Of all my letters, this is the one I enjoyed writing the most. It is very long, but I am told that it is worth the time it takes to get through it.
It all started in earnest after I spent an obscenely expensive weekend with my wife at a well known Spa nearly 10 years ago. Everything that could possibly go wrong went spectacularly wrong. Rather than send the usual Mr. Angry letter, I decided to write a tongue-in-cheek (but entirely true) magazine article about my experience and sent it to the Spa for comment. I received a cheque refunding the entire cost of our weekend by return of post. Here is the letter/article. I cannot identify the recipient. That would not be fair after the very large sum of money they sent to persuade me NOT to publish it. Enjoy:
Dear Customer Relations,
I set out below a draft magazine article regarding a recent stay at your establishment. I would very much appreciate your comments. By the way, the article is utterly accurate and completely honest – it is not a work of fiction in any respect.
Title: ‘A Weekend of De-stress’
Every September, my wife and I install the wrinklies at home to watch over Pugsley and Veruka and disappear for a weekend of blissful self-indulgence. This year, it was the turn of a well-known Health Hydro in the midlands to exorcise the year’s accumulated stresses.
On this occasion, we had booked into a standard room. Last year, at a similar establishment not a million miles away, we chose a deluxe room at an obscene cost only to realise on departure that we hadn’t touched the fruit bowl or even used the jacuzzi. We checked out ten minutes later with pockets full of grapes and cherries looking rather dishevelled, damp and a little short of breath. This year, we would be more sensible.
The standard room was soon looking like a mistake. For a start, Room 16 wasn’t very big, but neither is a bedroom on the Orient Express. Unlike the Orient Express however, the pink candy stripe net curtain and the rest of the décor alluded rather less to international chic and rather more to Blackpool landlady. The facilities provided within the room were the same as those found in any travel lodge….. plus a box of tissues…..and a fan. Come to think of it, the room was extraordinarily warm.
Never mind, Miss Reception was taking us on a tour at 16.15 hrs and at 16.30 hrs, we had our appointment at the Beauty Reception to discuss our itinerary. We might have a treatment before the day was out. A shower was required.
The pubic-hair-impregnated soap bar was lurking in the soap dish over the bath.
Don’t you just hate it when this sort of thing happens. On the one hand you don’t want to pick up a used soap bar covered in the detritus of some stranger’s wedding tackle; on the other, you don’t want to have a shower with it just staring at you daring you to do something about it. I remembered the tissues. The soap was safely removed. Never mind.
After the tour, we reported to Beauty Reception as required. Miss Therapy explained that we would dine at 18.00 hrs followed by a massage for each of us at 20.00 hrs. I didn’t like the sound of this at all. As I said, we had eaten a very late lunch. Dinner at 18.00 hrs was just too soon. In addition, I just didn’t fancy the idea of lying face-down (bottom-up) after a large evening meal whilst some pretty young lady rubbed scented oils into the back of my thighs.
The following day, we would lunch at 11.45 hrs (!?). I would then have my Dead Sea Flotation Experience at 14.15 hrs followed later by my free facial (yes I know – blokes get them too) at 17.30 hrs. Dinner would be served at 19.15 hrs. Our Monday itineraries would arrive in our room on Sunday. I resisted the temptation to ask whether this would include an inspection of our barracks and kit
Today’s priority was to eat later if possible. It said on our printed itineraries that the staff would be happy to rearrange meal times if required so Miss Therapy was dispatched to request a later meal slot with Mr. Kitchen. After several minutes of clearly complex negotiations, Miss Therapy returned triumphant – meal traffic control had consented to a one hour delay. We could eat at 19.00 hrs.
Sadly, our massage was now scheduled at around the time that we would be enjoying our desert. There clearly wasn’t room for a masseuse in the Dining Room (at least not at 19.00 hrs) so our first treatments would be postponed until tomorrow. Never mind.
We decided to try the all-new pool complex with steam sauna jacuzzi and underwater massage jets. It was very good indeed – so much so that we completely forgot the welcome meeting at 17.30 hrs! Oh bother!
Instead, we dressed for dinner. The bedroom was still awfully hot, even with all the windows open.
We descended to the Dining Room (which smelled permanently of raw halibut) and were soon to discover that our room was in fact hotter than the food in the restaurant. It was obvious what had happened. The kitchen was under our bedroom and conforming obediently to the laws of physics, all the heat had gone upwards such that the food was lukewarm whereas our bedroom was like a bloody furnace!
