Lost Evenings II (The Monarch, Roundhouse and Dingwalls)

Photo Credit: YoshiKyon

Recently, I headed to Lost Evenings II, a 4-day festival in Camden set up by Frank Turner (more on why I love Frank Turner and all he does here). Sadly, I only went for the Saturday and not the full 4 days. But even that involved a trip to the Monarch, the night at Camden Roundhouse and then an afterparty at Dingwalls. So, here’s an accessibility review of all 3 venues (yeah that’s right this is a 3 in 1 deal, I do spoil you!)

The Monarch

First port of call for the evening was the pub (what did you expect honestly?) Now I usually split reviews like this into ticket buying, getting there and the experience and seating. However, in terms of tickets, there were none needed because well, it’s a pub so that was one hurdle avoided.

In terms of getting there, we (by we I mean my friend Dev) drove to Camden, parked up in our prebooked parking spot at the Roundhouse (more on that later) and strolled the rather longer than expected distance to the pub.

In terms of overall experience, this is where it gets interesting. We arrived and headed to the main entrance. I then requested that the doorman open the flat, wheelchair accessible entrance so I could get in. I knew this entrance was there as I’d been to the Monarch before (and we’d walked past it on the way to the main entrance). However, this request was repeatedly refused with the doorman even denying the existence of an accessible entrance. It was suggested that I be carried in in my chair, he then gestured at me to stand and walk in (I like a drink, but I’m not about to take my first unaided steps just to get one when there’s access available!). Obviously, I refused both of those suggestions as I was determined to get the access I asked for and know is there. I was then ignored and sat in the rain until a member of the Solo Armada (group of Frank Turner fans determined to make sure no one goes to a gig alone) kicked up a fuss (because no one was listening to me) and spoke to the doorman to helped me get in. Once we were FINALLY in, I found that the bar was downstairs and therefore I couldn’t get my own drink, which was kind of annoying but not a rare occurrence in many of the pubs I’ve been in. One of the things I can’t fault is the brilliant atmosphere. There’s really nothing better than belting out a Frank Turner song with strangers in the middle of pub with a drink in hand!

Roundhouse

Then it was off to the Roundhouse for the main event of the evening! In terms of ticket buying, it was just your standard “call the accessible booking line” kind of deal so pretty much the same as most other venues.

In terms of getting there, as I’ve said above, Dev drove, and we parked up in our prebooked parking space. We were given directions on where to park when I booked the space, but it was still difficult to get in as the parking bays were difficult to find and you have to go behind a gate (which you have to request to be opened) so there’s a lot more involved in the parking than I expected.

In terms of experience and seating. It was quite difficult getting from the parking into the venue. Mostly due to poor quality ramp getting from the parking bays into the back of the venue. Once we were in we had quite a good view, we were sort of off to the side and up on a balcony. This also gave a good view of the standing and pit area, so I really felt like part of the crowd. Crowd control on the way out was pretty good, However, there was a long wait to be able to get to the lift for the lower level, but I felt this situation was well handled. Part of the issue was that half of the queue that we had to wait on was the merch queue (which we didn’t want to be in). I’m not sure if it’s the way the venue is or because it was a festival sort of situation, but the question still stands, why build a system where queues equals blocked disabled access?

Dingwalls

And after the brilliant gig it was time to partayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy with an afterparty headlined by Shikari Sound System at Dingwalls. I bought tickets online like everyone else and there were actually no specific disabled tickets, while this might stress other people out, I was assured from the info on the site that the venue was accessible, and it was good to feel like I was getting the same experience as everyone else.

In terms of getting there, we drove from the Roundhouse to street parking near (ish) Dingwalls and walked since there was no parking at the venue (something which was stated on the website, so we were aware prior to arriving).

In terms of the experience, we arrived and were led around to a back entrance (side note: I hate Camden cobbles as does my spine) and then inside to a fairly busy section with not the best view. However, we found a better spot around the side of the same level which was quieter and gave me a better view, but it was near the toilets. These are the kind of standard sacrifices I have to make to get a decent view with a disability, but I was still able to dance and drink the rest of the evening away!

I hope this post gives an enlightening view on my experience of Lost Evenings II.

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THAT Frank Turner story

Photo Credit: Ben Morse

­Everyone has that “remember that time I met (xyz celeb/famous person)” story, right? Well here’s the full glorious story of the that time I met Frank Turner (yes this is the explanation of THAT photo that is the lock screen/background of everything I own forever).

