Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Spa Experience

I have always been a little nervous, not to say suspicious, of spas. Is it something about the ubiquitous eerie musak, the battery operated flickering nightlights in frosted glass candle holders, the nod to all things Asian with giant fake orchids, bamboo sticks artfully arranged in large black vases and polished stones in bowls? Or is it just the crepuscular nature of it all with people creeping around in the semi-darkness in sandals, mysteriously disappearing and reappearing from behind closed doors? With all that flame and water and silent figures lurking in dark corridors, the 'Spa Experience' seems less to me a haven for restoration and relaxation and more a personal vision of Hades.

That said, I am a bit of a sucker for a good massage, so when my chiropractor suggested a pummelling before I next saw him to help with a particularly stubborn adjustment to my pelvic girdle, I immediately thought of the Devonshire Spa on our doorstep here in the High Peak. It is a training ground for students from the University of Buxton and, as such, is singularly less expensive than most spas - and therefore all the more appealing for an old cynic and skinflint like me. Thus, the other week, I arrived (five minutes late, of course), clutching a bag containing swimsuit, flip-flops and pound coin as instructed when I made the booking. They were doing a special promotion that day on Hot Stone Massages so, ever curious and with an eye to a bargain, I signed up for a 45 minute hot stone back massage, having never tried this particular little number before. The massage came with a complimentary hour in the spa so I was ushered off to the changing rooms and invited to slip on my cozzie and flipflops and put my belongings in the locker (cue pound coin) before enrobing myself in white towelling to return to reception, past a lady having a manicure, so that I could be shown around the spa facilities. These included an aromatherapy room, steam room, sauna, drench shower, ice for exfoliating hot bodies, a foot spa and a large spa pool for splashing elegantly around in and enjoying water massages from jets coming out of steel contraptions reminiscent of Victorian mental asylums. While alarming at first glance, they proved to be surprisingly user-friendly and in the end I wallowed, happily, for some time, clinging to the various bits of smooth shiny metal.

But first of all, having claimed one of the appealing looking bamboo loungers with my towel and robe, I ensconced myself in the steam room as the other three people in the spa had just exited it (I am always wary of sharing small spaces with strangers). When hot and steamy enough I released myself and headed for the crushed ice machine and rubbed handfuls of it enthusiastically on my scaly limbs. It melted, of course, before any chance of exfoliation had occurred, but it was a pleasant enough experience even if mildly useless. From here to the sauna, to get myself hot again; then out and under the 'drench' shower which 'spat' rather than 'drenched' at somewhat awkward angles. I abandoned this in favour of the large pool, which my companions had just exited (I followed them around as if in a theme park), where I did my frothy wallowing before climbing out and pouring myself an orange juice from one of the complimentary jugs. I followed this by pomegranate juice, due to my embarrassing urge to make the most of anything free, while idly fingering the collections of beautifying goods which were laid out temptingly for purchase.

Next I decided to give my poor arthritic feet some TLC and filled the foot massage bath with warm water and pressed the button to start the jets. Leaning back on the ceramic bench I was delighted to find that it was heated and wondered, for reasons best known to myself, whether this was done by hot water pipes or electric wires. I'm sure I shall never know. The foot spa, meanwhile proved more pleasing than expected and I found myself going back to it a couple more times and even explaining its workings in a chatty sort of manner to the only male in the room. 

My final stop before setting my sights on the lounger and a copy of Cosmo (there was no other choice), was the 'aromatherapy room' which was warm and sort of nice smelling (but not that nice) with little LED coloured lights in the ceiling. A couple of newcomers soon joined me (clearly not having read the sign that suggested this room should be your final experience) which gave me good enough reason to escape to the lounger. Unfortunately, before I'd even raised my bottom from the (heated) ceramic bench, the glass door was opened and a sandally young girl in a brown tunic called me to my hot stone massage. And thus I will never know what the March issue of Cosmo had to say about tantric sex and week-long orgasms...

Instead I padded back to the changing rooms where I was advised to exchange damp cozzie for dry underwear. I wondered if this meant bra too, though that seemed counter-intuitive when about to have a back massage, but put it diligently on anyway. Three minutes later I was if course removing it again in the gloomy privacy of the treatment room, feeling faintly foolish. Next vexing issue is which bit of coloured cloth you are meant to be climbing under on the massage bench. Clearly I am not alone in finding this confusing as my masseuse was careful to point out very exactly how to do it. Either that or she'd already clocked the rising panic in my eyes. 

And so I was left to arrange my self appropriately before she knocked on the door and slipped silently back in to commence the much-anticipated treatment. Lying face down in a white towel, attempting to look relaxed, I could hear the clunking of granite above the (slightly irritating) ubiquitous spa music attempting to send me off to some Balinese paradise or other. (A tall order when you know you will soon be stepping out once more onto the wind and rain-lashed streets of Buxton.) My feet were unexpectedly wrapped in a warm towel which was a very pleasing sensation before copious amounts of warm oil were rubbed into my back before the application of the first hot stones. And hot they certainly were! I almost flinched, but not being one to complain, I imagined that they would cool down soon enough. But I have to say that it was a thoroughly lovely massage and the sensation of the smooth hot stones, under firm pressure, sweeping over my back and neck and shoulders was one I can heartily recommend.

Inevitably the 45 minutes away from the world passed all too quickly and soon I was alone again with the music, my masseuse having slipped silently out of the room to allow me to rest for a moment before gathering myself together again. As ever, I could have happily lain there for the rest of the day, but instead had to desist from dropping off and ease myself back into the real world. Before that, however, I was invited to have a drink of something cleansing in the 'rest room'. I chose peppermint tea and stretched myself out on the alluring lounger, reaching for the copy of Cosmo. Before a page had even been turned my companion in the room - the only male in the spa - picked up cheerily from where we had left off in the foot spa and my time was no longer my own. I did, however, learn a lot about his life-long career as a BT engineer, the secrets of the week-long orgasm clearly destined to elude me.
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