It were bath night, at his aunt's, on Saturday. Cripes, I wish Oi could've been there that first Saturday, but Oi 'eard about it after. This is 'ow it went:
‘My bath is almost ready.’ said my aunt
She was clad ludicrously in what looked like a man's bathrobe that came to just below the knees. Her skinny, hairy legs protruded underneath, to end in bright red carpet slippers, each decorated with a yellow pompom at the toe. On her head was a shapeless waterproof hat that might have belonged to a
North Sea fisherman were it not for the fact that it was brilliantly printed with poppies and marigolds.
‘Hurry up now,’ she said. ‘Get undressed and put on your dressing gown while I take my bath. As soon as I've finished, you can have yours.’
She went into the bathroom and closed the door. I heard the geyser give a ‘pop’ as the gas was turned off. Then the water was turned off too and there was silence except for a faint splashing.
I went to my room and got undressed. I put on my new dressing gown. It was an arrival gift from my aunt. I had never had one before. They weren't necessary in the communal shower room at the orphanage.
I wandered towards the bathroom, believing that I still had plenty of time, for I had not heard the geyser start up for my bath. To my surprise, my aunt stood on the threshold, clad as before except for the hat. ‘Come along, hurry up. The water's getting cold.’
Was I to have the first bath after all?
She followed me into the bathroom. I held the dressing gown closely around me. I didn't like the idea of my aunt seeing me without it. ‘Hurry up slowcoach. No need to be shy. I know what boys look like. Get that dressing gown off and into the bath.’
I took the dressing gown off reluctantly, and peered into the tub. ‘But there's hardly any water.’
‘Hardly any water?’ echoed my aunt, ‘What do you think this is:
? Don't you know there's a war on? Three inches per person per week is the regulation to save energy for the war effort, and there's at least three-and-a-half inches there!’ Buckingham Palace
She reached behind my back and unhooked a curious object from the geyser and plunged it into the water. I had seen it hanging there and wondered what it was for. Now I was given a practical demonstration. It was a celluloid depth gauge especially designed to help people comply with the wartime regulation.
‘Now, in you get!’ she said peremptorily.
‘But the water's not clean.’
She bridled at this. ‘Not clean!’ she nearly shouted. ‘Not clean! Are you insinuating that I'm dirty? I'm the only one that's used it. How dare you say it's not clean? Get in there immediately or I'll show you whether it's clean or not!’
This threat of violence defeated utterly my objections. Very reluctantly, I cocked a leg over the side of the tub and climbed in. I stood there in three-and-a-half inches of second-hand tepid water, my elbows pressed to my sides, shivering like a puppy submitting to its first shampoo.
‘Sit down then,’ cried my aunt impatiently. ‘I'll wash your back.’
I sat gingerly down, my whole body cringing from contact with the grey, lukewarm liquid. She rubbed my back vigorously with a coarse cloth. It hurt and I cringed even more, keeping my elbows fast to my sides.
‘No need to act as though you like to be dirty,’ said my aunt petulantly. ‘Anyone would think you'd never taken a bath before.’
I didn't think it would be helpful to tell her that indeed this was true.
She went thoroughly around my neck and shoulders and poked a corner of the cloth into each ear. The experience was abominably uncomfortable and humiliating. ‘Stand up now,’ she ordered. ‘I'll wash your waist and legs.’
I reached out with my hands to grasp the sides of the bath and stood up. It was best to cooperate to the maximum and get this nightmarish experience over as quickly as possible.
She resumed her detestable washing of my reluctant body. When it was done, she took a sponge, wet it in the bath, and squeezed its revolting contents over me to rinse off the soap.
At last the interminably hateful procedure came to an end. She pulled the plug from the bath and the ghastly grey fluid it contained began to gurgle away.
‘You can step out now,’ she said, holding a skimpy towel at the ready.
‘Do you mind if I dry myself?’
‘Oh, all right,’ said my aunt grumpily, ‘but be sure you dry yourself properly under your arms and behind your ears.’
Did she think I was a baby, or did she just enjoy tormenting me? I was at last released from her water torture chamber, and I gave thanks. I got myself dry, shook myself into my dressing gown that felt protectively secure after the frigid, exposed nakedness of the bath, and set off towards my room to get dressed.
I was intercepted by my aunt who, in her long nightdress and hanging hair, reminded me of engravings of Dickens' gaunt Scrooge. ‘Isn't it nice to feel clean all over?’ she asked.
I said nothing in reply. I felt it would be less than tactful to point out that never, since I had arrived in Widdlington, had I felt so disgustedly dirty.
" Chapter 7 Gang Territory