Josie’s Wedding; Part 2 (of 3): The Day

By JohnA

Bright and early in the morning of the day, my three bridesmaids came over to Aunt Emma’s, and we started to get ourselves ready.

As I had said earlier, I was going to wear my ‘best’ legbraces; and this seemed a good opportunity to wear them with the body-brace and hip-locks. Jamie keeps warning me not to wear that combination for too long; but since I expected to be doing far more standing than walking - for the first part of the day at least -- this seemed to be an ideal occasion. In fact, with everything locked, I can stand upright without using my crutches at all -- but of course, then I can’t move in the slightest except by using both the crutches to swing my rigid body.
As I was assembling the shells of the TL-brace around my waist, I noticed Aunt Emma looking at me with a whimsical smile. “You’ve seen me in this body-brace before” I said to her “so why are you giving me a funny look?”
“Forgive me, my dear” she replied “but when I was a young gal, it was common for ladies to lace themselves into tight corsets to make their waists slimmer. Your lovely figure has no need for that; but somehow, the sight of you brings back memories which seem so ..... appropriate!”

As Mandy was the only able-bodied one of us (apart from Aunt Emma), she did all the running around, and fetching and carrying of bits and pieces -- until Karen reminded her it was time to put her legbraces on for some last-minute practice.
“I know it is the custom for the bride to keep everyone waiting” Aunt Emma said “but I think it would be impolite to delay things for more than a token minute or two!” In fact, we had both been keeping an eye on the time; and Aunt Emma has become acclimatised to the fact that, although there is very little I can’t do in legbraces, nevertheless just about everything takes just that bit longer than it would for an AB.

‘Uncle’ Arthur then arrived. He had hired a very posh dress suit, complete with tails! To begin with, he felt rather self-conscious, as this was so different to his usual rustic gardening clothes; but when he saw us four girls, he softened immediately!

We arrived at the church, and started the procession up the aisle.

At the rehearsal, Arthur had insisted on practising how we could move with our arms loosely linked; so now I was able to swing along the aisle on my crutches, but still be ‘on his arm’.
In one way, there was an additional advantage to me being in the full body-brace: it slowed me down from my usual impetuous rush! That meant that I wasn’t forcing Tania’s pace; and Mandy would never have been able to keep up with my usual rate of hurling my legs and body forwards.
So that made for a more stately procession: Mandy and Karen swinging along side-by-side like twins behind Arthur and me; and Tania walking steadily along behind and between them, carrying the bouquets.
The little church seemed packed; I was only aware of a sea of faces.
But I was looking out for my husband-to-be!

He had rented a suit too; but not from the usual hire shop -- I reckon he must have gone to a theatrical costumiers. Someone (I wonder who?) must have planted the idea in his mind to ‘show himself off’ too. Jamie was wearing something like a military-style uniform; not battle fatigues, but more like a ceremonial dress parade get-up. He was wearing a tight-fitting red tunic with gold-braid epaulettes, and skin-tight blue trousers tucked into cavalry boots -- and his steel and black leather legbraces over them!
I reckon most of the girls were on the verge of swooning over him -- I certainly was!

The ceremony itself went like a dream; and I mean that literally -- I was in a dream during it, and can actually remember very little of it! Fortunately, we had had a couple of good rehearsals beforehand, and I was just ‘operating on autopilot’!
Two instances do come to mind: The first was when Neil was due to produce the ring -- and it magically appeared between his hooks! He must have spent a long time practising that move to get it perfect; it was almost like a ‘sleight of hand’ trick -- except that can’t possibly be the right phrase to use!
The other moment was when Donald had finally ‘pronounced us man and wife’, and he turned to Jamie and said “You may now kiss the bride”.
Several minutes later, he had to clear his throat and say “Ahem..... you may now stop kissing the bride”!
And then we all went back outside, and posed for the photographer.
I must say that an awful lot of pocket cameras suddenly appeared from nowhere, and started clicking and flashing furiously away!

After that, we went across to the Village Hall for the Reception.

Aunt Emma and Peter Henderson positioned Jamie and me and themselves just inside the entrance of the Hall, so that the guests could file past and be formally introduced to us newly-weds. Or rather, that’s what was supposed to happen. The trouble was that after a bit, some of the people waiting in the queue spotted friends inside, and bypassed the ‘reception committee’ to rush over to those friends; and some of the people inside recognised friends in the queue, so went back to say hello to them, and came round for a second time! Aunt Emma did her best to maintain some semblance of ‘discipline’ -- but soon had to admit defeat! Nevertheless, she did manage to keep track of who had been greeted properly, and then guided us round to meet those who had slipped past earlier.
It was wonderful to see some friends from back when I first ‘came out’ about my legbrace-pretending. Debbie looked suitably outrageous in her spiky bleached hair; it wasn’t just straw-blonde, but completely white! “Nobody can claim they haven’t noticed you!” I said as we hugged “Though I thought you might have gone in for rings and piercings to really stand out from the crowd?” “Nah, everybody’s doing that nowadays” she replied “I’m still looking for something different in the way of ‘jewellery’ decorations”.

And then I greeted my long-time friend Liz. She’s a lovely person; but she has never been able to understand or accept my passion for legbraces. “I’m so glad you’ve come” I said “Does that mean you’ve forgiven my ‘aberrations’?” “I have to admit that I still don’t understand” she replied “but what I CAN see and understand is that you look so happy today -- and that I DO accept!”

Kathy, as I had quite expected, was wearing hooks. As we hugged each other, I got the feeling that her embrace was a bit stiff and awkward. When we separated, I had a closer look at her. She was wearing a party frock with short sleeves, and I could see the socket of her below-elbow prosthesis over her right forearm (and hand). But when I looked at her left arm, I didn’t see her elbow -- instead, there was a mechanical hinged joint. And there was no sign of her upper arm at all; just a plastic shell of semi-circular cross-section, and some actuator rods and cables.
I was beginning to get worried until I noticed a slight lumpiness under her dress -- her left arm was tucked against her body inside her clothes. “Alan got me a full prosthesis for a shoulder-disarticulate” Kathy explained with an impish grin “It’s incredibly complicated to operate; but we reckon that if I can master this, I’ll be able to manage anything!”

Pauline rolled smoothly up in her wheelchair. Most of the previous times we’d met, she was usually wearing a sporty skirt and tennis shoes. But today, she was dressed in a very chic two-piece suit; and the skirt was short enough to show off the delicate beauty of her hauntingly slender legs. And she was wearing white shoes with incredibly high spike heels; the sort that make you wonder how anybody could ever walk in them -- except of course that Pauline wouldn’t be.

As well as all our immediate friends - and their friends - there were quite a number of the neighbourhood people that I’d met at the local Village Dance; and also several of our friends’ parents -- some of whom I’d met before, and some I hadn’t.

When Flix’s turn came, it struck me for the first time what a contrast there was between the stark metal of her hook and the smooth unblemished skin of her remaining hand. At the same time, with all the guests that I had been greeting up till then - a mixture of close friends and older people that I did not know so well -- I had lost track of whether I should politely shake their hand, or give them a hug and a kiss. I fact, everybody got at least two of those; but I had got a mental blockage over whether to shake hands first ..... and somehow or other, I was stuck in ‘handshake’ mode.
Remembering that Flix was an amputee, I started to move my left hand forward -- then stopped with a frown of doubt: ‘That’s funny’ I thought ‘I could have sworn that it was her right hand that she lost’. I dropped my left hand, and swung my right arm towards the hand that Flix was proffering.
A slight frown of concentration crossed her face; and as her thumb separated from her fingers, I heard the faint whirr of an electric motor -- just in time for me to prepare myself for shaking hands with an artificial one for the first time in my life.

After we had hugged and kissed, I looked back and forth in bafflement between her myo-electric right hand, and the hook where her left hand should have been. “Don’t worry, Josie” Flix smiled “Nothing disastrous has happened! I prefer to wear my hook; but Mum wanted me to wear my new myo now it’s arrived -- so I borrowed Kathy’s left demo hook so I could do both! Besides which, I’ve got much better than I used to be at doing things left-handed: so by covering up my left hand with this hook, it’s forcing me to practise learning how to control the myo. And it also dawned on me that quite a lot of our friends have bilateral disabilities -- and I didn’t want to be the odd one out!”
“That’s given you three different excuses” she continued with a grin “Pick whichever one you believe!”
Danny was very pleased to see me again; but he found it difficult to keep his attention on me, as there were so many other girls in the party for his eyes to flicker over!
His little brother Tim looked smart and clean for a change; but he was on crutches and had plaster casts on both feet. “I didn’t fasten up my roller-blades properly” he said, with the resigned air of someone who seems to spend half their life explaining away their latest mishap “And I twisted my ankles when I fell over. They don’t hurt quite so much now; but it makes me feel silly when I’m in the school playground”. “At least you won’t feel so out of place here today” I tried to reassure him. “No, I don’t think I will” he replied, brightening up “Is Flix here? Oh yes; there she is -- see ya later Josie!” ..... and off he lurched.

It was nice to see Tony and Sally again. On this occasion, Sally was not wearing her weight-bearing brace, but was using crutches. She was wearing a fashionable shoe with a high blocky heel on her right foot, allowing her unused left leg to hang and swing limply. Her crutching movements were fluid and graceful, and I could easily understand how much Tony admired and appreciated her elegance.
Steve and Olivia arrived, looking very happy. Although Steve pushed her wheelchair up the ramp into the hall, Olivia clearly wanted to wheel herself up to us. That showed that her arms were working; but from the harness that was holding her strapped into her chair, it was clear that the rest of her body was completely paralysed from her armpits down. Although she had always looked happy and confident every time we’d met before, that day she looked positively radiant!

Olivia’s two brothers had also come, which was very nice because they had always been out somewhere on the occasions when I’d visited her before, so I had never met them. “These are my brothers, Paul and Quentin” Olivia announced. “Except that nobody ever calls us by those names” they added. “So what DO we call you?” I asked. All three of them grinned. “Pip and Squeak!” came the reply.
With her parents being away that weekend and their house being empty, Karen had brought a whole crowd of her college friends with her -- which was lovely! I’d already met Hester and Vicky and George; but now had a chance to meet Bridie, whom I’d only glimpsed briefly before. As we were all being introduced, I noticed that Bridie always looked directly into the face of the person speaking -- and I could see her two hearing aids clearly under her upswept auburn hair. “I’m so glad you could come” I said “and I look forward to chatting to you later”.
I must have subconsciously made a decision to speak particularly clearly, because she mouthed a silent ‘Thank you’. “Thanks for inviting me” she continued, speaking in a normal voice “I’d love to get to know you”.

Crystal looked very pert in her crisply clean nurse’s uniform -- although I suspected she had raised the hem of that outfit several inches above the ‘regulation’ height! That made her look very sexy in black nylons -- and her pair of long legbraces!

Simon was dressed very smartly, but was still rather self-conscious about his legbraces. He also appeared a bit shy, which was understandable as he didn’t know many of the people. But he was very pleased to see me again; and he started to relax.

Walter was accompanied by his boss, the manager of the local sports shop. He had only met four of us before, and was quite surprised to see just how many other disabled guests there were. Walter was able to introduce him to more of my friends during the day; and I think it opened his eyes to just how active we could be.

It was lovely to see Melanie standing on two legs! She was wearing some three-quarter length ‘clam-picker’ style pants; not in heavy blue denim, but in a softer lightweight saffron-coloured material. Through it I could recognise the outline of the bars and cuffs of the orthosis on her right thigh; and her covered right knee was clearly bulkier than her left. There was only the tiniest trace of the knee-brace bars visible beyond the end of the pant-leg; and then came her prosthetic lower leg which - though reasonably leg-shaped - did not quite match the texture or skin-tones of her left leg, and so could be seen to be artificial. But Melanie was clearly over the moon about being as close to ‘normal’ as her paralysed below-knee stump was ever going to allow.

“We have a few surprise guests” Peter Henderson said to Jamie and me.

The first was a slim lad, about the same age as Jamie or perhaps a year younger. He was wearing a pair of full legbraces; and he was crutching along with a degree of laboriousness which indicated extensive paralysis -- yet with an air almost of indifference, implying that he had been that way for all of his life. Jamie was knotting his brows trying to recognise him -- and so his father dropped a hint: “It was about ten years ago when the family left the area” he said “and so it took us quite some time to track them down and find where they’d moved to”. The clue clicked with Jamie: “Ben!” he cried “Of course I remember you from junior school!” “And I’ve never forgotten you, Jamie” Ben replied “You were the first boy who really made friends with me -- and I’ve remembered that with gratitude ever since”.
Jamie obviously would have a lot of catching up to talk about with Ben; but he would have to leave that until later, and greet his next guest.

She was a very attractive girl of the same age as us, and wheeled herself up in a smart wheelchair. Her short dress enabled me to see that she was also wearing two thermoplastic legbraces. Normally I dislike that style, and much prefer the leather and steel type; but there was something about her that somehow she looked very attractive in them.
Jamie was already primed to place the period from which he knew her: “Deidre!” he exclaimed “My childhood sweetheart!” “Hello Jamie” she said with a smile “It’s lovely to see my secret admirer again; and especially to hear your voice -- I think this is the first time you’ve ever spoken to me!”

That was another friend from his past that Jamie would have lots to talk about with later -- but there was still one more guest to greet, who didn’t seem to know any of the other guests.

He was a dapper middle-aged man, wearing freshly-creased trousers and a smart blazer. I felt sure I’d seen his face before, but I just couldn’t place where I knew him from. “Hello” I said, giving him a smile and hoping he’d introduce himself. “Weekend return or period return?” he said, to give me a clue; and then I recognised who he was -- he was the bus driver when I used to make regular visits to Aunt Emma before I got my car. “It’s lovely to see your cheerful smiling face again” he said “You were definitely my favourite passenger! I missed you when you stopped coming by bus, and wondered what had happened to you. Then one day recently, I arrived a bit ahead of schedule, and had a few moments to wait. I spotted the gentleman who always used to collect you from the bus stop, and asked him how you were -- and was very relieved when he told me you were well, and as pretty as ever! A couple of days later, the Personnel Office was very perplexed to receive a wedding invitation addressed to ‘The Driver, c/o Bus Route 65B’!”

Now that everybody was properly inside the hall, Jamie and I moved over to the ‘top table’, to cut the wedding cake.
Jamie’s hired outfit included a huge ceremonial sword; the trouble was, since it was really just a ‘stage prop’, it was quite incapable of cutting at all! Luckily, his father had foreseen that, and had polished up the largest of his leather-cutting knives which he had kept from his old business -- and that could easily slice through anything.

After that, Neil decided he should stand up and make a speech while the caterers took the cake away to cut it up into pieces for everybody.
In fact, it wasn’t so much a speech, as a long string of excruciatingly bad puns! It went something like:
“Josie and Jamie have always gone weak at the knees at the sight of each other. Josie put her irons in the fire and went out on a limb to ensnare him. And now, as you have all just witnessed, Josie - accompanied by her supporting cast -- has finally hooked her man!”
Neil looked around the crowd, and continued “There is a wonderful bracing atmosphere here this afternoon; I ‘truss’ you’re enjoying yourselves -- you all look wheelie chairful to me. So I think we can peg this event up as a great success! For those that want it, there’s a well-stocked bar so you won’t be stumped for something to drink -- but don’t get too plastered, legless or paralytic! I hope the sound system keeps working; it’s only the mike and speakers we have to rely on -- we’ve got plenty of spare amps”.
It looks agonizingly dreadful to read in black-and-white, and would have fallen flat in any other context; but at the time, Neil was bubbling with enthusiasm and really in his element! His humour was so infectious that he had everyone in stitches and rolling in the aisles.... Oh no! What have I just said? “Stitches .... Rolling”! Arrghhh .... He’s got me at it now!

Jamie was urged to ‘say a few words’, and so levered himself to his feet.
“I really am grateful to Neil for being my Best Man” Jamie said, and then turned to Neil and continued: “Thank you for your support -- I shall wear it with pride!”
After the laughter had subsided, Jamie carried on in more serious vein, expressing his gratitude to his father and my Aunt Emma “for making all this possible”.

I could see that I wasn’t going to be able to get away without saying something; so I too hauled myself to my feet. I thanked my bridesmaids; and I thanked all our guests for attending.
“I noticed a lot of you have been taking photographs as personal mementos of today” I said, looking straight at Tony and a bunch of his friends “and I hope you will cherish them in your private collections of pictures”. I paused for long enough for the significance of my words to sink in; and then put on a big smile which I swept round everyone.
That rather heavy hint seemed to work; after that, none of my friends minded being photographed at all, knowing that - whether pretend or ‘real’ users -- their pictures would not be splattered all over the internet.
And then it was time for everyone to tuck in to all the food that had been laid on to go with their slices of wedding cake.

Poor Tim, new to using crutches, was discovering the near-impossibility of carrying anything when both hands are occupied with his crutches. Flix offered to help him, gripping his glass of lemonade in her myo-electric hand, and using her split-hook to carry his plateful of cake and jelly. (Why is it that, when the younger kids are offered a choice of cake OR jelly, the boys always want both cake AND jelly?)
As I looked around at all the guests tucking in to all the food that had been laid on, a thought suddenly hit me, and I turned to Aunt Emma in a state of great concern. “This reception must have cost you a fortune” I exclaimed “I can’t possibly expect you to pay for it! Now that I’ve just started a regular job at the hospital department, I promise I’ll pay you back every penny for all this; starting as soon as I get my first salary cheque -- even if I can only send you a little bit each month”. “I would never entertain such a preposterous idea!” Aunt Emma forcefully replied “And anyway, as it turns out” she continued more gently “there’s no need -- your parents have paid for the reception”.
“WHAT?!” I yelped in amazement. “You may recall” Aunt Emma explained “that we agreed that your parents would get an invitation -- even though I didn’t think they deserved it. In fact, I wrote them a letter instead ..... rather a long letter. I seem to have succeeded in getting through their self-centred thick skins, and even managed to stir their conscience”.

“They still couldn’t bring themselves to come and face you” she continued “but they did send a cheque to pay for the wedding. I’m not sure whether they are truly sorry about their past conduct, or are merely trying to buy themselves some peace of mind -- but as this is your wedding day, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt this once”.
“But this is such a BIG wedding reception” I gasped “Are you sure they sent enough?” “Oh yes” Aunt Emma replied “I can assure you that we country folk know how to put on a decent spread without it costing the earth! Their cheque was more than enough to cover it -- and so I’ve put the surplus into your Trust Fund”. “Into the what?” I asked in bafflement. Aunt Emma ran her fingers through my hair and caressed me. “There’s no need to worry your pretty little head about that right now” she said with an enigmatic smile “Just carry on being a good hostess to all your guests”.
I had a chance to meet up with Bridie, and we started chatting together. “I love your hairstyle” I said, looking at her upswept hair. Bridie gave me a knowing grin: “In much the same way as I love the revealing shortness of your dress?” she replied. I smiled my agreement; but said nothing, as I didn’t want to interrupt whatever she was going to tell me.
“When I first started at College” Bridie explained “I was dreading it; I had suffered enough with people making cruel jokes about my deafness before, and I was afraid the other students might be even more unkind. I got the smallest unobtrusive hearing aids I could, and combed my hair down over my ears so that people wouldn’t know”.
“It didn’t work;” she continued “People got fed up with me forever asking them to repeat things when they were talking quietly, or else thought I was stupid when it was obvious I hadn’t understood what they had just said. And if I turned the amplification up, I got rustling noises from my hair”.

“But then I met Karen” she said, losing the frown from her face; “When I heard how ashamed she had been about her weak legs, and had tried to go without any bracing, I knew I had met someone who understood. So when she decided to stop pretending there was nothing wrong with her, and started wearing her legbraces openly and obviously, AND was completely accepted by everyone -- I decided that I was going to do the same. I combed my hair back up clear of my ears; and took the first opportunity to change my miniature hearing aids for full-size ones”.
“And it’s been wonderful ever since!” Bridie continued happily “Instead of people wondering if there’s something funny in my ears, they can see immediately that I need hearing aids, and just carry on treating me normally from there on. It also helps that they tend to face me when they’re talking to me: I can hear quite well with these aids, except when there’s a lot of background noise which I can’t filter out -- that’s when I use the dual clues of some hearing plus lip-movements to work out what they’re saying. And this is on top of the practical advantages that I can get much more amplification from these large-sized aids, and the larger batteries last longer!”
Olivia’s two brothers, Pip & Squeak, were really enjoying themselves, and mixing in well. I don’t think it would be quite right to call them devotees; but they seemed perfectly at ease with all my disabled friends -- if anything, more so than with the able-bodied ones. This was more noticeable in Pip’s case: he seemed to swing between awkward shyness and exuberant bonhomie -- and I remembered that was how his mother Joan had described him when comparing him with Neil the first time we stayed with the Dennys. In fact, he and Neil got on very well together, exchanging wisecracks!
When Simon had first arrived, he hardly knew anyone; so we made a point of introducing him to as many people as we could, and then they carried on introducing him to the rest of their friends. I noticed that he was now much more relaxed and enjoying himself. “I’m glad Simon was able to come” I commented to Jamie. “He very nearly didn’t” Jamie replied “When he first received the invitation, he refused point-blank to come. I had a word with the family doctor in charge of his case, who recognised that this could play a major part in Simon’s rehabilitation -- and so ordered him to attend. Crystal tried to soften the blow by offering to come with Simon and give him company. He still offered some resistance, saying that he couldn’t bring himself to attend a big function in legbraces, unless Crystal wore hers too ..... and I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that she instantly agreed!

“He certainly looks much more confident and at ease now” I agreed. Now that he had lost his fear of appearing in his braces, and was meeting all my friends who were also disabled but unconcerned about it, his cheerful manner was rapidly winning him even more friends.
“He really does look handsome now he’s smiling” I said, thinking aloud “Do you know ..... if it wasn’t for the fact that I got married just a couple of hours ago, I could easily fall for Simon in a big way myself!”
Jamie spun round to me with a look of shock on his face. “Don’t worry” I smiled, giving him a reassuring kiss “That’s just my funny way of saying that - of all the most handsome boys in the world here today -- you’re the one for me!”
Alan and Melanie walked towards us; and I realised that Melanie’s right leg was not stiff, but that her knee flexed. It was not quite a ‘normal’ gait, but rather that of the free-swinging joint of an above-knee prosthesis -- and it made a clearly audible click every time her knee moved to or from the straight position.
“I didn’t realise that Melanie’s knee-brace would hinge” I said to Jamie. “To begin with” he replied “I based it on the automatic lock of the indexing mechanism that was used in the experimental hip-joint you’ve got; but then I incorporated some ideas for automatic unlocking borrowed from the Dutch team at Twente University”.
Alan and Melanie had joined us towards the end of Jamie’s explanation, and he turned to her: “But I’m sorry Melanie” he continued “I didn’t realise that it would be so noisy in operation; I’ll try to make the next version quieter”.
“Oh, that doesn’t worry me” she replied “In fact, it’s an advantage: Because I haven’t got any feeling in what’s left of my leg, I don’t have any sensation of what my knee’s doing or what angle it’s at. But I can HEAR whether it’s straight or not, which gives me much more confidence as to when it’s safe to put my weight on it”.

