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Nightwatch: Is it too late to get a hot tub?

Elaine is distraught. She had gone straight this past year. No more horror when we, her so-called friends, posted pictures of nights out on Facebook the morning after. No more recriminations: "Why didn't you tell me I looked such a mess?"

I should backtrack. Elaine hadn't given up the vodka cocktails. But she had gone straight in a much more -- to her -- significant way. She had invested a few hundred euro in one of those industrial-strength hair-straightening blowdrys. Three months of wash 'n' go, no fiddling with hair straighteners, no special serum, no fear of fuzz-inducing Irish mist.

Then, two weeks ago, the news came out that her new favourite salon treatment was being banned by the Irish Medicines Board because of "unacceptable" levels of formaldehyde in the straightening product.

My reaction was "Ewww, formaldehyde? As in the stuff they use to embalm dead bodies?"

Elaine told me to shut my trap. She wasn't worried about the connection with corpses, she was mourning the loss of her dead straight hair.

I can't bring myself to get all judgey-wudgey on her. It's been tough to give up some of the paraphernalia of the Celtic Tiger, whether it be poker-straight hair, bleached teeth or pricey bottles of fake tan. We've gotten used to grooming our bods into shinier versions of their pre-boom selves.

I think it might have started with those perfume vending machines that started appearing in pub loos about 10 years ago. When things started getting hot and heavy on the dancefloor, you could up the pheromone stakes by dashing off for a spritz of Cavin Kline Excsape or Gucki Envious. We were sophisticated, we were urbane, we had knock-off designer perfume in the jacks, for Chrissakes.

Now we're all a bit embarrassed by our excesses, whether your indulgence was takeaway chai lattes three times a day or paying 600 yo-yos a year for a gym that you only saw the inside of for two weeks in January. So why now, while the whole country is bathed in a hangover of guilt, am I desiring the most shameful Celtic Tiger accessory of them all? That's right: I want a hot tub.

I don't even have room for a hot tub. I don't have decking, I don't have a patio and I most certainly don't have a penthouse suite overlooking the Grand Canal Docks, which is surely the only appropriate place for a hot tub in Dublin.

But hey, the heart wants what the heart wants. And this heart really wants to shut up shop in the evenings and sit in her private hot tub under twinkling strings of fairylights. All this talk of tightening belts and being sensible has finally driven me insane.

When going to a spa for a weekend break was practically de rigeur, I hated the idea of it. I remember one such getaway with the girls where I spent two days clenched and rigid on a heated marble slab, being pampered into oblivion. Instead of making me feel relaxed and 'worth it', I left feeling spoilt and silly.

Now that we're being told we should cop ourselves on, all I desire is to loll around in fizzy water and have someone feed me peeled grapes. Perverse, no?

I went to a Turkish bath set-up last weekend and I think that was the turning point. It felt like a big wet hug, the hot water warming my bones, the hours drifting away. It felt perfectly natural to have conversations with half-naked strangers. It was all so ... friendly. Only once did I wonder how much bacteria was breeding in the human soup we were all sloshing about in.

Fans of TV's Come Dine With Me will rightly suspect that I have also been over-exposed to the notion that a hot tub at the bottom of the garden is becoming commonplace. All the best CDWM dinner parties seem to end up in the host's hot tub, the guests piling in like a herd of water buffalo, balancing plates of baked Alaska on their bobbing bosoms (and that's just the guys).

It ain't classy but, man, it looks like fun. And while we don't necessarily need poker-straight hair, we definitely need more of that. I hear there are a lot of posh apartments going for a song at the moment -- do you think Nama could do me a deal on a penthouse in the docks? Hot tub included.

Irish Independent