Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Cabbies and clubbers

As we're on matters Turkish I thought I'd post on the only municipal Turkish Bath that I've come across. It's at Ironmonger Row Baths, a substantially inter-war edifice, on the Clerkenwell edge of the City. It's very reasonable at £8 for three hours.

I haven't been for ten years or more but I'm glad I went when I did as a shampoo was included in the price. As anyone familiar with the Turkish Bath would know, there was a lot more to this than the name suggests: you were laid out on a cool marble slab - as if you were the subject of a pathologist - then covered in bubbles generated by an unfeasibly large sponge. You were then scrubbed down by something that felt like a large, soft and stubby shaving brush before being thoroughly sluiced. Very pleasant.

The procedure was carried out by an elderly gentleman who looked like an older version of the man in the picture (though it couldn't be him as the site where it comes from dates it from the 1930s - perhaps it was his Dad?) and I believe it came to an end on his retirement. He made quite an impression on me as he was diminutive, almost bald and hairless and with the palest, softest, pinkest, marshmallow-like skin I've ever seen. The product of spending literally decades inhabiting a steamy, wet, artificially-lit environment. Phenotypic adaptation.

The Saturday morning patrons (my usual time) were an interesting mix: an older crowd of fat, hairy-arsed cockney taxi drivers formed one group with another consisting of toned, hairless young gays. Both groups dozed in the little day beds dotted around the rest room, sleeping off a hard night's cabbing or clubbing. I liked to think I'd be mistaken for one of the lithe young fellows but friends informed me, even back then, that it looked more likely that I'd just swung out from behind a wheel. Jealous obviously.


worm said...

I love the ironmonger row baths! I used to go there all the time when I lived in clerkenwell - although I must admit I actually liked the 'living history' element of it far more than the 'predatory homosexual' part of it

I too must have been sponged by the same old man, an odd thought!

and your 'phenotypic adaptation' comment made me think of him as one of those blind pink cave salamanders

Gaw said...

Gosh, I must be very naive as I didn't spot any predation, although on reflection it was bound to be going on. Perhaps it was all hidden from the taxi-driving types.

That old fella was a great fixture and it's lovely that you caught him too. He was rather like a cave dweller, wasn't he? I'm now picturing him wearing glasses like his 'Dad', though I might be just imagining that as part of his cave blindness. But, think, if it was his Dad we might have witnessed the controversial inheritance of a phenotypically acquired characteristic...

Gadjo Dilo said...

My father used to go to the Turkish Baths near Portobello Road and stay the night - he always came back looking better.

Brit said...

I don't know, Gaw. All this mano a mano sweatiness, wet towels, slapping noises... it's all a bit, well, rugger.

Gaw said...

Gadj: That's an interesting family connection. Turkish Baths seem to have offered temporary accommodation for all sorts and for a variety of reasons. There were ones on Jermyn Street (destroyed in the Blitz) that were the haunt of gentlemen who were on their uppers or up from the country and with no club to go to (or none that would accept them). Julian Maclaren-Ross spent quite substantial periods actually living in a cubicle of a Turkish Bath (underneath the Imperial Hotel in Bloomsbury).

Brit: Jewish taxi drivers from Gants Hill? Gay graphic designers from Shoreditch? It's something, but it sure ain't rugby!