The salty water gently lapped around him as he floated on the surface, gazing up into the inky blackness while the soft music gave way to perfect silence. It might well be a night time scene in the Mediterranean Sea but for the fact this was the heart of London. Floatworks near London Bridge, to be precise. I first came across their floatation isolation pods a few years ago but finally got round to trying them out myself. You have an entire room to yourself with an isolation tank taking up the bulk of the space. The water is saturated with Epsom salt so that, Dead Sea style, one floats with no effort whatsoever. The water and air are heated to a similar temperature so that, once settled, it becomes difficult to tell which parts of your body are submerged, lending the sensation that you are floating in air.
I won’t discuss floating in terms of potential health benefits, though some are claimed. I am no model for healthy living, but I realised a few years ago that my body largely takes care of itself and it is my mind that I have been neglecting. Routinely I use music to control my head but silence, particularly scarce in London, is a tool I rarely consider. Earplugs in, lid closed and lights out — the result is reminiscent of the sensory deprivation tank in which Daredevil sleeps in the film. The internal chatter rose at first, but gradually dropped to the point where I “lost” a period of around 15-20 minutes in the middle of my one-hour session in the tank without actually falling asleep. I left with an imperturbable calm, and travelling home on public transport I was uncharacteristically disinclined to pop in earphones as would be the norm.
I absolutely recommend it and will certainly return, though it doesn’t come cheap at £80 for three one-hour sessions (or £40 for one). But in a city where isolating oneself is virtually impossible, perhaps that’s not so great a price to pay.
Last weekend was Andy’s stag do in Budapest, ably organised by his brother and best man, Tristan. Naturally tour rules prevent me from divulging too much, but it’s worth mentioning one of the non-obvious highlights: paintball. Now I’ll be honest, up front I felt that flying out to Eastern Europe was a little excessive for a couple of days of male bonding, heavy drinking and light debauchery. The truth is that it made a huge difference, largely through lax regulation. So paintballing, hardly an exotic experience, proved an entirely different beast to its UK counterpart.
We arrived, hungover, at an old barn in what appeared to be a disused farm in the middle of nowhere. As we poured out of the minibus on which we had spent an hour attempting to sleep through headaches of varying degrees, we were greeted by a sizeable dog who eyed us with the disdain of a creature who had seen it all before. He padded quietly around us as we entered through the barn’s looming doors, as if lazily rounding up sheep. In short, this was exactly the sort of place you’d pick if you planned to dismember unsuspecting tourists. Inside the Hungarians who were to be running the games were surrounded by paintballing equipment and camouflage, yet appeared to be watching sing-along Thomas the Tank Engine on an old television. The disconnect was the most disconcerting thing of all.
The difference was evident the moment we pulled the trigger on the guns which, like all the equipment, appeared identical to anything one would use at a local venue. Less stringent health and safety regulations, however, meant high pressure gas canisters. The result was twofold: yes, it was more painful (and highly effective at sobering our group) but it also allowed one to aim properly, rather than having paintballs drift half-heartedly in the slightest breeze. It instantly tightened up everyone’s game. The resulting bruises and injuries (which admittedly I tend not to suffer) were more than worthwhile. The second difference was clear once in the fields. Like a scene straight out of Half-Life 2’s City 17 outskirts (which was itself designed as a nameless Eastern European city) we were fighting through abandoned buildings with crumbling walls and rotting wood, hiding inside burned-out vehicles and trampling through broken tiles and glass as we hunted down our enemy. Exactly the sort of the thing you’d never get away with over here. If you get a chance to experience it, do.
I suspect the only UK experience that will now compare is WarFighters. Who’s in?