I’m finally embracing my Voltarol Years – and the prospect of Death
THE OTHER day, disgusted with myself after a weekend of sinking lager beers in the garden, I forced myself out for a punishment run in the late summer heat.
I cajoled the legs into completing a slow 10k and felt better. Less trashed, that is.
For the rest of the day, I sat working at the computer. But, by knocking-off time, found I’d seized up, tighter than a Tory’s tear duct.
After shutting down my screen, I tried to limbo under the low-ish desk, and flick off the socket switch with my toe.
My upper back, hip and adductor muscles all yelped, and I thought about the stash of Voltarol gel that my father-in-law – an 87-year-old ex-doctor – had left with us on his last visit, now that it interferes with his meds and he can’t use it any more.
I’ve always told myself that, if I had to rely on medicines to run, I was too old to be running”
For months, I’d left the little pyramid of boxes gathering dust on the chest of drawers – because I’ve always told myself that, if I had to rely on medicines and creams to run, then I was too old to be running.
I swore I’d never be like the Sad Dad in the old advert, who had to resort to pharmaceuticals to play a bit of football in the back garden with his kids.
But, of course, that was when I was a very young man. Mid-forties, at the most.
Back then, I used to like the post-run ache, because it was more of a steady, tender, reminder that I’d been good: a nice awareness of the muscles I’d worked on, a Get Out Of Jail Free card if I fancied a beer…
But in recent years, although the pain has got worse, I’ve stubbornly refused to break my own silly rule and reach for the Deep Heat or the ‘fens. I’ve just tried to ignore the discomfort – even though it’s spread to my hips, knees and lower back.
I’ve struggled to ignore the glass knees, the back pain, neck and shoulder muscles tight as spankers”
Yoga helped for a while, but that’s gone off my radar since Covid.
So for the past six months, I’ve struggled to suck it up: the glass knees, the back pain exacerbated by five decades of poor posture, neck and shoulder muscles tight as spankers* filled by a Force Seven.
These days, I go clunk-click after every trip.
Anyway, work done, I went and sat on a garden lounger to read Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher writing about how it’s important to accept death in order to have a meaningful life.
“All anxiety; all dissatisfaction, all the reasons for hoping that our experience could be different are rooted in our fear of death,” Chodron wrote.
“… life is like getting into a boat that’s just about to sail out to sea and sink. But it’s very hard – no matter how much we hear about it – to believe in our own death.”
I promised myself that I’d try to get my head around the idea, but not now: the sun was too low to sit outside any longer.
I realised it was OK to give up. It was time now”
As I started to get up, I realised that I’d slumped right down on the lounger – into the same limbo-esque pose I’d attempted while stretching under the desk earlier – and that my core and back muscles didn’t have what it takes to get me upright.
Instead, I had to flip inelegantly onto my side, like a beetle being prodded with a colossal but invisible pencil, and then push myself up with my arms. My body issued complaints from all corners, like an outraged House of Commons, paper-darting order papers at the Prime Minister’s head before a resounding No Confidence vote.
Then, painfully regaining the vertical plane, I had a glorious vision of basting myself all over in Grandpa’s milky-white Voltarol, with a presentiment of the fabulous relief it would bring….and realised that it was OK to give up: I’d resisted it as long as I could and it was time now, it really was.
And right after that thought, I knew it wasn’t just Voltarol that I was running towards, but the idea of Death. Right at that moment, toiling out of my chair in the late, lowering sun, it really did feel just that bit nearer.
* Spanker/spinnaker = my all-time favourite boat sail.