When people ask me how I got into writing, I always say I really got into writing when I moved to Spain. That was because I got so fed up of getting conflicting advice from the Bar Stool Experts, I decided to track down stuff for myself and then spread the word to others. It would surprise you how many other writers about Spain started out that way – they may have been teachers, sales people, chefs, business people or whatever in their pre-Expat incarnation, but a lot of them got started on writing about Spain because they were frustrated by the lack of reliable information about life here.
However, I always wanted to be a writer – lots of people say that too. And people of a certain age, those children of the 1950s and 1960s, were told by teachers and parents to forget about it and get a ‘proper job with qualifications,’ so most of us did. Then in the early 1990s, I was diagnosed with a combination or Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus – or, as my consultant termed it, Rupus! Within a frighteningly short time, it was clear I was never going to be able to do a ‘proper job’ again.
I had a dark period when I had an acute attack of ‘Why Me?itis.’ I was depressed, angry and frustrated that, at the age of just 42, I was never likely to be productive again, and actually work for a living. My consultant, bless him, spotted the danger signals and sent me along to an Arthritis Self Management Course. I have to say I was very sceptical – I don’t do opening up to strangers and looking on the bright side in public and that sort of stuff, and I figured that’s what the course would be all about. Fit thirty-somethings who’d had nothing worse than a broken nail telling those of us for whom getting out of bed each day was a major and painful operation that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was.
How wrong can you be? Thankfully, I was very wrong. Our group leader, Janet, had been living with arthritis since her teenage years, and she was now in her late 50s. She gave me the most relevant and important piece of advice I think I’ve ever had in my life. It was this:
Don’t focus on what you can’t do when you have arthritis. Think about what you can do, that you couldn’t do before, for one reason or another.
Not rocket science or earth-shattering, but pretty sensible advice from someone who’s gone through the same stuff. So, when she got around to me, and asked what I’d always wanted to do but couldn’t, the old chestnut surfaced again – I wanted to write for a living. Janet – and the rest of the group – said there was no reason I couldn’t do that. And dear reader, I married him! Oh sorry – got carried away there – wrong story. But you get the picture. Well, Janet wasn’t contented with talking the talk, we had to walk the walk, and in my case, walking the walk meant writing something, since no writer ever made a living without putting pen to paper, or fingers to keypad.
So, I wrote this poem – it was the first thing I’d written since I’d left school, and it was so well received, I made it my mission to earn my living as a writer, seeing I couldn’t do it any other way. So, if you want to blame anyone for what you’re reading here, blame Janet, not me. She started it!
A Visit to the Consultant
‘And how is your arthritis?’ My consultant asked today.
‘Well, now you come to mention it – it’s getting worse every day.
Can I play the piano with these swollen fingers?’
‘Yes dear, you can – I’m sure.’
‘Oh thank you, Doctor, that will be nice – ‘Cos I couldn’t play before.
Whenever I take my dog for a walk, you should hear my poor knees crack.
If I gave my body to medical science, I reckon they’d give it right back.
And I have an alcohol problem, Doctor -‘
‘Really, what’s the trouble?’
‘My wrists are so weak, I can’t lift the glass if I pour out more than a double.
Last night I spilled my brandy – my hands were ever so sore,
But it’s okay, I managed to lick it all up, before it spilled on the floor.
Last time when you said take more exercise, were you serious, or did you jest?
By the time I’ve struggled into my tracksuit, I need to lie down for a rest.
And I can’t get on with those big pink tablets –
Couldn’t you make them more sweet?’
‘Not really – you’re supposed to dissolve them in water,
And use them to soak your feet!’
‘Oh, is that the time – I must be off – you must have more patients to see,
And as long as I can laugh at my problems, I’ll get along famously.’