As tall person in Wales I am accustomed to eye contact of a particular kind with the vertically challenge males of the species. I have long concluded I have some of the most intelligent breasts in Wales as they are frequently consulted in the decision making process. Indeed they have sold property (when working for a Pontcanna Estate Agent), agreed land deals (whilst at Tai Cymru), scrutinised secondary legislation (as a Welsh Office Civil Servant) and I could go on!
Accustomed as I am to being in a position to advise colleagues and acquaintances on the right time to top up their highlights the prospect of finding myself at crotch level horrifies me! My rapidly declining ability to walk, even with the support of the Germans (manufacturers of Custom now Cool Crutches), is likely to see me exchanging two sticks for a set of wheels. At current rates this is looking increasingly likely to be knocking at my door before the 2012 festive season. As an independent woman already forced into an increasing position of dependence, physical not emotional, the Spinster does not find herself tripping the light fantastic (even should one be able to do so), at the prospect!
We all start our lives at a relative position of disadvantage as children driven around in pushchairs but thankfully most of us grow out of this one. Innovation in the buggy business offers a high riding position these days too; my mother and I were impressed by such a contraption we encountered in John Lewis (where else) only last week. The toddler was seated at waist height on top of some impressive sprung engineering with more than a nod to the Silver Cross Pram of Norland Nanny days! The child in question appeared to be holding court as it flashed a cheeky little smile accompanied by a rather regal little wave (no doubt it had been watching the Jubilee Pageant the day before).
I have already experienced the wheelchair whilst travelling in airports where when one requests assistance its rather more convenient to pop the ‘disabled’ traveller in one for ease of movement! Dignity is one of the first things to be sacrificed (often without the individuals consent) when awarded the category of disabled person. International travel is eased somewhat by acquiescing as one (and ones travelling companions) is whisked through passport control and immigration. Once British Council colleagues twigged this I was never given a choice after that because the ‘special treatment’ made their lives simpler with no standing in queues!
My favourite story relates to Africa where I was working in Kenya and Tanzania. When we landed a young guy was waiting with the wheelchair for me, smiling broadly he asked what my name was. Frances I responded to which he looked quizzical with his head on one side reminding me of a childhood visit to an ostrich farm in South Africa. In case you haven’t noticed ostriches have a tendency to hold their heads at a rather racy angle emphasised by the long neck. ‘No no no’ my male escort said after a long pause. ‘In Kenya only men are called Francis so I will call you Medley (my surname)!’ Never argue with the ‘driver’ seems good advice in this situation so I just smiled compliantly. As we approached immigration he asked for our passports containing our permits and visas, ‘how long are you staying?’ he asked. ‘A week’ I responded to the back of his head as he disappeared with our documents. Five or so minutes later he returned and handed back our passports saying ‘I got a visa for two weeks in case you fancied staying longer’.
This is however the only occasion that being in a wheelchair has been (on balance) a positive experience aside perhaps from a similar incident in the States. US immigration terrifies me disproportionately for some reason! I remember the Christmas when mum had had an operation on her feet and was in plaster, taking the usual post Christmas lunch walk my aunts and I were rather worse for wear on account of the alcohol in the Pudding. In this heighten state of excitement we virtually ran with the wheelchair giving my poor mother a rather scary experience!
Reflecting on the prospect of living life at crotch level one realises quite how different things look at that height. Not only can people now see my roots, they also have a vantage point down ones cleavage – will the spinster be forced into high neck blouses and polo necks? The impact on ones wardrobe alone will be distressing to the point I anticipate requiring counselling! And at our age the less than pert breasts can at least be flattered with the hang of a tailored jacket concealing the sitting on tummy issue; forced into a permanent sitting position even with the most erect of postures it’s going to be a challenge! Will I be forced to consider a corset? Oh lordy there is SO much to think about! Excuse me whilst I reach for a fan and attempt to find a darkened room to lie down in!
Putting those not so minor points on one side what really makes me shudder is the prospect of being at the level of the male crotch. The neck ache required to avoid constantly having ones eye drawn to the unconscious adjustment of the ‘crown jewels’ will be excruciating! The sweaty heaving of the pregnant paunch as it strains against the short sleeved shirt – the risk of being blinded by the buttons as they pinge off into vulnerable eyes! Oh and the image of the contemporary summer linen shirt, the type that hang outside the trousers surrounding the gut like a tent without any other visible form of support! And that level one is bound to be able to see the curve of the stomach under the shirt; pale pasty hairy white flesh moist with.. heavens I don’t even want to finish that sentence!
If anyone is reading this thinking I am over reacting and trivialising the issue put yourself in my place before you judge me! Of course lots of people use wheelchairs, they lead full and active lives. That is fantastic but if one is forced into this position it’s going to take a period of adjustment. In my view it is different if this has always been your reality, if you’ve never known anything different and you have adapted to these circumstances it’s not easier but it is easier at the same time.
And ladies I haven’t even begun to consider where the devil I’m going to keep my cigarettes or the new range of accessories to be sourced to ensure appearances are maintained! Sophistication will simple have to undergo a radical reinvention; there’s absolutely nothing else to do! As if I haven’t already got enough to do!!