You’ll know by now I love a festival, and Latitude Festival is by far my favourite. It’s magical, eclectic, arty and fairly civilised. I attended again this year for the 7th year in a row.
I’ve raved about (in written form, I am not much of a raver in the other sense) Latitude Festival before and described the wheelchair access in detail. I don’t want to become a bore so I suggest you check out my previous posts to set the scene…
This post is much more of a ramble.
I was a little disappointed with the access at Latitude Festival this year. It pains me to say it. Nothing about the arena itself had changed. You expect a forest to be a slight challenge to wheels. The forest wasn’t my challenge. Seeing acts was. I heard plenty of them, but seeing them was a little trickier.
The first act I went to see, Russell Kane, was in a tent with no accessible platform. Hundreds of people fight their way inside leaving many still standing on the outskirts peering through gaps between heads. There’s no chance for me, my able body friends can’t even see much. We give it a miss and head to the comedy stage early, hoping to get a spot ready for Alan Davies.
I get a spot on the platform. Me. Even my PA has to stand at the back. I’m squashed between strangers.
I had to text my PA when I needed the loo. That is not access. That is not really acceptable.
How fun is it seeing a comedian on your own? Not much actually. Yes I laughed at Alan Davies and his dry whit. I laughed silently and alone.
A festival is just as much about experience and people, as it is about main acts. It is to me anyway. If I could easily do a full weekend at a festival like Latitude I would book now (if I was rich too), I wouldn’t need to wait until the main acts and day splits have been announced. I love festivals and everything they are about. The outdoors, the coming together, the atmosphere, the variety, the creativity. That’s why I’ve been for 7 years running. That’s why I’ve grown up going to V Fest and Reading and little local festivals.
I want to share the experience with my friends, the people I’m with. Laugh at a joke we both find funny. Share a bite to eat or talk about some other festival goers awesomely awful outfit. I don’t want to sit alone.
Plus there’s the essential support and assistance I need. I’m given a free PA ticket for a reason, the strict instructions when I apply say that this nominated person is responsible for me. That they must only be my PA if they take the role seriously. I send letters and fill in forms proving that I need this help. That I cannot manage alone. But then I am separated from them, unable to see them or communicate my needs unless I text. What if I drop my phone, choke, have an emergency? This is not ok.
It’s such a shame because festival season has always been the highlight of my year. I still had a fab time, but it’s stressful when you’re squished between people because there is no accessible platform, or it’s full, or you’re alone.
I don’t want my love of Latitude to be overtaken by the access issues I encountered. These things make you rage, but at the time what can you do? So you have to enjoy the moments and blog-rant about it later!
Anyway. On to more positive things!
This year I experienced two firsts at Latitude Festival.
I had Bubble Tea. I know, a tea obsessive that has never had Bubble Tea before! I’d heard of it, seen the Instagram proof that it’s a thing. I confess I didn’t quite know what it was. I still don’t completely know what Bubble Tea is, other than a cold herbal tea with edible fruity bubbles in. If it’s more than that please tell me.
It wasn’t the greatest success. Mostly due to my sucking ability. I couldn’t get those damn bubbles up the straw!
My second first of the day was way more exciting.
Latitude Festival is known for its surprise act, its ‘secret set’. An act not announced on the line up will just randomly appear on stage somewhere, anywhere within the enormous arena. At any time.
I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever moved. Neck brace in situ, I’m still surprised I didn’t get whiplash. Latitude is on a massive field, within a large forest, by a lake. We were standing (well I wasn’t) outside a tent, with no disabled viewing area, trying to see but only hearing, James Acaster’s comedy set. I had the in-perfect view of bums, which seemed to be a theme or the day.
My PA whispered to me ‘I think I can hear Liam Gallagher’. I was surrounded by bums, my ears were much lower than everyone else’s, there wasn’t much chance the sound waves would get down to me. I could here something. A beat. Latitude Festival is big, you can hear music coming from all directions, it could be anything, anyone, Liam Gallagher or a ghetto blaster, seriously it could.
What do I do? If I get out there’s no coming back. I am deep in a field of bums. At least fifty bums from the edge. We have to chance it. It could be Liam Gallagher. I haven’t seen Liam since 2005 when he and Noel had thousands of us in the palms of their hands waiting for them to turn up and play. They did turn up. It’s cool to be late. Apparently.
So I reverse wheeled through the fifty layers of bums, leaving James Acaster (he’ll never know). By the time I turn and start speeding across the field I see people running from all directions. All with the same motive: follow the Mancunian melody.
We still don’t know where he is you see, that’s part or the game. We follow the tribe and the sound. The stripy tent, that’s where he is!
I didn’t see Liam. I could hear him, I was told it was him. It must have been him.
The accessible platform was full. Surprise. I know it was Liam Gallagher, the tent was full, the able-bodies couldn’t all see. People were sitting on the grass outside. Me included. I headed to the platform, almost begged, there must be space. ‘There’s space, but not for wheelchairs’ I was informed by a steward. Walking people went on. I didn’t. The rage hit.
Now, I totally understand disability comes in many forms, some hidden, some with obvious, cumbersome, wheels. This tiny platform was divided, wheels and limited mobility one side, an interpreter (sign language) the other. One side crammed with the seated, the other jumping and dancing away.
Inclusive is a funny word. An important one. Interpretation is crucial, it’s brilliant sign language is available at festivals now. Remember last year I showed you that they had screens with a person signing? That worked well. But do these people need a raised platform? You could argue that some also have mobility issues, that’s true. It’s complicated. Make the platforms bigger. Provide more platforms. Another area for an interpreter. Do something.
‘There’s space, but not for wheelchairs’ isn’t ok.
I heard Liam Gallagher though. He was epic. It took me back.
I did see him later, from afar.
The Killers were the headliners that day, the reason I chose the day I did to attend.
I have this theory. It unravelled itself while I was watching (on an accessible platform this time) The Killers perform. I’ve thought about it a lot before, and discussed it with a friend. (We all have that friend we ponder life with). A theory that youth isn’t defined by a number. Youth can be marked at a different point for everyone. And I’m guesstimating that mine ended around 2006 at the age of 21.
I’m not saying it’s all downhill from there. Definitely parts of me are better with age. But there was something about seeing Liam Gallagher come on stage with Brandon Flowers. Anyway, let’s not get too philosophical.
The Killers were epic. Brandon’s teeth sparkled.
I dream of an Oasis reunion tour. Steps can do it, come on Noel?