Snapped- My Achillies Tendon!!!
Snapped Achillies Tendon- first published in The Spectator 28th August
Picture the scene: We are filming the opening link for Great British Bake Off. Here am I in the woods, dressed in a lion suit. On the yellow brick road Paul Hollywood is the Tin Man, Sandi Toksvig the Scarecrow, and, guess what, Noel Fielding is Dorothy. I leap out, roaring. And as I leap, I feel a hammer blow to my ankle, and end up whimpering like the Cowardly Lion I’m portraying. I have snapped my Achilles tendon.
Danny the medic who has had nothing more exciting than bakers’ cut fingers to deal with for three years, finally gets to use his ambulance, wheelchair and considerable skills. He doses me with painkillers and sticks my foot in a bucket containing more ice than water. Soon the agony of that has wiped out any injury pain. An hour later I’m back in my lion suit, this time held up by Dorothy and the Tin Man, one on each side. We grin at the camera. “Welcome to the Great British Bake Off.”
I’m now in a Beckham boot, in a wheelchair or on crutches. Before I’d even got home, hubby John had bought me psychedelic sticks from Cool Crutches and a wheelchair (sadly standard black). The chair is wonderfully designed for the occupier, but hell for the carer. The handles are too low and John now has back ache and a dodgy hip. But I’m grateful to both crutches and wheelchair. They allow me to do absolutely nothing, while everyone fetches and carries around me. John invited twenty people to lunch at the weekend, I happily forgoed (forwent?) my usual cooking, tidying, flower-arranging and fussing with the placement. The (excellent) poached salmon and Salade Niçoise came from Roger the French fishmonger in Chipping Norton and everyone mucked in, while I queened it.
Booked a year ago to do a cookery demo and talk on a Riviera Cruise for Good Housekeeping readers, I could hardly welch. I’d rather hoped that hearing I was in a wheelchair they’d say “Sorry, impossible, stairs everywhere.’ But the reaction was. “No worries, we’re a modern ship, entirely accessible.” My experience of gigs on cruise ships is not great. The last one was described by my nearest and dearest as “a cross between an old-age home and a golf club you don’t want to join.” But this one was brilliant. Food ace, cabins comfy, passengers bright and sparky. There is something magical about cruising on the level with the water, the wide stretches of river dotted with swans, or with cows standing in the shallows to a background of green countryside — like a de Cuyp painting.
My demonstration was a huge success, no thanks to me. I sat on a stool while the ship’s young and handsome pastry-chef took over. This wasn’t my plan, which was for him to be my commis, passing me things and doing as told. But every time I said, “I just do this…” he’d say, “No, no, much better like this…” This applied to rolling pastry, slicing pears, apricot glazing. I realized pretty sharpish that I was on a loser, so I egged him on, and he did a great job. Not as good as I’d have done. I hope.
We are told you have to ‘walk in someone’s shoes’ to understand their predicament. Or sit in a wheelchair. I’d no idea how many pavements have a nice slope to the street on one corner but on the other side there’s a big step up – and there you are, stuck in the road. Or how often people park in front of the disabled access, or how some ‘accessible toilets’, like the one I used at Gatwick, are too small to turn a wheelchair in, the door opening inwards so you end up being rescued by a stranger responding to your banging the door with a crutch. In restaurants it’s worse, the loos almost always being upstairs, downstairs or too small.
Getting on a plane from ground level is interesting. At Edinburgh airport I was wheeled through the grim nether regions to be hoisted on a rickety platform in the open air. On arrival at Heathrow I made the drop in a vertically mobile lounge.
Back on location, I had supper in the hotel with my make-up stylist and friend, Bambi. Reluctant to leave a third of a bottle of wine and a whole bottle of fizzy water undrunk, we decided to take them back to our rooms. Making our way through a crowded bar, Bambi pushing, and me with a bottle in each hand, we heard the familiar “Oh, look, it’s the Bake-Off lady off the telly”. Immediately aware of the danger of my being papped or selfied in a bar in a wheelchair clutching two bottles, Bambi took off like a rocket, shouting ‘scuse me, scuse me” as we scattered drinkers left and right.