Eager, for once, to avoid anything contentious, Pissed-off Toff reflects on the fact that as far as he is concerned, one bath a week will do nicely.
I have been getting rather a lot of flak, recently, for the opinions I express in these pages; opinions which although sometimes polemical and unfashionable, lie well within what a distinguished QC of my acquaintance describes as the ‘parameters of acceptable discourse’.
Thus I have from time to time expressed my doubts about the reality of the so-called ‘man-made climate crisis’; a.k.a. ‘man-made global warming’; a.k.a. ‘global meltdown’, a.k.a. ‘climate catastrophe’. I have pointed out that the notion that our planet is burning up due to ‘man-made emissions of carbon dioxide’ is not an established fact, but a highly questionable theory, disputed by numerous very well-informed people who don’t buy into it.
I have also expressed my view that the so-called ‘lockdown’ which brought our country to its knees, reduced us all to slavery, and indebted us for generations to come, all in response to a relatively trivial virus … I have expressed my view, again shared by any number of perfectly reasonable people, that this was an obscenity. I have furthermore expressed the view that the mendacious Boris Johnson, my fellow-OE who allowed it all to happen, is little better than a common criminal.
Never, I suggest, have I seriously expressed any view which is simply vile. Never, for example, have I said: “What a pity that the excellent Adolf didn’t finish off the job of exterminating the Jews.” Or never have I written: “You know what? I’m rather in favour of slavery.” There is, in other words, a distinction between what is contentious, and what is downright wrong.
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Anyhow, I am being ‘cancelled’ by people known to me more often than is comfortable; and it seems that it is mainly women who are doing the cancelling. Yes, I was deeply upset when a long-standing male friend e-mailed me from Italy to say that he would no longer have anything to do with me after I had used the epithet ‘common’ to describe an actress whom I particularly loathe (the unspeakable ‘Kathy’ Burke, since you ask); my other crime, in his eyes, being to suggest that Covid 19 is in no way comparable to the Black Death that killed perhaps one third of the population of this country in the middle of the fourteenth century.
Then one woman made it clear that she would not be having anything to do with me again; and another suggested that I was very much on parole where she was concerned. Nor did I jump for joy when I heard that the entirely decent Lady F, who had been informed of the existence of my blog by a mutual friend, said that she wanted (I quote) to punch me in the face. In the cancellation stakes of the author of Pissed-off Toff, the women are therefore winning 3:1 vs the men. And the awful thing is, there must be quite a few others who have decided to ‘cancel’ me, but have not told me so.
So can one no longer say anything with which anyone else disagrees? Most especially, something with which women disagree? No-one sets out to be a pariah, after all. No-one positively wants to be shunned.
Over the last few days I have thus canvassed a few of my male friends. One of them writes back to say that since my views are often contentious, I must accept that for some people I will cease to exist. Resorting to the formula mentioned above, I replied that since nothing I say lies outside the ‘parameters of acceptable discourse’, I do not expect to be cancelled by reasonably tolerant rational people, even when they disagree with me. Aha, came the answer: but you are being cancelled! And we went round and round in circles.
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But enough protesting! And in a spirit of happy accommodation, let us leave the field of politics. Let us now consider my surely harmless view that the modern habit of having a bath every day is unnecessary, and that there is something quite nice about having a bath only when one needs one.
This idea must nowadays gain some sympathy, even with the constituency in which my views are least likely to find favour. Have not any number of commentators in the lifestyle pages suggested that the habit of washing every item of clothing after each time one wears it is not environmentally-friendly? Have they not warned of the dire ‘carbon footprint’ that such over-developed concern for cleanliness leaves? (Not, of course, that I care one hoot about my own so-called ‘carbon footprint’; even though it could not in fact be smaller.) So in our ecologically-conscious world, the idea of bathing only when one needs to bathe should surely receive a favourable hearing …
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Nor, certainly, did we ever use to wash so often.
As a new boy at my prep-school on the outskirts of Oxford, I had just one bath a week, scrubbed down by a young matron in grimy water that had already been used by numerous other boys. After games, we stood under hot showers in a large open shower-room, where blocks of soap skidded along the floor and where there was the risk of slipping up and causing serious damage to ourselves. Later, not far from Slough, we were, I think, allowed two baths a week. How, after all, can the hydraulics of any house provide hot baths for fifty boys every day? Later still, in Gloucestershire, when my family was particularly hard-up, the availability of hot water was not to be taken for granted, and my father often had to be cajoled or tricked into providing it.
Did everyone smell back then? I don’t remember. But a woman whose father was a housemaster at Harrow in the 1950s tells me that he often wore the same clothes for days on end, and often had a manly whiff about him. No-one minded.
And does this not open up a whole field of enquiry? What did people smell like in the past? A Viking warrior leaping off his dragon-ship after days at sea … an exhausted serf snoring beside his sweaty wife on the straw-strewn floor of their mud hut … a monk driven half-mad by self-abuse but unsullied by satanic notions of personal hygiene … an unwashed courtier haunting the passages of Versailles … a lusty naval officer returning home to his wife after months aboard a stinking man-o’-war … it hardly bears thinking about.
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It makes a difference, I suppose, that I am a single man and that complete spotlessness is not a requirement. But I am quite happy, nowadays, to go for days without a bath. And then when I do have one, it is needed and therefore welcome.
In water which to begin with is clean, I first wash and rinse my hair. Then, in this less clean water, I shave. And finally, in water that is becoming dirty, I rub off any dead skin from wherever it might be, until the water is gratifyingly full of organic detritus. Never do I lie down in the bath, or read a book while soaking in the water. I can’t think of anything I’d less rather do. And never do I spend more time than is strictly necessary in the tub. I only ever wash while in a kneeling position, and then I get out. After which, I clean my ears with cotton buds.
Oh! And I am quite happy to pee into the bath water, if the urge arises. The ammonia in urine is a natural detergent; and a doctor whom I once consulted about some skin condition or other, told me that the ointment he was prescribing – and which worked a treat – was made from goat’s piss. So yes, peeing into one’s own bathwater is quite kosher.
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And why not a few other bath-related observations? To shave, I only ever use the most basic disposable razors, and soap. That is all one needs; and I do it by touch, not looking into a steamed-up mirror. To wash my hair, I only ever use a small quantity of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and rinse first in the front part of the bathtub, and then in the back part; finishing off the rinsing by pouring a previously set aside jug of cold water over my scalp, to invigorate the skin. Otherwise, a high-quality olive-oil based soap for the body. And of course a flannel with which to wipe one’s eyes. Then after I have got out of the bath – generally once a week on a Sunday morning – I will cut my toenails, because following a good soaking they are softer, and therefore easier to shear. Thus with my hair pristine and my skin as clean as a baby’s bottom, I feel, for a short time at any rate, that all is well.
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I hope that that no-one – male or female – will ‘cancel’ me for making these environmentally-sound observations; which could acquire relevance sooner than some might realise.
Because when our insane drive to ‘zero carbon’ starts to really bite, with regular power-cuts and constant energy shortages; when all gas heating has been banned, as it is due to be, and when what little energy is available becomes increasingly expensive … when all this happens, as it surely will in the quite near future … then to have just one hot bath a week will not be a personal choice of a Spartan nature. In the deranged new world which we are creating, it will be a luxury to be savoured to the full.