Some of life’s lessons

Two lessons have been learned while on my spa getaway:

1. In rural England, you can walk a long way to find simple sustenance (water, a sandwich…). On Wednesday I managed to walk 6 miles before finding such a thing – a loop involving a large chunk of Windsor Great Park, its closed Village Shop (to which I’d been following signs for the first 3 miles, arriving 15 minutes after it shut) and a walk practically all the way back to the train station I’d got a cab from the day before. Not quite the relaxing trip I’d anticipated…

2. Spa treatments, though relaxing, involve the setting aside of normal decency levels.
My massage [2011 First ticked off the list] required the stripping off of clothes down to hip level – bearable, given as I was to spend the session lying on my front. But the body polish (exfoliation, followed by moisturising) was a different kettle of fish entirely…

It was the words “if you just take off all your clothes and pop these paper knickers one” that began to worry me. I’m not stupid, I realised that the treatment would involve the taking off of clothes, but I’d not really thought about how this would work out practically. I’m no prude (ok, I may be a bit of a prude) but I’ve had a full leg wax and just two days previously I’d been perfectly happy with the massage, but paper knickers? Never. Oh, and they’re not ‘knickers’ in the M&S sense – they’re basically a thong.

For the first few minutes I coped admirably – as if there was nothing more normal than lying virtually naked in a room with an almost-stranger. [I realise that this constitutes a fun Friday night for many of my contemporaries.] There was a moment when I nearly giggled when she said “turn over & cover your chest area with this small towel” – I’m sorry, ‘small’ towel – I’d need something more than a folded tea-towel to maintain a degree of modesty; but generally it was going well and I was behaving like it wasn’t a big deal. Thing is, with a body polish you get through the exfoliating and then have to shower before it starts all over again with the moisturising – quite an ordeal.

Finally it finished and I felt very proud of myself. In fact, I was metaphorically patting myself on the back when I looked down and realised that I’d put the paper knickers on back-to-front.

Humiliated. 

The etiquette of getting naked with colleagues

I’ve often wondered how people with workplace gyms cope with seeing their colleagues at inopportune moments – sweaty on a treadmill, doing an inelegant stretch, mid-change of clothes, in the sauna, in the shower…depending on your colleagues (and your own appearance), it can’t be a good thing.

[Incidentally, nor is running into colleagues in your pyjamas. At this year’s Greenbelt I was emerging from my tent first thing in the morning – in pj’s & bedhair – when a voice said “Liz! George thought it was you and it is!” and I discovered two colleagues were camped in adjacent tents. I had to watch my tongue and my outfits for the rest of the weekend.]

This morning I appeared almost naked in front of a colleague – but it’s ok because…
(i) I had a swimsuit on
(ii) It was a colleague who isn’t likely to get lecherous

Swimming with people is a risky business as it’s quite literally frightfully exposing. It’s not something to be done with male friends you’re remotely attracted to and even hanging out in a sauna with a good female friend is a little daunting.

Staying at a hotel with a pool last night, the plan this morning was to have a swim before breakfast and a vague time was arranged. In a fit self-consciousness, I decided to make my way down early so that I’d already be in the water when colleague arrived. Thankfully, colleague seriously overslept and I was in the jacuzzi after completing my 40 lengths by the time he appeared. I’m pretty sure he was then more interested in his own swim than the sight of me walking from jacuzzi to sauna to steam room and back to the jacuzzi again.

Occasionally I complain that my office didn’t install a gym/pool/hot-tub when it had a major refurbishment two years ago. Then I remember moments like today’s and realise that really, my colleagues are the last people I want to be sharing a changing room with. Sometimes perfect strangers are just, well, perfect.

Postscript on Saturday morning:
Last night’s accommodation was in an old university college in the north of England. Quaint rooms but no en suite facilities. Somehow I hadn’t fully realised this when packing and therefore didn’t have my most communal bathroom friendly PJs with me. Even worse, my neighbours weren’t office colleagues, they were a collection of national ‘experts’ (in a field that I’m definitely not an expert in).

I figured I could possibly make it to the shower and back without being spotted, but failed on both counts – jumping spectacularly when I opened the shower door to leave and bumped into one of my fellow delegates (she was in slightly more respectable PJs, I just had a towel on…plus she was at least someone I’d been drinking with the night before). Next time, I’m bringing a dressing gown.

