Last night was the wettest and stormiest night so far, and according to one of the doctors this morning officially a cyclone. It certainly began with one of those ground-shaking thunderstorms that drenches everything in the first five minutes, but fortunately always after dark. So far.
This morning has white skies with a strong breeze from the sea.
It’s apparently a good day for wrapping your head in a tight cloth bandage.
Which is what they’ve done to me following a treatment called Shirodhara – which I thought was one of the Japanese guards in Tenko – but turns out to be Ayurvedic for being poured on from a great height with warm herbal oil, it drizzles on to your forehead and is squelched into and out from your hair by a pair of masseurs before your greasy grey-green Limpopo-smelling locks are finally swathed in the cotton headgear and tightly knotted. Sic transit Gloria.
In my case the Gloria being Swanson except this fashion accessory isn’t quite the full Norma Desmond since it is more Russian peasant than Sunset Boulevard in style: I look like a cross between Mother Courage and the cook on the Battleship Potemkin.
It’s meant to be a revelatory experience, freeing your mind and encouraging deep relaxation although it might have been more stress-reducing if the two masseurs who administered it hadn’t chatted in whispers to each other throughout the procedure. I’ve slept a bit during the day but I can’t say it’s made me feel vastly different although I’m certainly relaxed, and I put that down more to yesterday’s double acupuncture when she inserted about sixteen needles into my neck and shoulders and I’ve never felt more fluid in that department. Sixteen more and I’ll be Linda Blair.
On Shirodhara days you’re meant to refrain from swimming, sunbathing or even washing and if you can’t just think beautiful thoughts it’s OK to do a little light reading. I’ve leafed through the ‘Hello’ I brought from the plane and now know twice as much about Kate Middleton and her make-up habits as I’ll ever find useful, as well as having an opportunity to wonder what is the legitimate earthly purpose of people like Peaches Geldof and Elizabeth Hurley or why cap-toothed Gurkha-crusading arctic-sledging Joanna Lumley has sold her soul as an ambassador for Wrigley’s chewing-gum.
I’ve also found my mind wandering and recalling people I’ve not thought about seriously for years, notably Robert Liederman – for a long time ‘the love of my life’ – an American I met in about 1976 and with whom I had tempestuous and romantic trysts in London, Amsterdam and New York – including the New Year’s Eve his boyfriend tried to kill me - until we lost contact back in the days before you could stalk someone successfully on the internet. Somewhere in a box I’ve still got his letters and I’m horribly afraid also the gushing gauche carbon copies of what I wrote to him.
Carbon copies, that dates me.
Some of my seventies flashback may have been prompted by reading Simon Doonan’s memoir ‘Beautiful People’ about growing up gay in a low-rent suburb of Reading and then escaping to London and the States. He’s now creative director of Barney’s in New York so I can’t say our lives are parallel but we’re contemporaries and much of his youthful experience in Reading is similar to mine in the North. I was quite tickled to realise that I knew his best friend Biddie as well as Biddie’s cabaret partner Eve Ferret, in fact I’d hired them to perform at a succession of office Christmas parties I organised at YRM.
Doonan’s life moved to LA and New York at the start of the ‘plague’ and he lost a lover to AIDS almost before the disease had been accurately named. As I said, I’d lost touch with Rob and heard nothing more about him until about ten years ago when I had dinner with a mutual friend whom I’d also not seen in the intervening time and who mentioned, as though I already knew it, that Rob had also died of AIDS in 1982.
You’d be surprised how devastating it can be to hear of a twenty-year-old death.
When I was in New York three weeks ago, I had brunch with Susan and Rhea at the Fairway supermarket on the Upper West Side and effectively just round the corner from Rob’s apartment, so took a nostalgic walk to find the address on West End Avenue, but too many of the buildings looked similar and I’m not so sure I pinpointed it.
Simon Doonan found fortune and happiness through moving from the English provinces to America at a time when such geographic flexibility was comparatively rare. I do think if I’d been brave enough to do the same then a great love might have blossomed. Then again, I might also have died in 1982.
It’s six o’clock and time for some more foul-smelling medication. The four o’clock libations have been changed and I now have to drink half a bottle of what tastes like the vinegar from the pickled onion jar. Which is a taste I’m familiar with because when I came home from University to critique my mother’s Sunday salad-making and tell her on good authority that smart people made salad with ‘oil and vinegar’ rather than Heinz Salad Cream she promptly dressed a bowlful of lettuce, cucumber and tomato with the juice from the pickle jar and a ladle of oil from the chip pan.
I’ll have been here a week tomorrow, and whilst I’ve lost some weight I don’t want to quote numbers or speculate about the outcome, partly because it’s difficult to assess what counts as sweat and ‘vitiated Vatha’ (which is what you produce on the loo) or to know whether I may yet break out to find beer, chips or chocolate in the nearby village ...