The sun made a welcome appearance during the Bank Holiday weekend, and as my sister Carla and her boyfriend Ross were in town, we decided to take in some salty seaside air.
After my short escapade with Mum in the wheelchair, we needed to modify it so that I could venture a little further without having to hold my leg up. We eventually settled on a skateboard wedged under the seat, and a wooden stick between the board and step to provide extra support. It was effective, but not exactly pretty. Ross bravely volunteered to push me whilst I held on to my crutches, and Carla took Fred, who was twitching impatiently by this point.
Despite the average age of the locals being at least 70 years old, the pavements heading into Southwold were appallingly-suited for wheelchairs. The surface disintegrated into pot holes and rough tarmac, strewn with twigs and dusty leaf detritus that hadn’t been cleared. It was rough going – every bump dislodged the improvised wedge, and as my brace dropped an inch or so to the skateboard, it twinged my knee. Admittedly, once Ross realised the brakes were on, it became a little easier after that.
The pavements dips caused us some issues. To begin with, it’s not always easy to find good places to cross the road – some curbs drop on one side and not the other, or some curbs are still too high to launch off without gaining air time. Ross had a novel approach to these: attack at speed. This resulted in some comedy jolts, and Carla shouting ‘You’re not perpendicular!’.
I spoke to my Great Auntie Melita, who is an expert on these things, so if you’re ever in charge of pushing a wheelchair, here’s some golden nuggets: If you’re going down, turn the passenger backwards to save them a hard jolt. For going up, you go forwards as usual. She said most people think it’s like driving buggies, but I can tell you – wheelchairs do not have nearly the same suspension!
After some close calls with Fred zipping across my path, we arrived at the pier. I was relieved that we passed the skatepark halfpipe without any incident. Once on the busy promenade, it was interesting to see how people reacted – parents with buggies did push through, but then became painfully aware of the chair and dragged back their children despite me saying we could wait. Parking outside the cafe posed us with minor troubles, as I wasn’t keen on staring at a wall / having my back to everyone / taking out existing furniture with my leg.
Mum, having given us a generous head start, joined us in time for a drink. We treated ourselves to the famous hat trick hot chocolates. I felt people staring at the chair, trying to work out what was wrong. Although, it’s worth pointing out here that I was wearing my Intergalactic Space Pants (watch relevant video here), so it could have been that.
We sheltered on the other side of the pier from the gusts, and although I could feel the bite of the coastal breeze, I ignored it. The sun wore a halo, a phenomenon I’d only ever seen before in Australia. Towards the end of the pier, fate exacted revenge on Ross’ bad driving when Carla distracted Mum, who drove my leg right into his rear.
Riding in a wheelchair gives you a different perspective, and I don’t just mean your proximity to the ground (which is something I already deal with being 5ft3). You also seem to become transparent. As we wheeled up the beachfront, tourists walked straight towards me, forcing us to stop. Even my dear family made Freudian slips, referring to me affectionately as ‘that’ and ‘it’. Being so low made the experience of bumping into the carthorses on the high street rather terrifying. Instead of wheeling me out of the way, Mum left me in the centre of the road to take a photo saying that they’d stop for me, but I didn’t really want to test this theory.
That said, there are some definite perks, such as the premium parking spot right in the centre of town. I’m lucky that I have a family who are willing to ram a skateboard into a wheelchair and push me around. I also recognise that this is a temporary state for me, but now that I can appreciate being less mobile, I’ll be writing to the council to demand that they improve the pavements into Southwold for everyone.
For anyone that read the last blog about my new wheels, you’ll be pleased to hear that the stories we’ve spun to the public now include: a skydiving accident, a yoga retreat gone wrong, and a record attempt at the longest ever pogo jump. Any more suggestions are warmly welcomed.