We recently went to the new Turkish Bath in Liverpool and were surprised to find that it is the only one in the north west of England. Considering how awesome a Turkish bath experience is, and how popular they are among tourists in Istanbul, I can't understand why there isn't one in every town - as there used to be in ancient times.
We found it by chance. My girlfriend Manuela went for a haircut on Lodge Lane in Toxteth and her hairdresser said "you should come to our new Turkish bath. It's only £45 for an hour and a half session".
En-route to the Adam and Eve Turkish Bath we walked through the vast Toxteth cemetery and discussed the history of the area: in the nineteenth century Toxteth was where ship's captains and the prosperous middle class would build big, sprawling houses surrounded by trees and parks; by the 1970s the wealth had left and relations between the black community and the police were in freefall. In 1981 three days of bloody rioting blazed the name Toxteth (and Brixton) across the nation's consciousness.
Remembering the Toxteth Riots
"When I set up my hairdresser's 27 years ago," recalls the owner, Carol Dermus, "Lodge Lane had been destroyed. It was the centre of the Toxteth riots and every shop had been looted and burnt. There used to be a Tesco here, restaurants and a swimming pool. I was one of the first to open a business here. It's only recently that the area started picking up."
I asked her how she financed her start-up in such a difficult time and she told me about the local NatWest bank manager who was impressed by her local credentials: "I grew up on Lodge lane, knew everyone in the area and had black hairdressing experience."
Based on her word of honour, but no business plan, NatWest loaned her £1,000. She told the bank manager she expected to earn £100 in the first week but the place was mobbed from the word go and she raked in £1,500 during that timeframe. She hired staff, bought more equipment and paid back the loan in 3 months. By the early 1990s Carol's business was growing steadily.
Love in Turkey
Fast forward to 2013 and Carol was on holiday in Marmaris, on Turkey's stunning Turquoise Coast. "I had a sore back", she told me, "as hairdressers do, from all that standing-up and leaning over." She was sent to the resident masseur - Adam Dermus - and before long they were in love.
The following year Carol was back and Adam showed her round his home city of Tarsus, where Cleopatra visited two millennia ago. It's a historic town, not far from the Syrian border. Soon they were engaged to be married and Carol was welcomed into the family. "I stayed with the mothers and sisters," she explained, "and although we didn't understand a word of each other's language we got on famously. The wedding lasted two days and thousands of people came to our street party. I'd never seen anything like it."
With Turkey's economy in a shambles, their plan was to return to the relative security of Toxteth and set up the first Turkish Bath in the north west of England. But the first problem was getting Adam into the country with a proper visa. Even though he's a qualified masseur his initial application was rejected. They had to fork out over £5,000 to get him a three-year visa. Then they shelled out ten times that amount to renovate their new building in Toxteth and turn it into a proper Turkish Bath, a Hamam.
I asked Adam what's so special about a Turkish bath? "It's not just a massage and a sauna," he said. "It's a detox. The skin scrub gets rid of toxins and lets the skin breathe better. It also helps the muscles, the colon, the stomach and the nervous system."
We spent an hour and a half experiencing the Hamam and can confirm that it is awesome. The main feature is a huge stone bed that is heated and where you lie down to get massaged and doused with water. I left with a glowing feeling.
I was also impressed with Manuela's masseuse, a noble Spanish-looking woman who works in Carol's hairdresser by day and the Turkish Bath in the evening. She told Manuela that she has Spanish heritage ("from the Armada running aground in Ireland") and is the only non-Spanish member of a flamenco dancers troupe in Liverpool.
I'll be back for more.