Rebecca Front: 'I can only assume there's a class at drama school which teaches young male actors to do shoulder rubs'

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There are few things less relaxing than a massage – or, at least, the sort of ill-defined, mimsy, New-Age laying on of unskilled hands that all-too-often passes for a massage. I have had the privilege of visiting an ancient hammam in Istanbul (I can't begin to describe the smug delight I took in writing that last phrase) and there I experienced the real thing. On a cold, hard slab of 16th-century marble, I was slapped, pummelled, basted, marinated and steamed, and after icy water had been hurled over my head, I slept deeper than I have since babyhood. That, my friends, constituted a relaxing massage. I'll tell you what does not.

Having a well-meaning hairdressing trainee dig their thumbs into your sodden scalp while you lie at the back-wash, your neck tendons constricted by a ceramic vice, staring at a searingly bright ceiling spotlight, is not relaxing. It's at best fashionable, at worst a time-wasting gimmick. Would I like a head massage? No, thank you. The clue is I'm at the hairdressers. I want a haircut. And then I want to go home.

It's not relaxing to lie on your front on a suede-effect therapy couch with your face jammed down a hole having to listen to an endless loop of chill-out music (God, how I hate chill-out music) while a beautician rubs cloying gunk into the sensitive skin above your kidneys.

But the least relaxing massage of all is the matey shoulder rub. Much beloved of young men in particular, this is seen as a harmless way of imparting the frisson of physical contact to women they don't fancy. I can only assume there's a class at drama school which teaches young male actors that during the course of any working day they must massage somebody's shoulders, because I spend a large part of my working day dodging it. It's important to keep physically fit as an actor, if for no other reason than the ability to leap from the path of an oncoming thesp with a manipulative glint in his eye.

Please don't take it amiss, actors, hairdressers and beauticians everywhere if I offer these kindly words of advice: get your freaking hands off me NOW. Tense? In need of a massage? What gave you that idea?

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