Who’d have thought that the end of April 2022 would be one of my favourite ends of April or any month, for that matter? And that I’d experience personal growth in the process? I set out to Eindhoven on Friday afternoon for what would be ‘An Evening with the Cast of Band of Brothers’ and a Band of Brothers themed WW2 tour through the country the next day. Or, rather, the cast of my all-time favourite mini-series because it combines excellent storytelling with great acting and WW2 history. Someone pinch me, I’m in heaven.
Armed with my art of (some) of the cast, my mom and I drove to Eindhoven, arriving precisely on time at the Pullman hotel. A fancier hotel than I usually go to, but also the only hotel that offered me wheelchair accessibility in Eindhoven’s city centre. I had spent several stressful hours trying to find another, cheaper hotel that I could stay in with my cousin Joost and his wife Sabrina since the Pullman couldn’t accommodate us in the same room but came up empty. Pullman by necessity. Joost booked a much cheaper Airbnb with a friendly lady and her dog about ten minutes away.
Upon arrival, I had one of those weird first-time greetings with Matthew Leitch (who played Floyd ‘Tab’ Talbert in the show) that felt more like a reunion than an introduction, which would become the case for everyone I met this trip. He gave me his beanie (thanks!), and while Joost and Sabrina filed into the hotel and hugged me hello, he signed my painting.
There was some time to kill before the actual event, so we had some drinks with two girls from the UK and Germany, after which my mum left (poor mom, taxi-servicing me only to drive back an hour and a half by herself; she swears she doesn’t mind). By that time, I’d gotten quite hungry. I hadn’t eaten all day because I was nervous about accessibility. It’s a recurring theme.
Flashback to a couple of weeks earlier, when I had asked Leighton (one of the organisers and driving forces behind We Happy Few 506) if the event was wheelchair accessible. Yes, was the answer. The first night was, and so was the tour. He even hooked me up for a complimentary ‘carer’ ticket so my cousin could be there to push me about. Perfect. About a week before the event, I reached out to Joris, aka The Battlefield Explorer, aka the guy doing the tour. To check about the accessibility of the several stops on the way. 2 out of 3 had accessible bathrooms, which is not bad. He even offered an extra stop if necessary. It wasn’t. Then came the bus. Oh, dear. The bus in question was a regular touring car, one with dangerously steep stairs that you can easily clip your ankle on if you’re not careful.
“Will you be able to get on that bus?” he asked. In my head, I’m going: “No, actually, probably not,” because my mobility had severely lessened over the years. It’s the reason I no longer travel alone. In my email, I replied: “Uh, sure. There are plenty of strong guys around, right? And actors too, they can pretend to be superheroes and save me, haha.”
Accessibility is always an afterthought. This isn’t a dig at anyone involved in this event, because they actually did most things completely right. But, in general, It’s a fact. It makes sense that it is since the majority of people is able-bodied, but it does not make it any less frustrating.
Back to me being hungry. Joost, Sabrina and I set off for a quick bite at a Vegan Snackfood Bar (who knew that was a thing? Not me, but it’s delicious) and made it to the ‘Evening with’ part of the evening with a couple of minutes to spare. We got seats appointed at the front (you’ll notice another recurring theme of the WHF506 crew getting shit right) and were ready for the show to start.
I say show because as soon as it began, I started to wonder if I’d accidentally rolled into a comedy show. All four men were entertaining and candid, telling funny and personal stories from their time filming Band of Brothers over twenty years ago. They hit the mark with their little critique on ‘making it in Hollywood’ and how working hard and being talented isn’t enough to get there because you need luck, someone giving you an in, and you need to be receptive to the success for your fortune to start rolling in. Joost is a musician; he knows what it’s like. I want to be an artist for a living, and I know what it’s like too. Either way, entertaining stuff with a good chunk of reality.
When the stories were over, there was the opportunity to get a thing or two signed. I had stupidly forgotten my DVD boxset and I had only done paintings of two of the guys there (Matthew and Mark Lawrence, who played William Dukeman), so I didn’t have a lot to get signed. I tend to disappear in crowds; get quiet, think, ‘nevermind, I’ll ask tomorrow’ (and then never ask). I’m not shy. I just… shut off when there are a lot of people around. Joost, however, wouldn’t let me do that completely and got Mark’s attention and mentioned my art. A major shift in atmosphere. Mark had seen me, had seen my art but had not connected the dots until then. Cue another spontaneous, instant connection. I don’t know what it is. It’s not me. It’s these people.
Still, I had burned up most of my energy during the day and with the fear of the bus with the stairs of doom still looming over my head, I couldn’t really be my bubbly self for much longer.
I didn’t sleep very well because I wasn’t in my bed or because I was nervous for the day to come. Who knows? After breakfast and a somewhat complicated search for an accessible bathroom since I’d already checked out (yes, it’s a struggle, even in a four-star hotel), it was time to face the bus with the stairs of doom. But not before facing the outside stairs of doom because the side of the hotel where the bus was parked did not have a ramp. Pretty sure the universe was just having a laugh at this point. But, by the time I’d reached the bus, I’d already discovered that people were more than capable of helping me and didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. And that was the trend for the rest of the day. I didn’t have to ask. By the third time, we were a well oiled, joke-cracking machine, and the stairs of doom seemed to have shrunk.
Sabrina, unfortunately, could not join us on tour due to family obligations, but Joost and I sat comfortably at the back of the bus with Mark. Apart from the tour itself, that was the best part of the whole trip: spending quality time with my cousin and having conversations about things that mattered with Mark.
The tour itself was impressive; I learned a lot more about Operation Market Garden than I had previously known, but the true magic was getting to share some memories and moments with the cast, who seem so profoundly connected to the men they portrayed. I thought that was particularly moving. The other impressive part was how precisely the creators of Band of Brothers have managed to recreate the locations where the events took place, especially the ‘Crossroads’, which in actuality are located near Heteren, but were rebuilt entirely outside of London. They never filmed here in the Netherlands, yet it looks exactly the same. If you squinted, you could almost see the characters creeping around in a ditch.
Another iconic place to see was Landgoed Schoonderlogt (not a name the British seemed to be exceptionally equipped to say), where I – and everyone else – found the perfect photo op with all four cast members (including Doug Allen, who played Alton More and Tim Matthews who played Alex Penkala) as seen on the photo above this novel of a travel report.
The last part of the tour brought us to Arnhem, about fifteen minutes from my home, where the bus parked at the Rijnkade. It’s no strange place to me, but I usually visit it in a social context for drinks or that one time I dated a guy on national television. But here, we saw the John Frost bridge for its part in WW2.
As I’m slowly running out of words to describe the day, I’m trying to think of what I really took away from this weekend. I feel like I’ve made friends, not only the gents from the show but also several other people who were at the tour. I felt safe and seen—a part of a group, of something special. I feel more than a little sad that it’s over and can’t wait to do it all over again as soon as the next event happens, but until then I can sit comfortably in the knowledge that…
Accessibility is a challenge, but not quite as much if you’re with the right people.