Fumbling outside my door in dripping swimming trunks for my room key, I was hailed cheerily by the maid from a doorway further along the corridor. I hadn’t met her, but her greeting was not without a touch of familiarity, if not intimacy, I thought. The latter, I guessed, must be predicated on the fact of her coming into my junior suite when I was out and restoring it to a holiday-brochure photograph, then arranging my tawdry collection of toiletries into little islands on the marble counter. What she made of my penis vacuum pump, I couldn’t guess. I rather think that while she could only speculate as to its function, she probably imagined it to be the latest Western bourgeois ‘must-have’ gadget. This patronising thought was based on the way she polished the Perspex tube and deified it and the heavy motor unit by arranging them side by side and centrally on a glass shelf lit by four spotlights.
‘Tense,’ she cried, beaming at me. ‘Well, yes, I suppose I am a bit,’ I said.
I attributed her extrasensory powers of perception to having only very recently joined the proletariat as a form of relaxation after previously working her fingers to the bone as a peasant. ‘Tense,’ she repeated, this time fixing me with a meaningful stare. I re-examined myself more closely in order to satisfy her with the more honest answer that she seemed to be demanding. I’ve had a tough few weeks, it’s true. A tough year. In fact, there is only one thing left to me now — absolute humility. And then there were the 800 words I would have eventually to produce describing my four days at this brand-new five star all-inclusive beach resort when the novella was far and away the most suitable medium. Contrary perhaps to all appearances, these 800 words were never very far from the back of my mind. ‘Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am,’ I conceded. ‘Very. It’s been a rotten year.’
‘Tense, tense,’ she said, stepping forward, pity and responsibility, as I now thought, having reached the intensity of a passion, to anoint me with herbs or something. Then I realised that what this elderly Turkish woman was wanting to convey to me so earnestly was simple gratitude. She was thanking me, presumably for coming all this way to her humble country and allowing her to clean and tidy my room and fold my pants and make my tennis court-sized bed every day. I showed her my palms as an apology for my impenetrable denseness and to dismiss her gratitude as superfluous; also, perhaps, in preparation to push her off if she made a lunge and attempted to smother my face with grateful kisses. To this gesture I added the words ‘gong yoga’, intended as shorthand for the fact that her audience was now at an end because I must quickly change out of my swimming trunks and into something loose and free because the morning session in the ‘forest’ was about to begin and I had promised to attend.
Gong yoga has been in the papers lately. From what I can gather, everyone lies around on their yoga mats while someone crashes a gong and the sound waves are supposed to heal the mind. Having been brought up in an era when J. Arthur Rank films were introduced by a sweaty man who was possibly a eunuch beating what looked like a national war-gong with all his might, I was interested to see whether the gong used in this new gong yoga was of similar proportions. If yes, I was keen to take it up.
The ‘forest’ was a strip of dusty pines separating the resort from the beach. Unfortunately, between the idea and the reality always lies the shadow. As I approached the semi-circle of attendees on their yoga mats under the trees, I saw that the gong was a comparatively puny thing less than a metre across. Seated in front of it were the yoga teacher and this muscly bloke in gym kit who would do the beating. His muscles were more defined than the glistening eunuch’s, but overall he looked less strong, though even as a child I always thought that the eunuch didn’t look particularly strong either. Indeed I used to speculate that he might be J. Arthur Rank himself, saving on the wage bill.
The teacher led us in a few cursory head rolls and arm stretches, then told us to lie comfortably on our backs and close our eyes. The gym guy took up two padded drumsticks, knelt before the gong, and began gently hammering away, creating a succession of crescendos. I lay on my back with my eyes open. The branches of the pine tree immediately above me were swaying gently in the breeze. As instructed, I let the sound wash over me.