I am fed up with pretending we are all equally novices in the face of this novel virus, all just feeling our way through it. Particularly on the matter of working from home, I have been at this 20 years and am much better at it than you. I knew that already and had it confirmed the other morning when Mr Z read in the Daily Mail that 25% of people have stopped having a shower every day, and 14% have stopped using deodorant. Guys, you have to have a shower. You just don’t have to have a Shower with a capital S.
Like taking your shoes off when you enter a home, daily washing is an imported habit. When I was a kid, we had a bath once a week, and when I was at university, I lived a whole year in a building and never found out where the bath was. Perhaps that was extreme, but washing every day was considered much more so: I always thought it conveyed some minor but problematic self-hatred, and felt quite sympathetic to people who always smelled so good, though, truthfully, there weren’t that many of them.
Then I went out with an Australian (like I said, imported) and we had a conversation like two people splitting up in a Gillian Welch song (you can’t really remember what happened, you just wake up feeling shaky) except we weren’t splitting up (yet), he was just telling me I had to wash every day.
“Seriously?” I said. “What if I haven’t done anything?”
“If you’ve done something, you have to shower twice.”
“Back to back? Isn’t that just a long shower?”
“Not back to back! Once when you wake up, another time after the thing you did!”
(Huh, turns out I actually remember this quite well.)
It’s actually a damn fool thing to wash every day, because your body gets used to it, then demands it, like giving a cat lunch. But after a period of time, it becomes the transition point between being in bed and being up, without which there is a real danger that you won’t get up at all. It is said that people can tell even if something has been written in bed. I don’t know if that’s true, but you can definitely tell if someone over the phone is in bed: the duvet does something to the acoustics.
So, for those of you who have spent less time studying such things: a Shower is where you get completely into the shower and also wash your hair. A man shower is where you get your hair wet but don’t wash it. And a shower (lower case, no stated gender) is where you just stand at the sink, splashing yourself. This used to be called a French wash, but then young people repurposed the term to mean something much ruder, while simultaneously becoming much more careful about using gross generalisations around nationality on the grounds of – you know, boomer – racism.
If you spray deodorant on and call that a shower, that’s a Sure-er (you have to say it, not spell it). If you spray deodorant on and spray dry shampoo into your hair, you’ve had a Febreze. If you can’t be bothered to shower and instead get into the sea because you are near it, you’ve had a Sea Febreze.
A bath, by the way, is not an alternative to a shower: it is a hot lie-down. If you choose it, you are probably unwell, and then you don’t have to wash at all until you have recovered.
What I loved about the original survey was that it was a flashback to a pre-pandemic, even pre-Brexit time, when not much had happened and people would have to produce news in the old-fashioned way, by asking each other lifestyle questions, like lighting a fire with sticks. In the 90s, a truly carefree decade, an enterprising dry cleaning firm made the front pages when it discovered that 18- to 24-year-olds changed their romantic partners four times more often than they dry cleaned their duvets. There was a wildly hot debate around whether or not it was just good manners to get your duvet dry cleaned to mark the start of a new relationship and, if so, how this etiquette had failed to percolate down to the younger generation.
Plus, if you just look at these statistics from a slightly different angle, 75% of people are still showering – presumably most of them Showering – and a landslide of people, 86%, are still using deodorant. We talk a lot about when we will return to normal, often concluding that normal is over, yet all around you, there are people sitting in their homes, clean enough that they could walk into an office right now. This is about as normal as it gets.