As a Brit of fifty-seven summers, I am JUST old enough to remember the bad old days of baths.
If you were rich, you had a LONG enamel bath you could sit in, with your legs STRAIGHT. But if you were poor, you had to drag in a galvanised “tin bath” from the hook, where it hung in the garden, then fill it with hot water, boiled in saucepans – four at a time – on the kitchen stove.
In the winter, you would put it in the living room, by the fire. And as one side of your body FROZE – the skin on your other side would be SEARED OFF by the fire.
Then you had to bail out most of the water, one saucepan at a time. After which two of you would carefully carry out the bath – trying not to spill the remaining contents – and tip it down the drain. Then you would hang it back on its hook.
There was an alternative. For a few pennies, you could use one of the many “slipper baths” at the local Council Swimming Baths. These were little tiled bathrooms with a constant supply of hot water which you could use for about twenty minutes, before a guy would bang on the door and tell you to hurry up.
You could bring your own towel – or for a couple of pence more, rent one. However, unless you were lucky and they’d just acquired some new ones – having been endlessly BOIL-washed, they felt like sandpaper.
Thus back then, most people only had one bath a WEEK – usually on Friday night. The rest of the week, they made do with a daily wash of the hands and face, in the sink. As a result – British people STANK.
And thus it was – until the Sixties. Now that Britain had a little money, the government began a programme of demolishing Victorian slums and putting up new housing – with indoor bathrooms (the story that people used the baths to store coal is bogus). And where the houses were of a better class, they would subsidise the conversion of a bedroom into a bathroom.
And so the “Great Unwashed” finally began to smell a little better.
But this reporter has noticed a further development that is a tad BIZARRE. Baths are now becoming a LUXURY item. The reason is – SHOWERS.
Here’s the thing: since MODERN people want to clean themselves EVERY day – in some cases TWICE – baths have largely GIVEN WAY to showers.
Showers use less water (baths have gotten shorter, with bowed-in sides – but that’s a problem if you’re FAT) and take WAY less TIME. Plus they take up less SPACE. AND you don’t end up sitting in your own dirty water.
Which means increasingly, many houses – and most flats (apartments) – are being built with ONLY showers.
Thus nowadays, soaking in a tub has become less a way of cleaning oneself, than a form of relaxation. Indeed the bubbly-jetty ones don’t PERMIT soap (unless you want to clog up the impeller – and end up with a room full of FOAM). But given their cost and the amount of space they take up – only rich people with big bathrooms and even bigger POCKETS can AFFORD them.
Which is surreal: it means that we have now come full circle. Once AGAIN, baths are only for the rich. The difference is – now having SHOWERS – poor people no longer PONG!