Carola Long: 'Massage beds are sealed off behind blue curtains that make it resemble a hospital ward'

Beauty Queen

Gangs of feral bankers roaming the streets and striking matches off their beards, Fulham families ram-raiding Lidl with their 4x4s before filling the boot with stolen baked beans ... the prospect of financial Armageddon is all a bit much. In fact I could do with a nice relaxing massage to calm me down. Except, damn it, said financial Armageddon has left me with no money to pay for it.

Fortunately I have discovered a budget alternative to pricey spa treatments. Or rather I have finally been forced to road test an option that I heard about a while ago. Tucked away behind London's Oxford Street, the London College of Beauty Therapy offers bargain treatments by students who have satisfied a lecturer that they are competent in a particular area, but need to practise on clients to qualify. Think £13 for a pedicure with foot mask, £20 for a full body massage or a deep cleansing facial and £6.50 for an eyebrow wax. Details of prices and how to book are on the website lcbt.co.uk, under "about lcbt", then "lcbt salon".

Of course, at those prices, you shouldn't expect fluffy white towels or faux Balinese mysticism. Instead, the body treatments take place in a room with about 10 massage beds sealed off behind blue curtains that make it resemble a hospital ward; one where you can hear everyone else's conversations. Similarly, the creams involved tend to come out of industrial sized tubs, rather than dinky pots of Crème de La Mer. However, despite the lack of luxury, everything is scrupulously clean, and the aromatherapy massage I had was so relaxing that I fell asleep.

Another, perhaps more sophisticated option, and one that is also available outside London, comes from the graduate clinics at the excellent Neal's Yard Remedies Therapy Rooms which specialise in holistic and alternative treatments and use their own organic creams and oils. Services from lymphatic drainage to reflexology are available from around £20 from newly qualified practitioners at most of their 33 branches. These happen on different days so the best bet is to find the nearest outlet on the website nealsyardremedies.com, then phone for details. Call it austerity chic.E

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