Em's place

Writing, anxiety-wrangling, tea.

Probably the best present for book lovers in the world

By Emma on November 9, 2009

I don’t fit into the ‘mainstream’. I’m a female geek who is getting older but doesn’t care about what that is doing to her skin, does not spend all day considering which make-up is best and finds anything to do with babies utterly boring. I can’t stand soap operas, and watching the majority of television is as enjoyable as having a child sitting behind me, tapping the back of my head very gently with a toffee hammer. In the UK, in my early thirties, I’m in the demographic that the majority of product manufacturers ignore. I’m over there, at the far, thin end of the bell curve and I like it here very much.

I’m coming to realise that the mainstream has nothing to do with what the majority want or think or feel. It’s actually what the people who want you to spend money think it should be in order to make the most profit. So they bombard us with images of how we should spend our money, our free time and even how we should deal with break ups (ice cream / chocolate if you’re female, a trip to the pub if you are male) and how one should spend ones precious relaxation time.

I have never felt like I fit in, and as the years go by and I get more confident about expressing this, I find more and more people saying the same thing. So many, in fact, that I suspect the people who fit into these manufactured moulds are actually few and far between. The mainstream is now an oxymoron. Just like television breakfast ‘news’ has become over recent years. Oh my, I’m turning into a grumpy old woman ahead of my time.

Why am I blathering on about this? Well, it’s all because of something utterly wonderful that I experienced on Friday.

I relaxed.

Not only that, I went to another city, and took part in an activity that actually brought about that relaxation. I’m still reeling from it myself.

According to the ‘mainstream’ one of the best ways for me to have a total relaxation experience and feel wonderful afterwards is to go to some kind of spa for a beauty treatment.

Urgh. Such places fill me with dread. Don’t get me wrong, I have on two occasions in my life, experienced a spa treatment that I begrudgingly enjoyed, but that doesn’t come naturally to me. I hate people seeing my body at the best of times, let alone slathering it in oils whilst some kind of new age pan pipe whale song forest dream awfulness is playing in the background.

There is an implicit social pressure to relax in these environments, to feel at ease in a white fluffy dressing gown in the company of other men and women who are ‘getting away from it all’ and ‘giving themselves a real treat’ for a few stolen hours.

May I just say again; urgh.

I’m not a girly girl. I hate people fussing around me and I don’t find it pleasurable or relaxing to have any kind of experience like that. And when the mainstream is trying to funnel husbands into buying such experiences for presents, it can be a problem for long-suffering lovelies like my husband who has to dream up something that gets his wife out of the house, doesn’t involve a computer, and is an immersive sensory experience that will leave her refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the world.

Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Well, he succeeded. He got me one of the best Christmas presents in the world last year (in my humble opinion), it just took me eleven months to schedule it in. And that was what happened on Friday. Let me tell you the story of that day… are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin.

Picture the city of Bath rising from its valley on a cold November morning. Picture a couple, dressed in winter coats, one, your heroine, wearing a multicoloured velvet hat and long black coat, the other a tall gentleman also dressed in black.

The couple weave through the tiny back streets of the city, Georgian shop fronts huddling close together in the cold, until they finally reach their destination.

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

Your heroine squeals with excitement and hurries inside, and lo, it is everything she had hoped for and more. Wooden bookcases filled with books, the smell of books, the quiet, simple industry of all things bookish happening all around. A wall filled with letters and a painting of a fantastical world.

There is a man behind the counter, with blond hair and brilliant eyes. She presents herself to him as the one booked for Mr B’s Delightful Reading Spa Treatment. Mr B smiles and begins to work his magic. Soon she is presented with the fresh faced Kate, who leads her up the stairs, through more rooms deliciously filled with tomes to one with a fireplace and two comfy chairs.

Tea is brought, and it is good; a strong English Breakfast tea with the perfect amount of milk. A chocolate brownie sits patiently beside it, waiting for the conversation about your heroine’s favourite books and genres to pause long enough for it to fulfil its destiny.

The books in the room and the chairs and the fire all listen to the bibliophilic discussion. Kate makes notes, tea is drunk, the brownie is slowly consumed and all the while, your heroine is excited and enthused, feeling at home amongst the books and the company of others who share her passion.

The time comes for Kate to go and find books, leaving your heroine in the delightful company of a book on the British Isles, and another cup of tea. She returns with a stack of books from her waist to her chin, closely followed by the lovely Ed who also carries a tower of hand picked books.

Picture this also, dear reader; your heroine, being lovingly, personally introduced to each book in turn, being taken by a metaphorical hand and led through this gorgeous labyrinth of literary choices. When each has been spoken of, she is left again to look at each book quietly, choosing the final selection to take home as part of the spa experience. Lost in the sweet agony of choosing which should be left behind, time ticks on and the long-suffering husband lurks nearby as somehow the minutes have turned into hours.

Your heroine makes her choice, returns to Mr B to choose her complimentary jazz CD and the literary event to which she and her husband will receive free tickets. A mug and hot chocolate, book marks and best wishes are placed in the bags with the books and the spa is finished.

