I’ve not swum in the sea since I was 17. It was always a bit messy and awkward for me – all that bare flesh and wet sand sticking to the skin and too much sun and no shade and the crowds then being ill really put a stop to it completely.
One day this summer we decided to drive to Cannes. The car was full, hot and stuffy. There were four beach desperate children in the back and four adults squashed in the middle and in the front. But there was nowhere to park. We caught glimpses of the sea but the cars were parked nose to tail and the long slow congested line of cars coughed and spluttered there way passed the public beaches, then the private beaches and back to the public beaches.
Then suddenly Alex spotted a disabled parking bay and we made our way to it. It had an automatic bollard in the middle so we could not park. And Alex strode off looking for someone to help. He returned with a guy. I showed him my blue badge. And somewhere in our poor French and his minimal English we understood that the parking bay was reserved for disabled people who wanted to use the beach. And I understood what he meant was disabled people who wanted to get into the water. This was a handiplage.
I looked around at the four despairing children and realised the hopelessness of our situation. It was going to have to be this beach or we were going to have to give up on Cannes. So I made the ultimate sacrifice and told him I wanted to go into the sea. And so we parked.
It was a bit of a hassle working out the practical details but in the end I gave away my car key and wallet to someone. Folded away my glasses and gave them to someone else. Then in a changing room I took of my artificial legs and gave them to a complete stranger to look after. I borrowed Alex’s trunks. Transferred onto a wheelchair and was wheeled down a ramp to the sea. I took off my shirt. I put on a life jacket and holding Iona’s hand I was wheeled out into the sea. Shallow at first, waist, ribs, chest. And then he just tipped me out into the sea.
I lay on my back. I seemed to have let go of everything. So many burdens just lifted and drifted from me. I let the water carry me.
So there I was on the crowded beach at Cannes, where so many beautiful people sunbathed and swam. There I was without legs, white and over weight, swimming and free.