A Man of Simple Tastes: The Art of Bubble Bath Curation [Part 1]

Grandma turns to tea, I turn to the bathtub.

Grandma turns to tea, I turn to the bathtub.

The stale stereotype tells us that in times of panic, Old England turns to tea. Or rather, it’s thrust upon us to warm and soothe like a hot water bottle in a cold bed. Tea - so quaint and gentle in its open mono-syllable - stiffens our upper-lip and prepares us for battle. But it has nothing to do with the drink itself. The large, but largely placebo, dose of caffeine might well perk the adrenal system but the real trick is the sedative, settling effect of the ritual - kettle, leaves, sugar, milk, favourite mug, stir-stir-stir, preferred biscuit, carefully-measured dunk-time, sigh of comfort. 

It’s never worked for me. Full-blown addiction has turned tea medicinal - not decadence or occasion. Grandma turns to tea, I turn to the bathtub. Maybe it’s a simple Freudian size-joke; we all reach for a steaming, amniotic blanket to swaddle and cleanse - I just need something bigger… the simple ritual becomes an event, the ceremony becomes a party. 

As long as I can remember stress - real stress, not pocket-money stress or GCSE-food-tech-stress - baths have been my therapy. In my liminal darkness - I never have the lights on - with my burning hot water and coursing hypnotic soundtrack, my constant shifts and kicks and hunches from one foetal crush to another, over hours and hours of boiling top-ups, I suspect what I’m searching for is escape… or help maybe? Only, I’m too old to call for mum… and rather than toughen up or hold it in, I step further back into my chronology of helplessness. When the existential dread of miserable-drizzle British July evenings arrive, escape takes me back to the womb. 

The four-hour-bath is the silent, stoic cry for help. Shut the door, lower your head below the water as long as you can - just like grandma holding a gulp of scalding sweet tea in her mouth until it burns like a blanket catching fire - breathe and repeat. No one’s fooled into thinking you’re washing, and yet, the depression of the process is veiled and softened by the - at least conjoined if not contingent - notion of practicality. You don’t emerge any cleaner; you haven’t bothered to scrub behind your ears and afterwards you’ll probably collapse on a bed of cooling sweat for an hour’s decompression… but you’re more alive. You might not emerge gleaming, but you’ll have that same cuppa-sigh - only deeper, breathless, wordless… ready for bed. Unlike the cup of tea, after a bath you can’t just go about your business - it knocks you out like a two-bottle weekday lunch. The water doesn’t wash your skin, it washes your mind, ready for clean, open dreams and deep sleep. 

However, if the bathtub really is the inflated, intensified sibling of the teapot, it requires a commensurate effort to get it right. The profundity of the effect demands attention and care in curation. On the surface, a bubble bath - like a cup of tea - sounds so simple that you might think anyone can just jump on in and be reborn…but enlightenment never came easy. The lessons of the tub need to be studied. 

 There are limitless considerations and questions - and they all blur practicality with personal preference. Despite many years spent practicing the art of bubble bath curation, I can’t claim master status - but it’s a pleasure to pass on the most important, most basic sensory questions I’ve asked and the answers I’ve learned to fellow travellers… swimmers… wallowers. And I’ll share them in my next watery sermon.

By James John, writer for Private Room.

We’ll be hearing again from James next week with part two of his bubble bath curation story.