Last weekend I visited a health farm/hotel spa. My only previous acquaintance was the one featured in James Bond’s Thunderball, during which he basically trashed the place; which is a poor advert for the relaxing weekend such establishments promote.

These ex-country homes are often found at the end of long driveways, ideal for driving expensive cars along, so other guests can see, as your Michelin Pilot Sport PAX 245/690 R520 tyres crunch perfectly across the gravel. Our VW Passat was quickly shown the rear car park, leaving the main house car spaces to the neon orange McLaren F1, and inexplicably a 1970’s Vauxhall Cavalier.

The first thing that strikes you at any health farm, spa, hotel resort, or whatever they’re bloody called, is the accommodating staff, who in one case literally tripped over themselves to help. Of course, it’s incredibly pleasant to be treated like duchy, but there remains the inescapable sense of snipers concealed behind chimney stacks and trees, monitoring staff-to-guest interactions, with any dip in helpfulness resulting in triggers being pulled. The staff appear to be traumatised by the importance in being polite, and are probably reminded at hourly motivational meetings involving leather straps and waterboarding.

There are numerous treatments on offer, which is euphemism for massages. There are saunas and steam rooms, and a hot tub that no one had told a nauseatingly amorous  couple was to be shared. What was going on beneath the bubbles is probably best left there. It was all very relaxing, other than the fact it felt like a ninja training camp, everyone padding around in dressing gowns and slippers – there was the sense that your throat could be slit at any moment. Not particularly calming, and that was before I looked at the price of lip balm.

Staff encouraged eating in the restarurant like it was a religious mantra, but instead we asked where the nearest pub was, to a look of horror on said member of staff’s face. It was like I’d cursed in the Vatican. They said it was a 40 minute walk, which I (correctly) interpreted as being a 15 minute stroll.  We left the grounds, somehow without tripping the alarms and search lights, and found one of the best pubs in Sussex (i.e. the world) called the Red Lion in Turner’s Hill. Not only did they serve 5 different local ales, but a snack selection including every possibility currently on sale in the UK, and the finest beef and horseradish £1 roll I’ve ever had. It has to be said that its open fire, wooden booths, friendly gamekeepers and five pints of Harveys was more relaxing  than anything the health farm could offer.

For couples who’s idea of romance is holding hands while getting their backs massaged , a weekend at a health resort is ideal, although that makes requests for a happy finish awkward. Mind you, the resort’s idea of a happy finish is giving you the bill, which undoes any measure of relaxation achieved. If anything the panic at the cost requires another visit to a health farm. It’s the perfect business plan, unless James Bond is staying.


The Life Assistance Agency is available now and features no health farms –   and in all good bookshops, including Foyles.