For my next task, I’m at Aqua Sheko, a ‘fish therapy concept spa’, just behind Kensington High Street in London.
I’m here to literally dip a toe into a new kind of beauty treatment, on the suggestion of John, a jaded, divorced CityBoy I hardly know.
At a meeting John made a throwaway comment that I was so good I should work for him, so I emailed him afterwards. We met for sushi at a Knightsbridge restaurant packed with beautiful, spike heeled, sample-size girls who spent the evening not eating and scouting for boys.
John greeted me with ‘Hello my aggressive friend’. I was nonplussed. My friend Paula said later, slightly missing the point, ‘He’s got some nerve, you’re not his friend’. So it went badly as a work-soliciting evening, but he did suggest this task for me.
The stylish spa has been open for a year but the fish therapy itself has been around for two hundred years. Apparently, two Turkish doctors with eczema noticed that when they swam in a river, the fish chewed off their dead skin (are you still reading?). It was the Japanese who realised this was not a) a reason to swim in a nicely heated and heavily chlorinated pool next time or b) a fabulous idea for a horror movie featuring flesh-eating fish, but rather, a beauty treatment waiting to happen.
Back to the spa. There are six large tanks of warm illuminated water, positioned below padded black leather thrones, and each tank contains fifty or sixty Garra Rufa fish. They’re from the piranha family, bigger than I’d expected at about 10cm long (the size of Whitebait), brown and toothless with suction shaped mouths. After my feet are washed, I sit above my tank and as my feet hover over the water, the fish circle and gather underneath. I squeal like a girl, but finally submerge my toes and they get to work.
I can’t look at them at first, and I resist the urge to whip my feet out of the water, but when I concentrate on the sensation alone, it feels like pleasing pins and needles. I’m enjoying it.
The fish aren’t just gorging on rough skin (my feet are so leathery I barely need shoes) but the dead skin cells that we all have all over our bodies. So they don’t settle around my heels, they’re nibbling the tops of my feet, my ankles; if I put my legs in up to my knees, they’d be nibbling up to my knees. When I move my feet in the water, and they hang on; I admire their tenacity.
Thirty minutes later, my feet are removed from the tank. Staff member Charlene explains that the fish aren’t full (this is all they eat, apart from the occasional cucumber), but they do get bored with the same taste. The spa also offers this as a full body treatment, but that’s a bit too ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ for me. I settle for a foot and leg massage. As I flip-flop out of the spa, my skin is absolutely gleaming and my feet are smoother. Nature’s exfoliators have done good work.
Oh, I text John to thank him for the task. He texts back; he’s right in the middle of a fabulous project that he says I’d be ideal for, but after our disastrous evening ‘and don’t bother saying it was fine’ he had not called me.