Sunday, 23 August 2015


So it was amazing news two weeks ago when we found out that we had been allocated press passes to film and comic con Glasgow. This was a great opportunity for me to find out exactly what differences there where between Newcastle and another venue Showmasters used, if they had made changes to how the event dealt with disabled attendees and family’s and a great chance to speak to the guests who were attending to find out their thoughts on the event, cosplaying etc and a great chance to review the good and bad and downright ugly of being disabled and travelling and attending a convention.
So we packed a bag and off we went ready to take on everything and anything that would be thrown at us in the aid of the amputee diaries and The Psych Twins.

We travelled by car up to Glasgow on the Friday tea time. Over all it was a 4 hour journey including a slight misdirection through Glasgow and stopping off for a break. This was where the first problem was encountered. We stopped at the Welcome Break services at Gretna Green. There was plenty of disabled parking spaces right at the front near to the entrance to the services. Access was good with automatic doors and all shops where accessible. However the only disabled and baby changing toilet in the services was out of order, with no idea of how long it would be out of order for.
 Now although difficult for me to walk any distance, it was a necessary evil unless I wanted an accident to happen. For people who cannot get out of their wheelchairs or a family with a special needs child or even a baby to change, this was not acceptable. There was no other alternative to this situation unless you wanted to risk however long till he next service station. Travelling back on the Saturday night we stopped at the same services and guess what? That’s right the disabled toilets where still out of order. Obviously the engineer they had called was on a go slow or didn’t do weekends!

We arrived at the Travelodge at Breahead Glasgow around 9pm. Situation was excellent as the shopping centre where the event was being held was within a 7 – 10 minute walking distance. The hotel had plenty of parking spaces and right next to the entrance. Doors where automatic so no struggling trying to open doors and the staff where very pleasant and helpful. The whole area of reception, bar and cafĂ© was accessible and clean although basic, but you get what you pay for. I had requested a disabled room and included breakfast. The room allocation was excellent down stairs not that far from reception. Only issue was if you were travelling on your own then the doors are heavy to get through to the corridor where your room is situated and your room key card has to be used to open them. This would be something you would not be able to do on your own unless you are a lot more flexible and resourceful then me, which is a possibility, otherwise you will need to ask a member of staff to help.
Entrance into the room was wide enough for my wheelchair which is wider then a normal chair.  The room was very spacious with room for me to manoeuvre in the wheelchair. Everything in the room was accessible from the wheelchair apart from the shelf above the clothes rail. The bed was two singles pushed together but very comfortable with a call button on the head board.
Again the room was sparse but as I said earlier you get what you pay for. The bathroom was huge and very spacious, lots of grab rails, lowered sink and mirror etc. but was very disappointed in the disabled shower, never mind how dangerous it was!
The controls where accessible but no shelf to put any toiletries on such as shampoo and shower gel so reaching for them would be dangerous ( actually impossible for me to do). The fold down seat was way too small and it was not possible to sit on fully, so was more of a perching stool. Well this caused an enormous amount of problems for me! Having to remove both of my legs to enable me to shower, this left me feeling as if I was falling forward. You needed your legs to brace yourself when sitting down. So for someone with no legs, weak lower limbs or unable to use them at all would have major issues using this shower without having an accident! In fact it was so bad that I had to ask my husband to come in and help me get shampoo and shower gel and to make sure I didn’t fall. In order to do this I had to brace myself with my hands on the grab rails. Now for someone with fibromyalgia this was extremely painful as all my weight was put behind this as it couldn’t be put through my legs. I had to risk taking one hand off a grab rail in order to get shampoo or shower gel put into my hand by my husband so I could wash. Even then it had to be quick and couldn’t be done properly as I kept falling forward. Basically if my husband had not been there, there was no way safely I could have had a shower on my own. When oh when are companies going to realise that there are more than just infirm or elderly people and not every disability or wheelchair users needs are the same? Travelodge take a leaf out of Disney’s book please, before someone has an accident.

