By: Lydia Crow
Dear O2 Academy,
Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on the well-organised and fabulous evening which was the Ben Folds Five gig last night. The organisation at the door was smooth, the venue amazing and the music outstanding.
Sadly, however, I must confess there was something which jarred slightly about the evening. By no means did it spoil the evening altogether, Ben Folds Five were just too delicious for that, but it did leave a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth afterwards.
At this point I should explain I visited the gig with my friend, who happens to be a good few inches shorter than myself. Let’s call her Frodo (as this is what she has asked to be called in this letter). We have never felt judged by society for being friends despite our height difference, and not once have I been made to feel that our friendship was breaking some kind of secret taboo.
Towards the end of the gig, perhaps the last twenty minutes (you know, the point at which everyone is high on music and the entire night is building up to an amazing crescendo), one of your bouncers saw fit to ask me to move because I was blocking the view of two shorter people behind me (who were, I would like to point out, the same height as Frodo). I should also point out that, at the point at which Frodo and I first stood where we were, to the right of the speakers at the right hand side of the stage, no-one was there and no-one was behind us. In fact, when I had nipped to the bathroom only twenty minutes before, no-one had been stood behind me looking glum because a 5′ 8″ lass was stood at the front (nearly everyone else was stood directly in front of the stage: we’d positioned ourselves there early enough so Frodo would have a good view). I also should point out that, directly to my left, was a gentleman who was a good six inches taller than myself. The front of the barrier was littered with male giants of all shapes and sizes, as is the situation at many gigs. Everyone knows it’s every man for themself and everyone knows that you get there early if you want a good spot: never have I criticised a particularly tall man for standing in front of me when it’s been clear he did the legwork (no pun intended) to get there early.
When said bouncer (I’ll call her Maureen, simply because it will make this letter flow better) first asked me to move, I politely pointed out that there had been no-one behind us when we’d first stood there and that I wasn’t doing any harm and, in any case, wasn’t exactly a giant myself. Apparently this was not sufficient for the Messiah of the Vertically Challenged and she proceeded to interrupt my musical experience by continuing to ask me to move. On about the fourth time, I moved: simply because she was clearly disturbing the people around us. At this point, she ushered in the two shorter people who had been stood behind me who looked somewhat surprised (given they hadn’t complained in the first instance). The gentleman of the pair turned to me looking more than a little embarrassed and tried to explain that they’d been fine where they were and didn’t really want to move. I just said not to worry and to leave it, as clearly this was Maureen’s personal crusade, not their issue. They stood there for the rest of the gig looking decidedly uncomfortable, which doesn’t surprise me because if I was short and took my similarly short female companion on a date to a gig then I would have been mortified if Maureen had tried to implement her Short Person Outreach Project and shuffle me and my date around. She might as well have entirely emasculated him while she was at it. Way to go, Maureen.
This was probably a painful enough experience for everyone, but Maureen wasn’t done. Clearly disheartened by the lack of an appearance of a troupe of celestial angels singing her praises (or whatever she was expecting), she decided she wasn’t finished. No, she then decided that I was in the way. Now, let’s think about this. I had just been moved to that very spot by Maureen herself and then she saw fit to barge past me, shoving me mildly into the person on my left, and tell me I was in the way. At this point, when she asked me to move again, I pointed out I was standing precisely where she had asked me to, which apparently was not the right thing to do as her eyes went wild and flecks of foam appeared on her lips (slight exaggeration, perhaps, but nothing would have surprised me at this point). Amidst the spittle she continued to harass me, explaining that she’d asked me to do a nice thing and I’d done it (to which I pointed out that, actually, originally I hadn’t done it and had only moved because she had been spoiling several people’s musical pleasure and, ironically, view: and that if she perceived that as selfishness then that was fine by me) and that now I was being belligerent She didn’t actually use the word belligerent but I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant. She stayed there, what I believe is commonly referred to as ‘having a go at me’, for some time and, all the time, starting to push against me. At this point Frodo (who, as you may recall if you were paying attention, is not particularly tall herself) came up to me and intervened to calm things down. Maureen then stood there frothing (again, hyperbole, maybe) with her arms folded glaring at both of us for the rest of the gig, trying to get a reaction. Ben Folds Five were just too damn awesome to miss, though, so I didn’t really care, and certainly wasn’t going to miss anything because a self-appointed campaigner for all compact people had a problem. It was a good thing that I wasn’t wearing the four inch heels I’d been wearing to work that day, otherwise I’m half convinced Maureen the Zealot would have pulled out a hacksaw and started chopping my legs off at the knees.
