A firey dilemma

I’m a big fan of birthdays that are outside of the norm – when by ‘norm’ I mean meals at restaurants or drinks in a bar. Last month, for example, saw an afternoon of fun in the park where each guest was instructed to bring an Olympic themed activity with them. [My contribution was dry-land synchronised swimming, but sadly we didn’t get to try it. Competitive strawberry shoelace eating with no hands was epic though.]

However, I become slightly less excited about unusual birthday celebrations that involve significant levels of clothing removal – like an evening in a sauna in Barking.

Having said that, when Saturday morning dawned, the fact that I had a pedicure booked as part of the party was quite a pleasing thought. However, I began to worry at lunch time when I realised that I’d left my swimsuit at home and couldn’t work out what I should wear in the sauna.

The fabulous Barking Bathhouse sauna. (Credit.)

The thing was, I’d been organised – I’d studied the Barking Bathhouse’s website, chosen a treatment and ascertained that they didn’t have water based spa activities. (As in a pool or hot tub – they did have showers and toilets.) Therefore, my logical mind had concluded that no swimsuit was needed. For some reason I hadn’t considered the sauna, or any of the following points:

1. I didn’t know everyone who’d be there. Plus, some of them were men with whom I have slightly awkward relationships already. Did I want to sauna with them without a swimsuit/similar attire? No.

2. Spa towels are difficult to predict, size-wise. Yes, I could’ve gone in starkers with a towel, but I had no guarantee this would protect my modesty. (Obviously, a bath robe would be far too warm in a sauna.)

3. I couldn’t do the primary school PE thing of vest & pants because I needed to wear my vest & pants for the rest of the evening – which would not be pleasant having sauna-ed in them.

And thus, the lack of a swimsuit became quite a pressing issue.

The issue was realised while I was at a gathering of women leaders (in all likelihood, this will be tomorrow’s blog topic), and several women provided advice – or simply laughed at my predicament. What could I do? As I saw it, there were a few options:

  • Go home and get my swimsuit. (Not an option really – I didn’t have the time.)
  • Go and buy a new swimsuit. (Similarly tricky – swimsuit shopping is a pain at the best of times.)
  • Acquire alternative underwear. (Doable, but where from?)

When telling this story to my mother earlier, I had got this far when she came up with a (genius) fourth option: Buy a large beach towel. Yes, that would’ve solved it – kind of.

So, what did I do?
Well, thanks to TfL engineering work, I had to travel to Barking via Stratford, so a quick stop at M&S (happily the nearest store to the tube exit at Westfield) was little bother. There, I happily discovered matching vest & pants sets for £6. A solution to my dilemma and new underwear – bonus!

So, was the party as traumatic as I feared? In a word: no.
Yes, the towels were too small; but my vest & pants set did the job of a tankini. Yes, there was a man in the sauna; but he was married and visually impaired without glasses. Yes, there were strangers; but I’ve sauna-ed with strangers many, many times at my old gym, so no biggy.

Plus, the spa served drinks in jam-jars; I tasted chocolate beer for the first time; I got a glittery pedicure; the squidgy baby was as delightful as ever; and I overcame virtually all modesty issues and even hung out in the spa’s bar in my bath robe and towel (fear not, I was not alone in doing this). The Barking Bathhouse is highly recommended should you need a spot of pampering – it may not be around for long, but it’s certainly worth a trip.

Delightful smoothies in jam-jars – but cava was even better. (Credit.)

The One With the Extreme Ironing

Ever since I was 14, I’ve longed to live in a world that was basically an endless episode of Friends. Doesn’t that appeal to everyone at some point in their lives? There’s certainly a Friends quote for pretty much every occasion – in fact, it’s rare when they’re not appreciated.

There is, however, one aspect of the Friends world that I have not lusted after – beautiful loft apartment, awesome wardrobe, endless fun, seemingly free hot beverages, and hot men – yes; my very own Ugly Naked Guy – no.

My new flat is on the top floor of a super quaint building, in a charmingly lovely street. Above shops that sell ridiculously expensive things, are a whole host of flats that over look the pavements of Bloomsbury. Aware that my bedroom is rather visible, I’ve tried to be careful about keeping my curtains closed when changing clothes or wandering around naked. However, it seems that my opposite neighbour isn’t quite as careful…

On Monday morning I’d just returned from a breakfast date with our lovely American seminarians who were about to leave London and was dashing round the flat packing my bag for a few hours of diligent theological studying at a lovely coffee house. So far, already quite Friends-like. (Though I don’t recall any studying of theology in Central Perk.) Then I looked out of my bedroom window and there, lo and behold, was my very own naked guy.


I did what any sane person would do on sighting such a thing and finding themselves completely on their own – I told Twitter (and a few minutes later, told Facebook for good measure). I commented on the nakedness and the fact that surely ironing naked was rather dangerous. The responses this tweet garnered kept me entertained during my long wrangling with theologians. Women seemed to react with horror/amusement, while men tended to make comments on the seedier side of the spectrum…

Man #1: “What? Why is this not across my street?” 
[This particular guy would have the same interest in a naked man as I would.]

