The shudder of shame is something I do when I remember things I’ve said or done that have been truly awful. Like the time I told a passenger on a long-haul flight that I was Jewish. My desire to be Jewish has always overshadowed my desire to be anything else in life, and occasionally, still, I like to experience how it might feel.
“My father is Jewish. My mother is agnostic,” I told the woman. “Interesting,” she said, “because Jewishness is passed down through the mother.”
God only knows how I didn’t realise this aged 19, a scholar of GCSE RE. For the next 14 hours of the flight I wanted to melt into my seat. I was both a liar and an idiot and I learned from that experience never to tell lies to people who I can’t then run away from.
And then, there was the time that I took a ride in Mr one-night-stand-man’s car. I was 17, he was 21 and we were headed for the local GP so I could get the morning-after pill. I fancied Mr one-night-stand but he treated me like I was bad breath. He did, however, want to make sure I made it to the doctors, for I’m sure his greatest fear was that I might actually want to have his baby.
As he drove, I tried to look cool and nonchalant. I rested my elbow on the narrow plastic door ledge. I accidently pressed down on a button that made an alarmingly loud clunk. Unknowingly, I pressed it again. Clunk. The shocking sound of a cheap central locking system. Alas, seconds later I rested my elbow on the ledge again, thus locking every door. Mr one-night-stand rolled his eyes, and I dug my nails into my thighs with embarrassment. I accidently locked and unlocked his doors no less than five more times in the ten-minute journey.
From this, I learned never to sleep with anyone who I would later feel awkward around if – or when – I displayed signs of my inherent clumsiness.
Recently, I’ve found myself doing the shudder of shame when I think about my first overnight stay at a spa. A couple of months ago an email labelled ‘exclusive’ landed in my inbox, despite being sent to everyone who’s ever had supermarket shopping delivered to their home before.
I clicked on, enticed by the fact that if I did take up the deal I would essentially be carrying on a family tradition. My mother used to get whisked away by her childless friend (glamorous, American, wealthy) to the epitome of ‘80s spa glamour – Forest Mere. She always came back to me and my siblings smelling like Imperial Leather soap and champagne, and I’m sure she was in a better mood for weeks afterwards.
I’ve been to luxury spas in the past. I’ve been spoiled by three-hour treatments in London’s best, because I used to review them for Virgin trains magazine. (Sorry passengers who might have been reading it, hoping to find cheap places to eat. I knew that you couldn’t fork out £500 for a couple of treatments, but I was pregnant and only got paid peanuts for the reviews, so the free facials and foot massages were hugely attractive.)
Yes, I’d been to spas, but I’d never had an overnight stay in one. I just wish that before I’d signed up for the offer I’d have grasped the fact that hotel and spa deals – like chocolate and sex – should be enjoyed separately.
Oh isn’t hindsight marvellous? It could have saved me from a world of stained chintz and piss-poor massage. I even managed to cajole two friends into coming along. I dressed up the whole idea as brilliant. “We can walk around in bathrobes all day, lounge by the side of the infinity pool while being served cocktails by Joey Essex lookalikes,” I said. Heaven knows why I didn’t do any research.
The pub lunch we had before our grand spa entrance was probably the highlight of our break. Oh, and the porter. He was called Sic but we wanted to be polite so we kept looking at his nametag, mouthing to each other. “Perhaps the C is a soft C. Like the French pronunciation of six…” He swiftly corrected us though. “It’s S…I…C. Like, you know Sick!”
We tipped him double because, well, you know, poor man.
On our tour we peered into a gym that was like a human aquarium. Lobster-red couples were power-walking side-by-side on the type of treadmills that are sold cheap on shopping channels and that always end up dusty, depressed and defunct in spare bedrooms.
The room was a sad gathering of all things that have ever appeared on back-page adverts in weekend supplements: elasticated trousers, dumbbells, stain-retardant carpet, three-quarter-length cargo pants. Hell, I even expected to see a corner bath with an easy-access door somewhere in there.
We headed for the Jacuzzi. After five minutes of extreme eye irritation (the water contained enough chlorine to kill a million viruses) we entered the steam room where a man wearing Speedos was sweating out five years’ worth of takeaway curry. The outside hot tub looked like a tempting escape from the menopausal heat of inside, but we discovered it was about five degrees too cold. It was like stepping into a tepid bath, but not having the option of adding any hot water.
The rest of the trip was like that, really. We kept trying to fill up our night-and-day-stay with hot water, but finding only cold. There wasn’t any hope; not a single commiseration prize of a delicious meal at the end of the day; only lukewarm despair. The dining room was a symphony of dying coral, and some of the curtains hung down like they’d given up on life. We stole a pepper-grinder because when you’re not eating in a restaurant, we what else do you do?
Everything on the menu had a coloured triangle next to it: red, yellow or green, a nutrition code for weird people who still think that Canderel sweetener is healthy. The base of the cheesecake I ordered was made of what tasted like birdfeed balls (lard, hair, and various regurgitated pumpkin seeds.)
Drugs didn’t make it better. OK, we didn’t take any drugs, but even if we had, I just know they couldn’t have made anything better. You can’t polish a turd.
We left the next morning smelling like chlorine and school dinners, my friends surprisingly jolly about everything. They said it was fun, an experience. I think they were just being kind because the whole thing had been my suggestion.
I drove us home shrouded in shame and silence thinking, next time the offer of a spa trip arrives in my inbox, I’ll remember this: that fabulous spas never advertise deals on Amazon.