I WAS given a belated birthday present a few days ago, and I would like very much to give it back.
I had been for a run and done the exercises I normally do in a futile attempt to stave off my inevitable decline. If I live until 88 – which is unlikely, given my luck in all areas of life – I am now halfway there.
Consequently, I was feeling pretty fit, in the sense that I was exhausted and wanted to die but was not yet dead. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, what does not kill us makes us stronger, although it is possible he had never heard of polio.
In any case, exercise puts me in dire need of a shower, and after I had attended to this need I walked into my bedroom and bent slightly to pick up a towel from my bed. “Slightly” in this case would be roughly equivalent to a Jeremy Corbyn Cenotaph bow.
And I felt a gentle pop in my back, like a single cell in a sheet of bubble wrap. “This is not good”, I told myself. “Popping within the context of backs is more than likely a bad thing. Mind you, it doesn’t hurt, so perhaps it is just one of those things that happen from time to time.”
So I picked up the towel and stood up and immediately dropped to the floor as if I had been shot. “Ooyah!” I cried, like somebody from the Beano. I felt a juddering, shuddering cramp, the sort of pain I usually only feel when I have to type in the long number on the front of my cash card.
I was kneeling on the floor at the side of my bed and could not move without being in excruciating agony. “This really is a sub-optimal experience,” I thought.
“I might be stuck here forever and die of exposure in my post-shower towel-requiring state. And when, in a month or so, the coroner delivers his verdict on my death he will not be able to rule out the possibility I died in a bizarre auto-erotic experiment. This really is pants, which, ironically, I am unable to retrieve.”
I refused to die in such circumstances. I struggled to my feet, the pain in my back white-hot. If anybody had seen me they would have said that I was a brave soldier and also that I should put some clothes on because I was making them uncomfortable.
When I stood, the feeling ran from my back and down my legs. I walked the couple of steps to my wardrobe, each step as painful as if the floor were as hot as the tomato in a cheese toastie. I struggled into some clothes. It is difficult to explain how I managed to put my socks on without bending over or lifting my foot, and so I will avoid doing so.
But when I closed my front door on my way to work, and hobbled along the road to the bus stop I realised that for my 44th birthday I had been given the gift of lifetime membership of a not very exclusive club – The People Who Get Backache Club.
Obviously I have had backache before. I am not Superman. In many ways I am very much the opposite. But the point is that previously I have had to do something extreme to earn it.
For example, I have had to dive for a football (which I then missed) or move a bookcase from IKEA 20 miles away to my home using only public transport. My backaches have been the result of Herculean, heroic effort.
But this? Had I been asked to itemise the activities of my day and pick out the one which would floor me, I doubt strongly I would have pinpointed “picking up a bathtowel from my bed”. It is not even a particularly heavy bathtowel.
The solicitous among you will be on pins by now. You will be asking: “How are you, Gary? Has the pain abated, you massive moaning girl’s blouse?”
I am better, still a bit achey, and I am walking a little gingerly, but much better.
But I know now that almost anything can give me backache, and that is something I can no longer avoid. My age has become a pain in the neck. Which goes well with the pain in my back.