Sunday was a bad day for me and my body. In hindsight, it was a bad-bad situation that led to an even worse situation last week that led to urgent (and totally traumatising) procedures on both hips, which in turn led to my current situation: still completely and totally shit. Hence the very late post about the last day of the BBC 6 Music Festival in Liverpool.
I was more nervous about attending the gig on Sunday night than I had been about any other potential access barrier over the rest of the long weekend. This was because I had been static most of the day, in excruciating pain with leg weakness, and had been pushed out to start the evening in my wheelchair. The wheelchair is something I had only previously really used to be pushed to the pub next to my house if a friend was free and willing, as one attempt out on my own had made it very clear that the pavement outside my house was not suited to me or my self-propelling chair.
I remember wondering if you ever quite get used to the general ‘harumphery’ of the practical annoyances of you being in a wheelchair for other abled bodied people who, in order to hang out with you, have to basically also commit to doing a fucking Iron Man over the course of the evening. N made no ‘harrumphing’ – he is a pro – but the feeling of being a ‘nuisance’ sticks with you as you watch various people try to collapse the cheap chair so it will fit in a taxi boot, reassemble it so it’s not wobbling, none of which you can help with, and none of which you can do for yourself.
Anyway, enough introspection, let’s skip to the juicy bit: the venue. Mountford Hall at Liverpool Guild Student… area (couldn’t even find it on Google for weeks). Directions to the venue were… poor (that’s being kind – I will go into how horrendous the booking process was at another point) and definitely not accessible in any way. They did result in much hilarity for me, however. The taxi pulled up next to a pedestrianised student campus area, and Google Maps, as well as the directions from the events company, told us that the venue was straight ahead and ‘just on the left’. The ‘straight ahead’ bit was alarmingly far, if you are pushing a grown up in a wheelchair, and the ‘on the left’ bit was… misleading. We approached what was clearly the venue, loads of security and events people outside it with badges on and uniform etc. It had that whole ‘here’s the disabled ramp’ next to the stairs, which is actually a sloped maze that goes on for about 8 miles weaving all over the place before getting to the top, where the entrance is, which can be reached by able bodied people in four steps. This always reminds me of Preston railway station – if you have a wheelchair or can’t walk upstairs and have been to Preston, you will know exactly what I mean.
The staff watched N push me round and round and round – with evident difficulty (it was windy and I am heavy) – then when we reached the top and tried to go in, the blank-faced security went ‘This isn’t the entrance. You have to go round the other side.’
I laughed. ‘Are you joking?’ Still totally blank faced. ‘No’. On the way up the slopes I had been begging N to let me push freewheel back down again because I thought it would be like a fun slide. He kept saying ‘No! You’ll crash it won’t be funny!’. So off we went to go back down, I kept begging and eventually N let go for one of the slopes, but instead of ‘wheeling myself down the slope’ I just screamed and was propelled by the sheer force of gravity straight into the bannister with a loud crash. N came after me, embarrassed, ‘I told you it wouldn’t be funny!’ N wheeled me down quickly and awkwardly. Staff looked on at us awkwardly. I laughed hysterically and felt empowered and insane, like a static banshee whizzing around on air.
Meet and Greet 5/5
Got to the right side of the building (the left side) and everything took a turn for the excellent. Security staff were expecting me, events company staff were expecting me, and the venue staff were expecting me. Even though we arrived relatively late, everyone was really welcoming and helpful from the moment we got there. We were met by the EXCELLENT Liz, who gave us VIP wristbands, explained exactly where we would be going – backstage and through the side of the stage – into an elevator, out onto a corridor, and along this into an immediately accessible balcony which had been designated the ‘Access Viewing Platform’.
I should note here that since my body fell apart, I have been to only one gig, which I attended at a pub with both crutches and had a barstool reserved for me. Here I was, in a city I don’t know that well, a venue I have never been in before, and about to embark on an accessibility process I had never done before. I suddenly felt terrified as I was being pushed along the exact route Liz had described. I felt even more terrified when we actually went backstage, right alongside the stage, squeezing in between performers, staff and the soundboard but also quite invigorated and excited.
Accessible Viewing Platform 5/5
When we got to the balcony, I was able to sit comfortable in my wheelchair with a great view – the balcony was only used by other VIPS and people who required the reserved area for Access purposes. The lack of other physically disabled people at both gigs I attended as part of the 6 Music festival is very telling of how inaccessible the booking process was. Still, meant I got to sit next to Mark Radcliffe for a bit, which was cool. We didn’t speak, but I liked his socks.
Two unique things happened that made this the best #artandaccess event I have ever been to.
