Did someone say spa?
When it comes to pampering treatments, it’s full steam ahead for author Sophie Hannah, even if they don’t always live up to expectations
Author Sophie Hannah reveals why she is partial to a bit of pampering
Ihave a confession to make: I’m a spa addict. The more time I spend in a white fluffy robe and towelling slippers, with skin so infused with aromatherapy oil I smell like a lavender field, the happier I am. No matter that the robes are uncomfortable, I always lose the belts and the massage oils give me a headache – nothing will stop me worshipping at the altar of the spa.
Like members of a religious cult, us addicts cannot go long without a day spent in the scented steam, where the silence is interrupted only by tinkly instrumental music. We hope for spa vouchers every birthday, Christmas and Mother’s Day, and cling to them as if they were rosary beads. After my visit, I leave restored: there is new space in my head, I breathe more deeply, I have perspective once more.
When you’re a devout follower of the spa religion, you give thanks for the good times. Obviously, a spa that’s attached to a posh hotel is the Holy Grail, but you also know that the bad experiences are as important as the good ones in your spiritual journey. And for every luxe experience, there are others that are decidedly less so. There was the dingy city centre hotel where the ‘spa’ included a fizzing puddle of tepid water in a cramped closet, officially called ‘the Jacuzzi’. Worse still, the puddle was right in front of a window that overlooked a busy shopping street. The receptionist assured me that it was one-way glass. I started to suspect otherwise when someone pointed right at me and mouthed, ‘Why’s that angry woman sitting in a bucket of water?’
How could I forget the deep-tissue massage that was so deep, it made my two C-sections seem like hands-off Reiki healing sessions by comparison? Then there was the ‘chocolate treatment’ a friend bought me that was, quite frankly, too ridiculous to be relaxing. I was dunked in chocolate, which was then smeared around a little, after which I spent four-and-a-half hours scrubbing the damn stuff off. For weeks afterwards, however diligently I washed, tiny chocolatey crustations fell from my hair and the backs of my knees.
Of course, if you’re not feeling all that tranquil, even a spa can’t save you. I once wept all the way through a 90-minute massage because someone had made a bitchy comment to me just before I went in.
However, these flawed experiences didn’t put me off. Nor did the massage from a beautician who stank of cigarettes; nor the woman who advertised herself as a ‘spa’ when all she had was just a few bottles of oil in her conservatory and a penchant for loud rock music…
In fact, after many years of ‘research’, I decided to set my latest novel in a fivestar spa resort. To me, it’s the perfect setting for a crime novel: a peaceful place where people walk around in white robes, which can be seen as incredibly calming but, maybe, also sinister. In my novel Did You See Melody?, an exhausted mother of two escapes to a spa, where she comes face to face with the most famous murder victim in the country – except the girl’s not dead, and nobody believes her.
I gave the spa in my new book a crystal grotto very much like the one at the Enchantment Spa in Sedona, Arizona – a cool, dark cave with benches all around it and a silver pot with pencils and strips of paper beside it. You’re supposed to drop your worries into it and, in doing so, make them disappear. I wrote, ‘My name is Sophie and I am a spa addict.’ Like magic, my worry disappeared. Now I wear my addiction with pride. Sophie’s novel, Did You
See Melody? (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99), is out now.