We decided after the long drive to just eat at the Travelodge for tea. Poor choice. Got the steak sandwich with chips. What I got was tinned steak in buns with frozen chips. With two diet Pepsi’s that where smaller then cans, it came to £22. The breakfast was an all you can eat buffet thing but choice was minimal. There was plenty of facilities nearby so if you didn’t want to eat dinner or evening meal at the hotel then soar, across the road and parking lot, has lots of other options.
The arena is actually part of the shopping centre. If you have ever been to the Metro Centre in Gateshead then if you can imagine where the food court is and Metro Land used to be then that was where the arena was.
Car parking facilities where fantastic at this shopping centre. We had never seen so many disabled parking spaces so close to the centre before at a shopping outlet.
The que was already huge when we arrived at 9.30 am and with it being held in a shopping centre there was a few issues for any one shopping in that area and trying to get past.  We hunted down a staff member, who seemed to be few and far apart and it was very unclear as to where you were supposed to que for early entry and std and there was no indication at all if you had a press pass. We were told to show our email to the staff on the door. We were then given our press passes and we were off. 
Inside there was no foyer area so nowhere to wait for people or hang around for a break. The one saving grace was with it being in a shopping centre you could come and go as you pleased as long as you got your hand stamped. This meant that if you wanted a break from the madness and the crowds you could go out and sit in the food court, grab a coffee or something to eat or if you where going to be waiting for a talk or photo shoot to happen, the option was there to look around the shops etc. This however led to its own issues. Later on in the day you were stepping (or in my case trying not to roll over) people who were sitting on the floor everywhere. This was obviously also causing issues for shoppers in the centre who were not attending the convention.

Once in you were faced with loads of stalls and traders of all kinds. Yet again showmasters had crammed in so many stalls that manoeuvring around the stalls and up and down the aisles was bad for any one, but was a logistical nightmare for someone in a wheelchair or with a pram. It made it very slow going and sometimes very frustrating to get around with some stalls being total inaccessible to any one in a wheelchair. They had spread the guests out over two floors. Plenty of room for accessing the downstairs guests but could see that as the day got busier the lines could be confusing. Access to the upper floor was via stairs, with no signs to indicate where the lift was to enable me to access that level. After spending a moment trying to ascertain where these where we give up and looked for a member of staff. That was easier said than done. Volunteers seemed to be in blue t shirts and pit bosses in red. Very few around. Eventually chased after one and asked a pit boss how to access the top floor. She seemed a little confused then pointed us towards the service doors and told us she didn’t know but had been told to point people in that direction this looked like no access to a lift but we trusted she knew better and tried to get through the heavy doors. As we did a security guard belonging to the venue came over to get the door for us. As he was doing this he asked where we were going so told him that we were looking for a lift to access up stairs. At that point he told us that we had to go back out of the arena, across the food court and the lifts where there. After getting out we had to cross the food court upstairs and round the corner to where the box office was for the arena. The doors where sealed so had to wait to be let in by a security guard. Once up there we did notice that there was a service lift and wondered if this was where she had been directing us too. Up here there was the other guests but instead of spacing the signing desks out they were all cramped up.
This made queuing difficult and again the lines confusing to follow for each guest and this was before they let in pay on the door and std ticket entry’s. When it got busy it was nigh on impossible to get through to any of the lines and trying to que without getting in peoples ways was not possible.  Staff up stairs, both volunteers and pits bosses where sparse to find and there was no Virtual queuing system so the ques where getting out of hand very quickly. At Newcastle the pit bosses and volunteers where very helpful with me being a wheelchair user and there was plenty of staff around. At Glasgow however as well as very little staff there were no concessions made for people in wheelchairs or disability’s including people on crutches. Their website itself and staff have stated that anyone who is disabled would be moved to the front of the autograph ques to make access easier for everyone but this did not happen.
Before they let the standard ticket holders in and pay on the door through it was already jammed packed and difficult to manoeuvre. On my way to interview Chris Judge, just before noon they had moved the people queuing to around the food court instead of down the centre where the shops where.
Yet again I think Showmasters underestimated the amount of people who would be attending the event equal to the size of the venue.
There was some issues as to where wheelchair users accessed the talk areas. The husband had to park me up out of the way of people and exits, (not easy) while he tried to find someone to assist, (did I mention the lack of staff?). This resulted in me being parked down in between two stalls. As I was waiting for him to return David Prowse (Darth Vader out of Star wars, for those not aware of this character or the films (shame on you)), came up beside me. Due to his failing health he was also in a wheelchair being pushed by a volunteer from Showmasters. As the volunteer was trying to sort out a rubber ramp type thing he noticed the Darth Vader sticker on my prosthetic which made him chuckle. I happened to mention how ridiculous it was trying to get around in a wheelchair to which he agreed.
We eventually found someone who directed us to a small door where we could see the talks. Although it was technically a space at the side of the stage next to a speaker and the area where the guests actually entered from, it wasn’t too bad. Then again it depended on where you were positioned as you were not looking straight on at the stage but having to turn to the side and past the person sat next to you. It also meant that come the Q & A time you were pretty much over looked if you wanted to ask a question of the guest. The space realistically could only fit three wheelchairs and their companions in, any more was not going to happen.
By 2pm the que showed no signs of dying down and even by the time we left at 3.30 pm people where still queuing to get in, even though there was barely any room to move as it was at this point. They had stopped people from entering and to be honest I am not sure how they worked out when enough people had left to let any more in due to most people being able to come and go with a hand stamp into the shopping centre. Yet again I think showmasters under estimated how many people would be interested in attending and in future should consider providing more things such as enough staff, directions being visible and accessibility of the venue chosen all need to be taken into account. Bear in mind Showmasters if you have disabled guests and attendees attending and you chose to book somewhere that looks accessible, my advice is, still check for your selves. Might be an idea to take on someone who can deal with these issues specifically. Spread the stalls out as well please this would help everyone in the long run. We know more stalls equals more money from traders per table but think about the people attending and how much more money the traders would make if everyone could access their goods and services Just a thought.