“Since we’re admitting to shortcomings” Alan added “I’m sorry the lower leg prosthesis part isn’t very life-like, but I didn’t want to delay it by spending too much time on its cosmetics -- I’ll try harder next time”.
“Please don’t worry about that either” Melanie replied “It already allows me to walk far better than I’d ever hoped for -- and I know the two of you aren’t even finished yet”.
“I’m far more interested in function rather than the appearance” Melanie continued “and even my mother has accepted that it’s asking too much to expect anybody to re-create a perfect leg for me. And not only that -- I must say I’m rather taken by Tania’s metal legs. Is that a shock-absorber on the bottom end of them? I ask because, now I can move around confidently on the leg you two have given me, I find I get quite a bit of jarring if I try to walk too fast”.

“They are shock absorbers” Alan replied “although I suspect the ones you’re thinking of are the ones used on sports and high-performance legs. There is also a wider choice of types available if I don’t have to fit them within the envelope of a cosmetic outer”.
“The only trouble is” he continued, turning to Jamie “If they’re of the telescopic lower-leg style, as opposed to a spring in the foot, would that affect the way the load-sensing works in the automatic knee-hinge?”
“Yes, I think it would make a difference” Jamie replied “and it would probably need a re-design. Though come to think of it, I might even be able to turn that to advantage. Hmmm..... let me think . . . . . ”
Jamie’s eyes glazed over into a vacant faraway look, which is the sign that he’s thinking deeply, and that - if you listen very carefully -- you can hear the cog-wheels spinning round inside his head.

Aunt Emma had been standing off to one side; but then she strode forward. “Now, STOP it, you two!” she said firmly to Alan and Jamie “I appreciate that you have Melanie’s best interests at heart; but this is supposed to be Josie’s Wedding -- do you think you can take just ONE day off work?”
Alan and Jamie sheepishly mumbled their apologies. “I’ll contact you some time later next week, Jamie” Alan said, and walked off to bring the conversation to an end.
I gave Jamie a hug and a big kiss; partly to help him take his mind off the subject -- and partly because I hadn’t kissed him for ..... oooh, it must have been at least three minutes by then!
Then Jamie swung himself off; in the opposite direction to Alan, to make sure he didn’t accidentally start talking to him about orthoses again.

Aunt Emma watched him crutching away, and then turned to me: “Oh dear” she said “I seem to have slipped rather too easily into the mantle of the ‘interfering mother-in-law’ just then; I do hope I haven’t upset your poor husband already!”
Aunt Emma looked at the clock. “I think it’s now time for you and Jamie to leave” she informed me.
“Leave?” I queried in surprise “But the party isn’t over yet -- and anyway, we aren’t going anywhere!” That last part was true; Jamie hadn’t been able to get enough time off work for us to go on a honeymoon straight after the wedding -- that would have to wait until later.
“Ah, but it's protocol” Aunt Emma explained “You and Jamie are the two ‘Guests of Honour’ at the Reception; that means that nobody else can leave until you two do -- and there may be some people here who need to get away early. Take this as an opportunity to drop home and change into something informal for the rest of the day; and then you can come back again and re-join everyone”.

As this was our ‘official going-away’, we had to announce our “good-byes” to everyone. To my surprise, I couldn’t see Neil anywhere around ..... nor Walter or Pip, for that matter.
When we got outside, I realised why: they, and a few others, had been busy ‘decorating’ our car! The words “Just Married” had been written all over it in party spray-foam! I’m aware of the tradition of tying a couple of old boots to the back of the car, trailing behind on pieces of string . . . . . but a pair of old AFOs ? !!

Josie’s Wedding; Part 3 (of 3): Later on

When we got back to Aunt Emma’s, I pulled my (mini!) bridal gown off over my head; and then decided that I had been wearing the full body-brace for more than long enough, and had better take it off. I disconnected the fixings at the top ends of the side-bars of my legbraces, and unlatched the halves of the body shell. As I bent forward to put that assembly down ..... my unsupported waist just jack-knifed in the middle.
“Whoops!” I thought “I knew my waist muscles tend to go weak when I’m not using them -- but this is ridiculous!”
I decided I needed to ‘wean myself off’ the TL-KAFO, by mounting the simpler pelvic girdle on instead: The hip-joints of that are free-swivelling, so I could get some movement and exercise of my waist and hips; but it would lessen the risk of me toppling over if I leant sideways. And anyway -- that accessory is supposed to be part of my ‘best’ braces!

I then changed into a shorty smock that I thought would fit with the evening’s entertainment. Jamie took as long to change, as he removed his legbraces, changed into a smart casual shirt and tight jeans, and then put his legbraces back on over them -- he was still in ‘show-off’ mood too!

When we got back to the Village Hall, there appeared to be just as many people there as there had been when we left; though a few of them - who either lived or were staying locally -- had also taken the opportunity to change into something more comfortable.

Hester was wearing a shorty ‘bolero’ jacket, and blank pants which were tight-fitting from hips to knee, but flared from her calves. Her black chunky wedge-heeled shoes were cut in a style which made them look very ‘compact’ and short -- almost toeless.
Mandy - as I had quite expected - had taken her legbraces off almost immediately after the wedding itself; and had now changed into a very pretty party dress.
But Karen was still dressed exactly as before, in her bridesmaid’s dress and legbraces. “You haven’t changed!” Mandy exclaimed. “Just because the ceremony’s over” Karen said defensively “it’s still Josie’s wedding day”. Mandy was clearly not impressed by that explanation. “Oh, all right then” Karen sighed, trying another approach “I’ll admit it -- I couldn’t be bothered to change”. “Ahhh -- now that I CAN understand” Mandy replied “I found I was so tired after wearing my legbraces, that - much as I wanted to be out of them -- I had great difficulty in summoning up the energy to take them off. And I only put mine on at the last possible moment -- whereas you’ve been wearing yours ever since first thing this morning. So I can quite understand why you’re so lethargic now”.
“Don’t worry” Mandy continued “Just sit back, and I’ll undo them for you”.

“No Mandy, please” Karen said, rather quickly I thought “Please Mandy -- you mustn’t remove my legbraces!”
Jamie had joined us during this conversation. Mandy just gave one of her good-natured smiles, and drifted off to talk with some other friends. I put my arm round Karen’s shoulder: “Welcome to our world” I said softly, giving her a comforting squeeze.

As the time approached early evening, the event changed seamlessly into the usual Saturday night dance. I couldn’t have wished for anything better; it made for a lovely ending to the reception -- and I wouldn’t have wanted the locals to ‘miss out’ on their regular social get-together.

The music was being provided by the same two-man band that I remembered from my first visit to Aunt Emma’s; but either they’d learnt some more tunes since then, or else had been practising specially for this evening.
They launched into some throbbing pop music, and the younger kids were soon leaping energetically around on the dance floor. I think they were hoping to tire the youngsters out so that they would settle down afterwards -- but only half succeeded!

The band paused after that session to get their own breath back; then started playing a slow dreamy number. Neil turned to me: “I do believe this is the tune they were playing the first time you brought me here” he said “Would you like another go at dancing with me?” Of course, the nearest I can get to dancing, is to drape myself over a partner, rely on them holding me tight to keep me upright, and let them rock me from side to side to shift my weight from one leg to the other. It isn’t really dancing; but it’s a wonderful excuse for a lovely prolonged hug! So I agreed.
Neil stood up, then bowed stiffly and formally. “Miss Josie -- or rather, Mrs Henderson -- may I have the pleasure of the next dance?” he asked.
“I suppose we ought to ask Mister Henderson’s permission now” I chuckled.
“You two carry on” Jamie replied with a smile “I certainly can’t dance”.
Audrey overheard his reply. “That’s a feeble excuse!” she challenged “If Josie can do it, so can you!” I knew Audrey was a good dancer, and she had seen the way Neil had partnered me before -- and it was clear she wasn’t going to take ‘No’ for an answer!

Walter turned to Karen: “If the bride and groom are dancing” he said “then at least one bridesmaid should join them. How about it?” Karen turned to him with a slight look of concern. “Hadn’t you realised?” she said softly “I’m not just pretend-wearing my legbraces these days -- I really can’t stand or move without them”. “You’ve never come out with it in so many words before” Walter gently replied “Though I had rather guessed that was the case. But surely that’s all the more reason for joining Josie and Jamie?”

Little Tim, with his feet in plaster casts, had not been able to join in with the other kids on the previous pop session; indeed, considering the amount of cake and jelly he’d been stuffing himself with, it was probably a good thing that he HADN’T been jumping up and down on the dance floor! He watched what we were doing, then hobbled over to Felicity. “Hey, Flix” he pleaded “Can we have a go at that?” Although Flix was older than Tim, she had good-naturedly accepted that the kid had latched on to her as a friend. “Okay Tim” she said “But please try to not tread on my toes!” She helped him to his feet, and put her arms around him. “Ooooh!” Tim whistled, as she ran her hook up and down his backbone.

It was clear that Danny wasn’t going to let his kid brother get the better of him; and he quickly cast his eyes around to pick a partner for himself before they all got accounted for: “Kathy; would you like to dance?” Kathy stood up, raised her left shoulder to release the elbow-lock on that side, tensed her right shoulder blade to jack her left forearm upwards, and then relaxed her shoulder to lock her arm in the forwards position -- and then embraced him. I noticed Danny’s eyes open wide, and then relax into a look of bliss, as she stroked his back with her right hook.

Kathy’s college friend George was sitting near Melanie. “You’re at least as mobile as the other dancers on the floor” he said to her “May I offer you a dance?” Melanie had not known George before, but had been introduced to him earlier in the day. George was also a handsome hunk of a sportsman: the sort that girls don’t refuse invitations from!

Because Sally wasn’t wearing her Perthese brace that day, but was using crutches and just her right leg, I wasn’t expecting her to try dancing. But in fact, she and Tony did: Sally used a sort of heel-and-toe movement of her right foot to move small distances sideways, with her left foot floating limply just above the floor; and for greater movement, Tony used a ‘ballet lift’ on her waist -- I realised they must have done this many times before, and were very good at it.

Betty walked over to Ben. “Would you like to try?” she asked gently. “I’ve been in braces for as long as I can remember” Ben replied in a matter-of-fact tone of voice “and even when standing still, I need my crutches to help take some of my weight. So to do what Jamie is doing, I’d probably need an Amazonian weight-lifter to carry me”. “I am a trained physiotherapist” Betty replied calmly “and looks can be deceptive -- I’m a lot stronger than I might seem. Also, I’ve been watching your movements with a professional eye -- and it’s my opinion that you could do it with my support. I don’t want to force you into anything you don’t want; but if you’d like to have a go at something you’ve never tried before -- now’s your chance”.

Crystal was still sitting with Simon. “That just leaves us two” she said by way of an invitation. “Don’t be silly” Simon countered “We’re BOTH wearing legbraces -- which of us is going to hold the other up?” “I haven’t the faintest idea” Crystal retorted with a big grin “So we’ll just have to try it to find out. Come on Sunshine -- we’re not going to be left out of this!”
I was told afterwards that, at the sight of the nine couples on the floor, including twelve young people who were clearly disabled, a number of the older guests had moistness in their eyes. But I have to confess I don’t fully understand why? After all, we were all just enjoying ourselves!
Oh..... if you think anybody got missed out -- they hadn’t.
During the dance, I noticed Pauline deep in conversation with Olivia, Tania and Deidre. After our dance was over, and we were making our ways back to our seats, Pauline rolled herself over to the band, and had a word with them. And after we had got ourselves all settled down again ..... the four of them treated us to an impromptu demonstration of wheelchair line-dancing!

At one point, I had been worried that the local folk might feel that their regular Saturday night social had been ‘invaded’ by all my friends; although they’d met a few of them, there were many more they’d never seen before. But in fact, the regulars were delighted to have so many ‘new faces’, and made a point of making all my guests and friends very much welcome.
It also meant that Flix got some respite from Tim, who has a tendency to ‘cling’ to her. Despite his clumsiness at times, he really is a cute kid; and plenty of the local ladies were happy to be ‘honorary aunties’ to him.

The other thing was that it wasn’t just the local folk who were meeting new people; we had guests from six different parts of the country, often with mutual friends to introduce them to each other; and a lot of new friendships were forged during the evening, and lots of telephone numbers and email addresses exchanged.
Also, it turned out that most of the visitors were going to stay the night somewhere; my disabled friends were being put up by the locals, the adults had managed to book hotels not too far away -- and there were two parties of young people who had turned up in a mini-bus or camper-van, and intended to sleep in that!

And then Mr Benson - who seems to be one of the ‘Village Elders’ -- went up to the band’s microphone. “It has come to our attention” he announced “that there are a number of guests here who will not be leaving for home until tomorrow. The Parish Council has therefore decided that the Hall will be open again in the morning, so that newly-made friends can say their final farewells to each other”.
I thought that was a very kind offer on their part, as I knew the Hall was never normally open on a Sunday.

And it had another advantage. Although Jamie and I weren’t going on any honeymoon immediately, Peter Henderson and Aunt Emma had booked the two of us into a secluded nearby hotel for that night. That had been kept a secret between the four of us; not even my bridesmaids knew -- and Neil had definitely not been told!
So that meant that, since the final Goodbyes weren’t going to be until the following day, we didn’t need to stay till the end of the evening, but could slip quietly away.

Our hotel was really more of a ‘Country Club’; that meant that it did not appear in the list of local hotels, so none of the guests had discovered it as a place to stay -- so we had total privacy.
We also had the Bridal Suite -- with a huge four-poster bed!

Up until then, I had always assumed that the strange phrase ‘consummation of marriage’ was just a euphemism used by prudish people who couldn’t bring themselves to think of it as ‘having a good bonk’ -- but that night I experienced what it really meant.

Although neither Jamie or I have any muscle function below our hips, we still have full feeling and sensation everywhere; and indeed, I think the combination of feeling but no movement actually heightens the sensuality of touch. And we’re certainly both perfectly capable of experiencing orgasm!

There are ‘differences’ of course; my legs can’t move themselves into any ‘interesting’ positions -- but they ARE very good at flopping limply out of the way!
In Jamie’s case, he can’t use his legs to provide any ‘motive power’ during intercourse; but that simply means that making love fully becomes what you might call a co-operative ‘joint venture’ -- and that is what made it such a deeply moving experience.
You’ll have to envisage the ‘mechanics’ of that yourselves; I have no intention of giving a clinical description of it, as that would completely debase and ruin my blissful memory of what was - for both of us -- the most deeply bonding true partnership that we had ever experienced.

But I’ll tell you it was WONDERFUL!

Despite our strenuous ‘activities’ of the night before, we awoke the following morning feeling fresh; it might have been that we had both slept well after such bliss -- or it might have been that the adrenalin was still running!

We had an unhurried breakfast; but still managed to get back to the Hall just before mid-morning.
I had assumed that most people would have left for home by then, and that we would only catch the last of the stragglers; but no! There seemed to be almost as many guests there as there had been the night before!

Most of the local folk were there too; they seemed to have decided that they wanted to play ‘hosts’ to all the visitors until Jamie and I arrived.

Because of the previous evening’s announcement, the caterers knew that they did not need to clear everything up at the end of the Saturday night, but could return to collect their equipment on the Sunday morning. In fact, they had not packed much up at all -- there were some hot-plates running, and the tea-urn and coffee-percolators were boiling merrily away!

Only one of the professional caterers was there; but Neil - following up on his recent ‘home cooking’ attempts -- had borrowed a chef’s hat and apron from her, and was keenly helping. Kathy seemed to have reckoned that, if Neil had found a way of buttering toast with his hooks, then she ought to be able to do it too. Alan was a little concerned whether the batteries would last out in Flix’s myo-electric hand, as she was busily opening jars of home-made jam that several of the locals had brought along. (And incidentally, if you’re ever down this way, you ought to try Mrs Benson’s wild blackberry jam -- it’s delicious!)

Although I said that the locals were playing host to the visitors, the way it was working out, it was more like the opposite way round: I know that the old-fashioned term for a reception is a ‘Wedding Breakfast’ - even if it’s held in an afternoon or evening -- but this really WAS a breakfast!
Karen and Crystal and Simon were crutching round the tables collecting orders (with Simon also acting as a very smart ‘Maître d'hôtel’). The breakfasts that Neil and Kathy and Flix were making were put on trays, and Pauline and Olivia and Deidre were performing a ‘meals-on-wheels’ delivery service back to the tables.

Of course, with my disabled friends doing the work, the speed of service was rather slow compared to what you would expect in a real restaurant; but hey, come on, be fair -- what else could you expect? None of them had any prior experience of catering or waitressing!
Wandering around, I met Donald. “Oh dear” I said sheepishly “You must think this is rather naughty -- shouldn’t half these people be in church?” “It was an early Service this morning” he replied, adding with a grin “The congregation had the luxury of the shortest sermon on record -- we all wanted to finish promptly, and get back over here!”
Crystal and Deidre happened to cross paths. “I’ve got your breakfast here” Deidre said to Crystal “Where are you sitting?” They were by a table that had some of Karen’s college friends round it; who indicated they had a vacant seat. “I am getting hungry” Crystal replied “but there are still some orders I haven’t taken yet”.
“Let me take over from you while you eat your breakfast” Hester said, as she swung her legs out from under the table, and stuck them out in front of her “Ummm..... do you mind if I borrow your crutches?” Crystal sat herself down, then passed her crutches over with a grin. Hester used them to stand upright; and the way the flared bottoms of her pants draped over her shoes, you couldn’t see what sort of feet - if any - she had.
She crutched off with a graceful and fluid swing; and I noticed her face had a smile of secret triumph and exhilaration. “Hmmm.....” I thought to myself “That’s obviously not the first time she’s borrowed a pair of crutches before -- but I bet it’s the first time she’s felt ‘safe’ to use them openly in public!”

There had been an emptied plate at the seat which Crystal took, which I guessed had just been vacated by Bridie; so I went looking for her.
I found Bridie and Debbie in deep discussion in one corner. “Hi Bridie” I called out “Did you enjoy your breakfast?”
But she didn’t respond until Debbie nudged her gently and indicated me. “Morning Josie” Bridie said after turning to me “So you’ve got back from wherever you sneaked off to last night!”
I could now see that she did not have her hearing aids in; but it didn’t take me long to discover where they were -- Debbie was wearing them!

I sat myself down beside Debbie, so that we were both facing Bridie. “Don’t you think Debbie looks nice with hearing aids?” Bridie asked. Debbie was admiring her reflection in a make-up mirror from her vanity case; and I must admit she DID look attractive.
But I did worry a little how Bridie would manage without her hearing aids. “Both you and Debbie would make very good ‘lip-speakers’,” she told me “so with some faint clues from what little hearing I have, I can usually make out what’s being said”.
“If only these were a little darker in colour” Debbie commented “they’d contrast even more against my skin and hair”. “Funny you should say that” Bridie replied “I was thinking that lighter coloured plastic would show up better against my darker skin and hair”.
“Anyway, we mustn’t hide ourselves away” Bridie commented “There are still plenty of people I haven’t said goodbye to yet”. “That means I’d better give you your hearing aids back” Debbie said, with a slight touch of disappointment in her voice. “I won’t need them back until I actually leave for home” Bridie replied “so there’s no great rush. If you want to walk round with me, you can always give me a nudge if anyone calls out my name”.
As they walked off, I could hear Bridie saying to Debbie: “When you come to visit me next week, we’ll see if we can get ourselves some hearing aids tinted in just the colours we want to show ourselves off best in”.

“Hmmm.....” I thought to myself “I know there’s been a lot of new friendships made this weekend; but there seems to be much more than just telephone numbers being exchanged!”
I was beginning to get worried that nobody seemed to be showing any signs of leaving, particularly as the Hall had been opened up specially, and then only to allow people to make their final farewells. I found Mr Benson sitting quietly at a table. “I’ve got the key to the hall” he said to me “and I’ll lock up after everyone has finally left”. “I’m ever so sorry” I said “but they all seem to be hanging around; it’s not fair to keep you waiting”. “Don’t you worry one little bit” he replied “This is the most exciting thing to have happened in this area for a long time. I don’t want to break up this happy party, and I’m in no hurry to leave myself!”

They say that a girl’s wedding is supposed to be the happiest day of her life -- and I certainly won’t deny that!

Several people have since asked me what the nicest individual moment was; but that’s rather difficult to answer -- there were hundreds of them!
So if I had to pick out just one, it would have to be something that was different to all the others.

You see.....
Aunt Emma is the first person who ever showed me any real parental love -- she’s been far more than a mother to me.
And I knew that Jamie’s mother had died tragically when he was very young, and that his father had dedicated himself to bringing up his son single-handedly, while running a one-man business at the same time.

So when I noticed Aunt Emma and Peter Henderson standing on the edge of the gathering, alternately gazing happily at all that was going on, then holding hands and looking tenderly at each other ..... I realised that - if you forget all about the divisive ‘in-law’ distinction -- at long last Jamie and I had both a mother and father.

Of course, we would be sharing the same one pair of parents; but after all -- isn’t marriage supposed to be all about ‘sharing’?

Josie spins a yarn

Hi; I’m Josie in legbraces -- though I hardly need to keep telling you!

A week after my wedding, Jamie had to work during the weekend to catch up for his time off; but I had the time free, so decided to go and visit Aunt Emma. I arrived during the evening, to discover that my poor great-aunt had barely recovered from the exhausting events of the previous weekend; but she was nevertheless pleased to see me.

We had not quite finished breakfast when there was a knock at the door. Aunt Emma happened to be in the hallway outside the kitchen at the time, and answered it. “Hello Karen, what a lovely surprise” I heard her say “and you too Walter. Josie’s in the sitting room: do come in!” In fact, only Karen came in, swinging on her crutches; apparently Walter had to go somewhere.
But more to the point, Karen was looking really flustered and distraught! “Let me get you a cup of coffee” Aunt Emma said as Karen lowered herself onto a chair and unlocked her knee-joints of her legbraces; and left us together.

“I’m in dead trouble!” Karen said to me plaintively “Please can you help?”

“What’s the matter?” I asked. “My parents are now back from their holiday” she replied “and they want me to come home and see them. But I can’t! They don’t know anything about my legbrace-wearing; I’ve never told them. I’ve spent nearly all my college vacations visiting and staying with various friends I’d made there, and hardly ever gone home. In fact, I’ve only been home once since I’ve been wearing the braces regularly; I didn’t wear them on that one occasion -- but my legs were so weak then without them, that I hardly dared do any walking at all on that visit”.
“I got into town yesterday evening” Karen continued “and managed to stay the night at Walter’s. He had to go into work this morning, but drove me over here first; we were hoping that Aunt Emma would let me hide here -- so it was a lucky surprise to find you here too. You know that I need my legbraces full-time now. That’s not the problem -- it’s what I expected, and exactly how I wanted to be”.
“But I can’t go home with them ..... and I can’t walk without them! What am I going to do?” she finished in anguish.

