Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Teaching steam room meditation to Americans

There are times when I truly love my job. I’m typing this, swathed in a fluffy white robe, at the antique desk in my suite at the Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath.
I pitched up yesterday, rather hot and more than a little wet and windswept, pulling my M&S case behind me like a reluctant terrier.
‘Do you have a car, madam?’
‘Nope, just me.’ Smiling brightly and wiping a line of perspiration off my forehead.
‘Just the one case?’
‘I'm detoxing.’
Not sure he got that one.

If you’re going to detox you may as well do it somewhere nice and the Royal Crescent is nice, very nice. Location? Couldn’t be more gorgeous if it tried. Style? Trades on its neo-Classical good looks to the extreme with that rather grand yet extremely comfy English country house look: big squashy sofas, swathed four posters, antiques hanging around louchely as if they were just any old IKEA job-lot. I was expecting a nice room but I wasn’t expecting an entire suite, complete with a chandelier, fireplace (working) and a massive Joshua Reynolds (yes, the real mccoy) on the wall. Seriously you could fit the average modern house into this and have room to spare.

It’s a bit weird though, staying in a hotel prized for its food and wine and not being able to eat or drink it. I reckon it would have been kind to have removed the wine list and the menu from the welcome pack and though my view out the front looks over a nicely healthy green to the hills beyond, from the bedroom I can watch the diners trip-trap in and out of The Dower House restaurant. Still. I have my tree syrup and lemon juice flask and, weirdly, wonderfully, I haven’t been hungry since I got here (and we’re talking well over 24 hours now).

The spa is a good ‘un. It’s small and down-to-earth and the therapists know what they’re doing and clearly enjoy their work. The actual workhouse part of the spa is earthy and organic, with rough slate floors and dim lights – very kind to the less than svelte. Actually, it was a huge relief to find that the clientele at the Bath House are not size zero supermodels but nicely solid, chunky forty-pluses on the whole, serenely swimming up and down the very warm pool.

It’s pretty evenly mixed between men and women too. I plunged into the steam room to find someone, a male someone, already sitting there. Now it’s OK if there are several people, and it’s OK if you’re the only one – but just two of you is always a bit uneasy. I tend to keep schtum other than a polite nod and sat down opposite, tucking one leg up underneath. After a few minutes I realised this was a very uncomfortable position and swung my leg up and into a half-lotus (nothing smart about it, just always been able to do it and find it comfortable).
‘Aha,’ said my steam-mate who, judging by his accent was American.
‘So you’re meditating? Good idea.’
And he promptly swung up his legs and placed his hands on his knees and started breathing deeply.
Dear God. So, we sat like that for what seemed like forever. Him meditating; me pretending I was meditating and wondering how long a decent steam session meditation might take.
Finally he got up.
‘Thank you so much,’ he said. ‘I never realised that was what you’re supposed to do.’
He’ll probably go back to LA and set up sauna meditation (though they probably already do it).

I went off for my reflexology session with a lovely woman called Pam who told me that my liver was ‘stressed’ and that I had problems with my ears, bladder and immune system. ‘Good job you’re having a detox,’ she said sympathetically.

I slept for a straight twelve hours and then spent a couple of hours being scrubbed and hosed and then massaged by the fab Fran, who has the wonderful nack of knowing when to chatter inanely (when your boobs are being swept hither and thither by a strong shower jet) and when to be silent (when you’re being soothed into slumber).

I love nothing more than a massage but I do wish someone would invent a massage table that not only has a hole for your face but also a couple for your boobs and hey, maybe one for the stomach too.
I shared this thought with Fran and she burst out laughing.
‘Actually that’s a really horrible idea, isn’t it?’ I said, imagining my tits hanging down under the table like udders.

