Thursday, 16 October 2014

The good body and dry stone walls.

So sorry I have been away. My body suddenly went into spasm and that was that.

I felt most inadequate. Where was my stoical spirit, my great buggering on? My father was endlessly breaking things and dislocating things and getting back into the saddle. My body, it seemed, was made of weaker stuff.

The pain, which appeared to have been ebbing, got the bit between its teeth and decided to make an attack on several flanks. It amused itself by wondering which part of the frame it would settle in. It tried the neck; ran up and down one leg; explored every inch of the back. At one point, I was unable to put on a pair of socks, which was absurdly dispiriting.

Bloody hell, I thought, furiously, it was just one slow fall onto soft turf. Actually, I think there must have been a twist, so that things got wrenched, as if nerves and muscles have been pulled slightly from their moorings and this soreness is the re-attaching process.

As I lay, immobilised, for two days, I thought about pain. I know quite a lot of people who live with it daily. My mother does, although she rarely speaks about it. My father did, towards the end of his life, his bent physical self exacting payment for all those racing falls. At HorseBack, I work with people who know its every mean strategy, and have to do battle with it in long sleepless nights.

It made me think about freedom, and privilege. People are writing a lot about privilege at the moment, mostly because of rising economic inequality. There is that terrifying statistic which is going the rounds, about the top 1% of Americans being richer than the next 3 billion world citizens combined. A rich person in the liberal West is probably the freest and most privileged person on the planet, and it is right that commentators get exercised about the awful gap. But I started to wonder whether privilege is being marked on the wrong scale.

What really counts is agency. Fine accoutrements only get you so far. If you live in pain, so acute that even the drugs don’t work, then all the traditional privileges count for nothing. Your good body becomes a trap and a snare.

As I slept and slept, trying to heal, coming back to the old, old wives’ notion that there is nothing a good night’s sleep cannot cure, I wondered what would happen if sleep would not cure. I looked, foggily, at the internet, with its flashing banner about that 1%. I thought of those very rich. I did not envy them. The person I thought of, the beau ideal who kept coming back to me, was a dry-stone-waller I met once whilst staying with the Beloved Cousin in the south. He was a gnarled old fellow, and walling had been in his family since memory began. He could create a thing of beauty out of that Cotswold stone, and he was teaching the art to his son, who was teaching it to his son. I saw the three generations at work one sunny morning, and it was such a delightful sight that I had to try and restrain myself from doing the lunatic grinning which can frighten people.

That man, I thought, as I tossed and turned, has the real privilege, in its best and truest sense. Forget your fancy schools or castles in Spain or fine wines; forget your contact lists and private jets to Davos and seats at the top table. That man, whose name will never be known outside his quiet part of the country, has a good body which works, so that he can create something of use and beauty in the world. I would almost guarantee that he is happier than all those 1% billionaires put together. He is who I want to be, still out in all weathers in advanced age, still physically strong, still of the earth.

The pain is fading now, so that I can think again, although my mind is still a little battered and fogged, and a veil of soreness hangs over me.

Spinach, I think, and soup, and all manner of green things, so the poor body can get back to fighting strength. I see people whose physical selves have been shot to pieces. They still prevail; they ride horses and climb mountains and do jobs and make jokes and brighten the world. They do not complain or give up, but they have to strive. The thing that so many people take for granted, that I sometimes take for granted, is a body which works without hurting, and that is the privilege which cannot be matched.


Have taken no pictures this week, but this person has been the best of good companions, and put all his lurcher-ish instincts on hold to sit and gaze sympathetically at my weakened self. Not a hint of reproach in his dear eyes:

16 Oct 1

And a kind friend stepped in to make sure that the red mare was beautifully looked after:

16 Oct 2

Just thinking, as I finish this, of another kind of privilege. It is being able to write, without thought: ‘a kind friend’. The other thing, apart from the 1%, which has been doing the rounds in the news is an apparent epidemic of loneliness. I’m always wary when people start leaping on these kind of bandwagons; there is often a lot of hyperbole and why oh why and not much empirical working. But there does seem to be some evidence for an increasingly atomised society. I think there are people who do not always have a kind friend, and certainly not one who will step into the breach at a moment’s notice. It is another gift.

Don’t take anything for granted, say the serious voices in my head. Not one single thing. Riches come not in bulging wallets, but in the good body and the human heart. 


  1. Lovely to see that your are back and healed. Pain is indeed a strange thing and whenever I suffer I often think of your Horseback veterans and wonder how they get through the day with the pain you have written about on their behalf. Stoicism I guess. I also think about the super-rich and wonder what on earth that is all about. We walked down a road locally referred to as 'Millionaire Boulevard' when we were in the States recently and tried to work out how on earth people had that much money that these beautiful, beachfront mansions were 'only' summer homes. Very curious. And where does that money come from??!! I show my naivety maybe. L x

  2. I'm so sorry you were in so much pain. Maybe see a doctor and/or a physio for your poor wrenched muscles? (I suspect we aren't as hardy as our elders.) I've had a couple of chronic pain episodes in my life, and all I wished for was for relief. Nothing else mattered! I Thank you for doing everything you do for the vets - they struggle with so much.

  3. Arnica -- internally in tiny "grains", externally with a salve -- available at the local pharmacy or health food shop -- is good for bruising.
    Bach Flower Rescue Remedy (drops), dissolved in water or dripped directly under the tongue, also helps with pain.

    XX Pat


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