Incognito Autistic…at the Galway International Arts Festival. Part 2: Elvis Costello

Every year, when the Galway International Arts Festival rolls into town, they put up a circus Big Top in the Fisheries Field, practically at the end of my street. And every year, they get in a pile of Big Name Acts. Going to see one of these is always the highlight of the festival for me. Though, if I don’t get to go, I can usually hear the concerts if I open my bedroom window!

Previous years, I went to see Blondie and Chic. Which I enjoyed an awful lot. Except, with each passing year, I’ve found the concerts have taken more and more out of me. The fact that I’m so short, so struggle to see the stage, hasn’t helped. And I also have to be wary of people not seeing me, stepping on me, almost knocking me over. 

So, this year, when my husband bought us tickets to see Elvis Costello, I was filled with both a sense of excitement and anticipation but also a sense of dread. So, I decided to check the Arts Frstival website to see what they had in terms of accessibility. The website mentioned a raised area for the Big Top, specifically mentioning it was for those using wheelchairs and mobility scooters. I don’t use those. I use a cane at times, but my issue was less of mobility, more of needing to sit down if I got tired or dizzy. 

There was an email address and a phone number, so I decided to email (as making phonecalls terrify me). I penned a friendly and polite email, but got no reply. As time was running out at that stage, I phoned. The lady told me that, yes, I was eligible to sit in the raised area, there would be seats provided, but it was ‘first come, first served’, with no booking possible so I’d better go there early. 

Relieved, but also nervous at having to be early, I decided that yes, I could go ahead and book a babysitter. As our usual babysitters were away on holidays, our lovely neighbour filled in at short notice. It’s situations like this that make me happy to live in Galway and actually know most of my neighbours. 

As luck would have it, computer issues at the last minute meant my husband could not finish work as early as he’d hoped, so we were a bit late setting off. As you can imagine, this made me very anxious, due to the ‘no booking’ policy. 

We found the raised platform, and I approached the lady manning the gate to it. ‘Have you booked?’ What?!!! I explained that I’d emailed and phoned and was told I couldn’t book. ‘That lady was obviously misinformed.’ Phew. She let me in, but told me if it got full then those who booked would have priority. They put out a seat for me, and also my ‘plus one’, though he declined a seat. My seat was at the edge of the platform, so he simply stood beside it, which he preferred anyway. 

The Undertones were the support act. I wasn’t too impressed with them. So I took the opportunity to look around, watch the crowd. Which I never get to do as I’m so short, usually all I see are people’s backsides! I wasn’t at the very front of the platform, so I had a few heads in front of me, but not enough to block my view. And again, I was astounded at being able to see the stage. This must be what it feels like for a tall person at a concert! The fact that I had room beside me, and nobody could bump into me, added a lot to my sense of comfort. 

The raised area soon filled up, some with manual wheelchairs, some with the powered variety. One person had a wheelchair that clipped into a bicycle front, which really impressed me!  A few people were on crutches or with canes, like me. Some were simply old and in need of a seat. I did seem to be the youngest there, but the concert seemed to attract an older crowd anyway. 
[image of a blurry stage in the background, lit up by blue lights. Although you can’t make it out, The Undertones are performing on it. In the foreground are the backs of several people sitting in a raised area. The bars of the railings surrounding the area are visible.]

I also took the opportunity to go to the toilet. The disabled toilet was located just off the ramp that leads to the raised area. I was a little disappointed  when it was occupied. But, there was only one disabled toilet so to be expected. I was highly unimpressed, however, when the person who came out of the toilet happened to be a non-disabled member of staff. 

And then it was time for the main act. Elvis Costello was amazing. My husband had heard him many times before, including in Galway over thirty years before! I wasn’t as familiar, but had heard a lot of the songs. It was a wonderfulexperience. And even though I spent the whole time seated, with my husband disappearing off into the crowd every now and again, I didn’t feel I was missing out. I did a lot of dancing in my seat. More than a lot of the audience in fact. But that’s me, I can’t go to a gig, any concert, even classical music, without moving my body. I really rocked out this time. At least this way I didn’t tire myself out. 

So, in future, I’m going to go to more concerts in the Big Top. And book a seat in the raised area. Being able to sit during the concert made all the difference. 

I’m going to end this with a photo my husband took of Elvis Costello. He was able to get a bit closer to the action, so his photos turned out much better than mine. 
[image is of a stage, lit with a blue background. In the centre is Elvis Costello, playing a guitar. Behind him are his band, the Imposters, playing guitar, drums and keyboard.]

Incognito Austistic… getting a haircut. 

I went to the hairdressers today. First time in three years. It was time for my daughter’s bi-monthly trim, so we made a girlie mother-daughter date of it. When the hairdresser heard how much I wanted cut off, she sounded surprised. Kept asking if I was sure. Yes, yes I was. My hair wasn’t long because I liked it like that. I’ve always liked having pixie hair. It was long because I can’t bear going to the hairdressers.

It’s not the chit chat that bothers me. Not so much. Or the music. Not in my local hairdressers. Which is usually full of old dears getting their wash and set. So you know it’s not fashionably expensive. I knew it would be quiet on a Friday afternoon, in fact we were the only ones there. And the music is one of those soft Christian Rock stations. So no loud techno beats. And the Polish hairdresser doesn’t talk as much as her Irish colleagues. Just asks me if I’m really really sure I want my hair that short. And to keep still.