So now I’m back in my room(s) and, though I suppose I should be catching up on emails and so on, the bed is calling and, hey, it would be plain rude not to make the most of it, wouldn’t it?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Why perfect holidays don't involve men

‘We need fairy lights,’ said Jools firmly.
We were having a summit meeting at the Bonkers House to discuss our forthcoming camping trip to Croyde in North Devon.
‘Fairy lights?’ I said weakly, pouring out more wine and breaking into another packet of hula hoops (Adrian away so low on shopping).
‘Absolutely. And parasols and pretty bowls. I’m thinking pink and orange as our theme. Have you got a pink flowery tablecloth?’
‘As a matter of fact, yes.’
‘Good. Bring that. And that silvery tray with the tea lights on it. Don’t suppose you’ve got bunting?’
‘Er, no.’

Last time I went camping I was sixteen and madly in love with some nerd called Peter. A crowd of us went to the Yorkshire Dales and it was mighty minimal. Everything had to fit in or on or dangling from our rucksacks (including the tents). It rained the whole time and we spent the entire week trying to persuade the local landlords that we really were eighteen in order to get into the pub and get warm. I developed chilblains, flu and a taste for Theakstons Old Peculiar. I never did get off with Peter which, in retrospect, is probably a very good thing.

‘Help,’ I wailed to my friend Rachel later on the phone. ‘I think camping has changed since I last went. They said I need blow-up beds – and chairs – and fairy lights.’
‘I’ve got all that – come and get ‘em.’

So the next day James and I picked up Adrian from Tiverton Parkway (en route home from the Great British Beer Festival and surprisingly not as slaughtered as usual) and headed over to Rachel’s. I wish I could be as calm as Rachel (and she’s not even taking the happy pills). She was in the middle of supper, with three children AND guests but was she fazed? Not remotely. She plonked a glass of wine in my hand, sent James off to see the new piglets and went to rummage in the barn.
‘Do you need three mattresses?’
‘Nope, just two.’
‘What? Ron’s not going?’ She always calls Adrian Ron. Don’t ask.
‘Don’t be silly. He’s allergic to camping.’
He insists, of course, that he’s not. It’s just that, were he to camp, it would be deeply macho, halfway up a mountain, battling the elements camping. Modern camping is, he insists, too consumerist, too suburban, too middle-class, too irritatingly smug. I suggest this might be projection and he has the grace to look sheepish.

Anyhow, we left Rachel’s loaded with ‘essential’ gear – camping chairs, tables, solar powered lanterns and fairy lights, strap-on head torches, glo-sticks….
‘We seriously need all this?’

We departed Dulverton in convoy with the Killers blaring out. Four middle-aged women, two teenage girls and two ten year-old boys.
‘Rick doesn’t believe we’ll get the tents up,’ said Tracey.
‘Oh don’t be so ridiculous,’ said Jools.
It took an hour to pitch two huge tents (with a few breaks for tea and brownies) and then another hour to embellish our campsite to Jools’ satisfaction. Fairy lights festooned the wind-breaks, pink raffia parasols kept out the sun, the jugs and bowls and glasses were all perfectly colour-coordinated. And, yup, the sun was shining.

Someone handed me a glass of wine. Ah but this was fun. This wasn’t the tough hard trudge I remembered.

We wandered down to the beach and the waves were huge. We set up our pop-up tent and everyone (bar Tracey and I who felt we ought to look after base camp) plunged into the sea with body boards and surfboards.
As the sun sunk lower, the waves came in. A sense of warm satisfaction broke over me.
‘Time for sundowners,’ said Jools, dripping happily. And we cracked open another bottle.

A barbecue back at the campsite plus a huge jug of Pimms. The sun set red and rich over the sea and, as the moon rose huge and full over the hills, the fairy lights twinkled into action.

It was perfect. Just perfect. In fact, so perfect that it was worrisome. What was it? Ah yes. Nobody had moaned. Nobody had disagreed. Nobody had demanded we do things differently or ‘my way’.
‘What a fabulous day,’ said Maggie with a sigh.
‘So peaceful,’ said Tracey.
‘Why is that?’ I asked, still puzzled.
‘You really haven't figured it out?' said Jools.

'No men,’ said Maggie.

Just then James and Jack came hurtling back down the hill and tumbled into camp.
‘I’m faster than you are,’
‘No you’re not. I am.’

Jools raised an eyebrow in an 'I rest my case' sort of way. We smiled indulgently, leant back in our chairs and poured another Pimms.