Bathtub Backwash

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Nov 22, 1947 

Bathtub Backwash 

“Personally,” said the minister of fuel and power the other day—and he shocked Mr. Churchill by saying it—“I have never had a great many baths myself and I can assure those who are in the habit of taking a great many that it does not make a difference to their health if they do not. As to their appearance, most of that is underneath and nobody sees it.”

Why, I wonder, should Mr. Churchill have been shocked by a statement of fact? Is it not true that most of us spend a great deal of time bathing, brushing teeth, brushing nails, brushing hair, brushing clothes and indeed brushing almost everything that is capable of being brushed, and that we do all these things chiefly out of habit and vanity?

It may be retorted that we do them because we are civilized or partly so. But what is civilization but an accumulation of useless habits—discipline for the sake of discipline, tidiness for the sake of tidiness, good manners for the sake of good manners.

If we can dispense with these things, without injury to our health, why not set about doing so at once and begin the great downward march towards decivilization? For one thing, we shall find it much easier to march down than up.

* * *

The minister of fuel and power is to be commended for the lead he has given in this matter, but he might well go a good deal further and show us by his personal example how to become decivilized without injury to our health.

If I were he, I should turn up in my place on the front bench some day with my hair unbrushed, my cheeks unshaved, wearing the same collar for the fifth week in succession, my clothes unbrushed for a fortnight, and the laces in my shoes flapping loose. All these things, the medical profession would agree, are perfectly consistent with good health.

And how much labor might be saved in the home if housewives realized how unnecessary to the health is most of their busybody cleaning and tidying! Is, for example, all their dish washing really necessary? Would anyone suffer in health if the tea things were kept unwashed for a week, or if the pudding plates that held semolina one day were brought up uncleansed the day after for roaster apples?

* * *

Most homework, I am convinced, is from a hygiene point of view, superfluous—the removal of jam from a child’s face, the removal of stains from clothes, the removal of mud from carpets, the substitution of clean tablecloths and napkins for dirty ones, the endless dusting and polishing.

All these things are the result of most women’s preferring what looks nice to what is easiest. In other words, women are the abject slaves of that civilization from which Mr. Gaitskell may have been predestined to save us.

Fortunately, most of us have never been a quarter civilized so that the work of decivilization should be fairly easy.

Already we have got rid of a good deal of the superficial civilization Victorians imposed on us, and discipline in dress, in appearance, in manners, in language is no longer the fetish it used to be.

* * *

I admit that, as a prejudiced Victorian, I don’t altogether like the prospect of the world’s getting shabbier and shabbier and more indifferent to soap and water and all that soap and water stand for. I am no fanatic for soap and water; but I think they improve the appearance of other people and make them pleasanter to live with.

The fact is, like many old-fashioned people, I prefer civilization to decivilization, and can take little pleasure in this world’s becoming a multitudinous slum.

Hence, I believe in training the young to use the bathroom, not because it is good for their health, but simply because I like savagery even less than civilization.


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