So, let’s begin at the beginning (yes that’s a lyrical reference, shush). It all started on Twitter, the way all good things do, with me lamenting the fact that Frank’s show at Alexandra Palace was not sold out when I’d expected it to be and yet I couldn’t go anyway because I had a super early lecture the next morning. Frank saw this and well, chaos ensued that ended in me basically being told by several fans on Twitter “skip the lecture you’re only a fresher you’ll make it up you can’t miss this” (fair point well made). But there was still the issue of the long travel to and from the venue, until a fellow fan offered to give us a lift there (yep, they offered to give a stranger on the internet a lift just to make sure I could get to the show #FrankFamily). AND THEN Frank himself told me to send him over an email. The email was sent, despite me not really knowing why I was sending it, turns out Frank was offering to sort out a cab, so I could safely get home from the show!  So, I was all out of reasons NOT to go!

And thus, tickets were purchased, and I asked Nikki to join me (yes editor Nikki) and she of course accepted.

Around a week or so later I got another email from Frank. This time offering a meet & greet & picture as part of the Random Acts of Kindness thing that was happening around the release of the Positive Song For Negative People album and of course I was never going to turn down a chance to meet someone I idolised (and still do) contact details were also exchanged with Frank’s tour manager Tre so we could make sure this whole thing went down without a hitch.

And then, through no fault of anybody’s, our ride to the show had to drop out just the day before, but Nikki and our friend Bella found a solution (i.e. Bella gave us a lift in her car because she’s an actual angel).

We get to the day of the show, we somehow make it around the North Circular in Bella’s tiny car and she drops us off in the car park. Nikki’s poor legs were then destroyed having to push me up the giant hill between the car park and the venue, to the point where another woman helped us up the hill. #FrankFamily again.

So, we caught the end of Will Varley’s set. And then I looked at my phone in between acts and saw a text from Tre asking if we’d got in ok and where we were sat…cue minor “holy hell this is actually real” moment.

A little while later, we were collected from the disabled platform and taken down the ramp towards backstage. And all of a sudden, a curtain was pulled back and…there was Frank! And at that point I sort of forgot speaking was possible and just sat there thinking “HOLY HELL THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING”.

Nikki similarly lost her mind and we both forgot I’d actually brought a cd with me to potentially get signed. Small things to forget when such a huge moment is happening.

After hugs, a quick chat about a festival that used to be in Uxbridge (I think?) and a picture of the 3 of us, Frank had to rush back to do the show.

After the meeting, we headed back to the disabled platform to watch the show and I cried out of pure disbelief at what had just happened (you think I’m joking, I genuinely cried for a good half of the Skinny Listers’ set).

After singing along to every single word of every single song and dancing until I felt like I was going to fall apart, the show was somehow over, and we waited for someone to come and get us to take us to the prebooked cab home. But not before security tried to take us out of the side door with everyone else and were told “they’re with the band” (I’ve always wanted to be “with the band”!)

We were well looked after and felt like VIPs all night, and that was appreciated more than you can imagine. or VIGs (Very Important Ghosts) as Nikki likes to say, as the colour drained from our faces and we looked like ghosts when we met Frank (I thought I was playing it cool but apparently not!).

This was one of those experiences that made me realise anything is possible if people are willing to help you make it work, one of those things that sparked the #InvincibleWoman within me. I’d heard about the #FrankFamily, how it’s more than a fanbase, how once you’re in you never really leave no matter how many shows you can’t get to, how you’ll make friends that you’ll never lose. that was exactly what I needed given that the show was one of my first major events living in London, or away from home at all. And that’s exactly what I got, for that I’m forever grateful. #FrankFamily

I’ve seen Frank since in Kingston, but I’ll never forget that first show or the lengths he and the rest of the crew went to give me a night I’ll talk about forever.

Since that show, I’ve made a promise to myself that I will go to every show I possibly can, because that’s the only thankyou I can give that seems to go anywhere close to how many thankyous I need to give. On that note, if anyone’s at the Saturday of Lost Evenings Festival (12th May) feel free to say hey!

Also, for those wondering, here’s a 2-and-a-half-year update on that meet & greet picture (minus Nikki because she couldn’t make the signing) and that elusive signature since I forgot to get it at Alexandra Palace.

 

 

Being Questioned Academically

This blog’s a bit of a weird one. And not something I’d usually talk about. This one’s about what it feels like to be questioned academically because of things connected to my disability, along with a little story of when I felt like that.

The first thing I need to make clear is, I have Cerebral Palsy. It is a neurological condition which DOES mean it affects my brain, however, (as I discussed in “Disability & Language” when I stated why I don’t like referring to Cerebral Palsy as the neurological condition it is) it also DOESN’T affect my “brain”, in that it doesn’t affect my intelligence or my ability to participate in academia like everyone else.

