Saturday, 21 December 2013

From Baths to Showers: 1947 - 2013

A British person who moves to Australia and stays there will probably develop an Australian accent. They don't will it or notice it happening. It's an unintended change occurring below the level of conscious awareness. Most linguistic change is like that.

My day does not really start until I have had my Morning Shower. I look forward to it, enjoy it and afterwards am ready to face the world. But I doubt I had a shower before the age of 11, when going to grammar school involved cold showers after games and swimming lessons, experiences which persuaded only would-be Spartans that showers are a Must Have daily experience

In my first three homes, taking me to the age of 14, there was a bath in the bathroom, supplied with hot water. There wasn't a shower attachment. You had a bath once a week and the proof that you had had it was a scum line - a tidemark - marking the high point reached by the water. You used soap and in my case the soap would have been Lux and sometimes Pears. As a very young child, my mother enhanced the bath experience by allowing me to kick and splash at the end, an indulgence still permitted to small children everywhere.

Having your hair washed and, later, washing your hair, was a separate experience. You did it over the sink, often for convenience the kitchen sink, and it involved using saucepans to pour water. Since they were filled from two taps, there was always a problem in getting the temperature right - not too hot, not too cold. I can't name the shampoos. Maybe they were soaps.

I guess that much of the time we smelt of stale sweat. And we had dandruff.

In my fourth home, taking me to age 18, there was no bathroom and no hot water. Having a bath involved boiling hot water in a gas-fired contraption (word for it, the copper?), releasing it into a galvanised bath placed on the kitchen floor and adding cold water from the tap to get the temperature right. Afterwards, you had to empty the bathwater saucepan by saucepan into the kitchen sink. This was not a formula for encouraging personal hygiene.

I don't know when I replaced taking a bath with taking a shower. But somehow it happened. Probably in my thirties or forties. Nowadays, only an ailment - sciatica, for example - will plunge me into a bath. And as a result of showering, a hair wash is a daily affair. Not much hair to wash now, it's true, but of course no dandruff.

I am sure that most British people of my age have gone through this change from bath to shower. It's a change of interest to the social historian and the historian of private hygiene. But we don't know much about it because we didn't notice it when it was happening to us.


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