Our waiter was a spotty teenager who took close to five minutes to get a bread roll from the basket to the side plate using a fork and spoon. He was shaking so much, we thought we were having an earthquake. The bread was white, lightly burnt and tasted of nothing at all with a hint of charcoal. Brown or wholemeal bread was apparently not an option at this health establishment. For starters, I had crab cakes that, in addition to being just above room temperature, were interesting if only because it made one wonder how long it had been since the crab had last seen the sea. For main course, I had fillet of beef (which would have been good if it had been hot) and was charged an additional £6.95 for the privilege. The discounted ‘Weekender’ standard room rate of £245 a night (treatments extra) was evidently not enough to cover six ounces of dead cow.
Never mind, we could lift our spirits by raiding the box of Thornton’s Continental hidden upstairs. That is, we could if we had a straw – they had melted in the furnace, sorry, bedroom.
Not only was the bedroom unbearably hot by now but our sleep was not aided by the discovery upon turning down the bed that the sheets were what can only be described as filthy. My sense of humour was under severe strain.
By morning, I was in no mood to say “Never mind”. After breakfast in [dirty and soaking wet with perspiration] bed, I insisted that Miss Dutymanager and Miss Housekeeper accompany me to the room to witness the standard of their hospitality. Miss Dutymanager seemed rather embarrassed from the word go, but when I showed them the contaminated soap and dirty sheets, I thought Miss Housekeeper was going to burst into tears.
The result was an immediate upgrade to a nicer room on the top floor that was both clean and, more importantly, cool. The staff had responded to my complaint without delay. The problem was, it seemed to me, that as soon as I was out of the way, some other poor sod would be moving in to Room 16.
My revised itinerary had been slid under the bedroom door the night before. My postponed massage would now take place at 17.30 hrs - the same time as my facial (!?). I therefore had a free morning and would be able to try the jacuzzi (yesterday, it had been just too full of attractive female flesh for me to feel comfortable in there). Today, there were just two ladies enjoying the bubbles, so in I climbed. I was soon lying back and daydreaming whilst I stared happily at the plastic ivy entwining the faux-stone columns around the tub. After a while, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that my companions were looking at me rather strangely. As I came round from my reverie, I realised that for the last ten minutes or so, the bubbles had been slowly inflating my swimming trunks until they were about three feet in diameter and ready to explode at any second. I carefully loosened my waistband. The trunks – and both ladies – exhaled noisily. I decided to repair to the steam room. No harm done – except to my previously snug-fitting lycra trunks which now resembled a ra-ra skirt.
Lunch was meant to be cold and was enjoyed all the more because I was looking forward to my flotation. For the uninitiated, this consists of floating naked in a tank of extremely salty water. The water and the air above it are both at body temperature so there is no tactile sensation. The salts have no smell. The tank is both pitch black and soundproofed so there is neither sight nor sound. As long as you keep your mouth shut, there is no taste. In short, all sensory input is removed allowing you to enter a very deep state of relaxation very quickly. After an hour in the tank, I feel like I have had the most wonderful night's sleep (which, of course, is exactly what I needed).
I should have known when I hung my robe up and the hook came off the wall that it would all go to hell in a handcart. The tissue box containing only used tissues should also have warned me. The yellow waxy deposits on the earplugs should have clinched it. But no. Ever the optimist, I climbed on into the tank like an idiot. I lay back, resting my head on the little inflatable cushion that goes round the back of your neck and prepared for nirvana. Bang! I hit the side of the tank. I straightened up and relaxed again. Bang! Again.
The penny dropped. The stupid bastards had left the filtration pumps on. This wasn’t Dead Sea flotation, this was more like indoor white-water rafting! And another thing. When I sat or stood up, the bottom of the tank felt like broken windscreens – my backside and feet were being cut to pieces. There were undissolved crystals all over the place.
I had to get out in a hurry. But the door had vanished! The light in the changing room outside goes off automatically when there is no movement (so that no light leaks into the tank). But I had been spinning round in the dark and I had no bloody idea which wall contained the door! I couldn’t see a damn thing and the crystals were going through the skin on the bottom of my feet. When I did finally manage to find the door and get it open, two things happened - the light came back on my skin started stinging like hell. They must have used too much salt (which would also explain why it wouldn’t dissolve). I dived into the shower to get the chemicals off my skin whilst I still had a skin.
No sooner had I shut the shower door than the smart-arsed little light went off again. I had to keep opening the shower door and waving my arms about to keep switching the bloody thing back on!
When I finally emerged from the flotation area, I was not very relaxed. On the contrary I was ready to tear someone limb from limb. I found the nearest member of staff and gave them one minute to find Miss Dutymanager or I was going to spit my dummy in spectacular fashion. However, Miss Dutymanager bottled out and sent Miss Guestrelations – a woman with such reserves of self-control that she could smile sweetly at you while you sawed her leg off. I told her the whole sorry tale.