“I know and understand the problem” I said, after a few moment’s thought “but the trouble is, I don’t know what the answer is. I think we’ll have to ask Aunt Emma’s advice”.
“Aunt Emma?” Karen asked, looking worried “But a secret like this ..... and a strict individual like her ..... are you sure?” I gave Karen a comforting smile: “I think I understand what you’re worried about” I grinned “I don’t think either of us would feel comfortable confessing anything to the fearsome ‘Miss Wilkins’; but surely we can always confide in ‘Aunt Emma’?”
Karen began to relax; and then Aunt Emma came in with a cup of coffee and a plate of buttered toast for Karen. “Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like” she said, as she prepared to leave us again.
“Could you stay please, Aunt Emma?” I asked “Karen needs your help”.
Aunt Emma didn’t hesitate, but immediately sat down with us. It was almost as if she had been expecting it -- but then, I suppose she must have recognised that Karen was worried about something on her way in.
“What is troubling you, my dear?” Aunt Emma caringly asked.

“My legs are now so weak” Karen said cautiously “that I can’t walk without my legbraces”. “I had gathered that” Aunt Emma replied gently “but I’m afraid I’m not the right person to ask about strengthening them”. “Oh no, I don’t want to stop wearing braces” Karen said “It’s just that ..... Just a moment; what d’you mean -- ‘you'd already gathered that’? How did you know?”
Aunt Emma gave a little smile. “That was just a guess” she admitted “But I had noticed a change in the way you were moving. I wouldn’t have known how to interpret that, were it not for having observed much the same changes in Josie over time”.
“But didn’t you warn Karen what might happen?” Aunt Emma continued sharply, turning to me. “Oh yes, Josie did warn me” Karen quickly explained “and even suggested some exercises to prevent my legs getting weak”. Aunt Emma looked softly at Karen: “And I suppose you just said ‘Thank you Josie, I’ll bear that in mind’ ..... but then just carried on wearing the legbraces ever more, without taking any precautionary measures?” Karen’s mouth was opening and closing dumbly as she tried to accept that Aunt Emma was way ahead of her!
“But the important question” Aunt Emma continued “is: Are you content with a need to wear legbraces?” Karen paused for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, I am content” she replied with a smile “More than just content -- it is exactly how I want to be”.
“I’m very relieved to hear that” Aunt Emma said caringly “But if that is the case, what is the ‘problem’ you want to ask about?”

“My parents don’t know anything about my brace-wearing” Karen explained “I haven’t been home to see them for ages, and they’ll expect me to visit them now they’re back from their holiday. But I can’t walk without my legbraces; and I can’t think how to tell them. I’m certain they would never understand -- I’m sure they’ll go mad if they find out”.
Aunt Emma gave a little frown. “As it happens” she told us “I took the liberty of inviting myself round to your parents on the day after they returned from their holiday, on the pretext of taking them some slices of cake from Josie’s wedding that they’d missed. While I was there, I steered the conversation around a variety of topics, to try and ascertain their attitudes towards various subjects”.
“What was the conclusion?” Karen asked, wide-eyed. “Ohhh -- they’re quite convinced I’m a garrulous old woman and an interfering busybody” Aunt Emma replied with a grin. “But of course, what you really want to hear is my appraisal of them!” She continued in more serious vein: “It is clear to me that they both love you very much, and care for you deeply. But they also worry about you -- particularly about your health and wellbeing”
“So I have to say that I agree with you:” Aunt Emma concluded “I don’t think they would be able to understand your desire for legbraces”.

“So that means I can’t tell them” Karen said mournfully “And if I can’t tell them, I won’t be able to go home . . . . . ever again”. Karen was fighting a losing battle to hold back the tears: “But I love them too -- and now I’m missing them terribly!”
“Now now, don’t despair just yet!” Aunt Emma said quickly “It just means that we have to find a way of breaking it to them gently, a bit at a time. In any case, it won’t be possible to keep it a secret from them indefinitely; they’re bound to find out eventually -- and probably sooner rather than later”.
“But first I need to know the background” Aunt Emma continued, with a warm smile to put Karen at her ease “I want you to tell me ALL about yourself”.

Karen began to relax as she repeated the story she had told me: How she had started off wearing the legbraces at college, but only on the one or two days each week when she was away from her friends on the main campus, and on the auxiliary site where no-one knew her from before. “And then one day, Vicky and George came over, and caught me wearing them” Karen explained. “That must have been awkward” Aunt Emma prompted “How did you manage to talk your way out of that?” “I told them that I had weak legs” Karen replied “and needed to wear supporting braces for at least part of the time; but had not been wearing them on the main campus in order to hide my disability from them, for fear they would not accept me as a friend if they knew I was handicapped. They believed me; and assured me that I could wear my legbraces whenever I needed to, and that they would not reject me because of them”.

“That seemed to go smoothly for you” Aunt Emma said “but what about the College Authorities -- did you tell them the same story?” “Yes and no” Karen answered “There was an occasion when my tutor and one of the lecturers caught a glimpse of me in braces. They came round to my room to find out what was happening. But I had already left for the other site, so they couldn’t; but all my friends repeated the same story to them -- and they believed it too. The next time I saw my tutor, she confronted me with what she had found out -- so I just sat there quietly and didn’t deny it”.

“So your story had been consistent up to that point” Aunt Emma observed “But as you took to wearing your legbraces more often, surely your teachers noticed the change?” “My tutor did realise that my legs must be getting weaker” Karen said “and so told me to see the college doctor. That worried me; but I couldn’t refuse, so I went to see him. It turned out that my tutor had added a note to my medical record to the effect that I had weak legs which needed support. He didn’t realise who had added that note; but knew that it must be ‘official’, and assumed it must have come from my own doctor, but didn’t ask me -- he just commented that it was a pity the notes were so brief, and did not include an explanation of the cause. He tested the muscle strength in my legs, and said that they seemed to have got quite a lot weaker than the record suggested. I replied that the further weakening had been anticipated, and that it was nothing untoward to worry about. So he assumed that my own home doctor had diagnosed and forecast a progressive debility, and that I had been warned what to expect”
“Then he added a few notes to my record” Karen finished “and finally just told me to come back to him if the weakness spread any further”.

“That’s rather interesting:” Aunt Emma mused “It seems that the story has been found more acceptable when heard from someone else”. Aunt Emma paused, and closed her eyes in thought. “Where do your parents believe you to be at this moment?” she finally asked. “They think I’m staying with Hester or Vicky” Karen replied “which, in fact, I have been”. “And that would be about half a day’s journey away?” Aunt Emma queried; and Karen nodded.

Aunt Emma paused in thought again; and then her expression changed into a look that I interpreted as her switching into her ‘plan of campaign’ mode.
“I’m going to go over to your parents and visit them” she said “I have an excuse to take them a cake recipe I promised them. Give me between five and ten minutes with them, and then telephone them as if from Hester’s; this exchange doesn’t support Caller Display, so they won’t know it’s really only a local call. Tell them that you’d like to come home to see them, and ask if it will be convenient to arrive late this afternoon or early evening. They are bound to agree immediately. Then just casually drop the hint that you have been experiencing a slight problem with your legs recently; that they shouldn’t worry about it -- but that you thought you ought to forewarn them. But keep the conversation short, and don’t go into any detail ..... and I’ll try and ‘smooth over’ whatever reaction they will inevitably have”.

Aunt Emma went through the timing again; and then set off.
We timed her walk to Karen’s house, and added seven minutes. Then Karen picked up the phone, dialled, and started speaking:
“Oh hello Daddy, it’s Karen here - - - - - Oh, fine thanks. but it’s such a long time since I’ve seen you; can I come home this afternoon? - - - - - That’ll be lovely! Oh, just one small thing I ought to tell you about: I seem to have developed a little problem with my legs - - - - - Well, they’ve sort-of gone weak - - - - - Oh no, I can get around fine provided I wear some support on them - - - - - They’re called ‘legbraces’ actually - - - - - Well yes, and crutches too; but .....”

I could tell from the growing look of panic on her face that that poor Karen was getting drawn in deeper than she could cope with; I gestured at her and mouthed a rapid “Pip-pip-pip-pip”.
“Sorry Daddy” Karen said quickly “my phone card is just about to run out! Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you this afte.....” and then she pressed the cradle of the phone, as if she’d been cut off.
“Phew!!” she exclaimed as she fell back in the chair “That was getting really tricky -- I only hope Aunt Emma can calm them down after that!”

But we would have to bide our time till Aunt Emma got back before we would find out; and it was so difficult to curb our impatience! I guessed that she would probably want to “Just put the kettle on and make a few sandwiches” as the first thing on her return; so we decided that if we prepared everything ourselves, that would give us something to do while waiting -- and ensure that nothing would delay hearing her account.

The moment Aunt Emma got back, we pestered her with “How did it go? What happened? How did they take it?” -- and this was even before she got through the door! “Give me time to take my coat off!” Aunt Emma replied “Then we’ll make ourselves comfortable, and I’ll tell you all about it”.

Aunt Emma had arrived at Karen’s parent’s house; and the door was answered by her father. “How nice to see you again, Miss Wilkins -- do come in” he said; but Aunt Emma could tell from his body-language that what he really meant was ‘Oh no! It’s that interfering old woman again!’
Nevertheless she was received politely; and prattled on about cake recipes until the telephone rang. Karen’s father answered the phone; and then called across the room to his wife: “It’s our Karen!” he said happily.
As he continued answering the phone, Aunt Emma started bombarding him with questions to disrupt his concentration: “Oh, how nice! How is she? I hear she’s doing very well at college. Is she coming home to see you?”
Meanwhile, her father was trying to make sense of Karen’s cryptic comments: “We’d love you to come home -- of course it’s convenient! - - - - - What do you mean, ‘a problem with your legs’? - - - - - Can you walk? - - - - - What sort of ‘support’? - - - - - But I thought those were for paralysed legs - - - - - Crutches AS WELL?! - - - - - What on earth has happened to you?”
Finally he put the phone down, and turned back to his wife, visibly shaken.

“Karen is SUCH a nice girl” Aunt Emma commented with a smile “How is she getting on?” “She’s got something terribly wrong with her legs” the father gasped “I don’t know if she can even walk!”
“I thought she was moving around quite well at Josie’s wedding” Aunt Emma contradicted encouragingly “and looked as cheerful as ever”. “Do you mean she was perfectly all right then?” the mother asked, looking completely perplexed. “She made a very attractive bridesmaid” Aunt Emma replied “and was moving very smoothly on her crutches -- not showing the least bit of awkwardness in her braces”.
“But this is the first we’ve heard of it” Karen’s parents said in anguish “You seem to know more about our own daughter than we do -- what happened?

“I don’t actually know what happened” Aunt Emma replied cautiously “Only what I’ve heard from my niece Josie, to fill in between the few occasions I’ve actually seen Karen. As I understand it, her legs started to lose their strength while she was at college. She was fitted up with some legbraces; and they were of great help to her, giving her legs support. And the crutches help her even more -- so she gets around everywhere without any great difficulty. In fact, she’s rather like my niece -- have you met my Josie?”
“I can remember Karen and her boyfriend talking about a Josie” the mother replied “but I’m rather confused -- are there two different girls with the same name? One of them seems to be a cheerful fun-loving girl who likes a night out and a laugh in the club they go to; but the other poor girl is severely disabled”.
Aunt Emma looked at them softly. “No, there aren’t two Josies” she said “Just the one -- my dear great-niece. And I can assure you that - despite her disability - there is nothing ‘handicapped’ about her zest for life! And I feel I must add that your Karen is just as accepting of her own situation -- she certainly doesn’t let it affect her joy of living”.

“But why didn’t she tell us about all this earlier?” the parents anguished. “Who can tell what goes on inside the mind of a youngster nowadays?” Aunt Emma responded with a shrug and a little smile “I would guess that, at the first signs of the weakness, Karen either hoped or assumed that it would clear up of its own accord, and that it was not worth mentioning. But as it progressed, I do believe that she said nothing because -- in her own way -- she was wanting to avoid causing you any worry. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way; but I really believe that her motives - though misplaced -- were fundamentally good”.

Aunt Emma continued to make comforting comments until she gauged that Karen’s parents had calmed down from the shock of the revelation. “I had not intended to get involved in a family matter” she said in her kindliest manner “so now I should be on my way, and leave you in peace. But I’m sure you are really looking forward to seeing Karen again: Let that happiness show in your faces -- not a look of worry which might unsettle her”.
With that parting admonition, Aunt Emma left and returned home to us.

“So that means your parents have been forewarned what to expect” Aunt Emma said to Karen “and have been ‘put in the picture’ with some sketchy background details. I won’t say that they have completely absorbed or accepted the whole of the story; but at least they are partially prepared for your homecoming”
“They will also be assuming that you are, at this moment, on your journey from Hester’s -- so you will need to stay here for the afternoon to keep out of sight. They will probably assume that you won’t have had much chance to eat during the journey, and may prepare you a meal -- so I’ll just make a light snack for lunch, to keep you going without spoiling your appetite”.

We also tried to get Karen to relax, by prompting her to relate some of the things that she had enjoyed at college, and how she was learning to participate in all of them in her legbraces.
Nevertheless, she started to get a little apprehensive as the time approached when she due to ‘arrive’ home. “As Josie has her car here” Aunt Emma suggested “we can run you over to your parent’s house, and come in with you. Josie: drive us all right into the centre of town, then turn round and drive back out to Karen’s house -- by doing that, we can truthfully say that we have given her a ride from the station. Try not to look so worried! I’m sure you are really looking forward to seeing your parents again, Karen: Let that happiness show in your face -- not a look of apprehension which might unsettle them”.

Then we went out to my car. I unlocked the doors, and Karen politely held the front passenger door open for Aunt Emma to get in. That meant that Karen was going to sit in the back; I didn’t know if the back seats would be as easy as the front to get into in legbraces -- Karen did have a bit of difficulty, but nevertheless managed to manoeuvre herself in.

We arrived at Karen’s parent’s house, and all went in. Her parents showed mixed reactions: on the one hand, they were bursting to find out what had happened to Karen; but equally they were in a state of shock and didn’t know what to say. Aunt Emma compounded the confusion by chattering merrily away: “Aren’t you glad to see your parents again Karen? Doesn’t your daughter look happy?” etc! Also, whenever her parents asked awkward questions, Aunt Emma would interrupt with a different question which would be easier to answer -- and that included why she and I were also there.
“As soon as I arrived” Karen said “I went to phone you to let you know. But I was so excited that I read off the wrong number from my book, and dialled Aunt Em... I mean... Miss Wilkins, by mistake. Luckily Josie was there, and offered to give me a ride from the station”. “And as I was looking forward to seeing Karen again” Aunt Emma added “I used that as an excuse to get out of the house and come along for the drive” -- thereby firmly establishing her own presence.

“Oh, your poor legs!” Karen’s mother exclaimed “You’ll have to sit down and rest”. “It doesn’t make much difference, standing or sitting” Karen nonchalantly replied “and anyway, I’ve been sitting for hours”. So Karen and I ushered Aunt Emma to a comfortable chair first; then selected some ordinary chairs for ourselves, lowered ourselves on to them, unlocked our knees, parked our crutches, manipulated our steel-braced legs into tidy positions, and smiled back up at her parents.
“How long have you had this problem?” the father asked. “Difficult to know when it first started” Karen replied, deep in thought “It may even have started just before I left for college, though not to any noticeable extent. I thought it was probably nothing; though oddly enough, the first time I saw Josie at the club, the thought did briefly cross my mind to wonder what it would be like to need support for weak legs”. I remembered that meeting, and Karen’s obvious interest in my legbraces. “Was that when I promised to have a chat with you some time?” I asked “Because if so, I really am sorry that we never got round to it”. “Oh, don’t be sorry” Karen promptly replied “Later on, when I needed it, you were really able to help me a lot”.

The mother had been deep in thought. “Now I come to think of it” she said “the last time you were home, you did hardly any walking at all -- were you already suffering then?” “I’m not suffering,” Karen replied “But yes, you’re right, my legs were pretty weak then. That was the period when I’d started wearing the legbraces whenever my legs got tired; but I could still manage for short spells without them. I still didn’t know what was happening; so I didn’t wear my braces home . . . . . I didn’t want to make you worried”. Her parents response was a look more of exasperation than anger -- they just couldn’t bring themselves to be cross with her.

And then the telephone unexpectedly rang. “Excuse me” the father said, and answered it: “Hello? - - - - - Yes, Karen arrived home a few moments ago - - - - - He can? - - - - - That will be wonderful! Thank you very much”.
He put the phone down and turned to us: “As soon as Miss Wilkins left us this morning” he announced “I phoned the family doctor to book an appointment for you. That was the receptionist telling me that he has had Karen’s medical notes faxed over from college. He has a few minutes between house visits, and is on his way over here at this moment. Now perhaps we’ll find out what the problem is”.
Karen and I looked at each other in horror: we weren’t prepared for this turn in events! Aunt Emma gave us both a steadying look as if to say “Don’t panic!”

Not many minutes after that, the doctor arrived and was ushered in. He was briefly introduced to Aunt Emma and me; and then turned his attention to Karen. “If you’ll just remove your legbraces” he asked her “I’ll give you an examination”. Karen removed her legbraces, and then the doctor did a number of tests to evaluate how much or little function she had in her legs. Although I was only watching on the sidelines, I knew what signs to look for: she appeared to still have some control over her legs -- but practically no strength in them at all.

“What is the matter with Karen?” her parents implored. “It’s not easy to give a definite answer” the doctor replied slowly “There are two quite different types of conditions which can result in loss of muscle strength: neurological causes, and atrophy in the muscles themselves. Nerve degeneration is the more common and so the most likely cause; but my tests on her reflex reactions suggest that the problem is in the muscles themselves -- so I’m still unsure. Unfortunately, the notes from her college medical records seem incomplete: they indicate the progressive loss of muscle strength -- and Karen’s legs seem even weaker now than they were at her last check-up -- but they don’t include the diagnosis”. “Oh dear” her father said worriedly “I suppose until you know the exact cause, you won’t be able to cure her?”

The doctor tried to put on his best ‘bedside manner’ before replying: “I must stress that without more information” he said gently “we should not jump to conclusions. But one thing that both the two main groups of causes of muscular weakness have in common, is that medical science can not yet offer a ‘cure’. There are some treatments which can sometimes slow down the progression; and there are medications to alleviate any side-effects which may occur”.
He waited for Karen’s parents to absorb his comments before continuing: “I have rather painted the ‘worst-case scenario’ there” he said “and so it MAY turn out to be not quite as serious as that. But I shall have to refer Karen for some more thorough tests first. Those will have to be done at the main hospital for this area; I will organise that as soon as I get back to my office, as the waiting list for appointments with a Specialist is about four weeks at the moment”.

Four weeks?” Karen exclaimed “But I’ll be back at college by then!”
“But surely you won’t be able to go back to college?” her mother said in surprise and anguish “I mean, you’re ..... you’re not well!”
“But I feel perfectly well!” Karen pleaded “I really do want to go back to college: I’m enjoying it immensely, and my tutor is pleased with my work so far, and all my friends are there, and I’m not finding any difficulties, and ..... and . . . . ”. Karen was casting her eyes desperately around the room, imploring some support -- and found an ally in the doctor. “I have very fond memories of my own student days” he said “It was a most exciting time in my life, and I’m sure I developed greatly during it. If you feel up to it Karen, I would suggest you try and continue at college, for as long as you feel able to”
“But it also means that we’ll miss out on hospital tests here, and we would have to rely on the college’s medical facilities. So I need to ask you some more questions: Have you had any pain in your legs?”
“No, not really” Karen replied “They used to ache a lot if I tried to go without my legbraces for spells; but not when I’m supported by them”.
“Have you noticed any loss of sensation, or numbness?” the doctor asked. “No, I haven’t” she replied “Apart from a couple of occasions when I’d laced up my shoes too tightly; but otherwise not”
“Talking of which” Karen added “Can I put my braces back on now?”

The doctor agreed; but continued questioning her: “Have you noticed any problems, any problems at all, with the rest of your body; your torso or arms? Any pains? Any weakness? Any loss of sensation?” Karen gave the questions consideration: “No -- I can say that I’ve had no other problems. And my arms don’t even get tired with crutching”.
“At least that’s encouraging” the doctor commented. He had been watching carefully as Karen tightened the velcro straps of the cuffs around the smooth skin of her thighs; and had also been critically eyeing the pivot of the knee joint. “But one thing does concern me,” he added “I don’t think those legbraces fit you properly”. “I originally got them on a trial basis” Karen replied cautiously “just to see if they would help”. “Even so, they should have been a proper fit” he said “and now you need to rely on them, nothing short of a perfect fit will do”. I found myself nodding, as I knew how true that was.
“So I am going to recommend” the doctor continued “that you are fitted up for a new set of legbraces”.

Karen took in this unexpected piece of good news; and then an idea crossed her mind: “If I have to have new legbraces” she asked “will I be able to get them from Josie’s orthotist?” “That all depends” he replied “Which orthotist is that?” I gave him the name of Jamie’s Department in the city -- and he raised his eyebrows in recognition. “That is one of the best regarded departments in the country” he said “so I would have no qualms about them! But unfortunately, it doesn’t come within this Health Authority area, so I’d have to generate a referral . . . . . though come to think of it, I would have had to anyway if you were to get them through your college’s medical service -- so it doesn’t really make much difference”
“But there still might be a problem” he continued “I don’t know that they would necessarily accept you, as you’re not from their catchment area”.

“I think I can answer that” I offered “I have done some work in their admin section, and I understand their system. As long as you provide a definite statement of need, and a clear referral, there shouldn’t be any problem. What’s more, they’ll be able to take over everything in the way of assessment, measurements, and fitting”.
The doctor contemplated that for a moment. “I must say that does seem the most appropriate route to follow” he finally said “so I’ll fill in the necessary paperwork as soon as I get back to my office”
“Which reminds me” he continued, looking at his watch “I only promised I could drop by for a few minutes between appointments; but I really must get back to the surgery now”. Karen and I promptly levered ourselves to our feet; I would like to claim that we did it out of politeness towards a guest -- but it would probably be more honest to say that we did it just to prove that we could!”

As Karen’s parents accompanied him to the door, I was able to overhear his parting comments: “I’m sorry I couldn’t stay longer” he said “though I would like to get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, I can assure you that this an not emergency situation, nor does Karen’s condition appear to be life-threatening. Her condition seems to be reasonably stable -- so it’s mainly a matter of the family adapting to this new situation”.

When the parents returned from seeing the doctor out, Karen was still hugging me with joy and thanks. “It seems clear that you have been a great help to our Karen” her mother said to me “and we do appreciate it”. “Since you seem so much like Karen” her father added “can you explain to us: what on earth has happened to her?”
Of course, I knew exactly what had ‘happened’ -- but I couldn’t tell them!
“It’s not fair to expect me to answer that” I replied cautiously “After all, even the doctor isn’t sure -- and I’m no doctor”. “But you must have some understanding of her condition” her mother pleaded “Surely you must have SOME idea what’s going on?”