Another part of the reason being questioned like this can hurt is because I pride myself on my academic ability. It’s the one thing that just seemed to click with me. Everything else I’ve had to work at and gain confidence in myself and my ability to do it, but books and academia just seemed to make sense from the start.

Now onto story time and the reason why I decided to write this post. Most of you may well know by now that I’m heading into my final year at university in September, and THAT means it’s time to start thinking about dissertation. I knew I wanted my dissertation to involve FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) so I went to my personal tutor to ask if the university would be willing to let a lowly undergraduate like myself use the big fancy FMRI machines (because they are rather technical, and I heard several things from different people about whether undergraduates were allowed to use the FMRI machines. Yet right after I’d asked this question, my tutor’s response was: but they’re magnetic so *looks at chair, then at me, then back at chair* how are you going to…?  what they meant, without finishing the sentence was: how are you going to take the giant metal thing in which you sit near the magnetic machinery? And don’t get me wrong, this is a valid question, it’s just more of an “ugh, I’m here asking if my dissertation idea is too advanced for you to let me do it (spoiler: it was) and you’re questioning how I’m going to take my wheelchair near the machine like I haven’t possibly thought of that before this meeting, really?!

For those of you wondering about the solution. Transferring out of my wheelchair is a thing that I can do. This odd assumption that a wheelchair automatically means you’re paralysed needs to stop, for some people like myself, a wheelchair just allows you to do more and live life more. Also, even if transferring out of my chair wasn’t an option, I’d figure out a way to make this situation work, I always do. Academia is the one area where I don’t see the impact of my condition, and I’m determined to keep it that way.

Disability & Language

Following on from my most successful “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” post, I’ve decided to do another post, further discussing my ideas around disability & language.

(Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. This post will include language that’s considered ableist slurs, If you find that language upsetting, it’s probably better if you just skip this one.)

  1. Wheelchair bound

This one reared its head again after the recent death of Stephen Hawking, it’s how he was described in most of the newspaper articles I’ve seen. And frankly, this idea that wheelchairs are binding or limiting needs to stop. Seriously, just think about what you’re saying when you say this. I’m not bound. No one is tying me into this chair and forcing me to use it against my will. When I’m using my chair, I. AM. FREE. My chair is the ONLY reason I can go to all these venues and events that I write accessibility reviews about and do all the things I do.

  1. Disabled/differently abled/whatever identity term you use

Now, let me clarify here, I don’t have any problem with the WORDS here, It’s more the reactions to the words. Identify however you want, whether that’s person first language (person with a disability) or identity first (disabled person), and THAT word, disabled, is where the issue tends to happen. When I identify myself as disabled, and I’ve heard of this happening to other people too, sometimes people say, “you’re not disabled you’re differently abled” NO, you do not get to define who I am TO me. Disabled isn’t a bad word, identity first language is valid! #SayTheWord

  1. R*tard

You can guess, from the fact I’ve put an asterisk in here, exactly how I feel about this word. It’s probably the worst ableist slur in my opinion, and the one that makes me flinch every single time I hear it. And for the “but it’s a medical term” people, yes, a ridiculously outdated one that isn’t actually used anymore (as far as I’m aware) so there goes that argument, ableist people!

  1. Spaz/spastic

Here goes with what could a controversial opinion. When it comes to using this word about my disability or myself. I am COMPLETELY ok with it and WILL use it (that’s just relating to ME, I still cringe when I hear it being said to others because I know THEY might not be ok with it) The reason I’m ok with it is, for those of you who aren’t aware, the full name of my condition is  cerebral palsy spastic diplegia, and well the clue’s in the name essentially. So, I see this word as less of an insult and more an observation. And if someone DOES try to use it as an insult it’s sort of like “well you didn’t have to look far for that that one did you, it’s LITERALLY part of the name for my condition”.

  1. Suffers from

I’m sorry, do I look like I’m suffering over here getting a joint honours degree, living independently in the capital, going to more concerts and events than I could ever have thought possible and generally living my best life? I HAVE cerebral palsy, I SUFFER FROM nothing. This kind of language, I feel, stems from the idea that disability is a bad thing or something I should be sad about, and that is soooooo not the case it’s ridiculous. I’ll live my life just like you like yours, regardless of the fact I live it on wheels

  1. Impairment

Using this word  or hearing it used to describe my disability always feels a little odd. It just makes too much of a point of the fact there are things I can’t do as opposed to focusing on what I can do, and that’s completely the opposite of the way I’ve always approached being disabled.