Perhaps I should also point out that Frodo was somewhat upset that our friendship had been judged and tarnished on the basis of our height. When I was first moved, I had demanded that she stay at the front and watch from where she was, but she was so disappointed at not being able to stand with her friend at a gig that she eventually moved.
I don’t want to pass judgement on the person that Maureen may be. I’m sure she’s very nice. She probably has short friends who don’t bother to turn up to gigs until halfway through the night and still expect everyone to move out of the way for them, surprised when crowds don’t part like the Red Sea. She probably has placards printed with the words ‘SAVE THE SHORT PEOPLE’ emblazoned on them, and walks round London in a sandwich board trying to save the souls of those selfish enough to be over 5’5″. This is probably Her Big Cause. I do suggest, however, that she reconsider her career path, because I’ve never met any security firm who pride themselves on intervening in other people’s aural pleasure in order to try and segregate our society based on height. I would point out again that we were the only people in that corner for a good section of the first part of the gig and that no-one had wanted Mabel to intervene (I’m bored of calling her Maureen now). After that, everyone (and I include Mabel’s smaller self-appointed charges here) was so wrapped up in the music and the atmosphere, having such an amazing time, that we were all oblivious to any hint of societal differentiation based on colour, creed or, indeed, height.
My friend and I did discuss this with Mabel’s manager (or at least the person who seemed to be her manager – it was the person she’d run to when she realised that she’d probably overstepped the mark) afterwards and he did want us to stay behind and discuss the matter with his manager, but I explained we had to catch a train and we had another hour or two before we’d be back in our respective beds as it was (one short, like Baby Bear, and one long, like Daddy Bear, apparently).
I would appreciate your thoughts on the above incident and, to make a response easier, I have drafted a list of questions which you may particularly want to consider addressing:
As a venue, what is your policy on the mixing of people of different heights at gigs, for which tickets are sold as standing only in the stalls (inferring that it is first come, first served)?
Do you believe that, as a society, we should demand that people should be staggered from stage to back based on their height? I feel a little uncomfortable at this discrimination, given that I have some particularly tall male friends who would never be able to get close to a stage. (I note that, apparently, the fact the floor in Brixton is sloping was not enough to pacify Maude (please do keep up).) If so, please could you communicate this prior to tickets being purchased? The tickets we’d been given as a gift were worth £75. I’m sure, in future, an unadvertised discrimination policy might impact upon a decision I may take to attend a gig at the O2 Academy (or, at least, ensure my friend wears six inch heels so we are able to tackle this subtle, but potentially incremental, attack on our basic human rights and freedoms and stand together at gigs to which we choose to go together.)
Has Maude ever had an experience whereby she was made to feel inferior due to her height (which I estimated to be 5’6″)? If so, should she consider dealing with her demons head-on and speaking to someone about this? (I understand, due to data protection, you cannot communicate this to me, but it is food for thought for her manager.)
Was I perhaps barking up the wrong tree and the issue of height was a subterfuge and, in fact, irrelevant? Was it, maybe, that I have red hair (technically, it needs dying again at present, but it’s still mostly-red (it’s these little facts that I feel add a personal flavour to our correspondence))? This might explain why Maude asked me to move, not the considerably taller gentleman next to me. I’d hate to think she asked me to move and not him simply because I was of the female variety and she dare not ask him.
I think, given the length of this letter, I shall leave it there for now. I very much look forward to your reply. I would like, once more, to thank you for a fabulous evening for the most part. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves: even the two individuals which Maude saw fit to move in front of me did, even though they were incredibly embarrassed and apologetic (we bumped into them on the way to the tube and they told me so). I do commend Maude for trying to be kind in the first instance (even if it was a very focused, discriminatory act of kindness), but I feel, for her own sanity, that she should understand that it’s a jungle out there. Perhaps sometimes in life we just have to watch from the sidelines quietly, observing perceived injustices. Especially, I like to think, when it’s your job to do precisely that and not intervene where there isn’t a problem in the first place.
In anticipation of your eloquent reply,