Friday, 9 July 2021

Early Baths

Our shower stopped working just when I returned from a long bike ride on a hot day. So I took a bath. And this continued as we waited for an electrician to come and fix the shower. But it was a happy accident, for I had almost forgotten what an entirely different experience a bath is. I stretched out in the warm water and rested my head against the scooped end of the bath-tub. My tired body began to relax and I found myself recalling previous baths of note.

The first of these was an enamel bath tub. It was oblong in shape and I played and splashed in it throughout my early years. My favourite toy was a small plastic bucket. I think I got it at the seaside. And I would often pretend that I was sailing across the ocean in my little bath tub.

In those days, no houses had showers. And many older houses didn’t have baths. My grandfather had a zinc bath which was hung up in an outhouse and only brought into the cottage once a week. It was set in front of the fire and filled with hot water from the range. The family bathed in order of seniority. The youngest was last and had to wash in the same water that had already cleaned the others.

The first shower I had was at secondary school. But I was crammed in with thirty other kids, all sweaty from PE. I recall the cock and bum jokes that were shouted by the bolder lads through clouds of steam, along with my sense of embarrassment about my own body. If we stayed in the showers for too long, the PE teacher would turn the water to cold and then slap our buttocks with a wet towel as we scuttled into the damp changing room.

All of the flats I lived in during the 1970’s didn’t have showers. Unless you count the grey rubber tubing that you put over the bath taps and the attached sprinkler that you could hold above your head. The mix of hot and cold was very hard to get right and anything more than a trickle of water would force the tubes off the taps.

In the mid 1980’s I bought a small terraced house that had been built a hundred years earlier. The tiny bathroom had an electric shower behind a flimsy plastic curtain that hung from a rail. That shower was useless: the flow of water was puny, the temperature was virtually uncontrollable (you were either scalded or frozen) and water splashed out across the floor and dripped into the kitchen below.

My pal Phil and I took out the shower tray and installed a bath. I bought the smallest bath I could find. It was a sit-bath, with very tall sides and a bucket seat. Despite the bath being very short, we still had to chip bits off the wall to fit it in. I was an active runner in those days and every Sunday morning I would meet my club-mates for a long run in the New Forest. On the way back home, I would always buy the Sunday papers. I would have a lovely long soak in the sit bath and read the papers from start to finish. It was very therapeutic: mentally and physically. The water came up to my armpits and the newspaper often got wet. Of all the baths I’ve had, that little sit-bath was the one I remember most fondly.

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