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On nearly burning down the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

It was the scent that put me straight at ease. A hint of sandalwood, and, yes, a touch of lavender. The traditional scents of calm and relaxation. It made sense. I was in a spa after all.

The friendly smile of my spa host led me from the front desk, through a set of double doors and into…heaven. And for the next four hours, I indulged in enough pampering to distract me from the fact I was spending my birthday away from my sister, who had also celebrated another year on Earth just two days before… in Melbourne. Since we were both in London for our respective birthdays last year, this was the first August (since 2008) I was to spend without her nearby. It didn’t bear thinking about so I planned enough distracting activities throughout the day to make sure I wasn’t a blubbering mess by the end. Oh the things I had to do!

For example, my spa session included time in the pool, sauna, relaxation lounge and treatment room where I was given a body scrub, hand and foot treatment, full body massage and facial. Needs must.
Distraction part 1
Distraction part 2
Glowing with good health and l calm, I made my way back through the double doors to pay the price for bliss. I had nothing but kind feedback for the woman behind the front desk as she ran my credit card through the machine. The staff had given me a slice of cake as a birthday offering which had definitely kept me distracted at the end of my spa session. We continued to chat until… Denied. My card was being unhelpful. Still, I didn’t panic. We were in the basement where my phone had no reception and the front-desk woman even admitted their credit card machine’s connection could be spotty. She tried again. We continued to chat about blissful and relaxing things as wafts of lavender floated through the air – the beautiful scent emanating from the candle sitting nearby.

But again, denied.

My card was refusing to be blissful and relaxed.

Thankfully, I could charge the treatment to my room (a perk of staying at the hotel, another distraction activity I had to impose on myself). As the final, unauthorised, credit card receipt uncurled from the machine, it curled right into… the lavender candle sitting nearby. Before we quite knew what was happening, a mini credit-card-receipt fire had broken out at the front desk of the hotel’s spa. With frantic waving, blowing and the splashing of water, we managed to control the blaze before it brought down the historic building we were situated in.

As billows of smoke overshadowed any trace of the relaxing scents of lavender and sandalwood, we couldn’t help but nervously giggle at the less-than relaxing end to my spa day. But I offered comfort to the woman behind the desk, lamenting my distance from my sister and that I needed all the distraction I could get not to be remembered of this fact at this particular time of year, and that a mini credit-card-receipt fire was as distracting as it gets.

As I punctuated my farewell with a cough, my eyes watering more from the smoke haze than missing my sister, I found my way to the lift and couldn’t help but see the humour in the fact the mini fire had happened on the day the hotel had stated they would be testing their fire alarm for ‘the safety of their guests’. Probably just as well.

I knew there would be less dramatic pyrotechnics for the rest of the day, and couldn’t help but be glad of that fact. After a quick costume change, I left my room for the second time as a thirty-something year told (that information is on a need-to-know basis), and trundled towards Piccadilly to meet a friend and partake in what is, as you know, one of my favourite activities. Afternoon tea! At Fortnum & Mason! I mean, yes, I was excited but remember, I was only doing it as distraction, distraction, distraction.
Distraction part 3 (image © Bridget Palmer) 
I stepped off the bus and marvelled at just how crappy the weather was. I might well have been back in Melbourne, celebrating a winter birthday just as I had done for thirty-something years (again, need-to-know basis).

Nevertheless, I pushed through and managed to enjoy what truly was, one of the best afternoon tea experiences I’ve ever had. I even got another birthday slice of cake as the piano man played Happy Birthday and the brilliant F&M team sung their hearts out (I wasn’t the only one celebrating, the place was full of ageing, tea drinkers).
Distraction part 4
But, of course, I couldn’t help thinking how much my mum and sister would have loved joining me in such lovely surroundings during Kaponis Sisters’ Birthday Celebration Week. 

There was nothing for it. The distractions had to continue. 

And so it was off to a wine bar to drown my sorrows with delicious champagne, delightful Chianti, wonderful friends and tasty food (for others, I was still full of afternoon tea).

I mean, it was tough.

It’s never easy marking an occasion away from those you would usually celebrate it with. I was extremely fortunate to be able to fill the void with lovely friends and just a touch of pampering. Just a touch. 

It was, in the end, a challenging birthday that almost included burning down a building, and definitely included missing home.

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