Snap, crackle and pop art

Almost the best thing about hotel stays (apart from baths, spas, freebie toiletries and biscuits) are the breakfasts. In my regular life, breakfast during the week is at best a hurried bowl of Weetabix (hurried both because of time restrictions and a need to consume it before it’s over soggy). At worst, it’s a banana or cereal bar eaten on the walk to the station, or, even worse – nothing.
Hotels present a scintillating array of choices. Multiple choice cereals; toast, the full-English; a random continental assortment of croissants, cheese & ham; fresh fruit; dried fruit; and strange milk dispensing machines… Oh, the excitement!
Cereal is a favourite, though dull in comparison with the other options. To make the most of it, it’s best to combine some of the choices available – as long as they compliment each other. Rice Krispies and Coco Pops is a classic combo (a strategy learnt during the days of holiday treat variety packs, what with one pack not being enough for a meal). What I’d not fully appreciated, until it was commented upon, was just how special my combination was.
This is what my bowl looked like:
Is that normal? Could it even be art? Does it simply reflect my innate need for order and symmetry in my life? Is it what Monica would do? Honestly, I hadn’t realised what I’d done until a colleague pointed it out. 
Maybe there could be a series, I imagine Cheerios might make for interesting patterns… 

Burn baby burn

A four-day British heatwave has drawn to a close. Miraculously, a weekend fell right in the middle of it, enabling the population to make the most of the sun. Spending much of the weekend in assorted London parks I had plenty of opportunity to observe what happens to the British when the sun comes out…

Essentially what occurs is that they (we) lose touch with reality. After all, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Not only do the Brits head outside when the sun is at its strongest, they do so in the skimpiest of clothing and with minimal protection.

First off, let me confess that I’ve been guilty on both counts. I forgot the sun-cream on Saturday (but after purchasing more on Sunday I have carefully re-applied it diligently) and did wear a vest-top under my t-shirt yesterday so that I could avoid a tan-line over lunch in the park. [I’m slightly ashamed of doing this second thing as not quite two years ago I criticised others for similar actions.]

But, why do we seem to think that the British sun can’t damage us? Sure, we don’t see much of it and are probably severely deficient in Vitamin D, but risking skin cancer? Foolish. Don’t people realise that in most hot climates people cover up in the sun in order to protect themselves? True, on Sunday I had practically bare shoulders, but I was evening out the exposed flesh-ness by carrying off the maxi-dress thing – meaning my legs were covered and (most genius aspect) could sit cross-legged in a graceful fashion. But you should have seen some of the poor lobsters in the congregation at church that evening!

Also, can I make a plea – bring back hats! Once upon a time, the British were famous for their hats and summer meant Panama time. Now everyone simply gets overheated and burnt. (I have currently have a very sensitive patch of skin where my hair parting is.) Personally, I’d love a big floppy straw creation, 1930s style. Then I could go punting with a charming gentleman wearing a Panama and carry a parasol. (Actually, before I get carried away with this fantasy, presumably if one is wearing a hat one doesn’t also need a parasol?)

As it’ll be at least a week until the weather scorches up again, you’ll have time to read the Guardian’s guide to dressing for the heat. I would like to point out that as I started writing this post last night, I thought of the maxi dress, parasol and hat comments before its author did – it’s just that (yet again) my thoughts ran along the same lines as their writers. Honestly, they should just employ me and be done with it…

Bad signs

Another week, another focus group up north, another hotel…

This week’s hotel was chosen specifically for its proximity to the train station. I’ve got to be on time for an 11am meeting in London tomorrow morning, which means catching the 7.34 from Chester – ouch. [I may, or may not have made it clear to our Administrator that C didn’t need such an early train back when I sorted out the tickets…I will certainly have a silent travel companion tomorrow.]

Turns out the hotel’s opposite a sex shop and a tattoo parlour, which may give a good (or not so good) indication of the neighbourhood. C and I were still giggling about this juxtaposition when we checked in. We then had cause for further giggles…

…Despite asking for the rooms booked under “Stephens and Clutterbuck”, the receptionist initially only gave us one key and was leading us to the room before I asked about the second one we’d booked. The idea that me and C could be a couple had me giggling even more. (Nothing against C, he just doesn’t go for girls!)

Other notable achievements for today included C having only his second pork pie OF HIS LIFETIME!! (The first was last week apparently.) This boy is really having his eyes opened via this tour of the provinces.

Just hoping these focus groups aren’t cursed. Hours after we left Keswick last week it suffered from its highest rainfall in a thousand years and terrible flooding…