“Well, I can only go by my own experience” I answered, putting on a show of reluctance “but you will have to accept that it’ll only be my own ‘gut feeling’ -- you mustn’t take it as medical fact”
“I think it’s most unlikely Karen will be able to reverse the weakness” I said “I do know one of the best physiotherapists in the business if she wants to try -- but I don’t think you should build up any hopes of that”. Her parents seemed to accept that, or at least to resign themselves to it; so I carried on: “So I would guess that Karen will soon completely lose the small amount of residual muscle function she currently has”.

“But that’s terrible!” her mother gasped. “Oddly enough: no it isn’t” I countered with a smile “Now that she will be wearing braces full-time, it doesn’t really matter whether her muscles have ten percent strength or none at all -- Karen’s legbraces will give her all the support she needs. The only difference is, that it gets a bit more tricky to put on socks and things without the help of some control over her feet; but I would guess that she has already started to learn the knack of doing that”. Karen nodded cheerfully -- obviously I had guessed right.

“The doctor said it was a progressive condition” her father said worriedly “Where will it spread to after that?” “I don’t think it will” I replied “His comments seemed to confirm what little I know: that if it was going to spread beyond her legs, there would be some sign by now -- but there isn’t any sign of other weakness, so that’s probably as far as it will go”.
I thought it would be wiser not to tell them anything about my weak waist muscles; after all, there’s no reason why it would happen to Karen.
Though, on the other hand, she had been absolutely infatuated with my TL-brace with its lockable hip-joints on the occasion she tried it at the party at Tony’s .... . . . .

Aunt Emma gave us both one of her ‘inspirational’ looks -- the sort of look where we both automatically responded with confident smiles.
“Just look at the two girls:” Aunt Emma said to the parents “Do either of them look like sickly invalids? Do they look miserable or disheartened? Far from it! They’re as full of life and enthusiasm as any other youngsters!”
With the way Aunt Emma had expressed that, Karen’s parents could hardly contradict it! Her father put one arm around Karen. “With all our worries about your legs, we’ve completely forgotten to say the most important thing of all” he murmured, giving her a hug “Welcome home!”

Aunt Emma watched that; and felt that they had accepted Karen’s legbraces.
“Oh dear, this is unpardonably rude of us” Aunt Emma said apologetically “We had only intended to give Karen a ride from the station, not to interfere with a family reunion! Come along Josie, we must be getting home now”.

“Ohhh, please can I go back with Josie and Aunt... I mean, Miss Wilkins?” Karen immediately asked. Aunt Emma put on a gently reproachful look: “You know that you are always very welcome to visit us” she said “but surely you’ll want to spend some time with your parents before you start thinking of gallivanting off again?”
“As it happens” the father said “your mother and I have been invited out tonight. We didn’t say anything earlier, because we didn’t want to put you off coming home. It’s annoying that we have to go, because we’d much rather stay in and hear how you’ve been doing. But if you’re sure you’ll be happy spending the evening with Josie and her aunt for company, it will save us the embarrassment of having to cancel the engagement at short notice”.

Karen was clearly quite happy with that! “I’ll just dump my things in my room and change my coat” she said. Karen slung her backpack on her shoulder, and swung out into the hallway. For some reason, we found ourselves following her, and saw her reach the foot of the stairs -- where she paused briefly while she decided which technique to use to get up them. “I hadn’t thought about the stairs!” her father exclaimed “Let me carry you up them”. “I can make up a bed for you downstairs” her mother added. “There’s no need for that” Karen replied brightly “I can manage all right!”
I know that staircases are always a bit of an effort, and some can be a real struggle; Aunt Emma’s aren’t particularly easy ones, though after the number of times I’ve been up and down them, I’ve got quite used to them. The stairs in this house were not so difficult -- and Karen was soon hauling herself up them.
“Stairs are something we learn to negotiate early on” I said cheerfully “It may take us a bit longer than you would -- but there’s no way we’re going to allow ourselves to be restricted to the ground floor!”

“I realise that you don’t like to see Karen struggling” Aunt Emma confided to the parents “but you will just have to alter some of your attitudes. Above all, you must NOT make assumptions that she will be incapable of anything. However, you will need to acclimatise yourselves to realising that there will be many things that Karen will be learning to do differently -- you will just have to be patient, and allow her to adapt”. As they took in this advice, I realised yet another reason why I had always felt so comfortable whenever with Aunt Emma -- she had always assumed that I could do anything as long as I was allowed enough time.

It wasn’t long before Karen made her way down again. She had taken off the jacket she had travelled in, and was now wearing a colourful fleece; and had also changed into a shorter skirt, which showed off her braces nicely.
“Doesn’t Karen look attractive?” Aunt Emma said appreciatively, defying her parents to disagree.
“Bye Mummy, bye Daddy” Karen said, giving each of them a kiss “Have a lovely evening, and I’ll see you later”.
The two of us swung along the hallway to the front door, with her parents accompanying Aunt Emma. “Errrm, Miss Wilkins,” the father said awkwardly “I’m afraid I owe you an apology for my rather brusque behaviour towards you earlier today”. “I probably deserved it!” Aunt Emma replied with a smile “I do have rather a reputation for making a nuisance of myself!” “On the contrary” he responded “you have been of the most invaluable help to us. My wife and I still have a lot to learn about accepting Karen’s disability; may we call on your experience again if we have difficulties?” “But of course you may!” Aunt Emma replied warmly “After all, isn’t that what friends and neighbours are for?”

Our short drive back to Aunt Emma’s was MUCH more relaxed than the outward journey had been!

Karen and I settled down in the sitting room; and Aunt Emma decided that, since she had talked us out of lunch earlier in the day, she would go and make us all a meal.

“Thank you so much for helping me” Karen said “and for Aunt Emma’s ideas and help too. The college doctor assumed my home doctor had diagnosed my need for legbraces; and now my home doctor thinks the college originally prescribed them for me”. “And now you’ve been referred to Jamie” I added “he isn’t under any obligation to diagnose a medical condition; but he is qualified to assess your need, and make your legbrace prescription ‘official’ -- if that’s what you’re SURE you want?” “Oh yes, that’s what I want” Karen replied, beaming “exactly what I want!”

Now that all the panic was over and Karen was completely at ease, we began to catch up on recent events. “I noticed that Hester showed good expertise on crutches at my wedding” I said “How long has she been doing that?”
“Hester and I have always got on well” Karen explained “and even more so when she realised that my legbraces and crutches were not a taboo subject for conversation. I remembered that when I was first caught out wearing the braces, and had to invent a cover story of why I wore them for two days a week, she said that she’d noticed that I seemed to move more easily on the second of each pair of days. That was quite true of course; after nearly a week without them, it took me most of the first day to get back ‘into the swing’ of it”
“But I thought it was a strange thing for her to have noticed -- and so I challenged her about it. She admitted that she had been watching me closely; and then gave an excuse for it. She said that she had wondered why it was that I seemed to move smoothly on my crutches; whereas whenever she’d seen anyone on crutches because of a sprained ankle or leg in a cast, they always seemed much more awkward. I thought about it; then suggested that when someone with a temporary injury is given crutches, nobody bothers to tell them how to use them properly; that a heavy cast can throw them off balance; and that they will often try to use their injured leg as much as they dare, and their crutches as little as possible. But for someone like me, we just say to ourselves ‘If crutches it has to be from now on, I'd better get used to them’, and start practising properly”
“But then she asked me how long it took and how difficult it was! So I grinned and said ‘I reckon you won't stop pestering me until you know -- why don't you borrow mine for a few moments, and find out for yourself?’ -- and she jumped at the chance!”
“As it happens, she’s a bit taller than me, so I was able to point out the first difference: Hester had all her weight on her feet, then leaning forwards to put the crutches to the ground. So I told her to extend the crutches by a notch or two, so that she was taking her weight on her arms and crutches instead of her feet. And it didn’t take her long to get the hang of it! Of course, she didn’t have much time on that occasion, because I soon needed my crutches back for myself”.

“You said ‘On that occasion’;” I commented “Does that mean there were other occasions?” “Oh yes, plenty of them” Karen replied “And soon after that, Hester managed to get hold of some crutches of her own, so that she didn’t have to keep borrowing mine -- I was already reaching the stage where I was pretty much dependant on them”. “But when does she get to practise crutching?” I asked “After all, her friends know there’s nothing wrong with her legs”.
“She ‘borrowed’ my trick” Karen grinned “but in reverse. Remember that Hester is in the other part of the Campus; so she keeps her crutches in my room on the main Campus, and comes over whenever she wants to -- and always uses crutches when she’s with me. Nobody in my part of college knows her from before, so there’s no confusion. Well..... nobody except George and Vicky; but she’s known them for so long that she felt able to tell them”.
“How did they react?” I asked. “They were more concerned about me feeling upset by it” Karen replied “Of course, I assured them I wasn’t at all. Hester told them that she was trying to understand through experience what it was like for me to rely on crutches; I’m sure that’s partly true, though I’m convinced it’s not the full story! George and Vicky believed her too -- but I think they probably also suspect there may be more to it”.

“So Hester is always on crutches whenever you’re both together?” I queried. “Oh yes!” Karen answered “And if we go into town together on a Saturday, she always uses them then”. I remembered how fluid and graceful Hester had appeared after the wedding, swinging her nice long legs together between the crutches. “I bet you turn many a head when the two of you are crutching through town?” I suggested. “We do indeed!” Karen replied “And if we want to have a coffee or a snack in a self-service cafeteria, we flutter our eyelashes until a couple of boys offer to carry our trays to a table”
“It’s a wonderful pick-up ploy” Karen added with a beaming smile “and it’s never failed us yet!”

Aunt Emma came into the room at that point. “I’m glad to see you’re happy” she said to Karen “It’s wonderful to see your cheerful smile again”.
“It’s all thanks to you” Karen responded fervently “I’m so grateful that you’ve squared everything with Mummy and Daddy; all my worries are over!”
“Not quite..... the matter isn’t completely finished yet” Aunt Emma said, with a slightly more serious look on her face “You still haven’t told them the whole truth”.
“The truth?!” Karen gasped “But..... but you said.....”
“I only said we should break the news gently to them, a little at a time” Aunt Emma responded “But I certainly never suggested you should tell them outright lies, nor would I ever condone such a thing. You are fortunate to have a very loving family, and any falsehoods or deceptions will only poison that relationship. So far, we have told them that your legs had progressively weakened while you have been at college; and we have told them that you have been wearing legbraces for an ever-increasing proportion of the day. Taken separately, those two statements are quite correct; but the reality is that the order of events - the ‘cause and effect’ -- were really the opposite way round”.

“So the next stage that I would suggest” Aunt Emma continued “is for you to admit to them that you may have been using the supportive braces somewhat more frequently than was strictly necessary, and so that just might have contributed to the acceleration of the weakness. I feel that it would be reasonable to imply that it was merely ‘hastening the inevitable’ because, in a manner of speaking, that would also be correct”.
Karen was listening attentively, and taking all this in; but still looking rather frightened. “But I won’t suggest you tell them that straight away” Aunt Emma added “certainly not tonight! That would be far too soon. First you must allow them to get used to you in your legbraces; and to build up their trust and confidence in you”
“And you can do much to help that” Aunt Emma continued, now with a smile of caring concern “You said you were looking forward to returning to college, and continuing to enjoy the student life. I hope you will enjoy it; indeed I’m sure you will have a wonderful time!”

“But you mustn’t neglect your studies” she added, with a little finger wag “You must work diligently; be attentive at all the lectures; revise thoroughly for your examinations -- and pass them all with good marks. I want to see you graduate as a daughter that your parents will be intensely proud of”
“Will you do that for us, Karen?” Aunt Emma gently asked.

“Yes Miss Wil.... I mean.... Aunt Emma,” Karen conscientiously answered “I promise I will”.

Aunt Emma sat back in her chair with a satisfied smile. “That’s my girl!” she murmured contentedly.

Josie: Silly and serious

Hi; I’m Josie in legbraces..... and you all know about me by now!

If I ever have an opportunity to visit Tania or Neil, I invariably make the most of the offer, not least to have an opportunity to meet up again with Kathy and Flix too.

As had now become our habit, we all went to the café-bistro for coffee.

We were chattering away, and most of the other mid-morning customers had finished and left. Nancy had completed clearing the empty tables, and was now hesitantly hovering around ours. “Do you want to join us?” Tania asked “Sit down and have a few minutes rest before the lunch-time rush starts”.
Nancy sat down with us; but she still seemed apprehensive -- it was as though she had been hoping to be invited on to our table, but now didn’t know what to say. “How’s our favourite waitress?” Flix cheerily asked. “Oh -- I’m fine, thanks” Nancy awkwardly replied. “I hope we’re not holding you up” Kathy said “Are you waiting to clear our table?” “No -- I’m not trying to hurry you up” she nervously answered.
“You seem a bit preoccupied” I said “I guess either you’re worried about something, or else you want to ask us something -- which is it?” “Oh dear -- it’s both, really” Nancy replied worriedly “I would like to ask you all something -- but I’m desperately afraid you’ll find it offensive”. “I can’t for one moment imagine you saying anything the least bit unpleasant” I said with a friendly smile “So don’t bottle it up; whatever it is -- tell us all about yourself!”

Nancy still seemed hesitant; but then took a deep breath: “I just can’t get over the fact that you always seem to be so happy and cheerful -- despite all your handicaps” she said, rather uncertainly.
“Of course we’re happy!” I replied “We all enjoy each others company”. “Surely you don’t expect us to be all glum and miserable?” Tania added “I’m sure you wouldn’t want us as customers if we were!”
“But that didn’t sound like a question, let alone anything to worry about” I continued “What did you really want to ask?”
Nancy paused even longer, trying to summon up her courage. “What’s it like to be disabled?” she finally asked.
I decided not to be the first to reply, as my experiences and attitudes were not entirely typical; and Kathy also seemed to think it prudent to wait for someone else to start. Tania was obviously giving the matter some thought first; after all, it was quite a deep and serious question!
Unfortunately, poor Nancy quite misinterpreted the silence: “I really am dreadfully sorry” she blurted out “I just knew you’d be offended!”
“But we’re not!” Flix quickly assured her “It’s just that it’s not the sort of question we’re asked very often -- so I have to think about it”.
“If you’re considering physical limitations” Tania suggested “Let’s put it that I don’t expect to run for a bus these days”. “But that just means I have to allow extra time to go anywhere or do things” I added. “And for some things” Kathy expanded “it takes a LOT longer”. “But when you’ve finally succeeded” Flix added brightly “you feel really good!”

“Strangely enough” Tania said “it isn’t necessarily the physical aspect that turns out to be the major problem. Once we accept our limitations, and have learnt new ways of achieving the remainder of usual activities, the ‘handicap’ can become just a minor irritation or inconvenience, and no big deal. But the social aspect of being disabled often turns out pose far bigger problems”.
“Oh?” Nancy queried “I’m not sure I understand what you mean”.
“I don’t want to single you out” I answered “But you gave an example just a few moments ago. You know us quite well, and you know we like you -- but you still found it very difficult to talk to us”.
“Oh dear” Nancy said in embarrassment “I didn’t want to upset you, and I was afraid you might think.....”
“Precisely!” I interrupted “You started making guesses about how we felt and what we thought and how we might react -- and like most people, got it completely wrong! Not that I’m blaming you” I quickly continued “because you were just falling into the same trap that most able-bodied folk do -- the moment they see someone who is obviously disabled, they can’t stop themselves from making the strangest assumptions about us!”
“Now that you’ve explained it” Nancy mused “I can now see what you mean. I’d never thought about that before; and what’s worse, I’ve never stopped to think what it must be like to be on the receiving end of that sort of misunderstanding. How bad is it, having to put up with that?”

“It’s difficult to describe, and put into words” I tried to reply “About the only way you would understand, is to be in the position of appearing to be disabled yourself”. Nancy seemed to be very interested in all this -- but in a sincere and caring way. “When do you next have a few hours of free time?” Tania asked. “After we’ve finished clearing everything up at the end of the lunch-time session” Nancy replied “the bistro goes quiet during the afternoon. So the waitresses take in turns to have the afternoon off -- and it’s my free afternoon today”. “In that case” Tania suggested “Shall we arrange to meet up again then? I’ll bring my wheelchair with me, and you can have an opportunity for a couple of hours of experiencing how the general public react to the sight of an attractive young girl who is - or appears to be - disabled and confined to a wheelchair. That is, assuming that’s what you’d like to try?” Nancy had a serious look on her face, and paused in thought before replying. “I think that would give me a far better understanding than I could ever acquire otherwise; so ..... Yes please”.

We met up again in the afternoon; but in a different shopping precinct.
Tania was now in her wheelchair, but was still wearing her prosthetic legs so that she was not reliant on it. Flix was now wearing her myo-electric hand: because it’s heavy for her small body, she doesn’t wear it all day; but she does use it for at least half a day, as she knows she needs continuous practice to operate it smoothly. And Kathy was still wearing her demo hooks as usual.
We found a café which had some outside tables, and that made a convenient ‘base camp’ for the afternoon.
Tania got out of her wheelchair and sat on an ordinary seat, having first parked her wheelchair next to where Nancy was sitting. “Try to lift yourself from your seat to the chair” Tania suggested “using your arms for most of the effort, and trying to use your legs as little as possible. I don’t expect you to get the hang of a transfer first time round; but it will help ‘get you into the mood’ for the exercise”.
“There’s nothing particularly complicated in wheeling a chair around” Tania explained “though of course, practice helps! Try rolling backwards and forwards a bit, just to get a feel for the inertia of the chair -- it’s a lightweight one, so it won’t be hard work”.
It didn’t take long for Nancy to feel reasonably happy about her ability to wheel the chair -- so now was the time for her little ‘outing’ in it!
“One of us ought to come with you” I suggested “to give you a bit of company and moral support. However, there wouldn’t be much point in Tania or I accompanying you, as all you would observe then would be people goggling at US!” Much the same would have applied to Kathy and her hooks; and in any case, Kathy was totally preoccupied with scouring the menu for something delicious to eat!
So Flix went off with Nancy, as she rolled herself carefully away.

Nancy spent over an hour wheeling herself around the shopping precinct. Sometimes we caught glimpses of her and Flix; sometimes the two of them were together, and other times they kept separate although within sight of each other.

Eventually they both returned; and Tania and Flix and I were keen to ask Nancy what the experience had been like.

“It was the stares I got all the time that made me feel really uneasy and uncomfortable!” she replied “I reckon everyone must have guessed that I didn’t really need a wheelchair, and so that was why they were staring?”
“Oh no” Tania answered “I’m sure it never crossed anyone’s mind that you were only pretending; the point is that people DO stare at disabled people, especially when it’s a particularly visible disability. A wheelchair is the one that gets the least stares -- you should see how much people gawp at my legs!”
“I’ve accepted that it’s just human nature: people will stare, and I just have to accept that” Tania continued “Unfortunately, some disabled people never seem to be able to grasp or accept that they’re bound to get odd looks; and they then convince themselves that those looks are intrusive, rude, and demeaning -- when in reality, they’re no more than natural curiosity plus a slight lack of thought”.

“I usually make a point of dressing up attractively” I added “if not outright eye-catchingly -- so I expect to get a lot of looks, and even stares. I like to think that it’s the revealing mini-skirt they’re looking at, and possibly even the combination of mini-skirt and legbraces. Now, I’ll admit there might be a touch of vanity or wishful thinking in that; but the whole point is, that if I’m expecting stares, and get them -- then that’s what I wanted, so I’m quite happy about it!”

“Hmmm, that’s interesting now you’ve put it that way” Nancy said. “But the other weird thing occurred when Flix and I found an ice-cream stand, and ordered one each”
“But then the ice-cream man said to Flix ‘Would your friend like some chocolate flakes or chocolate sauce’?”.
“That sounds rather nice!” I commented.
“Yes, it was; but that’s not the point” Nancy explained “He looked straight over the top of my head to speak to Flix, but ignored me completely! Why couldn’t he have asked ME what I wanted directly?”

“Ahhh, that’s a common problem for people in wheelchairs” I explained “It would be not unreasonable for people to guess that your legs might be dead from the waist down; but for some strange reason, they assume that the person in the wheelchair is dead from the neck up instead! I’ve no idea why they do that -- but as you’ve discovered, they certainly do!”

“How on earth do you cope with that?” Nancy wanted to know.

“Because I’m a bit of a chatterbox” I said “It’s often me who speaks first to open the conversation, which tends to prevent that sort of misunderstanding”.
“If Neil and I are out together, and I’m in my wheelchair” Tania related “we have a little game to counter that: I stick my hand up the back of Neil’s sweater; and he moves his head and mouth jerkily like a ventriloquist’s dummy, and says ‘Gottle of geer, gottle of geer’!”

Nancy checked her watch: “I’ve still got at least half an hour free -- can I have another short wheel around?”
“By all means” Tania replied “Make the most of the opportunity”.

This time, Nancy was using the ideas we had just given her. Her whole face seemed to be radiating a message of ‘Even though I’m in a wheelchair, I’m just as outgoing as my younger sister -- and definitely more attractive!’
Again, Flix accompanied her (Kathy was seriously considering a second helping of lemon-curd cheese-cake); and the combination of Nancy’s previous practice in wheeling the chair, plus her positive outlook and attitude, enabled her to roll even more smoothly than before.

When Nancy got back smiling from her second ‘run’, she thanked us all for the opportunity she had been given. “That has really opened my eyes to a number of social aspects of being disabled” she said “most of which I’d never even realised before. I’ll have to get back for my evening shift in a few minutes, so thank you all for this chance to experience an afternoon as if I were disabled”
“But I must admit it still leaves me wondering what it’s like to need to use a wheelchair” Nancy continued, glancing across between my legbraces and Tania’s and Kathy’s prostheses “It’s a pity I will wouldn’t be able to experience what it’s like to have to function with ‘imperfect’ limbs”.
“If you want to experience what it’s like to have legs immobilised rigidly in legbraces” I murmured “that could quite easily be arranged -- although obviously we’d have to organise it for a future occasion”.
Nancy’s eyes grew wider at my comment; and so Kathy hunched her head down and peered around with exaggerated furtiveness. “If Josie and I both feel we can trust you” she said in a stage whisper “and we’re talking real ‘cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die’ stuff here -- then you’d be amazed at what else you might be able to try!”

When we got back to Tania’s House, we found Mr and Mrs Gregson there - the parents of Danny and Tim -- talking to the Pomeroys. I quickly guessed why they might be there, and immediately forgot all about our silly games of earlier in the day.
“How’s Tim?” I asked gently; and they brought us up to date with the latest details.

