Rolling Into Summer

It’s the summer holidays! One of the major perks of attending college is the fact that term ends two weeks before the local high schools, so I now have a whole eight weeks ahead to spend making preparations for the coming year, catching up on work and treating myself to a spot of relaxation – but not too much of course.

My last post ended at a very tragic time following the horrific Manchester bombing, and the horrors of that night will remain with us long after the headlines disappear. Once I heard that Ariana Grande was returning to Manchester with the One Love concert for the victims of the attack, as a music lover and friend of a number of those affected, I felt it right that I attend the event out of respect, love and defiance.

We managed to find the most perfect parking space within Old Trafford Cricket Ground and were just about to congratulate ourselves on a job-well-done when I felt something give way under my front wheel. The wire controlling my arm supports had snapped in two. On any day, this would be a total nightmare, but at a concert where I intend to throw my arms in the air and am instead confined to having my hands resting conservatively on my lap, this had the potential to put a pretty big dampener on the day. If it wasn’t for the BBC, it could well have done. Our perfect parking space turned out to be worth more than we could have imagined since it happened to be next to the BBC Radio technical van which was setting up to record the concert. After numerous attempts to piece together what was left of the wire with an old plaster found at the bottom of a handbag, my mum, being the wonderful woman that she is, decided we had nothing to lose and asked the BBC guys if they had five minutes to spare to kindly have a go at fixing it. In the midst of such terrible events filling our news, it’s reassuring to find people whose kind hearts and generosity mean that they are genuinely happy to help. They spent a good while soldering and whatever other technical things it took to get the button fixed, and after thanking them greatly, I came away with fully-functioning arm supports and a restored faith in humanity. 
As we queued to enter the stadium, we were constantly reminded of the real reason thousands of people were gathered in Manchester that afternoon, and it was difficult to tell whether the astonishing presence of armed forces and circling helicopters was calmly reassuring or absolutely terrifying. We met a handful of those who in the foyer when the bomb went off and I still don’t  know how they found the courage to attend One Love Manchester so shortly after the attack. These people were the real reason we were there. 

After spending a few minutes up on the wheelchair platform which was located at the back of the stadium, directly behind the sound and lighting tower, I decided that I wanted to see more than just the screens. I’ve explained before about the lack of atmosphere up on these platforms, and at this particular event, this couldn’t have been more true. Usually, you at least have an uninterrupted view, but there wasn’t even that! The atmosphere down in the crowd was incredible and that’s where we spent the rest of the concert – the view may not have been crystal clear and I may have been bumped once or twice by fellow concertgoers, but, on this occasion, it was more about what we could feel. The love and solidarity within the arena were tangible and this is something I wanted to be a part of. 
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Rewinding a little, I’d like to tell you about the first of three recent trips to London: Caudwell Children’s Butterfly Ball. Having not made it to the Ball last year due to exam pressures, it was all the more exciting to arrive into Euston this May to prepare for the sparkling evening ahead. We often stay at the Premier Inn just along from the station, simply because it’s less far for my mum to drag our many bags and suitcases, and on this occasion, we were able to meet up with my sister, Candice, as she had a few hours to spare following her university exams. I could go into great detail about my pre-ball hair and makeup routine (don’t worry, I’ll refrain from this for now), but instead, I’ll say that five hours later, we hopped into the wheelchair accessible Addison Lee taxi and headed over to the Grosvenor House Hotel. 
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of pulling up to a ‘purple carpet’ and being greeted by flashing cameras and hoards of paparazzi pointing their lenses in all directions, including at you – one fitting adjective would definitely be surreal, but magical works pretty well too. As well as trying to maintain my most dazzling smile and keep the stray pieces of hair from sticking to my lip gloss, I had to concentrate so hard on not letting my head fall. Since the muscles in my neck are equally as weak as those everywhere else, my head has a tendency to fall forwards and give the impression that I’ve either fallen asleep without warning or suddenly passed out (neither of these is the case). Once my head is down, it’s difficult for me to communicate what’s going on as my jaw is trapped against my chest, so on the whole, it’s not the most attractive position to find myself in and it’s certainly not something I’d want to be caught on camera. All it’s takes it a helping hand on my forehead to return me to the upright position, but without having a sticker on my forehead to explain this, it’s difficult for others to know how to help.
After finishing off the exquisite dinner and looking on in admiration as more and more stunning ball gowns entered the room, it was time for me, along with a handful of other recipients of powered wheelchairs, to say a few words on stage. I’m often asked if I get nervous before speaking in front of so many people and, despite having done this numerous times before, the answer is always yes. I wouldn’t describe myself as an anxious person and I often don’t worry out things until seconds before they actually take place, simply because I just don’t see the point, but I feel honoured to be asked to speak at such events and want to be sure to do a good job. I don’t worry about messing up my words as much as I do getting my arm support caught or, again, my head falling, as this is just all-round embarrassing,  and I try not to pre-write any of my speeches anyway so that what I say on the night truly comes from the heart.
A particular highlight from this year’s ball, for me, has to be the one-and-only Craig David. I mean, I knew he was good, but… wow. Aside from his immense musical talent, Craig David is one of the nicest pop stars about and took the time to speak with each of the families attending the ball. His set was amazing and, once again, he proved that his music is truly timeless. 