To her infinite credit, she didn’t laugh once. She irradiated me with her calming influence until my blood pressure dropped below life-threatening level and for good measure, she arranged for my facial plus back massage to be upgraded to a one hour full body massage. Finally, she assured me that the cost of my white water rafting experience would not appear on my bill and then wafted away to pour oil on other troubled waters (and hopefully to disembowel the moron who was responsible for the flotation tank).
Before dinner, and twenty-seven hours after arrival, I finally had my first treatment, the massage, which was blissful.
Dinner was not blissful. To start, we had mushroom and thyme soup. On the up side, it was generally the right colour. On the downside, it was far from hot and tasted, well frankly, of water. I realise that they probably didn’t want to fry the mushrooms in butter, or make a roux to thicken it, or add cream at the end, but surely, there must be other ways of extracting the flavour out a mushroom. For main course, we chose halibut (to match the all-pervading smell). This time, it wasn’t a case of being not very hot, it was a case of being not even slightly warm. I’m afraid I spat my dummy again.
Mr. Restaurantmanager seemed almost pleased that we had introduced some variety into his dull routine. For the last two days, he had looked as though he was about to do himself some serious harm but now that we were complaining, he seemed positively to radiate sunny disposition. (he even told us that he too came from Yorkshire as if that explained everything). His smile and our food disappeared off to the kitchen to be replaced by his smile and a hot meal. I could imagine the comments at nearby tables like “is that steam?” and “theirs is hot, do you think they're paying extra?”. Mr. Restaurantmanager withdrew gracefully assuring us that our wine this evening would not appear on our bill. Needless to say, it did.
We slept well in our new cool bedroom with complimentary fruit and foot cream (not in the same bowl you understand). We were due to leave today and each had our last treatment (at 10.00hrs) followed by lunch (at 11.45 hrs again). Surely nothing more could go wrong and nor did it – for a while anyway.
My treatment today was a ‘Men’s Royal Harmony’. This consisted of having my face cleaned, then sanded down, then polished again then massaged (which was the nice bit). I then had a bucket of Weetabix balanced on my face (not still in the bucket and with a little hole in the middle so I could breath through my nose) whilst at the same time having my arms and legs massaged. This was very interesting although I desperately wanted to open my mouth – firstly the better to breathe, and secondly, to eat the facemask. Who the hell thinks up these treatments? – next year it’ll be ‘Stick you feet in a relaxing bucket of mushroom and thyme soup whilst we oil your cuticles’.
The treatments finished, it was time to pack in readiness to leave. Our bill was back in the room. There were a few minor issues that weren’t entirely to my satisfaction. Firstly, the ‘wehopeyoucomebackandgetshaftedagainnextyear’ letter to which it was attached was addressed to Dr Beale (I’m not a doctor and I have never been called Beale – until today that is). Secondly, that bottle of wine was lurking near the bottom despite Mr. Restaurantmanager’s assurances to the contrary. Thirdly, it seemed a little excessive that we had been charged £85.90 for the hire of two bathrobes. It was time for another little chat with Miss Guestrelations.
In due course, she made calm, smiling enquiries of reception as to the origin of Dr. Beale. Apparently, Dr. Beale wasn’t staying at the Hydro, nor had he ever done so. Perhaps it was a code name for difficult sod. The wine was deducted from our bill.
As for the robes, this was easily explained. There was a deposit of £40 for each robe. I should have guessed. They charged a deposit right at the end of your stay after you had already given the robes back – how silly of me to get confused. “And anyway” said Miss Guestrelations, “you don’t actually have to pay it – didn’t they explain all that when you arrived? – No? - How odd”. How odd indeed. I was beginning to think that I had gone quite mad. I paid the bill. Despite all the bits that had disappeared off it, it still seemed like a hell of a lot of money for the weekend I had endured.
By early afternoon, it was time to leave but unlike previous years, there was no sense of regret. It was raining outside. Whilst the porter disappeared to retrieve our bags from the store, I decided to bring the car to the front porch. I crossed the 150 yards to the car park getting soaking wet in the process.
The sign was by the exit barrier. It read: “TO OPEN BARRIER INSERT TOKEN”.
“Bastards!” I thought. “Why didn’t they tell me – getting their own back I suppose”. I plodged back to reception where the porter waited with the bags. “I need a token”, said I. “On no Sir, you don’t need a token Sir. Just press the white button Sir”. “THEN WHY IS THERE A BLOODY SIGN THAT SAYS YOU NEED A TOKEN FOR GOD’S SAKE!!! Bastards! Complete and utter bastards!
The brochure says: “At the end of your stay, we hope you will be relaxed and refreshed”.
They are taking the piss.