My outfit for New Year’s Eve displays my pale cleavage and my pale back; a little colour is needed. A couple of sunbed sessions (“solarium” for Australian readers which are now illegal – and by that I mean solariums are illegal, not Australian readers) will do the trick. I realise I shouldn’t but there are quite a few things I shouldn’t do …
The stand-up sunbed at my gym is a walk-in cage. These solar cages usually have their own room, where you can comfortably undress with the reassuring privacy of a locked door. However this one is in the open area of the female lockers. The door to the cage shuts, but can’t be fastened. An unlocked door in an open space where you’re naked isn’t ideal.
I insert my tokens to activate the power, strip and put on eye stickers to protect my corneas from the ultraviolet rays. I enter the cage and close the door. My face tans easily so I need to shield it. This means that I cover it with my black long-sleeved top. I put the earphones of my iPod in and then tie the top tightly around my head. I position the iPod on my head by tucking it into a fold of my self-made execution mask.
I spread my legs like a starfish and grab the two metal bars positioned on either side of my head, in a kind of flagellation pose. The music drowns out the noise of the loudly humming machine.
Ordinarily I’d be dancing freely during a tanning session, but there’s the possibility of the cage door being opened. A remote possibility, granted. But a possibility never-the-less; I cannot take the risk. Plus, to my annoyance, the possibility is increased by the suncage’s location in the children’s section of the women’s lockers.
I hang there, draped like a sweating Iraqi torture victim. I’m blind and deaf as the rays sting my back and the blood drains from my elevated arms. The pursuit of beauty really is pain, mixed with the total absence of dignity.
The heat becomes increasingly unbearable on my skin and underneath my suffocating make-shift gimp mask. After a few minutes I feel the relief of fresh cool air hitting my body … balanced only by the awful realisation that my cage door has been opened.
With panicked urgency, I clumsily rip the self-made black-top mask from my face, sending my iPod crashing to the floor. I see a rather tall boy standing in front of me, staring. How long has he been there for?!
I rush to grab my clothes and the boy’s mother emerges, ironically fully covered in a burka; between the two for us we have an acceptable quantity of clothing “Ahmed! Ahmed! Come here!!”
Ahmed ignores his mother and watches me with solemn concentration as I dress. His mother seems oblivious to the inappropriate awkwardness of the situation.
I quickly exit the changing rooms. As I leave I see the bright red sign “Boy free zone! Please ensure all boys over the age of 8 use the male changing rooms only”.
Ahmed may have been under 8, but he wasn’t far off my height (I realise I’m no giant) and the look in his eye certainly seemed more that of an adolescent than a boy. My embarrassment has passed, but the image of me looking like I was about to be flogged may stay with him for quite some time.
FYI – people do NOT like photos being taken in lockers … especially when their children are getting changed.