Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Pale, Paler, Palest Diet

So, I'm not feeling good.  Not good at all.  But then, as the charming Dr Sepp Fegerl (the clinic's medical director) says, 'If you want to feel better, you have to feel worse to begin with.'  The Mayr Cure goes deep, it seems, and plucks out all kinds of old nonsense from the body.

So, today, as he massaged my poor groaning abdomen, he told me about the 75 year old woman who spontaneously had LSD flashback while undergoing the Mayr.  And a similarly aged man who was mightily alarmed when he looked in the loo and saw he'd passed something that looked like a long red tube.  It turned out to be something he'd swallowed when he was a child.

And then he smiled (Dr Fegerl, not the guy who'd swallowed the tube).  'Of course, if it's not the right time for you, or it's all too much, we can back off; you don't have to do it now.'

Yeah, well, you know me.  I accept most challenges.  Not eating much doesn't bother me at all.  But it's a bit demoralising when the choices get smaller and smaller each day.

It started off so well - with a pretty solid breakfast of omelette, manchego cheese and spelt roll.  A bit anaemic but hey...  Because it's Viva Mayr you're supposed to eat in silence (so you're mindful of what you're eating) and you are supposed to chew each mouthful as many times as possible (the aim is 40 chews per mouthful).  Why?  Because digestion begins in the mouth so you need to unleash as much saliva as possible.  And also because this can be the last opportunity for certain cell membranes to be broken down.  Don't chew your peas properly and they will just pass through more or less undigested.
Here's lunch...a small (very small) bowl of soup, a jaw-breaking buckwheat roll and two slivers of Camembert. Curiously, the Mayr Cure includes dairy produce and even red  meat on its cure.  So, fine, if a tad bland.  And not exactly a colourful plate, eh?
And for supper?  Mayr firmly holds to the principle that you don't eat much in the evening.  So supper kicks off at 5pm (and the kitchen closes up at 6.30pm) and, in my case, consisted of herbal tea and, er...no, not dog biscuits...or even dog turds...but soy bread.
Which was all well and good until Dr Fegerl tested me for food intolerances and wiped out eggs, cheese and yoghurt.  So, given I don't eat meat and fish...my choices were getting more and more limited, and more and more bland.
And, after that...well...it got a bit pale...
 And paler...
 And the palest.
Forget the Paleo Diet...this is the Pale, Paler, Palest Diet.  Yummy.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

High-tech and low-choice at VIVAMAYR

Yes, I'm hugely lucky that my job lets me travel so much and go to such incredible places.  But, you know, it's not all pampering massages and luscious facials, no sirree.
Sometimes you get what you need rather than what you'd really like.  Here at VIVAMAYR, there's no perusing long menus of spa 'journeys' and beauty treatments; no umming and aahing about which massage to have.  You see the doctor, who orders a battery of tests.  Actually I got off quite lightly with just free radical measuring and mineral analysis (maybe because I looked wild-eyed and terrified about the potential costs - each and every test costs extra here and, although as journalists, we get a certain amount for free, even so it's apparently quite easy to rack up a bill that runs into hundreds or even thousands for extras).
So, they took my blood and gave me an infusion of vitamins and minerals in its place...
Apparently I'm not breathing properly - well, there's a surprise!  So I've been doing some IHHT (aka Hypoxytraining or Altitude training) - fetching mask, huh?
Next up, I was booked in for a 'relaxing' massage but...  My therapist Jan drove his thumb into my shoulder. 'On a scale of one to ten, where ten is unbearable, how much does it hurt?' he said.
'Er,up at about a nine,' I said, tears in my eyes.
He nodded, and kept pressing.
But hey, it's all good.  Turns out I've got a rotator cuff injury (have been struggling with arm pain for months) and no amount of soft soothing effluerage is going to fix that.

Then there's the food.  But let's save that for another post, huh?

Scorching my ladycarriage by remote at the new VIVA MAYR at Altaussee

So, I was shown round my room at the brand new VIVA MAYR clinic, and it all looked pretty standard.  Nice bathroom - all the usual gear except...
'The toilet has a remote control,' said my guide with a flourish.  I frowned. Something was surely lost in translation.

She logged the look, reached to the wall and plucked out, yup, a remote control.  'Very high-tech,' she said.  'Just like in  Japan.'

Okaaay.  But this is Austria.  Back at the original clinic I seem to remember the loos all had a shelf so you could inspect your outgoing messages but this was something quite, quite different.  Could you fast forward with it? Pause mid-stool? Record your, um, progress???

