Clarkson on: massage
The first person ever to give me a massage was a homosexual man in Hertfordshire. I hated it very much, and after half an hour ended up more rigid than the table on which I was lying.
Many years later, I gave it another try. This time, I was attended to by a German who looked a bit like a woman, except she had claws. And what’s more, she had very obviously learned everything she knew about massages from that nurse in Where Eagles Dare. I emerged from the experience in great pain and vowed never to go near a massage parlour again.
However, last month, I was in Vietnam and, as we all know, what you get there is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink massage. There’s a lot of baby oil and pretty soon, the only evidence that you’re in the room is one leg sticking out from a writhing tangle of slippery twiglets. This, I figured, would be extremely enjoyable, and so I was very keen to give it bash. I was, in fact, very keen to give it several bashes.
The first attempt didn’t go well. I was presented with a boot-faced woman who had learned everything she knew about the human body by practising on downed American airmen in 1968. She began by rubbing gravel into the soles of my feet, and, at one point, I swear to God she actually tried to pull my toes off.
I was beginning to think things couldn’t get any worse. But they did. She was rubbing oil into my legs – I think it was Castrol GTX – and with each deft upward stroke, she always managed to stop just before she reached anything interesting. I was marvelling at this ability when suddenly she started coming up my legs, doing that karate chop thing. And this time, she got it slightly wrong. Instead of stopping, she went for one last slice and slammed the side of her bony little hand into my left testicle.
The next day, I was offered a head massage, which sounded appealing. I thought it might help uncross my eyes, but all I got for £16, was a woman sticking her fingers in my nostrils. It was odd. I have seen Emmanuelle 2. And at no point did anyone pick Sylvia Kristel’s nose.
Plainly, then, massage is something that everyone in the world likes, apart from me. A bit like MASH and Little Britain. But then, I checked into a hotel called the Nam Hai, which is just south of Da Nang. If you’re passing, it’s worth dropping in. Actually, even if you’re not passing, it’s worth flying over there just so you are.
We are used, these days, to hotels catering for your every need. At the Sandy Lane in Barbados, they provide a choice of lavatory paper: plain or embossed. At the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, you get a gold-plated television. And at the Regent in Hong Kong, I came out of the shower to find two butlers in the bathroom bearing towels and silly grins. “We’re Randy and Randy” said one. “Good. Well you can go and be Randy and Randy somewhere else.”
At the Nam Hai, however, they’ve gone way further than this. Each room has its own slate grey horizon pool, in case you can’t be bothered to stagger to the central pools, both of which are approximately the size of Holland. There is a beach, several miles long and utterly deserted, save for a solitary lifeguard. Quite why he’s there, I don’t know, partly because there’s no one to save and partly because you could walk two miles into the sea, and you’d still only be up to your knees.
The rooms are decorated in a way that Roman Abramovich would describe as “plush”, and you even get some Japanese sunbathers in gloves to laugh at. You could get so relaxed here that your bones would melt, but that hasn’t stopped them building quite the most astonishing spa in the whole world. Eight pagodas rise on stilts from a huge lake which is home to a million lotus flowers. And as dusk falls, each one is illuminated by a little tea-light.
"I was offered a head massage. All I got was a woman sticking her fingers in my nostrils"
You are asked by possibly the prettiest girl in the entire world what sort of massage you’d like, “Vietnamese?” she enquired with a knowing smile. “Yes,” I panted. And so I was led to one of the pagodas where I was asked by another stupidly pretty girl if I’d like to be naked. I declined, on the basis that she might hold out for five minutes, but anyone asked to look at my unclothed body for a period of time will eventually vomit on it.
And so, in a pair of brown silk boxer shorts I was laid down on the table and the music began. It sounded like Jean-Michel Jarre being played through speakers made from honey, at half speed. With a flannel soaked in eucalyptus over my eyes, Miss Vietnam began to rub lavender oil into my shoulders and there, on that incredible lake, at this incredible place, I thought I might finally be discovering the joys of the proper...
Unfortunately, before I had a chance to fully descend into a lower state of consciousness, I was gripped with a devastating need to break wind. I know that to let go is considered polite in Belgium. James May even thinks it’s funny. But it is neither of those things in Vietnam. And so, for nearly 50 minutes, I had to lie there, in insufferable agony.
And now, two weeks later, my shoulders feel like they’re made from wood, and I can’t look right at road junctions. I have therefore decided that in future, I shall stick to a more guaranteed way of unwinding: it’s called ‘wine’.
And at this point, perilously close to the end of the column, you will be wondering how on earth I’m going to get from the massage table of a Da Nang hotel to something that has anything to do with cars.
Easy. Because everything these days is designed to hurt. We’re told we must jog, which is agony, or go to a gym, which is like being sent to a torture chamber. They say we must eat lettuce rather than shepherd’s pie and that we must sit up straight. I’ve just bought a super-modern sofa which has so many ‘contemporary’ right angles, it’s like trying to watch television while sitting on a slide rule.
It’s the same story with cars. Everything south of the Rolls-Royce Phantom is designed to be a thrill, to go round the Karussell at the Nürburgring just a little bit faster than the model it replaces. And curiously, the more you pay, the less comfortable it will be.
If you buy a bog-standard S-Class Mercedes, it will be fine. Not as comfortable as it could be, but fine nevertheless. But if you spend more – much more – on the AMG version, it will be like riding around on a chest of drawers.
I have no objection to this. There are plenty of people who like a bone-hard ride and exhausts like artillery pieces. But, equally, there are plenty of people over 50 who want their car to be as relaxing as lying in a bath listening to whale song. So why, in the name of all that’s holy, doesn’t Mercedes, or anyone for that matter, do a version with suspension made from a blend of honey and kapok, and a gearbox that takes several minutes to slide from third to fourth?
In short, why does everything come with a sport button? Because what I want these days is a button that says ‘bath’.