Man #2: “Dangerous? I’d say traumatising!”
[I’m not sure if he meant the ironing, or my sighting. But if the ironing went wrong, I’m sure it would be traumatising.]

Woman #1: “AHAHAHAHHAHAHA. He might be ironing his pants…”
[It’s the only logical explanation for naked ironing. But what’s the point in ironing pants?!]

Woman #2: “Think ugly naked guy used to do it in friends.”
[He probably did. I’m just glad Bloomsbury Naked Guy wasn’t doing some of UNG’s more questionable activities…]

Woman #3: “Ha! Anyone we know?”
[Fortunately not. But the church treasurer does live over the road…and several doors down. Thank goodness!]

Woman #4: “Have you fashioned a poking device?”
[If only the window had been open, and I’d stockpiled chopsticks.]

Man #3: “Life is too short to iron ones pants – which would be about the only excuse. Sure you’re not in an episode of Friends?”
[I quite agree – see above. And yes, this is clearly the point when my ambition became reality.]

Man #4: “Well, I don’t think you’ll go blind. Oh you mean for him.”
[I came up with several retorts to this tweet. I held fire on all of them…]

Man #5: “There are so many inappropriate answers to that…#tempting”
[I replied that he didn’t need to contribute – others were doing well on that front.]

Man #6: “Um, seriously, how long *is* it?”
Man #6 – again: “I mean, presumably you were worried it would get caught?? #ironsandwich”

It was those final tweets that got me. The second arrived 15 minutes after the first – presumably because their author thought I hadn’t understood his meaning the first time, when in fact I was simply buried in the intricacies of some New Testament Greek. Our exchange got a little personal…

Me: “Regardless of length, it’s surely a risk not worth taking?? I wouldn’t do it…”
Him: “yeah, but you’re dyspraxic…”
Me: “Well, ironing sans bra would certainly be a risk…”
Oh so slightly inappropriate for a public forum.

Anyway, the real question is what to do next? Obviously, I’ve been checking that window at sporadic intervals – not to get another eyeful, I’ll assure you – but to see if I can see him fully clothed, or so he can see me and realise just how easy it is to be seen from across the street. Perhaps I should put a note up in my window alerting him to his exhibition? But do we really want the amusing Bloomsbury Naked Guy sightings to end? It’s a tough call.

Who knew life in Bloomsbury could be quite so exciting?

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.


Snow Fun Friday

Those of us who have not managed to have any snow days this week and instead have battled blizzards, ice and temperamental transport systems, could do with some fun this morning. (To be honest, I’d have settled for staying under my duvet, but sadly work had other ideas.) Ever the predictable, I thought it would be good to keep to a snowy theme for this week’s entertainment.

First up is an oldy, but a goody. In fact I think this may have started off the whole idea of Friday fun. Many, many years ago when I worked in a draughty office building in Waterloo (its imminent closure meant that during my last winter there, when boilers began to fail, they weren’t repaired) Friday entertainment was often circulated between colleagues. A particular favourite were pointless games, which would then result in highly competitive contests as to who could achieve the highest score, the most memorable of which was the Penguin Tossing game. There’s snow, a penguin, a yeti and a club – I think you can figure out the aim of the game… It’s not sophisticated, but it is diverting for a good few minutes. (There’s also a whole list of other yeti related games, should you be really, really bored.)

One of my favourite occupations during Snow Chaos is reading the Guardian’s live blog of the deteriorating situation across the country. On the one hand, it’s great to keep appraised of what the trains in Scotland are doing when you’re sat at your desk in London; it’s also slightly sickening reading of the thousands of school children enjoying a day of sledging – but this time round, I actually had a practical concern.

On Tuesday night my Dad got stranded at Gatwick after his flight to Belfast was cancelled – so I was keen to keep track of his potential options. [He arrived home late on Wednesday after managing to get to Stanstead for an unaffected flight.] Yesterday morning the blog provided details of a hideous train journey experienced by people attempting to travel from London to Brighton the previous night. This rang a bell with me as my fellow researcher had dashed off to Brighton Wednesday night and yes, she was on the affected train. She’s still not made it back to London.

But none of that’s fun – what is fun is the random videos, pictures and quotes that the Guardian provides as light entertainment. Take this update from 9.46am:
BBC News has just tweeted this: “Woman in Kent criticised by police for calling 999 to report theft of snowman for which she’d used ‘two pound coins’ for its eyes”. I’ll investigate. We need to get to the bottom of this.

As for videos, well I’m a sucker for snow and cute animals, so the combination of the two is rather fabulous. I also have a soft spot for comedy dogs, so this short clip of a small dog in deep snow had me grinning.

Of course, snow also has a bizarre affect upon the population – making them do strange things. In London this manifests itself in people talking on the tube, in Brighton, it apparently results in naked tea-tray sledging. (Possibly not one to watch in the office.) Knowing how painful my fingers were after less than an hour in the snow yesterday, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain this crazy man endured. Ouch.

Just in case you felt that was rather gratuitous, my final suggestion for today is a beautiful video showing just what you can get up to with a couple of chainsaws, a snow mobile and a lot of ice – no blood or gore included. 

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.