Ask any disabled person for a list of what they most desire in life and you will probably find that independence ranks highly. As such I surprised myself and many others by opting to sleep in a boggy field for four nights, in search of an ‘experience’. For however independent you are at some point over a festival weekend in particular, you will need to ask for help. People that know me know this is hard for me to do and I, in turn, know that I am not alone in having this particular weakness. In fact, it is this inbuilt stubbornness which makes many disabled people as independent as they are.
Did you know? Independence is something we’re all programmed to strive for. Just before we hit puberty, we can lose up to 50% of our Brain tissue, whilst our neural networks rewire. Removing all those environmental things, we know longer need to figure out i.e. if you touch that electric fence it will hurt and replacing it with fresh networks which enable us to make decisions based on past experiences. That mixed with a dose of hormones, is why teenagers and young adults can be a little tetchy
When I told my family that I was going to Reading Festival, it was the inevitable interruption to my perpetual quest for personal cleanliness which drew most comment. The looks of complete bewilderment and consternation were as amusing as they were concerning. “You are going to camp in a field, Mr OCD, you don’t like getting dirty, Matt you spend 45 minutes in a shower every day.” My nickname, amongst friends, is ‘Mr Crisp’, owing to my fondness for a long shower and the wearing of a fresh shirt and trousers on a night out.
So there I was, in a field, which when wet added a handy cap akin to trying to climb Everest in the dark, in search of an ‘experience’. An experience I was told would be diminished by a poorer line up than in previous years. Diminished by Festival Republic’s desire to appeal to a younger age demographic – “Oh yeah, you should have come earlier mate, even last year you’d have enjoyed it more.” Cheers, the way it was sold to me, after I’d paid £205 for a ticket, was that I was going to be subjected to a list of One Direction support acts.
Despite failing to check the line-up, the glowing references and the general consternation at how I choose to spend my August bank holiday, I arrived at the festival. I was as amped as an ant on Lucozade and ready for anything.
According to Attitude is Everything, who have devised a support guide, outlining how festivals can make their events more accessible, 14,000 accessible tickets were sold in 2014, compared to 67,000 in 2013 – an increase of 70% Part of that has to be because of their banding charter which over 90 events and venues have signed to.
I’d also like to state, that music unites and transcends barriers. It doesn’t matter if your black, white, disabled, gay, transgender or just plain weird, everyone enjoys music and everyone comes together because of it. The best part of this festival was the camp site, I met some truly awesome people, who I will keep in touch with. To highlight the lack of interest in you aesthetics, I saw a guy crowd surfing in a wheelchair. People would be too scared to do this in any other environment but at a festival people are united in their desire to have fun. Even if that does lead to trepidation and elation at the same time. Crowd surfing is an extreme example but the point is people simply see other people having a good time.
Now as much as the atmosphere defines the success of a festival , its facilities are important, particularly for those with impairments. I write this section because I want others, who like me, might be sceptical about their ability to manage at a festival to give it a go. People, myself included will talk about the ‘experience’, it is something everyone should enjoy without fear of their bodies physical reprisals or limitations. To that end Reading Festival provide a free ticket so that a friend or carer can assist you during the event. Meaning you could also split the cost. To my surprise there were wheelchair accessible showers and toilets. The toilets, for the most part, were manned by festival staff to ensure they were used only by those who needed them. So despite my friends insistence that my need to perch whilst peeing would lead to me inevitably stirring shit with my wand, the toilets were in fact kept clean.
There is a slight caveat to these comments however. I was told by several campmates, that these facilities are diminishing year on year. Now I was chuffed to find two accessible showers on the disabled campsite, with I might add temperature control, yes people a warm shower at a festival. Thanks muchly! However, in previous years there have been more, four to six and it is these which aid the comfort and enjoyment of the festival. Continue to take these away and disabled people may well stop coming.
Best Band: Metallica.
This was a band I had no interest in seeing as it’s not really my genre of music. However, I was told they are exceptional live and wow, just wow. Everyone was captivated, spellbound. Usually you get people chatting, checking phones or clowning around during a performance. Not a bit of it, Metallica were exceptional, worth the ticket fee alone.
Other Highlights and Things Learned
Limp Bizkit failed to play ‘Behind blue eyes’ but they were exceptional. Awolnation have more than one hit and are a lot rockier than that hit (sail) suggests. Kwabena Adjepong can really sing, as can Shura and Obaro Ejimiwe of Ghostpoet. What voices, the most joyous part of a festival is to discover new bands and these guys were excellent.
Panic At The Disco – Their cover of Bohemian Rhapsody was exceptional and engaged literally everyone.
Low Light- dropping a burger as I pushed up hill, causing me to use an unforgivable expletive, often used wrongly to describe a woman’s lady garden or a person you view with disdain. However, it hopefully says something to those considering a festival visit that my lowest point was dropping a burger.
I’d like to finish this blog by saying thank you to all the volunteers at the festival – sterling work folks. Particularly in helping navigate to the toilets right at the start of the Metallica set. Seriously, I thought Noah was going to have to build another Ark.
The Festival Essentials
No sadly folks this is not where I list a tent. Quite frankly if you forget a tent then that’s your own fault. There are however, a few essential things that might make a first time festival goer’s experience more comfortable:
Tape- to secure that burger box
Toilet roll – we all use it and there’s never enough
Antibacterial wipes – it has nothing to do with OCD’s having clean hands is a basic human need.
Food – Festival food is expensive and not even that nice.
Water – I’m not tight but £2.50 is extreme
Sun block – for when that at times mythical yellow round thing makes an appearance.
Booze – it’s a festival
Condoms – it’s a festival
Thanks for reading – Glastonbury next year