Dom Joly: The hunger games

Dom Joly © Thousand Word Media

Dom Joly © Thousand Word Media - Credit: © Thousand Word Media

By day five I cracked and I found myself breaking into the three-star kitchen at four in the morning to try to find some food

In the post-celebratory trough of January, my thoughts often turn to escape. I want to flee the cold, the drudgery, the looming year ahead. What would do me the most good would be to drop everything, pack a rucksack, head to the airport and choose the first destination that looked appealing on the departures board. Then I would rent a cheap but shabby chic bungalow on the beach, catch up on my reading, plan my next career move and write a Booker Prize-winning novel.

The reality is that I have managed to blag five days at a ‘health farm’. The further reality is that this will probably actually be better for me than my fictitious writing retreat… but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

I once went for an ambitious ten-day stint in an Italian prison (sorry, health farm). The place was gorgeous – an old manor house surrounded by vineyards, an hour from Venice. The idea was that you ate wonderful, visually stimulating food but in seriously tiny portions. The chef tried to persuade me that, as you do most of your eating with your eyes, I would not be going hungry. This was, to use an Italian word, bollocks. Things weren’t improved by the fact that the establishment also had a three star restaurant on site. Guests were divided into two – the gluttons and the starved. By day five I cracked and I found myself breaking into the three-star kitchen at four in the morning to try to find some food. Ironically, it being three-star, there actually wasn’t much instant grub to grab. I ended up scurrying back to my cell (sorry, room) with an olive and thyme bread roll and a small side-plate of aioli. Crazy times…

To assuage my hunger I tried to throw myself into the daily ‘health’ sessions that the establishment provided. I was not prepared for what awaited me. The day started with a spa bath in various smelly unctions. This was not too bad. Meanwhile however, unbeknownst to me, my clothes had been removed and replaced with a skimpy pair of paper pants. Once in these I was told to lie on what resembled a sun bed. A tough-looking woman came in and covered my whole body in stinky mud. Without saying a word she then covered me in a plastic sheet, closed the sun-bed roof and set it to what felt like 220 degrees centigrade. I was left to bake for an hour. When I was eventually released, the plastic was stripped off me and I was marched into what looked like a cross between a shower and a wind tunnel. I stood awkwardly at the end of the room unsure as to what happened next. The tough woman reappeared and unhooked what appeared to be a power hose. Without a word she turned it on and started blasting me with the enthusiasm of an angry South Korean riot cop. Ten minutes later I was released, battered and bruised, to wander around in a vain attempt to retain my dignity in paper pants while trying to locate my clothes. It was a weird ten days.

And now, I’m off to do it again. Why am I doing this? It’s because I have ridiculously little self-control. It would be both easier and cheaper for my wife to lock me in a room in the house, pipe whale music through some tinny speakers and to occasionally throw a couple of carrots into the room. Once a day she could open the door and spray me with a hose. Not only has she volunteered to do this (a little too readily for my liking) but it would not be enormously different to the actual paid experience. The only difference is that I have managed to find a health farm in a particularly hot destination. I might not have the shabby chic bungalow, or the energy to write my Booker Prize-winning novel… but the sun will be out and I won’t have to wear shoes. Frankly, that’s really all anybody needs at this time of year. Wish me luck.

For more from Dom Joly, follow him on Twitter: @DomJoly