Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Stink of Humanity

I previously made mention of The Pillars of the Earth. It is set around life and fictional characters in twelfth century England, and it's a very absorbing read if you like historical fiction and quite probably even if that isn't your usual genre of choice. It's quite simply a fine story. But this isn't meant to be a review.

No, it's about hygiene. The part that I was last reading revealed that women typically bathed only once a month. I leave the timing of said ablutions to your clever little imaginations. But the men! Twice a year! Only twice! The occasions that prompted such leave-taking of their senses escape me now, but I surely remember the number. One wonders how they could live with themselves and each other. And how would you like to cuddle intimately with someone who hadn't bathed for a half year? I guess sensibilities were different for, judging by the fact that we're all here now, they managed the up close and personal stuff quite well indeed. I'm sure we're all rather glad they did overcome the odour because we'd be nowhere without those antecedents. Literally.

But I also wonder if we don't overdo it these days when daily showers are the norm. I was brought up in different times when bath night occurred on Saturday. Period. In fact, in order to save a few pennies, my family didn't even turn the hot water on until sometime on that day. It was an electric water heater in the apartment that I remember most. There was a switch on the wall that got flicked on come Saturday, and we all took our baths. At least we all ran clean, fresh water for each bath. I think. I trust.

Aside: of course, I'd shower after gym class, and I imagine that my parents heated water in a kettle and took sink baths. We take showers for granted and as a necessity now, but when we were young Cuppa and I would often stay in a cottage sans running water. We discovered that you could attend to personal hygiene quite well from a small basin.

Of course it all changed in my teenage years. Teenagers do become fastidious and body conscious after all. We had moved and whether because of my age or changing family finances we now kept the hot water tank on the ready. But even then, although I bathed at home, I only showered at school. For one thing the bath in that cottage was just that — a bath and only a bath. And it really wouldn't have helped had we had a shower head because the water pressure was abysmal enough to have made showering an impossibility or near enough. It was just a trickle — literally. With time and patience we could draw enough water for a bath of sorts but it would have be nigh unto impossible to have been able to shower had the place been so equipped.

Showering daily is the norm for many people nowadays: for some twice daily. Have we gone a bit overboard? Does the typical person working in a typical office really gather a ton of dirt or sweat on a winter's day? I know that the heat of summer increases the need tremendously, but I really have to wonder about the necessity of daily showers.

Still ... I much prefer today's concept of cleanliness and hygiene over what have been a perpetual human stink back them.


daffy said...

Interesting, I will need to grab a hold of the piece of fiction you refer to.
I must admit my evening is not complete without at least a half hour in the bath with my trusty cd player and my tub of bubble bath. My teenage boy spends more time showering thatn the four of us together and my daughter... well lets just say if I wanted to hide anything from her a good place to put it would be under the soap. She would never find it!
Also, when I was very young we had a tin bath that my dad would put in front of the fire after being filled with hot kettle water. I thought it was quite luxurious! :o) Like you and cuppa we had dedicated bath nights. Sunday and Wednesday I seem to remember.

Heather said...

Yup, bath nights on Saturday - had to look our best for church after all. Until I was 8, we only had one cold water tap in the house (no, we didn't even have a flush toilet), and mom would heat up water so we could bath in a tin tub in the middle of the kitchen.

Yeah, I agree that we overdo it nowadays. But we overdo a LOT of things, if you ask me. Cleanliness (WAY too many antibacterial soaps), safety (we can barely let our kids play on trampoulines anymore because of the paranoia around them getting hurt) - you name it.

Donna said...

Yrs ago, my Dad took two showers a before work, one after. He developed a rash that he couldn't explain and when he told the Dr. about it, the Dr. chewed him out and told him he was washing off all the good germs that protect the there must be something to it...but 6 months is a Wee bit much!lol Have a warm evening!

Ruth said...

At the rehab hospital where I work patients get one tub bath a week. That is the norm in long term care facilities too. There is nothing wrong with a good sponge bath. I grew up with the Saturday night bath routine and hair was washed only once a week too. I couldn't enforce that with my three daughters though. We had to get an extra large water heater.

Dale said...

In the 13th century, it was thought that bathing was unhealthy. Something about evil spirits, no doubt.
Yeah, we bathe too much, most of us. We eat too much, buy too much and use too much. Some of us even use the words "too much" too much. Much too much.

KGMom said...

Has anyone written a history of bathing?
It is really interesting that over the centuries our understanding of cleanliness has changed.
I confess that when teachers began to talk about certain historical periods and the customs then, I listened. I can recall being fascinated that Egyptians (I think it was) had small balls of scented wax that were place on top of their heads, so it could melt and perfume them.
And Elizabethans thinking bathing was not only unhealthy but also unnatural.