Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Day Off

I've had a day off. A real, proper day off. By this, I mean I had a whole day when not only did I not go to work, but I also didn't go rowing (or running, or erging, or doing weights, etc.). As far as I can recall, Friday was the first time this year that I have achieved both not working and not rowing without also either visiting relatives in hospital, or having dysentery. Consequently, I have very low expectations of days off.

My day off had an inauspicious start. I woke up in the Harlow Travelodge at about 1am. (This narrowly beats having dysentery, but hardly constitutes advanced holidaying behaviour.) I resolved to go back to sleep and try again.

By 8am, I was ready to give the day a second chance. Having made our morning ablutions, Dr Why? the Elder and I made our way to the station to get breakfast and a train to The Big Smoke.

A short trek from Liverpool Street lie some Turkish baths. I'd endeavoured to book a session at The Sanctuary for Dr Why? the Elder and I, but was sadly out of luck. Searching for alternatives, I stumbled across these baths. A session in a spa had been a brainwave I had whilst studying the training plan for the week. Alongside running, cycling, yoga and pilates, Friday contained the option of swimming, which I immediately seized upon as the only option in which my mother would voluntarily accompany me and which not only be sociable, but also earn me brownie points. Having eliminated all possibilities for Thursday's session aside from weights (and the non-option of a day off), I figured that a swim the following day (and ideally a spot of sauna-ing) would be a good plan. Having failed to book the Sanctuary, and having happened across this place with its 30m pool and extra bonus Turkish baths, it seemed I'd found my ideal training session.

Having made our way on foot to the baths, we descended into the cellar to steam, sauna, plunge and be pummelled into relaxation.

The first thing which struck me as being a little remarkable was that the changing rooms were pretty much non-existent. There were lockers, there was a bench, and they were located in a corridor behind a room full of beds. At the end of the corridor was a water fountain, beyond which lay the baths. A heavy mist hung in the air. Having followed the handy instructions on how to take a Turkish bath (Step 1: get undressed) and stashed our stuff in the lockers, we headed into the baths.

The second remarkable thing was the seemingly overwhelming number of showers. They appeared to be everywhere. One was occupied by a rotund pensioner taking a vigorous shower. After exchanging pleasantries and establishing from her apparel that clothing was in fact strictly optional, we discovered she was a regular, having been using the baths each week for 30 years, and was only too happy to point out the facilities to any newcomers. The plunge pool was round the corner. A steam room lay at the end, three connected saunas of increasing heat in the middle, and the plunge pool at the far end. There were no Koi Carp here, just terracotta tiles, the odd marble slab and much wooden benching.

The steam room was hot and contained several people in varying amounts of swimwear. Having ascertained from the afore-mentioned pensioner that clothing was indeed optional, I didn't delay in stripping off and enjoying the heat permeating my sore, post-weights-session muscles. I could feel the tension in my back lessening by the second. It was more than welcome, it was verging on heavenly. (Coming from an atheist, this is high praise...) It didn't matter that the wooden benching was verging on the slimy, or that the room had a faint musty smell. If anything, it added to the old worlde charm of the place and its unapologetic, almost brutal, functionalism.

A quick shower and a plunge later, we headed for the sauna. After the small steam room, the size of the hot rooms gave a misleading sensation of coolness, causing us to head to the hottest of the three rooms. After cooking ourselves at 80 degrees for as long as it took us to notice the temperature gauge, the plunge pool again beckoned and the cycle started again.

We'd earlier booked massages, and as Dr Why? The Elder disappeared to have her shoulders realigned with human anatomy, I sweated buckets in the sauna. Later, and a few pails of perspiration lighter, it was my turn to have my shoulders pulled, pushed, twisted, and pressed back to shape, my lower back encouraged to move again, and my iliotibial bands massaged to excruciating effect. The benefits of all this were that I got to talk about rowing a lot (always a bonus...), have discovered a range of motion in my shoulders I had forgotten was possible, and I got to borrow the Concise Book of Muscles to read whilst I recovered from my pummeling. It also enabled me to later surf at my leisure and discover some ingenius stretches for my rather over-worked (and over-squatted) ITBs.

A bit of swimming later, training for the day was over, and a spot of lunch was in order. Thanks to the miracle of mobile phones, we made our way to a pub half a mile away to find my brother (Mr Why? Junior) seated at an upstairs window. A group of people wearing fluorescent yellow gas masks and CBRN suits were strutting their stuff on the street below. (That sort of thing doesn't happen in Harlow.) Perhaps they were demonstrating, or perhaps they just like wearing yellow CBRN suits. It's hard to tell with some people...

