Ah, the pleasures of the bath. It didn’t take humankind very long to cotton on to the luxury of a leisurely soak in an oversized bucket of unusually warm water.
The Japanese and Turks figured it out a few centuries ago. For Ancient Greeks and Romans, a sojourn at the public baths was frequently the social highlight of the day.
Sorry, too busy. Public baths are quaint, bordering on extinct. Filling a tub just for oneself is too finicky, environmentally wasteful and takes far too long. There’s just enough time for a quick spritz under the shower head and then it’s back to the rat race.
We used to surrender to the pleasure of ‘drawing a bath’. Now, it’s more like a NASCAR pit stop. Bathtubs have become something you try not to slip in while showering.
That helps to explain why bathtubs are disappearing. Rooms in Holiday Inns used to have tubs in every bathroom. From now on only 55 per cent of their new hotel rooms will feature tubs.
It’s a trend. Marriot Hotels forecasts that soon 75 per cent of the rooms they rent will be ‘showers only’.
“Most business people are on the run and take a quick shower,” says Marriot vice-president Bill Barrie. “There’s no time for baths.”
I ‘tch tch’ this development strictly on principle. The fact is, I haven’t had a bath in years.
It’s not that I’m a big shower fan or a time-management fanatic — it’s just that the bathtub ain’t what it used to be.
I grew up with those massive, cast-iron water-guzzling clawfoot tubs that occupied an entire wall of the bathroom. They took ten minutes to fill, but you wound up reclining like a sultan with the water up to your lower lip. The hot and cold water taps were down by your feet and they had big knurly knobs on them, the better to be manipulated — make that ‘toe-nipulated’ — to keep the water piping hot. It was pretty ingenious and delightful as human inventions go. And then some designer fool came along and decided that bathtubs weren’t svelte enough. They went plastic, lowered the profile, squinched up the dimensions and added water jets and moulded soap dishes. The result? The modern bathtub. Once you’ve folded in your legs and hunched in your torso you’re lucky if the water level reaches your navel.
Much nicer lines than the old clawfoot of course; a sexier ‘silhouette’ I suppose — but a lousier experience.
The irony is, psychologists are discovering that people actually need the pleasures of a hot bath — need it, in fact, even more than we used to. Researchers at Yale studied 400 people between the ages of 18 and 65 and discovered that modern folks use hot baths and showers as a way to connect with, not escape from the world around them.
“The lonelier we get, the more we substitute the missing social warmth with physical warmth,” says psychologist John Bargh. “We don’t know why we’re doing it, but it helps.”
Well, no offense Doctor Bargh, but I know why we’re doing it — because it harms no one, won’t frighten the horses, contains no calories and feels fabulous.
A lot cheaper than a pricey odyssey with a psychoanalyst too.
Nobody put it better than Susan Glassee who wrote, “I can’t think of any sorrow that a hot bath wouldn’t help just a little bit.”
Amen to that. Alas, I fear the glory days of the real bathtub are behind it. Nearly a century and a half behind, to be precise. The modern bathtub was invented in 1850.
Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call to Watson, his assistant in 1875.
There were 25 glorious years when you could soak in the tub without having the phone ring.