Surviving my first German sauna

I spent an exceedingly pleasant birthday weekend in Berlin last week. Friday morning to Monday evening was not nearly enough to take in the whole experience, but despite historic sites all around me, I spent more time in the sauna than any other place.

Let’s rewind.

We were staying in the Hilton, which has a delightful spa area next to its pool. While we could have spent the weekend schlepping from one tourist spot to another, I opted for a bracing walk in the Tiergarten, a visit to the DDR museum and an inevitable wander past Checkpoint Charlie.

But each day we spent there, I spent at least two hours in the spa. It was just the relaxing experience I needed – despite a few initial hiccups.

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Photo stolen from the Hilton website – no cameras allowed!
For a start, rules are rule. As this was a German hotel, swimsuits were forbidden in the spa area. This was separate from the pool area, but also open to both genders. So yes, a mixing of male and female guests, all in their birthday suits.

This was a first for me – every time I’ve had to shed my clothes for a sauna or onsen, it’s been men-only. Seeing some (gasp!) naked ladies was shocking for all of about…ten seconds. After that, flesh is flesh. Honestly. None of the Germans there seemed to give a toss who looked like what.

But I had to make it difficult for myself.

After an initial quick tour of the facilities with one of the super-friendly hotel staff on Saturday morning after breakfast, I went back down after changing out of my clothes. Wearing my shorts and t-shirt, I followed another guest into the men’s changing rooms.

As promised, there were lockers available, beyond which were some showers and then the spa area and pool. I slipped into my swim shorts, went for a shower and wandered into the pool area. Assuming I could get some towels out there, I was quickly directed back out to the reception area to pick one up there.

I’d broken one of the other rules. You need to sign in to collect a towel.

Shrugging, I wandered out towards the pool’s reception, but stopped off at the entrance to the spa. Like the entrance to the changing rooms, it had a card-key area. I thought I’d test my card and went back to my locker to get my room key. This – of course – didn’t give me access to the spa.

So I went out to the reception area, after locking my locker. The door to the men’s changing rooms closed firmly behind me, just as I noticed there were no staff members at reception. So I was locked out of the changing rooms, wearing only a wet pair of swim shorts.

And some burning cheeks.

Honestly, I made fewer faux pas on my first visit to a Japanese onsen.

After wandering around for a couple of minutes, I found a member of staff who let me back into the changing rooms and gave me a couple of towels. I was so grateful for his help, I forgot to ask about the spa and its ‘broken’ card reader.

So after leaving a few moments to pass before going back out to him – I didn’t want to appear completely clueless – I had to have the entire process explained to me.

It turns out (famous last words), access to the spa section was at an additional cost, unless you had Diamond Status with the Hilton hotel chain. Which I do. So I had to a) prove it, using the card on my iPhone, stored in my locker and b) be escorted (like a naughty child) to the spa door and instructed on how to use the new access chip which was now strapped to my wrist. With a nod to the MASSIVE sign explaining it was a ‘textile-free zone’, I was left to my own devices.

This entire episode took no more than ten minutes, but it was stressful as hell. I had images of being locked out and having to go upstairs to the main hotel reception to ask for help. Just like one of those anxiety dreams where you find yourself sitting a past school exam, except you haven’t studied. And you’re naked.

Just me?

Moments later, I was sitting naked in a sauna full of people, gasping for breath. It was essentially the hottest sauna I’ve ever experienced. Seriously. And I’ve been in Finnish, Swedish, Japanese and Korean saunas. It was (literally) breath-taking. I broke a sweat before taking my seat (after carefully placing a towel beneath me! Again, the rules).

Truly, after a quick look around in the dim sauna interior, I basically forgot I was effectively surrounded by hot, naked men and women. All I could think of was the heat of the air searing the inside of my nostrils and the pounding of my heart in my chest.

Every movement around me seemed to send a waft of boiling air in my direction. Sweat poured from every pore in my body. I continued to gasp. I looked around, but everyone else seemed to be taking it in their stride. Sweating buckets, obviously, but nobody seemed to be gasping like me.

My pulse was now throbbing in my head and I lasted all of ten minutes before having to leave for a cold shower.

Wandering towards the beautifully designed shower area, I saw you could choose from a variety of shower styles and temperatures. I over-estimated my temperature and my staying power and shrieked when the ice-cold water came down on top of me from the ‘tropical rain’ shower. Thankfully, I was alone at the time, all other guests snug in either the sauna or one of two steam rooms.

