Thursday, 12 July 2007

Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?

Just as there are doggy people and cat people, so there are bath people and shower people. I am a doggy and bath person (although I wouldn't want that quoted out of context).

A bath is one of life's greatest pleasures, both simple and sybaritic. Baths can be a deep heat treatment, soothing stress and aching muscles (who hasn't fallen asleep in a bath? Fall asleep in a shower and you'll end up in a tangled heap on the floor, probably in a croustade of broken glass). Add scented unguents or healing balms, and a bath is a marinade (you can't marinate in a shower, anymore than you can flavour food under a tap).

Above all, you can read in a bath. In fact, there is no better place to read, as long as you don't fall asleep. It's so important to me that I've fitted my bath with a reading light. I defy you to read in a shower without having someone stand outside, holding the book to the glass and turning the pages for you. You can't eat cake in a shower either, and it quite ruins champagne.

I can't seem to get on with showers anyway. Quite apart from all that jolly communal showering at school and in sports venues (maybe I'm weird, but my instinct when in male company is not, 'Let's get naked and wash our genitals together'). Nowadays my experience of showers tends to be in hotels. The cubicles are invariably too small, so that it's impossible to bend down to pick up the soap or wash your feet without cracking your head on the ceramic-tiled wall. There is either nowhere to put the soap, so one is forced to balance it on the lip of the shower stall (when by sod's law it invariably falls outwards), or there is a soap rack parsimoniously fashioned out of three strands of chromed wire, through which you post the soap straight to the shower tray (which has a partially blocked drain and has filled up with water to ankle depth).

And how are you supposed to wash your feet in a shower? Aside from the no-room-to-bend-over issue, balancing naked on one leg on a wet, slimy plastic tray, surrounded by sheet glass, is a recipe for disaster, and I think ROSPA should investigate. Not to mention the wisdom of sharing a waterfall with a 30 amp electric water heater. I asked a keen shower person about the foot washing problem the other day, genuinely interested in discovering what I was doing wrong. He replied that you don't have to actually wash your feet, as just standing around in the water did that for you. I've been next to people like that on buses.

Then there is the whole temperature control thing. Standing around with one arm stretched out through a jet of alternately ice-cold, then blisteringly hot water, adjusting temperature and flow variables until the temperature settles down. Then, when you're in there, someone in room 311 flushes a lavatory and the water suddenly becomes incandescent/freezing, and by the time your body has discerned which you have 60% burns. In my brother-in-law's house they have to put up a sign on the kitchen sink when someone is having a shower, so no one turns a tap on.

And don't come that one about showers using less water. Using my well-honed book-lover's technique of getting in when the bath is virtually empty, then dribbling hot in at just the right rate to keep a constant temperature, I can make a few gallons last a blissful hour. I've known showers that blasted out a gallon every 30 seconds, and people who spend ten minutes or more in them.

There are moves afoot to phase out baths, allegedly in the interests of the environment, but really to save space. Art will be the first casualty; think of the bath's iconic r├┤le in the history of painting, from Degas and Ingres to Fernando Botero. Literature too. Dylan Thomas wrote, 'Poetry is not the most important thing in life...I'd much rather lie in a hot bath reading Agatha Christie and sucking sweets'. Or Tennyson; 'It is the height of luxury to sit in a hot bath and read about little birds' ('Little birds?' What was that about?).

Nobody's ever named a town after a shower, either.

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