We looked at one another, the loo and I.  It narrowed its eyes and gave me a challenging 'you'll never dare test-drive me, you scaredy cat, unhygienic English person' sneer.
'You bet I will, you weird unfeasibly bizarre Japanese contraption,' I said.  And looked around for the instruction manual.
What?  Nothing.  Picked up the remote and tried to figure it out.  I mean, really...a picture of a woman (water jets straight up the fanny?); a symbol for wind (drying presumably) and a flower (deodorising?).
Oh, what the hell.  I took the same approach as I do with any remote -  just flail around pressing buttons willy-nilly.  Oooh...the fanny current was weird but not unpleasant.  Then...ouch!  OUCH!  It was trying to nuke my ladycarriage.  I swear I got up singed.

Anyhow.  I still didn't really see the point.  Until the next day.
You start each day like this:

"7.15AM - Taking VIVAMAYR morning drink (intestine cleaning).  Altaussee's Glaubersalt directly from the inner mountain-spring into your bottle.  Pour some warm water into this and drink slowly." (sic)
Ye gods, it tastes disgusting.  Like downing a carafe of ocean.  Apparently it's supposed to suck all the muck out of your digestive system.

Then you get breakfast, lunch and dinner which consist of...very little.  So my dinner looked like this:

No, those aren't dog chew sticks - they're soy bread rolls.  And yup, that's a pot of herb tea.  And yup, that's it.

Then the gurgling began.  Pretty soon I had a concerto going on in my guts - a quartet of stomach, duodenum, ileum and colon.  Not long after that I found myself walking smartly to the loo.  And again...and again...and again...  Let's just say I clocked 15 times within the space of an hour.

And that was when the loo gave me a knowing look.  'Admit it,' it said.  'You need me.'

This may not be the start of a beautiful relationship but let's just say, we've reached an agreement,













Thursday, 5 March 2015

Tazeka Aromatherapy - a dose of optimism, balance and motivation in shiny pretty bottles!

Remember, all those years back, when I talked about flirting?  Not about how people flirt (well, not necessarily) but how things can flirt with you?  Well, that’s what happened with Tazeka Aromatherapy.  

I was kicking around on Twitter, as you do, and noticed this woman tweeting about aromatherapy oils.  Not just any old aromatherapy oils but little phials that looked for all the world as if they’d been dropped by fairies, or fallen out of a treasure chest from the 1001 Nights.  Pretty shiny things that, for some strange reason, reminded me of being young (I’m trying to catch the connection and I think it might be that trend for shiny metallic Christmas wrapping paper).  I don’t really know why but they just…flirted. Appallingly.

I frittered away a ridiculous amount of time wandering around the Tazeka website, trying to decide which blends I needed the most.  It was tough – I reckoned it had to be Optimism and Balance above all else, followed by a swift dose of Motivation, Confidence and Concentrate.  And yet my eye was also drawn to Meditation Guru (something has to haul me back to meditation practice).  Slim Solution?  Yup, that would go down well too.  Actually it was all starting to give me a headache. Oh, right, Headache Helper.

We got talking, Zena and I, the way you do on Twitter and, one thing led to another and she offered to send me some samples.  And I admit, there was a part of me that wondered if they might be all style and no substance but no. These things work, they really do.  Plus they're organic and ethical and just darn nice.  Read this and see what I mean...

So now I have them all lined up on my desk and I double and triple layer them – because, frankly, one really needs to be optimistic and balanced and motivated and confident (not to mention calm and focused and slim and serene) on a regular basis, right?  I also play around with them, like toys, lining them up according to my mood – sometimes they go in chakra order from purple (Wise Woman) down to deep red (Confidence) and sometimes I go for colour clashes.

Anyhow.  The business is really really new and at the moment you can only order from the US (which whacks postage on).  Sooo…come on, let’s get these out there, okay?  If you know any spas or gorgeous shops that would like to run the range, get in touch with Zena.  If you know any beauty or health editors (anywhere in the world) who might run a review, get in touch.  Why?  Because, I don't know about you but I love people who have a passion and who make their dreams come true. Plus I get a serious kick out of a product that not only works really well but which looks pretty damn fabulous too – and these are seriously lush.