But I just know they heard me. I know it.

Anyway, the steam rooms were also a delight, but you don’t know pain until one of the drips of almost-piling water falls from the tiled ceiling and lands on your nethers. I quickly realised why all the men sat in there cross-legged and quickly adopted the same technique.

Life’s too sort for third degree burns to the scrotum.

The most fun between treatments was to be had as I rested on the cold marble benches, sipping some lemon water. I watched as new guests arrived and guessed their nationality.

Essentially, I played “Spot the Brit”.

British guests wandered in, reeking of uncertainty and fear. They would look around the spa area, holding their towels around them for dear life and after a few moments of whispered panicky “You go first”, “No, you go first”, they would drop their towels from their bodies and go into the sauna. For about two minutes. They’d then emerge gasping, much like I had, and seek out some cold water. And shriek under the same shower.

Rinse and repeat

By now, of course, I had adopted an air of familiarity with the whole place that was disgusting even me. Leaning back with my cold water, weighing up whether more time in the sauna was really good for me, I watched a couple of English guys come in. They had their towels gathered tightly around them, looked around uncertainly and then saw me, sitting confidently in the buff.

Towels unwrapped with a flourish, they walked into one of the steam rooms, but came out immediately, looking shocked. It had been full of women and by the looks on their faces, they though they were in the wrong place entirely!

I nodded at them and whispered “It’s a spa for men and women”. Honestly, they looked like they’d never seen a breast in the wild before. Or maybe they’d never seen so many at the same time. We weren’t, if I’m honest, short on breasts. The guys wandered sheepishly into the sauna, for an inevitable roasting.

So. I went all the way to Berlin and basically spent hours and hours sweating with strangers, in almost complete silence, drinking heaps of water and showering myself cold again.

And it was glorious.

Self-conscious Brits and Americans aside, nobody make a big deal of the nudity rules. Except for when an particularly well-endowed guy walked – no – strutted into the sauna. He turned a few heads. Male and female. No cameras or phones allowed in the sauna, obviously – but it’s not something I’ll forget in a hurry.

He leaned back, legs spread like was about to undergo a waxing, smiling to himself and obviously very, very aware of the attention he was getting. Personally, I felt a confusing mix of disgust, admiration and jealousy.

Mostly the latter, if I’m honest.

The place was scrupulously clean and well ordered. Everyone followed the rules, (nearly) all the time. People sat on towels. They washed down the seats in the steam room. They kept their voices down to a whisper at all times. The silence even continued into the changing rooms, partly because I think everyone was too exhausted to speak.

Or, in the case of the English guys, too traumatised by all the German breasts they’d seen.

With practice, I managed to stay in the sauna for up to about 20 minutes at a time. Not impressive, I know – but I’ve never felt heat like it! Each day, I left the spa feeling an incredibly mixture of exhaustion and enthusiasm. I was glowing, even after several freezing showers and smiling like a very chilled out cat that got the cream.

(However, the health benefits of the sauna were almost certainly undone by the time we spent in the Hilton Executive Lounge each evening. But that’s for another post.)

That was my first German sauna experience and I’d definitely go back for more. If only they were all so clean and well-organised.

Detox bollocks

It’s the time of year when all the newspapers are advising their readers to engage in one form of detox or another. They spend all of November advising us which fattening food to eat to have the ‘perfect Christmas’ and then point out we’re fat and out of shape and ‘need’ to go on a ‘Detox’.

Here’s the thing: they don’t work. Your kidneys and your liver detox your body. That’s what they’re there for. That’s why you get so ill when either of them malfunction.

Magic salts or fruit cleanses don’t detoxify you. On the other hand, it’s also probably a good idea to give your body a break from the onslaught of 24/7 goose fat and mince pies! Hence the natural tendency for people to change their eating habits come the new year.

But the claims made by the papers and newly-published health books are ludicrous and normally evidence-free. Often fronted by a celebrity with zero medical or health training, they make huge promises and deliver nothing in return except a sense of disappointment when it doesn’t work for you.

