This Abluting Life

Breakfast television largely passes me by. It’s not that I don’t like it, it is just that I’d rather start the day in a different fashion. I know in recent times, via the New Idea (I only take it for the recipes, puzzles and to pass on to a darling daughter who claims to love to read the celebrity false news), breakfast host Karl Stefanovic has millions of my fellow Australians almost breathless with each installment of his fascinating private life. I also know that the general consensus is that Auntie’s show, around the same time, is pretty good, but certainly doesn’t drag in the ratings like the two behemoths ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Today’. And thanks to my lovely mother and my lovely lady’s equally lovely daughter, both fans of the former, that show has entered my life.

So picture this. Not so long ago I was calmly sitting at my mother’s breakfast table, possibly reading or writing or puzzling over ‘That’s Life’, when some words emanated from the screen behind me, causing me to spin around, aghast and disbelieving.

Now I had no idea what the subject matter was. I did ask said mother – Nan to all – what was going on on the Koch-helmed show, but, as she wasn’t really concentrating on it, she couldn’t help me out. When I focused on what was beaming out I espied three ladies in a row, perched on a sofa, straight-backed like three parrots in incandescent plumage. They were going at it hammer and tongs, verbally, with much laughter and eye-rolling. They seemed to be competing with each other to be heard and whatever they were on about made little sense to me, but had Mr Koch mildly bemused by their squawkings. This trio of gaudy macaws (they are probably very, very lovely, sweet-natured ladies and I know I am being just a little bit naughty with my avian references) had Kochie’s co-host in stitches over the goings-on on the sofa and the inanities being uttered by the perky cockatiels holding the floor.

And the words that one of these anything but dun-coloured peahens uttered, causing me abruptly to choke on my morning coffee? Well, they were of great personal affront to my sensitivities and all because they dissed an important part of my morning routine. That is, I always have been; hopefully will continue to be until my dying day; a bathtub person. I have written before of my total aversion to taking a shower. I have an inability to understand why masses of humanity prefer to do so. What joy is there to be had standing under spurting drops when one can be immersed in scented, warm and sudsy water for half an hour or so. Once upon a time I planned my school day while I lolled in blissful comfort. These days, well, I ruminate on my humble scribblings. So, yes folks, I bathe in perfumed waters – never in anything, I hasten to add, that would cross the line into rose, lavender or other florals. I choose the more manly ones such as certain fruits – mango, coconut, pineapple, etc. At the moment I use the Original Source range, available at any chemist or supermarket. The labeling assures me they are 100% natural fragrances. My favourite is the mint and tea-tree option. Imagine, they pack 7,927 leaves of both into each bottle! How do I know? It tells you that on the container. Yep, it’s only the masculine smells that I wallow in, which brings me back to those three shrieking galahs – very comely ones admittedly, on David K’s settee that morning whilst I was up north. The words that I heard – and I have no idea which lorikeet espoused them – if you can imagine, were, ‘I have real problems with any man who takes a bath.’ And then, the person in question, went on to say that any fellow who does so has ‘…real issues.’ Issues with what, I wanted to know – but she didn’t elaborate.

So, dear reader, you will understand why I was mortified. All these years I’ve been broadcasting to the world around me about my morning ritual, with, particularly the female cohort thereof, probably thinking to themselves, ‘Gee, poor old Steve has real issues.’ Was the wagtail in question, on the tele, casting aspersions on my manhood? Am I less of a male than those hairy-chested showerers who are, presumably, able to go forth into the world scot-free of ‘issues’ due to their preference for getting under a shower rose? Oh dear. Oh dear.

Thinking about all this later (yes, in the bath – I refused to be shamed into taking a shower by the words of some know it all, strident bustard sitting on a couch), I wonder if she, that morning, realised the fine and outstanding history of the ceramic bathtub? A past that is far more worthy than that of johnny-come-lately the shower.

Baths, dear friends, have been around since the Bronze Age, whereas artificially produced showers, as opposed to standing under a waterfall or successfully shouting, ‘Send ‘er down Hughie.’, came later on. And remember, here, with the latter, we’re talking about standing in a cubicle with water raining down on one’s body through some form of plumbing. That came much later, with the Greeks, who had spray tepidly descending from above over naked bodies, much in the same way as some communal sporting facilities provide today. But still no cubicle. They were invented by William Feetham around 1810 – for cold water only. The fortunate had been luxuriating in warm baths from well before that.

I blame the French Army. In 1872 one François Merry Delabost ordered that bathing for soldiers would have to replaced by showering as a cost cutting method – thus commencing the modern trend towards the quick dousing of one’s body. Delabost had invented a newly devised apparatus for such purposes, thereby lining his own pockets in the process. Showers replaced baths, then, in prisons, followed on by boarding schools – thus adding more to the pain involved in the atrocious habit of sending young children away from home for their schooling – and by the 1920’s were in many US homes. The English, bless them, were slow to catch on. They only became common there in the ’60s. Americans are always in such a rush so quick showers suited their frenetic lifestyle. Now the water-scrooges play around with the size of the holes in shower roses and sternly recommend how long this form of ablution should take. They leave us, who prefer the older method, largely alone.

Yes, I know some claim the shower is more hygienic, but where is the bliss factor? And, having bathed all my life, I am still around and still, touch wood, healthy. In a bath a poor man can feel he’s as rich and as spoilt as the Kardashians. In a bath he/she can let one’s mind run rampant, just wallowing in the luxuriousness of the experience. We could even imagine ourselves back in the Middle Ages where servants would ply their masters with food and alcoholic beverages whilst in the tub. Or we could wander back to Roman times when scantily clad maidens would meet all needs for those bathing – just check out the recent television series ‘Spartacus’ for some eye-popping examples of this practice.

Of course, way back in the mists, most weren’t as scrupulous with their cleanliness as we have become. When Columbus returned from the New World he bought back news of the Taino people who bathed, to the shock of his gobsmacked audiences, daily. His Queen Isabella, for instance, had only taken to her bath twice in her life. The Tudor Queen Elizabeth was much more modern – she insisted on hopping into scented waters a couple of times a month. The Spanish Inquisition completely banned bathing, preferring to go smelly than indulge in habits associated with the sweeter smelling Jews and Muslims. Henry VIII bathed in musk of civet in order to alleviate his leg ulcers which were a right royal pain in the ass. Propaganda from the Republicans claimed Versailles was a filthy place, but it had running water for tubs since the time of Louis XV (1715-1774). By 1860 plumbed water was so common that baths, for the average person, no longer had to be portable and could be made of any material – in other words, like our own household essential.

Sadly though, I admit, it is sometimes necessary to take a shower. Nowadays, with travelling, unfortunately few hotel rooms now have a bath. Oh my unalloyed joy when I find I’ve booked one that does! New houses are finished without them – and old bathrooms are renovated, doing away with much pleasure, to be replaced by flashier showering facilities. My son and daughter-in-law have recently done this – but with what they have installed the showering experience in their abode is, well, maybe just a tiny bit joyful.

But, back to my ‘Sunrise’ shock. I do apologise to all the wonderful women that have and still do inhabit my life for being a man with such obvious issues. But, come hell or high water, there is no way I’ll forsake my lifelong indulgence. I’d rather have the issues – just tell me what they are. Please!

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