Harriet Walker: I've ended up living like a deposed Royal


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The Independent Online

My life so far in a plaster cast reminds me of Sue Townsend's brilliant The Queen and I, a superb work of comic genius in which the Royal family are booted out of Buckingham Palace to live on a council estate by the newly elected Republican party.

I read it and re-read it thousands of times when I was about 12, delighting in these feudal fish out of water. Prince Philip does not adapt well to the change, while Charles and Anne muck in and get on with it; the Queen herself ponders the irony of posting coins with her own face on into an electric meter that her pension won't stretch to three times a day.

My immobility since I broke my leg is entirely foreign to me; it makes even the most mundane things seem terrifyingly difficult and full of endless exertion and potential peril. It's akin to the turmoil experienced by Townsend's Royals: they are angry, frustrated, disbelieving and then finally, righteously, improvingly and constructively pooped by the upheaval. Apart from Philip, who takes to his bed and shouts expletives once in a while.

I've felt like doing that myself from time to time. When I wake up in the morning, faced with the momentous effort of getting out of bed and going upstairs to the sitting-room (I am living in a topsy-turvy flat at the moment), it all feels a bit much. But having tested a few days of stagnating in bed, getting more and more hungry and feeling less and less human, I have decided that five minutes' panting and sweating to get up the 10-stair flight is worth it, simply for the feeling of having rejoined civilisation at the end of it.

At the summit, I bow to the raptures of an invisible audience on the edge of their seats throughout the wobbling, staggery progress. "Will she bash her broken leg on the skirting board two stairs from the top this time?" they wonder. "Will she start crying halfway up? Will her trousers fall down?" (You'd be surprised how often this has happened – it's the gravitational effect of hopping while wearing an elasticated waistband.) When my boyfriend is around, he hauls me up the final three steps like a child carrying home an enormous cuddly toy from the fair, but when I do it on my own, it's the biggest sense of achievement since the time I put together a flat-pack chest of drawers, made scones and cycled 15 miles in one day.

My situation is, I suppose, the opposite of a deposed Royal in some ways – I have had to get used to having most things done for me, rather than becoming accustomed to fending for myself. I'm an emigré of sorts, from the life I normally inhabit. No more rushing around, no more public transport, certainly no more bars or clubs or dancing in heels. No more skinny jeans, no more showers, no more shopping. And no more stairs.

If this all sounds a little overblown, perhaps it is. I will be able to put weight on my left leg again in a month's time; this injury is not permanent, nor is it particularly serious in the great scheme of things. But I haver between this rationale and simply thinking that this is the worst thing in the world that could have happened to me. I eat crisps and cupcakes on the sofa watching daytime TV with big wibbly tears plopping on to the remote, wondering whether I will ever be normal again and thinking of all the Christmas parties my friends are going to. I promised myself I'd finally finish Spenser's "The Faerie Queene", but I haven't quite got round to it.

The overwhelming feeling, though, is one of infinite possibility: it's only when something stops working that you realise its colossal capacity for doing things that you never bothered trying.

Perhaps I'll take up running or ballet or rock-climbing. Never again will I hurl myself down the stairs to the Tube without marvelling at the fact that I can do so, or carry a tray of slopping, full mugs of tea without doing a little tap dance to celebrate my inordinate powers of equilibrium. Never will I huff again at slowcoaches and amblers – actually, yes, I will, because I'll be even more aware of the fact they are not using their legs properly.

Anyway, I'm not going to complain any more. I should luxuriate in the fact that all my cooking and laundry is done for me, that someone else will put my trousers on for me – that there is, in fact, someone willing to cook and clean and dress me.

I spend my time thinking how best I can say thank you to all these helpers when I'm back on my feet again: by cleaning their houses from top to bottom, by laundering everything they hold dear, by trussing them together in an enormous pair of jogging bottoms and giving them a big, snotty hug. I'll probably just end up inviting them round to get squiffy with me at lightning speed on the cheap, given my newly reduced tolerance to alcohol.