I was thinking about detox methods in the sauna last night. “Hypocrite!”, I hear you cry. Hold on – put down your pitchforks. I wasn’t in the sauna to detox, inspired by a D-list celebrity’s book that came free with a tabloid newspaper. I don’t sit in the heat imagining that the copious sweat traveling down by face and dripping onto the floor is actually full of dangerous ‘toxins’ or the remnants of mince pies and Christmas pudding.

(Although a two-decade scientific study in Finland did indicate that regular sauna use is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease – bonus!)

No. I take a sauna because I enjoy it. The detox I was thinking of was absence of electronics and noise. I was completely alone in there and it was silent, aside from the clicking and sighing of the sauna heater.

I was also gadget-free. The sauna is far too hot to wear my Apple Watch, even if it’s waterproof. I think it would either melt and/or burn my wrist. The iPhone was safely in my bag in the changing room next door for exactly the same reasons. All I had to hand was a copy of The New European and my thoughts.

And it was a very welcome break.

It was then that I realised why I enjoy the sauna so much. Aside from the physical pleasure of getting slowly cooked and then jumping into a freezing cold shower, I enjoy the absence of other people getting in touch with me and the lack of any gadgets to steal my attention. It’s a pleasant change to be alone with my thoughts and to focus completely on one story in the newspaper.

It’s the only reason I subscribe to a physical news paper at all. It’s published weekly and gives me just enough content to read while sitting back in the sauna. As it’s essentially disposable, I don’t worry about it getting wet or damaged by the heat.

When I’m not reading – and sometimes, the heat makes it difficult to concentrate or, frankly, the sweat in my eyes makes it impossible! – I just sit back and think, or if I’m feeling a bit stressed or tense, I practice mindfulness.

No religious connotations, just mindful focus on my breathing and my posture. Just a few minutes a day is really helpful to me and while I usually use Headspace as a guided meditation tool, that’s impossible in the sauna as it’s an app on my iPhone. So it’s been a great experience in practicing mindfulness meditation without external stimuli or guidance.

So, I actually have my own little detox cough bollocks cough from the world at large every time I step in there. Actually, I’m going to stop using the word ‘detox’ as it’s so meaningless and potentially harmful.

The sauna is what it is: taking a break from the world outside and having a good old think. Something that can be tough for many of us these days. And given my epilepsy is exacerbate by stress and sleep disturbance, the sauna is an ideal way to knock both of these on the head – especially if I meditate while I’m in there.

It’s a habit I’ll definitely continue in to 2017.

Missing my sauna

Regular readers will know how much I like my sauna. Most saunas, actually. As long as they’re clean and not filled with sociopaths. I use the sauna in my apartment building at night, as it really helps me sleep. It’s also somewhere to think and reflect. Obviously, I can’t use technology in there – not unless I want to get burnt by red-hot metal and then have to deal with melting plastic.

Continue reading “Missing my sauna”

A tough week: cough, cold, accidental nudity.

Not tough as in “I just lost an election to a sociopathic orange-skinned, baboon-faced sexual predator with a history of lying and manipulation”, but tough nonetheless.

I’ve spent my week battling a cold and cough that kicked off as soon as I arrived in Stockholm on Sunday afternoon. It was nowhere near bad enough to cancel any work, it just made my work – and sleeping – more difficult. An annoying, back of the throat, liable to kick off at any minute, cough.

And keep in mind that my week consisted of: Monday running a workshop, Tuesday running a workshop, Wednesday running a workshop, Thursday running workshop and Friday morning, presentation to a board. Add to that a bit of a temperature, sore throat and headache. A recipe for feeling rough and being grumpy.

Stockholm was lovely, even if it was a lightning fast visit. And even if the streets were like an ice-rink. Seriously – most of the time, I ended up walking like a newborn giraffe. Legs spread out in all directions in an attempt to stay upright, while pulling my suitcase behind me. Graceful I was not.

I managed a wander around town for about an hour on Sunday afternoon before I realised that I should probably stay indoors to knock my cold on the head. I remembered the hotel had a sauna, so decided to give it a go and have an early night. A good blast of heat in the sauna nearly always helps me sleep well.

I wasn’t sure of the sauna etiquette in this particular hotel vis a vis clothing. So I brought down some swim shorts, just in case they were required. At the same time, I didn’t want to be the only guy sitting there in his shorts, while everyone around me was naked. Unfortunately, I was staying in a lovely, but minimalist hotel. No instructions or guidance anywhere.

