Service carry on in billet and Taff’s moon-lit display’

MY contemporaries, the 75-plus mob, will have no trouble recalling childhood s Friday night baths. For the majority then a once-a-week scrub was the accepted norm. Our bath in pre-war East Ham, installed in the scullery by dad and Uncle George next door

MY contemporaries, the 75-plus mob, will have no trouble recalling childhood's Friday night baths.

For the majority then a once-a-week scrub was the accepted norm.

Our bath in pre-war East Ham, installed in the scullery by dad and Uncle George next door, had a wooden cover, which stayed on except for Fridays. But it was great for our 1,000-piece giant jigsaw of the Firth of Forth Bridge.

War removed the possibility of any increase in the nation's bath-taking. Indeed, some probably gave up in the light of Winston's urgings to not wallow in more than three inches of bath water.


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For us country evacuees that exhortation was something of a godsend, given what bath night there involved. Week-long our galvanised tin bath hung on the back of the garden shed door. When it appeared of a Friday evening, Sam the dog fled under the kitchen table, believing the noise the empty bath made was thunder, and it was for him.

Years later, on a visit to that wartime home of few mod-cons, I saw the bath hanging behind the shed door, and marvelled how small it seemed. I took convincing it was the one that had been my redskins' birchbark canoe on so many a soapy Friday evening.

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In post-war Ilford, footer's besmirching made baths necessarily more frequent ("You're not having tea in that state!"), but not until early 1950s National Service was daily dousing a reality.

Square-bashing and trade-training's ancient ablutions were grim enough to put off all but the most hardy.

So, it was five-star luxury to get posted to a camp whose billets had central-heating, parquet floors, and multiple showers spouting hot 24/7. Garrard block's room six took full advantage.

For some it was nothing new. Taff Williams, down the mines straight from school, ended each shift sat in a tin bath in their kitchen with his mam pouring buckets over him to wash off the grime.

It turned out she also did the same for his dad and brother, and thought nothing of it!

Tony Shilcock, sole younger brother to five sisters, came from a home, which was perforce a two-tub rarity, and like his female siblings had bathed daily.

Despite a solid six-foot physique, Shillers was understandably the result of such a one-sided background.

He was nonetheless popular, as he was a dab-hand with a needle.

Today's deodorants, shampoos, and bath gels were pretty much infra dig with us then, and we took care to avoid showering when Shillers was there with his aromatic lotions and potions.

So he usually had the showers to himself last thing.

One night, after lights-out, we were in bed when he came back from his late shower, all fragrant.

The billet was moonlit, giving Shilcock ample light to get to his far-end snorepit by the novel method of leaping there via the foot of each bed en route, trilling an "Oops, sorry" to every bed he trod on.

Taff, in the pit immediately before Shilcock saw him coming, stuck out a long leg and craftily thrust his neighbour's bed considerably further away.

Shilcock learned of this mischief only when, stride pattern wrecked, his final leap landed him on the floor instead of bed.

Towel went one way, sponge bag the other.

As Taff lay sniggering, Shilcock jumped up with an irate, "Ooh, you, Williams!" and dealt his tormentor a handbags-at-10-paces one across the kisser.

Taff struggled out of bed, hell-bent upon swift retribution.

Unfortunately, for him his blue and white striped RAF 'jama trousers slid to the floor, leaving a pair of skinny legs gleaming white in the moonlight.

Momentarily motionless, torn between the need to whack Shilcock and retrieving his dignity, Taff unwisely opted for the former.

With his ankles still pyjama-hobbled, he went flat on his face to lay with scrawny backside on display.

The rest of Garrard block heard us!

When the rumpus died down, the nimble-fingered Shilcock satisfied honour on both sides by deftly re-threading the errant cord in Taff's jim-jams for him.

Room six chortled for days over what was far and away one of its more memorable moments.

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