ENJOYING A BATH
Written by Bert Plomp
Although some care facilities have different views on this, it is now commonplace for a person to take a shower or bath at least once a day. It is also expected that they brush their teeth in the morning and at night.
That wasn’t the case in my youth. Daily bathing was a rare occurrence.
Personal hygiene did not have a high priority at that time. It was only when I stayed over at a friend’s house for the first time that I realized I needed to brush my teeth regularly. Cleansing oneself entirely in the morning was an unprecedented luxury in those days, let alone showering twice a day. Something like that was practically unattainable.
What passed as a bathroom in our flat at Napoleonplantsoen in Utrecht was nothing more than a stone countertop with a deep sink embedded in it. Above that sink hung a showerhead, and that was it. This meager combination was grandly called a “lavet.” The basin was too large for a sink and too small for a bathtub. Standing upright in the basin right under the showerhead was manageable for a small child, but for an adolescent or an adult, it was nearly impossible. Sitting in the bath was even more challenging, requiring the flexibility of a contortionist.
With these meager sanitary facilities, six people had to make do in our small apartment. Getting refreshed in the morning before starting a new day was usually accomplished by just splashing one’s face with water. But even that wasn’t always possible since the lavet was often filled with laundry soaking.
In that case, you had to resort to the kitchen to freshen up. However, that was not exactly the freshest option.
At the beginning of the weekend, before going out, I always wanted to take a quick shower to freshen up for the girls. It rarely happened. If the bath wasn’t already occupied by a housemate or laundry, there was sometimes a large pike swimming around in it. A pike that my father had caught in the Kromme Rijn the day before. The fish was temporarily stored in the lavet, awaiting a culinary masterpiece, in its suffering form, of course. Therefore, it was also challenging to wash my hair regularly during that period when I had long hair.
To make a good impression on the girls, I resorted to using “dry shampoo.” Dry shampoo was a kind of powder that you combed through your hair. After such treatment, it looked like your hair was clean, and it emitted a reasonably fresh scent. However, it didn’t actually make your hair clean; it just made it look less greasy. An additional advantage was that your hair felt much stiffer and held its shape better, which was quite useful for people like me with limp hair. My hair felt like I had been working with cement for a week after such a pseudo-washing.
When we stayed in our vacation house in Het Grote Bos in Driebergen, the conditions were much more comfortable. Our “bungalow” had a delightful shower. Hot water poured down in buckets, thanks to the large electric water heater installed there. However, this led to another problem. If someone had just taken a shower, the next person in line for a shower sometimes had to wait for half an hour. That’s how long it took for the water heater to produce enough hot water again.
On one adventurous winter evening in Het Grote Bos, my girlfriend and I wanted to take a nice shower together after a romantic moment. It was freezing outside. Just to be safe, I had set the water heater to the hottest setting well in advance. So, the water heater was already filled with hot water, while the water pipes in the shower room were still half-frozen.
Once we were showering comfortably, I thought that running some hot water through the cold pipes would help further thaw them. To our great shock, the pipes burst open in several places simultaneously, and an impressive water show unfolded before our eyes.
Outside, under a concrete slab, was the main valve of the bungalow. I hurriedly jumped into the pit in the nude to shut off that valve, but I couldn’t do it completely. Despite all the quick actions, when my parents and the rest of the family entered the bungalow at the beginning of the weekend, the disaster was overwhelming. As soon as the bathroom door was opened, an utterly overwhelming Siberian winter scene unfolded. It was reminiscent of the icy villa scene in the movie “Doctor Zhivago.” Everyone was speechless, and I, too, was in disbelief. When I asked my father if he had forgotten to drain the pipes the last time, my mother gave him an angry look.