If you’re struggling to feel festive, take a few minutes between wrapping gifts and resisting a beer to share the pain of Rick Hulse, as he looks back over his life and towards his Big 6-0.
As my 60th birthday comes hurtling at me like a prosecco-filled Essex girl charging into a kebab shop, I’ve recently had reason to reflect on the toll taken on me by the ravages of my lifestyle.
In 1990 (almost half a lifetime ago, in my case), I was a physically fit, though gloriously unkempt, example of Homo Sapiens Libertas, in pursuit of excessive hedonistic pleasures.
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At that time I’d ridden a hardtail Triumph Bonneville chop, with a 750cc Morgo conversion, all over the UK for more than three years, without a single item of waterproof clothing to my name (unless you count an old leather jacket, two layers of oily Levi’s jeans, and a 12-year-old pair of bike boots). Being a rufty-tufty biker I’d always shunned waterproofs as being a bit nancy and, in my trike-riding days, I generally held the wearing of crash helmets with the same level of disdain.
In 1991 my life changed quite profoundly when I was hit by a stolen car that was being pursued by the police as I exited a telephone box in a shitty area of north Manchester (younger readers may need to Google ‘phone box’). From then on, I had to adjust to living with a disability and, eventually, having to admit to myself that I could no longer survive in the competitive world of electrical contracting. Many things changed that year, not the least of which was my income, but I was as determined as ever to seek out and relish every opportunity for pleasurable excess in whatever form it presented itself, hence my career as a writer and stand-up comedian began.
As years passed by my refusal to grow up, or to slow down, began to take a physical toll. Arthritis became my constant companion, as did an array of anti-inflammatory drugs, which in turn led to chronic reflux oesophagitis (featuring incredibly painful debilitating heartburn), and yet more prescription drugs to combat that. A few more years went by, and my neck began to seize up and cause various neurological issues with my hands. This was my introduction to the wonderful world of spondylosis (a nasty form of spinal arthritis) in my cervical spine which then, probably due to overcrowding, began to also make itself at home in my lumbar spine.
In more recent years fate has blessed me with quite severe carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, which is far worse than wanker’s cramp because you don’t even have the pleasure of a good onanistic marathon to blame it on! (And, let’s be honest, both wrists would be showing off.)
Last year, fate decided that I didn’t have enough problems so it awarded me a new chronic condition in the form of ulcerative colitis (I won’t go into detail in case you’re eating – Google it if you have nothing more interesting to do today than explore an old man’s illnesses). When I complained to my GP about the apparent injustice of this latest addition to the litany of malaise currently trying to interfere with my profligate lifestyle, his somewhat blithe response was: “Come on Rick, let’s be honest about this. You’ve earned all of these problems!”
Now, I was willing to admit that the arthritis was no doubt, at least in part, due to too many years of riding in all weathers with little or no protection. I’d also concede that the spondylitis in my neck could probably be attributed to many years of head-banging in rock clubs, and the buffeting effect of riding into too many head-winds. No doubt the knackered lumbar spine could’ve been exacerbated by riding too many miles on hardtails and, perhaps, the knackered wrists were indicative of years of repetitive strain injuries caused by inefficient, but extremely cool-looking, handlebars, but I simply had to ask: “How the hell can riding motorcycles and trikes cause ulcerative colitis?”
He looked at me with a wry smile and said: “Tell me again how much, on average, you drink?”
It was a conversation we’d had before. I’ve never seen the point of hiding any aspect of my lifestyle from my GP as only a fool would hide probable causes from the person they entrust to care for their health. At one point a few years ago, my GP actually said to me: “You are, without doubt, the worst binge-drinker on my books.” Considering the estate on which I live, this could seem a damning indictment, but I felt the need to clarify my position with a retort: “Actually Doc, I think you’ll find that I’m ‘the best’ binge drinker on your books!”
In recent months I’ve been in and out of hospital, having numerous tests and scans to identify the root cause of some severe chest pains that’ve all but curtailed my hedonistic lifestyle (temporarily I hope) and, once again, I found myself discussing possible causes with my wonderfully non-judgemental GP.
“So, come on Doc, is it the frivolous drug use catching-up with me?” I asked, somewhat querulously.
Being fully aware of my long-term love affair with chemical stimuli, including copious quantities of LSD over many years, and my somewhat prodigious use of amphetamine sulphate, he seemed a little surprised to find himself saying: “Apparently not. Surprisingly, of all of the facets of your reckless lifestyle, the social drug use would seem to be the most innocuous!”
“So what the hell is it?” I asked in exasperation.
“I’m buggered if I know as yet,” he replied, “but I’ll bet whatever it turns out to be, you’ll’ve had a lot of fun earning it!” He then concluded by saying: “If it’s any consolation, I don’t know anybody else who has packed as much enjoyment into their life as you have, but now you’re paying the bills for it!”
I suppose we all have life’s bills to pay. I can’t help wondering if I should leave a tip?