Travelpogue, or The Rocky Road to Birmingham
Firehazard, a regular contributor to this web site’s fora, has kindly agreed to document the trials and tribulations he and his family endure as they make their way to The Pogues’ 2005 shows in Birmingham.
It must have been around October 2004, I guess, when it started. The Pogues announced their Christmas Reunion Tour. Suddenly a possibility thought long gone opened up. I’d been listening to the band since they first began, but somehow had never got to a gig.
Now the kids, brought up on a diet of the Pogues, were old enough. And all were agreed. “We have to go.” Tickets were bought for Birmingham, and the gig of a lifetime promised.
Friday 17 December dawned, dank and grey, but with the prospect of something to brighten any day. The car was loaded with the kids, the wheelchair and the rest of the necessary paraphernalia. The nice people at the Academy had told us all about wheelchair access, and would be waiting to get us in. Tickets in pocket, audio tapes at the ready for in-journey entertainment.
There wasn’t much need of the entertainment, because the journey lasted about two miles. For it was then that the car in front suddenly – without warning, without reason, halfway through a green traffic signal – stopped. Foot hard on the brake, wet road, and the only possible evasive action would have mown down a bunch of pedestrians. And so we collided. With a car full of boys wearing caps. Who immediately accelerated away and disappeared into the distance. Unreal, but it had happened.
Reality crashed back in. It wasn’t a major accident in the great scheme of things, but the vehicle wasn’t going to get to Birmingham. No bones broken, but we limped back home. No Pogues. The nice people at the Academy were told not to expect us (and promised us a deal on tickets “next time around”, bless them). But how do you tell a trio of mad keen young Pogues fans that they’re not going to see their heroes after all? Tears were shed.
Over the weekend, a certain determination grew. The Brum gig was over. But this could not be missed. A weekend spent on eBay brought the suggestion it might still be possible to get tickets for Brixton. Eventually four were acquired, and all from true Pogues fans who were gutted not to be going (and weren’t just after large profits).
But how to get there? No car, obviously. No prospect of public transport with the wheelchair. A chance phone call uncovered an unforeseen possibility: a devoted band of Pogues lovers who had hired a minibus. We made contact. They’d be glad to have us on their bus – but they weren’t sure how many seats they had spare. So on the day, new tickets in pocket, we set off for a walk in the dark with little more than a glimmer of hope. The youngest hadn’t even been told where we were going, as more destroyed hopes couldn’t be borne. And there, in the car park of the local pub, was a minibus of Pogues devotees – and four spare seats!
Getting on a minibus is not as easy as it sounds. A set of steps can be not far short of a mountain. However, Pogues lovers are wonderful people. They were even willing to carry me on and off the bus. A bit of dignity was lost, a few bruises gained, but we were on the road to Brixton!
Others have told of the glories of those gigs. This is not the time to repeat those stories. The bright lights and the dark streets of London. Drink and drugs and rock and roll were all involved. And a gig, and a night, that will long be remembered.
And now the time is coming. Once more the family Firehazard have tickets for Birmingham (different venue, so goodbye to that Academy deal on tickets...). “You’re not trying to go to Birmingham again?” is the reaction from those that know. Will we get there? How will we get there? At the moment, no one knows. But no doubt there is more to be written...
Now strictly speaking, I know this isn’t a travelpogue. Because no travelling has actually happened this time. Not yet, anyway.
So here’s how it is. Just like last year, tickets for the Birmingham gig have been purchased. All done in that mad upsurge of excitement and reckless optimism that happens when the Pogues are concerned.
Once again, we looked into all the possibilities. Once again, on the face of it Birmingham appeared to be the best option. Easier to get to than Brixton (the only realistic alternative), in theory at least. The venue looks more accessible for my wheels (still haunted by memories of being manhandled up the wall-of-death-style ramp into the Brixton Academy). The last Brum gig was reckoned to be fantastic. And there’s also that deep-down dogged determination not to let last year’s debacle defeat us.
The way I tend to do things (for better or for worse) is to get the tickets first, and to work out the practicalities later. So the tickets are safely bought and tucked away somewhere. And even Madame Firehazard is coming this year too – first time for her. Now to sort out the whole travelling bit. How to get to the gig?
I’m not supposed to be driving at the moment (complex reasons, not to be gone into here...). So the most obvious solution is out of the question. Public transport? Anyone who’s ever tried it in a wheelchair knows the problems. And anyhow, the gig’s on a Sunday evening, so it all shuts down early. So it looks like we’re hiring a minibus and driver. Many hours have been spent on the phone, many questions asked: “Can you get us to Brum and back? Can you fit a wheelchair on your bus? Are you free on the 18th? What’s the cost?” That last question was all too often followed by a shocked silence at my end. But in the end, the transport was booked.
And now the tour has started. Medusa is awash with excited reports of the gigs so far. And we just can’t wait. So here I sit, once again on the verge of a trip to Birmingham. Waiting and hoping... and vaguely wishing that I hadn’t chosen the cheapest by far of the minibuses...
A Rainy Night in Birmingham
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