I am lying face down on a padded table.
Someone is about to cause me great pain.
I am likely to a) howl and b) swear. Let’s hope the chiropractor’s heard it all before.
It’s Wednesday. My back went on Tuesday.
Why am I subjecting myself to pain and suffering instead of lying on the floor at home with a packet of frozen peas strapped to my lower back?
Because it’s serious. And it has to be fixed by Saturday.
Rewind two weeks. Tom, the world’s leading exponent of the one word text, sends me a message with several words in it.
I’m stunned. I have to sit down.
“There is a formal dinner on Sat 22nd. Booked for you and Mum. Look forward to seeing you.”
Weakly I hand my phone to Jane. “That’s lovely,” she says. “Now all you have to do is get over your flu.”
True enough. But that’ll be gone by Saturday. A formal dinner – at a Cambridge college founded in 1584. Five hundred years of scholarship. The finest minds in the country. Tom in his university gown. Blimey! There’s a thought.
“Tom, thank you so much. We’ve booked a hotel. Am I supposed to wear my graduation gown?”
“For a 2:2 in politics, dad? Don’t embarrass me.”
And I won’t. Providing I can stop coughing. Just one last bit of phlegm to get rid of…
And suddenly I’m on my hands and knees. One violent cough too many and my back has gone.
“How did you do it?” the chiropractor asks.
I sigh and relive the embarrassment.
I don’t mind my back going occasionally. It’s part of family life now.
“What about that time we had to find you a potty, Dad, ’cos you couldn’t crawl to the bathroom? That was well funny…”
But just once, Lord, just once before I die. Could I injure my back having sex in a hammock?
Not emptying the dishwasher or sneezing or having a damn coughing fit.
“I just want to stretch your hip flexors.”
This is going to hurt, isn’t it? I assume they said something similar in the Tower of London. “Just step over to the rack, Mr Fawkes. There are one or two things we’d like to stretch…”
Eventually I stagger through our front door. Battered, bruised, but hopefully better in the morning.
And joy! There’s my dad’s old walking stick. I grab it like a drowning man grabs a rope.
Sadly, I was not better the next morning. And at 6.30 I was in trouble.
Put simply, I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t get out of bed at 6.40 either, or 6.50 come to that.
I contemplated phoning my lovely wife in the next bedroom. “I know you’re on holiday and I’ve woken you up. But would you come and pull me out of bed?” No, not a recommended career move.
“I’m going to have to take the stick.”
“No,” my wife said. “You’re his father: your default setting is ‘embarrassing.’”
“But if you walk in with a stick he’ll never speak to you again.”
I try not to agree with my wife too much, but she was right. Tom would never forgive me. However painful it was, I had to be fixed.
Exercise – stretch – ice pack – ibuprofen. More ibuprofen.
And on Saturday morning I announced that I’d made it. “There,” I said to Ben.
“I told you I wasn’t going to a formal dinner with a walking stick. I’ll never embarrass my children.”
There was an ominous silence. “Er…” my youngest son said.
“What is it, Ben? Spit it out.”
“Mum was being kind. It’s not just the stick, dad...”