As I stepped from the gym into the changing area for the sauna, a Swedish guy behind me stepped through the door and shouted something in the general direction of the sauna door. A completely naked woman stepped through the glass door to answer him and then retreated into the sauna again.

That was my question answered. A single changing area, single set of showers and a single sauna containing at least one naked person. I cast my shorts aside and went to take a shower before getting in the sauna. The hot water of the shower was like a shock to my system after the bracing cold outside, but I could feel myself relax and begin to thaw out.

I was lost in my own chilled out thoughts as I grabbed a tiny towel to sit on and stepped into the sauna.

To find the same woman sitting there alone, only this time wrapped in a towel.

Turns out (as I begin to think how I’d explain this to the police) the guy I’d bumped into in the doorway was warning his naked wife that a guy (me) was on his way into the sauna, so she grabbed a towel to cover up. She’d assumed nobody would be joining her and so decided to go au naturelle. Then I turn up, naked as the day I was born, scaring both of us into momentary awkward silence.

Seconds later, I’m back in the sauna but this time with a larger towel. We had a bit of a laugh about it and actually had a very nice conversation about travel, spas and saunas.

Any awkwardness evaporated quickly, but it was still a heart-stopping moment to begin with. Although, on reflection, I was in Stockholm where attitudes to nudity are very different to the UK. Still…awkward. Definitely awkward. A bit like one of those anxiety-themed  dreams where you find yourself in the office, or in the middle of the street, completely naked and desperate to find some clothes.

(I can’t be the only person that has these kinds of dreams…surely?)

After about fifteen minutes, she left and I lay back to relax alone but quickly realised that our conversation had masked the god awful music that was being piped into the sauna.

Not the usual ‘new age’ crap that spas frequently play. This was full-on club anthems. Thumping base and repetitive, meaningless vocals. It was as far from relaxing as I could imagine. But I gave it a go all the same and after about twenty minutes the playlist moved on to seventies disco, which was marginally better but still not relaxing.

As I eventually left after a few rounds of sauna and cold shower (all this time alone, thankfully) the music moved on to Grace Jones singing ‘Pull up to the bumper’ and I decided to leave. I love that tune, but listening to it alone in a dark sauna was slightly disconcerting.

Accidental nudity aside, I did sleep really well in my minimalist little room that night. With a surprising absence of anxiety-laden dreams. Though waking up on Monday morning feeing like someone had tried to slit my throat wasn’t a great start to the waking week. Especially as I was going to be doing nothing but speaking in front of groups. But I survived!

So today, I’m still in bed and staying in the warmth to get rid of this cold. I may venture only as far as the first floor of my building and its sauna. Where there, at least, there’s no club music. But also a distinct absence of good-looking Swedes. You can’t have it all, I suppose…

A Seoul Sauna Surprise…

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some significant sauna time during my stay in Korea and Japan. Our hotel in Seoul had a super sauna and hot baths, where I soaked and poached myself quite a bit. I find the process incredibly relaxing and, when done in the evening, it guarantees me a good night’s sleep. 

Just like in the onsen setting in Japan, the Korean set-up was gender-segregated and prohibited any form of clothing. Rather than stress me out, I was comforted by the overlap in rules, minimising the opportunity for me to commit a massive cultural faux pas. In other words, naked spa-time without any worries. 

The first step was to strip out of my clothes and then clean myself thoroughly. These spas have a special area for this, where you sit (or squat) in front of a waist-height mirror and hand-held shower. You’re basically required to lather up and rinse off before you go anywhere near the shared spa areas. The saunas and hot spring baths aren’t about washing yourself and it’s viewed as very bad form to try and get yourself cleaner in either. 

Scrubbing my little form didn’t take too long, but as I was in the company of some Korean gentlemen, I made sure I scrubbed for all I was worth. 

Next, I eyed up the baths… There were three, each labelled in Korean but helpfully also with the temperature clearly marked in numerals. There was a 20C pool, which appeared to be for cooling off. There was a 40C pool which sounded very appealing. And a final 43C pool, which looked like I could poach eggs in it. 

As I obviously don’t have any photos of the set-up – mobile phone use is strictly forbidden, for a whole host of reasons – let me describe the baths. If you can picture water that’s deep enough to sit in and have come up to your neck, while also being big enough to fit about ten men in at a time, you won’t go far wrong. Sometimes they have clearly defined sitting areas, so know exactly where to sit. Sometimes not and, if it gets busy, you’re expected to budge up and make room for someone else. 

