Unless I am living, unsheltered, beneath the silent, star-lit canopy of the ever-expanding universe (I have never done this) and beyond the reach of all civilization (indoor toilets) I shower at least twice a day. I never take a bath. When I was very young I remember my father saying something about sitting in your own dirty water. Of the very many truly strange words of wisdom that my dad shared with me over the years, this one, for some reason, has imprinted on my brain like a hot fork on a marshmallow. It is always with me, like a phantom dog: I never know it’s there until I tread in something it has left behind. If ever I am forced to take a bath, I feel the need to shower both before and after. (I have just read that through and I can confirm that what you are thinking is correct. It is odd. I am currently waiting for the knock on the door from Her Majesty’s Weirdo Protection Squad – I will go quietly. They have my number.) Today I took a bath.
Baths, according to my wife, are just the ticket for bad backs. I have a bad back. I was reminded of this whilst moving the furniture in the midst of my wife’s current post-Lockdown redecorating fervour, when someone shot me in the lumbar region. I think. It felt that way. I crumpled to the floor and waited for the second, fatal slug that would put me out of my misery, but it never arrived. There was no blood. What there was, was a large fluffy blanket of Pins & Needles that covered the entire lower half of my body and something (I know not what) twisting, corkscrew-like, through my spine. Everything functioned as it should, although accompanied with the kind of bright flashes of crippling pain that remind you that, back in the day when you were fit, strong and a bleedin’ know-all, you really should have listened to those who told you to be careful. Oh, come on, who actually bends at the knee when picking up a box?
Now, regular readers of this blog (if you are one such, you might wish to take a long, hard look at yourself) may remember that this is not the first time I have suffered such back spasms (see ‘Back to the Future’ from July 2019 here) but, somehow, they do not happen often enough for me to be ready for them when they arrive. They always take me by surprise – grab me when I’m not looking and flick me with a spoon before I can prepare myself. Today they hit me whilst I was in the process of moving boxes of photographs which are stored in a cupboard in the corner of a soon-to-be repainted guest room. You, like me, may have visited this cupboard before (‘A Cupboard Full of Memories’ in June 2019) the last time I trawled through this Kodacolour past. Today, the pain struck me before I had the opportunity to wallow in the nostalgia of the 6×4 snippets of my yesterdays, although my melodramatic slump to the floor was accompanied by the silent flutter of an old school photo. It was lodged at the back of a recently excised drawer where my grandson had left it some time ago after asking me what the world was like in black and white. I tried to explain that the world of my youth was in colour, it was only the photographs that were monochrome, but he wasn’t falling for a tom-fool story like that one! Who did I think I was kidding? I must admit, my seven year-old self and my class of contemporaries do have the general demeanour of something that belongs in a museum. We do appear to come from a different world to the one we now inhabit, and there is a hint of desperado about us all. I look at the photo and I remember most of the faces; I remember some of the names – although I’m not at all certain of how they fit together. (I tried to recollect as much as I could in ‘The People We All Went to School With’ this time last year.) Clothes and haircuts are all vaguely reminiscent of ‘The World at War’. I think Woolworth’s must have had a run on plastic sandals in the preceding week. My own ensemble of sandals, long socks, shorts, checked shirt and sleeveless ‘V’ neck pullover would appear to have been chosen on the strength of being all that was clean. Most of the boys have hair, so I presume the nit-nurse had not been around for a while. The teacher, whom I do not recall, looks like a broken woman.
Of course, back then, a shower would not have been an option. I do not recall encountering a shower until I went up to grammar school at eleven when, with all the other boys, I was thrust under a cold one after ‘games’ as it was ‘good for our development’. It was ‘character-building’ apparently, although quite frankly, I would have given almost anything not to build such a character. It was like a freezing, tiled tunnel of hell from which you tried to exit with all haste*, especially as there was generally some psycho waiting at the end with a wet towel and, if you didn’t get out quickly, your clothes were liable to join you in there. Schoolboy showers were somewhat like I imagine prison showers to be (although a little lighter on the sodomy, perhaps); something to be survived and forgotten. You did, occasionally, encounter warm showers at the public swimming baths but nobody ever went in those because… well, you know.
Anyway, life moves on. A class full of tough, resilient little bodies becomes thirty five disparate adults with bodies that become daily less tough, less resilient. Backs become somehow more brittle. More prone to saying ‘enough is enough’ every now and then; more prone to taking you out at the knees.
So, I lay in my bath until it started to get cold. I read my book. Nobody brought me whisky to ease my pain, but it was ok generally: I didn’t hate it. And then it was time to get out. And then I remembered why I’d gotten in… How do you get out of a bath with a bad back? Well, you don’t, for a while anyway. You lie there considering the possibilities. You run some more hot water. You regret only bringing the one book. You regret not getting yourself a whisky before you got in. And then finally, when your skin begins to crinkle like an ironed plastic carrier bag, you haul yourself up and out with a groan that, whatever Ridley Scott would have you believe, may well have been heard in space.
And then you have a shower…
I’m cutting branches from the trees
Shaped by years of memories
To exorcise their ghosts from inside of me – David Sylvian ‘Nostalgia’