Treated to a thorough pasting
Had I known that I would find myself being covered in bloater paste by a young woman called Emma, to the tune of the the Wichita Lineman, I would have been even keener to visit Hoar Cross Hall.
It was not really bloater paste of course, it just reminded me of the sandwiches we had at Sunday school tea parties during the war. It was actually seaweed, dried, powdered and mixed with water to make a rich and satisfying gunge possessed, so we were told, of medicinal qualities. Emma kept warning me about the smell, but I just found it vaguely fishy - a bit like being at Broadstairs with the tide out.
I went to Hoar Cross Hall, dubbed a "health spa resort in a stately home", for a day with Bob Jelley, head of St Giles Middle School in Warwickshire, where I am chair of governors. I have known Bob for nearly 20 years. He had delayed his family holiday so we could go and was still in that glassy-eyed state that teachers have after school breaks up. The idea was partly to relax in what looked like a very agreeable place, and to sample some of their spa-style "treatments".
With the help of the Hall's management, we succeeded in sampling between us a good selection from what was on offer, even though the place was busy. Many visitors at this time of year are teachers, it seems.
First, we had the standard tour. Within the past few years the original house, built in stately home style 100 years ago, has doubled in size to accommodate more lounges, bedrooms, a swimming pool and a range of health and fitness rooms.
We began by just sitting in deep armchairs in the Garden Room, chatting, reading the papers and having coffee (there is complimentary tea and coffee at various points in the Hall). We appreciated this and the other little touches, such as the piles of white towels available in every place you might need one.
I just enjoyed seeing Bob sitting back, having watched him through a frenetic year, which included a major local authority re-organisation turning middle schools into juniors. Bob has had to say goodbye to the oldest year group of 12-year-olds, to a significant part of his budget and to three teachers - one full-time and two part-time. He's super with kids and extremely conscientious, so the kind of work he's had to do lately has very definitely been from what I would call the negative side of the headship equation.
After a while, Bob decided to go for a swim and I wandered down later to see him floating contentedly in the pool. I joined him for a short time and then we tried both the Turkish bath and the sauna.
"Which do you prefer?" he asked, energetically ladling scented water on to the coals. I confessed that they both seemed much the same to me - literally out of the frying pan and into the fire.
We both had a fitness test. Bob was found to be fitter than he looked. I turned out to have a bigger lung capacity than Micah, the muscular instructor.
"We rarely see this!" he exclaimed.
Suitably cheered up, and after an excellent buffet lunch, we embarked on our watery afternoon.
We both tried what is described as "full body seaweed envelopment". Bob thought it was "spectacular". It was certainly unusual. After Emma had given me my paper underpants and plastered me with "micronised marine algae", she asked me whether she should fetch the photographer. "When I'm covered up!"I replied, and so she wrapped me first in polythene and then in an electric blanket.
But Roland, the photographer, was having none of this and insisted that I be unwrapped again for the camera.
Eventually, I was rewrapped, left alone, and I dozed off for a few minutes to canned music .
The hydrotherapy bath was next. First, Sally Woodhouse, another cheerful white-coated operative, rubbed me all over with coarse salt "to remove the dead skin". Sally then coaxed me into a Brobdingnagian bath filled with water (plus added seaweed, of course) while automatic underwater jets worked their way around my body.
Bob, meanwhile, had gone for an hour-long whole body massage which was, for him, the highlight of the day. "An absolute knockout. The young woman was so strong! She was pummelling away and I couldn't work out whether I was experiencing pain or pleasure. The sensation was so acute."
He was due for a "blitz jet", but felt that he wanted to be left to contemplate his massage. So I went instead. I stood in my bathers at one end of a tiled room while Beverley, calling out instructions, stood at the other with a powerful hose. "Hold your right arm up for me now! Now turn round for me! Good!" The hose was certainly powerful, and I was grateful for Beverley's accuracy of aim. Bob was delighted with his day. His ankle, swollen with arthritis, had gone down and was now pain free and he had been given cause to think about the importance of looking after his body. He said: "During the teaching year you just forget about your body - it aches and groans but you get on with it."
Would he come again? "I'd love to come with Jill (his wife) and really it's not too expensive for the basic day. It's grand and peaceful and you just feel pampered."
We went as guests of Hoar Cross Hall, but a basic day, including lunch, use of the swimming pool, steam room, outside games, exercise classes and the gymnasium, starts at Pounds 39. Overnight rates, with all meals, start at Pounds 98 per person in a standard room.
There are inclusive deals, but the spa treatments can add considerably to the cost (there is a menu of 87 treatments). Our day would have cost around Pounds 136 each with the basic day costing Pounds 39, seaweed envelopment Pounds 32, hydrotherapy bath and salt scrub Pounds 33 and full body massage Pounds 32.
However, we agreed that we had left ourselves too little time just to lie about. There are gift vouchers, and a day or a stay at the Hall would make a super present for a busy partner or friend.
Additionally, a range of stress consultancy services, much used within education, are available from Rob Lowman Associates whose headquarters is at Hoar Cross Hall.
Hoar Cross Hall, Hoar Cross, Near Yoxall, Staffordshire. DE13 8QS. Tel: 01283 575671 fax 01283 575652. Bob Jelley is head of St Giles Middle School (St Giles Junior from September) in Exhall, Warwickshire.