The world can be divided easily into two groups of people. Those who have experienced serious back pain, and those who haven’t. As a sufferer from a chronic but (thankfully) episodic problem with my lower spine, these days I can totally pick a person from either of those groups pretty much instantaneously.

The first time I experienced my condition was when I was in my late 20s and I was driving along the highway from Goulburn to Sydney. I don’t actually recall doing anything at all to bring it on – I merely shifted my weight in the seat.

SKRINK! (Each time you see that word, I want you to imagine that it is the Bernard Herrmann knife-stab motif from Psycho – you know, that high-pitched violin screeching sound). It was like someone had taken a marlin spike and rammed it through my back.1 I put my foot on the brake. SKRINK! Again. Bad move. But I couldn’t keep driving. I finally got the car to stop on the side of the road. My breath was ragged and I was whimpering involuntarily with the excruciating pain.2 With every effort of willpower I got out of the car and lay flat on the ground. It was all I could think to do to attempt to stop the agony.

In a minute or two, a car pulled up and a middle-aged woman jumped out and hurried over.

“My God! Are you OK?” she cried.

“It’s my back… I don’t know what I did but it’s terrible.”

“Oh,’ she said. ‘I thought it was something really serious.”

I know now that this woman was in Group B: People Who Have Never Experienced Back Pain.

Now, in mechanical terms, what is wrong with me is very common and something that can happen (to anyone) surprisingly easily. It’s just a muscle weakness in my back that allows my spine to make contact with the nerves that run along it. It tends to be a kind of a feedback loop – the muscle goes into spasm, the nerve gets pinched, I involuntarily ‘overcorrect’ (to avoid the intolerable stabbing pain) which causes the muscle to spasm even worse… and so forth. It doesn’t take much to trigger it – I had a particularly bad episode in 1987 that was instigated by merely bending down to take a power plug from a socket. Thankfully it only happens every two or three years, and usually it’s correctable by my physiotherapist and I’m only out of action for a few days.

But it hit me on Friday night worse than I’ve ever had it before, and, annoyingly, all the local physiotherapists are closed over the weekend, so I’ve been completely bed-ridden for the best part of two days. I don’t really take to that very well. To give you some idea of what it’s like, let me describe what I did just now when I decided to get up and make myself some tea.

Sitting up in bed with computer (while I sit still, I feel COMPLETELY fine). Slide computer off lap and take blanket off knees. SKRINK! Make whimpering noise. Slide legs off side of bed. SKRINK! Jesus! Stand up and walk to kitchen like a ninety-year-old man. Put kettle on and inadvertently knock sharp knife off bench. Instinctively move bare foot out of the way to stop artery being severed. SKRINK! Fuck! Try to pick knife up. SKRINK! SKRINK! SKRINK! Fucking Jesus Cunt Fuck! Whimper. SKRINK! What the fuck? I barely moved that time! Give up on knife. Fill kettle. Mince around in terror that the pain will strike again SKRINK! Thanks. Make tea (Eventually. It takes three times longer than normal thanks to the the additional swearing and the stop-start nature that has now been imposed on the process). Take tea and cup back to bed. Attempt to set teapot down on bedside table. SKRINK! SKRINK! FUCKING SHIT JESUS BLOODY HELL! SKRINK! Scream. SKRINK! Drop teapot on table from six inches above and hope it won’t fall off. Do the same with cup. SKRINK! FUCK. Attempt to get back into bed. SKRINK! SKRINK! SKRINK! SKRINK! SKRINK!.

Every time the pain hits it’s as bad as the first time. When I do finally manage to get back into bed, sitting up straight, the pain is totally absent. The problem with pain like this is that there is no visible sign that there’s something wrong. So what my family sees is me sitting in bed seeming entirely OK (because as long as I don’t actually MOVE, I am) and having a jolly ol’ time on the internet. And, if I have to get up, I seem to suddenly go into Tourette’s-like convulsions of screaming and sobbing for no visible reason. If you’ve never experienced this kind of pain, you simply cannot know what it’s like – I know, because up until it happened to me I used to be part of Group B. And I know, because of this, that those in Group B who see you hobbling about think you’re hamming it up! Well, they might attempt to be sympathetic, but I know that what’s really going on in their minds: ‘Oh come on. It can’t possibly be that bad. You were FINE a second ago.’ Eventually they even lose the sympathetic air and you can almost hear them saying ‘Yeah, yeah, we get the idea – it’s painful. You can stop with the screaming now.’ Only you can’t stop with the screaming because it’s FRIGGIN’ AGONY.3

You know you’ve discovered a Group A person, though, when you tell them what’s wrong and they go a kind of ashen colour. Their brain instantly replays a little bit of the pain for them – it’s an involuntary response reserved for those of us who have been to this special circle of Hell. Usually their sympathetic words are confined to ‘Oh Jesus. Fuck.’, and they sometimes grab reflexively onto a nearby shelf or other stable object.4

The other shitty thing about this problem is that it makes me so incapacitated. The smallest tasks become almost impossible and even showering or putting on my shoes creates whole new vistas of torment. I’m not really good at sitting doing nothing so I probably do the worst thing I can do under the circumstances and make numerous attempts to get on with my normal life, despite urgings from Violet Towne to take it easy.

It really gives me renewed respect for all those people out there who live with remorseless chronic pain. You brave and courageous souls! I salute you! SKRINK! Aaaaagh. FUCKING HELL!

