Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Please, not the spa

Help me out here, readers. I don't get spas. The culture of enforced relaxing is something I've never quite understood, especially because none of the things one does at a spa seems in any way relaxing. Do you actually know anyone who has been to a spa? Have you been to one?

It's a very alien concept to me, my aversion to which probably stems from the terror of the unknown - I've never been to a spa, and I plan to keep that track record. Besides, I don't think they'd let me in - spas seem to be a place that welcome extrovert types. Types that actively enjoy being naked around each other. The thing is, some of these people are my friends.

Consequently a spa trip has threatened to materialise on three occasions now. Two birthdays and a hen do. I've just got to pray no more of them want to get married before my excuses wear too thin. I can't afford it. I'm busy - all month. You can't get public transport there. And, of late, I HATE SPAS!! Of course, the response is always the same - total bemusement. 

"What - you don't like relaxing?!" and the inevitable,

"How do you know if you don't like spas if you've never been to one?" 

A valid point. Obviously, there are some things you don't need to have experienced to know you won't like them - electric shocks, for example. Being lashed with a rope, clearly not enjoyable. But my poor friends don't realise they are in fact pressing for me to endure my own form of social torture.

I can understand how massages are a good thing. Well, as long as you don't mind being touched by a stranger. Or being greased like a goose. And thinking of hot ovens, what's with saunas? Being unpleasantly hot and naked in semi-public? It's clear how such things appealed to the Egyptians with their general love of oils and balms, and I can forgive pleasure-seeking Romans because, you know, where better to be debauched than in a big orgiastic pool? But for the likes of you and I...eurgh God, it makes me cringe just thinking about it. What if I bumped into the neighbours?

We can learn many useful lessons from history, lessons which could save us a great deal of time and expense. The Romans ruined baths, played with them too hard. Then the Italians made them fashionable again in typical swagger, ensuring they were an experience unaffordable to anyone but the posho's. While the rest of Europe was living it up, knocking back wine with their thermal water and no doubt singing and stuff, stuffy Brits stuck to strictly medicinal baths, frowning on indulgence of any kind.

And this leads to my bone of contention with the spa. Being laid back and laid bare are two very un-British things. As a result we've taken the spa concept and ruined it (but in the opposite direction to the Romans...) We pour Health & Safety all over it. We make it slightly awkward. And we make it really quite expensive. Which leaves us and our spas at a sanitised mid-point which is neither opulent nor all that medicinal. An economic indulgence rather than a true physical one.

Our island seems to have been invaded by these spa hotels, offering semi-indulgence at an either astronomical cost or as a bargain-basement-group-voucher - ensuring that your experience descends into a bit of a hustle to get the next cheques-on-legs through the door. Where's the relaxation in that?

I wouldn't mind if the hen parties that flock to these places actually got up to any Romanesque debauchery, but maybe that comes at an added extra top-up price. In my head - and please, feel free to put me straight, actual spa-goers - what you actually get is a brisk rub from a surly masseuse, one glass of fizz in the hot tub, an awkward gossip in the sauna and, more comfortably, a pedicure. Followed by a Michael Buble tribute act in the bar.

Why not just go and have a massage in town after work? Listen to Buble on the drive home? Look, I know I'm missing the point of it all. But when I describe what is relaxing and indulgent for me, perhaps you'll see why.

Gemma's Dream Spa Weekend:

Don't leave the house

Eat cheese. All day. Fully clothed

Have more than one glass of fizz, and have it on the sofa - not in the bath. And don't bother with the strawberries

Enjoy the healing powers of herbs. In my gin.

Don't talk to anyone. Watch film/s in silence.

Absolutely zero interaction with a Michael Buble impersonator.

 And aaaahhh. I am relaxed.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

I'm angry. Deal with it.

Being angry is fun. I actively enjoy it (sometimes), although I understand that there must be consequences, as with most things. But I think getting a bit angry is good for us - wouldn't you agree? 

Wider society is impossible - on the one hand it wants us to feel empowered, express ourselves and yet we popularise some means of getting to those places and berate the exhibition of the other, less palatable means. Like anger.

The unavoidable thing is, we all have rage lurking inside us somewhere. We just do. And what is wrong with that? It's a natural emotion, just as the fluffier Love and Lust are. Life is a hot bed of drama. It's silly to think we all go around being happy and compliant all the time, how could we? We each make small compromises daily. Small compromises that build into layers and layers of anger. Imagine the cover of some warped sci-fi book. That's you. There's your anger. There's only one place for it to go if you are to survive - out. (Think Alien. Apologies for another tenuous sci-fi reference). Surely, when that time comes it's much better to unleash it and get it over with, harness that self expression and empowerment, and get back to everyday life afterwards unscarred.

