aqua vitae


Dipping into the local heated pool, I keep half-expecting actor Brian Dennehy to stride out through the steam.

It looks for all the world like a scene straight from the movie Cocoon – the only thing missing is over-sized Easter eggs in the deep end.

There are all these old ladies chattering and laughing like they’ve just been invited to step aboard spacecraft and join an alien culture where they will never be ill, never age and never die.

Joining them in aquarobics for the first time, I remember thinking smugly, how hard can this be?

That particular week I would have been the youngest member of the class by a decade; the oldest – albeit excluded from some exercises – being 83.

Well, between sailor jigs, star jumps, flick kicks, rocking horses, cross country, twists, and running the length of the pool and bicycling back, I nearly died.

Having done no real exercise this century every muscle was still protesting three days later.

Really there was no choice: to regain any sort of self respect I had to go back.

The next time there were a couple of women closer to my age and ability.

We stood at the back of the class trying to copy the fluid grace of our older peers as the instructor put us through our paces.

Things were going OK until she commanded us to place knotted pool noodles around our ankles, which caused those of us without any core strength to invert helplessly with our feet at our ears.

Who’d have thought it? The pool noodle – an item I’d previously considered utterly Zen and about the most fun anyone could have with a tube of extruded polyethylene without sniffing it – an instrument of torture!

A septuagenarian I now know to be named Lexie saved me.

It gets easier after a while,” she whispered, kindly untangling me.

I’ve never before spent any amount of time with a large group of women, especially not naked ones.

In the communal change-rooms after those first few classes I wasn’t quite sure where to look and, like some ridiculous schoolgirl, tried to wriggle out of wet swimmers behind my towel.

I envied them the ease and confidence they felt about their own bodies: cellulite-pocked, scarred, saggy baggy bits and all.

Most of these women are grandmothers who wouldn’t attract a second glance walking along the street.

They are well past the age where women are said to become invisible, but here they are: vital, fit, assured, very, very funny and beautiful.

Sometimes sitting in the spa after class I let their conversation wash over me and imagine myself in a novel like the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or The Persian Pickle Club.

Only the secret of the Serendipity Swimming Society is not dark and onerous.

It dawned on me midway through a particularly fiendish routine involving rubber dumbbells and dragging exercise partners playing dead weight down the length of the pool.

I looked up to see an elderly man peering in from the gym.

It wasn’t Brian Dennehy, but 80-year-old Jenny’s husband who drew a love heart in the steam on the walkway glass and pointed to his wife.

We may live in a society where youth is the currency, but shouldn’t forget that in the natural cycle the butterfly busts out last.


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