  1. This is colourful imagery, you understand. I don’t really know what it would feel like to have a marlin spike rammed through my back, but I imagine it would not be pleasant. []
  2. The word ‘excruciating’ comes from the same word roots as crucifixion. []
  3. I have to be truthful here and say that Violet Towne is really one of the few people who can be classified as belonging to neither Group A or Group B. She is a very empathetic person. I think she understood how bad the pain was when she saw me turn white and lose my power of coherent speech the first time I got stabbed in the spine. She has also been good-natured enough to put up with my constant moaning, and has been looking after me very well through this latest episode. []
  4. The Group A people can be divided into two further groups: Group A1, who know that you’re in for some serious physiotherapy and a few more days off your feet, and Group A2, who offer you some kind of idiotic remedy involving acupuncture, homeopathy or crystals. When I’m in agony and beset by peddlers of woo-woo, I want to grab some of those crystals and shove them right where the sun won’t make rainbows. []

Good iMorning iCowpokes!

Well, down here in sunny1 iMelbourne we have just survived the insanity that is iGrand iFinal iFootball whereat the official name for the new Vegemite product (formerly known as ‘Name Me’) was kicked off. And as promised, the iCow is bringing the new name to you hot off the iPress.

I know what you’re thinking – that image above is a cheeky Photoshopped pisstake of the actual name which I’m going to reveal to you in due course…

Was that long enough for the cold reality sink in? Yes dear iFriends, the people at iKraft, demonstrating a dorkiness that transcends anything I thought was even possible, have climbed on the iBandwagon and, in some kind of bizarre and incomprehensible grab for what we can only assume to be their concept of coolness, named their product iSnack 2.0. It’s worse than I could possibly have imagined. And I can imagine pretty bad possibilities.

How many kinds of wrong can be encapsulated here? The whole ‘i’ phenomenon has become so hackneyed and feeble that it’s really only Apple that can carry it off in any way, and that’s solely because it’s their heritage. Aside from anything, the ‘i’ was originally intended to designate ‘internet’ and if there’s one thing that Kraft and Vegemite has demonstrated extremely clearly, it’s their complete lack of intertubes acumen. Further to this, as if to underline their credentials as people who have totally missed the boat, they’ve appended the meaningless (but OH so hip…) ‘2.0’ to the name – if anything it would be Vegemite 2.0, not iSnack 2.0, which by any proper reckoning has just come out of beta and is in v.1.0.

What were they thinking?

  1. That’s sarcasm, in case anyone missed it. []

Yesterday I had to go to hospital to have a colonoscopy. Don’t worry dear Acowlytes – all is well, it was just a precautionary check-up prompted by the only inheritance I received from my parents – my genes.

Of course, this kind of experience is by its very nature humourous, involving as it does rectal passages, cameras and therefore (quite obviously, if you have been following recent Cow reports) the possibility of ghost photography. Mind you, I was pretty sure there weren’t going to be any ghosts up there. The stuff they made me drink the day before the procedure is surely an essential part of the the Anal Ghost Exorcist’s tool kit – after I swilled down 3 litres of the goddamn stuff there wasn’t much in my bowel that didn’t rapidly go towards the light. It was called ‘ColonLYTELY’ (catchy, huh?) and when I purchased it the pharmacist put two packs on the counter:

Pharmacist: Which one do you want? The lemon flavour, or the original flavour? They’re both disgusting.

Evidently there isn’t much competition in the market for bowel sluicing preparations.

Me: Shouldn’t that be ‘Great!’ original flavour?

I imagine the ad in Pharmacist’s Insider is something like this:


In the event, the outcome of the exam was as good as one could hope for. Two thumbs up! (Hmmm. Maybe not the most appropriate expression…) The finding of the doctor was that:

Excellent views were obtained through to the caecum.

It’s the sort of verdict that you might expect to find on a Edwardian postcard from the Alps. Excellent views!



*It actually wasn’t too bad – I’ve consumed more disgusting things voluntarily. The worst part was the sheer amount of the stuff you have to get down. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk that much of anything in the space of four hours before.



From Agence France-Presse (via The Australian):

A BRITISH man has reportedly survived more than two days trapped under his sofa by sipping from a bottle of whisky.

Joe Galliott fell against the sofa during a power cut at his home in Somerset, southwest England, and could not free himself because of back problems, the BBC reported.

He remained stuck for 60 hours in that position – during which time a bottle of whisky rolled close enough for him to open it – until a neighbour became concerned that Mr Galliott’s curtains had not been drawn for two days.

“The whole settee tipped over catching me like a rat in a trap,” the 65-year-old told the BBC.

“I took a sip of (the whisky) and thought, well this isn’t too bad.”

Mr Galliott, who spent five days in hospital recovering, admitted to becoming concerned after going so long without food or water: “It felt like a lifetime, you think you’re there forever.”

He told the broadcaster that he now kept a bottle of whisky next to the sofa “just in case”.

I don’t know that I can usefully add much to this, other than to say that I heartily endorse Mr Galliott’s advice. It might be also useful to keep bottles of whisky next to the fridge, the bookshelf and in the coal cellar.


Thanks to Pil for her ever eager Cow Eye!



And this little piggy went clubbing, drank one too many Lemon Ruskis, got into a punch-up with a Samoan bouncer and spent the night in the lock-up.