I’ve reviewed them, in a slightly more sane and reasoned manner, on Queen of Retreats.  Check it out here. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Peter Oborne, the Telegraph, travel writing and Queen of Retreats

So, following Peter Oborne’s resignation from the Telegraph there has been a lot of debate about whether there is any form of independent journalism left.  He said:  ‘It has long been axiomatic in quality British journalism that the advertising department and editorial should be kept rigorously apart.’  Absolutely.  I remember, when I started in journalism at City Limits magazine, there was an absolute insistence that advertising could not, and must not, influence our writing.  Since then it has all become blurred to the point of illegible.

There have been dark mutterings about travel writing too – about how it’s rare now to find negative reviews in magazines and papers.  Why?  Because the writer’s trip has been funded by the hotel or tour company (who may well be taking out advertising too) so the water becomes very muddy.  But this is nothing new.  In an ideal world, the paper or magazine would fund the writer for the whole trip – this still happens on a rare few papers (the New York Times comes to mind) so the writer can be totally, truly independent.  But no UK paper has the budget.  So, unless a writer has personal wealth, one has to rely on freebies from the hotel, resort or travel company.  And that is why you will see the same old places being reviewed all over the shop – usually glowingly.  I don’t like that.  What I do like is Queen of Retreats.  I came across this outfit a few years ago, when I was looking for independent recommendations of great spas.  Someone on Twitter put me in touch with Caroline Sylger Jones, who runs the site and she was great – hugely knowledgeable, highly discerning, full of integrity.
Caroline at HHH in Greece.
Queen of Retreats is different from other online retreat, spa and healthy holiday websites.  It’s not a travel company and it’s not a listings site.  It features in-depth reviews of places its writers have visited and experienced (not just for a sample day but for the entire programme).  Said writers are all highly experienced: they know their Trager from their Thai massage and they can gauge whether a yoga teacher is good, bad or off with the fairies.  So many reviews in magazines (and even in papers  now) are written by someone who has no experience or knowledge base – without budgets for freelance experts, publications have to rely on staff doing the trip as a perk.  Fine if you get the health editor, not so fine if you get the intern who has never set foot inside a spa before.  Read QoR's mission statement here.  

Anyhow, what I really love is that the reviews are honest.  If something isn’t quite right, they point it out. If it’s not ideal for a certain kind of person, they say it like it is.  Although retreat venues do host the writer, they understand from the get-go that there is no guarantee of a shining review.  Obviously reviews are subjective – how could they not be?  But the reviewers are experienced enough to gauge if a place would suit others, even if it didn’t suit him or herself.

"It’s not smart or ritzy and you will need to turn a blind eye and a forgiving heart to the less than shiny bits. The decor isn’t inspired – if your idea of a retreat is all about contemporary interiors, fluffy bathrobes and spa ‘journeys’ look elsewhere."

Yes, it covers some of the big spas and retreats – the ones that have PRs, the ones you will read about everywhere, but it covers them honestly – not because an ad manager is hanging over the editorial team’s head.  However it also covers small retreats, the ones that have no budget for advertising or PR, the ones that otherwise wouldn’t get coverage, and that’s why I really love it.
Serenity Retreat in gorgeous Greece
So.  Bottom line.  If you’re thinking of going on retreat, if you fancy a spa break or a healthy holiday, do check out the website.  You’ll find a fair few of my reviews, including my beloved Serenity Retreat, The Body Retreat, Yobaba Lounge, Hellenic Healthy Holidays, and The Pause, rubbing shoulders with reviews of the big guys, SHA, Clinique La Prairie, Canyon Ranch and the Sanctuary Thailand (of The Beach fame).
Canyon Ranch
Do spread the word.  Because, in a world where advertising and editorial are all mixed up and muddled up, it’s refreshing to find a place where good old-fashioned editorial ethics still remain.  I think these places need our support.  Don’t you?

Visit the website at www.queenofretreats.com
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Thursday, 5 February 2015

What type of ice-cream are you? And other questions you might get asked at a job interview

I can’t remember the last time I went for a job interview so I was amused, and somewhat puzzled, by the kind of questions that are now being asked by potential bosses.  None of that old ‘And what do you think you’d bring to the job’ stuff – apparently now it’s all ‘What dinosaur would you like to be?’ or ‘Who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman?’  Or ‘If a hippo falls into a hole how would you get it out?’ Or even, ‘What type of ice-cream are you?’

WTF?  According to the Association of Accounting Technicians (no, I have no idea who they are either) the questions are designed to see whether you’ll freeze or flourish when confronted with the unexpected. 

