Sometimes the first few notes of a song will take you back in time. A time you may not have thought about in 20 or 30 years.

One minute you are sitting in traffic on a congested freeway in the stifling Texas heat. Or in London in the drizzle, or Perth or Prague.

The next second you may be in South Africa in Yeoville or Orange Grove or Camps Bay or Zeerust, years and years ago and miles and miles away from where you are sitting and tapping your finger on the steering wheel.

It happened to me recently. A snippet of the song “Chariots of Fire” was on a radio commercial. (For some reason the song reminds me of a certain time, even though it was released years later.)


The instant I heard that tune, I was a little boy at primary school during sports day. We had houses at school and we wore rosettes to signify the house we belonged to.

I see my housemates cheering as I start the 400-yard race.

In my mind’s eye (as “Chariots of Fire” is filling my ears) the race is in slow motion. I am running as fast as I physically can. I push myself to the limit but my skinny-malinky body cannot go any faster.

As I run past my housemates on the sidelines, with their red rosettes blooming from their chests, I see their smiles slowly fade as every single runner in the race passes me within the first 10 yards.

Rosette

With my lungs burning and my chest exploding, I dig deeper and run harder. But to no avail. I stumble in stone last by a large margin. By the time I get to the finish line, the officials have already moved on to the sack race or the three-legged race and I cross the line with the enthusiastic clapping of a single person who is waiting patiently for me at the finish. Mrs. Varrie, my grade two teacher.

She ruffles my mop of hair and says, “If this was a race to see who could finish last, you won.”

As one tends to do, I try and run the race again in my mind, somehow thinking that I may actually win this time. It’s amazing how the mind can trick you into thinking that by replaying an event over and over it makes you think you can actually change the result or even alter your own history.

My mind rewinds and there I am about to run the race again all those years ago. Just one more time.

I see my housemates cheering as I start.

I am running as fast as I physically can. I push myself to the limit but my skinny-malinky body cannot go any faster.

As I run past my housemates on the sidelines, with their red rosettes blooming from their chests, I see their smiles slowly fade as every single runner in the race passes me within the first 10 yards.

This time I dig deeper than the race I remember running…

An irritated honking brings me back to reality with an uncomfortable jolt.

I was so far away it takes a few seconds for me to figure out where I am. I glance up at my rear-view mirror. An irritated lady with three dogs and two yelling children is gesticulating at me because the light has changed and I am holding up the human race.

I put my foot down and accelerate into my future leaving her, and her own songs, in the dust.