You’ll remember that at my wedding, Tim had both ankles in plaster after a mishap with his roller-blades. Not long afterwards, the casts were removed and his ankles should have healed fully. But he seemed to be rather unsteady on his feet, and stumbling a lot. This was quite unexpected, and initially inexplicable, and he was referred to the largest hospital in his area for a number of tests.
It was finally discovered that he was suffering from one of the rarer forms of neuro-muscular degeneration. It became apparent that its progression must have started quite some time before his roller-blade accident; and that it was quite likely that several of his earlier falls had not been due to clumsy stupidity, but been caused by the early stages of that loss of co-ordination.
His condition seemed to be worsening, and he already had a serious case of ‘drop foot’ which made him an immediate candidate for a pair of AFOs -- and the prognosis was that, unless some form of treatment could be found in a miraculously short time, he might come to need full-length KAFOs in the not-too-distant future.

Although Tim himself did not seem too downhearted about things - possibly because he did not realise the full implications -- it was a great worry to his parents; and they were very relieved to know other parents with disabled children with whom they could talk things through.

His doctors had been feeling somewhat guilty that none of them had spotted or diagnosed his condition earlier, and were now keen to do everything they could for him. As far as I could gather, there was no reason why they should have noticed his unsteadiness earlier, and I don’t believe there were any grounds for suspecting medical negligence; but they were determined that he should receive the best possible treatment from now on.
Although a simple pair of AFOs are a straightforward job which the local orthotist could have easily provided, they decided they would refer Tim to the best-regarded orthotics department in the country -- which meant that Jamie would be dealing with the case! That suggestion had actually been made by Alan Mullins; because although he is a prosthetist, and nothing to do with Tim’s case, he is so well-respected in that Health Area that they willingly took his advice.

Alan also knew the most competent cast technicians, and they took negative moulds of both of Tim’s lower legs, so that Jamie would be able to ensure that the braces would be a perfect fit.

It wasn’t long after that when Tim’s parents brought him up to Jamie’s department in the city -- ostensibly as a ‘day out’!
Now I would normally agree that a visit to a large hospital is not what most people would consider a ‘nice day out’; but Tim had never been to the city before, and in any case was by now far less mobile at home. More to the point, he knew me well, and had met Jamie before, so it wasn’t as if he was having to face strangers.

As I watched him walking slowly along the corridor, I could see that he was dragging his feet, and needed to keep one hand against the wall to keep his balance. But he brightened up immediately when he saw me!
“Cor! This isn’t half a big place you have here!” he called out to me “Is this where you work, Josie?” “Hello Tim” I replied “But that’s a bit of an exaggeration: it’s really Jamie who does all the hard work -- I just float around looking decorative!”
“Hello Jamie!” Tim then said. Mrs Gregson gave Tim a cautionary look: “Don’t be so impolite” she scolded “You’re supposed to say ‘Good morning, Doctor Henderson’!”
Tim frowned at the reprimand; but Jamie smiled: “I don’t mind being called ‘Jamie’ at all” he said “and I would actually prefer it that way. Tim and I are two young men -- and quite a pair of ladykillers if I may say so -- who both happen to need to wear braces. So I’d much prefer it if I can give Tim advice as a friend, instead of me having to ‘pull rank’ over him”. The parents appreciated Jamie’s approach, as it would make the session less of an ordeal for their younger son.

The purpose of the visit was for an interim fitting, and Jamie described everything he was doing. “I want to make sure that Tim’s callipers are a perfect fit” Jamie explained “so that they won’t cause any discomfort”. Jamie spent some time fitting various of the parts onto and around Tim’s lower legs; and finally seemed quite satisfied. “They are not finished yet” he continued “indeed, they are still only half-built. That means that I can easily make any adjustments if needed; but it also means that it doesn’t give you much of an idea of what the finished orthosis will look like”.
At that point, there was a knock on the door, and Jamie looked at his watch. “If we’ve got the timing right” he said “that should be Crystal -- Come in!” I glanced at the door as it opened, and immediately recognised Crystal’s dark-skinned face. I also noticed that she wasn’t using crutches, so turned my attention back to Tim. But then I sensed that Crystal was not moving with her usual sinuous eastern grace when she’s not wearing legbraces -- so I looked at her again. As she walked into and around the room, I could see that she was wearing two AFOs; but they were not a pair -- one was a leather-and-steel one, and the other a thermoplastic one!
Jamie introduced Crystal to Tim and his parents. “I’m probably not demonstrating these very well” Crystal said “because I’m not used to wearing two mis-matched braces: it’s even worse than wearing odd shoes!”
In fact, I thought she was moving very well in them; certainly there was no signs of clumsiness which Tim or his parents might have found upsetting.

“This will let you all see what the two types of braces are that Tim can be supplied with will look like” Jamie explained. “One is a ‘traditional’ leather-and-steel one; and the other a more modern thermoplastic one. In fact, both types are equally suitable for Tim; although there are some obvious and some not-so-obvious differences -- I’m not sure which style he’ll end up preferring”
“When wearing long trousers, the outline of the side-bars of the traditional style can still be noticeable, and in any case, the very bottom ends are visible where they go down to the heels of his shoes; but since the thermoplastic type has a foot-plate inside the shoe instead, they are usually completely invisible. However, in short trousers the opposite is the case: although the plastic ones are often referred to as ‘cosmetic’, the truth is that they still look rather ‘odd’ and can attract stares as people try to work out what they are; whereas with the leather-and-steel, it’s immediately obvious that they are AFO legbraces”
“Because the plastic ones are moulded to conform to the calf and lower leg, and particularly as Tim is still growing, they will have to be reshaped or replaced at frequent intervals -- though as it happens, that is not a problem. The traditional style has adjustable calf-cuffs, and will also be made to have adjustable length -- so they last a lot longer”
“I said both were equally suitable” Jamie continued “but I should say that whereas some people rather like the slight springiness and ‘give’ of the thermoplastic part, other people feel more secure in the leather-and steel version -- it’s all a matter of ‘user preference’. There’s also the point that the plastic ones can often get uncomfortably sweaty during hot sticky weather -- though not everyone experiences that particular problem”.

Tim’s parents took all this in; then his father gave a little frown. “Thank you for explaining things in such detail” he said “but the trouble is that it’s still difficult for us to make the choice of which type Tim should have”.
“I’m not expecting you to not have to make that decision” Jamie replied with a reassuring smile. “I’ve read Tim’s prescription several times, and at first I thought it was rather sloppily written. But I now believe that it has been deliberately worded ambiguously. For example, it certainly mentions both types; but nowhere does it place any restriction on Tim only receiving one of those styles. So that allows me to supply Tim with two pairs, one of each type -- and that exactly is what I want to do”.
“In any case” Jamie continued “whenever someone is wearing braces all day, there is a big advantage in having two pairs to swap between -- and that will also give Tim a chance to find out for himself which style he feels more comfortable in. If he prefers the traditional type, he can always use the thermoplastic ones temporarily whenever the steel ones need to come back for servicing or adjustment; or conversely if he prefers the thermoplastic ones, he can always fall back on the traditional ones for a day or two each time the plastic ones need replacing”.

“On a purely personal note” Jamie then added “It is my hope that Tim will opt for the leather-and-steel type when he comes to move on to needing full-length legbraces”.
The parents looked up sharply at that last comment; and Jamie immediately apologised: “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have put it quite so bluntly” he said gently “But you will appreciate that copies of all of Tim’s medical notes have been forwarded to me; and I was assured that Tim’s doctors had fully explained the situation to you?”
“Oh yes, we were told his condition would probably be a progressive one” the mother answered “but we haven’t been looking ahead -- we’ve only been thinking about Tim’s immediate situation”. “Quite right too!” Jamie responded firmly “First and foremost is to get Tim fitted up and able to walk without tripping over -- and then we’ll take it a day at a time after that. It’s just that I’m also thinking what preparations I can make so that any future changes will go as smoothly as possible”.
The two parents were now relieved that everyone really did have Tim’s best interests at heart.

It dawned on me that we had spent most of the time talking about Tim, rather than talking directly TO him; but he didn’t seem upset by that -- if anything, he seemed to be taking everything in.
“Cooo.....” Tim said, not looking the least bit worried by the prospect “does that mean that one day I’ll have long legbraces and look exactly like Josie does?”
I suppose he could have said ‘like Jamie’; but Jamie’s braces were not particularly visible under his trousers -- whereas mine (as I think you’re all well aware by now) are always very visible!
“That’s not a certainty yet” I said gently “though full KAFOs some time in the future are a possibility. If it ever does come to that one day: then there are quite a variety of styles you might get -- and I see no reason why you shouldn’t have ones as similar to mine as you like”.
“Mind you” I continued, giving him a big smile “We can’t have you looking exactly like me -- I don’t think a pretty mini-skirt would suit your macho tough-guy image!”
Tim laughed openly; and his parents also relaxed as they realised that - despite an inevitable degree of uncertainty about the future -- this was definitely NOT going to be the end of the world for Tim or the family.

Josie the Bridesmaid...

Hi, I’m Josie in legbraces . . . . . but I’m sure you’re more interested
in hearing more about some of my friends.
Tania was nearing the end of her physiotherapy diploma course, and was expected to graduate with distinction. Neil had identified a demand for his computer programming skills, by creating web-sites which adhered to the true standards (of which far too many so-called ‘designers’ appeared blissfully ignorant). Also, they and their respective parents had been hunting around for a house; and had found a suitable one which was becoming available in the near future.
So now was the time for them to start planning their wedding.

The Carters and Pomeroys between them had decided that it should basically be a ‘family only’ wedding; although Tania would be allowed to invite a small number of the closest of her local friends. Much the same applied to Neil, but there was one choice about which he was adamant: having been ‘Best Man’ for Jamie at our wedding, he wanted Jamie to reciprocate by being his Best Man.
Tania’s choice of bridesmaids was Kathy and Flix; and I thought that those two would make a very nice pair, and wholly appropriate. I also thought that a third ‘contender’ might have been Melanie; but Melanie had insisted that she would far prefer to see me in the part of Chief Bridesmaid, as she knew how close Tania and I were. Tania had been relieved to hear that, as she would also have liked me to reciprocate by being her third bridesmaid -- with the fancy title of ‘Matron of Honour’.

So it wasn’t long before I was visiting Tania to discuss the arrangements.

During the day, Tania and I met up with Kathy and Flix at the bistro which had become our regular meeting place.
Flix was wearing her myo-electric hand, instead of the hook that I had become used to seeing her with. I have to admit that I sometimes get a slightly creepy feeling; seeing what looks like a perfectly normal hand, but knowing that it’s really a collection of batteries and electric motors underneath the silicone skin. However, it was apparent that it seemed much more ‘natural’ when she grasped a glass tumbler with it. But I was far more interested in how Flix was getting on with it. “Have you given up your hook now?” I asked.
“Oh no” Flix replied “I still use it a lot. In fact, in many ways, I prefer the hook, especially when I’m trying to do anything fiddly. But that’s largely because I’ve had so much more practice with the hook -- and all the help from Kathy, of course”
“So it just means” Flix continued “that I have to keep practising with the new myo -- it really is completely different to the hook to operate, and I’m still learning. I’m not complaining in any way, because I am getting more and more used to it as time goes by. The only problem is that it’s quite a lot heavier, and my elbow gets tired, so I can’t keep it on all day. But that’s not a big problem, because I can always swap back and forth between the myo and the hook; or even nothing at all -- I’m also getting better at doing things left-handed, so I often don’t bother with either prosthesis ..... I don’t want to get too dependant on artificial aids”.
I was very pleased for Flix on hearing that; and I also noticed Tania nodding in agreement. I knew that Tania would switch happily between her wheelchair, her prosthetic legs, or nothing at all -- all depending on the circumstances and her mood.

That evening I was back in Tania’s home.

We were sitting with her parents, and Mrs Pomeroy said to Tania “I do hope you’ll put the cosmetic covers on your prostheses for your wedding; I’m sure you’ll look so much nicer like that on the day”. I was wondering what sort of argument Tania would put up against that; but to my surprise -- she didn’t!
“Okay Mum” Tania said meekly “I will”.
“But I don’t know what my bridesmaids will do;” Tania calmly continued, in a conversational manner: “Flix’s myo-electric hand looks perfectly life-like; but it’s so heavy that she can’t wear it for long periods -- so Flix is bound to wear a hook for at least a part of the wedding. Even if Josie’s legbraces are hidden by a long gown, it’ll still be obvious that she IS wearing braces; and much the same is true for Jamie. And although Neil has got some cosmetic hands, they’re not functional, and he’s terribly handicapped if he wears them -- and so he won’t be able to hide the fact that he’s got two hooks instead of hands”.
“But if you want me to wear the cosmetic outers on my prostheses, so that I look as if I do have two real legs -- then I will”.
There was a short silence after that statement from Tania. Mr Pomeroy looked from his daughter across to his wife; then tilted his head sideways and indicated the door -- and they left the room together.

“That surprised me;” I said to Tania “All the times I’ve been with you, you’ve always preferred to have your limbs in skeletal form, without their covers”.
“That’s right” she replied “I don’t see the point in pretending that both my ‘legs’ are anything other than mechanical contrivances. But I’ve realised that it means so much to my parents that I appear as the classic ‘beautiful bride’, and I don’t want to let them down. They’ve been so loving and supportive to me - after they’d got over the initial shock -- that I feel I owe it to them to fall in with their wishes”.

Tania’s parents came back into the room. Her father, Charles, looked at her caringly: “You just told us you would be willing to fit the cosmetic coverings on to your prostheses?” he commented. Tania nodded dutifully.
“But all the time up until now” her mother asked “you’ve always said that you prefer them without, so that they are quite obviously artificial?”
Again, Tania nodded: “I know full well that I haven’t got any legs” she replied “and I accept that; so I don’t like to deceptively pretend to have four limbs when I really only have half that number”.
“Your mother and I have allowed ourselves to get too carried away” Charles quietly said; “We’ve been thinking too much about ‘putting on a show’ for the benefit of the relatives. But it isn’t their wedding - or even ours -- it’s your wedding. So you wear whatever you want -- I’m convinced you’ll be a stunningly beautiful bride on the day”.

That permission and freedom allowed us to feel much more at ease about how we would appear. However, it was quite clear that there was no way we were going to be wearing dresses as short as we did at my wedding; we would all be wearing ankle-length gowns. But as it turned out later, they weren’t quite as ‘attributes-concealing’ as we initially feared.....
The Pomeroys were finalising the guest list; adding on those for Neil’s family, as supplied by the Carters -- including Uncle Arthur, of course.

“Can we invite Aunt Emma?” Tania asked. Mrs Pomeroy furrowed her brows in thought; “But you don’t have an Aunt Emma;” she said “would that be one of Neil’s relatives?” “Nooo -- I mean OUR Aunt Emma” Tania answered. Her parents still looked puzzled for a moment ..... then realised who she was referring to: “Oh, you mean Josie’s Aunt Emma? I’m afraid that could be a bit tricky -- all the relatives have been told that it will be a ‘family only’ wedding, so they might think it unfair if an outsider was invited”.
“We could try telling all our lot that she’s Neil’s aunt” Tania suggested “and let Neil’s relatives think she’s one of mine?” Mrs Pomeroy was battling with her conscience over that. “I can think of one advantage if Josie’s Aunt Emma were present” Mr Pomeroy murmured to his wife “She might be able to keep your Aunt Maud under control”. “Now really Charles, that’s no way to talk about Aunt Maud!” Mrs Pomeroy said indignantly “Just because she’s a little too fond of her glass of sherry.....” Mr Pomeroy started making choking noises as he tried to keep a straight face -- and then Mrs Pomeroy also relaxed into a smile. I had no idea who this ‘Aunt Maud’ was; but I must admit that I too was smiling as I imagined Aunt Emma reprimanding some tipsy dowager!

Soon it was time for Tania’s big day.

On various previous visits, there had been no problem in staying the night, between the Carter's guest room and the Pomeroy's spare room; but for the wedding, both of those had been earmarked for visiting relatives. However, there was still no problem for me, as Tania suggested I shared her bed, as I had done before; she points out that although her bed is larger than a standard size, she needs barely half of it.
Jamie ended up staying with Danny and Tim. Although neither of the two brothers would be coming to the wedding itself, Danny was invited to Neil’s Stag Night -- which I gather was an uproarious event!

The wedding itself was rather formal, and - because of the way the guest list had been drawn up - was attended by mainly older relatives of Tania and Neil and their families, but comparatively few younger people.

All the men were dressed in tail-suits; and I must say that I thought both Neil and Jamie looked very smart indeed!

Although all our gowns were ‘conventional’ long ones, they had been made from gossamer gauze material, and were practically translucent. That meant that, although Tania’s prostheses and my legbraces were not in full view, our respective bits of hardware and metalwork were tantalisingly semi-visible. It allowed some of the more staid relatives to pretend they hadn’t noticed the indications of our disabilities; but I did notice a certain ‘Uncle Ernie’ who was watching us very intently, obviously wishing that the ‘X-ray specs’ effect was more pronounced!
With Kathy wearing very little make-up, she and Flix looked the same age as each other; and with them both having the same hair-styles for the event, they really did look like identical twins. Actually, it would be more accurate to say ‘mirror-image’ twins: Because Flix would not be able to wear her heavy myo-electric hand for a whole day non-stop, she was wearing her hook on her right forearm stump. Kathy was wearing just one of her demo hooks, over her left hand. That left both of them with one real hand free; but both were wearing white gloves, and they were wearing Kathy’s immobilising rubber gloves underneath them -- and made a point of not using their real hands at all during the day. It was rather a clever ‘double bluff’: The unmoving white gloves made it look as if they were disguising that they did not have real functioning hands (though were actually disguising the fact that they did!)
Of course, that made them both very handicapped: If you stop to think about it, two hooks and no hands is a bigger disability than one hook and one hand -- but no hands and only one hook is even worse. As they were the youngest of the wedding party, they kept together throughout the entire day, and could assist each other as required. In fact, they both intuitively knew what each was capable of without help; yet instinctively knew when the other needed some assistance, without having to be asked -- they made everything they did together look so natural.

Also, as ‘Chief Bridesmaid’, I had a good excuse to hover around close to the ‘Junior Bridesmaids’, and keep an eye on the pair of them.
“This is the second time I’ve seen you pretending not to have a left hand” I said to Flix “What gives?”
“Kathy gets so much fun out of her pretending” she replied “that I want to have the same amount of fun too”.
“But you already ARE an amputee” I pointed out.
“But I’m only a single amputee” Flix replied “not a bilateral like poor dear Kathy -- I really admire the way she manages, and she’s always been such a wonderful inspiration to me”.
“But Kathy isn’t really.....” I began; and then I stopped and thought it through a bit more. The two girls always got on wonderfully well together; and if that had helped Flix to accept the loss of her hand - and even to be light-hearted about it -- then where was the harm in their ‘playing’?

And then it came to the end of the Reception, and Tania and Neil went round all their guests to say goodbye before leaving for their honeymooon.
That is, to say goodbye to everyone except Jamie and me..... . . . .

You’ll remember that Jamie and I did not have any opportunity to go away on a honeymoon immediately after our wedding, as Jamie couldn’t get the time off work; the trouble with hospitals is that ALL the work gets loaded on to the ‘junior’ staff, who have to work ridiculously long hours, and are subjected to the moral blackmail that “patients will suffer” if they don’t.
But by now he had built up such a backlog of holiday time due, that they could hardly refuse him a couple of weeks off. There was a much older orthotist in the Department who, after many years of repetitive work, had rather ‘got in a rut’; but ever since Jamie arrived, Frank’s interest had been re-kindled by Jamie’s enthusiasm. Also, it being a Teaching Hospital, there were always lots of students and trainee orthotists -- and they had all been well ‘fired up’ by Jamie’s example. So the patients would certainly be well looked after while Jamie was away; the Research Section would miss out on Jamie’s guidance -- but he’d already given them plenty of ideas to investigate to keep them busy!

So now WE had a chance to have our delayed honeymoon.

Now I know that it’s considered usual for newly-weds to want to get away from everybody, and be on their own together ..... but since when have you known me to be boringly conventional?!
During previous conversations between us and Tania and Neil, we had all unanimously felt that - having already been through so much together -- we all wanted to go on honeymoon together as a foursome.

Josie on Honeymoon

Hi: I’m Josie in legbraces ..... and I’m on honeymoon!

During previous conversations between us and Tania and Neil, we had all unanimously felt that - having already been through so much together -- we all wanted to go on honeymoon together as a foursome.

Jamie now had a larger van, which had plenty of room for the four of us, all our luggage, and three wheelchairs. I hardly ever use my chair, even when it would make more sense than struggling on crutches; but Jamie has a bit more sense than me (well..... in that matter, anyway), and Tania regularly uses her chair whenever it’s more appropriate -- so there was no reason why I shouldn’t take mine along as well, just in case.

Not only that, but he had been working with a wheelchair manufacturer who was trying to develop a chair with balloon tyres, and had borrowed the prototype to try out on the beach. Also, he had brought along some snow-crutches: forearm crutches which were tipped with something like the end of a ski-pole, again to assess what they would be like on soft sand.

The hotel was quite large and well-appointed; I suspect that Neil’s and Tania’s parents had done quite a lot of ‘research’ in selecting it for us. We had two adjoining double rooms, with an inter-connecting door. I noticed a look of relief on Neil’s face when we discovered that the door-locks to our rooms were opened by a swipe-card, rather than needing a key to be turned -- which just isn’t possible with hooks but no wrists. Although the bathrooms were not fitted out with any special disabled aids, the various towel-rails were stout and conveniently positioned, so Tania and Jamie and I had no difficulties.

We all had a delicious meal together on the first evening.

Although we were all enjoying each other’s company - as we always did -- I didn’t want the conversation to drag on too long into the night. I had glorious memories of when Jamie and I had our first night together as man and wife, which had been far more wonderful than either of us had ever envisaged; and I didn’t want Tania and Neil to miss out on that. Besides which, it was going to be a lovely opportunity for Jamie and I to re-enact that most wonderful night of our lives!

The following morning, Tania and Neil came into the breakfast room together with the most ecstatic looks of utter bliss on their faces. I exchanged knowing smiles with Jamie, and then turned to Tania with a slightly smutty smirk on my face: “Good, innit?” I grinned!

Although we had agreed to spend our honeymoon as a foursome, we thought that - for the first day at least - we ought to allow Tania and Neil some private time together; so split up after breakfast.
Jamie and I decided to go for a stroll along the sea-front to take in the sea breezes and fresh air, and explore a bit to get our bearings. We were so relaxed, and looking around everywhere in a casual sort of way, that I didn’t bother to take much notice of whether other people were looking at us! I was wearing a shorty top, and a very short ra-ra mini-skirt over a bikini bottom; and Jamie was wearing a tee-shirt and short shorts. So both our sets of legbraces were very much in view: mine with the slim cuffs to show lots of leg between them -- and Jamie’s with his greater area of black leather cuffs with straps galore. We probably made quite a sight as we crutched cheerfully along the promenade!

