May 20 2010
“Ooh, what a lovely surprise!” thinks Henrietta as she gazes from her balcony at the snow-capped peaks. The ski season is over, the snow at resort level has melted and early summer is revealing itself in a mass of wild flowers. The rivers are rushing, the birds are singing, and Henrietta is happy to the core. Dear Charlie for recognising that she needed a break from the dogs, the garden and the Parish Council, and for whisking her off to Switzerland for a romantic, long-weekend spa break. Even the journey had been a pleasure. She had barely noticed the flight to Zürich. Then there was the lovely double-decker train, which had left with precision Swiss timing from the airport and, finally, the gorgeous mountain express, which had trundled through mesmerising scenery higher and higher up to the resort itself. To cap it all, a horse-drawn carriage had then deposited them at their hotel.
It’s low season and the hotel’s well-heeled clientele are largely elderly – up from the city for the mountain air and a spot of pampering. The spa, in fact, with its indoor/outdoor pool and state-of-the-art facilities, has won awards worldwide for its design. Henrietta plans her treatments with the spa concierge. An hour’s reflexology and an anti-ageing, deep-cleansing facial sound nice – perhaps a manicure and pedicure, too. She likes the idea of top and tailing. “Vould Madam not like ze ’otel’s signature full-body, detoxifying massage with ’ot stones, mud wrap and specially blended oils from mountain ’erbs?” asks the concierge. “I vould recommend to you Gunther.”
“Gunther?” gasps Henrietta. The thought of some strange man running his hands up and down her naked body has her blushing. “Oh, no,” she stutters. “Thank you, but I think I’ll stick with what I’ve booked... And then make good use of the wet areas,” she adds as an afterthought.
For the wet areas – the sauna, steam, showers, plunge pools – Henrietta has brought her new tummy-tucking Spanx all-in-one bathing costume. She still hasn’t managed to shift the extra pounds gained at Christmas and her skin is embarrassingly white and blotchy. In a typically British way, Henrietta is body shy. She sunbathed topless as a teenager in the South of France but, generally speaking, she’d rather be covered up. Even after 30 years of marriage, she’s a “lights off” sort of person.
Her arrival in the steam room is not a happy one. Having blatantly ignored the “No Clothes” sticker on the door and having failed altogether to register that “wet areas” in this part of the world are generally unisex, Henrietta comes face to face with five naked octogenarians. Two are lying supine on the top shelf, two are talking casually as if over afternoon tea, and one has a leg hitched nonchalantly up to the side. Henrietta’s precious sensibilities are hit full force. What should she do now? Run crying from the spa never to return, or strip off and hang loose like the rest of them? Where is Charlie when she needs him most?
It is at this point that her eyes are drawn to the sauna and a pair of... very familiar Vilebrequin swimming trunks lying outside the door. Peeling herself (with some effort) out of her one-piece, with furtive glances round about to check that no one is watching, Henrietta covers her modesty with a towel not much bigger than a face cloth and enters the sauna room. There is Charlie, naked as the day he was born, surrounded by a gaggle of elderly, admiring, pendulous females for whom nudity is as ordinary as the day is long. “Hello, darling,” he smiles. “Drop that towel, will you, and come and join the fun.”
Later that evening – it is big-band, black-tie night at the hotel – and Charlie and Henrietta are waltzing round the dancefloor as they haven’t done since their wedding day. How odd and yet how wonderful, thinks Henrietta, as she watches elegant couples sweep youthfully by, that she had seen most of these people naked just a few hours ago. Perhaps a once-over from Gunther isn’t such a bad idea after all.