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Around The Sun: Bath Nights

Steve Harrison recalls the simple life-enhancing joy of bath nights when he was a boy.

We had a bath once a week even if we weren’t dirty – Yorkshire saying.

Thursday was pay day. On that day Mum got the tin bath out of the coal cellar. Hot water was not available from the tap. Pots, pans, kettles - anything that would hold water - were placed on the stove. Mum had to work hard to ensure that there was hot water for the bath.

My sister Elisabeth, being the eldest, was always first into the bath. I was second, and Elaine, being the youngest, was last. I thought I was doing a good thing by peeing into the water to warm it up a bit for Elaine.

Mum, liberally applying soap, washed our hair, backs, arms and legs. We screamed blue murder if we got soap in our eyes. Then, turn by turn, we had to stand to let most of the water drain off us before being wrapped in a threadbare towel then made to sit side by side on the worn cushions of a two-seater sofa. There we stayed, shivering, huddled together, smelling of carbolic soap.

Dad always arrived home at just the right moment, bringing each of us a bar of our favourite chocolate, his pay day treat to his children. For Elizabeth, Fry's dark chocolate, for me Fry's mild chocolate and for Elaine Fry's tootie-fruity.

Thursdays were indeed special days - a bath and a bar of chocolate. No television in those days. We played dominoes. Dad, who had served in Burma during the war, had acquired a set of genuine ivory pieces. We loved them. I remember rubbing my tongue on their smooth edges. We knew nothing of the Far East but those dominoes brought an awareness of something exotic and mystical.

Rather than play a proper game of dominoes we liked to build things with those pieces: houses, fences...other things. We stood the pieces up on their ends, snaking them along the linoleum-clad floor of the living room. Then we fought over who got to knock over the first piece, which in turn would knock over the next, and that would knock over the next...until not one domino was left standing. We squealed with delight as they fell, one by one.

Thursday nights were the highlights of our family week. They were cosy, comfortable nights, nourishing in a way that has never been repeated in my life.


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