I usually save my whining for my personal blog over at another site, but when I was trying to think about what to write today, all I could think about was how I haven’t had hot water in my house since February 20. I’ll spare you the details, but we have a leak that’s resulting in the entire house having to be re-piped, an on-going effort.
Now, if I was writing erotic romance, hunky plumbers would show up at my door with tool kits…
But this is the real world. I’m getting “competent” over “hunky”, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, when it comes to plumbing, electric, carpentry or brain surgery I’ll take “competent” over “hunky” any day.
Anyway, it’s made me think about bathrooms and plumbing–a lot–especially since I write historicals. Many of my books are shipboard romances, and the intricacies of taking care of business in the past, especially in the small confines of a ship, fascinate me.
Sailors use to have two ways they’d relieve themselves: They would urinate into large tubs, because hey, liquid is liquid, and if you need to put out a fire in a hurry, it’s better than using the drinking water. The other bathroom needs were taken care of by hanging onto lifelines with your backside dangling over the bow of the ship, at the ship’s head, which gave rise to bathrooms aboard ship being called the “head”.
In her book Rough Medicine–Surgeons at Sea in the Age of Sail Joan Druett makes a point that other writers of naval medicine have made: One of the biggest problems in the age of sail was constipation. Combine bad food, not enough roughage or water, and then being told that you’re going to hang over the side to go while cold waves are jumping up at you…well, it’s not hard to understand why this was a continuing issue.
Now, I’ve got two sons, a husband, and four brothers, so “potty humor” has been a huge part of my life. I sometimes wonder if I think about this stuff more than other historical writers, but it niggles at me. If I’ve got a woman disguised as a man aboard ship, how’s she doing her stuff? What happens when she menstruates? I had to change the plot of one of my novels to a scenario where the heroine wasn’t bunking down with the boys for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was she couldn’t hang her butt out on the lifelines. In another novel my heroine had a cunningly carved gourd funnel she kept pinned inside her trousers so she could stand up like the guys. And if you want your own disposable funnel for being able to stand and deliver, I recommend these.
And then there’s the daily bathing thing. Forget about it. Most people were content to wash the important parts and not immerse their entire body in hot water on a daily basis, with good reason. It was hard to get hot water, hard to fill a tub, hard to empty the tub. Plus, we always think to ourselves, “Euwww! I could never live in the past ’cause they all smell awful!” Well, yeah, they did, but you get used to it. Seriously, your olfactory glands adjust. That’s why you can’t smell yourself like other people smell you. And if you think about it, our modern life with its smells of carbon exhaust and overly perfumed air might smell pretty rank to someone from 200 years ago more used to the fresh smell of manure.
Anyway, the plumbers assure me we’ll have hot water again. Maybe by the end of the week. So I’m optimistic. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing about pirates and privateers and asking myself the really important questions.