On backs and the future

Like all hypochondriacs, I love a diagnosis. In the wilderness of unexplained symptoms and physiological vagaries, there’s nothing better than a good, solid ailment to hang your hat on. “I HAVE THIS,” you can declare, and nobody is allowed to argue or tell you that you don’t look ill enough, or that you probably just need a multivitamin and a hobby.

Which is why finding out I have a slipped disc was an odd sort of relief. I’m so used to the sort of medical complaints that doctors pull sceptical faces at – weird headaches that come and go like Harry Potter’s scar pain, indigestion caused by all foods except biscuits, a fear of consumption that’s been reoccurring ever since I first saw Moulin Rouge – that being diagnosed with a real condition felt almost like a victory.

It’s only ‘slightly slipped’ and doesn’t need surgery, a fact my stone-faced GP was keen to stress while glancing down at my heeled ankle boots. But I was already mind-shopping for a quilted bed jacket by this point, and mentally listing all the activities it could get me out of. Camping. Sit-ins. Theme parks. Queuing all night for tickets for something. SLIPPED DISC SAYS ‘NO’.

Exploiting my invalid status is only small compensation for the pain, it must be said. It has ruined my favourite activity, which is lounging. I can no longer slump or recline in languid positions on the sofa, just sit bolt upright or lie down flat. Reading a book and watching telly are both significantly less fun now that I have to do them in the posture of the Dowager Countess, and I must try to make ‘taking a brisk turn abut the block’ my new favourite activity instead.

There’s also something particularly sad about the first ailment you get that can’t just be cured or waited out but has to be ‘managed’. At the creaky age of 26, I’m facing the fact that I’ll probably just be a person with a slightly dodgy back forever. It’s a new one for my collection of ageing disappointments, alongside never being described as a ‘wunderkind’ (maximum age: 24, I reckon) and never having successfully worn cut-off denim shorts. This is my lot in life.

Even the term ‘slipped disc’ sounds archaic, because I keep picturing it as a floppy disc that’s been awkwardly ejected from my spine. So I’ll take the excuses and the sympathetic sighs for now, but when I can upgrade to a back complaint for the digital age, let me know.


Bet you feel old now?

There’s a trend on the internet at the moment (I know you love it when I start columns with the words, ‘there’s a trend on the internet at the moment’) that involves flagging up the amount of time that has passed since stuff happened. It’s done not as helpful practice for pub quizgoers, but with the aim of making us all feel old. 

Friends is 20 this year! It’s been a decade since Bennifer split up! The kids from The Cosby Show are all octogenarians now! DON’T YOU FEEL DECREPIT? And then we take a misty-eyed moment to reminisce about what we were doing or wearing or eating at the time the particular stuff happened, and reflect on the way time has been relentlessly marching onward again - as time, the crafty beggar, is wont to do. 

Much as everyone loves a dose of “weren’t the 90s HILAIRIOUS?” with our morning cornflakes (or Lucky Charms if you’re really invested), the “bet you feel old” trend is a smug one because it’s aimed at people who have no pretty much no right feeling old at all. In fact, the less time you’ve been on the planet, the more likely you are to see the 12 years that have passed since Girls Aloud won Popstars: the Rivals as a significant chunk of time worth gawping over. 

Today’s choice piece of the nostalgia pie was: Buffy the Vampire Slayer started 17 years ago! I’ll admit this one took me back slightly - not at how old I am (I’m well aware of this, I recently bought a posture cushion to help with lower back pain), but at how old I was when I first watched it. 

Nine. I was nine. The same year I did my tea-stained topic book on The Romans, I was also watching Sarah Michelle Gellar drive a stake through a vampire’s heart without ruffling her pre-millennial up-do. Probably with one finger on the remote and an eye on the door at all times, of course. 

I’m not even sure I’d persuaded my parents to let me watch Friends by that point – brimming over as it was with the corrupting influences of caffeine, ugly naked people and improper grammar. I don’t feel old, more impressed at how much popular culture I had managed to consume before I was out of frilly ankle socks.

It seems to me there are two ways to counteract the trope. One is to focus instead on how surprisingly young people and things are. DID YOU KNOW Richard Wilson was only actually 54 when One Foot in the Grave started? CAN YOU BELIEVE it’s been a mere year and seven months since the London 2012 Olympics? It feels like CENTURIES AGO! Doesn’t time trundle by at leisure?

And the other is to simply claim not to remember things at all. “Buffy… was she the cartoon rabbit?” I will say, clutching my lower back for effect. Then the internet will leave me alone.