Richard McComb gets in touch with his narcissistic side – and is rescued by an angel
Edge of heaven
From somewhere on the outer reaches of the warm, floaty bliss that is enveloping me in darkness, a soft, lilting voice doth speak.
It is welcoming, reassuring, angelic, female, soothing. Have I died and passed on to a better place? For this is what it must be like. This is how David Niven felt in A Matter of Life and Death.
The gentle voice speaks again. It is the same refrain: “Richard. Richard. Are you all right?”
I am all right. Rarely have I felt better, although I am slightly confused as to exactly where I am. Instinctively, I run my hands over my body and deduce I am covered in a cosy layer – of fabric conditioned angels’ wings? – under which, ooh err, I am half naked.
Blinking, furtive, I open my eyes, prepare myself for the blinding light. And there she is, a woman dressed in black. (Shouldn’t she be in white?) I recognise her, albeit faintly, and she’s smiling.
Yes, it’s Mary, St Mary of the Massage.
“It’s all right, Richard. It’s fine,” she says. “You just fell asleep.”
I didn’t half, awaking with a rasping, primeval nasal snore that undermines any misguided attempt to come across as a lithe, 40-something Bond-style buccaneer. I don’t make a habit of this sort of thing, falling asleep in the company of a lady while wearing only my underpants, but there are extenuating circumstances: Mary for one. It’s all her fault.
Mary is indeed an angel, an Urban Angel, working at the day spa of the same name in the Great Western Arcade in Birmingham. The spa is situated far from the pearly gates, slap bang in the middle of the city’s professional quarter. It has a captive audience among the stressed bankers, accountants, lawyers and property developers who haunt Birmingham’s Square Mile.
The corporate wheeler-dealers may be a little down on their luck, restricting themselves to just two bottles of Champagne for lunch at Metro, but most have still got a spare bob or two with which to cleanse their bodies, if not their sins.
Carol Starkey is the owner and MD of the spa – she has a second outlet in Worcester for the pleasure-seeking county set – and she reports that, the recession aside, trade is holding up well, particularly among city gents.
Chaps wouldn’t thinking of scrimping on the servicing schedule for their Beemer or Merc and alloting a modest proportion of disposal income for a massage can be seen as a sound business investment. It’s time to laugh in the face of the latest profit warning and think of a full body massage as an oil change for the soul.
Angel Mary agrees and says men are more than happy to get in touch with their feminine side, indulging in facials and manicures as well as relaxation massages.
“Some men come along with their wives or girlfriends and they have treatment at the same time,” says Mary. “It’s a nice way of spending time together and getting pampered.”
Once they have got over the threshold, there is no holding the men back. The spa has developed a range of “city gent” treatments, including a “tech neck” massage, designed to undo the crooked misery caused by staring at a computer; a hot oil scalp massage; a Sportsman; and an executive full body massage. The latter is the one for me because it lasts the longest and I am a total tart. The massage can be taken separately but it also forms part of the Man About Town package (£99), which includes a facial and a manicure and lasts about two-and-a-half hours.
The spa also provides a “backman,” described as a “deep tissue massage to remove toxins and release tension and a manual extraction to remove unsightly blackheads.” Eek! Not one for me.
After a quick health run down with Mary, I take off my brogues and am led over rose petals to one of the dimly-lit, discreet upstairs treatment rooms.
I feel cocooned from the outside world, totally at ease and relishing the prospect of 100 per cent me time. It’s impossible to over-estimate the attraction and the benefits of undiluted narcissism, especially when you don’t have to do anything except lie back and think of nothing.
Clearing one’s mind, blocking out the madness of daily life, is not an easy task, but within 15 minutes of being gently pummelled and soothed by Mary’s hands I am well on the way to brain fud. Indeed, but for my ear-splitting snore some half-an-hour later I might still be there now.
After the massage is the facial. First up boys, don’t listen to your prejudices. Facials aren’t poofy, they are nothing less than work-outs for the face, cheek and brow gymnastics.
Throughout my facial I didn’t have a single cucumber slice placed on my eyes – although there was cucumber in the iced water, and very pleasant it was too. Yeah, okay, the process did involve an exfoliation – crucial for removing dead skin and impurities – as well as the application of a cool face mask, but by this stage I was so zoned out that Mary could have dressed me up in pink frock and called me her little dolly wally. (She didn’t. It’s not that sort of place.)
My treatment regime finished with a manicure, including some moisturising and a cuticle tidy. My nails, says Mary, are in good shape, a testament to my inability to do much with them except type, operate the TV remote control and manipulate a knife and fork.
Considering the feminine associations of having a facial, I was surprised to find that the manicure felt, to me, like the most girlie treatment of the afternoon.
Was it, I wondered, just a gay thing?
Far from it, according to Mary. They may not go for the bling style varnishes and sparkling studs, but straight blokes are becoming increasingly aware of the health and appearance of their nails and fingers and manicures are clawing their way up the male beauty list.
Me? I’d happily skip the manicure and have an extra 15 minutes on the couch, falling headlong into oblivion.
n Urban Angel Day Spa is at 10 Great Western Arcade, off Colmore Row, in central Birmingham. Tel: 0121 212 2021.