#1 – We were told that there was an upstairs bar, and that bar staff would come round regularly to ask if we would like some booze, and then would deliver the booze as well as the payment machine. Erm that’s mint !!
#2 – I was told where the bathrooms were, and was told that if I need to get anywhere or leave the balcony etc. to just ask Liz and she would accompany me wherever.
There is a very particular reason that #2 was exceptional. It was that Liz had no issue with accompanying me so that I could go for a cig a number of times both during and in between performances. Usually when you phone a venue to ask if the building is accessible, and the answer is ‘Yes’, what they actually mean is that there’s an entrance you can move into in a chair from ground level, but there are stairs to: the bar, the dance-floor, and almost always, the smoking area.
When you have a visible disability, the majority of peoples’ attitudes can be summarised as follows: if you have additional access requirements, why would you need to poison your body with alcohol and tobacco? If you have health problems, why should you be given access to things that are clearly bad for your health? This also asks: If you are disabled, why should you have autonomy?
So Liz took absolutely no issue with going through the whole complicated route, disturbing the entire backstage community; the musicians, security, stage staff, performers, technicians, runners, assistants. This is how I ended up ramming myself straight into Charlotte Gainsbourg’s hareem of handsome young French men #sorrynotsorry. All just so I could have a fag. N stayed inside the venue, and I was out on my own for five minutes having a fag when I suddenly felt totally naked. I had never been this ‘on my own’ in my chair. I had never been somewhere where I don’t know anyone in my chair, and I had definitely never been outside, on the street, on me own, in me chair. In a way it was liberating, as I had had a few gin and tonics by that point and was wearing a very sexy dress (albeit hidden under many layers) and the next act was Charlotte Gainsbourg, who always sounds really sexy.
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#ARTANDACCESS: so the viewing platform is fucking mint at the @liverpoolguild way better than at the Olympia. I’m sat next to mark radcliffe do u think he secretly wants a sweary fag with me and liz? . . . . . . . . #babeswithmobilityaids #pelvicmisalignment #liverpoolspoonie #endometriosis #bbcradio6 #fabevents #accessibility #ambulatorywheelchairusersexist #ambulatorywheelchairuser #gangoffour #gangoffourlive #fibromyalgia #disabledgiggoer #fibrowarrior #bbc6musicfestival #bbc6music
Liz came to accompany me back inside, and jokingly mentioned that if we’re lucky we might bump into Charlotte. I laughed and made a comment about how I hoped I wouldn’t run her over. Prior to getting to the backstage bit of the route, I stopped wheeling myself. Liz asked if I was okay, and I explained that I have never actually been this in charge of my chair before and my arms weren’t used to it. I didn’t actually really know how to be a wheelchair user and be totally independent. I still don’t. I very embarrassingly and gingerly asked if she would mind pushing me, and, of course, she made me feel totally at ease and off we sped, trying to get back before Charlotte went on stage to headline the evening.
Building accessibility 4/5
We rushed through the black curtains tat led backstage to the side of the stage, where we had to stop very suddenly, because a very very tiny lady was standing in the way. She looked like young Patti Smith and a bit like Charlotte Gainsbourg. My jaw dropped as my knees were practically nudging her bottom. We froze, as you do when you accidentally stroll into a situation you aren’t supposed to be in. We waited as she seemed nervous and was muttering to herself, I suppose lyrics, or words of encouragement before she took to the stage. She confirmed in an interview I heard later that week that she is naturally shy, and struggles with getting really nervous when about to perform. So we froze, my jaw dropped, a few staff were grinning. Mark Radcliffe leant over to me and said ‘Don’t worry, she’ll be onstage in a minute’; as soon as he’d said this it was her cue, and I looked at him incredulously and gasped ‘I know she will that’s Charlotte Fucking Gainsbourg!’ At which point I was whizzed off again by Liz, who was trying her best to get me back so that I missed as little of the set as possible.
I don’t like reviewing music but the gig was fab. It’s getting 4 instead of 5 because the content of Friday’s gig was much better and Anna Calvi was unbelievable. Still getting 4 because Charlotte had a well sick lighting set up.
After the gig, Liz accompanied me and N out, and I explained to her what a fantastic time I’d had and how positive my experience had been. She told me she works on access at other festivals and things, so I told her about Still Ill OK and the #artandaccess reviews I’d been doing. I took her details for me to get in touch with her directly to arrange an interview, and we said our goodbyes and I said thank you another billion times.
I can’t find Liz’s details – they are on the back of a leaflet in my room somewhere – so if you are reading this Liz, please let me know!
I made it back to bed and ordered an 18 inch pizza. Which I ate. With ease. It was as big as my torso.