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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!