Not tough as in “I just lost an election to a sociopathic orange-skinned, baboon-faced sexual predator with a history of lying and manipulation”, but tough nonetheless.
I’ve spent my week battling a cold and cough that kicked off as soon as I arrived in Stockholm on Sunday afternoon. It was nowhere near bad enough to cancel any work, it just made my work – and sleeping – more difficult. An annoying, back of the throat, liable to kick off at any minute, cough.
And keep in mind that my week consisted of: Monday running a workshop, Tuesday running a workshop, Wednesday running a workshop, Thursday running workshop and Friday morning, presentation to a board. Add to that a bit of a temperature, sore throat and headache. A recipe for feeling rough and being grumpy.
Stockholm was lovely, even if it was a lightning fast visit. And even if the streets were like an ice-rink. Seriously – most of the time, I ended up walking like a newborn giraffe. Legs spread out in all directions in an attempt to stay upright, while pulling my suitcase behind me. Graceful I was not.
I managed a wander around town for about an hour on Sunday afternoon before I realised that I should probably stay indoors to knock my cold on the head. I remembered the hotel had a sauna, so decided to give it a go and have an early night. A good blast of heat in the sauna nearly always helps me sleep well.
I wasn’t sure of the sauna etiquette in this particular hotel vis a vis clothing. So I brought down some swim shorts, just in case they were required. At the same time, I didn’t want to be the only guy sitting there in his shorts, while everyone around me was naked. Unfortunately, I was staying in a lovely, but minimalist hotel. No instructions or guidance anywhere.
As I stepped from the gym into the changing area for the sauna, a Swedish guy behind me stepped through the door and shouted something in the general direction of the sauna door. A completely naked woman stepped through the glass door to answer him and then retreated into the sauna again.
That was my question answered. A single changing area, single set of showers and a single sauna containing at least one naked person. I cast my shorts aside and went to take a shower before getting in the sauna. The hot water of the shower was like a shock to my system after the bracing cold outside, but I could feel myself relax and begin to thaw out.
I was lost in my own chilled out thoughts as I grabbed a tiny towel to sit on and stepped into the sauna.
To find the same woman sitting there alone, only this time wrapped in a towel.
Turns out (as I begin to think how I’d explain this to the police) the guy I’d bumped into in the doorway was warning his naked wife that a guy (me) was on his way into the sauna, so she grabbed a towel to cover up. She’d assumed nobody would be joining her and so decided to go au naturelle. Then I turn up, naked as the day I was born, scaring both of us into momentary awkward silence.
Seconds later, I’m back in the sauna but this time with a larger towel. We had a bit of a laugh about it and actually had a very nice conversation about travel, spas and saunas.
Any awkwardness evaporated quickly, but it was still a heart-stopping moment to begin with. Although, on reflection, I was in Stockholm where attitudes to nudity are very different to the UK. Still…awkward. Definitely awkward. A bit like one of those anxiety-themed dreams where you find yourself in the office, or in the middle of the street, completely naked and desperate to find some clothes.
(I can’t be the only person that has these kinds of dreams…surely?)
After about fifteen minutes, she left and I lay back to relax alone but quickly realised that our conversation had masked the god awful music that was being piped into the sauna.
Not the usual ‘new age’ crap that spas frequently play. This was full-on club anthems. Thumping base and repetitive, meaningless vocals. It was as far from relaxing as I could imagine. But I gave it a go all the same and after about twenty minutes the playlist moved on to seventies disco, which was marginally better but still not relaxing.
As I eventually left after a few rounds of sauna and cold shower (all this time alone, thankfully) the music moved on to Grace Jones singing ‘Pull up to the bumper’ and I decided to leave. I love that tune, but listening to it alone in a dark sauna was slightly disconcerting.
Accidental nudity aside, I did sleep really well in my minimalist little room that night. With a surprising absence of anxiety-laden dreams. Though waking up on Monday morning feeing like someone had tried to slit my throat wasn’t a great start to the waking week. Especially as I was going to be doing nothing but speaking in front of groups. But I survived!
So today, I’m still in bed and staying in the warmth to get rid of this cold. I may venture only as far as the first floor of my building and its sauna. Where there, at least, there’s no club music. But also a distinct absence of good-looking Swedes. You can’t have it all, I suppose…