There's No Place Like Home

View with a room.
I try to be a low-maintenance sort of human being. I realize that I have won the jackpot already, being a white Canadian, and have privilege virtually oozing out of every pore. I don't mind living below the poverty line, I don't fantasize about marrying a rich man, I happily wear second or third hand clothes. I feel I have an extraordinary life: I live in a wonderful, enlightened community in a beautiful part of the world, I can grow my own food and share with others, I can express myself creatively, I have people to love and care about, not to mention the best doggies ever.

So when my mother arranged an all-expenses paid family vacation at a spa resort (Tigh-Na-Mara, in Parksville) I was willing to go along with it because it was a rare opportunity to be together with my brothers and sister, not because I felt the need to be pampered like the Queen of Sheba. It was nice to see my Mom so thrilled and excited - she usually runs at a pretty high level of joie de vivre anyway, so this was really something to behold.

So it was surprising to hear her be the first one to voice the feeling of being out of place as we arrived on a lovely sunny day last week, and were shown to our over-the-top-de-luxe rooms. "Do you feel that we might actually be inmates in an insane asylum?" she asked. Not that we suddenly were having delusions, but we were definitely in an alternate reality. My room alone could have housed a family of four - complete with kitchen, dining area, jacuzzi in the living room, king-sized bed, widescreen TV, fireplace and gob-smacking ocean view. It was bigger than my whole house!

Since the tide was out, I decided to go for a restorative walk on the magnificent beach, a true natural wonder. All was lovely and peaceful, until two young lads wearing matching red hoodies - all the better for the Coast Guard to find them when they get swept out to sea, I murderously thought -  proceeded to run screaming at the flock of migratory birds taking advantage of the herring run at the water's edge. "Huh", I mumbled to myself, "they don't allow dogs because they might bother the wildlife, but they let nasty, over-privileged brats run free."

In that disgruntled frame of mind I made my way to the mineral pool of the Grotto Spa, where I joined my family under an artificial waterfall of warm, soothing, lithium enhanced droplets. The pool was designed to look like something one might encounter in a remote tropical island and was truly lovely. After about ten minutes, I began to worry that my thickened layers of proletarian skin might start to slough off and create disgusting debris-ridden vortices in the pool, prompting a whistle to be blown and everyone ordered out. I wished that I had paid more attention to exfoliating during my twice weekly, Aussie-rules home showers.

From there we slipped into our identical, spa-mandatory robes and flip-flops and made our way to the lounge, where we sipped on cucumber, lemon, or plain spring waters and nibbled tropical fruit. A bell chimed melodiously and a bevy of beautiful young aestheticians glided in and escorted us to our various appointed spa treatments. I broke out laughing, it was just too surreal.

Mom and I had chosen to have pedicures. As I reclined in my massage-o-matic chair (an unnerving sensation) I chatted with Sarah, my aesthetician, about very little of importance, although I did manage to glean the interesting fact that the resort has a dedicated 24/7 laundry to handle the huge amount of linens and towels that are required to maintain the spa experience. I also found out she sometimes listens to heavy metal on her way home from work, to counteract the ethereal music of the pan-pipes that wafts like a perpetual mist through the resort.

It was only the second professional pedicure of my life. I chose sparkly blue nail varnish to commemorate this memorable event. It looked beautiful, and exotic. Mom and I were presented with special disposable flip-flops to keep our polish from smudging, and I asked if they were recyclable. Apparently such a prosaic question was rarely asked, since none of the aestheticians knew the answer.

They serenely led us up to a private room adjacent to the rooftop tapas lounge, where endless plates of elegantly drizzled bites of smoked salmon and miniature tartlets were served to us by a very patient and polite young man, Curtis. (Later, as it became apparent that the Camerons were going to take advantage of the term "endless", my talented actor brother and sister-in-law performed a choreographed version of  Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as a perk-up for the wearying Curtis. He appeared stunned and managed to say, without sounding sarcastic, "No one has ever done that here before.")

The dinner was lovely and it truly was nice to spend time with my whole family (nephew Andrew joined in via Snap Chat), although I did at one point have to go into the bathroom and rest my forehead against the glass, steeling myself against the overwhelming feeling that I didn't belong in such a place.

