I’m at the brand-new Urban Retreat spa in London’s Knightsbridge* being renovated, like a dilapidated cottage, the day before a photo shoot. I’m having my roots dyed and, as always, I’m wondering why ‘pampering’ (ghastly word) is never quite as much fun as it’s made out to be.
First, a ‘friend’ I’ve known since 1996 has just blanked me. I called out, ‘Hi! You look like a vision!’ and she literally ran past me. Second, sitting in front of a huge, well-lit mirror, I can vouch for the fact that looking at oneself with foil on your head is damaging to your mental wellbeing. And third, the hairdresser has just asked if I have any holidays planned.
This is third on the list of Things Hairdressers Should Never Say. Along with, ‘Do you want any conditioner?’ Yes. And, ‘Do you want a head massage?’ Yes, given the shampooing was like being tortured. I really hate being asked if I have a holiday planned, because the answer is always, ‘No, I hate holidays’, which prompts the hairdresser to adopt a sad face and say, ‘Oh no, why?’
You want to know why? Up at dawn to catch a flight. Trying to find a parking space near a bus stop as your case is as heavy as a corpse. Having to note precisely where you have parked. The interminable check-in queue where a small child, pulling a bright pink case, runs over your toes. Being told to take off your shoes at security when you are with a man you don’t want to witness your normal height or see your socks quite yet. Checking in at the hotel and learning your room isn’t ready. Hotel mirrors: the bellboy might tell you where the minibar is, but fails to say, ‘This mirror will age you by a century.’ Being told breakfast finishes at 10am when the whole point is YOU ARE ON HOLIDAY. The checkout time, which these days seems to be at dawn. The fact people keep turning up in your room, making you sign small pieces of paper. I’M SUPPOSED TO BE ON HOLIDAY!
Villas are even worse. When I stayed at a villa just outside St Tropez, the list of instructions ran to four A4 pieces of paper. There was a map telling me where to put my recycling and rubbish (miles away). A stern notice saying not to feed the tortoise. Oh, and to get the cushions in at night and on no account to move the garden furniture. Despite enough literature to enable me to land on the moon, I still couldn’t get the wifi to work.
I’m trying to decide whether holidays are better or worse now we have the internet. I rented a villa in Tuscany before both sat nav and the internet were invented, which meant I got so lost driving from Pisa airport that by the time I got to the villa and found the key it was too late: I weed on the front step. I was bored, as the only VHS video was Play Misty For Me, and to get it to work I had to hold a button on the machine with my foot, while the only way I knew my cats were alive was via a daily faxed report.
But now we are on call 24 hours a day. Even reclined by a pool being splashed by feral children who scream at the top of their lungs, it is always refresh, refresh, refresh. Which isn’t refreshing at all.
And, of course, on a villa holiday with a group of friends there is always The Lazy Person who never retrieves a single cushion, or goes to the supermarket, or cooks a meal, or turns off the pool alarm during a storm; they just shout, ‘What’s that noise?’ At this particular villa, one friend (yet another now former friend, obvs; seriously, they are piling up) made such a mess of her room that she made another friend swap so she wouldn’t have to tidy it up!
The problem with going on a romantic holiday with a man is that after about five days, hairs start to sprout from pores, like tenacious asparagus spears. You begin to wonder why he is as unashamed half naked as a day-old baby while you have to wrap your sarong around you in a sort of ridiculous reverse striptease – wriggle, wriggle, wriggle, tug, tug, tug – because the mirror in your room has revealed your thighs, despite the pre-holiday airbrush tan, to resemble cauliflower couscous: white and knobbly.
Above all, you run out of conversation over dinner. You return to a pile of unopened post, and your real life. Unpacking. Washing… Welcome home!