I love massage – receiving though, I’m definitely not a giver – and I’ll try any way I can to get one; gifts for my birthday, Valentine’s, even Easter. On holiday I’ll ask if there’s a local spa and make sure I have a massage early on in the holiday so that I can usually wangle another at the end.
The worst best massage I’ve ever had was at Cheddar Gorge. Not that they’ve opened a Champneys at the foot of the rock-face but the holiday park we stayed at, with static caravans and ten-pin bowls with pins still on strings had a lovely little spa.
The lady was older – where do massage therapists go after the age of thirty? Do they only have a short life-span due to the onerous work or do they get snapped up by building sites for their meaty forearms and broad hand-span? She also, she told me, taught massage and beauty therapy at a local college. I’m in for a treat, I thought, and I was. Truly professional, firm hands that knew what they were doing and how hard to do it. I felt wonderful – relaxed, pampered, and at one with the world. Until I got back to our static where I started to feel decidedly dodgy; nauseous, drained and heady. I drank litres of water to flush my system that day and still don’t know whether to curse her for releasing all my long-held toxins or worship her for her skills.
One way to enhance the massage experience is to have one with someone at the same time, not for reasons of shared experience and chakra synchronisation. No, it’s because it’s funny to see someone else get pummelled. In Thailand, my husband and I went to a massage station on the beach where a number of therapists worked on tourists and locals alike. He opted for the full-back massage while I went for head, neck and shoulders. At one point, halfway through my invigorating yet relaxing session, I turned to check how he was getting on. He was lying on his front with a tiny but cruel Thai lady sitting on his back. She had his feet hooked under her armpits and was pulling his arms backwards out of their sockets. His face was a picture and one I only just managed to capture seeing as I was so relaxed I could barely reach for my phone.
I had some experience of massage therapy in SE Asia. Ten years earlier, backpacking in Bali, I’d had a cheap massage or two, so long as that day’s dinner was noodles with no flavouring and I was prepared to recycle my own urine. This was the low end of the therapy market, wandering toothless septuagenarians with a bottle of something unidentifiable as lubricant. One day, one such lady entered the pool area of the bungalow shacks where I was staying and began offering her services to those gathered. As each person knocked her back, she shuffled to the next undeterred. Finally, a newbie agreed to pay her a few baht and she set to work, generously applying a first coat of ‘lube’. I don’t know if she had allergies or the start of a cold but I do know she paused briefly to blow her nose on one hand before putting it straight back on that poor boy’s back. There was a collective gasp around the pool, exchanged looks of ‘she didn’t…did she?’ but no one said a word. In our defence, the moment had passed and the less he knew the easier it would be for him to sleep at night.
My most recent massage was in a local department store and a very lovely Clarins spa, but even here they managed to surprise me. As I undressed and hopped on the bed I realised it was heated. Usually, 2 bed-sheet sized towels and 25 degree heating are warm enough for me but throw in a super-heated bed and I’m ready to expire. She turned it off straight away but the heat merely seeped form the bed into me and back again. I spent 40 minutes throwing off towels and being covered up again.
Now I’ve discovered the ‘at home’ option – it’s free, it’s time-unlimited and it comes with an entertaining line of chatter, singing and ‘what’s this?’ as various objects are rubbed up and down my back. My nine-year-old delights in the potions side of things and my six-year-old is the implements guy – body buffers, cotton wool pads, Beanie Boos and even staplers have made their way up and down my spine.
And all the better for it, it is too!