I take refuge from the horrific, endless global covid news-cycle, in the form of visiting the sauna at my local gym and spa. I look forward to working out hardly ever, but I turn up and I get through it, one horrible machine at a time. Often, by the last exercises, my attention has moved to a distant location and I can be found sitting on benches staring at the walls for minutes at a time. Fantasising about going into the health spa afterwards.
Sometimes, if there aren’t lots of old people in the pool (all much faster than me) I jump in the pool and complete anything from 2-6 whole lengths. I attempt some form of breast stroke, kicking my legs in a motion that could be described as ‘random’, and even that often deteriorates into some form of doggy paddle. But I’m swimming, and it’s the swimming what counts, as they say. After this, it’s time for the sauna.
To be in the sauna is a most unusual scenario for anybody to find themselves in. You open the door, enter the small enclosed chamber, go and sit down with a random assortment of people of all ages, all genders and all backgrounds and you endure the heat together, sweaty and almost naked.
The sauna isn’t meant to be pleasurable, the glory of the sauna is in the struggle. When you’re a bit of a legend like me, and you defy the health centre diktats and squirt your water onto the heat censor, to give it the false impression of being colder than it is, the conditions get hot, fast , probably rendering my balls incapable of producing functioning spermatozoa. And like when one is sticking out the time on some mind numbingly boring job, one finds that speaking to others about all manner of topics is an effective means of passing the time, of hanging on in there without losing one’s mind.
I love talking to people in the sauna, sweating out the complex issues of the world. Most of the goers are men around retirement age, either complaining about some fault with the heating, or talking about the DIY they are doing on their houses. There is no scenario in life where people of such varying demographics are placed in such close proximity and feel so free to communicate about the details of their lives.
Compare it to when you are in a supermarket, if the person in the queue behind you starts talking to you he’s an oddball, and probably wants something, you just nod along and put the barrier behind your shopping, hoping to pay for your stuff and then get out of there like a bat out of hell. In the sauna, people are a lot more open minded, and due to common membership of the gym,they achieve a sense of communion, albeit a loose one, but it is enough to breach the dam.
I don’t bother with the jacuzzi, it’s the most ovverated of health spa features. People are more hostile in there, and you’re more likely to touch one another by accident. The jacuzzi is for people who think they know how to have a good time, but the sauna is for the people who actually know.
A few nights ago in there, and the time of writing is early January, a Northern Irish rugby player said to his mate that he was going in the outdoor pool. I told him, the outdoor pool aint in use mate, they stopped heating it in October. He said he knew, he liked to use it as an icebath.
Only minutes later, I sneaked past the ladies doing their aquarobics in the indoor pool, opened the glass door and jumped into the water. It wasn’t much of a big deal, I stayed in there until my feet started to drop off, then back to the lovely sauna, my peaceful, warm place…