No. 6 @ The Everyman Theatre Liverpool

Thursday 6th June 2024

As I stared at the two dressing gowns with slippers folded neatly on the bed, then went over to remove the party balloons, I wondered if they’d thought I was getting married?

The room was decorated with little stencilled images of the Fab Four everywhere and I suddenly noticed a little card on the table. On the front of the card was the famous Abby Road crossing image and above this the words, ‘All you need is love,’ with each Beatle holding a heart shaped balloon.

I read the message inside it and confirmed things. It said, ‘Dear Guest, Happy Birthday from all the staff here at Dale Street Ibis. Please enjoy the city and the extra amenities provided. Have a wonderful day!’

This put me in a really good mood. I mean you hardly ever get accidental upgrades for free and with a sweet surge of giddiness I thought, well maybe it will feel like my birthday tonight. I glanced again at the two dressing gowns and slippers. Who was this extra mystery guest? I imagined maybe a Bond girl seductively appearing, ‘Oh we’ve been expecting Mr Disabled, Disabled Bond.’ I smiled at the wall and the stencilled Lennon but quickly left that thought as I’d spotted a little coffee machine in the corner and was in my element. Happy I said yea Alan Partridge was almost Nostradamus when he said coffee machines were the future.

Tonight I was guest poet at the Everyman Theatre, the third gig in the Redundant Butties tour and I couldn’t wait to have another go at delivering the best set I possibly could. However leading up to the gig I was massively fretting because I’d had a really bad viral infection that I couldn’t shake off and it put a little doubt in my mind and an extra thing, besides access, to think about.

It would be a bit gutting to think that at that one moment, when I’ve got the chance to be seen and heard more consistently in new places, I’m heckled by my  own cough and do a rubbish job. In the end I decided its life and to just do it anyway and see what happens. If I didn’t do the gig it would be a long time waiting to get the opportunity again.

Unlike the previous gig in Sale, I didn’t take a PA or someone to help as I felt I knew Liverpool well enough to navigate things myself and get to the venue prepared. For the most part I managed fine but did have to criss cross the street and swap sides of the pavement constantly so I wasn’t stopped by the usual roadworks or thoughtless

scaffolding. What always becomes apparent fast as I’m weaving through and searching for the right kerbs to get down, is the obliviousness of others. They have no

idea you are there the field of vision doesn’t compute, and is minute because they never look up!

I held on to the belief, sort of warped or sad as it sounds, that the more disabled a society becomes with age, poor lifestyle choices or other issues, then the better it would be for myself and other disabilities all round to gain more access. Now I’m not so sure because I think what’s actually happening is some disabilities are pushed to the back whilst those that are in trend are discussed. It’s human nature perhaps that there’s a selfishness and that's not to say I’m not selfish as well, sometimes I definitely am, but what I see being born with my disability is that, more and more I’m competing with walking frames, scooters the size of small cars, the rise of ADHD and none of our transport system or society overall is setup to deal with that influx.

You have the same tiny allotment of space on the buses and the trains as when I was a kid. It’s never been looked at and never been updated so as a person born with a disability, it makes more tension because not only do you still not have the basics but you’re shoved further down the queue for those things. I find that just infuriating.

I wanted to get to the venue as early as possible to ask if it would be possible to use a small table on stage to place my books on, although seemingly a trivial thing, I’d learned from the last event in Sale that this is a small addition that helps me greatly keeping my hands free and stops me feeling flustered with clumsy movements.

On my way past the bombed out church, I remembered that in the weeks leading up to this event, I’d been fortunate enough to have a nice lady called Khristina  see my poetry and contact me as a producer on  BBC Radio Merseyside. About two weeks before the Everyman gig a little interview was pre-recorded and aired with host Kevin Duala (from The One Show fame.) He was asking about how the tour came about and how I’d got into poetry.Radio Link Even though I was mortified how many times I’d said ‘erm’, convinced I’d sounded thick, it was a lovely chat with him and he made me feel relaxed. I was touched that people had taken that time to help me promote the book tour. That has been a bit of a nice surprise and theme so far because Michelle Adams and Alan Weston from the Wigan Observe newspaper both helped too in raising that awareness of the gigs and for that I’m really grateful. It’s easy when issues happen almost daily, to feel nobody cares and the world is completely against you but it’s equally important to remember that this is not always the case. Most people, I think, want you to do well and things like this reaffirm a bit of faith.

I have a poem in the new book ‘Redundant Butties’ called ‘Stolen For A Store Cupboard.’ It’s all about the number of disabled toilets you come across that are used as a utilities cupboard instead of a toilet, and you either don’t get in at all or end up so squashed you can’t pee or get back out easily. Practicalities and basics have to be

at the forefront of your mind when having a disability, so I’ve graduated to a sort of super snooper, under-cover toilet detective. The disabled toilet in the Everyman was great- absolutely massive. It had all the extra facilities in the room from the hoist to the shower and changing bed. It looked to me to be really futuristic. There was also a lift down to the performance space. 

I ended up being about an hour early so I managed to chat with Alex Ferguson, the host for the night, to sort my table request out and also test the ramp. The ramp wasn’t too steep and I was able to quickly and hassle free get on the stage. I can’t fault any of the access at all really and even the room itself was nice and big enough to fit quite a lot of people, but still feel cosy at the same time.

Remembering the Radio Merseyside interview had made me a little nervous. What if it really had sounded shite and not many people turned up? Well, in the end I had no need to panic because the gig itself had a brilliant feel to it. The room was packed.

The biggest and first thing that struck me was there quite a lot of other wheelchairs in the room. Before doing my set I counted about 6 other wheelchair users and I’ve never been in a building with that many other wheelchairs except for when I played wheelchair basketball and rugby. You see, in poetry circles, despite the cries of solidarity, it just doesn’t happen. The money to improve infrastructure isn’t there and neither on the whole is the willingness to change it. Unless it’s a disability festival or disability focussed event, you’re normally very separate. In mainstream poetry and society wide, in most places there’s tumbleweed like we’re still new or we’re somehow against the law. You can sense the fear if more than one disabled person turns up at one time but here and on this little tour so far, it felt like we’d somehow wheeled into a future.

Along with a new audience of wheelchairs, some friends came to see me and support from Wigan and a wheelchair user and Scouser mate, Pete, who I’d not seen for about 9 years also turned up with his girlfriend Claire, so I was really buzzing. I didn’t think Pete would remember me as it was so many years since I’d done a gig in Liverpool. Gradually I think I lost some confidence in the past as the levels of performers in Liverpool seemed too high for me back then, so maybe now part of me wanted to prove a point.

I can’t fully describe to me how good the night felt, seeing friends, making new ones and reconnecting but to see the other people in wheelchairs smile and laugh because my issues are their issues and being acknowledged in an upbeat, non-patronising way I thought, ‘Yea, this is top. This is what I’ve wanted to do! Just lovely.’ I enjoy being in any new space because it’s not a given for me and my disability but I have to say that the way people got behind me in the Everyman felt different. It felt like family support. It felt like they’d known me my whole life in one night, so yep The Everyman is definitely another venue that I can’t wait to revisit. And I didn’t cough once in the whole set.


Popular Posts