Baths and the Art of Bathing in the UK
Created | Updated Apr 1, 2008
Not Roman Baths, not swimming baths, but just baths, the sort found in your bathroom.
The notion of bathing or, indeed, washing frequently, was once upon a time frowned upon; people believed that it would make you susceptible to disease. Oddly this belief seems to have been with us after the Romans left us their legacy of public baths. Perhaps the theory that the Romans suffered some kind of rampant infection thanks to their orgies and spurious sexual hygiene can explain the English subsequent caution in matters of the bath.
There are still some people that say that the process of taking a bath itself is unhygienic, what with sitting in a stew of your own dirt. These people do not know how to bathe properly.
Baths in the UK tend to be a certain shape and size eg not quite comfortable - unless you've lucked out with a house purchase that includes an enormous bath or have the money to get a big one fitted. The intent of this Entry is not to go into the different variations of types of bath. This Entry is about the act of bathing and it is not important whether your bath is porcelain, free-standing, plastic, tin, wood, square, circular, corner, built for six to fit in, pink, white or marble. If it is big enough for you to be in a lying down position with your head above the water, it is a bath.
Taking a Bath - The Right Way
This is where the opponents of baths get confused. You see bath preparation is a bit like a mini bath - one in which all the grime is removed. And, yes it could be said that you sit in the grime for a minute or two; but, it does not actually count as a bath.
So, you half fill the bath with warm water. While this is running you can remove nail varnish/put on a face pack/trim nails/clear bowels and so on. Once the bath is run, you can then get in and wash your body and hair. Some prefer to use a shower for this purpose and that is fine. Any shaving/hair removal needs to be done at this preparation stage as well, as there is little worse than having a layer of short, thick hairs bobbing around the bath while you're soaking.
Taking the Bath Proper
If you have long hair, wrap it up in a towel to dry or tie it up so it is off your neck. Empty the bath (rinsing out the bath as you do so) of the old, dirty water and re-fill it as high as possible with hot water (allowing space for yourself to get in).
You are now going to soak for about an hour. Because of the amount of time involved, many people find that they need to take some form of distraction into the bath with them. Rubber ducks, toy boats, a playmate are all acceptable, but may result in you getting over excited when the aim here is to relax. So, something a little more appropriate may be a book or magazine. A magazine is better, as it does not matter so much if it gets wet; but, do not attempt to do the crossword, as trying to use a pen in a steamy atmosphere will only frustrate you.
If you do read in the bath, try alternating the hand holding the material so that both hands/arms get a soaking. It will also help avoid loss of feeling, straining or cramps due to the extended pressures on the limb.
An ordinary radio or CD player are not recommended due to the danger involved in combining electrics with water. However, it is possible to get hold of splash- or water-resistant version of these devices. A TV is also not appropriate. It is just not bath compatible.
Taking a Bath - The Other Way
The other way is an all-in-one effort that uses a single bathful of water. While this might be argued as appropriate on an environmental basis, hygiene-wise this represents an opportunity only to re-distribute dirt to your extremities. Dirt will generally sink, float or dissolve - and it is the floating variety, or scum, that will be drawn, like iron filings to a magnet, towards anything sticking out of the water. This will usually be your neck, and possibly your lower arms, eg, wrists and lower legs, ie feet, ankles or calves. Those who engage in an all-in-one-style bath may find they need to shower or rinse off with a flannel to remove the telltale bands of greyish-green scum around their extremities.
Swimming in Cold Filth
There is a type of all-in-one bath, popularised by the likes of Albert Steptoe and other dubious male stereotypes from situation comedies of the mid-20th Century, that involves not simply sitting amidst a layer of your own dirt, but waiting until the water is stone cold before leaving the bath. Occasionally this state is achieved simply by succumbing to the overwhelming desire for sleep fostered by the relaxed environment and the hot water.
Generally, this sort of bath results in the water turning a kind of milky grey throughout and forming small landmasses of floating scum.
Real connoisseurs of this method of bathing will also engage in the activity of pulling the plug out while still soaking in the water. The receding waterline leaves little pools and strata of scum across the body, as well as the sides of the bath. Showering or rinsing alone may be insufficient to remove this dermal crust.
A few notes on this:
Depth of Water
It is important that you are utterly immersed in water up to your chin.
There are a range of products; bubble baths, oils, milks, salts (such as Dead Sea salts), gels and perfumes. Use whatever you prefer but be generous with your measures — it's better too many bubbles or too much oil than not enough: a bath is an exercise in pleasure not stinginess. If you want a cheaper and more natural substitute that will still scent the water, try adding a sprig of fresh lavender/rosemary etc.
A tricky one. It is important not to scald yourself or damage your skin; but, on the other hand, the water has to stay hot for approximately one hour. Run it as hot as you can bear to sit in without feeling faint. If necessary you can top up the bath with hot water as the bath progresses. In this instance, you may also want to add a little more bubble bath or oil, as the original dose will otherwise become increasingly dilute.
It is recommended that you test the water with a hand or toe before stepping into it and, if bearable, descend slowly into the bath. Genitals and the back may be particularly sensitive to high temperatures, so be prepared to take your time and adjust rather than throwing yourself all in at once and risking indescribable injuries.
Ambient lighting in the form of candles (tacky yes, but pleasant nonetheless), a small hand towel to use as a pillow, cup of tea, glass of wine. It is important to note that if you have a plastic bath, candles should not be placed on it as carelessness may lead to holes in your bath or unexpected fires. Ideally, have the candles set well away from the bath and other flammable materials - like towels, spray cans, oils, etc.
While most areas are simple to clean, the back represents something more of a problem for those who aren't double-jointed. To assist, therefore, in cleaning thoroughly the assistance of a willing bathing partner or a simple loofah may be in order.
After an hour of soaking in your bath you are ready to get out and begin the towelling-off process. However, one last piece of body care should be done before letting the water out, while sitting on the side of the bath, use a pumice stone to rub off the dead skin on your feet.
A Quick Bath
Occasionally you may hear a bather say they are going to have a quick bath as opposed to a bath. A quick bath works almost the opposite way round from a bath.
First, run a fairly deep warm bath and soak in it for ten minutes. Second, wash body/hair, etc. Third, shower down your body so no grime is left on your skin. Simple and quick.