A short jaunt underground to London Bridge preceded shopping for very lovely foods at Borough Market. As with all trips to Borough Market, I came away the happy owner of some expensive and very yummy sun-blushed tomatoes, and with some very exciting sausages. Dr Why? the Elder came away with less cash in her purse than she started with.

Having returned to the Why? flat and briefly rested market-weary legs, we packed a picnic of the best sort (a bottle of red and antipasti) and wandered along the river to The River Cafe. It's currently being refurbished, and the only way to eat there at the moment is to bring your own food and make use of the outdoor furniture.

We sat down to our picnic as what appeared to be a minor hurricane swept through Hammersmith. I've never picnic-ed during an extreme weather event before, and wasn't entirely sure what protocol was. I did however assume that this was some variation of the law of nature which states that the probability of rain occurring on any given day is directly proportional to the square of the number of barbeques planned for that day. After sinking a bracing half bottle, we repaired home to finish off the rest in more windproof surroundings, and to continue putting the world to rights (always a popular activity after a bottle of wine).

At some point in the process of getting increasingly sozzled, it became evident that a meal was called for. Having had only one decent meal from a restaurant within walking distance for a tired and sozzled rower and her slightly merry mother, the local Somali restaurant was patronised. I was slightly surprised to discover that amongst Dr Why? The Elder's many talents (including tap-dancing, knitting, prolific cake production, elementary butchery and an ability to keep Mr Why? Senior alive and with a realistic stretch target of him being able to kick with his right leg in the near future), she has an embryonic command of Somali. My mother's myriad talents never cease to amaze me. I hoped they would extend to getting her home safely following the earlier imbibation.

A tasty meal and a full stomach later, it was high time for an early night in preparation for returning to the rowing grindstone on Saturday morning. It must have been at least 8:30pm...


Kahless said...

You were still active on your day off!!!

But Why? said...

Active, yes, but not rushed. We had no timetable to operate to, so it didn't feel busy. We followed it up on Saturday (after the obligatory rowing had been safely negotiated) with a stroll along the river to Kew, in beautiful sunshine, via the odd couple of riverside pubs. It was woderful.

DJ Kirkby said...

I need to go away and recover from the shock of reading that you had a day off! I will be back to read it properly after work but I popped over to say thank you for the book title 'Notes from Knee-high'for N3S's comments. I love it and will be using it, thank, you, thank you, thank you!

Wham my testes said...

Gutted that my presence in your day off only merits a quarter paragraph :(

Even the silly gas mask people beat me...

But Why? said...

Yes, a whole day off! With only a minor amount of training done! Can't wait to see N3S's words of wisdom in hard copy - what a genius idea!

Why, hello there! Nice to hear from you. Welcome to the humble abode. Superb name, btw. I was beginning to think you'd never make it to the blogging party...

Reading the Signs said...

You are an extraordinary family. All this, plus the worry of your eminent Doctor brother's spot of bother. Considering Why the Elder's many talents, I reckon he's a chip off the old block. And you too, it seems (or am I getting mixed up with Bionic Woman?)

Rob Clack said...

Fabulous! I love the ability to deal casually with the lack of clothes and the slightly dank atmosphere, while still taking advantage of all the facilities on offer. Magic.

And then to have a mother who can speak Somali...

Talk about feeling inadequate!

But Why? said...

'Tis true. Though which old block he's a chip off is up for debate - Mr Why? Senior continues to amaze the medical establishment with his powers of kidney regeneration. (He has nearly enough loyalty points from the local hospitals for the trip to Barbados. Unfortunately the travel insurance doesn't come with the trip.)

I must say Mr Why? Junior was looking very chipper when I saw him, and not at all concerned by future events.

Rob C,
It's difficult not to deal casually with the lack of clothing when many other people are already doing likewise. But I must say, the place had a certain charm and I will be making time in my diary to enjoy its facilities.

Somali... I was quite amazed. Where does she find the time...?

DJ Kirkby said...

Holey moley! Even your days off are a flurry of activity!

But Why? said...

Mrs Pot, may I introduce you to Mr Kettle? ;-)

Bollinger Byrd said...

wonderful read.
Turkish baths sound wonderful and I expect about 3/4 of the price of the Sanctuary, even if you do got Koi Carp and a lot of attitude there.

But Why? said...

Ah, now if I remember rightly, the turkish baths were about 1/7 the cost of The Sanctuary. They are very different beasts. I can see that I might be making a regular appointment for the baths whereas spa-ing on a weekly basis seems inherently wrong (and financially painful).

What is it with Koi carp anyway?

sexy said...