How often do we nourish ourselves? I thought about that word for quite a while. At first I wrote ‘pamper’ but I think it’s been downgraded somehow nowadays. All that ‘because I’m worth it’ sold to us by perfect actresses/models. I work from home and so basically there is no down-time – ever. After I pack James off to school I start work – I’m usually at my desk by 8am at the latest. I snatch twenty minutes for lunch and, if my eyes are falling out or my bum has become square from sitting, I don’t have a water cooler moment or hang out by the coffee machine – I bung a load of washing in the machine or race out and do a bit of weeding. I’m not moaning – I wouldn’t go back to working in an office – but, like many women who juggle work and family, I don’t really have down-time.
So, I surprised myself the other day when I agreed to go up to London for the day. Not for a feature, but for me. For some nourishing.
I pottered around the shops in Marylebone High Street and wondered if I could justify treating myself to a Diptyque Baies candle. Decided sadly not. Then I met my agent, the lovely Judy, for a spot of very late lunch and several coffees. We talked a bit about work but mainly about life, and books, and general ‘stuff’. After hugging her goodbye I walked down towards Oxford Street for my next appointment – with Annee de Mamiel at Home House. Ever have those cases of synchronicity when you feel the universe (your subconscious or whatever) is nudging you towards something? Well, that’s how it was with Annee. I’d had an email enthusing about her brand of facial acupuncture and aromatherapy. Then, while researching a feature on the plus and minus sides of the whole pampering industry, her name came up again.
I’d asked dear friend and uber health journalist, Sarah Stacey, co-author of the fabulous Beauty Bible series, for her top ‘must-see’ therapists, the ones who are really worth the shedloads of money they charge. She voted for – yup – Annee.
As I reached Home House, a private members’ club just behind Oxford Street, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. It’s one of those places where you tug hopelessly at the wrong door, feeling like an idiot and then go flying through into a lobby where the staff make you feel about an inch high. The Method Spa is located in the vaulted basements and you could easily get lost in the maze of corridors which have, it has to be said, the feel of an old school or run-down hospital (with freezing cold floors).
The women in the changing room were all about six feet tall and size 6 and I felt like a whale in my towelling robe. So far, so not nourishing. But then I met Annee and the surroundings didn’t matter. She was as slim and gorgeous as the clients, wearing a neat black shift dress and pumps but just radiated warmth.
‘Come on in to my room,’ she said in her soft Australian accent. ‘Let’s have a chat.’ She asked me a series of questions, gently, encouragingly. It felt safe and non-judgemental, as if she were really interested, not just going through the motions. She took my pulses, looked at my tongue and then sighed.
‘Oh you poor blossom,’ she said. I nearly burst into tears. It felt like she was the first person to notice me, really truly notice me – in years.
She covered me up in a cashmere blanket on her couch. Slotted acupuncture needles in my feet, legs, arms and hands to help balance my badly misaligned energy. Then popped a batch of them around my face – mainly on the jaw and forehead.
‘I need to relax some muscles and activate others with the needles. By the third treatment you really notice lines smoothing out and skin feeling thicker, plumper and firmer.’
I wanted to take notes but she gently discouraged me. ‘This is time for you. Let go of what you don’t need and take a step on a journey to look after you, to take care of you.’
It sounds a bit woolly written down but truly it isn’t. She creates a cocoon of safety and warmth and it really does feel as if she sees into your soul and smiles. Time became fluid as Annee talked me through a visualisation/ meditation and then, having taken out the needles, worked on my face using her own blended aromatherapy oils. It felt delicious, as if her fingers were talking to my face, teasing out the tension. Down went her fingers into my neck and shoulders, down deep into the rigid fascia.
She feels very strongly that women are way too tough on themselves. ‘They strive for perfection but I think real beauty is imperfect. What the Japanese call wasi sabi – the art of imperfect beauty. For example, if a bowl is cracked, it lets through the light. It’s about confidence. If you feel okay about yourself on the inside, you’ll look better on the outside.’
Some people say that facial acupuncture is a real alternative to Botox but can that really be the case? ‘Yes, very much so,’ she insists. ‘It takes longer but lasts longer. It got to me that women are so into freezing themselves; it frightened me. We need to nurture ourselves, not punish ourselves. It’s sad but here, on my couch, might be the only time women stop.’
I’m a rotten old sceptic when it comes to expensive beauty treatments, I really am. This one is pricey, it really is (but you do leave with a specially blended facial oil and a medicinal tea). However (and I surprise myself here) if you can afford it, it really is worth it. Funds allowing (which sadly, they’re not) I would have it on a regular basis without question. I walked out not giving a toss about the snitty girls on the skyscraper heels and the self-important businessmen on their iPhones. I walked straight into a snowstorm and laughed. Two weeks later I can still see and feel the benefits – not just on my skin, but deep inside, in my heart.
If you want to try the Annee magic, check out her website at http://www.demamiel.com/