Turkish Bath

Walking over meSOLLY’S TESTICLES WOULD NEVER HAVE ENTERED MY FIELD OF VISION if it wasn’t for the taxi driver. It was all his fault. I hold him personally responsible. I’d grabbed a taxi in a vain attempt to put my morning back on schedule. I’d overslept. Cut myself shaving. Then Southeastern Railways had run one of those special trains that exceeds its design parameters the moment it travels above walking pace.

Anyway, throwing myself into the cab I made the mistake of mentioning to the driver that it was only 8.30 and I was already stressed enough to kill. “Stress?” he said to me, as my journey continued at walking pace behind three double-decker buses and a Tesco lorry. “Stress? I reckon it’s all a load of nonsense. Aromatherapy? Yoga? Tell you what, I’ve never had any stress that a good Turkish on a Sunday morning couldn’t cure. You take my advice. A nice steam. A proper rubdown. Cup of tea. Set you right.”

Proper men

Which is how I find myself in a steam and sauna spa in West London on a men-only Sunday morning. This is more like it. No New Age nonsense. No whale music. No women in floaty dresses. Just proper men doing proper men’s de-stressing stuff. I pay my entrance fee, acquire a big white towel, then head for the changing rooms and put my clothes in a locker. Soon I am in a large room bordered by curtained cubicles containing recliners and day beds.

In the centre of the room a group of fat men in towelling robes sit at tables while thin men with the grizzled sinewy build of retired boxing trainers bring them plates of eggs and bacon. There is definitely some kind of strange, timeworn protocol going on here and I get the distinct impression that if I put a foot wrong I may end up as part of the foundations of a Hackney underpass. Me and my flimsy loincloth head downstairs to the saunas and steam rooms.

The first steam room is hot and the men in it are naked. Gasping for breath through clouds of water vapour, I make my way to a vacant place on the wooden slatted benches. Conversations are all one-dimensional. “Morning”, “All right?” and “Hot one, innit?”, with “That’s about my lot” reserved for the moment of departure.

Attack of the vapours

If the first steam room was hot, the second is a seething cauldron. The steam is so thick that I soon lose track of where the door is. Breathing scalds my lungs. Great drops of sweat collect in my eyebrows. This is it: the Turkish par excellence. It’s the chicken vindaloo of alternative health treatments: it may not be very nice but, my God, you know you’ve had one.

I stay in there until I can stand it no longer, take a punt on the location of the door, head for it and make for the tiny plunge pool. Two steps down the ladder, into the freezing water, a quick vocal impression of Katherine Jenkins, pause a moment while the epidermis and nervous system protest at my behaviour, then straight out. Within minutes I feel suffused with a sense of fantastic well-being, a warm, tingling numbness. It feels like I’ve shown my body who’s boss. That’ll teach it.

I head for the sauna and stretch out. It’s then that I look up and spot Solly’s testicles. There they are on the recliner opposite, with Solly, a liver-spotted septegenerian, attached to them. We strike up a conversation but I find myself hypnotised by Solly’s testicles. They’re like leathery poached eggs.

Suddenly, I feel that enough is enough. I mean, I know we’re all men together. And the blokey Sunday morning Turkish is as good a stress-buster as many an expensive New Age treatment I’ve tried. It feels good just because I’ve taken a couple of hours to do stuff for myself. But there is a limit, and Solly’s-testicles are it. I shower and change. On my way out, one of the fat men in the towelling robes is dipping his toast into the runny yoke of an egg. A poached egg. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll skip breakfast.

Porchester Spa in West London runs a men-only session on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

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