  1. Neurological condition

This is another one that always feels odd. Even though I know cerebral palsy IS a neurological condition, I also know that people are more likely to understand that neurological means that the brain is affected, and THAT sometimes leads people to assume my intelligence is affected. That, considering my intelligence is something I’m very proud of, is an assumption that can be quite upsetting or irritating, which means I very rarely refer to cerebral palsy as the neurological condition that it is!

  1. Carer

This is another odd one. It’s a word I often encounter at concerts or events when you buy a “disabled & carer” ticket. But the thing is, I don’t actually need much care at events like that really, particularly when I’m in my electric chair. So when friends hear me, who’s usually incredibly independent, mention a “carer” it kind of scares them, like “oh what do I have to do?” when all I’m really saying is “do you want to come to this thing with me as a friend”. And for those wondering, Personal Assistant is worse because, to me, it gives the idea that being disabled gives you some kind of privilege, and believe me, disability isn’t some kind of fancy privilege!

  1. How are you going to…?

This one’s sort of depends on the context of when it’s being said. If we’re going somewhere together and you want to know how to help me with certain things on the journey like getting on and off whatever form of transport, that’s fine. But if I mention going somewhere by myself and you ask this, it kind of feels like you’re questioning my capability, and that’s not cool, in these situations, how I do things is something for me to figure out.

  1. Can’t

Ok, alright, THIS. THIS. IS. JUST. NOT A WORD. The only thing I physically cannot do is walk unaided, everything else I figure out my own way of doing. So, for all those who like to say “oh you can’t do x” stop trying to tell me what I’m capable of & what I’m not

I hope this post helps expand my the discussion around disability & language. Feel free to share your thoughts below!

UFC Fight Night London 2018

I know I’ve reviewed The O2 Arena before but this one specifically focuses on my experience at UFC Fight Night London 2018, which was so different to all my previous experiences. As usual, I’ll be splitting it into the ticket buying process, the journey to/from venue and seating/general experience at the event.

In terms of the ticket buying process, it was no different than my other experiences, other than the fact I got these tickets on presale rather than general sale.

Travel was way more complex due to Tube upgrades meaning Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines both didn’t run from Uxbridge. Getting there involved taking the U3 bus to Heathrow Central, then the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to Green Park and THEN the Jubilee line to North Greenwich. The return journey involved getting the Jubilee line to Bond Street where there were “access issues” to put it politely (dragging a powered wheelchair off a tube train to avoid being crushed by the doors is no mean feat , add to that the pathetic apology I received on the night and post complaint about the access issues and you have a a pretty standard Tube trip in a wheelchair , read more about the access issues I have on the Tube here ) and then a loooooooooooong trip on the N207 back to Uxbridge (Night buses on St Patrick’s Day also no fun!)

The experience & seating was where I noticed the most difference. We had a much – poorer view from W108 as opposed to W101 where I’ve been every other time. We were placed right at the back of the venue and were not guided or directed to our seats or even to the lift to get to our seats. Neither were we directed out towards the lift to exit when the event ended, (even though it was PRETTY obvious we were struggling to make it through the droves of people who were also trying to exit), despite having asked multiple staff about the location of said lift. Out of sight, out of mind I guess if you’re a disabled guest with a seat at the back of the venue? And to top it off, we were almost crushed trying to get back into North Greenwich station after the event. (For a tube station right next to a major venue, crowd control measures at North Greenwich don’t really seem to exist, and neither does the decency of fellow fans to not crush me as they try to re-enter the station. Lack of crowd control lead to the access issues at Bond Street that I described above

The joys of just trying to see some MMA action as a disabled fan! I’m genuinely a little disappointed in you, O2 Arena… I always hype you up as a great venue for access and customer service as a disabled guest, and this time you let me down.

Lyric Hammersmith Access Review

Accessibility Review Time! This one’s about the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in well, Hammersmith. I’ll be splitting it into the ticket buying process, the journey to/from venue and seating/general experience at the event.

(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Now, I recently went to the Lyric with my friends Aoife & Ellie (yes, the girls from my earlier Sicily travel blog #invinciblewomenreunited ) to see Things I Know To Be True (which I highly recommend you go see if it’s being performed at a theatre near you at any point, it was mind blowing and made me remember how good theatre can be!). Here’s how the whole experience was:

In terms of ticket buying, it’s just the standard accessible ticket line in order to be able to purchase a wheelchair space ticket along with a carer and another standard ticket. They made sure to find us a spot to seat all 3 of us together which was a welcome surprise because usually venues will only seat the disabled person and carer in the wheelchair areas and then other party members have to sit elsewhere (because disabled people only have that 1 friend right?)

