Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Beauty of The Bath

I once wrote a short story about the different bathrooms, and mainly bathtubs, that a couple had through their married life, and how each bathroom/tub represented a different stage of life. I was inspired by my own life, because in some ways I can track our marriage (and family life) through our bathtubs.

Take the first bathtub we had, in a flat in Cambridge, England. We lived in the top floor of a nineteenth-century vicarage near Newnham College, and the bathtub was a lovely, long, claw-footed masterpiece that invited deep, long, bubbly soaks. Unfortunately, there was only enough hot water to fill it to about two inches. My husband was a theology student, we were ridiculously poor, and this tub pretty much summed up our life. When I became pregnant that year, my husband very kindly would boil kettles of water and pour them into the tub so I could have a bath--one of the only things that helped with my morning sickness. I have memories of sitting in the tub, naked and shivering, in two inches of hot water while my husband hurried to boil kettle after kettle, dear man.

We moved to a college flat the next year, in the top of a bell tower, and this time we had a deep tub and unlimited hot water. Bliss! Plus the bathroom was on a floor above our flat, having to go up eleven twisting, turret stairs, and you couldn't hear a baby crying from it, which was also bliss. My husband would take our squally newborn for an hour while I would lie in the tub and wonder just what we'd taken on. Sometimes I still wonder that.

Next tub was the house of my husband's first curacy. Tiny, olive-green, in a semidetached house in Hull. We had two children and very few baths.

Moving on to America: a decent tub but not extraordinary by any means. Three children, and the bathtub usually saw them all squeezed in there together, water slopping over the sides.

And then New York: no bathtub, but two marble showers. Which sounds far more luxurious than the 1950s box-like apartment was, but at least the kids liked it and one of the showers was a two-person one which meant you could bung them all in there together for a quick evening bath, or rather, shower time.

And finally here, the bathtub in a two hundred year old vicarage. Six feet long, nice and deep, and an immersion heater to make sure you have all the hot water you could ever need. And, quite importantly, a fan in the bathroom that keeps you from hearing the often-incessant knocking on the door, the requests to play a game, mediate an argument, find hockey kit, and/or free up the bathroom for the other six people in the house.

I've been taking a lot of baths here. In winter, I take one almost every night. And no, I don't have a compulsion to be clean. You could say I have a compulsion to sink into deep, hot, bubbly water, sip a glass of wine, and read my book. After a long day working, writing, cooking, cleaning, and managing the lives of five children, a half-hour or so in the bath brings me back to a good and peaceful place. And, as a bonus, it keeps me warm! Even with new windows our house can be a bit draughty (but that's a whole other post) and I love going to bed with my skin still lightly steaming.

You could say my bath is my guilty pleasure, but I don't feel remotely guilty about it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Just What Is Bonfire Night?

On Monday night we went to the village's annual fireworks for Bonfire Night, otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Day (Or Night? I'm not sure). This is one of those villagey events that warms the heart and makes me glad I live in a small place where everyone knows everyone else, or just about. We congregate in the sports hall of the private school, where parents serve drinks and my children beg for toffee apples. (Has anyone, I wonder, ever finished a toffee apple? When I have relented and bought one, my child takes maybe two bites and then hands me the sticky mess. They look delicious, but they're not. They're apples on sticks with a little bit of covering.)

I recognize most of the people there, and usually manage to chat to quite a few, although this year I was chasing my fearless toddler, who thinks nothing of zigzagging through the crowds at full tilt, in search of the door to the outside and freedom. Then there are the fireworks, which are quite spectacular for a village our size.

This is a photo I took on the night; sorry it's blurry. But there is a sense of solidarity, standing outside in the cold and the dark, watching something together. It makes you feel part of a community. Which is why it's easy to forget the origin of Guy Fawkes Day, which is remembering a man who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. Apparently people lit bonfires in thanksgiving for the king's life being spared, and Guy Fawkes was tortured, hung, and then quartered, with the parts of his body being sent to the four corners of the kingdom. Try explaining that to your six-year-old.

In many parts of the country people still burn a 'Guy' or a straw man on the bonfire, although this custom did not actually start until the mid 1800s, due to a high anti-Catholic sentiment at the time. There are few effigies burned in West Cumbria,  as it has a large number of Catholics, for which I'm thankful, because I don't think I'd like to explain that element to my children.

However, its grisly beginnings aside, I do enjoy Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night, as we call it here, since there is no bonfire. And it seems appropriate to have fireworks to celebrate some fireworks that didn't happen. 

I included Bonfire Night in my upcoming book Rainy Day Sisters, and offered an American's perspective on some of the more gruesome aspects--having Guy Fawkes Day explained to me as a new ex-pat was, I remember, a bit unsettling. One good thing about having the country's annual fireworks day in November, at least, is that you don't have to wait until nine o'clock for it to be dark enough to set them off, as you do in America with the Fourth of July. We watched the fireworks and were home by eight o'clock. Excellent.

My eldest daughter was born (in England) on November 3, and the sound of fireworks can still bring me back to the days after her rather difficult birth, when I was cradling her and listening to the hiss and booms of fireworks going off in the distance. She turned sixteen on Monday and came to the Fireworks Night with me. And so time passes.