Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Everything is a miracle.
is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one's bath like a lump of sugar - Pablo Picasso

Prue Leith penned the following short piece about baths before the rest of us could! Enjoy. . .   

"Finding a pleasure that is reliable, available all year round, cheap, doesn't deplete the world's resources, causes no harm or pain to animals or humans, and won't offend anyone at all is not easy. However, I confidently nominate a nice hot bath. And before someone tells me that it costs 50p to fill a bath and it is a shocking waste of water, can I please plead that I don't do it very often and I make up for it in between with very quick showers, which I hate. . . "

". . . Lying in a bath for hours seems to be a peculiarly female thing. Some women take it further than I do: expensive essential oils, aromatherapy, mini-bottles, candles all around, even rose petals in the water. Like some kind of sacred rite. 

But few men lie in the bath. Which is why baths are mostly so badly designed. All bath designers seem to be men, and I wonder how many of them test them for comfort? I've become something of an expert since I'm trying to find a bath for my barn conversion which one day will be, I hope, my retirement home. There are almost no baths with good wide edges for the gin and tonic, novel, magazine or radio, never mind such basics as soap, loofah, bubble bath and nailbrush. If you buy one of those pretty free-standing baths you will have to put a table next to it. Which you will struggle to reach over the ridiculously high sides of the bath. 

I admit my search is complicated by the fact that I want a shallowish bath so that when my legs and arms hardly work at all I will still be able to get out of it. All the free-standing, good-looking baths are so deep I can barely get out of them now. And most of then, because of their depth, have steeply sloping ends so that lying down is impossible. I want a gentle incline so I can lie back, and low enough sides so I can rest my elbows on the rim with my hands comfortably holding a book. 

I want to be able to reach the taps without sitting up so I can keep the water topped up (yes I know, more wicked waste), and I'd like the bath to be made of some sort of material that keeps the water insulated and hot. 

Oh, and the bathroom should have a view. My present one has reaches of changing sky and the branches of waving sequoias with pigeons on the tippy tops posing like angels on a Christmas tree. . . " 

Prue Leith

How do you feel about baths and bathing? Are you able to reach your taps with your toes? Is bathing about ritual for you - or function? Or both? Do you light candles, drink orange cordial, whiskey or tea in your bath? Does your bath's shape 'do it' for you? If not, what would you change?

Happily, my idea of a perfect bath is the ancient (b. 1880) claw-footed cast-iron one I have right now; the only thing I'd like to add some day soon, is a bird bath on the other side of the window. . . 

Edgar Degas - Woman in the bathtub


  1. Claire,

    I'm reminded of Charles Darwin who loved his aqua-therapy. I'm sure it included a good old roast in a steaming bath.

    I love to sink into a boiling hot bath. The hotter the better. Call it penance or pleasurable pain. Either, the result's still the same. And then once I sink my head so that the water muffles my ear-drums, I feel like Proust with the tea-cup and Trompe L'oeil, the sensation is a mnemonic that recalls a flood of past memories. It's a timeless thing.

    I think a good jacuzzi bath would do wonders for my elderly parents who suffer from rheumatism and osteoporosis. We belong in water. we're 75% water. And it all finds its proper level ... provided the weather's right.

    Nice post, as always.


  2. At a biological station I work at occasionally they have 6 tubs with feet sitting out in a wooded lane. These double as a place to cool off or water the horse.If you fill them early in the day they warm nicely, and it is fun to have one in each tub to chat.

  3. Functional. We never had a shower when I was a kid. The only place there were any were in the local baths. We bathed every Sunday night whether we needed it or not as the saying goes; the immersion heater was turned on especially. Those were different times. Now I have constant hot water and can shower whenever I feel like it but I've never grown to relish the bathing experience. I often see bathroom scenes in films and on TV with all the fancy candles and I wonder what the heck. By the time they'd got all those candles lit I would have been in and out, dried and with my feet up with a cup of coffee.

  4. Here's a quaint story especially for bath-time:

  5. I used to have a cast-iron claw foot tub in my grandmother's house under the eaves. It sat under the windows so the sun could come in brilliantly while I soaked and had a tiled frame around it for plants, books and wine glass--I spent weeks of my life soaking, truth be told, and if there were some way of measuring it--weeks. Aaah. The only true tranquilizer.

  6. John - Charles Darwin loved his aqua-therapy? How wonderful - I didn't know that, but of course, he'd have relished a plunge, a soak, a ssssplash.

    I'm with you re; the hotter the better. There's something purging (though not punitive) about water's very particular heat? Sinking down till the water fills the ears is wonderful, soothing - and, as you say, can unleash a flood of memories. We do belong in water and yet have strayed quite far from it, in more ways than one? I don't know that I could live contentedly away from it; love the sound and sight of it - my spirit seems to require being within easy reach of it.

    Water relieves pain, too - both the emotional and physical kind. Your elderly parents (and mine/all of ours) would surely benefit from a massage bath. Mind you, we all would. . .

  7. PS. Proust with the tea-cup and Trompe L'oeil. What a terrific image!

  8. Claire,

    It's from Swann in Love, the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu, the remembrance narratives are usually triggered by well-placed mnemonics, a tea-cup, a Jack-O-Lantern, a telephone, etc. Amazing technique.

