I survived the swamp! Mainly thanks to some very supportive and strong friends, and realistic expectations. But considering a few years ago I’d written off festivals as exclusive to my old, fun, life, it was great to be there. I feel like the development of MS turned me into an old age pensioner for a chunk of my twenties and I’m rediscovering my life now. The hard thing with new situations is the unknown logistics – will there be toilets I can use? How will I get from A to B? How will I get out of bed? I did as much research as I felt I could pre going, but now having been, I know I could go again, and that confidence, which you take for granted when you have it, is invaluable.
A friend and I had hired a campervan (there’s zero chance I can climb in and out of tents now). The disabled campsite is well located, in between the John Peel and Pyramid stages, and has both tents and vans in it. It’s lined with disabled portaloos, and had dedicated campsite wardens on site to help answer questions. You’re allowed a maximum of 4 people with you, and that was one of the negatives. Part of the fun of festivals was the camping, sitting round tents with all your friends, the smell of fires and sounds of other groups around you. Campervans lined up without your friends sleeping in a circle with you isn’t the same, so there was less time chilling and drinking in a campsite.
The disabled facilities are pretty incredible though, there’s a common sense approach throughout, and I’ve dealt with social services long enough not to take that for granted. Ultimately, you’re still living in fields; that’s the essence of the festival, so it can’t be 100% disabled friendly, and I was unlucky with the weather. The ground was already ruined when we arrived (we had to be towed in), and 200,000 people walking over it didn’t improve it (or ‘squash it down’ as was my wishful thinking at the start). Where there were boarded walkways in the main stage areas, the scooter I’d hired coped, but the southern side (Shangri-la, The Park, the Healing Fields) were sadly off limits. Those are the parts of Glastonbury which make it more than just a standard music festival, add diversity and weirdness, and where I spent most of the festival when I went pre-disability in 2008. There’s a bus every few hours from the disabled campsite to these corners, but this wasn’t reliable, and, once there, the ground was too swamped to explore. A steward told me it was the wettest festival in 15 years, so in a dry year the reachable areas of the festival would double.
I’d hired an electric scooter in advance from Fair Mobility (linked on the Glastonbury website) which was charged overnight at the disabled campsite. I couldn’t have attempted the festival without this (I did see some people pushing manual wheelchairs around and think I’d have lasted about an hour, and severed some friendships in the process). On the solid walkways it was great… in mud, the wheels spun and my friends had to push it more likde a toboggan. The muddy wheels also drained the battery and we had to be rescued by on site crew in buggies a few times. The struggling battery restricted some freedom, but short of mini hovercrafts (or, while I’m wishing, a cure to MS), I think you’ve just got to accept that if you can’t get around, you’ve got to park up in one place and make your own fun there… this is where awesome friends come in.
The main stages all have viewing platforms which were a lifeline, especially as they all have disabled portaloos adjacent to them! SO helpful, I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to watch a gig and be able to drink beers freely without worrying about getting to a toilet. I had just one must see per day (Sigur Ros, Adele, Beck) who I saw. On top of that, because of how hard it was getting between stages I saw some surprise highlights (Jack Garratt, Tame Impala). Oh, and ate all the food.
I couldn’t have gone from regular to disabled Glastonbury goer back to back. The transition to, and acceptance of, disability has been slower than that, and the contrast between what it was and is now too great. The increase in cost is also pretty eye watering (hiring the camper, and the extra £100 for a van space on top of the £250 ticket). But am I happy I went, did I feel more like myself, have I made memories for life, and would I go again? Yes to all.
As for the referendum, I, along with others around me, cried at the results on the Friday morning of the festival. I’m still shocked, angry, and incredibly sad about it. Now waiting for the dust to settle to see what plan Brexit looks like.