I was at Highbury & Islington gym one morning last week, on the cycle machine watching TV while cycling as furiously as I could – I go by number of calories burned so the harder I cycle, the sooner it’s over. On one of the screens, gold medal long jump athlete Greg Rutherford (pictured here) was being interviewed and he was saying now that he was 30, he was a bit old for an athlete. He’d had lots of injuries, had recovered enough to get to the top of his sport, but now it was time to do something different. I don’t think watching daytime TV was what he had in mind. He glowed with good health.
I’d woken up that morning with some pain in my right shoulder – one of the hazards of my profession – and I’d been telling myself, Paul, my old chap, it’s time to take things easier; you’re not as young as you used to be (though of course I still look fabulous!). It had been a particularly busy week – so much for an August lull – and I was beginning to feel it. It wasn’t helped that I’d overdone the squats and lunges the previous day in the gym and I was walking around like an old man – DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) always does that to me.
My body was telling me to ease up, take a break. So I did. I cancelled my clients for a few days (sorry about that) and eased up on the swimming and gym. I don’t normally enjoy resting – I always think it’s something to do after you’re dead. But then I thought (not for the first time), what a hypocrite I was – I am forever telling my clients they need to rest when they’ve injured themselves. Rest is the great healer. And soon enough, I found a rest rhythm: walking the dog, going for lunch, reading, taking in an art exhibition, going off to the local Screen on the Green to see a film. It was like a convalesence. I love London in August when the city empties out and for a few blissful weeks it feels more like a civilised town where people might not have to kill each other to get to work or get served in a restaurant.
I became a flaneur and walked around London as though I were a tourist. I’m not sure if change really is as good as a rest, but when you break out of your normal rhythms, you become more alert and open to possibilities that before were obscured. All sorts of serendipities occur – including the sudden realisation that you are alive, in good health and the world is beautiful.