Stepping up to springPosted: March 18, 2012
JOIN ME IN A GREAT ADVENTURE. On Wednesday I braved the steep track behind my house and walked up onto the Downs.
Early last year, rain or shine, I was walking there almost every day; three miles, five miles, now and then ten or more. Then the implacable forces of Wear and Tear opened hostilities. Little by little the occasional twinges that I had erroneously supposed to be the legacy of old skiing incompetence became my almost constant companions, at first merely unwelcome, then troublesome, intimidating, so that less demanding excursions became my exercise default mode.
Then came the X-ray report: ‘…marked loss of disc height, prominent anterior marginal osteophytes and facet joint sclerosis most severe at the lower three lumbar levels’…. Paget’s syndrome … luceny and coarsening of the trabecular pattern in the right hemipelvis ….thickening of the illiopectal line.
You might be forgiven for thinking that such a diagnosis would be enough not only to stop a man laughing in church but to deter him from ever again so much as twiddling his toes. Here in Sussex we are made of sterner stuff. What it did, nevertheless, was to limit my walks to the Seaford promenade where there are benches which, though not specifically reserved for the victims of prominent anterior osteophytes or thickening of the illiopectal line, might fairly be described as what the doctor ordered, and for dodgy facet joints a comfort beyond price.
All my adult life I have striven to make the most of my modest five feet seven and a half inches (taller than Napoleon and Genghis Khan) and at this advanced stage to suffer a marked loss of disc height was a cruel psychological setback. Facet joint sclerosis at the lumbar levels was nothing short of a blow below the belt. Gritting the teeth, muttering the sort of mantras that made the British Empire great (Bear through life like a torch in flame —Play up! play up! and play the game!), I have risen above the indisputable and carried on. There are countless conditions graver than luceny and coarsening of the trabecular pattern, and millions are obliged to endure them. “The great affair is to move”, said Robert Louis Stevenson, and every day I thank whatever gods there be that move I can. Also, although the Seaford waterfront may offer no competition to your Costa Brava or your Côte d’Azur, to be within a pebble’s throw of the English Channel and the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry is boundlessly uplifting; the lungs filled with the smogless air, the head with wishful fantasies born of Stevenson’s Vagabond and Housman’s blue remembered hills. But I have sorely missed the Downs.
Wednesday dawned with only the smoke stack of the eco-friendly Newhaven incinerator belching picturesquely above the mist in the valley. A cloudless sky and a mounting temperature were evidently to come. Greatly daring, before high noon I had broken the bonds of prudence and Bonningstedt Promenade and was on my way up the hill.
How tentatively I went to begin with; how tenderly testing the anterior osteophytes and the facet joints. Oh, the blessing of my walking poles. But what a reward was there. How reassuring to be able to climb the padlocked 5-bar gate with a hey nonny nonny and scarcely an admonitory twinge. How good to have the old chalk grassland instead of the County Council’s concrete underfoot. How pleasing to rest the hemipelvis upon familiar stiles and lift ambitious eyes beyond the immediate goal of Page’s New Barn (built in the year that Victoria ascended the throne) to the far ridge overlooking the Weald.
There was no obvious swelling of ash or hawthorn buds, none but winter colour in the landscape, no thickening in the woods; but in the rookery was a noisy congregation of birds at last year’s nests. The hedgerows were still bare except for the bright gold of lichen on the blackthorn, yet wild plum blossom, white as new snow, confirmed beyond a doubt that another spring had arrived.