At one point, while we were looking around some of the souvenir shops on the other side of the road, I noticed another girl on crutches. She was wearing a fairly minimal halter top; but from the waist down she was wearing a lightweight cotton summer skirt which reached almost to the ground. So I couldn’t see anything of her legs at all; but as she swung along, there was no doubt that there was only one foot ever visible beneath the skirt’s hem. As I watched her disappear up a couple of steps into a shop doorway, I got the distinct impression that there simply wasn’t any second leg at all under the skirt.

I thought no more about her; but a little while later, while we were on our way back along the prom, I saw her again, leaning on the railings and looking out to sea. “Hello” I said as we approached “Are you here on holiday too?”
I don’t know whether she had also caught sight of us earlier, but she didn’t seem particularly upset by a stranger’s greeting -- I think she was almost glad to have someone to talk to. “Hello, I’m Yvette” she said “I’ve only been here a day so far”. We introduced ourselves, adding that this was also our first day in the resort. “We’re actually having a delayed honeymoon” I explained “and we intend to really enjoy ourselves!”
“That sounds lovely for you” she replied “I hope I can enjoy myself during this week; this is the first time I’ve been able to go on a holiday -- well, the first time since... since.....” ...and her voice trailed away.
“Since you lost your leg?” I prompted gently. She looked up sharply as I used the word ‘leg’; and then relaxed slightly into a wry smile. “I guess I still haven’t accepted it as completely as I thought I had” she replied “It seems I can still be ‘sensitive’ about the subject”. “I’m sorry” I said “I didn’t mean to upset you”. “Oh, please don’t apologise” Yvette quickly responded “I know you meant it kindly; and anyway, you two aren’t just being curious, and it’s obvious that you understand”.
Jamie and I smiled encouragingly at her; and all three of us relaxed.

“I’ve pretty much adapted the loss of my leg” Yvette continued “and I’ve been doing my best to get back into life. Now I’ve got used to crutching, I find I can get around anywhere I want to go without much difficulty, and I’ve been able to return to all my friends and quite a lot of activities”.
“That’s good to hear” I said warmly “I certainly don’t allow my useless crippled legs to ‘cramp my style’ in any way!”

“We’re just exploring and settling in today” Jamie said. “And then we’ll see what sort of excitement we can get up to” I added “For example, I’m looking forward to spending a day on the beach sunbathing tomorrow”.
At that, the smile on Yvette’s face faded. “Oh, how I wish I could go on the beach” she said sadly “But.... ohhh.... I can’t very well, can I?”
“Why ever not?” I said in surprise. “If you’re worried about crutching on soft sand” Jamie added “I’ve got some fancy crutches which won’t sink in”.
“Oh, I’m not anticipating any difficulties there” Yvette replied “I seem to be pretty good at coping with most types of terrain. But I can’t strip and sunbathe -- not with only one leg and an ugly little stump!”
“That sort of thing never bothers our friend Tania!” I said brightly.
“You mean -- she’s got an amputated stump too, but isn’t ashamed of it?” Yvette queried doubtfully. “Well..... you’re half right there” I grinned “But she certainly doesn’t ever try to hide them!”
“Oh, how I wish I could find the courage from somewhere to do that” Yvette said wistfully. “If you’re here for the rest of the week” I suggested “you’d probably like to meet Tania”.
So, before we parted company, we exchanged notes of each other’s hotels.

When we got back later in the afternoon, we discovered that our hotel had an indoor swimming pool.
Now, you may think that it’s silly to have a swimming pool at the seaside; but it was quite convenient for me. I wasn’t a particularly keen or strong swimmer before I started wearing legbraces. I don’t mind crawling or dragging myself across the sand into the sea (unless the tide has gone out a long way!) though I wouldn’t be so happy on a stony beach or shingle. But once I get into a medium depth of water, I don’t really like being buffeted by waves, as I can’t steady myself with my limp and useless legs. Also, with no muscles ‘burning’ energy, my legs can feel the cold too easily.
So it was lovely to be able to slide into the calm waters of the heated swimming pool, and feel completely relaxed.

We all met up again in our hotel for dinner, and I asked Tania and Neil what sort of day they’d had.
“We decided to get into the seaside holiday mood” Neil answered “so we bought ourselves some ‘Kiss-me-quick’ hats, and went into a sea-front café for some fish and chips”. “How terribly pleb of you!” I joked; thinking that despite wearing funny hats just like the other holiday-makers, their four prosthetic limbs would hardly allow them to ‘melt into the crowd’, any more than the four legbraces on Jamie and me would! “Did anyone take you up on the ‘Kiss-me’ invitation?” I asked with a grin.
“Not quite,” Tania chuckled back “but we did meet up with a girl called Wendy, and spent some time with her”. “It turned out that she wasn’t a holiday visitor” Neil expanded “but lives locally. She said she hadn’t saved up enough money to go away anywhere during her break from work, so was just having some free time to herself, doing nothing in particular. That was very nice, as she offered to show us around; she knows the area like the back of her.... whatever-it’s-called.... oh yes:--- hand”. Neil was clearly in an uninhibitedly flippant mood!
“I hope she didn’t tire you out too much by dragging you around all over the place?” I asked; I remembered that many of the smaller streets Jamie and I had explored had been rather uneven, and I knew that Tania had to really concentrate when walking on rough ground. “Actually, it wasn’t tiring at all” Tania replied “Wendy seemed to know where all the easy-going routes and short-cuts were. You see ..... one of her legs is very short, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shoe with such a massive build-up. So she wanted to avoid any awkward paths too”.
“Wow!” I exclaimed “I wish I’d been there with you, and met her too!”

“What sort of a day did you two have, then?” Tania asked us.
I described our little explorations; and our meeting with Yvette.
“Wow!” Tania exclaimed “I wish I’d been there with you, and met her too!”

Well..... after that, we all decided we were definitely going to stick together, so we wouldn’t miss out on anything like that again!

Also, as it happens, Wendy had said she would come round to our hotel the following morning to see Tania and Neil again; and Jamie and I had arranged to meet up with Yvette during the morning at her hotel -- so it looked as though all six of us would meet up again.

We sat around chatting for a little while longer after dinner; and then Jamie and I decided to have an early night. Neither of us were actually particularly tired; but what the hell, we were supposed to be relaxing on holiday, and saw no point in staying up late.
On the other hand, Neil had discovered there was a games room in the hotel, and decided he wanted a game of pool with Tania. I never cease to be amazed at how many challenges Neil keeps setting himself with his hooks!

The following morning, Jamie and I both woke up quite early; I don’t know whether it was the invigorating sea air, or the squawking of the seagulls that did it. It seemed too nice a day to have a lie-in, so we decided to get up and go down for an early breakfast.
The waiter in the dining room asked us for our room number, and entered it into a terminal; I presume that was to let the house-keeping staff know that our room was now unoccupied -- they seemed to be very well organised. He even seemed to know that we were a part of a group staying together with ‘Mr and Mrs Carter’ -- though he had to repeat the question, as I still hadn’t got used to Tania being referred to by her new name!

After we’d finished our breakfast and were leaving the dining room, Tania and Neil appeared and went in for theirs.
There didn’t seem much point in going back up to our room to wait, so Jamie and I decided to sit in the lobby while the other two had their breakfast, and we crutched over to some comfy settees by the window.

We had not been sitting there long, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a girl come in the entrance of the hotel. I seem to have a knack of spotting the tiniest ‘oddity’ in anyone’s walking gait; she wasn’t exactly limping, but there was a slight trace of asymmetry in her movements -- so I looked again. It rapidly dawned on me that she fitted the description of the girl that Tania and Neil had said they’d met the day before: she was wearing a short flared skirt, and the build-up on her left shoe was very obvious. I had thought that Tania and Neil had been exaggerating in their description of her the previous evening -- but it was now obvious that they hadn’t!
She went over to the reception desk, and appeared to be asking them for someone. As she stood there, I could see that her right foot was wearing a stylish low-cut shoe with a dainty ankle-strap and a modest heel of probably only about an inch of height. Her left shoe matched, except that the sole had a build-up of what must have been getting on for six inches; the heel certainly totalled well over six, if not seven.

The receptionist must have consulted her terminal to find out which guests were at breakfast, because she indicated where the dining room was. She then looked up and pointed across the lobby towards us; after only one day staying there, all the staff seem to recognise and remember us four -- but then, I suppose were are not quite as unforgettable as the rest of their more ‘ordinary’ guests!

The girl started walking over to us; somewhat hesitantly, because she had never met us before. “Hello!” I called out to her “Are you Wendy?”
That allowed her to be more confident as she continued over towards us. Watching her more closely, I thought she had a gorgeous pair of legs! In some ways, I shouldn’t say a ‘pair’ because they were of such very different lengths -- but I didn’t think of either of them as being in any way less attractive than the other.
“Yes; and so you must be Josie and Jamie?” she replied “Tania and Neil spoke of you when I met them yesterday”.
“They were late in getting up, and are still having breakfast” I said as we invited her to sit down with us “I hope that won’t delay your schedule?”
“Actually, it’s probably me that’s early” Wendy replied apologetically “I had completely forgotten what time we’d arranged to meet, so thought I’d better rush over here early, rather than be late and risk you thinking I wasn’t coming”.
“If you’ve skipped your own breakfast to get here” I suggested “I’m sure you could get one here with Tania and Neil; or at least, have a cup of coffee out here with us”. “I’m not particularly hungry” Wendy replied “but I wouldn’t mind a coffee, if that’s not too much trouble”.
“I’ll ask somebody to bring you one” Jamie said, as he pressed one knee down to lock it and reached for his crutches. “Oh -- please don’t get up just for me” Wendy promptly said “I can easily go and ask for myself”.

She got quickly to her feet, turning round as she did so; and gave a faint yelp as her left ankle with the build-up tilted over sideways -- and she fell back into the chair.
“Are you all right?” I immediately asked. “Sorry about that” Wendy replied “I didn’t mean to startle you”. “Are you sure you haven’t damaged your ankle?” Jamie asked with concern. Wendy flexed her ankle and massaged it, in a manner which made me think this was by no means a rare event. “It seems to be okay” she answered “no damage done”.

One of the hotel staff passed at that point. “Would it be possible to have a coffee brought to us out here?” Jamie asked. “No problem at all” was the reply “How many would you like?” “There’s one for sure” I replied “and I enjoyed the one I had at breakfast, so I think I’ll have one too”. “In that case” Jamie said “make it three”.

After the pot of coffee arrived, Jamie and I were still concerned about Wendy twisting her ankle.
“I don’t know how much they told you about me” Wendy started to explain “I’ve always had a short left leg which needed a fair amount of build-up; but I got so used to it that it never used to bother me in any way. Then a couple of years ago I had a street accident: I didn’t run out of the way fast enough to avoid getting run over” she added with a wry grin. “When they tried to set my broken left leg, there was a bit of bone missing, so it finished up even shorter still. In a way, that wasn’t too bad; it meant that once the cast was removed and I could start walking again, I was much the same as before, just more so -- and the build-up is nothing like as heavy as it looks. The only real problem is that with the excessive build-up I now need, it’s so easy to turn my ankle if I’m not careful -- especially as my ankle muscles and ligaments and things are weaker after the accident”
“I’ve now got used to - or at least resigned to - the fact that this sort of thing will happen from time to time” she concluded somewhat ruefully “but I still don’t like it one little bit”.

“Have you thought of trying an AFO?” I suggested “You know: a lower-leg calliper from your calf to your heel -- that would still allow normal ankle flexion, but guarantee to stop it twisting sideways”. “I know what you mean” Wendy replied “and I did try one once -- but I didn’t get on with it at all well”. “Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that” Jamie said “What sort of problem did you have with it?”
“I didn’t like the feel of the hard plate under my foot” Wendy answered “though I expect I might have got used to that if I’d persevered. But the real problem was the discomfort of the moulding on my calf: even if I wore stockinet under it - which was ugly enough - my calf still became sore and painful. And on hot sticky days, it was completely unbearable!”
“That would have been a thermoplastic one” Jamie said “and they certainly can sometimes have the problems you describe. Did you try a traditional leather and steel one?” “My orthotist told me those were heavy and clumsy, and antiquated and hopelessly out-of-date” she replied “but that the modern cosmetic ones were the very best going”. “They’re also the cheapest cost to him” Jamie countered “which was probably his real motive for recommending them!”

“But the leather-and-steel type don’t have to be heavy” I added “My KAFOs aren’t as heavy as they might look, and an AFO is only a fraction of that. If the callipers fit into sockets in the heel of your shoe, there isn’t anything inside your shoe under your foot to worry about. The calf-cuff can be quite slim, and is padded anyway. It’s only very occasionally that I have any problems with sweaty cuffs -- and I have to wear mine every waking moment of the day”.
“Have you been able to try a traditional one?” I ended by asking.
“No I haven’t” Wendy replied “When I went back to him complaining about the problems I’d had and asked if I could try a different type, he made it quite clear that he knew what he was doing, and didn’t take kindly to people trying to tell him his job; he wouldn’t even tell me if there was anywhere else I could try for some”.
“I’m beginning to like the sound of this fellow less and less!” Jamie said, now looking very annoyed. “Is there anyone else who might be more co-operative?” I asked “How do you get on with your family doctor?”
“My own doctor has been very nice” Wendy replied “and has always been only too willing to help. But she admits that she is not an orthotist, and so had to refer me to the only local one she knew of”.

“In that case” Jamie said “I’ll have to check through my directory of orthotists when I get back home, and find you a better one that you can ask your doctor to send you to”. “That would be very kind of you” Wendy said gratefully “You seem to know a lot about the subject -- but then, as you wear legbraces yourselves, I suppose you get to learn these things?”
“Actually, I don’t just wear legbraces” Jamie grinned “I make them and fit them too -- I am an orthotist! If the situation comes to it, we could even fit you up in my department -- though you’d need an out-of-area referral from your doctor for that”.
“Stop sounding like a salesman!” I said cheekily “You aren’t supposed to go around touting for trade!”
“Oh dear, I am sorry” Wendy said “I didn’t know that was your profession. I’m aware that one thing that doctors hate, is when they’re trying to relax at a party or on holiday, and people keep coming up to them wanting to talk about all their ailments!”
“Don’t worry about that” Jamie assured her “and in any case, we can’t do anything right now, except exchange contact numbers for later”. I wasn’t worried either: my imagination is very good at envisaging what someone would look like in a legbrace -- and my image of Wendy was very flattering!

And then that subject was dropped as Tania and Neil came out from breakfast and joined us.

“It’s very kind of you to give up your free time to show us around” we said to Wendy. “On the contrary” Wendy assured us “My usual friends have all gone away on their holidays; that leaves me with nothing to do -- so it’s a real pleasure to make some new friends this week”
“But now I realise you’re on your honeymoons” she continued “I wouldn’t want to interfere with your own precious time together”.
“Don’t worry about that” we assured her “We don’t have any intention of cutting ourselves off from enjoyable company!”
“In fact” I continued “we were intending to meet up with another girl we met yesterday, and all go sunbathing together. She gave me a note of the hotel she was staying at; but I don’t know where it is”. Wendy looked at the scribbled note: “I know where that one is” she said “it’s very close to here. Not only that, but it’s got the easiest access down to the beach right opposite it”.

We were all ready to venture out, so made a move towards the exit.
“Can we drop by the hotel car park?” Jamie suggested “I’ve got a few beach accessories in my van that I’d like to get out and take with us”.
When he opened the rear doors and Wendy looked inside, she was surprised: “Wow! You’ve got enough equipment inside there to set up an orthopædics department!” she exclaimed. “That’s where half of it has to be returned to when our holiday is over!” Jamie said with a grin.
He lowered the wide-tyred wheelchair down on the tail-lift; then brought out several of the ‘sand crutches’ and stowed them at the chair’s back.
“I’ve had one go in the ‘beach buggy’ already” Jamie said “Do either of you girls want to try it?” “You know I prefer to crutch in my legbraces” I said “Let Tania have a go: she’s a better wheelchair-driver than me!”
“After yesterday’s walking, it’ll be nice to take the weight off my feet” Tania said as she lowered herself into it and positioned her metal legs on to the foot-rests; then gave a little frown: “What am I talking about? I haven’t got any feet! Still, you know what I mean!” she finished with a giggle.

And then we made our way over to Yvette’s hotel.

We went into Yvette’s hotel, and I looked around the lobby for her.
I soon saw her standing looking at some souvenirs. Her attention was interrupted as she sensed the slight commotion the five of us made as we variously walked, crutched, and rolled in through the entrance; and she turned round. Her face had been showing a mixture of apprehension and doubt; but was rapidly replaced by a big smile when she saw Jamie and me -- and she crutched cheerfully over to meet us. “I was beginning to worry I might not see you again” she said to me “so I’m ever so relieved you’ve come”. “I’m afraid we were a bit vague about the timing” I admitted “but we definitely intended to meet up with you again”. “I should have had more trust in you” Yvette said “but I’ve had so many people say ‘See you tomorrow’ -- and then not show up”. “That would have been their loss!” I replied firmly. Indeed, Yvette looked even more attractive than she had the previous day: she was now wearing a shorter just-above-the-knee summer dress. There was still no sign of any right leg; but her shapely left leg definitely should never have been hidden from view!

We introduced her to Tania and Neil. Yvette was initially a little puzzled by Tania being in a wheelchair: she could imagine a legless girl using a chair, and possibly wearing cosmetic legs ‘just for show’ -- but couldn’t work out why Tania should be in a chair, yet be wearing two very functional prostheses. The explanation - that Tania was trying out the chair for Jamie - was a good opportunity for the two girls to get to know each other.
“Are you all ready for a bask in the sun?” I asked Yvette. “I’ve got my swimsuit on underneath this dress” she replied “It took me all my courage to put it on this morning -- and that was in the privacy of my bedroom! If you hadn’t showed up, I’m sure I would have chickened out of actually exposing myself on the beach”.

So that meant we were all ready to go.

Just as we were preparing to leave, I noticed a family of three come into the lobby: a husband and wife, and their son in a wheelchair being pushed by his father -- and I thought the son looked very handsome!

They went over to the Porter’s Desk; except that, as this was a rather posh hotel, the sign above it actually said ‘Concierge’!
The man appeared to be asking questions, and the woman was looking at the various leaflets for local attractions.

The lad looked over at us; then twisted his body round to see what his parents were doing -- then turned his wheelchair to face us, and started to roll cautiously forward. I got the distinct impression that he wanted to meet us, so I gave him a welcoming smile. I probably fluttered my eyelashes at him too -- I keep forgetting I’m not supposed to do that now I’m a married woman! He wheeled himself further away from his parents; and Yvette also recognised that he wanted to come over: “Hello” she called out “Are you staying in this hotel, same as I am?”. With that, he wheeled himself over to us with much more confidence. His parents realised that something was happening, and looked round; the man seemed agitated that he would have to break off the conversation he was in the middle of, and the woman was flustered as she tried to quickly stuff the leaflets back into their rack.
“Hi: I’m Mike” the boy said as he neared us “I hope you don’t mind me coming over to say ‘hello’?”
We all welcomed him into our group and introduced ourselves. We hardly needed to describe our individual disabilities, as they were all quite visible and obvious. “I broke my lower back” Mike volunteered “and now I can’t move or feel my legs”. “So you’re an SCI para?” Jamie murmured gently, so that Mike would realise we understood completely.

“We’re all going down to the beach to sunbathe” I said “Would you like to come with us? It’ll help to even up the sexes in our party!”

By now his parents had come over; but seemed to be very concerned about their son.
Mike introduced us to them, telling them that Yvette was staying in the same hotel, and behaving as if he knew us well! His parents greeted us; then the father turned to Mike: “We’ve found that there’s a nice Art Gallery which has wheelchair access” he said “so that’s where we’re taking you” “You may get another chance to speak to Yvette when we get back again this evening” he added, as he noticed Mike giving a little frown of disappointment.
“But my friends have invited me to go down to the beach with them” Mike protested “and I really would like to”.
“But you can’t go on the beach!” his father said, looking aghast at the idea “Not in a wheelchair!” “Yes he can” Tania contradicted “If his chair gets bogged down in the sand, he can use this ‘beach-buggy’ one -- I’m only test-driving it, and don’t actually need it for myself”.
During that comment, I noticed Jamie leaning over to Mike and asking him something in a discreet whisper. I just made out that it was to do with “..... bladder control?” Mike gave a smile of relief and gratitude, and Jamie gave me a ‘thumbs up’ sign.
“But..... poor Mike is paralysed, and needs assistance with everything” the mother said in anguish. “Only my legs” Mike argued “And I don’t need help with everything; I can do most things for myself -- it’s only you two who always want to do everything for me”.
“Look, if you’re concerned about competent help” I tried to assure them “there’s no need to worry! Jamie is fully trained in orthopædics, and quite used to treating paraplegic patients. Tania is a qualified physiotherapist -- and knows far more ways of getting in and out of a chair than you’ll ever find in a textbook! And both she and Neil are wonderful examples of achieving the apparently impossible. Furthermore, Wendy understands all about the disabled access routes, and knows where all the amenities are”
“And anyway” I added with a smile “Seven is a lucky number!”

The parents turned away to consider that between themselves; that meant that with their backs to us, they didn’t catch the next exchange: “You’ve just itemised what everybody else’s speciality is” Yvette said to me “So what’s your particular expertise?” I couldn’t resist a giggle: “I dream up crazy ideas for what sort of mischief we can get up to!” I replied.
Mike’s parents seemed to have reluctantly decided that they would allow Mike out of their sight after all.
“Are you all ready for sunbathing?” I asked Mike. Actually, he wasn’t: I supposed you could describe him as being dressed in ‘smart casual’ -- but hardly beachwear. “If you don’t mind hanging on for a moment” he said “I’ll go and get my bathing trunks” and started to turn his chair. “I’ll take you back up to our room” his father promptly said “and help you change”. “But I don’t want helping!” Mike tried to argue “I can manage on my own -- at least, I’m pretty sure I can”.
“I’ll come with you instead if you’d prefer” Neil said “I promise I won’t interfere unless you actually need or ask for help”. Mike was much happier with that idea, and the two of them moved off.

His parents watched them disappear, then turned back to us. “Poor Mike” his mother said sadly “He’s having so much difficulty in fully accepting his disability. “It’s certainly not easy” Tania said thoughtfully “It all takes time -- plus help from people who understand”. “But I’m sure he’s made a start” I said “I’ve known people who were all uptight and edgy in their early days; but Mike doesn’t seem like that at all”. “And similarly” Tania added “when people still hate their disability and their need for a wheelchair, I can usually tell from the angry way they wheel it -- but Mike seems quite smooth and relaxed”.
“It’s not so much the physical aspect” the father said “Mike has quite a logical mind, and once he’d understood the permanence of the paralysis, he accepted that ‘facts are facts’ quite quickly”. “And as soon as he was out of the plaster jacket” the mother added “Mike’s been very good at doing all his exercises to strengthen his arms and upper body”.
“That all sounds very promising” I said encouragingly.
“But it’s the consequences that he doesn’t seem to have grasped” the mother continued “He just can’t seem to accept that he’ll never be able to live a normal life”. “That all depends on what you mean by a ‘normal’ life” I responded “And in any case, what is ‘normal’ anyway? There may be various things that we don’t do any more; but we all enjoy living very full and active lives!”
“Mike used to love going to clubs and discos and dances” his father said.
“So do we!” Tania answered enthusiastically. “I’ll admit I don’t get up on the dance floor so often now in legbraces” I said “but I still enjoy going!” “I’ve done some wheelchair-dancing” Tania added “That’s great fun!”
“It’s not so much the physical activity” the mother said mournfully “it’s the social aspect I mean”.
“Oh, absolutely!” I said gleefully.

