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.


In which it's all in (or half in) the jeans

There is nothing worse than jeans shopping. 

All kinds of shopping have their own particular shortcomings, but nothing compares to the denim aerobics for pain, sweat or tears. Even rom-coms haven’t managed to glamourise jeans shopping; there is no joy in a day spent struggling in and out of one of the world’s least malleable fabrics in a climate best suited for growing tomatoes, punctuated at intervals by the need to staring at a mirror developing an almost academic knowledge of the contours of one’s own thighs. 

So awful is jeans shopping that I simply refused to do it for most of the noughties. Living year in, year out in weather-inappropriate skirts, my legs took on more sea breezes than a Wetherspoons hen do. 

But at least the mega flares of 2002 were quick to climb in and out of – things are worse now, because the advent of “boyfriend” and “mom” jeans means it’s no longer just a matter of fitting or not fitting. They can fit in the wrong way, and not-fit in the right way, and even once the zip’s up there’s a good chance you’ll be looking back at a geography teacher on a field trip rather than 1975 Felicity Kendal.

I need new jeans, because my only pair have a hole in them, and not in the trendy way. In the, “sorry vicar, you weren’t meant to see that” way. 

Were I a more practical person I’d have darned them, but as it was I just said “darn” and headed for the nearest denim merchant. Then the second nearest, then the third nearest, then took a deep breath, knocked back a whisky and headed for Westfield.

If you’ve never been to either of London’s Westfield shopping centres (and why would you, when Churchill Square is enough of a hassle?), they are like very shiny space cities that smell of sugared pretzels, designed to leave you dehydrated and sartorially confused.

“Who is still buying low-rise jeans please?” I wonder as I flick through the racks of 26-inch waists looking for the ones labelled ‘pie and chips’. “Is your belly button that claustrophobic?” Stretch is good. Stretch does up. But then stretch also means oddly velvety, and so clingy you can almost see veins. Hardwearing “authentic” jeans are also good, but they feel like the Tinman’s trousers and I can’t actually sit down. 

Sitting down soon becomes priority no.1. After four hours of enforced plies and zip workouts, my sciatica has flared up and it turns out there actually is something worse than jeans shopping. There is jeans shopping with a bad back. 

On second thoughts, I’ll have a go at darning that hole