The Oldie – March 2019

At first all I saw was his feet. Well that’s all you do see if someone walks in and sits opposite you in a sauna. Head bent, sweat soaked, eyes half shut, there was a slight frisson when the door opened and then this pair of rather pale and pointed white feet were there in front.

In the early 70s I was in the habit of going to the Grosvenor House gym, sauna and swimming pool off Park Lane to ease the aches of injuries from 10 years of my up, and particularly down, career as a jump jockey. It was a pleasant, clean and efficient place with an eclectic mix of customers, but one was there to sweat not socialise. No surprise then when a new pair of feet came into the sauna.

They looked around size eight and appeared quite willowy and callus free, but I have never had much interest in podiatry. Nor in mid sweat conversation – there would have only been four or five of us in there and submitting to the overwhelming heat is central to the sauna process. But something in a brief exchange opposite pricked the brain.

So the gaze slowly lifted from the feet. At first the ankles, then the legs, quite the “shrunk shank” they.  Nothing noticeable about the thighs, nor even the flaccid little donger, probably circumcised, but I don’t remember. There was a round white belly and above that the sort of un-muscled pectorals you would expect from what was presumably life in a London office.

In the dreamy haze of the sauna I probably wouldn’t have bothered to move to the face if the guy next to him had not asked a question.  But an unmistakeable vowel sound in the muffled reply made me look up and there, less than a metre across the sauna, was the familiar pointed nose, receding brow and rather hurting eyes of no less a naked figure than the Right Honourable Edward Heath, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

As ever with very famous people it was a one-sided recognition. He acknowledged the greeting gracefully but it hardly seemed the time to quiz him on the miners’ strikes or entering into Europe. The thought that burned was why was he there?  No burly bodyguard had stepped in beside him or lurked with commando knuckles outside. Was he just desperate to get out of Downing Street? Was this his idea of “meeting the common man”? Or, the inevitable query, was the PM seeking someone gay?

Perhaps he was but it didn’t feel like it. As a heterosexual jockey who had spent many hours in saunas and Turkish baths I was well used to the signs and knew how to rebuff unwanted advances. But the poor old “Grocer” did not give out any of those vibrations either in the sauna or afterwards in the swimming pool.

Instead he just looked desperately lonely. So much so that I swam over to where he was standing in the shallow end and asked him why they didn’t have a pool in Number 10.  “That would be far too modern for them,” he said with a mixture of sadness and anger. He held the greatest office in the land but all you felt was to be sorry for him.

No one will ever know exactly what triggered these sweaty and watery excursions. I guess there won’t be the same sauna opportunity with the present incumbent. But it would be fun to see her feet.


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