Tuesday 30 July 2013

Looking back to buckets of water and a wet flannel

The demise of the shower on Sunday, and the subsequent message that the plumber cannot fit a replacement before Wednesday morning, made me reflect on how our washing habits have changed over the last 50 years. When I was a little girl, growing up in a "2-up 2-down" terraced house in a south Lancashire cotton mill town, we had no shower. Indeed, we did not even have a bathroom, and the loo was at the end of the back-yard in the unheated, unlit outside privy!

Daily washes were done in the huge Belfast pot sink under the kitchen window. When we were very small we were sat in it, later on the wooden drainer with our feet in the sink itself, and being washed down with a wet flannel well-soaped with Camay, then rinsed off with jugs of warm water until we were clean.

There was no hot water supply to the kitchen sink, just a cold tap, so all hot water was heated in a large pan on the stove. It was a huge black enamel thing, pale blue on the inside, with two handles to make it easier to carry. Whether for washing, cooking or cleaning, all hot water was produced this way - it was only on moving to a newly built house just before my 10th birthday that I discovered houses could (and did) have hot water on tap!

As we outgrew the kitchen sink we migrated to using the zinc bath which my parents used. It was kept outside in the back yard and brought in for the weekly baths, being set down on the flagged floor in the kitchen and filled by bucket with cold water from the tap, warmed to just comfortable by addition of hot water from the pan on the stove. Needless to say, we did not linger over our baths, as the water did not stay hot for long in a house which, along with no plumbed hot water, had no central heating either. The only source of warmth in the kitchen was the stove, so bath nights would coincide with Mother's  baking sessions, so the heat from the oven helped keep us warm whilst bathing.

My Mother's one big dream was to have what she called, "a proper bath", but in a 4-room cottage it was thought to be an impossibility, until one day when I was around eight or nine years old, a wagon pulled up outside, followed by a knock at the front door. On the step my Mother found the husband of her best friend, who was working as a labourer on a building site. On the back of his wagon was a bath - he had been working on the demolition of some properties near Manchester and everything was being disposed of. He had managed to rescue the bath, still in excellent condition, and had brought it home for her.

The big question, of course, was where to put it! Uncle Paddy, as he was known, and my Father off-loaded the big bath into the back yard whilst the matter was considered. The kitchen was fairly big, they mused, so if things were moved around a bit then the bath could be placed against the end wall. It really did not take much re-organising - the kitchen consisted of a free-standing larder cupboard and a stove, along with a table and four chairs in the middle. The bath was hauled into place, Dad made a hole through the wall to allow water to drain out though the plug hole, attached to a short length of piping, and into the same drain that the sink used. Although it sported two shiny chrome taps, the new bath had no plumbed water supply, but had to be filled by means of the same bucket and hot water heated in the pan on the stove. This meant that our bath-times were never in more than three or four inches of water, but they were accompanied by jugs of water poured over us to rinse the soap away.

Mum was delighted with her proper bath, and she set to and made a long curtain which Dad attached to a batten and wires on the ceiling, so they could have some privacy when bathing. I imagine that it may also have kept the draughts off them.

How different it all was to our current, cosy, plumbed-in bathroom with its shower, wash-basin and flush toilet, and how quickly had we forgotten those early simplicities, only brought back to mind when the shower stopped working and we had to revert to a sponge and soap in a basin, and being rinsed off with large jugs of water!