Being a tall man certainly has its advantages: you can see over high fences; you can reach things in shops that would be out-of-reach to most mortals of average height (like jars of olives and dirty magazines); and you’ve got a ready-made moral right to claim aisle-seats in planes and cinemas.
But there’s a flip-side:
1) short people will ask you what the weather’s like up there almost every single day, and expect a big laugh each and every time (what they won’t expect is for you to smash them into the ground like tiny tent pegs, so do that);
2) in shops you’ll become a slave to little old ladies who can’t even reach the Bisto shelf unaided, much less the porn and olives;
3) thanks to your height people will automatically assume you’re a gifted basketball player, and then laugh when you leap in the direction of the hoop like a highly-effeminate trampolining Nazi;
4) and, finally, and perhaps most crucially, you’ll suffer such exquisite back-pain that even glamour models with big cannon-ball boobs that have been cosmetically-enhanced into the high alphabet will express deep and earnest sympathy for your plight.
I’m a tall man who sits behind a desk for a living and gets little opportunity for exercise. I’m also the son of a tall man who spent most of his adult life cursed with a bad back; plus I’m getting older, weaker, and generally creakier. I’m a chiropractor’s wet dream.
That being said, I’ve been pretty lucky only to have experienced intermittent pain and discomfort. Genetics and heredity being what they are, I could well have spent most of my life hunched over like a bell-ringer with a chronic self-abuse problem.
I may not experience back pain often, but when it comes – much like the bell-ringer – it comes hard. A few weeks ago I was showering before work when I felt a sharp, sudden, jolting pain in my back, like someone had thrown a harpoon down my spine. The pain moved up and down, and kept returning, so there were hints of boomerang in there, too. Let’s just split the difference and call it a ‘harpoonerang of agony’.
Because there’s no such thing as a moment to yourself in a house shared with children, my eldest son, Jack,happened to be on the pan poo-poo-ing at the same time as I was showering. This gave him literally the best seat in the house from which to view my torment. When I cried out in pain, he expressed sympathy in the only way he knows how: by laughing hysterically and cruelly mimicking my oyahs and back spasms. I usually play the clown at home, so in one respect I was being hoisted by my own petard (Tommy Cooper must have felt similarly miffed as he keeled over dead to a chorus of hoots and cheers), but, in another respect, my son’s clearly an irredeemable savage, and I’ll make sure he pays for this day’s sacrilege for the rest of his miserable fucking life.
As the pain intensified, my youngest son, Christopher – doubtless attracted by the siren call of his big brother’s cackles – waddled into the bathroom. He stood at the side of the bath with a big grin on his face and also began impersonating me, making ‘ooooo’ sounds in the manner of a mildly-amused monkey. I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, which sent a few more pellets of pain ricocheting up my spine.
I made it to the bedroom, walking like a lock-legged zombie, each pull of the towel across my wet skin more like a knifing than a drying. The pain became too much, and I lowered myself onto the bed, where I lay flop-backed like a capsized tortoise. Jack decided that the best way to alleviate my suffering would be to bounce up and down on the bed beside me and then jump down onto my stomach. All that was missing was a referee slapping the bed for the three-count. Christopher decided to sink his teeth into my nipple and clamp on with all his dental might, like an angry parrot. At least their mum didn’t make it the hat-trick by taking a 2X4 to my bollocks.
“What about your work?” my partner, Chelsea, asked, as I lay prone.
“Work? WORK? What about my ‘walk’? I can’t even stand, for Christ’s sake.”
She tried everything to get me back on my feet: berating me, telling me how pathetic I looked, making repeated references to how old I was. Nothing worked! Actually, flippancy aside, I know for a fact she used every tool at her disposal to help me up: I know because she put my socks on my feet.
Now, she hates feet in general, but she hates my feet more than a whole wheelbarrowful of disembodied leper feet. My feet repulse her. Even if they’re clean. Even if they’re freshly showered. Even if they’ve just been decontaminated with super-strong chemicals in a government laboratory, and then scrubbed and filed down to the bone, and then doused in turps and rubbing alcohol. Even then she’d rather die than massage them. She doesn’t even like looking at them.
What she did was love. Or pity. It’s one of them, certainly, and who cares which? It’s a win for me, and that’s the important thing. It gets better, though. Not only did she put my socks on my feet, but she gave me a back massage, too. The only thing missing was the offer of a bowl of hot Bisto, a tub of olives and half hour alone with my laptop, and it would’ve been my perfect day.
After close to forty minutes spent writhing on the bed, I managed to wriggle and struggle and roll and heave myself to my feet. I had to push my neck up and out, like a giraffe spoiling for a fight. I started to move in slow-motion, desperately avoiding any stretches or twinges that would send me back to the surface of the bed a half-crippled beetle of a man. I was feeling a little self-conscious, wondering if I looked a little bit silly, a fear quickly confirmed when Chelsea burst out laughing.
“I’m glad my incapacity amuses you so much,” I huffed.
“I’m sorry, it’s just… you look like you’re doing a moon-walk.”
She then imitated me, which made Jack laugh again, which made me laugh, and which, predictably, sent me back to the surface of the bed a half-crippled beetle of a man. Getting up the second time was easier, but no less painful. “I’m really not sure I should be going to work,” I said. “Look how long it’s taken me to stand up and put socks on. And I never even put the socks on myself.”
I peered down at my son, Jack, who was no longer mocking or laughing, but looking up at me with a heavy, mournful face, his eyes wet with the first faint shimmer of tears. That beautiful little soul. I’d thought him callous and unkind, a psychopath in training. And yet there he was, moved to tears by my predicament. My blessed boy. My little miracle. Suddenly, none of the pain mattered. My boy was unspeakably kind and compassionate, and if the agony of my mattress-based crucifixion had been necessary to coax that out of him, then so be it. It was a price worth paying.
Except that’s not why he was on the brink of tears.
He thought that if I stayed off work with my half-crippled back then he wouldn’t be able to go to the zoo with his grandpa.
I smiled and laughed, and then thought to myself…
‘I hope he inherits my big, long back…’