Kings Place

Any stay in a nice hotel entails moments of formality– unless you’re severely disabled, which turns the whole thing on its ear. Take Sunday morning. With Jane on a 10-day tour and training in Israel, what happens to me when it’s time for breakfast? After all, it is the custom to appear in a hotel dining room fully clothed. Okay, maybe not Hawaii. But definitely the Paddington Hilton. Which is fine, unless you sleep a bit later and find yourself pushed for time. And that’s the thing about doing anything with a disability. Tasks may be doable but not really worth the time involved. What about breakfast?

Let me put it this way. Artfully used, a wheelchair is an excellent vehicle for disguise. Not that I wasn’t a bit paranoid rolling out of my room. I double checked in the mirror just to make sure. In fact, I turned this way and that. And from every angle one would think I was fully attired. After all, I had on shoes. No socks. But my jeans were long enough to conceal most of my ankles. As for the trousers, they were wide open, not buttoned, just me and my natural state on full display, but for the fact that my pullover was pulled down. I did have to adjust once in the mirror, yanking the sweater down and over the side of one buttock. But after that, I could pass. As long as nothing moved. And, of course, I didn’t get up to pee, stretch my back, et cetera. As I say, certain things are difficult. Dressing being one of them.

So that’s what my stay in London is partly about. Adaptation and survival. Biological imperatives. As there is that other biological imperative, enjoying London’s rich cultural life. Made all the richer in this modern era by the advent of wheelchair access to virtually every venue. Which explains why the sold out concert at Kings Place was only sold out of seats. I bring my own. And damned if on the spur of the moment I didn’t score one wheelchair spot to hear violinist John Power and his own ad hoc ensemble of ‘young European musicians’. I did not know what to make of the latter until I was there and utterly enthralled. The evening program included Astor Piazzola’s ‘Four Seasons’ on a program that interspersed each season with short pieces by Brahms and Schubert. It was the sort of thing I’ve never witnessed in the States. And let me simply say that it worked.

What didn’t work was the stall in the men’s toilets. It was adorned with a wheelchair symbol. But the entrance was so narrow that even my standard-width chair could not fit. Later, I approached the house manager to have a little chat. It seemed worth it. Who knows if it was? Who knows how such a thing could happen in this, a British venue that is barely four years old. I do wonder. After all, it would have been so easy and cost virtually nothing to do a proper job. In America the presence of the ADA makes it more likely that toilets in public places will be accessible. Of course in Britain there are standards too so who knows?

Kings Place refers to the transformation and resuscitation of one corner of the Victorian industrial slum that used to extend north from Kings Cross station. A vast railyard surrounded by mean streets of Victorian warehouses with vaulted brick arches and hundreds of prostitutes. All that is gone. The Guardian now has a glass office building there. So do lots of other companies. And the industrial canal along the northern edge of the district now provides a backdrop to a series of outdoor (in winter, glassed in) restaurants. Kings Place fits right in, offering two concert halls, restaurants and large meeting rooms. Probably use by lots of corporate events. The halls’ acoustics are wonderful. The men’s room, not so wonderful. You can’t have everything.

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