Spiritual Bliss On Smithdown Road: An Attempt at Scouse Self Care

After the past year of misery, shouldn't we all help our inner selves a little more? We attempt enlightenment across the city's hidden relaxation rooms and rubdown spots.

by David Lloyd

“I had a crystal healing session before I came here. It was amazing. I flew up through fluffy white clouds and then floated down into a field of daffodils.”

“Wow. Sounds incredible. Where was that?”

“Old Swan.”

I’m stretched out on a recliner in a dimly-lit basement opposite the cemetery on Smithdown Road, at the Adam and Eve Turkish Bath. Instead of the call of the Muezzin drifting across the Bosporus, I’m hearing tales from my subterranean compadres, swaddled in towels, of shamanism in Stoneycroft. 

I’ve just had a hammam, and I’m feeling untethered. Women raining down onto fields of golden daffodils next to the Fruitique Boutique, you say? Why the hell not?

This city’s a contrary old bird. What law of physics says yes to hairdresser Carol Durmus remortgaging her Wavertree house to fulfil her pipe dream of opening the first hammam in the North West, and no to the mayor sorting out a tarmac academy? Whatever it is, that’s my kind of city.

If the tarmac academy had offered modules in asphalt body scrubs, it might have stood a chance. We love a bit of a pamper around here. But how to find the right one? That’s a pampering minefield I was happy to hop across.

If, like me, you’ve always wanted to glide naked through the rollers of Sainsbury’s car wash set to Top Wash, the olive oil and honey foam treatment at Adam and Eve is as close as you’ll get without you landing up in the pages of the Echo. 

A burly man with a pillow made of candy floss squeezed foam gently all over my wet body, raised on a marble plinth. That’s not a line I ever thought I’d say in public, let alone live through. But I did. And reader, I married him. Or at least wanted to. But sadly, he’s Carol’s Turkish husband Adem, and he’s taken. 

The Adam and Eve hammam is an authentic, feel-good joy. Its salt-scrub-and-massage prescription makes sense to me - just like a real hammam in Turkey, it’s democratic, great value and not in the least bit woo-woo. I get it (and I’m going back to get it again). But what, exactly, is a Validation Facial? And how do you validate your face anyway? Is it like a Covid Passport? Does being enrobed in freshly harvested seaweed really take you on a journey of tranquility and serenity? Or does it bring to mind that time you fell into the sea in Rhyl, twatted on Aldi cider and vodka jellies?  

Because this is where we find ourselves. Adrift on a sea of self-love. Of me time, and mindfulness. Of suburban kitchen walls awash with personal affirmations: The day you were born, the whole world changed for the better, because you're in it – written in looping cursive, just above the shelf where the dog’s poo bags go. 

These days, self-love is not something we do in private and confess to Father Houlihan on Sundays. It’s something we openly, and flagrantly practice in public. 

I have a friend who tells me she wraps herself in a psychic bubble before she leaves the house. She has, she says, a tiny golden thread, constantly realigning her chakras and raising her solar plexus to the sun. “You must find getting on and off busses a struggle,” I tell her, but she just gives me a look; with all three of her eyes.

Another friend turned his laundry room into a private sanctuary. He swapped the Daz three in ones for buddha figurines from TK Maxx and Yankee Candles that, he claims, evoke the calm of an English country garden in springtime. In reality it smells like there’s been an explosion in the Zoflora bottling plant. He recommends a trip to Lush, on Church Street. So I sign up for their (gulp) £140 Synesthesia Spa Treatment.

When I think of Lush, cool, calm and collected isn’t what immediately springs to mind. I think of sales assistants fizzing around you like bath bombs, and that all-encompassing olfactory assault that smells like an orchestra tuning up. In a synesthetic kinda way.

Thankfully, upstairs in the spa, all is peaceful. The Synesthesia experience is really just a great massage accompanied by a folksy-pastoral soundtrack of birdsong, church bells and guitars. There are bubbling bottles of potions to whiff, and soothing green tea to sip. I made the mistake of opting for the stomach massage instead of the hot-stone treatment. For ‘stomach massage’ read ‘unapologetic bowel kneading’. It was like my masseuse’s hands were made of Dulcolax.

Was I expecting more for £140? Probably. Did my senses mingle and my mind melt? Not really if I’m honest. But it was lovely, and my bed, that night, did have a touch of the golden daffodils about it. 

But here’s the rub. The more nebulous and open-ended the ‘experience’, the more it seems to cost. A good scrub at the Hamman was £50. Lush slaps on a bubbling cauldron and charges £90 more. 

Drastic action is required. I need to switch off completely. Nothing short of complete sensory deprivation is called for. I could try sitting through a Council meeting, but opt instead for Float Planet on Dale Street, £44 for an hour. 

I’m given a sachet of lube and a hand towel and told to undress and shower. So far, so good I think. 

The floatation tank glows and pulses like a mildly-terrifying alien egg. I shower and slip in. I soon discover that the lube is to cover any nicks or cuts. Apparently, my body is 90% invisible nicks and cuts. The salt gets everywhere. And stings. 

When the pain subsides, ladies and gentlemen, I do indeed find myself floating in space. OK, admittedly if I really look hard I can see a tiny crack of light around the tank’s seal. So this is a Truman Show version of space. But floating is fun.

Then it just gets a bit boring. And I’ve 55 minutes to go. I launch myself off the side, and play slow-mo bagatelle with my body. And then my mind, which is supposed to pack up and leave me alone for a while, perks up and starts chatting to me about my combi-boiler problem, and whether I turned the shower off properly (you’re given silicone ear buds to complete the sensory deprivation bit, but that just gives my mind more bandwidth to fill with shit).

I’m prepared to accept it’s not the tank’s fault, it’s me. It’s a tank. You float. I can’t get them on the technicalities. I shower - not very well - and walk down Dale Street, white crusty salt detritus covering my face, like I’m Casper the Friendly Ghost in a sulk. 

Pampering, for all its simpering small talk, is serious business. Stress is a killer. A real, genuine no-shit killer. In a way that poorly aligned chakras probably isn't. And, right now, me-time matters. 

And while it’s all faintly ridiculous, there is science to all this. A soothing massage, a session in a frothing jacuzzi or a spot of forest bathing: whatever your weak spot, there’s solid evidence that, in these frazzled times, self-care really is medicine. A salve for mind, body and soul.

With its suite of laconicums and Rasul mud chambers, vitality pools and glowing basalt rock treatments, Hope Street Hotel’s Spa promises to unlock our inner bathroom cabinet. It offers the sort of blissed out pampering previously only known to those monkeys who sit around all day in Japanese hot springs, waiting to sign a model release form from a National Geographic photographer.

But it makes no promises to locate your spirit animal. It doesn’t offer crystal healing sessions, and has absolutely no dream catchers for sale at reception (although you could probably fashion one out of the hair net in your toiletry kit). It’s the sort of spa, in short, I could happily fall in love with: and a few laps in its sleek indoor pool is like swimming inside the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. If Hope Street Hotel did a spa, this is exactly what you’d expect it to be like: my god, it’s full of stars.

We have, within every cell, a chemical plant that would rival Widnes. We’re all just one serious pamper session away from unlocking it. All those feel good serotonins, dopamines and oxycontins, just waiting to lower your blood pressure, clear your head and calm your mind. No whale music required. 

As Kate Bush said, “You don't need no crystal ball. Don't fall for a magic wand. Every one of us has a heaven inside...”

Wait, that would look amazing on my kitchen wall.