by it too!

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