I think that these events are going to become more and more popular in the UK simply due to the fact that the fans and collectors are becoming more and more aware that they exist in this country and are no longer the privilege of the States. The celebrities are also more aware that the demand in the UK to see them is huge so more and more are going to be willing to attend these events here. People are also becoming more involved in the whole thing as they look for more places where they can go as a family and where better than some where the kids can get involved in dressing up, meet Darth Vader standing alongside Captain Jack, where princess walk the isles and all their comic and film
book hero’s and heroines come to life and not only that they can have their photo taken with them as well! All this while seeing their favourite actor out of a tv show or film and Mam and dad and grandparents can all get involved in the fun, whilst re living their youth meeting actors and actresses from their favourite 80’s and 90’s shows and films whilst at the same time picking up that must have print or collectable for the sitting room.
So come on Showmasters unless you want to be elitist and only appeal to the hardened film and comic fan or collector, cater more for the disabled, the kids and the families who really want to attend just as much as the diehard collectors and fans. The people I spoke to who said it was their first time where definitely thinking of becoming return revenue for you. Isn’t that what you want?

Chris Judge who played Teal’c in Stargate Atlantis, very kindly agreed to give us an interview. He got into college on the back of a football scholarship but was not that serious about playing as much as others where and was always geared towards acting. Originally doing pre-med at college he minored in Psychology and as a fellow Psychology Student I had to ask him about Statistics. It seems that all Psychology students around the world dislike it which is good to know I am not alone. Jim “Hacksaw” Duggan was another star I was lucky enough to talk to. Both he and Chris Judge thought that fans at conventions in the UK were fantastic, a lot more friendly and easy to talk too compared to the USA. Across there it is perceived as more of a business then an experience for fans and fans in the UK made it seem more human and hands on. In fact every one of the celebrities thought that conventions where more like one big family and they definitely seem to love that fact.
With regards to disability’s all the people I talked to saw it as no reason not to attend one of these events if you have a chance and I agree with them. There was definitely more people attending with prams and small children, who’s eyes just positively lit up when faced with all the cosplayers. A lot of the stalls here seemed to be catering their merchandise towards children although there was still plenty for the avid collector to buy, trust me!

