I am not good at mini-breaks. To me the term conjures up an impression of hostile couples sitting in silence, drinking just enough to facilitate obligatory sex. But even I need some respite towards the end of winter, and I really wanted to take my friend The Professor away. It’s been quite the year for both of us. Where better than to Bath, where we could “take the waters”?
The best thing about Bath is arriving by train. It makes for a lovely entrance. As a teenager I hitchhiked there, obsessed with Romans and ley-lines. As an adult I am more obsessed with gin and the fact Queen Anne (now unimaginable as anything other than Olivia Colman in a sedan chair) travelled to Bath to help heal her gouty abscessed body. It clearly didn’t work for the monarch, but hey ho, let’s go.
We headed to the Gainsborough, right opposite the famously rejuvenated Thermae Spa. The hotel’s spa shares the famous thermal waters. It’s a fine looking place, converted from two Grade II listed buildings, that has been, at various times, a hospital and an art college. It is airy and elegant and we were here to do nothing. Doing nothing often requires considerable effort but not at the Gainsborough.
I haven’t been able to eat bi-valves since Rick Stein poisoned me
I had a hot stone massage which was fine, but the spa itself was lovely – full of light, with a samovar full of chilli-infused hot chocolate made to a Georgian recipe. All the food and drink, in fact, is terrific here: away from the spa, the local gins from Bath and the Cotswolds in the bar are fantastic, and so is dinner in the Dan Moon restaurant. We had the five-course tasting menu – no endurance test this, but real fun. The first dish was chicken tea, not something I would ever have ordered – it had an intense chicken-ness, and pink things floating in it. The staff cheerily explained the food with no stuffiness, which is key to how the place runs. They even did me a course without scallops – I haven’t been able to eat bi-valves since Rick Stein poisoned me.
A pair of chartered accountants were sitting next to us. He was celebrating getting an MBE. Never judge middle England or accountants: it was for his work setting up a cancer charity. “Can I see it?” I asked, leaning over, and out he got it. When I get an MBE – imminently surely – I will also carry it round flashing it at random strangers.
The next day I woke nervous about the treatment I had booked. God, I have had some bloody awful “treatments” in my time. A tiny lady dislocated my toe in Kerala, a big woman triggered my sciatic nerve in the Gambia, a harpy in Greece told me to get to a doctor immediately as I probably did not have long left. Recently, in Stoke Newington, a man massaged me while relating a news item about the brutal killing of a Polish immigrant, breaking off to complain that I was “very unrelaxed”.
He said I had tight hip flexors. Whatever. I felt as high as a kite because I had not been drowned
The treatment was called “Freedom”, and involved being swirled about in water and going under. Now, I don’t do underwater. I do that “lady swimming with my lipstick on” thing. Advanced doggy paddle. I have been terrified of going underwater ever since I fell in a lake one midnight in Kashmir. I was also unsure if I wanted to be swirled around by a strange man, but there I was with a nose clip on, explaining my fears, and there he was calm and assured, and before I knew it I was floating, and then gently I was whooshed under. Was I upside down? No idea. I didn’t really know what was happening apart from… not panicking at all. Without being on drugs, I was going with the flow. Astonishing. He said I had tight hip flexors. Whatever. I felt as high as a kite because I had not been drowned.
The Professor had the same treatment and came back to the room claiming “a near death experience”, but in a good way, apparently. We lay there blissed out trying to work out what had just happened.
The Professor told me: “That man has found my off switch.” Exactly. All we managed to do after that was stumble to a nearby bar called The Dark Horse, a fabulous candle-lit basement full of cubby holes, antiques and a wondrous playlist. It’s the sort of place that instantly make you want to have a clandestine affair so you can hang out there all the time. Back at the bar in the Gainsborough there were more of the infinite gins to be taken. And even cider! I was 15 again. What can I say? Our minds had been blown. I want to do it all again. My opinion on mini-breaks has been entirely altered by being utterly spoilt, and of course by the amazing ducking. C
The Gainsborough Bath Spa, Beau Street, Bath BA1 1QY, UK
+44 1225 358888; thegainsboroughbathspa.co.uk