Sunday 11 January 2015

In praise of hot baths

Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.

So said Dodie Smith in that wonderful book,  I Capture the Castle, but I think she was talking about feeling low, not about depression. 

On the net I just came across hot baths described as liquid psychotherapy, which makes me feel I should not rush them so fast. I have some back problems after going around Europe with heavy baggage and I find somewhere else on the net that tells me that hot baths not ice are the best treatment. How nice to know.

In any case baths are wonderful. Sir John Betjeman made fun of them though, in 'Business Girls':

From the geyser ventilators
Autumn winds are blowing down
On a thousand business women
Having baths in Camden Town

Waste pipes chuckle into runnels,
Steam's escaping here and there,
Morning trains through Camden cutting
Shake the Crescent and the Square.

Early nip of changeful autumn,
Dahlias glimpsed through garden doors,
At the back precarious bathrooms
Jutting out from upper floors;

And behind their frail partitions
Business women lie and soak,
Seeing through the draughty skylight
Flying clouds and railway smoke.

Rest you there, poor unbelov'd ones,
Lap your loneliness in heat.
All too soon the tiny breakfast,
Trolley-bus and windy street!

Baths I realise are zen and about finding calm. If, as Gibbon said, solitude is the school of genius calm is too - and hot baths the mothers of many deep thoughts. One of the very few blogs I actually read, Zen Habits, agrees, though I have no wish to have bubble baths or a subsequent cold shower.

I bath every day though I consider it rather middle-class for men to do so - or to shower each day. Showers are un-English and newfangled, for continentals, Americans and commercial travellers.

A textbook in English that we used at school when I was 8 in the 60s but published in the 30s (even at a young age I always looked first at the copyright date when I opened books) mentioned in an exercise for teaching grammar that it was normal to bath once a week. In my first job at the House of Lords i noticed my 2 great friends, one Eton and Oxford, the other Winchester and Cambridge, both related to peers, wore their shirts two days running, as in those days did I. We all took our clothes home to our mothers to be washed, except the Etonian, whose father's housekeeper did it and our two married colleagues who had their wives do it.

I wonder how often Dr. Johnson, who had 'no passion' for clean linen, bathed, no doubt in a hip bath. Old man Steptoe had his weekly bath in the kitchen sink in Steptoe and Son. This was eccentric but it was usually for working class men to bath once a week in the 1940s.

However I feel women should be much cleaner than men and was surprised to see that in England four out of five women don't shower every day or bath. Still, as one might expect, frequent showers and baths remove natural oils that the skin produces and thereby dry up the skin. Doctors advise against daily baths and advise only washing the hair once a week, apparently.


  1. Hot baths yes. Noble deeds questionable... most great human disasters have resulted from just that kind of misguided thought.

  2. Hot bath, glass of chilled wine and a good book. Unbeatable.

  3. I dunno... I think I'd need to take a good shower before a soak in a tub. I can't get over sitting in dirty water. Sorry, I'm an American guy.

  4. A few simple rules from a daily showering American. 1.) If you commute to work daily on a crowded train or bus, particularly if you live in a warm weather climate, please shower or bathe daily. 2.) If it's your culture to shower or bathe once a week, please select the day of your airplane flight for your shower or bath. 3.) If you elect not to shower regularly, perfume, cologne or Axe body spray is not an appropriate substitute. FYI: People in America shower about average compared to other nationalities with people in warm weather countries showering more frequently. Folks from the UK are not that far behind and are in a cooler climate.

    1. I completely agree. I have just recently started not to hate showers. The showers of my teens were always apt to scald then freeze, and those annoying doors to the shower cabinet which always got stuck. But a morning shower can be very invigorating and very quick. But an evening bath is much more enjoyable.