When I think of anger, I often think of modern consumerism. This, it seems to me, is the one place where anger is accepted, expected even, in our culture. And it's training us how to be angry.

As we navigate ourselves more confidently in the commercial world - becoming more consumer savvy, more active - we become more confident at being angry with institutions and their representatives when things go wrong, when we feel let down as a consumer. This trains us to be angry in a controlled way. Yelling on the phone to British Gas (or some other energy company!) (although this did happen to me - I was the yeller) when they mess up your bill for the fourth time and then change your payment amount without your permission is now an acceptable thing to do (ish). They are in the wrong, and you are alerting them to that fact. Better that, surely, than grumbling sheepishly and then you end up somehow apologising to them and as a result feel even angrier about the whole thing, blowing up at your boyfriend three months later when he puts the tupperware in the wrong cupboard. 

Getting angry saves a lot of bother and frees up to time to exercise other emotions, do other things. Life's too short to keep that volcano closed for business. Plus it can be a bit fun - go on, admit it. That adrenaline release. It's like you're on a roller coaster - which you are in a way, a social one.

Of course, it's not ladylike is it? Rage. Such labelling of appropriate emotions for women is exactly the kind of thing that makes this woman, well, angry. There are clearly some of us don't seem able to manage our emotions. Obviously this is the key. I'm not recommending we all descend into abandon and give into murderous urges. But for those of us who are able to exercise a modicum of control maybe it's time to loosen that lip, come over a bit Brazilian and allow yourself to be angry for a day. It could do you some good to let the steam out the volcano.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Winter sun is overrated

At this time of year you can't sit through an advert break without being invited on a holiday. Cheap Disneyland trips for young families. Luxurious tropical retreats for discerning adults. Boat trips only for old people. Many viewers, it seems, are seduced by this onslaught, desperate for a glimpse of some 'winter sun'. For me, these adverts are like watching horror film trailers.

Ok, not quite. But I really don't like holidays. Don't get me wrong - I love having a break. I'm not one of those people who never want to leave the office. But, tell me, what exactly is relaxing about travel, specifically foreign travel? Packing for a 2-week holiday (= 4 weeks worth of your wardrobe) and then hauling a suitcase equivalent to your own body weight across multiple tortuous modes of (delayed) transport. Enduring said transport – sometimes for days – until you reach a strange destination where you are, in effect, an alien. No one understands you, you don’t understand them - and in some painful cases, you don’t even try to. Having to knock around with strange Brits, many of whom are speaking especially loudly, only in English. Having to navigate unknown climes whilst simultaneously not looking like you’re navigating unknown climes so as not to draw attention to yourself and your belongings. It’s all very scary and stressful. And then you’ve got to do it all again to get home. And then you’re back at work – exhausted. Great.

Holidays seem to bring out anxieties in me that never seem to surface in daily life - what if I get robbed / attacked? What if my house blows up / burns down / gets burgled / acquires squatters? It’s hard work going on holiday. I’ll admit, a lot of this travel aversion stems from my total fear of flying. I’ve tried it twice. Never again – because, as Ian Fleming said, you only live twice.

I went to Florida as a child, on one of aforementioned (not-so) cheap Disneyland trips with my family. I remember the two flights in full. I remember thinking my ears were going to explode during take off, and that my stomach was going to jump out of my mouth during landing. I remember a horrendous airport which seemed to be made entirely of palms, prickly and scary. But, in comparison, I don't remember too much of the actual holiday. Then I, persuaded by a family member yet again, found myself flying to New York fifteen years later. The turbulence we experienced when (trying to) make a landing at Newark was like out of an ACTUAL DISASTER FILM. And that was my sister, easy-flyer, talking.

And that’s about as exotic as my travel experiences have extended to. I've been places since - just not by air. This does of course limit where you can go, unless you are a Russian oligarch with bounds of cash to splurge on speedboats. But I can't imagine a Russian oligarch being scared of flying. Or a Russian full stop.

Do I feel like I'm missing out? Honestly? No. Well, maybe a little bit. But we all do the same thing when we get back from holiday, don't we? We miss it for a week, then we go back to our own lives, exactly as we were before - only poorer. We've ticked a box - but that's it. 

Well, for most of us. I take my hat off to the people who really throw themselves into travel, without a map if you will. But I don't want to hear about it. If I were to find myself in a room with such a traveller I would attempt to leave it immediately.

I say, before you go gallivanting off on some foreign adventure, take time to remember what we have on our own global doorstep. Some UKers have never stepped outside of London yet they've carted themselves off to Helsinki, Haiti and Honolulu - what about our South Coast? The Lakes? We've got a good thing going on here - who needs winter sun?