“I don’t think you understand what I’m trying to say” she continued sadly “Perhaps I’m not explaining myself too well”.
The father took a deep breath, and tried to explain: “Mike still believes he’ll have girlfriends, fall in love, and get married; he just doesn’t seem able to grasp that such a thing will never happen now -- that he’ll have to forget the idea, and settle for remaining a bachelor”.
WHAT?!!” I exclaimed “It doesn’t have to be that way at all! We haven’t had a chance to introduce ourselves properly yet; but four of us are on honeymoon this week. So Jamie is definitely not a bachelor” I said, giving him a loving squeeze “even if he does still behave like one at times! And you should see the girls fighting each other over our friend Simon, whether he’s in his braces or wheelchair at the time!”
“And Neil hasn’t been a bachelor for ..... oooh ..... two whole days now” Tania said with a big smile; and then paused in thoughtful contemplation before continuing “I really am lucky that Neil fell in love with me, as he had plenty of able-bodied girl friends before he met me”.

While the parents were trying to absorb our refutal of their preconceived notion that disabled people were a nonviable and incompatible species, Mike and Neil returned.
Mike was now wearing a bright-coloured shirt, bermuda shorts, and sandals; he had a beach towel folded up on his lap, and Neil had given him his ‘Kiss-Me-Quick’ hat -- he really did look like a ‘beach boy’ now!
“Thank you very much for helping Mike, Neil” the father said “we very much appreciate it”. “But I didn’t have to” Neil contradicted “Mike could manage everything by himself!” “Neil did help me just a little bit” Mike admitted. “But only to save a bit of time” Neil corrected “there was no real need for me to ‘give him a hand’ -- not that I’ve got any to give!” he finished in his usual cheeky way.

“I’m really looking forward to this!” Mike said cheerfully to his parents “So I hope you have a nice time in the art gallery”. His father gave a wry smile: “I’m not actually all that keen on Modern Art” he said “but it seems that your mother and I have been quite unnecessarily making martyrs of ourselves, fussing over you all the time”. “So we’re going to make up for it by spending some relaxing quality time together” his wife added, as she reached for her husband’s hand.

We just had to cross the road opposite the hotel, but that was no problem as there was a pedestrian crossing. Nevertheless, Neil made a great show of waving his arms and hooks around, pretending to stop the traffic, and ushering across our little procession: six crutches, four long legbraces, not-quite-three functioning legs, two wheelchairs, and one built-up shoe.

There was a ramp to the beach down which Tania and Mike rolled; and also some shallow steps with a stout handrail, which I used. I’ve got so used to having to cope with steps that I don’t usually even bother to look for alternatives; and anyway, a slope isn’t necessarily any easier.
At the bottom, the sand was well-trodden and firm; but it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in very much softer sand -- so three of us immediately swapped our crutches for Jamie’s fancy ones. They were only marginally helpful to Yvette, but I found them much better. If I try to press down on crutches but the tips just sink into the sand, I can’t lift my feet off the ground to swing my legs forward (well, not without a strenuous effort of trying to bend in the middle to raise my legs forward, which my waist muscles aren’t really up to).
However, the narrow tyres of Mike’s wheelchair soon got bogged down. Tania rolled round him easily, as the wide-tyred buggy didn’t seem to have that problem at all; then parked beside him. “Try this chair instead” she said to him, as she levered herself out of it. Mike frowned slightly: “Ummm..... I’ve had lots of practice at transferring into a wheelchair or out of one” he said “but I’m not sure I know how to do a chair-to-chair transfer. But I’ll have a go”. Jamie and Tania were able to give him some not-too-contradictory advice and instructions; and Neil and Wendy stood close by in case he needed any extra support. In fact, Mike managed quite well, with only a certain amount of ‘untidiness’ about his legs. “After I’ve finished the process” Mike said with an attempt at a grin “I seem to have a lot of legs left over”. “That’s one of he advantages of not having any to worry about!” Tania retorted with a smile. I was thinking about my own techniques for transferring, and of watching Pauline’s better-practised ones: “It is sometimes better to move your legs over to their new position first” I suggested “though that’s often not possible. But don’t do yourself down -- I thought you did very well”.

We set off again: Mike in the ‘beach-buggy’, three of us using the fancy ‘sand-crutches’, and Tania and Neil pushing Mike’s now-vacant chair. After a short distance, Jamie asked Mike how he was managing in the new chair. “This is brilliant” Mike replied “The rims are a bit farther apart than I’m used to; but it’s coping perfectly with the soft sand”. “Those tyres don’t seem to be sinking in at all” Jamie commented “but then, you aren’t particularly heavily built. I wonder if the chair could cope with an extra load -- how about getting one of the girls to sit in your lap?”
“It really ought to be you, Tania” Mike said “After all, it was your chair in the first place”. I must admit that Tania did seem to be having a bit of a struggle: with two rigid ankles and two uncontrollable knee-hinges, she needed to hold on to Mike’s chair to help keep her balance in the soft and yielding sand. I saw her reach a hand down and feel behind the back of her knee-joint mechanism and the half-protruding damper cylinder. “I don’t think I’d be very comfortable for you” Tania said enigmatically; and I realised what she meant. “I wouldn’t like my metalwork to dig into you” I said to Mike “And it would make things even worse if you couldn’t feel my braces gouging grooves in your thighs. Pick someone with a softer bum!”
“I’m having great fun with these fancy crutches!” Yvette said, thereby also declining the offer. “Looks like I’ve been volunteered!” Wendy said with a grin; and sat herself gently into Mike’s lap.
Jamie was soon asking Mike for comments. “It’s a bit more of an effort” he replied “but no harder work than - say - going up a wheelchair ramp”. Wendy was now sitting twisting half round, with one arm round Mike’s neck. Both of them had coy smiles on their faces, which led me to believe they could quite easily get to learn to like this sort of exercise!

We soon found a nice spot on the beach, and ‘set up camp’.
I noticed a number of the other holidaymakers had erected smart awnings as a wind-break or sun-trap. We weren’t as well-organised as that; but we did stretch a spare towel between two crutches poked into the sand, using the wheelchairs as anchors, to produce a make-shift sun-trap for ourselves.
Tania and Neil quickly removed their prostheses, and Tania joyously wiggled her stumps in their freedom; Mike wriggled out of his bermuda shorts; I unstrapped and removed my legbraces -- and even Jamie needed no prompting to remove his.
With our example, and with our wind-break giving a small amount of privacy, Yvette slowly removed the dress she was wearing over her swim-suit ..... and then lowered her eyes as if she had done something shameful in exposing her stump. “Your surgeon did a great job there” Tania said appreciatively “that’s a gorgeous stump”.
Yvette had a puzzled frown: “But it’s just the stump left after amputating” she said “How can you say anything nice about it?” “Because it is nice” Tania replied firmly “You have a nice attractive body” (and indeed, her swimsuit showed that she certainly had!) “and your stump is part of you, and every bit as attractive. Don’t just take my word for it; ask Neil -- he considers himself a connoisseur in such matters!” Neil didn’t actually say anything; but the appreciative smile on his face showed he was in wholehearted agreement!

I got out my sun-tan oil; I remembered a near-disaster a while ago when I had stayed out in the sun too long, and burnt my thighs. They became so red and tender I couldn’t tolerate the cuffs of my my legbraces -- and I didn’t want that to happen again. Tania was similarly putting cream on her stumps; it would be even more important for her not to get burnt, as all her weight had to be borne by her stump-sockets. “You’ll need some too” she said to Yvette “If you’ve kept your stump hidden and not even let it see the light of day, the skin will certainly need some sun-block”.
Neither Yvette nor Mike had thought to bring any sun-cream with them; but it didn’t matter, as we had plenty to spare between us.
“Don’t just dab it on” Tania said to Yvette “Rub it in properly”.
Yvette tried to follow instructions; but had a pained look on her face. “Does your stump still hurt?” Tania asked caringly. “Not really, only ever so slightly” Yvette replied “but it just doesn’t seem right to be pampering this ..... thing”. “But you’re supposed to massage your stump” Tania contradicted “That’ll quickly get rid of any niggling residual pain from the surgery; it helps to give a good tone to your skin and muscle tissue -- and it’s also very good for the circulation”.
“Those last points apply to you too, Mike” Jamie suggested “particularly to help the circulation if you’re sitting still with no leg movement for hours on end”.

And so it wasn’t long before we were all ‘well-oiled’.
I was really enjoying this; it seemed ages since I had a chance to relax completely, basking in the sun, and doing absolutely nothing apart from murmurs of light conversation with my friends.
But after a while, I began to feel dry and thirsty. “We didn’t bring enough cold drinks with us” I said, propping myself up on one elbow “But I saw a refreshment stall near the bottom of the ramp down to the beach, and we could get some from there”. I put an innocent look on my face as I looked around: “Who’s got the most legs?”
“I had a sneaking suspicion it wouldn’t be long before I got caught for something like that!” Neil said with a smile as he got up “But I could do with a drink myself, so I don’t mind going”. He bent down and gripped the cool-bag between the stumps of his forearms, then got the handles looped into the crook of his elbow. “Would you get some money out of my pocket, please” he said to Tania “and drop it into the bag? I’ll just have to hope the chap on the stall isn’t too surprised when I tell him ‘Help yourself’!”
“Unless anybody else wants to come?” he continued “Perhaps someone with tentacle-like things sticking out of blobs on the ends of their arms”.
“I should really have volunteered in the first place” Wendy replied, as she also sat up “but I’m so enjoying the sand between my toes, that I didn’t want to bother with putting my built-up shoe back on, just to be able to walk evenly. But I’ve been thinking that I haven’t used crutches since when I was recuperating from my broken leg -- may I have a try with your fancy sand-crutches?” “But of course you may” Jamie quickly replied “I’d like to get as many comments about them as I can”.
As I watched them move off, I could see that Wendy was perfectly confident on the crutches. Her right foot was sinking into the soft sand, and her left foot was floating way above it. Her unused left leg wasn’t hanging completely limply, but was swinging slightly: as though her short leg was enjoying the relaxation and freedom of being ‘on holiday’ too!

Tania was lying on Yvette’s right side, and playfully prodded Yvette’s stump with her own left one. Yvette did not see the movement, but instinctively jerked her stump away. Then she turned her head to see what had happened, and saw the friendly smile on Tania’s face. Yvette paused for a moment; then coyly returned the smile, and pressed her stump sideways against Tania’s.
“That’s much better!” Tania said “Don’t just stop hiding your cute stump: start using it and doing things with it. This is how I ‘play footsie’ with Neil -- and he absolutely adores it! You could try practising on him, if it weren’t for the fact that he’s the hen-pecked husband of a domineering wife ----- Although if I happened to be looking the other way at the time; I would never know, would I?” she finished with a grin.
Yvette was now beginning to realise there was a whole new range of fun and pleasures open to her! She rolled over to her left on to her stomach, and stretched her stump out to Mike’s thigh. Mike had been watching what was happening -- and had also absorbed the playful mood. “I can’t feel it down there” he said, as he gently steered her stump upwards to between his waist and his ribcage: “Ooooh -- that’s NICE!

For some reason, the thought crossed my mind that Jamie and Mike and me were the ones who might look as if we we the least disabled, in that we had all four limbs intact; although I suppose that the miscellany of legbraces, crutches, and wheelchairs scattered around should have suggested otherwise. Then Jamie ‘gave the game away’ by crawling along on his elbows, with his crippled legs dragging through the sand behind him; he seemed to be heading towards Yvette. “I’ve you’re joining the queue to be next in line after Mike gets bored with that” I said with a grin “I reckon you’re in for a long wait!”
So I fondled Jamie’s limp legs, and he caressed my equally sensitive yet useless ones. Ahhh ..... the simplest pleasures in life are the best!

The four of us decided to spend one day exploring the countryside inland, touring in Jamie’s van.

That was a glorious day; I found it so relaxing to get away from the teeming crowds in the resort, and just enjoy the tranquillity and the beautiful scenery. We went through a number of utterly charming little villages, all of which seemed untouched by modern encroachment. However, the description ‘unspoilt’ also meant that none of them had heard of the term ‘wheelchair-accessible’! That meant that although we had our chairs in the van, there was no point in unloading them. That was no problem for Jamie and me, as we were both wearing our legbraces anyway, and were both well used to crutching in all sorts of different environments -- including the difficult ones, like steeply-sloping cobblestones which are nevertheless quite tiring. Tania was wearing her coverless prosthetic legs, but also needed the help of a walking stick in some of the more awkward and uneven areas. That included the little country pub where we went for a “ploughman’s lunch”; that even had a few steps up in to the entrance -- I’m always fascinated watching Tania cope with those!

We caused a little bit of consternation among the locals when we went in; but then, that’s not an unusual happening for us! I suspect that in the past, the regulars there may have suffered from ‘invasions’ by thoughtless and supercilious tourists trying to ‘lord it’ over the peasants; but that certainly wasn’t our approach, and so they were quite friendly and welcoming towards us. In fact, while Jamie and Neil were at the bar getting some drinks, one of the locals looked at Neil’s hooks; but in an understanding sort of way, and quietly said “A few years ago, my brother lost all his fingers in a baling machine”. “All too easily done” Neil said ruefully; the first time I’ve seen him looking serious and pensive for ages. But he rapidly returned to his more usual cheeky and flippant mood: “Still, at least it can’t happen again!” he said with a grin, putting everyone at ease again. We were soon chatting with the regulars: being told about the locality, and telling them about our recent weddings. The man who had first spoken to Neil was now recommending him to try the locally-brewed ‘scrumpy’ cider. “Be careful of that stuff” I warned him “It could make you as ‘legless’ as Tania!”

Continuing our tour in the afternoon, we noticed that one of the farms was advertising for extra part-time workers for some late-season harvesting. Of course, we weren’t looking for jobs; but Neil insisted on having his photograph taken in front of the sign saying “Hands Wanted”!

Jamie had arranged to leave the ‘beach-buggy’ chair at the hotel where Yvette and Mike were staying. That allowed Mike to be able to use it whenever he wanted to go on the beach; although it’s not quite so convenient to use as a conventional chair on ordinary flat surfaces.

While we were out touring, Wendy and Yvette and Mike had met up and spent the day together. They did some shopping in the morning, as Mike - and Yvette in particular - had not arrived with very much in the way of beachwear for their holiday.
Later in the day, they went off to a secluded cove that Wendy knew of. It was not so easily accessible as the main beach; but by now, Mike was appreciating that none of us would force ‘help’ on him when he wanted to manage by himself -- and so did not feel embarrassed on the few occasions when he did need some assistance.

When we met up with them again in the evening, they were a bit coy about describing what they’d been up to -- I gather it involved an awful lot of massaging sun-tan oil on to each other!
That marked a distinct change in Yvette’s outlook: before she had met any of us, she had been convinced that not only would nobody want to even catch a glimpse of her stump, but that it would be unthinkable that anyone would ever want to touch it -- and that attitude had now completely reversed!
Mike went through a lot of changes in emotions that day. To begin with, he felt so sad and frustrated that his legs could not feel the tender ministrations of the girls. But that slowly changed to a wonderfully positive increase in his self-worth as the realisation dawned on him: The girls knew he could not feel their gentle touch -- but despite that, they really did want to lovingly caress his paralysed legs.

The seven of us met up again together the following day.

We went shopping in the morning for a few souvenirs and presents; and, more to the point, bought and wrote some postcards to send back to friends at home -- Aunt Emma would never have forgiven me if I forgot to send her a picture postcard!
Tania was using her wheelchair: partly to keep Mike company as, unlike us, he didn’t have any choice for getting around; and partly so that she could leave her prosthetic legs back at the hotel, and not have to worry about getting irritating sand into their stump-sockets.
Yvette was very relieved when Tania appeared in shorts and bare stumps, as she too had bought some shorts the previous day, but still needed some ‘moral support’ to wear them -- which she now did!

For lunch, Wendy guided us to a small family-run restaurant she knew, which was not on the sea-front, but tucked away down a side-street; being off the main holidaymaker route, it was much less expensive than the glitzy tourist-trap ones! It was also fairly small, and the proprietor had to put us at a trestle table with bench seats. “I’m sorry, there’s not much leg-room in the corner” he apologised. “That’s all right” Tania said cheerfully, as she bounced out of her wheelchair and slid sideways along the bench “I haven’t got much legs!”
Not only were the prices reasonable, the helpings were very generous, and I doubted whether I’d be able to eat all of mine. But after the meal, when he came to clear our plates away, and asked us if we’d enjoyed the meal, I was able to reply “It was delicious -- I didn’t think I’d be able to manage it all, but you’ll see that I’ve licked my plate completely clean!” “Ah: it’s being out in the bracing sea air that gives you a good appetite” he suggested. “So does walking around town with full bracing on both legs!” I cheekily answered.

Wendy was wearing a really short skirt which showed off her attractively mismatched legs to full advantage. She was wearing open-toed sandals: the right one had a fairly thick cork sole; and the left one was exactly the same -- except that the sole was at least ten times thicker!
Actually, I wasn’t the only one who was taking notice of Wendy. She gave Jamie an inquisitive smile: “You do like looking at my little leg, don’t you Jamie?” she said with a grin. “Oh dear” Jamie replied, looking a little contrite “Was I being that obvious? Actually, I was thinking back to when we were talking about a short calliper to stabilise your ankle. I know that Josie has both sets of her legbraces here with her, and was wondering whether I might be able to dismantle one of them, to let you get some idea of what an AFO would look and feel like. But unfortunately, I haven’t got many of my tools in the van; and in any case, I’d really prefer to have my full workshop facilities available”.
“Now, STOP IT, Jamie!” I said, trying my best to pretend to look cross “I know it’s asking too much to expect you to stop looking at pretty girl’s legs -- especially when they’re as indisputably attractive as Wendy’s -- but I do wish you’d forget about work this week, and remember we’re all supposed to be on holiday!”

Although the four of us had stuck together after the first day, we did decide to split up on the last day -- but not into two couples.

Jamie and Neil had found a Steam Museum that they wanted to visit; I expect I would have found it mildly interesting, but not absorbingly so.

But Tania and I had discovered that in the ‘Old Quarter’ of the town, there was a network of side-streets and back-alleys to explore; there were lots of the usual souvenir and curio shops -- but there were also a number of trendy fashion boutiques that we wanted to hunt through!

“We can’t have our husbands complaining of being hen-pecked and ‘under our thumb’ all the time” Tania and I agreed “We’ll have to let them have a ‘day out with the boys’ occasionally; say once every few months -- or more often if it allows us an opportunity to go on a shopping spree and spend all their hard-earned wages!”

Some of the assistants in the shops were initially surprised to discover that we were not looking for clothes to cover up or hide our disabilities, but actually wanted to draw attention to ourselves and show off all the metalwork below our hips. But they soon began to appreciate what eager customers we were for flamboyant outfits!

Then we went back to the hotel to find out what the boys had been up to.

I think Jamie still hadn’t completely detached his mind from work! Before he left, he had been very interested in devising new ways of making articulated joints for braces and RGOs, and Alan had also been showing him the various types of prosthetic knee-joints that used linkages instead of simple hinges.
As a souvenir of their visit to the Steam Museum, he had bought a kit for a working model of a loco’s ‘Walschaerts gear’ linkage -- and he and Neil were now engrossed in trying to assemble it. Tania and I were a bit miffed when the boys merely said they hoped we’d had a nice day..... but then turned straight back to playing with their new toy, without waiting for an answer! Rather than using that as an excuse for having a row, Tania and I decided to go to our rooms and put on the most provocative and revealing of the new outfits we had just bought for ourselves -- and I’m happy to say that when we returned wearing them, we did manage to get our husbands’ attention back!

Josie (almost!) Settles down

Hi: I’m Josie in legbraces ..... and I’ve been on honeymoon!

Before we left the honeymoon resort to come back home, we all met up to say goodbye to our three new friends. Yvette and Mike had both enjoyed their holidays; and were now eager to get back home, and really make the most of life.
We all thanked Wendy for being so kind in showing us around. “Not at all” she insisted “I’ve had a lovely week with all of you! I only hope I can meet up with someone even half as much fun as you next week while I’m still waiting for my regular friends to return from their own holidays”.
“Have you got next week away from work too?” I asked her; and she nodded. The four of us exchanged looks, and then turned back to Wendy: “How about coming back with us?” we suggested. “We’ll be doing a mixture of things” I said “but I’m sure you’d fit in well. The only problem is that you might have to make your own way back home again by train afterwards”.
“I know I said I hadn’t saved up enough money for a proper holiday” Wendy said, now looking quite excited “but it was only the hotel bills I was particularly worried about -- I can easily afford a train fare back”.
It didn’t take long for Wendy to pack, ready to come with us!

It was a bit of a squeeze inside Jamie’s van, but none of us minded.
We did make a point of making several rest stops on the journey back; sitting for long period in braces can get a bit uncomfortable, so I was quite keen that we gave ourselves a chance to “stretch our legs”.
“What on earth are you on about, Josie?” Tania joked “I haven’t got any; and yours and Jamie’s don’t do anything worthwhile, let alone stretch!”
Wendy was well into our sense of humour by now: “Only ONE of mine could do with any stretching!” she laughed.

Finally, we all arrived at Tania’s and Neil’s new house.
That had been the main reason for the delay in their wedding: The timing had been worked out such that, by the time they got back from their honeymoon, they would be able to settle in to their own house.
They were absolutely thrilled as they showed us around.

The house had been chosen because all the doorways were wide enough for wheelchair access; and I mean properly wide enough -- not the so-called ‘wheelchair-friendly’ ones which are only a couple of inches wider than usual, and where you skin your knuckles every time you try to go through!
Some grab-rails had been fitted in the bathroom; and also a stairlift had been added. Initially, Tania had opposed that idea, claiming that she was quite capable of negotiating stairs -- one way or another. But she had relented when she realised that it might be of more use to any disabled visitors or guests they might have; and that was probably just as well, because although I know that Tania can even walk up stairs on her two prostheses (providing the hand-rail is good and solid to pull on), she can’t be expected to carry anything much at the same time.
Similarly, on all the doors, the knobs had been replaced by lever handles for Neil’s sake, and all the bathroom taps were lever-operated too.
There was also an electric push-button combination lock on the front door. Apparently, those aren’t quite so readily-available as you might think; there are plenty whose instructions say “punch the code number in on the buttons, and then give the knob one half-turn to the left” -- but that defeats the whole point!

