“Are you drunk?” asks my mum, peering at me through Skype. We’ve got face masks on – of the spa variety, not N95s – and they’ve dried to a crisp. Every time I smile, a flurry of Himalayan clay flakes falls into my lap. And yes, reader, I am. Drunk at the spa. But this is my spa – my home spa. “We’re having a pamper-demic!” I cry, sloshing my cava on the sofa cushions.
A month ago, I was planning a spa break for Mother Plush and me. She didn’t know it, but I was going to surprise her with a voucher for Mother’s Day – just like thousands of adoring offspring up and down the country, I’m sure. Now, obviously, those plans are off. I’m self-employed, and work has disappeared. Spas are closed. I have no money. But what I do have is a cupboard full of weird and wonderful pampering products, and the joys of modern technology.
While some people collect booze or fridge magnets on their travels, I collect toiletries. Royal jelly moisturiser from Oman. Coconut conditioner from Grenada. Mud masks from Taiwan, India and Iceland. I return from holidays with my suitcases sloshing: face packs, real aloe vera, exfoliants laced with red desert sand.
Do I use them at home? Of course not. They sit at the back of the cupboard, slowly crusting over. But as the world crashes around our ears, each of those colourful bottles is starting to look like a mini holiday. Perhaps I can recreate a spa break at home?
A night at the virtual spa
Every self-respecting spa hotel serves ‘welcome’ drinks, so I pour myself a heavy tot of St Lucian rum. Two years ago, in the island’s glorious Rendezvous resort, I enjoyed an eye-watering, back-cracking massage. Alas, I’m not sharing my isolation bunker with any masseurs, so I resort to rolling a tennis ball between my shoulders and the wall – finding the knots and pressing, pressing ’til they fade. It works. After 15 minutes, my back feels looser.
I’ve arranged a Skype facial with mum: I’m in Surrey, and she’s in the Midlands – though the pampering gets off to a slow start. BBC News is on in the background, and it’s a struggle to talk about anything else. But she pops it on mute and summons dad to fetch her a wine. We apply face masks on our respective sofas – much to the cats’ (and my father’s) bemusement – and the talk turns to high days and holidays.
We reminisce about family trips, and make tentative plans for a break in late summer. She tells me how she and my grandmother used to do face masks together. I slink into the kitchen to retrieve a bottle of wine. The evening feels girly and gossipy, like all spa breaks should.
But I mustn’t be late for my next appointment. My best friend, who works for the NHS, will be back on shift tomorrow and is feeling uneasy tonight. She, too, needs a trip to my virtual retreat. We connect on Face Time – or, as we christen it, Foot Time – for a mini pedicure to brighten the mood. I choose a hot pink varnish, courtesy of Chanel: an extravagant purchase from a recent jaunt to Dubai.
Ah, Dubai. Land of incredible spas. Whenever I visit, I snap up pampering deals on discount sites like Groupon and The Entertainer. When normality returns and you’re heading to the Emirates for some winter sun, you should too. For a really lavish spa day, look to the likes of Jumeirah Zabeel Saray and The Palace Downtown – they’re pricey, but worth every dirham.
Back in my living room, things are slightly less ritzy. “Are those Christmas pyjamas?” asks my friend – so I give her a twirl of my fleecy red keks. I slather on some of that royal jelly from Oman: it’s buttery and lovely, with the woody aroma of myrrh. Yet again, the conversation meanders into holiday mode. As a newly-defunct travel writer, it’s a joy to hear people say they’re already making getaway plans.
We wave goodnight, and I wish her luck for tomorrow. “I’m feeling better already,” she says. So am I. The virtual spa has been a hit.
Yoga, mindfulness… and dusting
I sleep deeply, but my dreams are disorientating – and I wake feeling exhausted. Don’t we all, right now? With no work lined up today, I figure I may as well stay in spa mode, if only to keep my spirits up. The pamper-demic lives on.
At every proper spa hotel, the day starts with morning yoga. It takes a truly incredible setting to lure me to sunrise salutations, though – namely the sea-view pavilion of The Great House in Antigua, and the Daz-white beaches of The Andaman in Langkawi. My living room, between the armchair and clothes airer? Not so alluring, but I unfurl my yoga mat anyway, and tune into Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.
There’s a playlist called ‘Yoga for Uncertain Times’, and I work my way through a couple of sessions. It’s a tonic. “Hope is a muscle,” she purrs, skipping effortlessly from cobra pose to plank to downward-facing dog. I, of course, am terrible, but it’s so all-consuming that – relief! – I forget about the news for a while. (I also resolve to do some major dusting under the sofa; this spa hotel needs a good cleaner.)
Later, I give that Moroccan sand-exfoliant a go – but after years in the cupboard, it’s congealed and strange-smelling. It goes in the bin. The Caribbean coconut conditioner is a big hit, however. As I squeeze it on, the syrupy scent whisks me back across the Atlantic, to the islands where life always seems sweeter. I’m back on Grand Anse beach in Grenada, dipping my toes in those Listerine shallows. I’m watching hummingbirds slurp nectar from frangipani blooms. I’m relaxed.
And in these most testing of times, that feels like a mini miracle.