Most Middle Class homes contain – to use the terminology of estate agents – 2.5 bathrooms [mes], and their Middle-Aged visitors are generally most familiar with the .5 of a bathroom, comprising the guest loo and a washbasin.
Children of course have ‘sleep-over’ experience, and use the non-mes. bathroom: as the domain of the pre-teens, a visit to this room can be a dodgy experience, unless the host family has a 24-7 cleaner.
Concepts like ‘dropping the kids off in the pool’ rather than on the side or even completely outside the pool, aiming at the water not the seat or the floor, flushing, and most other aspects of lavatory etiquette, are not strictly followed by the single figure aged users. Or even by some [generally male] teenagers.
But children become teenagers and gradually bathrooms become, once again, places a civilised adult can visit – if the .5 is already occupied – without trepidation. And eventually, once the birds have flown from the nest, the children’s bathroom becomes the guest bathroom, spotlessly clean and tidy, with fluffy towels and new soap.
However – and again I’m talking Middle Class not ‘hegemonic white capital’ rich, or ‘previously disadvantaged and still totally screwed over by hegemonic white capital’ poor – new earners, single, and living alone in their first flat, and retirees on a fixed income with no children [or none still in this country], usually have just the one bathroom.
I was 24 when I moved to Pretoria, a city I’d never visited before and in which I knew no-one: I had a penthouse flat in Sunnyside when the suburb was hip and happening and probably the most Cosmopolitan place in Pretoria: art galleries rubbed shoulders with exclusive dealerships, pricey French restaurants with cheap second-hand bookshops.
In a series of events I won’t go into now, I played hostess to one of those amazingly sexy and awesomely highly cultured English-Afrikaans Stellenbosch graduates for the night; the following night I stayed in her incredibly tiny but incredibly expensive Lynwood townhouse, all 50 square metres of it – INCLUDING garden.
Okay, so what? you may ask. So What? indeed. My little bathroom did not have a medicine cabinet, just a ledge, on which I kept everything from toothpaste to deodorant. . My upmarket friend told me kindly that she had seen a cannister of laxative, and maybe I should keep such shameful personal medication hidden.
Her bathroom had an open cabinet: while brushing my teeth I had seen her dutch cap, her vaginal thrush ointment, a piles remedy, razors, and enough pancake, mascara, mustache bleach, acne ointment, and bikini wax strips to supply a chemist shop.
And so I learned to treat my bathroom not as a place in which to relax, but as a showroom on which I would be judged. Yes, I soon has a 2.5 house of my own, but back in the days when it was built, there was no m. e-s, the second bathroom was upstairs in the guest suite, and the .5 consisted of only a loo, no basin, so the family bathroom was used by everyone, visitors included.
But now I am back in a flat, an old flat, no mes, although there is a guest loo with basin. And I have learned that by and large people, especially women, are a nosy bunch. My guest loo has a basin, hand soap dispenser, towel, and mirror, yet visitors still pop into the main bathroom when they are finished.
Why? To digress, my kind of journalist, when interviewing a celebrity at home, will sneak a loom at their book shelves, if they have any. The kinds of books they keep reveals a lot abut them. I am judgemental when it comes to books: I don’t really care what you read – James Paterson or Stephanie Meyer – but if you don’t care enough about books to actually own shelves of them, I will judge you harshly.
Recently, for the first time in about 30 years, I had a sleepover at a friend’s. One child has left home, and the other is away at university: the second bathroom was basically a guest bathroom, but thanks to work being done on the house – especially the main bedroom and its mes – the old children’s bathroom is now the prime ablution facility.
Okay, the loo was spotless, the floor was dry, and the handbasin was clean. But it took me a while to figure out how to get into the shower. Fortunately I realised the door opened rather than slid, but only after a few minutes of trying to slide the door across.
Once inside the shower cubicle, I looked at the myriad bottles on the floor and in the shower caddy. Shampoos and conditioners. Plus some really pricey containers of stuff for those afflicted for terminally dry skin. Oh dear, what to do, what to do?
My normal as dirt skin is absolutely average, neither dry nor oily, and I didn’t want to waste expensive products when el Cheapo soap would have done just s well. As for my hair, Palmolive does as well as any salon selective.
So spending time in a strange (grown-up) bathroom was an eye-opener.I didn’t open any cabinets, but the range of shampoos was mind boggling. There were pimple creams and face washes and medicinal soaps and shampoos and conditioners and body serums and moisturising lotions.
There were tweezers, razors, exfoliants, body gels, butters, conditioners, here were moisturisers, toners, cleansers, peels; loofahs, buffs, body brushes, and pumices; toothbrushes, toothpastes, mouthwashes and dental flosses.
There were makeup removers, cotton buds, wet wipes, eye wipes, cotton wool; tissues, witch hazel, rosewater, calamine lotion, aqueous cream; Listerine, denture cleansing tablets and denture powder. There was even that sulphurous yellow powder that was used for athlete’s foot.in the old days, together with mecurachrome.
And that is what a real bathroom looks like. It bis a microcosm of your ailments, your hopes and your problems. It used to be said that there are no secrets between a man and his valets. No one has valets now: instead, there are no secrets if you know the contents of wo-man’s bathroom.
I am too old to give a damn if people know I suffer from piles or vaginal thrush or if I use Prep-H or some ‘intimate’ feminine cream; the tubes would probably be on my bathroom window sill together with my tiny tub of Rose Jam shower gel, my pumice stone, and my scented candles.
Beware though, if you have anything to hide: from acne ointment to Viagra: your bathroom is the place that will reveal all.