I adore a good massage. Done well, it can send stress packing, ease aching muscles and, without wishing to sound too hippy-dippy, reconnect mind, body and soul. Indeed, when I eventually win the lottery, I'll live in the Elemis spa - but a DIY luxury home massage? I can't recall when my husband, Paul, and I last bothered. Sure, we've meant to; once we even bought some delicious oil that smelt like heaven. When I eventually found it, covered in dust like a vintage cru, it had mutated into Mazola.
Clearly, it's all too easy to forget to connect in this simplest of ways. Life, work and parenthood take their toll and, before you know it, prefixing the phrase "pass the remote" with the word "please" qualifies as tenderness.
So the request for us to road test a massage routine came as a blessing: at last we had to make time for each other. But firstI had to set the scene. Determined to maximise the moment, I stuffed bedroom clutter into bin bags, lit candles, turned the fan on and shoved the cat off the bed. Not quite the Elemis spa, but it would do.
Next I had to tear my recalcitrant husband away from Euro 2008.
"All right, but we need ground- rules," he demanded. "We must concentrate solely on each other - if, at any time, you start thinking of George Clooney or Rob Lowe you have to yell 'stop', OK? Right, let's get this thing over and done with."
It was an inauspicious start. Still, placing both hands on his back, I tried emptying my mind, but all I could think was "Jeez, I'm shattered". Eventually though, our breathing unified and I reached for the oil, only to find the lid still on. So much for maintaining body contact, opening it one handed was impossible.
Applying the oil to Paul's back was actually quite calming - and besides, having just washed up, my hands desperately needed a good moisturise. Using what I hoped was a comfortable pressure, I worked my way slowly up his back, before setting to work on his shoulders. Things were going well - Paul looked almost relaxed - until I got to the kneading-the-shoulders-like-dough bit, at which point I overdid the pummelling (we have a bread maker) and he yelled in pain. Oops.
It didn't help that I'd forgotten my glasses, so reading the instructions (which were flapping away in the fan's breeze) wasn't easy. Trying to envisage what would be pleasant, I freestyled between steps, while praying I wouldn't inadvertently hit the neck's pressure point that our karate-mad eight-year-old assures me can kill instantly. As Paul neither died nor cried out, I reckoned I succeeded.
There's a reason why massage tables are adjustable: by the time I got back to Paul's back, my own was killing me. But massage is about putting someone else's needs first, so I worked selflessly on, up and down his erector muscle in search of knots. I'm not sure I found any, but I stopped occasionally to give the right impression.
Incredibly, despite all my improvisation, I felt remarkably serene by the end.
"How was that?" I asked.
"Quite weird. Your hands were really hot."
"Really? Maybe I've got healing hands, like reiki or something."
"Your turn. Now then ... 'First prepare your bird ...'"
To be honest, I don't think Paul's heart was really in it. I'm not sure whether it was the speed with which he proceeded to whizz through the routine (I found myself counting "one Mississippi, two Mississippi" to mark the seconds as he massaged my shoulders and I definitely didn't get to 180) or the fact that I swear he started humming the Match of the Day theme tune at one point, but my inner conscious (or was that my mind/body/soul reconnecting?) told me that Italy versus Holland probably kicked off around the time he got to my erector muscle. Still, it was relaxing to do nothing for 10 minutes and at least I smelled gorgeous by the end of it.
"Reading the instructions while trying to do something I thought you'd find enjoyable was hard," he confessed. (Female readers: please feel free to insert quip about men and multi-tasking here.) "But that bit at the end, when I started doing my own thing, that felt good, didn't it?"
And I had to admit it had.
So, all in all, not a resounding success in itself, but that was our fault. If truth be told, neither of us have ever been good at following directions - it's why we bought a satnav. But at least we discovered we still had the imagination to improvise. Maybe this bottle of oil won't linger in the bathroom cabinet for too long after all.