All these modifications had been done very neatly: the place did not look the least bit like a ‘nursing home’, but appeared to be just like any other ordinary house -- except that it had those few subtle touches which make all the difference to a person with disabilities.

Because their wedding had been a ‘family only’ affair, and Tania and Neil had not been able to invite many of their younger friends to it, they had planned to hold a house-warming party at the weekend to make up for that -- and they hoped that as many as possible of our friends would come.

The house had a spare bedroom, and that was where Jamie and I slept on the first night. Wendy was quite happy to sleep on a couch -- I had been right in my guess that she would fit in with any arrangements, however makeshift they might be!

The following morning after breakfast, Jamie asked if he could make a few telephone calls.
Afterwards, over coffee, I discovered what he’d been up to.

“Ummm..... I’ve been thinking” Jamie said hesitantly “that perhaps I ought to drop into the ortho department to... ummm... check up on things”.
“But you aren’t due back at work until next week” I countered -- but I knew and understood how much Jamie was dedicated to his work. “And you’re not very clever at inventing excuses either” I continued with a grin “You could have claimed that you had to return the ‘beach buggy’ back where it belongs. Just make sure you get back here in plenty of time for the party!”
Jamie smiled sheepishly before continuing: “I’ll certainly be back in time for that” he assured us “but I was wondering..... would you like to come with me, Wendy? If you haven’t been to that part of the city, I could show you around. I also rang Crystal to find out how things were in the shared house: She says there’s one room unoccupied this week which you could use; or she said you could share hers if you prefer”.

“I know you said you weren’t expecting to get a five-star hotel this week” I said to Wendy “But if you stay in that shared house, you’ll really be ‘slumming it’! But don’t worry -- it’s actually perfectly clean and comfortable” I continued “though with all the other zany young people living in it, you’ll find it’s quite a madhouse at times!”
Wendy was looking quite excited with the idea: “That sounds like it could be tremendous fun!” she said “But aren’t you worried about your husband and me sneaking off together to the big sinful city?”
“No: I can trust the pair of you” I replied with a smile “Actually, you’ll find that when he’s in the hospital department, Jamie is so impeccably well-behaved that he verges on being downright boring! And when you’re in the house, you’ll find you’ll be so drawn into all the fun there that there won’t be any opportunity for any furtive impropriety!”

After Wendy and Jamie had left, Tania’s and Neil’s local friends started to arrive. It was nice to see Flix and Kathy and Melanie again, and the two brothers Danny and Tim.
Tim seemed to have got acclimatised to his new AFOs, and didn’t seem to be at all embarrassed about wearing them -- especially in our company. The restraint of his orthoses meant that he didn’t have any ‘bounce’ or ‘spring’ in his step; but then, his neuro-muscular degeneration meant that he’d lost that anyway. But it did mean that his ankles were now properly stabilised and not drooping or dragging at all -- and he was clumping around quite cheerfully! I also noticed that as the day went by, his knees did seem to get a bit shaky and unsteady ..... but then, that was what he had been warned to expect might develop.

To begin with, everybody wanted to hear about our honeymoon; and relating all those adventures took up much of the rest of the day.
Then they remembered that their supposed reason for coming round was to help Tania and Neil to move in to their new house. In fact, the Carters and Pomeroys had got pretty much everything done while we were away on honeymoon; so apart from Danny helping with a few minor re-positioning of some items of furniture, there wasn’t actually anything much for them to do.
So we spent most of the time chattering away to one another, and having ‘practice runs’ for the party proper due at the end of the week!

Then Jamie returned from the city -- this time with a van-full of friends.

Crystal was looking at her most attractive, with a crisply smart blouse, short skirt, black nylons, and two long legbraces. “Are you wearing your braces on a regular basis now?” I asked. “No, I’m not” Crystal replied “If anything, the converse. I haven’t had any good excuses to wear them for several weeks now, and was worrying I might be getting out of practice. So this weekend is a wonderful chance for me to get back ‘into the swing’ of things”. And indeed, since the last time our friends had met Crystal was at my Wedding and she had been wearing legbraces then, that’s exactly how they would expect to see her again.
Simon had come along too. Although you’ll remember I first met him when he was in the hospital being fitted with his braces, he had completed treatment and been discharged ages ago. He had been asked - as most patients in that department are -- to keep in touch and let them know how he was getting on. Simon not only keeps in touch, he drops into the department quite regularly; but his reason for visiting seems to be not so much to report to the clinical team, but more to get opportunities to see more of Crystal!

And Wendy was with them too. This time, she was wearing a smart fashion shoe with quite a high wedge heel on her right foot; the build-up on her left shoe preserved the ‘heel’, which gave it a total height of at least nine inches on the side of her short leg! But more to the point, she had a simple but neat AFO on her left leg and heel. I thought the combination looked really attractive; and Wendy smiled as I told her so.
“But how did you manage that?” I asked Jamie “You always tell clients to allow at least two weeks for an AFO -- how on earth did you manage to fit Wendy up with one in under two days?”
“By cheating!” Jamie replied with a grin “As you know, standard practice is that every orthosis is custom-built for each individual patient, which is what takes most of the time. But we had been wondering how far we could go in standardising some parts as much as possible, leaving only a minimal amount of individual variation -- and that’s what the research students were working on while we were away. When I got back, I found they’d just completed their first prototype -- so we tried it on Wendy. The calf-cuff turned out to be a perfect fit; and the only modification needed was a slight reduction in length”
“The other time-saver” Jamie continued “is that it isn’t quite complete: the uprights are still just natural metal, and are waiting for their final surface finish -- which would normally be either polished or black enamelled, according to the patient’s choice”.

“How do you like it?” I asked Wendy. “It felt a bit weird to begin with” she replied “but I soon got used to the feel of it; and I’ve also come to quite like the look of it. I don’t think I’d wear it on a regular basis, not when I know I’m going to be in ordinary situations and on level flooring where I’ve never had any problems in the past; but I can imagine several situations where it would be of tremendous help”
“For example” she continued “you know that patch of waste ground behind the shared house, with its piles of rubble all overgrown with weeds?”
“Ummm.... that’s what we call ‘the garden’,” I replied, rather ashamedly “but the trouble is, nobody seems to have enough free time to spare to look after it”. “That’s the sort of place I would normally avoid like the plague” Wendy said “as it would be asking to get a badly twisted ankle, trying to walk on the camouflaged hazards of such uneven ground. But I went out there wearing this AFO: and it was wonderful! I felt absolutely safe and secure, even when I couldn’t see what stones I was half-treading on. In fact, I spent a bit over an hour out there; I managed to pull up most of the weeds, and even found a few straggly flowers hidden underneath them”.
“That’s very good of you” I said “I hope someone will carry on looking after the garden now that you’ve made a start”. “I did try to drop a hint to that effect” Wendy replied “but nobody volunteered -- which is not surprising, considering the hectic life everybody there seems to lead! But they did say that I’d always be very welcome to come again to visit and stay for a few days any time I wanted, and ‘earn my keep’ by doing a bit more gardening!”

“I shall have to take that experimental AFO back next week” Jamie explained “as it’s only out on ‘field trials’ at the moment. But I’ve found a decent orthotist in Wendy’s home area; and even had a chance to chat to him over the phone -- he seems to be a very nice chap, and fully understands the situation. So if Wendy decides she does want an AFO like that, all she’ll have to do is to ask her own doctor to give her an ‘official’ introduction to him”.

Not long after that, the first of the guests for the weekend party started to arrive -- so now we had to sort out where everyone was going to stay.

Because Tania’s and Neil’s new house was completely wheelchair-friendly, Pauline and Olivia would be staying in their spare room; and Olivia’s boyfriend Steve was happy to take the couch downstairs.
The Carters had been unable to put Jamie and me up in their guest room for Tania’s wedding, as it had been needed for visiting relatives. The previous time Jamie had been down in the area, we were not yet married, and Mrs Carter had been uncomfortable about us sharing a room. So this time she insisted that we stayed in their guest room -- and I certainly didn’t intend to turn down that opportunity for a bit of luxury!
Walter was to sleep in Neil’s old bedroom; and Karen in the Pomeroy’s spare room.
Simon was staying at the Gregsons; that was a good idea, because now that Simon is so positive and confident in his legbraces, he is a good example and rôle model for Tim, much as Jamie had been a couple of weeks earlier.
That left two to go: Kathy and Flix decided to give up their own beds for Wendy and Crystal, and share the larger-than-average bed in Tania’s old bedroom.

The following morning, Walter went with Jamie in his van to go over to the Gregsons to collect Simon and Tim and Danny; and I drove my car over to the Pomeroys to collect Karen and Kathy and Flix.

While waiting for the other two to get ready, I noticed that Flix seemed rather quiet and thoughtful. “Did you sleep well last night?” I asked. “Ummm.... yes -- sort of” Flix replied unconvincingly. “Oh dear” I said “I hope Kathy didn’t keep stealing all the bedclothes -- or did she snore and keep you awake?” “Oh no, nothing like that” Flix replied “the trouble was ..... well, you see ..... it was after we were both undressed in bed . . . . . and it felt weird seeing Kathy with two hands”.
I must admit that was a point about which I had frequently felt concerned: Although Flix knows that Kathy is a hook-pretender, she only ever sees her with her hooks -- always appearing to be a bilateral amputee.
“Oh dear, I really am sorry about that” I said gently “I know you’ve always drawn inspiration from Kathy appearing to be even more disabled than you are; but it can’t have been very nice for you to be forcibly reminded of the fact that - actually - you’re the only one who is disabled”.
“Oh no, that wasn’t the problem” Flix tried to assure me “I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, nor jealous of Kathy for having two hands. It was just that -- how can I put it -- she just didn’t look right”.
“I did mention it to Kathy” Flix continued, now brightening up somewhat “And do you know what she said to me? Kathy said that she really wished she was a proper amputee like me, and didn’t have any hands, and could wear proper hooks all the time for real!”
At that point, I realised that I had been worrying about the wrong one of the two of them! I can see that I shall have to make a point of having a quiet word with Kathy, to make sure she isn’t planning to do anything silly or dangerous.

And then we all went to Tania’s and Neil’s all-day house-warming party.

All our friends wanted to know what we’d been up to on our honeymoons; and
the four of us wanted to know what they’d been up to while we’d been away!
So there was a lot of chattering and story-swapping.

When, at the end of the weekend, we took Wendy to the railway station to catch a train home, she was effusive with thanks. “I haven’t had to pretend to be anything, or to ‘keep up’ with anybody” Wendy said “I’ve been able to relax and just be myself”. And that - I believe - was because she had fitted in so well: She had enjoyed the new experience of the AFO allowing her to safely wear a shoe with both a high original heel and the six inches of extra build-up her left leg needed; and then when we were just sitting around indoors, she would take both shoes off, and not bother trying to use her short leg -- but just slide herself around when moving short distances, or hop, or borrow crutches and let her unshod little leg just dangle freely.

And then it was back to trying to settle down again to ordinary life.

However, I did make one visit to Aunt Emma at the earliest opportunity; she wanted to hear all about the honeymoon!

I have to remember to try and slow down when I’m with her; although she always says she loves to see me, and assures me that my visits brighten her otherwise rather uneventful life, I have noticed that she can get tired very easily -- which at her age is not surprising!
At my very first visit, she insisted that I was her guest, and declined all of my offers of help. At least nowadays she does allow me to be more helpful, and I’m very grateful for any opportunity to do any little household chores for her.
But I still find it difficult to slow down my pace of life to match hers!

After that, both Jamie and I got really stuck back in to the regular routine of life and work, and I didn’t get much opportunity to get up to any more little escapades for a while.


But then, towards the end of the year, I was invited to visit Tania and Neil again.
There had been a burst of enthusiasm in their local area to form an Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society; and that new venture was to join forces with the Youth Club that Danny and Tim went to, to put on a show together.

The attendance on the opening night had been very disappointing: basically it had been just the neighbours and immediate friends of the cast.
However, the audience included a reporter from the local newspaper; although he had only turned up because he had been given a free ticket, and there wasn’t anything worth watching on TV that night. He had been mightily impressed, and immediately wrote a rave review of the show! As a result, they had a full house for the last performance; all people who knew nothing about the cast and would never have otherwise bothered -- I only managed to get in because Tania had got me a ticket in advance!

I don’t know whether you’d call it a Pantomime, a Revue, or a Variety Show; it seemed to be a bit of everything.

The first half of the show was somewhat confusingly called “Peter Pan and the Pirates of Penzance”; it only drew loosely on some of the characters of the first and songs from the second -- but also seemed to have some additional characters who were nothing to do with either!
There was a ‘Captain Hook’ of course; played by Neil. He was wearing a cosmetic hand on his left stump, and a ‘pirate’ hook on his right; although that didn’t open like his usual split-hook prosthesis, Alan had modified the prosthesis to give him voluntary rotation of it: The ‘stage directions’ had been written so that he never had to use his left hand; but added some fascinating ‘business’ with his spinning right hook!
For the show, they had created the character of ‘Miss Hook’, Captain Hook’s daughter Buttercup (and it was interesting to note how long it took the audience to get that corny joke!) And she was played by Flix, also with a special rotating hook.
In the best panto tradition of a ‘principal boy’, Melanie was playing the part of ‘Frederic’, the young and dashing pirate apprentice . . . . strutting around on a wooden peg-leg!

They had also created a part for a mermaid -- played by Tania.
Her tail must have had some sort of springy rod inserted down its length, because she could jerk her hips and stumps to make the tail flap in a fascinatingly fish-like manner.
During the interval, I had a chance to have a closer read of the Programme to look for any of my friends that I hadn’t spotted yet; and noticed an entry under ‘Production Team’ saying ‘Make-up: Kathy Fisher’ -- and I remembered how impressed I had been watching Kathy apply make-up to herself with her hooks.

I also noticed a somewhat gaunt man with two or three cameras hanging round his neck. I wondered if he was the reporter; and -- well you know me for being forward and cheeky -- it wasn’t long before I’d introduced myself to him, discovered that he was indeed the writer of the favourable review, and that his name was Stan.
The second half was an abridged version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” -- you know, the one with Ebenezer Scrooge and the three Ghosts of Christmas.

Scrooge was played by Charles Pomeroy, Tania’s father. The very first time I had ever met him, he seemed very stiff and formal -- possibly due in part to withdrawing into himself over worry for Tania losing first one leg and then the second. But since then, with Neil and Tania and the Carters ‘working on him’, he had loosened up a lot and developed a cutting sense of humour. So he seemed to be playing Scrooge as a caricature of his former self -- and clearly thoroughly enjoying every moment of it!

Then there was ‘Bob Cratchit’, Scrooge’s overworked and underpaid clerk -- being played by Danny.
And you’ll remember that amongst Bob Cratchit’s children, the youngest was ‘Tiny Tim’, the little cripple boy; and he was played by Danny’s little brother Tim. In his free time, Jamie had specially made him some authentic period leg-irons; and he had been found some matching wooden crutches.
I shouldn’t keep referring to ‘little’ Tim all the time; he’s been growing up quite fast in the time I’ve known him -- and the process of accepting his disability has advanced his maturity. Nevertheless, he’s still quite small in stature; and when you consider how ‘cute’ he can appear even in ordinary circumstances, you can imagine that when he tries, he can present himself as a really cute little boy -- you should have heard everybody in the audience sighing ‘Awww!’ whenever he appeared on stage!
That last show was timed to finish quite early in the evening; the idea was that it would be followed by a sort of ‘Wine and cheese party’, where the audience could stay behind and meet the cast. This was intended to be a fund-raising event for the project: one of those parties where entrance is free, but you have to ‘pay’ a donation to get OUT!

Kathy rapidly appeared, spotted me, and joined me. “How did you like it?” she asked. “Wonderful!” I replied “I really enjoyed it”.
I introduced Stan, who was standing nearby at the time, and Kathy thanked him for his write-up which had brought so many people along.
“Didn’t you think those spinning hooks were clever?” Kathy asked me.
“I thought they were brilliant!” I replied “And I loved little Tim in his leg-irons!”
Stan gave us a slightly puzzled frown: “I must admit I thought those ‘special effects’ were very clever too” he said “But didn’t you two find it uncomfortable to watch, being disabled yourselves?”
“Oh no” Kathy assured him “All the cast are good friends of mine anyway”.
“And even though I’m not local” I added “I know most of them too. But I guess you don’t know any of the cast? When you get to see them, you’ll realise why there’s no reason for any disabled viewer to be the least bit ‘upset’ by all those on-stage props”.

At that stage, Stan hadn’t realised that Kathy had been part of the show, but assumed that she was a member of the audience and a friend of mine; and we all waited for the members of the cast to come out.

Tania was the first of the cast to appear; mainly because she hadn’t changed out of costume at all! She had put on a fleecy sweat-shirt over the skimpy bikini-top which had been her only ‘clothes’ on-stage; but was still wearing her mermaid’s tail, and came rolling smoothly out in her own wheelchair.

That clearly was a surprise for the audience to see her like that; and I don’t think they were quite sure what to make of it.

Flix was the next to appear. She had changed out of her costume into a short-sleeved party frock, and removed her ‘stage prop’ hook; but she was not wearing either her myo-electric hand nor split-hook prosthesis, but was letting her right forearm stump remain bare -- and she really did look completely natural like that.

Melanie had changed out of costume into a casual top and short skirt. She came striding confidently across wearing her latest orthosis/prosthesis combination: the calf-cuff of the upper orthosis was rather like mine; but Jamie had managed to reduce the bulk of the automatic-unlocking knee joint. It still made a faint click every time her paralysed knee moved into or out of the straight position; but Melanie says she prefers it that way. The struts below that joint went straight into the below-knee stump-socket; and the lower shank of her prosthesis was a shiny metal tube with a cantilever shock-absorber spring.

Poor Stan - just like everybody else in the audience -- was still gasping from the succession of surprises they’d seen so far..... and they weren’t finished yet!

Then we saw Neil’s head coming through the crowd: he had changed into casual clothes, but was still wearing his pirate’s cocked hat.
“I suppose the next thing you’ll tell me” Stan said to Kathy and me, thinking that he was making a joke “is that Captain Hook..... ummm, let’s see..... that’s Neil Carter..... actually does have a hook in real life?”
“Well..... that’s quite a good guess” I replied with a grin “But I can only give you five marks out of ten for it!”

In explaining himself, Neil was almost apologetic about the fact that they had not found a way of changing the character Captain Hook to have more than just one hook, and that he was sorry for the ‘deception’ of appearing with an artificial hand!
He then moved over to be by his new wife.

“I can believe you were in a hurry to get out and join everybody” Neil said to Tania “But they all know you played the Mermaid by now -- what’s the point in continuing to wear the fishes tail?”
“You’ve got a point” Tania replied “and I am now beginning to feel a bit hot inside it”.
“I wonder if I’m ‘decent’ underneath?” she continued, pulling up the elastic waist-band and peering in: “Oh yes, I’m wearing turquoise Lycra shorts underneath”. As she started to wriggle out of her mermaid’s tail, a number of people gathered round, as they had all been wondering how it was possible to hide two legs inside such a slim and curved fish tail -- they were all flabbergasted to discover that she didn’t actually have any legs!

Mr Pomeroy and Danny (Scrooge and Bob Cratchit) finally appeared.
Danny had changed out of costume into casual clothes; but was still wearing the brown bowler that that ‘Bob Cratchit’ had worn. With all his make-up and whiskers removed, Mr Pomeroy was not recognisable as ‘Scrooge’, although he was the tallest member of the cast.
He turned to Danny: “Ahhh, Bob Cratchit!” he said in his ‘stage voice’;  “And where is Tiny Tim?”
Of course, that was who everybody was waiting to see! On cue, out he came.

Tim was now wearing a clean white shirt and a red bow tie, and smart pair of grey flannel schoolboy shorts. The beaming smile on his face announced to the world “I’m a star!”, as he swung into the room on his modern forearm crutches and shiny new full-leg braces.

He crutched up to Mr Pomeroy and Danny, and grinned at his older brother; then continued on his way and swung over to Flix. He put his arms round her, and gave her a big hug and a shy little kiss; then turned his head towards me: “Were we good, or were we brilliant?” he cheekily asked.
“Dahhhlings” I gushed “you were wonderful!

As they separated from their embrace, I noticed that Tim put his hands on Flix’s shoulders and then slid them down her arms; and she gave an appreciative smile as the fingers of his left hand lingered on her right forearm stump. “Hmmm.....” I thought to myself “They’re both growing up a lot quicker than I’d given them credit for!”

During the previous few moments, I had noticed a large ruddy-faced man who had joined us; and who was now nudging Stan to take a photograph of Flix and Tim -- I had no idea who he was.

There had been a number of shocked silences earlier in the evening, with each new revelation to the unsuspecting audience; but now there was a big swell in the buzz of conversation, as they realised that none of the cast were the least bit perturbed by their various disabilities.

Now that all the cast were out, I turned back to the reporter.
“It was very good of you to write such a nice review” I said to Stan “but the trouble is, you’ll now have to write another short piece retracting all your praise about the realism of the hooks and peglegs; because none of them were acting at all!”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort!” the ruddy-faced man interrupted “You’ll write a full-page article -- no, make that a double-page centre-spread -- with as many photos and details of the cast as you can get”.
Although I know it was rude of me to contradict a stranger, I found myself saying: “Hey -- my comment was only a joke! You can’t go around dictating what a theatre critic writes -- what about the concept of ‘The Freedom of the Press’?”
“Doesn’t apply in this case” he replied with a smile “I’m the Editor of the paper; and for that matter, I own it too -- so whatever I say, goes!”

As Stan started (very willingly!) on this new assignment, I began to worry that Kathy might get left out. “Don’t forget about the backstage crew” I suggested “They worked hard on the production too! For example, did you realise that Kathy here was the make-up artist?”
Stan was interested in that; and Kathy and I pointed out the other members of the Production Team. “That’s Betty, who did the choreography; and Alan, who did the fancy hooks and peg-leg”. Alan and Betty had been standing modestly to one side, but were now drawn into the company. “Now I see the significance of ‘Special Effects: Alan Mullins’,” Stan said to him “And did you do the leg-irons for Tiny Tim too?”
“Oh no” Alan promptly admitted “That was Jamie Henderson”. “Is he here?” Stan asked, looking around. “No, he couldn’t get away” Alan replied “But I see you’ve already met his wife Josie”.
All of a sudden, Stan now wanted a photograph of me, as “Representing Jamie Henderson”. I tried to protest that it was nothing to do with me; but Alan and Betty and Kathy (and Mrs Pomeroy, who was down as ‘Costumes’) all insisted on including me in the photo.
Later on, Tania sent me a cutting of the article; and I’m very pleased to say that as a result of the fund-raising during the after-show party and subsequent interest in the newspaper report, the new Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society got off to a good start, and the Youth Club was able to afford some much-needed new equipment and amenities.

Written by John A


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