The travel is also really rather simple, it’s just a bus to the Uxbridge station and then the Piccadilly line to Hammersmith for me (and then making sure you walk out of the easiest exit from Hammersmith station to head to the Lyric, I had my friend and Hammersmith local Jess to help me out with that one!)

With regard to seating and experience, we were in the stalls on the ground floor right at the back which the girls, who have been to the theatre a lot more than me, assured me was basically the best view in the house so yay disability perks! Staff were also great constantly guiding us on where to go which I found to be very helpful as I much prefer saying “oh yeah we’ve just been told where to go by xyz person” rather than consistently having to ASK where we need to go. The one thing I would say is they could do with a lowered section to the bar where the water is, so I can get my own water rather than having to rely on someone else to get it for me. However, the automated exit/entrance door was greatly appreciated as it made everyone’s lives and I thought it was particularly nice of the staff to wait for us to leave (yay for being the last out as we have to go in the complete opposite direction to everyone for an accessible exit) before leaving themselves.

So, thanks to everyone at the Lyric Hammersmith for making it super easy for me to enjoy a night at the theatre with my gals!

Flying Solo

This post will focus on, as the title suggests, how I flew solo for the first time (i.e. completely alone) as a wheelchair user. Much like my “Conquering The Rails” solo rail travel post, this post will go through ticket buying, getting on/off the plane and actually being on the plane.

In terms of ticket buying, it was pretty straightforward. I just bought my ticket online as usual and then selected the level of disability assistance I’d need at the airport (Level 3 I think it was? Basically, all the possible assistance all the way through because wow self propelling was not a thing I could do back then. I then input the wheelchair type (manual) and dimensions into the form for luggage purposes (because my chair counts as luggage).

In order to get on the plane, one must first get TO the plane. For me this meant getting a bus to Heathrow with a friend and then the Heathrow Express train (shuttle? Bus? Thing) to the terminal. I then checked in my chair (which needs to be tagged as luggage and can then be taken to the airport door) and bag and (once airline staff had gotten over there “you’re flying ALONE?!” shock, guessing they assumed chair = constant carer required) set about finding the airport assistance I’d booked. Once I’d found them, they informed me my friend could go with me up to security which I really appreciated as someone who was a little wary about flying solo. Then it was onto going through security which ALWAYS ends in both myself and the chair being patted down because my chair sets off the metal detector (or maybe that’s the metal plates in my legs?), as well as both my chair and I being swabbed (for drugs presumably). Then it was on to the assistance lounge, basically a giant waiting room where those who need assistance to the gate/onto the train are plonked until their flight’s ready to board, to wait then FINALLY to the gate.

In terms of on the plane, I transferred from my chair to the aisle chair, anyone who’s read “The Beginning” knows I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE that thing, at the plane door. I was then wheeled to my seat (in what is basically that thing they use to take washers and driers in and out of houses but for people, because ya know, I’m basically a kitchen appliance) and transferred. I can shuffle myself in from the aisle to my seat, but assistance staff insisted on lifting me (probably something to do with procedure). I’ll usually try and get the window seat to stop people having to climb over me to get to the bathroom, but again staff insisted on me having the aisle seat (again probably procedure, red tape, health and safety, yadda yadda yadda you know the deal here). After I was seated nothing else really happened, it was only a flight from Heathrow to Manchester so just a short flight, which also meant no bathroom trip, so I still have NO idea how using an airplane bathroom as a wheelchair user works, but plenty more trips to figure that out right?!

Disembarking was basically the same procedure as getting on the plane except in reverse order. I then had to collect my own suitcase off the belt at baggage claim and self-propel through to arrivals even though I’d booked assistance for the entire trip (i.e. at both airports) so it was-less than satisfactory assistance at Manchester airport (although how sending 1 (ONE) airport assistance staff to a flight with 3 wheelchair users on-board, and however many others that may have required assistance, ever made sense to whoever makes those decisions I’ll never know, so the assistance guy was probably doing the best he could given the circumstances).

The return flight was pretty much déjà vu, oh except the fact that one of my chair footplates was lost somewhere in the hold (thankfully it was found) when I returned to Heathrow (you know, the footplate that was 100% attached to my chair when I left it at the plane door in Manchester!)

Oh, and the horrendous cab ride home, Black cab + manual chair = nope NOPE NOOOOOOOOOOOOPE never again (also note to younger Emma: black cabs are soooooooooo not how they seem on Sherlock).

So, there you go, that’s how the #invinciblewomanonwheels flies solo! I hope this gives an insight into how much planning and organisation goes into flying solo as a wheelchair user and how complex and loooooooooooooooooooooong the process can be.