Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On Bath

When I lived in England over fifty years ago, showers were rare in private homes. The nearest equivilent was the hand-held shower, attached to a faucet. During WW II, we were urged to limit the level of water in our baths to five inches. In some places, lines were actually painted inside the tub to help find the right level. In the coalition government, the socialist Home Secretary (Herbert Morrison) was jeered at for suggesting that the daily baFont sizeth was "a middleclass habit". My own mother was among the many folk who would not have felt that the day had begun properly without their morning bath.

Prep schools in the UK are preparatory for those entering the so-called "public schools" which are infact expensive private institutions. We did not have showers, but we were limited to one or two baths a week. In the colder months, when we played soccer or "rugger" (rugby football) , we were expected to sit on a tile-covered bench and take a foot bath in a specially-designed container, which at least made use of warm water.

Things were different when I moved to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, at the age of 13. Each dormitory contained a large communal bath, equipped with showers. I soon became used to starting the day with a brisk cold shower. There were also baths, and Naval Cadets were limited to one a week, although those who performed menial tasks for the Cadet Captains were allowed to take another bath, as a reward for their work. By this time, I had learned to enjoy a hot bath, and it was often possible to have a "second bath", meaning that there was no prohibition of making re-use of someone else's legitimate bath water.

Many of you will be accustomed to the "navy shower", inwhich one first soaks one's self and then turns off the shower, then one soaps themself, scrubs, and then uses another brief shower to rinse off. This was not strictly enforced for naval officers, but we all learned to be economical with water, as every sea going vessel can only carry a limited volume of water to be shared by all aboard. This can be supplemented by the desalinization of sea water, but this can only produce a limited quantity of fresh water.

On coming to the United States, I soon abandoned the bathtub for the ubiquitous shower. I can't remember when I last had a traditional bath - probably on a visit to the UK over thirty years ago.

My dear wife, Barbara, tells this story on herself from sometime before we were married in 1970. A friend offered to show her around the city of Bath, which he pronounced "Barth". When their train drew into the station, she saw the sign which read "Bath". She responded "Bath? Oh, I see, Barth!".


  1. Welcome to blogland, Nigel. May it always be a joy for you, and never an albatross!

  2. Welcome to the Blogosphere, dear Nigel. I enjoyed your account of the evolution of the English toilette, and am glad to know about the "navy shower" which is actually not unlike the Japanese bathing routine -- except that ends in the hot soak! But given water limitations in parts of the country, we may find the "navy shower" with the shut-off valve between rinses commendable even ashore.
    Peace and joy be yours

  3. Long live Rentonia. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to more...

  4. Frank: You might be interested to learn that I heard from +Harry as a result of my post about blogging.

    I was impressed by the many who voted for you on the first ballot, and I noted that you only lost one for the second ballot.

    IMHO, it is only a matter of time before a purple shirt will be yours somewhere.

    All the best,

  5. Hi Nigel. Thanks for including me in your email. I look forward to more of your blogs.

    Susan S. Hedges

  6. Of course, in England it's so cold that you don't need baths.

    Ormonde Plater

  7. Oh, what memories! When I did a clergy exchange with the priest in Fareham, I looked in vain for the shower. Just as well as there was a terrible drought throughout Southern England (1995). The tub was just the ticket. I ran fewer than the Navy's five inches and did my best with the sponge bath. I emerged both clean and virtuous.

    Now, as a way of remembering, I take a bath about once every two weeks.

    Nigel, I look forward to your weekly postings. It is not the people over 80 who should think twice about blogging -- it is the people under 80. Godspeed.
    Tom Woodward

  8. Nigel, I am glad you are blogging.

    I never served in the Navy,and I've never been in England. But I well remember my recent time in Sudan, where I "bathed" in less than 2 liters of water.

    You are right: We must all consider our stewardship.

  9. When I was on a rock-and-roll tour with a band from Bath, they kept joking: "We're from Bath, the home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks." Every time they said it they gave a hearty laugh. I still have no idea why it was supposed to be funny. And come to think of it, they did pronounce it "Barth."

  10. Dad,
    Your Korean-born daughter-in-law takes navy showers--and gives them to your granddaughters. That seems to be the fashion in Korea, accompanied by a painful exfoliation.

    As your German professor son, I'd like to read about your early language-learning at Port Regis, your boarding school. Did you start with Latin and Greek at the age of 9 or so?