As the 40C bath was pretty busy, I opted to turn to the right and gingerly ease myself into the 43C one. I wondered how much of a difference there could be between them. Surprise #1. Oh was I glad I eased in! It was, without doubt, the hottest bath I’ve ever experienced. There was also a ‘shelf’ all the way around the bath, where you could sit and keep your chest and above out of the water. I sat there for some considerable time, slowly adjusting to the heat. 

I could tell from the looks on the guys one bath over that they were enjoying my discomfort. Obviously, I should have started with a lower temperature and worked my way up…

Yet, after just a few minutes, I was comfortable. I slowly slid the rest of my now-pink body into the water and closed my eyes. There’s an interesting effect this kind of heat can have on you. Once you get past the feeling of ‘oh my god, my heart!’ And ‘I can feel my blood pressure in my head!’, it’s possible to move to a more relaxed state where all of this fades into the background and all you have to deal with is not falling asleep. Seriously. I saw this happen in an onsen here in Tokyo, but that’s a story for another time…

After ten minutes in that bath, I eased myself out again, marvelling at the red colour of my feet and ankles and stepped under a freezing cold shower. This was bliss, but just for a moment. Then it was time to take a step back away from the water, which was beginning to feel like needles. I thought it best to move onto a sauna next. 

Again, there were three rooms to choose from, all facing out onto a ‘relaxation area’ which had cool water and some easy chairs. The first room had a steam room, the second a sauna set at a very high temperature, the third resembling something closer to hell itself. 

I opted for the middle sauna and experienced surprise #2. 

I walked in on a naked Korean guy doing energetic push-ups in the middle of the floor. Fast, pumping push-ups where you keep your feet on a bench and clap in-between. The kind I see demonstrated on Men’s Health videos on Facebook but have no intention of trying to replicate. 

I’m not sure who got the bigger fright. No, I am. It was me. Having said that, he quickly jumped into a standing position and walked out of the sauna, leaving me to wonder what it was all about and if I’d inadvertently broken a rule by walking in like that. But there was no ‘do not disturb sign’ that I could see and the sauna itself was big enough for about 12 men, so I didn’t believe it was possible to keep it just for one person. 

Still wondering what I’d just witnessed, I experienced surprise #3: I sat down without using a towel. 😬

Now. Here’s a basic rule of most spa facilities where no clothes are allowed: you need to use a towel before you sit on anything. In many places, this is about hygiene. In a Korean sauna, it’s about protecting your body from third degree burns. 

Thankfully, I leapt up before I could do any serious damage and memorised a new golden rule for onsen use: never sit on anything when naked unless you’ve checked its temperature first. 

Despite all of the above, my first experience of a Korean spa/onsen was incredibly relaxing. I slept so well that evening and was keen to sample more on the trip. I’ve since experienced two more, very different, spas on this holiday so far, with a third scheduled before we fly home. But I’ll cover those in other posts – this one is getting long and I’m keen to go and have some breakfast 😀

Seeking sauna solitude

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I’m spoiled. I know this. We have a sauna, a gym and a pool in our apartment block. And while the gym is maddeningly over-subscribed (it’s one way to get to know your neighbours – up close and personal!) I usually have the sauna all to myself.

And we know how much I love a sauna.

I’m very infrequently joined by anyone else in the building. So I sit, alone with my thoughts and a bottle of water. Or sometimes a magazine. Or, sadly, a journal article. But mostly my thoughts. All alone.

Right now, I’m working in Birmingham. Or just outside Birmingham, to be more specific. I’m staying in a large hotel which has a gym, pool and sauna. Knowing this in advance, I packed appropriately and spent about 90mins down there late this afternoon.

After throwing myself at various pieces of gym equipment (I have an appointment with the beach in Sitges that I need to get ready for), I made my way down to the sauna. I was, unfortunately, not alone. I had the sauna to myself for mere moments before a middle-aged guy joined me and proceeded to make some of the most disgusting mouth and throat noises I’ve ever heard. He then fucked around with the egg-timer on the wall, resetting my timing (doesn’t matter, as I usually only leave once approaching the “Oh my god, I’m going to pass out” or “I think I can see the future” stage of heat stroke).