Aimee Batemann, spokeswoman for the AAT said, ‘The best way to maintain composure and reduce the chances of embarrassment is to try to prepare for every possibility.’  Oh, get real Aimee!  How the hell can you think of every possible weird or downright barmy question you might get asked?   

Anyhow.  I thought the questions were rather good fun so, in an idle five minutes (waiting for a hippo to extricate itself from a hole) I answered the ones that are apparently doing the rounds of the, er, accounting world.

Q: If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be and why? 
A: A tomato – unable to decide exactly what I am.

Q: Who is your favourite Doctor Who? 
A: Pass.  Can we talk about my favourite James Bond instead?  Or better still, just look at him?  By the way, if you Google 'naked Daniel Craig' (as one might do) I should warn you that there's some very bad Photoshopping out there.  
Q: What would you do if you caught a member of staff kissing the boss?
A: Tap my nose at the boss and start taking very long lunch breaks.

Q: Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit?
A: Neither.  It’s an abomination.

Q: Would you rather know a lot about a little or a little about a lot?
A: Knowledge is overrated.  However much you think you know, you can never really know.  I hope I have learned the wisdom (and hopefully the humility) of having a beginner’s mind.

Q: Do you like to sing in the bath? 
A: No.  I like to bathe in the bath.

Q: Which three celebrities would you like to join you for a night out?
A: Hell would freeze over before I a) voluntarily had a night out and b) asked celebrities to join me.

Q: What would you do if the sun died out?
A:  Moon bathe (in furs).  

Oh, the other ones?  If I had to be a dinosaur I’d go for velociraptor (Jurassic Park did a fine job on their PR).  Superman, doh (though if it were a question of which one I’d snog, it’s Batman all the way).  The hippo?  Call Hippo Rescue, I suppose. And the ice cream?  What kind of stupid bloody question is that?  

Did I get the job? 

Okay.  Your turn.  





Monday, 19 January 2015

The 36 questions you need to ask to fall in love

According to a report in the New York Times, you can fall in love with absolutely anyone.  All you have to do is ask the person 36 specific questions.  Why these?  Apparently it’s all about vulnerability.  The study’s authors said:   “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” Er, right.  In other words, be open, be honest, be vulnerable.  Presumably this is reciprocal.  You would take it in turns, right?  But then, it occurs to me that it plunges us straight into that classic human ‘thing’ where, all the time you’re listening to the other person, you’re framing your own reply, your own witty anecdote, your own even more open and vulnerable response.  How many people really listen?

Actually, I’m not sure you even need to ask all those complicated questions.  Just before Christmas I went on a Zen retreat.  Every day we would sit down in front of one another and ask one question:  ‘Tell me who you are?’  And then we would just…listen.  It was the most unusual experience.  Some people were reserved, barely saying a word; others told the most intimate, the most revealing, often quite traumatising, things.  And your job was just to sit and witness what they were saying; to act like a mirror.  And a curious thing happened.  These people were a real mixed bag, all sorts, men and women, ranging wildly in age, shape, colour, class, character.  But, as I listened to them, as I focused on their faces as they talked, I started to feel…awed.  They were all just incredibly beautiful somehow. Each and every one of them.  I suppose you could say I fell in love with them. And I know that sounds horribly hippy dippy but it wasn’t like that – it was really quite indescribable, quite extraordinary, quite…beautiful. 

But then…what does the New York Times mean by ‘falling in love’?  Would I have wanted to jump into bed with these guys?  Would I have wanted to spend my life with them?  Would I have wanted to cuddle up by the fire cosy under the snugly throw with them?  Er, no. 
And, actually, the most interesting part of the study was the bit that isn’t being talked about so much.  The bit where the participants silently stared into each other’s eyes for two to four minutes.  And I did a little bit of that on the Zen retreat too – and, you know what, that really is the strangest thing.  Double dare you to try it.
Anyhow, what you really want to know is what the questions are, don’t you?  Here you go. 

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling…
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share ... “
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Back in the day, when I first started blogging, this kind of thing (but much shorter) used to do the rounds as a meme.  Maybe we should all answer the questions - and all fall in love with one another?  *smile*

And, you know, the thing that is still making me ponder, is the sheer ordinariness of it all. If one can fall in love with anyone, does that mean nobody is special?  Is there really no preference involved?  It's something I've been pondering for a while...this preference thing.  Another blog post maybe.