The Ventilator

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Hands, face and private place – a mantra for washing

Cat James

They say that the Island is ‘England in Miniature’, and within this tiny territory is nested an even smaller Isle of Wight. The paddling pool at Ventnor Cascade has delighted generations of scrabbling wet-footed children. However, earlier this month barefoot nippers would have been knee-deep as the Island experienced what the local paper pithily headlined “DELUGE”. By the middle of August the county had already had 174 per cent of its average summer rainfall.

This double-wipers weather caused mayhem for drivers by subsiding roads and lifting manhole covers, though it will have pleased gardeners among you – water butts bubbling over with joy.

Meanwhile fires rage uncontrolled across the world and mainland Europe experiences record-breaking temperatures, so we shouldn’t be too smug about our soggy summer.

Old gubbers will remember the drought of the Long Hot Summer of ’76. My friends and I played in dry and dusty streets under the searing sun. Hosepipe use was forbidden as reservoirs dried and the arid ground crazed.

In that desiccated year we schoolchildren were taught about the preciousness of water. To clean our teeth without the tap running; recite the toilet mantra of ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down’. Bath night was Sunday, and in my weekly ablutions I’d flannel away rings of dust around my neck, wrists and ankles.

When water bowsers appeared on street corners, the daily personal hygiene diktat in my household became what my mother alliteratively referred to as the Three Fs: ‘face, feet and… fanny’! And this still holds true for me, which may come as a shock to the twice-a-day showerers among you. But maybe detergent and cosmetic manufacturers have a motive to muck-shame us into washing ourselves and our clothes excessively?

I felt somewhat vindicated in my long-established water-conserving attitude to washing when Hollywood power couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis recently revealed that they too have a relaxed approach to bathing; personally not having an all-over wash very often and only cleaning their children when “you can see the dirt on them… otherwise, there’s no point.” I could almost see my mother nodding with approval when I read that Mila cleans “pits and tits and holes and soles” each day, but that’s it.

This is nothing new; Queen Elizabeth I apocryphally had a bath once a month “whether she needed it or no.” I call my wash a Cat’s lick, which is one up from a ‘Wroxall shower’ (spraying armpits with deodorant). Then there’s the ‘Frenchman’s bath’ – sluicing one’s genitals over the sink before making love.

The flood waters have subsided and Ventnor paddling pool is no longer a metaphor for sea level rise. But the planet continues to heat and, as I learned in the 1970s, water is the most precious resource. Temperate climes like ours will be even more desirable places to live as humans migrate from increasingly inhospitable lands.

As well as being ‘England in Miniature’, they also say that the world’s population can fit on the Isle of Wight. And, if they do, will they want to share our bathwater?

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 27 August 2021 and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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