Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Going to the baths.

When I was about five or six, my grandfather would bring me to 'the baths' every week. Baths was my grandfather's way of referring to the swimming pool. This reference can help unload a whole history of personal hygiene.

It was the early eighties. My maternal grandparents still lived in a house without a bathroom in a Protestant working class district of Belfast. I still remember clearly the tin bath that hung on the wall out in the yard, where the toilet was also located. Years later, when I read descriptions of the living conditions in George Orwell's 'Road To Wigan Pier', my mind would be cast back to this house, giving my imagination leverage.

It is easy to imagine the discomfort and cold in the early hours of a December morning, lying in bed needing to use the toilet. Would one need to go bad to enough to brave the cold in the rain or snow, with the wind cutting through your night time attire?

The effort of filling and topping up the tin bath in front of a blazing fire, would take so much effort and time, that it was profitable for the city council to have bathing locations, that later become swimming pools.

I am only 34 - still I remember such conditions still existing in my grandparents' household. It is amazing how much more comfort we live in today compared with two generations ago.

Personal hygiene habits have also changed greatly. It is a matter of course now to shower every morning as a minimum. Back then, it would have been a case of filling up a basin and washing from this most days. Having a bath was a treat!

Going to the swimming pool today, I was reminded of all this. It is amazing how quickly our standards have changed. We take take so much so granted now, such as indoor bathrooms!

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