Your heroine leaves the shop, invigorated, thrilled and yet relaxed, thankful that there are two heavy bags of books to prevent her from floating up into the sky above the ancient city. She knows that there could not have been a better morning spent in the company of others, and that she has found the perfect place to host her book launch the following year (if they’ll be kind enough to host).

And that, my friends is the end of the story. If you love someone who loves books, and lives in striking distance of Bath, I couldn’t recommend Mr B’s Delightful Reading Spa Treatment highly enough. It beats slimy oils and whale song hands down, and what’s more, I have a pile of books waiting to be read, each one picked especially for me. What more could a geeky girl in Somerset want?

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{ 17 comments... read them below, or add one }

  1. Smoph says:

    That sounds heavenly!

  2. Jen says:

    Ack! That sounds wonderful! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Dom Camus says:

    Do want! 😀

    (And here’s a bonus sentence because WordPress says my comment is too short otherwise, despite it perfectly summarising my viewpoint!)

  4. Caroline Haines says:

    I’m HUGELY delighted that not only did you have a wonderfully appropriate, yummy and enjoyable day out, but also that you got to wear a multicoloured velvet hat to Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

    Rock on, Em! Can’t wait for the book launch …

  5. Olivia says:

    I honestly thought this was a fantasy (creative fiction) until I clicked the link. FANTASTIC! And the only, only thing that could be better is a husband who knows who you are and appreciates who you are to take the time to find and give you a gift like that! Blessings, O

  6. You sound just like me!! ” finds anything to do with babies utterly boring”

  7. Joanna Young says:

    Wow, what a wonderful treat and beautiful description…. I’m floating too. Just wished I lived a wee bit nearer Bath!

  8. Amy Crook says:

    Oh, that sounds like a very perfect sort of day indeed! A definite delight for the soul, with a wonderful set of treats to take home and help you continue the experience.

    …And now I want a cup of tea, too. 😉

  9. ‘S funny, it was the multicoloured velvet hat that caught my attention too. Good news about the hat. I hope the rest of your wardobe is trending that way now.

    Must say I giggled over the new age pan pipe whale song forest dream awfulness.

  10. Emma says:

    Thank you my lovelies, from both myself and my rather wonderful hat.

  11. Iapetus999 says:

    Makes me want to travel to England just for that.
    But…whale song??
    I’m writing a steampunk story where whaling plays a role…
    Do you mean that spas play actual whale songs…or songs about whales, or whaling??? Weird.

  12. Heather says:

    Oh, I’m so envious! I live all the way across the pond in Alberta, Canada, and I so want to do that book spa, too!

    Sigh. I guess I’ll just have to live in the contentment of knowing that such a thing exists, somewhere…

    Enjoy your books! I never feel so wealthy as when I have a nice big stack of good reading waiting for me.

  13. Emma says:

    @Iapetus – no word of a lie, I was having a head massage in a spa some years ago, and there was a wishy washy pan pipe thing playing, then there was birdsong, then the next track went on to more wishy washy synthesised yuk with actual whale song over the top of it. I wanted to sit up and say “Why do you think that whale song is relaxing? Those whales are probably saying ‘Watch out Bob, big ass ship coming your way’ or something equally mundane to whales” but I didn’t. I’m hoping that in the age of iPods that people will be encouraged to dock their own to play what relaxes them, rather than what spa owners think is relaxing. Meh, maybe I’m just to weird and most people like that kind of thing (shrug).

    @Heather – hey, you’re right, there is a real sense of wealth about my stack of books. I’m only halfway through my first as there’s so little time for reading, but enjoying it immensely.

  14. Ulla Hennig says:

    Emma,
    what a wonderful place you described! Wished I could get there just after work (“Beam me up, Scotty – please!). Sigh!

  15. HeikeM says:

    What a fantastic thing – it is already on my wish list to be handed to husband asap. And as to the other stuff – the minority/majority thing,being not a girly woman(I hate anything pink and I don’t just mean the colour) and so on – wait until you are over fifty and everything on offer to you through your letterbox and in telly adds has to do with incontinence/health insurance/death and stair lifts.
    And try to get some fun fashion that doesn’t show your ageing thighs or arms. It is possible to be what you are despite the expectations of society and commerce, but it becomes harder as the years go by.So good for you that you start so relatively early.By the time you get to my age you will be good at it. And yes, it is good to be a grumpy woman at any age – how else will anybody know what you think, like and dislike?
    Again, thanks for the recommendation – I read about 3 books a week and very little gives me more pleasure than a good book.

  16. Darcy says:

    For reasons I don’t understand, the idea of a gift/experience that perfect gave me a lump in my throat. Sounds brilliant. And you didn’t mention it (because to you it would be no special thing), but I bet the entire thing also involves being surrounded by people with lovely British accents, which makes it sound even more fabulous.

  17. […] spa. Sheer, unadulterated bliss. And I have loved every single one he recommended. I wrote about my first book spa here, in case you’re wondering what on earth one […]

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