The morning after, our cottage resembled an orthopaedic clinic. In the dawn gloom, twisted and bent figures hobbled to the breakfast table. There were frozen shoulders, spasmed muscles and buckled backs. My friend was the worst afflicted. She could either sit or lie down, but not stand upright.
Apart from hayfever, I was fine and, as we had food to use up, did my bit
with leftover Pavlova and plum cake. My friend rumbled disapprovingly and assembled her mostly-natural pharmaceuticals (today enhanced by codeine) but the others followed my example and fortified their pills with leftover dessert.
Breakfast talk turned to women's issues. One of our group was booked for a hysterectomy and wondered if she'd need hormone replacement. Hormones are one of my favourite topics, but I had resolved to stay on best behaviour. I dug my fingernails into the edges of my chair and tried to resist the call.
Someone else was on the brink and deciding which way to go - "naturally" or "synthetically". My friend confessed she used conventional HRT. Herbs had not quelled her hot flushes, but now she was doing well. She'd also lost the excess weight that had accumulated soon after menopause. Easy weightloss solutions are always enticing. Several of the party looked interested.
Our herbalist frowned. She said you may have to try many herbal products but eventually you'd find the one for you. Nails dug deeper as my inner autocritic whispered: "What? Just keep shopping? There'll be a fresh herb out by the time the last one has proven useless!" But I didn't speak - yet.
My friend excused herself by quoting a recent large study that dismissed many of the feared side-effects. The herbalist smiled wryly. "Funded by a drug company?" she suggested. My friend looked worried.
The herbalist said her natural oestrogen product was safe because it was bio-identical. My fingernails started to crinkle. Hours of NOVA by the fireside had lowered my resolve. I tried to think calming, holistic, woo-infused thoughts: "I believe, I accept." I spoke..."Actually" I said, "bio-identical is a furphy. If something has an oestrogenic effect it can also have oestrogenic bad effects. It might not cause breast cancer, but it could stimulate an existing tumour."
There was a jolt in the atmosphere. Was I spoiling it for others by introducing nasty, critical, evidence-based science? But our inhouse expert wasn't about to lose face. She declared her form of broccoli-extracted, bio-identical oestrogen had liver-cleansing qualities. It removed bad effects while promoting good ones. What more could I say? Who can argue with liver cleansing?
My friend, still in considerable pain, was prescribed Bowen to help get her home. The table was cleared, set with a mattress, and Bowen sessions commenced. I declined a kind offer to Bowenise my sinuses, and went to prepare the horses and muck out their paddock.
As I laboured, I tried to make sense of my anger. I decided it was the futility of dealing with intangibles. Qi, liver cleansing, subtle energies etc rely on faith and are equivalent to, or even replace, religious belief. As such, criticism and a call for evidence is not just unwelcome, it is socially offensive. Has science been scuttled by magic?
In fairness, I must admit these women are suffering and conventional care is not up to their expectations. What, I wondered, did our parents and grandparents do when they hit middle age? Did they just endure? We certainly don't intend to. We don't deserve to grow old.
On the drive homewards, our mobile phones chimed as they came back into range. I found a belated text message from another of our riding friends, who had been unable to join in this weekend. She is a younger woman, inclined towards practical joking and irreverent behaviour: "well i know you r all not enjoying the camp due to missing me and my beautiful farts and burps... hope u r all having a great time ps hope im getting you out of bed". I felt wistful. How I would have welcomed her stink bombs, water torture, far-fetched tales and juvenile pranks this weekend!