…Of Flesh and Bone

selective focus photo of bunch of bananas on black surface
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The only time that I am capable of rapid movement during the late evening/early morning bed-ridden twilight zone is when cramp’s vice-like grip has taken hold of my calf. At that point I can fall out of bed with the best of them. Not even the soft ‘clunk’ of head on wall can distract me from the frenzied lower-leg massage, as I attempt to coax the startled rigidity from my toes.

Somebody has done something to the floor: it is very easy to reach, but almost impossible to get back up from. I find that I am unable to rise without emitting the kind of ‘grunt’ that is usually employed by a mating hippo.

I have grown used to aching. When I get out of bed in the morning, when I get out of the car, everything that has spent any time hypotenusal takes an age to straighten out and complains about every single degree of it. Unmoved muscle and bone becomes locked within seconds of inertia. Old age squirts some kind of superglue into every sagging joint. Whatever does not bend, locks. Whatever does bend subsequently takes four times longer to straighten.

I have learned not to involve my knees in the morning totter to the shower. They do not bend until they have had a good few minutes of warm water sprayed across them. In the morning I cross the landing to the bathroom like a man on stilts; like the half-awake obese lead in some terrible geriatric ‘Swan Lake’. I teeter across the ‘stage’, knees unbending, calves tightened to just this side of flaccid, groping, arms outstretched, searching for the light switch, zeroed-in on the loo like some ancient full-bladdered Exocet missile. I enter the shower thus; unbending, zombie-like, but emerge some minutes later in a state much closer to human, albeit of the seriously past-it variety. Everything that has not stiffened has sagged.

I played football until my mid-fifties and my knees have decided that enough is enough. Unfortunately, the only way they are able to dissuade me from donning the football kit, even at my age, is by seizing up and aching with the intensity of a rotten tooth. This they do daily, just in case.

And if my knees are enticed back to some kind of flexibility by the morning shower, then all of that good work is overturned by the morning commute. Anything in excess of fifteen minutes in a car seems to encourage my body into a state not unlike pre-death rigor. When I ease myself out of the seat, I do so with my vertebra seemingly fused in the sitting position. I lever myself from the vehicle in much the same way as one releases the bent fork from the back of a drawer, and I limp away into the distance, gradually straightening with each painful step, until I reach my full height, seconds before my ankle ‘gives way’.

Yet somehow, between fast ageing hip and failing knee I retain a thigh that is tight as a whip and can only be described as ‘muscular’. My thighs are not pretty, but they are substantial and they remain powerful. Below the decrepit hinges that adjoin my upper and lower limb sections are the kind of calves that could support a Blue Whale should it ever decide to return to land. They are, mind you, also the kind of calves that mean that I have never been able to wear ‘skinny’ jeans. Some years ago, I had a fitness instructor who, whenever he was leading us in leg-strengthening exercises, would look at my pins and say, with an airy wave of the hand, ‘Just go over there and do something with your arms – I’m not wasting my time on them.’

My arms, on the other hand, are nothing to write home about. Although my elbows remain in fine fettle, the muscles above them are not particularly well-toned. I have seldom done more with them than write and, although the pen is mightier than the sword, it is substantially less heavy. Not that this lack of muscularity stops them from aching completely. The only good thing is that, as there is less development in my arms than my legs, they ache far less often. (Probably why I seldom suffer from headaches.)

All in all, I suppose that aching is the one thing at which I have got better over the years. I ache more often, I ache for longer, I ache with greater vigour and, if I’m honest, I’m very happy about that because, at some indeterminate point in the future, I will cease to ache – and a life without pain is no life at all…

The older you get, the better you get – unless you’re a banana – Ross Noble