Eventually we all retired to our rooms, where I paced the unfamiliar spaciousness, fiddled with the fireplace, and found nothing to watch on the big-screen TV except for Rachel Maddow exhorting Trump to release his tax returns. I read a bit of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", couldn't focus, and left it in the bedside table for a future guest. I snuggled into a corner of the huge bed and tried to sleep, dreaming fitfully of the vintage British drama "The Prisoner", being surveilled by golf-cart driving housekeeping staff and pursued to my doom by a giant inflatable ball.

Next morning, we met for breakfast in the dining room. I ordered waffles, and was overwhelmed by the stack of beautifully grilled pastries that arrived, bedecked with candied pecans, out-of-season strawberries, whipped cream and a chocolate caramel drizzle. "Could I please have a bowl of thin gruel instead?" I whimpered to the waitress, who thought I was joking.

Thankfully, we checked out soon after. It felt like I had been away from home for a week, which is probably the intended effect of such a deluxe getaway, but maybe I'm just not cut out for the spa experience. If I ever have another vacation I want it to be spartan, maybe involving manual labour or community service. Just like being at home!


  1. Heather's mom, Jody, is a very lovely person. Despite the fact that I am a prodigal, sometimes cranky, difficult to feed and prone to mind blasting headaches. she invited me to come to the spa with them, as her guest. Now, I love Heather's family, they are a pretty crazy and fun group but I could not imagine being in a place where indulgence is the norm. That plus the fact that I worry about our canines was reason enough to politely decline. So I stayed home and enjoyed doggie snuggles.
    I was a bit surprised when Heather arrived home well before supper on the next day. I thought that they would all find something suitably silly to cap their spa visit and carry on until the wee hours. Such was not to be the case. Heather arrived home looking exhausted, to tell me with rather incredulous gesturing how over the top her experience had been.
    The best part of the story though was when she looked down at her stockinged feet with a gasp saying something about colour changes. It turned out that her sparkling toes were radiating out through her handmade socks giving them a rather radiological glow. Heather seldom uses expletives and I laughed to see her rip off those poor homespuns to expose those never before electrically charged toenails! Later I confess sneaking in to her bedroom to see if they were still glowing in the dark!

  2. Hahaha - good story, guys!

  3. What a wonderful story and very dream-like (or nightmarish). I think I would have been as uncomfortable as you were. I do like the comparison to The Prisoner.

  4. Howling... I can so relate. People are always trying to convince me to go to this or the other spa and I just don't have it in me to be "pampered." Shit, I can barely go for a haircut once a year.

    Great piece of writing, Heather. You must have been so relieved to be home.

    1. Thanks Margy. I'm happy to help make laughter happen in this crazy world!

  5. Scary, but so true. Sometimes you wonder if we are on the same planet, never mind reading from the same page.

  6. SNORTLE! This should be a piece for a magazine review of such extravaganzas!

    And i could "hear" D and J singing the Monty Python ;)

  7. Snicker! Oh yeah, not my scene either. That kind of over-the-top luxury just makes me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. A walk on the beach and then back to my wee van to cook supper is more my speed. You got a great story out of your experience anyway!

  8. That was hilarious........I've never done the spa thing.....except when I've been exploring holy wells. I once related my visit to Gunthwaite Spa (a well) and my friend's gf asked me what sort of treatments they did......I caught myself, before I guffawed.....X

  9. Fabulously written account of our experience. I think it was Arden who at one point said he thought he was in an episode of Black Mirror. We are massage junkies and I must say I enjoyed my massage, the laughs shared over tapas and Jody's joy!
    Love you, Heather!

  10. so funny, Heather!

  11. Nice writing! It makes me think of going to my Weight Watchers meetings. I've actually been working on a blog post about that, i.e. the privilege of overweight Americans paying to meet in support groups and discuss, ad infinitum, the point values of various foods. Although, I do like some luxury and massage every now and then.

  12. Jim S6:25 PM

    Well, we have an episode of The Prisoner and an episode of Black Mirror but for me it was an early episode of Twin Peaks complete with the soundtrack of Angelo Badalamenti and I just know the Log Lady was around there somewhere.

  13. thanks for the good laugh, reading was accompanied by my internal jukebox replaying "Brain Damage" from Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon... the lunatics are on the grass...

  14. oh. my. god. i remember hearing a friend recently say that make up was ridiculous, except lipstick, which was necessary. i queried her. lip balm? no, color was needed. isn't that make-up i asked? some of us are cut from a different cloth, not intended to be spa material (punny punny). i do like a little something special sometimes, maybe an ice cream cone? or a new book?


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