And, really, I realised today, that’s the actual issue. The keeping still. Sit up straight, she says. I thought I was. Face forward. Again, I thought I was but apparently my head is turned to the right. She keeps having to adjust it. And then my neck aches. My back aches. And I desperately want to fidget, to move, to jiggle my feet.

The worst is the blow-dry. It always comes just as I think the ordeal is over. And seems to go on for ages. And the hot air on my face makes me want to pass out. I never use the blow drier at home. I don’t need to. My hair dries really quickly. I feel like running away, but I don’t.

As a child, a local lady used to come round to our house to cut our hair. Then, when we moved, a neighbour opened a salon in her garage. Just her and one apprentice, and two seats. I used to play with her daughter. Well, kind of. And I loved the fact that our houses were identical, so I knew the door at the back led to her kitchen, and that behind the far wall was her toilet. I used to distract myself from it all by imagining the similarities and differences between our two houses.

When I got older, I discovered Turkish hairdressers. Who, according to the tradition there, are mostly male. And who work incredibly fast, and charge very little. They really are masters of their craft, and take it very very seriously. And so began a tradition of getting an annual haircut while on holidays in Turkey, and letting my hair grow out in between.

But, we haven’t been to Turkey for a few years. Given the volatile situation there at the minute, it’s uncertainly when we will be there again. And so, my hair having gotten to that too-long, straggly, unmanageable stage, I decided to take the plunge. And I survived. My new repertoire of relaxation techniques payed off.

End result? I’ll let you be the judge of that!

[image of me, a white, female-presenting person, wearing a pink top, wearing glasses, with long, greasy, light brown hair, parted on the left. ]

[image of the same person as above, in the same top, in the same seat, but with much shorter hair. It’s a variation of a ‘pixie cut’ but with a fringe brushed over to the left. ]

Incognito Autistic… at the Galway International Arts Festival. Part 1: Insects

Every year, Galway holds an Arts Festival for two weeks in July. And every year I try to go to at least one event. For the last few years, the free family-friendly outdoor spectacle has occurred at night. And put off by the inevitable crowds, especially the drunken crowds associated with Galway by night, I have regretfully avoided them.

But this year, reading about giant robotic insects swarming down the main street, I knew I had to at least attempt to go. It was on over two nights, and the first night we were all exhausted and it was raining, so we gave it a miss. We nearly missed the second night too, as again we were exhausted. But somehow, at the last minute, we got a second wind of energy and headed into town. Which, lucky for us, is a five minute walk.

The streets weren’t too crowded when we arrived. We found ourselves a perch on a window ledge in front of one of the many pubs that line the street. And, even luckier, we happened to be sitting right under a heat lamp. Which was very welcome since it was a cool night, typical of Ireland in July. Also lucky was the fact that the rain stayed away.

Even with a sort-of-seat, I found myself fading after a few minutes. Especially as I’m always on high alert in crowds. I can’t just relax and enjoy the atmosphere, my fight-or-flight reflexes kick in almost immediately. But the kids were happy, hubby went to the shop and brought back crisps and drinks, and I knew I could get through it.

After about half an hour of waiting, the first of the fantastic beasts crawled towards us, in time to some loud but lovely techno beats. It was a giant ant, powered by a lady pedalling ferociously underneath. Another ant followed soon after. Behind that, was a praying mantis, and a spider, which veered off down a side street before it had reached us. But nevermind, we knew where it would end up so we headed in that direction. We were not disappointed, as the ants and other creatures converged, and had a stand-off of sorts, before joining up again and heading down another street.

At this stage, we thought we’d be clever and take a short cut, so we could catch up with the action again. However, we misjudged it completely and ended up losing them. It was clear, though, that the best of the show was over and it was time to go home. It had started drizzling by this stage too. The kids were a bit disappointed, as they were still hyped up and overstimulated, but had calmed down by the time we got home.

All in all, it was a success. I survived the crowds, I enjoyed myself and, though exhausted, I was glad we went. I still won’t make a habit of going out much at night, but future excursions won’t seem so daunting.

[image of a crowded, narrow pedestrianised street. In the background are the windows and doorway of a grey, limestone building. In the foreground are several people with their backs to the camera. They are looking at, and taking photos of, a giant red ant, which seems to be made of paper and a metal frame. Only the head and antennae of the ant are clearly visible.]


[image of the same ant, taken on a different street. This time, the whole ant is visible, as is the wheeled, pedal-powered contraption, including driver, that powers it. Volunteers helping to push it are also visible, as are crowds of onlookers in the background. Also in the background is a car driving slowly, indicating that we have now left the pedestrianised heart of the city centre.]


[image of a giant black spider, again made of paper and a metal frame. The most visible part of the spider are its white eyes, three of which are visible, and it’s white pincers. There are crowds of people in the foreground, partially obscuring the view.]


[image of the side profile of a giant praying mantis. Again, it is made of paper with a metal frame. It’s body is green and its eyes are pink. Visible from this profile is a light shining out of its eye. Again, there are crowds of onlookers watching in wonder and taking photos.]


[image of the same praying mantis as before, but this time from the front. From this view, the full height and size of the creature is apparent. ]