There are many lessons that we learn the hard way throughout our lives. I have found one of the most important is to never ever make the mistake of telling anyone you have a bad back.
Having suffered from a back complaint for 30 years, I now know not to mention it. If I do, I will inevitably be told a lengthy history of how someone has been "a martyr to their back" and then be urged to try all the varied and infallible cures that they swear by.
Maybe for the future we should establish some rules of engagement when discussing ailments. Firstly, never recommend some practitioner you know of whose claim to fame is that he fixed your granny's chronic back or got your dog to run faster. We are not greyhounds or horses and I, for one, don't want to queue along with dogs and donkeys outside some 'clinic' in the back-end of nowhere that houses someone who supposedly has 'the cure'.
Over the years I have actually tried them all but, unfortunately, none of them worked for me. There are people who are seventh sons of seventh sons and are no doubt gifted in some manner, but the fact that worms might die when placed on their palms cuts no ice with me or, indeed, with most of the medical profession. Similarly, people who remove their caps and murmur some prayer and/or incantation while asking you to turn around seven times may well have extraordinary curative powers but then so does a bottle of whiskey when taken liberally.
I have been to chiropractors, spinologists, reflexologists, osteopaths, physiotherapists, herbal masseurs, medical doctors, spin doctors, bone setters, acupuncturists, cranio-sacral therapists and even once spoke to a dodgy-looking guy who offered to massage my aura. I have had X-rays, cat scans, MRI scans, nerve injections, traction and have visited consultants who charmingly and kindly removed large sums of money from me while commiserating on the state of my spine.
One of the best was a surgeon who, many years ago, put me in a plaster cast from my neck to the base of my spine which had the virtue of totally immobilising me and, after six months, I was actually better. Well, for a few months until the next time I was dosing bullocks and the whole thing started again.
Another consultant in one of Ireland's most expensive clinics kindly told me that he could operate on my spine but would only promise a 50-50 chance of it being successful. The possible outcome was that I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I declined his offer and left, hundreds of pounds the poorer.
I recall my father, who also suffered from the same ailment, treating himself with some foul herbal liquid a cattle dealer friend from the west had recommended. I am sure it was totally useless but perhaps the awful taste helped him forget his back pain for a while. One of my childhood memories is of frequently assisting him out of the car on his return from some fair or other and slowly helping him upstairs to the bed where he lay for days until able to move again.
I am now sure he had worn discs (degenerative disc disease sounds more professional), as I have, and there was damn all anyone could do for him other than recommend rest.
He was, however, a firm believer in people with cures and once brought me to a local man who had the cure for warts. This man lived in a small council house and had 17 children, which I suppose was some sort of qualification -- but for what we won't go in to here. I still wonder where they all slept at night. There was also some mention of rubbing a slug on the warts at midnight during a full moon and then impaling the same unfortunate slug on a thorn. The theory was that as the slug decomposed the warts would as well. The warts eventually went away but they usually do so it didn't prove a lot.
These days, I no longer dose bullocks, chop logs, lift weights or handle sheep, horses or anything relatively heavy that might move quickly.
When the back goes I find the best cure is to quickly swallow some muscle relaxants and painkillers, rest a bit and then endure some robust help from my physiotherapist. In her waiting room there is a sign that says: "If God had meant me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees". Wise words indeed.