Here is an odd one for you. Do you know what I was contemplating this week while in the shower? Showers. How’s that for a convergence of ideas? Or maybe it’s the same idea once in reality and once in my head. Who knows? I’m not even sure what kicked off the notion in my head. I take a shower every morning so why did I think about it that day? Most people I know start their day with a shower and yet one morning it occurred to me to ask myself why. The short answer has to do with cultural standards of cleanliness, of course, but the longer answer has to do with the fact that it’s so easy for us to get clean every morning. At least those of us who aren’t down on their luck and have access to a shower.

A hot shower is a great thing. It’s a great way to start the day. Everybody who has taken one knows that. It make you feel clean, fresh, and new plus it can be invigorating. I think someone who doesn’t like hot showers must have a screw loose somewhere. I hope it’s because they prefer baths. Any other answer is unacceptable.

What I was contemplating was how many showers a person, that person being me, would actually take if it weren’t this easy to take one. I was taught in schools that for many centuries Europeans didn’t bathe that often because it was seen as unhealthy. I can see why it would seem that way. Think of how much work it is to wash yourself clean without hot and cold running water coming out of a faucet. Europe can be cold and I’m sure wetting yourself down in the dead of winter can have some side effects that can be harmful to one’s health. Nowadays people say that being cold doesn’t mean you’ll catch a cold but using a lot of your body’s energy just to keep warm sure can’t be good for the immune system.

I assume that in the middle ages everyone had a basin that they could use for washing up. I doubt many homes came equipped with a bath tub. Think of not only how much technology we have to bring us hot water on demand but how much technology it takes to have a bathtub in every house. I don’t imagine it would be easy to make a bath tub in those days. That would be a pretty big waterproof container to have to construct. It would take barrel making or ship building technology to make a tub. I don’t think your basic pottery technology will do it.

The Roman’s had technology to take baths. They had bath houses so it was a communal thing. I would think that hot water on demand at one central location would be easier to accomplish than hot water on demand in every house. But it took the vast resources of the Roman Empire to keep those bath houses open. For the most part once Rome went so did the baths. That could have been cultural too since the Romans put on emphasis on taking baths and maybe the others didn’t.

The rich homes of the European Middle Ages may have had tubs but the poor ones sure didn’t. And imagine how much hot water would be needed to fill up a tub. I’m not even sure how much water fills a bath tub but it must need at least six gallons of hot water mixed in with some cold to get the temperature just right. I further imagine that all that water would need a bunch of different vessels in order to heat it all up at the same time. A person would have to have dozen “Tea kettles” on the fire at one time to get enough hot water for a bath. That would have to be a big fire. No wonder the Romans centralized things.

I’m guessing most people’s washing up was done in a basin. It would take a lot less hot water to wash up in a basin than in a tub but I’m guessing even that would be too much effort. A couple of Januaries ago we had the bathroom redone in my house and the only shower was out of commission for about three weeks. I had to wash up in the sink everyday so I learned all about washing in basin. It took some discipline too. It’s a chilly task and I had hot water on tap and central heating. I can only imagine what is was like to wash up during winter in Europe in 1378. Really chilly.

So even if it was seen as a healthy thing to take baths in the Middle Ages how many people would? Would I? I have no idea. Even if I did I doubt it would be first thing in the morning. I’d want to day to warm up a little bit. As I was turning on the hot water in the shower I was trying to imagine what it would be like if this hot water was not at my immediate disposal. I think we all take hot and cold running water for granted at this point in time so much so that it’s not even considered or remarked at unless it’s not working. No hot water is a major inconvenience but no running water at all and we can’t even live our lives.

One night, sometime last year, we had our water go brown on us. I hopped on the internet and found out that there was a problem with the local water that should be cleared up by the next day. Meanwhile don’t drink from the tap. I went to the local supermarket to get a little bottled water as I don’t usually have any on hand and it amazed me at how much of the bottled water was already gone. I had never seen it that barren. This was a minor water problem. I’d hate to see a major one.

So where has all this wondering lead me? No place special. I take hot water for granted just like everyone else. What else am I supposed to do? Sacrifice a goat to the gods of hot running water?