The Pool at The Circle Spa where I swim daily now Photograph by Nick Fleming
This urban heat wave has captured our City in its annual dazzling extravaganza of summer hedonistic pleasure, all sultry shadows and lazy breezes, melting sorbet flavoured moods and hazy discipline. As I just drove back home in the midday sun, the gentle caress of the barely there air through the open windows wafted me back in time. Time stood still. Time passing had no meaning. Time was in my imagination. Time didn't exist.
For here I was, driving home along an exhaust choked South London road, coming back after a very satisfying session in the pool, just as I had done exactly - and it is exactly to the day - thirty years ago. Nothing seemingly is different: the car is the updated version of the one I had then, my skirt still Liberty Tana Lawn made by me a couple of years earlier, a baggy short sleeve top, the same flip flops, the same design of wet bathing suit, the same faint chlorine smell coming off my toned and tanned skin; a bangle on my wrist, the road the same; the traffic too; the balmy heat, the same. My figure is the same too. Finally I'm back up to the perfect size and weight for me I was at sweet 21 after the intervening years of being chronically underweight and frequently malnourished.
Then I had Dire Straits blasting Twisting by the Pool from the sound system through the sun roof, my beach-bleached blond hair cascading down my shoulders, the inevitable 1980s RayBans stopping me from being blinded by the light. Life was good. Life was unbelievably good. That summer was full of a carefree innocence, a delight in my own confidence, a relief that I was free of the dark days of depression which had haunted my final school years and formed the fading backdrop of my time in London at University. I knew I was good, I knew I had achieved what I had now against all the odds and other poeple's opinions, not least through hard work and effort, discipline and being so desperately driven. I knew I was at the beginning I had so dreamed of. I knew that I had a great future ahead, I was the Golden Girl. Life was very good indeed.
Everything was set for the future: Nick and I would end up getting married in a few years to live happily ever after, I was starting my Accountancy training contract with the firm I had chosen from the six who had offered me one from the six applications I had submitted, and I had just found out that I had been awarded a very creditable degree in Classics. The rest of the summer time ahead was planned with no plans other than easy come, easy go. I had it made. Everything was relaxed, cool, calm and collected just as if I was about to embark on the most perfect journey of my life. My life was gilded, I had enjoyed a very privileged existence so far and I knew how lucky I was to be me, now, here at the start of the rest of my life with a career, a future husband, a home, and a car. Even the sometimes menacingly sinister metropolitan hub bub, which so defines inner city London, seemed to be echoing to Mark Knoepfler's call to dance to the Euro-beat and transform our clogged streets into the Costa Magnifico.
I remember that day so well as I sat in my car (a mini-Metro in case you think I wasn't down to earth) feeling just so cool, ready and eager to enjoy my life as it was to be. I remember feeling the intense relief that I would now be receiving a stable, and presumably ever increasing income, and would no longer need to waitress, au pair, baby sit nor model to get by. Just as I was thinking that I wanted to remember this feeling forever a man stuck in the traffic going in the opposite direction, whistled at me so I laughed, smiled at him and said "In your dreams" to which he said I was worth a u-turn only he knew that was just talk, all talk but I would be worth it. I just knew he was telling it straight because I knew I looked good because I felt just sooo good.
So what was so different today, thirty years on? Well, as I caught my reflection in the wing mirror, I realise that on the outside there aren't many changes. The car no longer reverbs with a functioning sound system and silence runs through my mind with ease. My hair, although still blond, is wrapped up in a white turban. There's a very deep wrinkle on my lip delineating the emotional and physical turmoil of recent years. My finger is wrapped in my wedding ring. I'm wearing my spectacles rather than prescription shades. I don't wear a watch any more.
Most of all though that carefree innocence has grown-up. No longer do I take the journey of life for granted, I've had to learn to enjoy whatever has come to me, whatever it is. There's a confidence there but now it's not quite so superficial and no longer based on potential, the future, nor even the past, hope and glory. Here Nick and I are at the half time oranges, assessing the first half of our lives like a pair of old pundits. I have survived the ups and downs in my life, kicked grief into the long grass and been knocked for six by unfathomable sadness and infinite gratitude. I have been honoured as an Inspirational Teacher. I am accepting that people are touched by my experience of life.
I have learnt that what matters in life is what is cared about in deed, not to take it personally when I don't fit into the mould projected onto me, that the gold in life is that which can't be purchased, such as health, happiness, respect and companionship.
I thank God that I didn't know then what ups and downs my life would take me on in the last thirty years until I was back twisting by the pool. I thank God for the guidance I have received on the way through and for all the lessons I've learned.
As I was thinking, stuck waiting to turn right at the lights, a thought blast from my past that I wanted today to remember this feeling forever, a young boy holding his father's hand for safety as they stood on the island in the middle of the road by the traffic lights, pointed at me, close enough that he almost seemed to be imitating that image from the Sistine Chapel. "That's the Guru", he said to his Dad. I recognised his school bag as being from a local school whose children I taught meditation to three years ago. In that moment time stood still. I remembered that after Twisting by the Pool, my Dire Straits' tape (yes, cassette tape!) continued with these sage words from Love over Gold:
It takes love over gold
And mind over matter
To do what you do that you must
When the things that you hold
Can fall and be shattered
Or run through your fingers like dust.