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Saving face and surrendering in Spa Wars

Princess Leia

We’ve been offered complimentary spa treatments, Di tells me. If the idea of this is thrilling to you, it fills me with dread. I do not like the idea of lying face down while a stranger pummels my back while anointing me with some or other tincture that makes me smell like what my late father-in-law used to call a Chinese brothel.

I prefer to choose my fragrances. I am, at least for now, an Issey Miyake man. (There was a special last month. Next time I may be a Calvin Klein or a Dunhill man. But never, never a David Beckham man. You just cannot say, “I’m wearing David Beckham” and emerge with any kind of dignity.)

We stroll into the spa’s reception. In front of us is a semicircular white desk resembling the control console of Battlestar Galactica. Behind it are a young woman and a fey young man wearing calf-length gowns that would not look out of place on Princess Leia. Each of us is handed a key with an ornate keyring.

“You’re Number 9,” I’m told, a finger pointing down a passage. Nonplussed, I go down the passage presuming that I am looking for Room Number 9, and that this is where my dreaded spa treatment awaits. I am thinking, “Jackman, what have you got yourself into this time?”

There is no Door Number 9. Around a corner is a locked, nameless white door which I presume leads to the cockpit. To my left is a door to a long dressing room with a toilet cubicle at each end. I stand around stupidly for three minutes, then stalk back to Leia and Luke Skywalker. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do? Where or what is ‘Number 9’?”

“It’s your locker number,” says Leia. Luke flickers his eyelashes.

“What locker?”

“I’ll show you,” and Leia leads me back to the changing room and points to a locker. “There.”

“What’s in there?” I ask. “I’m here for a treatment.”

“Your gown. You need to change.”

There’s a white gown and silly white towelling slippers in the locker. I change into them, feeling as foolish as an Earthling who has strolled into an experimental chamber on Battlestar Gallactica by mistake. One wrong move and humanoids will come in, tie me up and inject me with something luminous green that turns me into jelly. I am very grumpy and ready to run.

I shuffle back to reception.

Luke Skywalker

“Now what?” I grumble at Leia and Luke.

“You go in there and have some refreshments and some nice fresh fruit,” says Luke, eyeing my calves.

“In there” are three women dressed just like me and my wife, who is suppressing a grin. I sit down next to her.

“It’s not too late to flee,” I whisper to her, but just then two bright young things march up to us and stick out their hands. They’ve come to lead us to our alien fate.

Up the stairs and down passages, we’re led to different chambers. Inside mine are two massage beds. In the corner, on the floor, is a bowl steaming with hot water. At least I think it’s hot water. It could be some kind of celestial essence. I check my peripheral vision for skulking androids.

I’m told to remove the silly slippers and sit down with my feet in the bowl and that this is “our welcome ritual”. This done, she hands me three stones, and on each is written a word. I must choose. I choose “Serenity”, there not being an option for “Help!”.

“Serenity will be the theme of your experience this afternoon,” she tells me, dropping the stone into the water to serenify my feet, which she then washes while I calculate the distance between me and the door and surreptitiously check the ceiling and walls for spy cameras.

After a pause, she draws a breath. “Do you mind me asking…” she starts.


“Well, I couldn’t help noticing on the form that you requested the Gentlemen’s Exclusive Shave and Facial?”

This was correct. It had seemed the least threatening of the treatments offered, and would probably be all over in a few minutes, I had reckoned. The small print had asked the client to shave “at least three hours” before the treatment, which I had done. Leia had noticed this. In effect, I was perfectly clean-shaven so there was no reason at all to shave me, which quite clearly defeated the entire object of my being there at all.

“So then,” she paused, “may I ask, would you be wanting an upper or a … a … a lower shave?”

Blanching, I whimper in a small voice, “I think I’ll just have the facial, actually, if that’s all right,” with visions of her reaching for a flash of steel or Luke Skywalker being summoned with his light saber.

Both of us seemingly sighing sighs of relief, I was ushered to one of the tables where for an entire hour all manner of cleansing, exfoliation, moisturising and rehydrating was applied to my face by expert hands and I have to say, without blushing, that it was an exhilarating experience and I left feeling light of spirit and supremely fresh, even younger.

Afterwards, my wife, once she had stopped giggling at me, was astonished to hear me say that not only was I thinking of buying the moisturising and sunblocking products I had been urged to purchase, but was thinking of popping in to the spa’s local branch at the Twelve Apostles Hotel in Camps Bay (I had been at the Oyster Box in Umhlanga) once in a while for another alien princess to work her charms on me.

So yes, I am a convert to mansturising. It’s probably too late, but sometimes the commonsense of knowing that the years are advancing and taking their toll outweighs your fear of what new terror may lurk behind Door Number 9.

First published in Weekend Argus October 2012


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