He gasped. He panted. He continued to clear his throat and nostrils. I managed five more minutes, tops. Which was a shame as the sauna was surprisingly hot. Hotel saunas are usually closer to a typical tube carriage in June. Hot, but only if you’re fully clothed. This one was eyeball-searingly hot. Just how I like them.

I moved across to the steam room, where I was joined by a couple of talkers, who also coughed like they were about to expire. I gave that give minutes and then went for a swim. The pool was pretty much empty and I swam up and down, furtively checking the water-proof claims of the new Apple Watch series 2.0 as I went. (It still works!).

After my swim, I headed back to the sauna and steam room, but both were occupied by chatty people and I quickly realised that I’m going to have to work hard to get used to sharing a sauna with other people again. 🙄 I cut my losses and headed for the showers.

Still, the time I spent on the cross-trainer in the gym beforehand helped tire me out and now I’m perusing the room service menu wondering how many calories my gym-time has bought me…

Filing this one firmly under ‘First World Problems’ and moving on.

Right foot, left foot…

So, I have a half-marathon to get ready for. The good news is that a) it’s in October and b) it’s my favourite one: The Royal Parks half-marathon here in London.

I have to admit putting running on hold for months for no better reason than bad weather and a new habit of going to our building’s gym to use the cross-trainer and watch TV shows on my iPhone. It kept me up to date with shows I wanted to watch (sometimes) and didn’t require me to launch myself into the rain.

I of course brought my running gear to South Beach, as the beach-front path is just perfect for a morning run – before it gets too hot, of course. It was a delight to run along there before breakfast, watching the waves come in, while also sneaking peaks at the impossibly perfect bodies of my fellow runners.

But now I’m back in London, time is ticking on and I still haven’t shifted the weight that two weeks in the US added to my waistline. Really. I acted like a senator from ancient Rome, gorging on anything and everything that was put in front of me. The more fried and calorific the better.

Back in London, I’m trying to eat more healthily, but that isn’t going to do it alone. And no matter how much I wish it were otherwise, sitting in our sauna and reading tech magazines doesn’t really count as exercise.

So, it’s time to lace up my trainers and hit the streets again. 5km runs for a while, building up to 10km and the an incline into the half-marathon territory. I’ve definitely hung up my marathon shoes, simply because I didn’t in any way enjoy previous races and managed to injure myself during both. Half-marathons, on the other hand, you can run in the morning and go on to enjoy the rest of your day.

At least, that’s been my experience.

And the Royal Parks half is the scene of my PB running at this distance. I’ve previously completed it in 1:42. Last time, it was 2:02, but to be fair, it was my first big run after recovering from knee surgery. This year, I’m aiming for a sub-2:00 time and then slowly improve from there.

I really do enjoy running. It gives me time to think, time to listen to my favourite podcasts and is one way of not turning into a complete sphere of fat. Also, I try to raise money for my charity of choice each time – Epilepsy Action. The same holds true in 2016, so if you’d like to drop a couple of pounds my way, just click here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some too-tight running gear to squeeze into.

Big Easy? Far too easy…

I spent yesterday lunchtime at The Big Easy in Canary Wharf, grazing through the brunch menu like some particularly greedy livestock. It was a special occasion, as we’re celebrating @FrankDJS‘s birthday all weekend long.

I went in with the best of intentions…an omelette, maybe eggs benedict or something. Unfortunately, they ruined all my plans in an instant by offering an ‘All you can eat’ brunch option, which included bottomless ribs, pulled pork and chicken, along with with BBQ beans, fries, cornbread and unlimited Procsecco.

All for £30. There was no other option, according to my brain. I was in.

In to win.

And in this case, ‘winning’ was consuming more than £30 worth of food, so I could ensure I got great value. Yes, this is how my brain works around food. So I prepared by putting on my ‘bib’ and considering my tactics for maximal food consumption. I think you can tell this from the expression below.

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And then the (first serving of) food arrived. Amazing. Just enough to ensure we felt there was ‘lots of food’, but not so much that it was off-putting.

And there it was… Everything they promised. And it was delicious. The photos below illustrate about one quarter of what was eaten.

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The meal passed in a bit of a blur, but I know that I ate more than @FrankDJS or his sister and that I was the sole reason they brought two more follow-up portions of pulled pork. I had ALL the beans and one and half servings of the delicious fries. The corn bread was distinctly ‘meh’, but let’s be honest, when you go for a deal like this, you’re not there for the cornbread. You’re there for the MEAT.

