The world has changed. Things we thought acceptable two months ago are unacceptable today. Things like shaking hands or picking pockets – it’s the light fingered larcenists who are the real victims of the coronavirus – or just generally being anywhere remotely near another human being. We need to adjust to the ‘new normal’, a phase which instantly suggest life will be worst. No one adds ‘new’ to a word without making you think you prefer the old one. New Coke? New Mutants? New York? All worse than old Coke, the original X-Men and an ugly cathedral that’s easily flooded.
In this ‘normal’ (I’m not using ‘new’) there is one thing that we all did that seems even more abnormal now. Two months ago we would voluntarily sit in a wooden box and be sweated on by strangers. We called it a sauna, to make it sound more continental, we wore shorts, so as not to make it weird, but, when you break it down, a sauna nee sweatbox is nothing but a small room where strangers met up and dripped on each other.
Some saunas were weirder than others. The one in Stornoway was made of plastic so that it felt like you were a carrot in a steamer. To be accurate it was a steamer as it was a steam room rather than a sauna but room would suggest it was larger than a kettle pot while steam would suggest it wasn’t a molten bast of heat that shot straight-out from underneath a single seat flaying any stray ankle that happened to be in it’s way. It wasn’t an accident waiting to happen. It was an on-going disaster that required to be put out. It was Chernobyl in a sports centre.
In Glasgow, the Arlington Swimming Pool has a garden door as an entrance to its steam room. A proper white plastic fire door more commonly found in cheap extensions and infection control labs. The glass was so thick it could have a been a PE teacher. This room also featured a single furnace of heat to be avoided at all costs. But if it did hit you then you could cool off in the rivers of sweat that swept down the walls. The walls were so wet that Noah would have started building a second ark.
At my local gym the sauna is slightly more civilised. There is a pretend coal fire and you can ladle water from a bucket onto it to create steam. I don’t bother though as I’ve seen the lifeguards collect the water by scooping it from the pool. Adding it to the fake fire doesn’t create a nice steam effect, it turns the water into chlorine and the steam into mustard gas.
But the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in a sauna was a drug deal. Or at least I thought it was.
I was in a sauna with Mike Skinner of The Streets and his band. It was in a hotel in Glasgow and they must have been playing a show. One of the band started talking about the Dragon and how great it was in Leeds the previous night. I thought “Dragon, that’s clearly drug slang for heroin – don’t you chase the dragon?”
I thought I was going to get a tale of drugs and rock and roll until Mike Skinner said:
“The Dragon. Yes, lovely Chinese. I had the lemon chicken.”
Today I can only look at the sauna and think about what made us think that sitting in a room surrounded by the accumulated sweat of strangers and foot critics was ever acceptable, or fun. Hot stuff? Hot zone, more like.