  9. Darwin, Proust, Picasso before the age of hot massaging showers, inspire one to take a hot soak.

    Thermal baths and oceans...Maybe our intelligent cetaceans had the right idea when they returned to the sea.

  10. i grew up in old houses, without showers--only bathtubs. i also grew up with post-Depression era parents, so was never allowed more than a few inches of water in the tub. my deepest , most soothing passion has always been a long, long soak in a blazing hot bathtub. pure heaven. music too. and of course, as a kid, i'd read (library books!!) in the bathtub.
    the house where i live now has only a shower. but there is a small storefront a few blocks away advertising the services of a woman bath/kitchen designer: in her window she has a gorgeous deep wooden bathtub. i need to talk to her.
    thank you dear claire--i've missed you!

  11. Steve - what a wonderful story (with images). The scene you describe could be written into a short story or made into a short film - horses and their riders sharing the same trough, conversation and water droplets splashing. . . thank you. You've just awakened something!

  12. Hi Jim - it's great to see you, Jim & Steve here (welcome, men!) each of you responding so differently to the idea of baths. Way back in Roman times, they were 'your' territory, of course. Would it be accurate to say women turned to rivers and streams for water, or large pouring jugs and catchment bowls? If so, it occurs to me as I type, men bathed then in still water and women in moving water. I wonder whether there's anything in this? (There's something in everything, of course, but still I wonder. . . ) Most women I know love a soak in a bath for its relaxation properties; the bath represents space and time to themselves. I think the same would be so for men who 'get bathing'. Baths invite us to partake, surrender to nurture? There's something more emphatic about showers, although having said that, nothing quite beats standing beneath a rose head with water tumbling down. That's transporting and invigorating in a way a bath is not.

    I'm glad we get to experience both during our lifetimes. Choice is a wonderful thing. Thanks for being part of the conversation, Jim - and enjoy your post-shower coffee with feet up ; )

  13. Pen - thanks for the link; a very quaint story (and series format) indeed. The narrator's voice had me feeling thoroughly soporific. L, C x

  14. Dear VesperSparrow (this name beckoned as I read of your cast-iron claw-foot tub under the eaves). . . yes, a bath can offer sanctuary, a place to drift, be buoyed, transported; a holding, healing place. Aah, indeed, M. Love ++ C xx

  15. John - yes, an amazing technique. I can imagine. . . thanks for the ref.

    Tell me (if you will, please), how many languages do you speak or read (or both)?

  16. Antares Cryptos - we have so much to learn from the earth's small creatures. The oceans emanate wisdom in a myriad ways.

    I think you may be right - our intelligent cetaceans did the wise thing when they returned to the sea. Perhaps there's more to our pull to the waves/salt water than first meets the eye. . .

    Thanks for coming by; when I read your name I see a constellation.

  17. Dear Susan - I've missed you, too! Welcome back from your work piles and a warm salute to deep baths and your upstairs room.
    Much love, Claire xo

  18. Claire,

    I did Latin & Greek in secondary school, Irish-Gaelic from primary through secondary, pretty much all my life, French up to the Intermediate/Junior Cert, and German for post-grad. I'd feel most competent with the German, though wouldn't tackle German poetry. It took me an entire semester to translate one essay by Johann Georg Hamann, a contemporary of Kant, who also lived in Koninsberg, and was the greatest critic of the Enlightenment. I tried once to read Swedish just to be able to read Strindberg but quickly gave up. I knew a Swede in the States when I lived there, and she coached me a bit. I think in Europe [with greater exposure to languages], our secondary schools tend to take learning them for granted. Irish is compulsory through all grades [I've written a few poems in Irish], and Latin was a staple but not anymore. Now, I think I'm doing well if I can know English. Why?

  19. This is the land of Waters We Have Known. My vision is the step-in bath, the little door, sitting at chair height while the water rises around one, for these knees are no longer able to maneuver in a regular tub; the yearning has not diminished. My true joy is a bath-temperature pool (not searingly hot), large enough for one to become weightless. I think some of us may remember water as home.

  20. John, you astound me. Diligence, perseverance and zeal are surely your middle names.

    If I had my way, schools the world over would encourage children to learn a second, third, fourth. . . language - and, too, at least one musical instrument.

    As for Latin. . . I am grateful for the years I spent plugging away at it, at school and university. My Latin teacher, Mrs. van Oudshoorn was her name, was about as severe and intimidating a woman you could get, but beneath her tough exterior she was warm, funny, witty, compassionate - what a friend here would call an 'Iron Marshmallow.'

    It would be a treat to see (and, of course, read or hear) one of your Irish poems, John.

  21. Dear Marylinn - a room-sized bath with a small, water-tight door through which one enters and leaves; a chair to sit upon; time to watch, listen and wait as the bath-sized room fills to just the right depth. Ah. Thank you for this image. When I close my eyes I'm there, drifting weightless into dreams.

    There is a release that comes with being water, isn't there? Especially when the contact between skin and water is almost unnoticeable, for in that moment, the body forgets its burdens and limitations and is set free. The mind, too?

    Yes, some of us remember water as home.

    Thank you for remembering & referencing Waters I Have Known. I'm wanting to re-enter that ocean. Love to you, dear Marylinn xo