Soft, succulent, slowed-cooked protein in the most delicious and finger-licking form imaginable.

They kept bringing the food and drink and I kept eating. I suppose, in a sense, they were simply enabling my gluttony. I finally had to stop when I realised that it had been a good 15 minutes since FrankDJS or his sister had eaten a thing. They were full and were watching me with poorly-disguised disgust.

I folded, leaving a half-chicken on the tray along with the possibility of even more pulled pork. Sigh.

What followed was a terrible dose of the meat-sweats. All my clothes felt far too tight and I needed to sit down. Or better still, lie down. And yet…and yet I could have eaten more. This is so very, very wrong.

A couple of hours later, after the difficult completion of a few errands, we were home and I was on auto-pilot to the bedroom for a brief nap. Four hours later, I was still unable to countenance the thought of food. Instead, I went downstairs for a long session in the sauna and actually felt much better once I was done. Some high heat and cold showers knocked me back into shap.

And so @FrankDJS ordered a delivery of Wagamama for us all. But I just couldn’t.

But then Wagamama replied to one of my tweets and gave me all the self-confidence I needed to polish off their excellent chicken raisucaree.

I’m not sure how I did it – I can only imagine that the brunch stretched my already capacious stomach to such an extent that it was able to cope.

Al in all, a most excellent day of calorie consumption. Not so great on the health front, but there you go. My main take-away from the experience is that there’s an unlimited brunch menu of this quality just a few minutes from my apartment. So I’m already planning the next visit.

Before they withdraw the offer, because of people like me…

Making bucket list progress

Several moths ago, I made a list of things I’d like to do before I’m 40. My very own ‘bucket list’.

Purely arbitrary, nothing to do with impending death. I need to emphasise that – every time I mention a bucket list, people think I’m about to share some very sad news about my health.

Not so.

I just find that I get more done when I have some targets, and this applies in my personal life just as much as it does at work. In hindsight, calling it a bucket list may have been misleading…

Anyway.

I’ve made some progress and am about to make some more. Let’s recap on what I was aiming for:

  • Take the sleeper train to Scotland
  • Go camping (anywhere!)
  • Write a book (fiction or otherwise)
  • Start my own business
  • Visit Iceland
  • Work Naked Bike Ride in London
  • Record a podcast
  • Go hiking somewhere in the UK
  • Spend a long weekend in Paris
  • Visit the Finnish Sauna in London
  • A weekend spa visit to Bath
  • Visit Venice

A lot of travel, right? I love it.

Well, in addition to getting my own business up and running last September, I co-founded another. But just one tick. I’m not changing the rules now.

I also had an excellent weekend in Bath in January which included a superb visit to the Thermae Spa. I’m a sucker for a hot spring, whether in Japan or not. We also managed a long weekend in Paris – my first non-business trip to Paris for about a decade. In February, we went to Iceland, which was truly gorgeous. Definitely somewhere I’ll visit again. Aside from the stunning scenery, the people were a delight.

I sadly missed the World Naked Bike Ride in London. And quite frankly, it’s now far too cold to do anything outdoors naked. I’m obviously a fair-weather naturist.  Maybe next year….

Another tick is on the way! I’ve booked myself a one-way ticket on the Caledonian Sleeper to Edinburgh. So I’ll be taking a sleeper train to Scotland. It doesn’t leave London until after 11pm, so frankly my main goal will be staying awake for a while.

I got a First Class private sleeper – the thought of sharing with a stranger was just too weird, even for me. I just imagined a James Bond-style battle to the death, just like in ‘From Russia with Love’. So I get a private space, as well as dinner in the lounge.

Really, really looking forward to the experience.

Given the fact it’s virtually December, and I turn 40 in February, I need to look for some quick wins to move this list along. I reckon I can get to the Finnish Sauna just across the Thames no problem.

As for the rest… well, I have recorded a podcast. Of sorts. It was a live webinar for work that we recorded and shared for offline listening. No, I won’t be making it public here as hearing it still makes my skin crawl. But I have added a podcasting kit to my Xmas wishlist and I think I might record a few words and a jingle to cross ‘podcast’ off the list.

Less than three months to go.

Let’s see what I can manage.