The former Sunday school teacher asks me, after Mass, if I can touch my toes. She swoops effortlessly and taps the ends of her polished boots. She's a year older than I am. I put down my hymn book and ease myself over. Unfamilar strings twang sharply in the backs of my legs and there's a slight cracking sound that causes the sideswoman to look up. My finger tips judder to a halt just below my knee caps.
The sideswoman comes over. She too swoops and taps. She's six years older than me. Both of them start bending and stretching at the top of the nave, triumphing in their pliant sinews. I try another heave and make it as far as my ankles.
I am depressed. Two years ago I discovered that I can no longer do forward rolls. The former Sunday School teacher can. She proved it last summer in the churchyard. I daresay the sideswoman can too, but I am feeling cross so I don't offer her a platform. There is one thing I can do and I offer to show them behind the vestry curtain, but the churchwarden starts to call out the winning raffle ticket numbers and everyone moves off.
The thing that I can do is a headstand. Cartwheels are now beyond me and recent attempts at a bridge dislodged something unidentifiable inside. But I can stand lengthily and elegantly upended. It's my one accomplishment in which my nine-year old feels pride. But suddenly it ceases to please me. For nothing has to bend in a headstand. You stand as stiffly straight with your brogues waving as you do when sedately planted and it's the bending that's now unnerving me. I hope that my diminished powers have more to do with a reckless summer with my pick axe than with creeping middle age.
As I leave the church, I drop the church newsletter. Once again I ease myself over and lunge, but someone is too quick for me. A passing parishioner plucks it from the pavement and tucks it smilingly under my arm. The parishioner is touching seventy. I grin furiously and stride off as sinuously as my Sunday tweed allows me and I resolve to hive off the vicarage guest room for organised assaults on my framework.
By this time next week I shall bend in the middle, even if the mirror shows that I have no discernible middle left to bend.