Blimey, the world of natural highs is changing. There are now nine states in America in which recreational weed is legal. Anyone over 21 can enter a smoke shop where a trained “budtender” will guide you through pre-rolled joints, marijuana flowers, weed-oil vapes, cookies, gummies or brownies each marked “giggly”, “lucid”, “sleepy” etc. This legislation will inevitably come to the UK, but until that moment arrives, you have me – for this column is devoted to the pursuit of the legal natural high. A high so legal you can discuss it in front of your children, but a legal high so high it comes with a safety warning.
To start our relationship, may I introduce you to Banya No 1, a seemingly unassuming Russian spa in the East End of London that delivers unexpected results. As your session begins, having stripped to a swimsuit, you’re given a felt tea cosy to put on your head. I still don’t understand why, but with an entirely Soviet staff you disobey instructions at your peril. After a long steamy sauna you remove the tea cosy, stand under a huge wooden bucket of ice-cold water and drench yourself. If you don’t pull the cord the spa attendants perform the torture without warning.
Having repeated this process three or four times you move to a private chamber for a full-body exfoliating massage using gritty, coarse coffee grounds. At this point – and I am not joking – you’re summoned to a steam room for your whipping.
Naked, apart from the faithful tea cosy, you are approached by a qualified beater wielding a large pile of damp birch branches, pictured above. They swirl them over your back, whipping the hot air into a vortex, and gradually the leafy thicket is tapped, then rapped, then slapped repeatedly on to your body so that you . . . er . . . actually I don’t know why it’s done.
I know that it hurts, in quite an exciting way, and is followed by a plunge in a pool filled with water kept at 10C. I lasted three seconds, ejected myself in the manner of a space rocket and then it happened, the weird but natural high, a mind-expanding, worry-numbing, explosive exhilaration that surges through your being all the way to your core.
It’s at this moment you’re offered a shot of platinum Russian vodka to complete the experience, which it does most effectively. It’s authentic, unexpected and will leave you buzzing so hard you’ll want to book the whole place for your next birthday party. Next month I’ll take you higher… Book yours here…