Without a word of warning, my back seizes up and goes into spasm. It is as if a furious giant has put his hand around my pelvis and is squeezing. Everything that was easy and free is now tight and crushed.
I had forgotten about this. I put my back out once every ten years and then I forget, like my mother always said one forgot about the pain of childbirth until it was too late. The last time I was with my sister and she made me drink vodka for three days which did, I must admit, work quite well. We had to do emergency measures because I was on the island of Colonsay and at one point I could not drive, so the journey home was starting to look perilous.
I think: yes, I remember now. This is what this country looks like. I think of all the Ordinary Decent Britons, with their backs. Back pain is practically the most common ailment in this country. Millions of people have it. How is the populace walking about the streets, taking the underground railway and complaining about the weather without shouting out loud? Because it is shouty pain. It lies like a tiger in its lair. If you are in a certain position, it is not actual agony, just a horrid, lurking tightness, waiting to pounce. You move an inch and then – it springs. And you go, if you are me: AH, AH, AH, AH. (I am not having a butch day.)
Everything takes hours. Everything is a strategy. I can get my sock on if I go on all fours like this, and then roll over like this, and then reach down like.....AH AH AH AH. It took me an hour to get dressed this morning. This is very humbling and good for character-building. I thought of all the people who live in constant pain. But it’s a fucking bore. I can’t drive, I can’t feed the horses, I can barely type this, because I have to keep levering myself up and walking round the house or I seize up and am frozen in place and may never move again. I can walk, thank goodness, and go at funereal pace to take the dogs out. How do the back people do it?
I feel very peculiar and entirely battered. All the things I take for granted, I think, ruefully. I pretend that I don’t take things for granted. I pretend that I do think about the people who can’t put on their socks. I sort of do, but not, I realise now, in any meaningful way. Not like this.
I thought I would be riding horses into my old age. What if this is a portent? My father had to stop riding in his sixties, when all the broken bones caught up with him. He was never quite the same again. He did not yelp and exclaim about his love for thoroughbreds like I do, but he loved them, all the same. They had been with him for so long. I saw him weep once, for a brave steeplechaser, as if that horse had been a child. I think those mornings riding out two lots set him right for the day just as my red mare sets me right. Once you’ve been on a thoroughbred, nothing else will do. They combine all the greatest elements of the equine pantheon: speed, power, kindness, athleticism, lightness, strength. They are brave, with fine, fighting hearts. Once you’ve sat on all that power and glory, walking on your own puny human feet is very dull work.
I squint and pull myself together. It’s just a thing. It will pass. I was stupidly hefting hay bales as if I were a teenager instead of a woman of fifty, and I must have wrenched something without knowing it. I’ll be more careful in future. My poor body will surely mend itself. Won’t it? But oh, oh, I do think of the back people. And I marvel at their stoicism and their ability to go on.