The Butterfly Ball was a great success for Caudwell Children and I can’t thank them enough for inviting myself, Mum and Candice to be a part of their fabulous evening. I truly value the work that this charity does for children with disabilities and their families and cannot express how grateful I am for both the practical support with the donation of my chair and the enriching experiences I have been given as a result.

If you’ve read my blog or even spoken to me within the last year, you’re probably aware that I’m planning to study in the US as of September 2018 and, if not, you are now. Where I left off in my last post, the next stage on my ‘journey’ to the US was to attend a Sutton Trust US Programme residential in London. For this, I was unbelievably excited with a small spot of abject terror. For so long, I have been alone in my ambition to study across the Atlantic, and this residential was my opportunity to finally meet others on the same path who share my dream. 
Mum and I weren’t able to stay in the same hotel as the other students due to wheelchair access issues, but the itinerary for the weekend was so jam-packed that this made very little difference. Each morning, we made the walk from Euston to Syracuse University where we were greeted by a hub of excitement and US-related activity. Mum left to explore the city for the day with Candice, who had managed to squeeze in yet another trip to London, and I remained at the university to learn all I could about study in the US. Workshops ranged from ACT preparation to admissions essay tips and I couldn’t believe I had finally landed where I needed to be to make my American dream a reality. 
In just over a week, I leave with my mum for the US to spend a week at Yale University along with 59 other Sutton Trust students, with trips including Harvard University and New York City, and I honestly can’t wait to experience true campus life and blog about my adventures upon my return. 
But before we get there…
For my seventeenth birthday, I asked for Justin Bieber. Unsurprisingly, I did not wake up to find him on my doorstep, but I suppose I did get the next best thing. 
We left for Stoke Station early Sunday morning and took the train with ease to Euston. Some people get pretty stressed out about train travel with a wheelchair user, but as long as the station is aware to fetch the ramps when the time comes (which they manage 99.9% of the time – but that’s another story), all is well. I only felt slightly ridiculous in my Hunter wellies and festival face glitter strolling through the streets of London, but really, it made a refreshing change for people to be looking inquisitively at my face rather than at my zebra-striped chair. 
Having made it to the Premier Inn in Euston (where we’re now on first-name terms with the staff after so many recent visits) and had no luck in booking a taxi over to Hyde Park, we hopped on the bus and, for £1.50, made it to the concert in no time at all. Unless we’re desperate, the tube for me is a relatively big no-no as, for one thing, many of the stations don’t have lifts to exit, and I’m not particularly fond of travelling sideways in a black cab either.  The bus is such an easy and affordable way to get about London – the driver simply releases the ramps and I drive straight on. 
Since my family has never been one to do things by halves, we decided that, instead of going to a number of festivals, we would just do one and we would do it well. The VIP garden at Hyde Park was filled with elegant bar stools, squashy bean bags, lush palm trees, and high-end eateries and, despite having access to this within our ticket, we strolled straight on through to the Diamond View area of the arena and secured our spot in preparation for Justin Bieber. Having seen the Purpose Tour before, I was aware that Justin spent the majority of his time on the runway coming out from the stage rather than on the stage itself, so Mum and I positioned ourselves at the end of said runway on the second row and here we stayed for the entirety of the day, basking in the glorious sunshine.
It was interesting to witness firsthand the obsession and ruthlessness of the ‘Beliebers’ around us – they would stop at nothing to make sure that there wasn’t anything that stood between them and their idol.  It’s often assumed that my four wheels equate to a free pass to the front row, but believe me, true fangirls/boys will make it their mission to ensure that this is not the case. No matter what, you’ve got to earn your position by waving goodbye to the squashy bean bags and acquainting yourself with the muddy field for the duration… but Justin Bieber is so worth it!
After tootying down in front of me to ensure I had a clear view for the past two hours, I’m sure my mum was in need of a stretch of her legs, so instead of hanging round in the hope of getting a taxi back to Euston, we decided to go on foot. In our beautiful British climate, I don’t often have the luxury of taking longs strolls as the piercing cold almost instantly freezes my hand, rendering me unable to drive, but on this night, the weather was with us and I managed to drive the whole two-hour journey back to Euston. This may seem like a pretty simple thing considering the day we’d had, but walking with my mum through Oxford Steet at night while the passing rickshaws played Bieber hits was something quite special. It also meant that we could stop for pizza and an oreo milkshake, so all in all, walking back to the hotel was an excellent decision.
Between writing spurts for this post, I’ve been emailing back and forth with Virgin Atlantic to make the final arrangement for our flight next week (hugely exciting!), but with that comes a certain amount of hurdles to overcome. I plan for my next post to focus solely on my trip to the US, covering everything from the preparation stage to when we touchdown back at Heathrow Airport, so I’ll fill you in on everything-USA then.
Write soon,
Twitter/Instagram: @ItsMeTillyG

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