Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Josie Byrne

The White Rock Baths

I moved to Hastings in the 1970’s from a northern town where the inhabitants bathed at home, often boiling quantities of water to fill the tin bath hanging on the back door.
But Hastings was different, with many large buildings turned into flats and bedsits with shared kitchens and bathrooms.
Those were the days, when food was expensive and restricted by season, costly gas and electricity were paid for at the meter. Few people I knew had a bathroom, and if they did, they couldn’t afford to heat enough water. I used the public baths, fantastic deep baths brimming with piping hot water. The room was steamy and warm from use and from the central heating! Who in the seventies had central heating except swanky people? Sadly we’ve become very civilised and public baths have mainly closed down.
Yet bedsits, flats and houses in multiple occupation with shared facilities are increasing. Who wants to use a bath that by the looks of the tide mark has been used by Genghis Khan and his horde and by the amount of detritus that has settled hasn’t been cleaned for some time? A bath littered with nail clippings, sand, soil, grit and hair in a variety of colours and shapes – yes, some curly too – empty shampoo bottles, slivers of soap and a flannel which is grubby, smelly and has dried into a stiff lump.
Surely it’s preferable to use the municipal baths? Having paid a reasonable charge which includes a towel bigger and thicker than any you own – it doesn’t have rips or scorch marks, it hasn’t turned grey in the wash – but is dazzling white, you offer your ticket to the attendant and, opening a big wooden door, she smiles.
‘All right love, do you like it very hot? No. Washing your hair? Here we are then’, handing over a jug to enable you to rinse your hair in clean water.
‘Shout when you want a top-up’, and having filled the bath, departs. And you glide into the perfect water which almost laps over the edges. Hearing the conversation of the the attendants you submerge enough to dull the sounds and sink into a watery cocoon, drifting, thinking of nothing much, just the warmth. You’re woken by a knock on the door and an enquiry.
‘You all right, want a top-up yet?’ Having ascertained that you haven’t drowned, you are left to stretch every inch of your body, toes touching the end of the bath. Unable to resist, you put one toe into the cold tap and shiver as the icy drip runs down your foot. After a top-up of hot water you wash your hair then climb out and wrap up in the towel. No shivering from draughts or lack of heat, everywhere is warm. Once you’re finished you can leave the bath for someone else to clean and head for the café, sipping hot chocolate before heading home.
These buildings are closing when they’re needed more than ever. The population is growing with more studio flats, bedsits and inadequate housing. Payment meters are back with a vengeance charging more for the privilege of being on the lower rungs of society. Bring the municipal baths back, the sauna complete with gents’ night, ladies’ night and mixed night. How much more liberal and less hung up we seemed to be in the 70’s.
‘Those were the days my friend’, as Mary Hopkins used to sing. OK, she had a hit with it in 1968, but you know what I mean!


Fred and Me

I’m in the kitchen baking cheese scones, our favourite. If we don’t eat them all while they’re fresh I can toast the remainder for supper. Delicious, hot with butter.
It’s getting dark outside, looks like rain, I turn the lights on to illuminate the worktop. I sometimes make cheese baps, but only if I’ve got time, it’s a bread-based mixture, from Crank’s recipe book. But they take time and today I want to get on with my painting. So it’s home-made vegetable soup for lunch; I made it yesterday. For dinner, it’s salad and vegetable bake. It’s large enough to do two meals, followed by goosegog crumble. All ready to go into the small oven later. I’ll put the scones into the fridge till then.
I look out into the gloomy morning light and jump as a shadow looms towards the garden door. It’s only Fred, he looks hopefully at me and then the door handle. Since we had the new double-glazing, he can’t get the hang of it. So he pulls and scrabbles but fails to open the door. In the end I have to go and help him. As he makes himself comfortable near the radiator, the rain starts pounding on the conservatory roof. You made it in just in time, I think it’s here for a while. He grunts, looks bored, turns away.
After lunch has been done and dusted I’ll retire to my studio to work. Life isn’t the same since Mike passed away. Fred’s OK, but Mike and I were together for 40 years, it’s a long time, we had kids and watched them grow. Now I only have my mature years left, but Fred doesn’t mind if I don’t have the energy I once had or if my eyesight isn’t as sharp as it was, or the fact that I can’t sing so well. He is happy with gentle strolls rather than brisk walks and afterwards he’ll doze while I paint. He’s getting on himself now, so I suppose it works well for us both.
My children weren’t sure when they first met him, they said he smelled, but I assured them he was very fastidious about his hygiene and they came round. He wasn’t sure about them either but he’s gotten used to them. Perhaps it was too soon after their father’s death but I was very lonely, not used to being on my own; it was easy for them to criticise. Still, I must get on with my work, I paint portraits, people’s pets from photographs. Occasionally I visit them and take a few shots myself but usually I work from their own. The finished article must be satisfactory because I always get payment by return and recommendations. I don’t have enough time to fulfil all the requests I get.
Which is rather satisfying as Mike always told me I’d get nowhere with it, ‘anyone can knock up a quick sketch or tosh a bit of paint about’. Damned cheek, he never saw any talent in my work. It was the only thing we argued about in all our years together. My children used to snigger when they saw my work but they stopped when I showed them my bank balance. Something else Mike used to complain about: my singing. If it wasn’t the song, it was the style. How can anyone complain about Cole Porter songs? Whereas Fred joins in, seriously, after a couple of lines he starts howling at the top of his voice, it’s hilarious.
What can you expect? He is a dog!

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