God, it’s a bore getting older: all those things you used to be able to do but can’t any more and will never be able to do again. Grow hair, for example (except in all the wrong places); recover quickly from hangovers; vault fences; climb high up trees without getting vertigo; be looked at with anything more than indifference or disgust by attractive young females; and so on.
But it’s not all bad. Sometimes you can buck the trend. A few months ago, my friend David Hearsey — who flew Halifax bombers in the war — emailed to tell me that he’d recently taken up flying again. How amazingly impressive is that in your late eighties/early nineties? Neither of the two things I’m about to tell you can compete with David’s magical recovery of his lost youth but they do, I think, in their teeny tiny way, offer a small glimmer of hope for those of us the wrong side of 40.
The first concerns my recent rediscovery of writing by hand. I’d virtually given up — and with very good reason. So crabbed and spavined had my writing grown that I was almost embarrassed to let anyone read it. It looked like a subliterate child’s. Also, I found the physical process of writing arduous and uncomfortable. All this I put down to lack of practice resulting from excessive keyboard use. But it wasn’t that, at all, I discovered — quite by accident — when I popped into a stationery shop to buy Boy a fountain pen for his new school.
On the spur of the moment I bought myself one too. It’s a Lamy — a brand which I don’t think existed in Britain when I was Boy’s age (in my day the big rivals, inspiring much marque snobbery and fanatical brand loyalty, were Sheaffer and Parker) — and I think it might be the best 15 quid I’ve ever spent. What I hadn’t realised, though of course it should have been bleeding obvious, is that the real reason my writing had gone downhill was that, pretty much since leaving university, I’d been using ballpoints and Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoints. These had a disastrous effect on my writing because they only worked if I held them at a stiff, awkward, near–vertical angle which impedes my flow.
As soon as I started using a fountain pen again, though, my handwriting returned in an instant. A miracle. I lost my sense of smell once, for about a month, and on regaining it I felt reborn. Getting my handwriting back was almost as wondrous — and all the more delightful for being so totally unexpected and for having been achieved with such minimal effort. So that’s my first life-saving tip — for those who don’t know this already: get a fountain pen!
The even better thing I wish to draw to your attention, though, is McTimoney. I shan’t go into the medical/technical details: just Google it. Suffice to say that it’s a form of chiropractic devised 50 years ago which involves manipulations so incredibly gentle that during your first treatment you might worry you’re being ripped off. Where are the clicks? Where are the crunches? Where’s the pain to show you it’s all working?
That’s certainly rather how I felt after my first session. I’d gone, pretty much as a last resort, to try to sort out the back trouble which has been plaguing me for years. I’ve done everything: sports physio, pilates, tai chi, acupuncture, message, osteopathy, orthotics…. The latter are these (bloody expensive) shaped insoles you have to wear in your shoe so as to support your arches and correct any gait and posture defects.
They do the job well enough but they’re a crutch, not a corrective. What this means is that you end up unable to live without them. If you play tennis you have to put them in your tennis shoes; when you go for a long walk you have to wear them in your walking shoes; when you pack for your holidays they’re one of those things you absolutely have to remember or else. It got to the stage where, if I didn’t wear my orthotics — or even if I went barefoot — for any length of time, I’d get knee pain and lower back agony.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, after a couple of McTimoney sessions my problems vanished — just like that. Apparently my hip had been so twisted that one side was about an inch and a half higher than the other. McTimoney had now corrected this, so I was free to throw away my orthotics and be normal again.
As a result my life has been transformed. For the past five or ten years I’ve had my shoe choices dictated not by what I might actually wish to wear, but by which kinds of shoe can comfortably accommodate a pair of orthotic inserts. This has meant, pretty much, trainers or nothing. But now I can wear leather lace-up shoes again. And loafers. And Birkenstocks. And, best of all, Chelsea boots.
God how I’ve longed to own a pair of Chelsea boots. But I honestly thought I’d never be able to. I’d resigned myself to spending the rest of my life as a semi-cripple, accepting my back trouble and those bloody orthotics and my limited footwear choices as just the kind of crap you have to get used to when you’re past a certain age. But I was wrong. There’s always hope. And as I’m sure my old mate David Hearsey would tell you — and he should know — never say die!
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 22 September 2012