If you could see the email thread that led to the publication of this guest blog, you’d think I had a fetish for Marks and Spencer. I don’t, though – honest. What I do have a thing for, though, is subtle public affection. Those snatched moments when you touch each other, or snog, or run a hand up under your partner’s clothes when you think that no one’s watching. So this guest blog, by Desire on Wheels, naturally presses a hell of a lot of my buttons. What’s more, it’s an insight into disability and sexuality that taught me more than I ever thought I’d know about early 20th century botanical gardens.
You’ll see what I mean.
Guest blog: Reclaiming my wheelchair through sexy lift snogs
Wheelchairs are funny things. It’s a big step when you first start using one, and nobody likes it. My first trip out in a wheelchair did not exactly fill me with joy. A friend had taken me to the supermarket, and I was trying to get used to the general weirdness, being at child height and everything whizzing past before I could see it properly, the mixture of frosty glares and pitying glances. Then I saw a guy I knew from a university society, one of those chaps who put the “lech” into “lecturer”. When last seen, he had been trying to get me into bed. This time he spotted me at the other end of the pasta aisle, stared in horror, put down his shopping and bolted. I promptly burst into tears.
After that, the wheelchair generally stayed in the cupboard unless a support worker was taking me for a hospital trip. I hated it. One friend calls hers “the pram”, and you do feel reduced to infancy in it, the way people treat you. I used a walking stick for short distances, a taxi when I could afford it, and stayed home when neither were an option. For some years I was in a relationship with a man who flatly refused to be seen with me in my wheelchair, pretending he couldn’t hear anything I said if he was pushing it. Then he’d moan because we weren’t getting out much as a couple. That really knocked my confidence. In theory, I knew, a wheelchair was a tool for doing more with your life, but it just didn’t feel like it. Even a friend’s cheerful observation that you get a great view of people’s bums from wheelchair height didn’t win me over.
When I met my current partner, I discovered to my delight that he was raring to go. In terms of taking me out in the wheelchair, I mean, though that too. It turns out that you can have perfectly good conversations with the person pushing your wheelchair, busy streets and dodgy pavement conditions permitting. So we started going out by wheelchair, and I started feeling less self-conscious about it, learning to reclaim it. Would this scarf, I wondered, make people less likely to reply to my partner instead of me when I’d asked them a question? It was a happy day when I realised that the big stickers saying INVACARE were removable.
The first wheelchair trip I really enjoyed was when we went clothes shopping together. It was a few months after getting together, and we were still very much working wheelchairs out. How to get it down a steep curb without tipping me out (this did happen once, but the step outside that Polish deli is ridiculous), how to wiggle round a tight corner while simultaneously holding the other pub door open, and most of all, how to touch each other. We’re the sort of couple who touch each other casually all the time, and for shorter distances with the walking stick we’d be holding hands, so this enforced distance was just strange. The metal frame of a wheelchair gets between you and other people, and especially between you and the person pushing it. Plus I get chilly easily, so I’m usually wearing an extra layer or four more than everyone else. We found that he can brush a light kiss on the top of my head while barely breaking his stride, and that waiting for the lights to change is the ideal time for him to slip a hand down from the pushing handle onto my shoulder, and for me to take his hand in my gloved one and kiss it swiftly before we cross the road.
The really fun part turned out to be lifts. You can’t just hop on an escalator to get to Womenswear, Second Floor. You have to track down a member of staff, who directs you to a tiny lift in an out-of-the-way corner of the shop. No one else was ever around. There would just be space for him to stand behind my wheelchair, so I would tip my head back, he would lean over me, and we would kiss until we felt the jolt of the lift stopping again. You can’t do much like that, just lips touching and perhaps hands on faces, trying not to let the wheelchair run away if we were too intent on kissing to remember to put the brakes on. There’s something delicious about being limited in that way, with your throat exposed and no idea whether someone’s watching disapprovingly on a security camera.
By the time we got as far as the actual clothes, we were giggly and not paying much attention. We’d save them all up, no point climbing out of all those layers I had on too often, and then do a modelling stint in a dressing room. Mostly this was accompanied by remarks from me like, “See, this so-called 10 is way bigger than the size 16 shirt I tried on in H&M!” but his eyes were gleaming and he wasn’t really listening anyway. All that undressing and redressing had my mind on other matters too. He later confessed, “I was lusting after you in Marks & Sparks.” I put on another show with the clothes when we got home, and this time the really interesting part was taking them off.
Another lovely trip was to a botanic gardens we visited a year later, in late autumn when it wasn’t too busy. He was pretty nifty with the wheelchair by now, and the place had good accessibility. According to the regulations for the gardens, written in the twenties and clearly not updated much, we would have been required to seek “written permission from the Trustees” if using “any vehicle other than an electric or hand or foot propelled invalid carriage”. Right then. After admiring various lawns and herbaceous borders and bridges, we found what we were really craving: a little secluded path. He managed to get the wheelchair onto it through some deft angling, then I was out of the wheelchair and we were lying on the grass, kissing and running our hands over each other, next to the small plants neatly labelled in Latin. Again the layers of clothing limited what we could reach, but they provided a screen too, and it was all the more fun working our hands under coats and sweaters and shirts until they reached flesh. The regulations also enjoined us not to “behave or be clothed in any manner reasonably likely to offend against public decency”. We could hardly have made a swift getaway if we’d been caught, but hey, they are also down on sailing model boats, so I doubt they would have fussed much. Between kisses we lay back and looked up at the clear sky, the cold air smelling of earth and herbs, and felt happy and lovey-dovey. After we’d toured the parks we tried out the electric scooters they’ll lend you, giving me a chance to show just how little I know about driving, though I didn’t quite knock anything over. Then we went to the shop selling various bits of overpriced tat and bought a small plant as a memento. It’s a pale bluish-green with narrow, tongue-shaped leaves, and it’s thriving nicely.