Speaking to some of the attendees the biggest issue was once again the lack of room to get around with a pram or wheelchair, lack of staff support and lack of signs for lifts etc. Some guests were unaware that it was spread out on two floors or in fact how to even access the second floor. In fact am still trying to work out where the disabled toilets where and I have been home since 9 pm last night!  Although once found all staff where friendly. The general consensus as well was that there was no reason not to give people with disabilities extra help when getting autographs and photos done and the majority of people I spoke to have no problem with this. I am hoping to be allocated a press pass for London in the winter just to see how they deal with one of their biggest conventions in the UK, which due to size is now being held at Brighton and I will be attending (in full cosplay) the Newcastle Comic Con in November not just for pleasure but to see if they have taken anything on board from other cons and changed anything from March.
 On the subject of Cosplaying both the guests and attendees all loved to see all the cosplayers in their costumes. Robert Englund especially liked to see the fans dressed as Freddy and approved of the cross gender cosplaying. They thought it added to the overall
atmosphere of the convention and the fun of it. All the guests found it flattering when faced with a fan dressed as one of their characters, but shocked to find out about the bullying that takes place in the cosplay community.  They were also surprised about the image the UK press had given it recently. Chris Judge thought that the Sci Fi community and the convention community in general where more evolved and accepting of peoples differences, which is why I think it came as such a shock to him in particular.  Speaking to some of the cosplayers themselves, nearly all of them had experienced some form of bullying or inappropriate touching from other attendees at the conventions and even some outside of conventions such as taking part in photo shoots.
Out of the Cosplayers I spoke to all agreed that cosplaying and being part of that community helped them overcome issues such as depression, anxiety and social shyness as well as boosting their confidence and making new friends from all over the country. Convention etiquette is simple. If you would like to have a photo taken with someone in cosplay, ask, do not assume and don’t touch their costumes. Some of them take a long time, hard work and lots of money to make, having someone come along and paw at the costume or them is not acceptable. If you like a costume, tell them if you don’t, keep it to yourself. Out of all the cosplayers not one of them said no to an interview or photo when asked politely.
Oh and if you really want to know as badly as I did if people preferred Marvel to DC… Marvel was the winner. Although some arguments continued after I had left on the subject matter.

 Most of the people I talked to had not heard about iCosplay, although out of those that had it was mainly cosplayers. I mentioned that it was a charity that existed to stamp out bullying in the cosplay community, which was given a positive response, but the general overall consensus from the stars and attendees was, disabled or not, attend a convention, see what it’s like for yourself you might just like it. If you’re worried or nervous about cosplaying at a convention, take a chance, pick your favourite character and just express yourself, if it helps to bring you out of yourself, or makes it easier to interact and talk to people then even better. They very much seemed to see it as a form of escapism as well as fun. If you do experience any kind of bullying for any reason then tell someone don’t keep it to yourself and most of all at the end of the day enjoy it. Personally I really enjoyed
cosplaying. My first time was at Newcastle comic Con in March this year. I was worried about what people would say and think, especially with me being in a wheelchair, in my forty’s and overweight. I was so glad I did it though. The amount of people cosplayers and non-cosplayers and even guests who came and talked to me, liked my costume or wanted a photo taken with me was unbelievable and it was so much fun, I was hooked from that point on!  As Gareth David Lloyd, who played Yanto in Torchwood said, if you don’t like it then you don’t have to do it again. So whether you cosplay are not in the immortal words of Shia la beouf – Just Do It!
Hired The Stig as the getaway driver after starting arguments over Marvel or DC !

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