Ba­bies and Bath­wa­ter

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Eng­land af­ter the War was a far dif­fer­ent place from the coun­try of to­day. Our fam­ily was poor, very poor, but prob­a­bly no poorer than most other fam­i­lies. One of my first mem­o­ries was of us mov­ing house to a ter­raced house, tall with a down­stairs, up­stairs and at­tic that stood on an “un­adopted” road, which meant that the road was not paved and no­body cared for it. Peo­ple even dumped rub­bish there. But there was no traf­fic; the road led to nowhere, and there was only one fam­ily on St Leo­nard's Lane with a car. Dad drove a fish truck, then a bread van. Mum cleaned peo­ple's houses.

We had no bath­room, and the toi­let was out­side across the yard where the con­crete air raid shel­ter stood. That's where we fled to when Ger­man bombers filled the night skies. Ev­ery Fri­day night, mum and dad brought out the tin bath­tub, quite a size­able one, and placed it in front of the kitchen fire­place, the only heat­ing in the three-sto­ried house; all the other rooms were freez­ing cold in win­ter and only slightly above zero in sum­mer. We bathed on Fri­days but we did not have the lux­ury of warm wa­ter. Pots and pots of the stuff were boiled on the gas range and added to the chilly wa­ter from the tap un­til there was enough warm wa­ter for our sis­ter to sit in and be bathed. She, be­ing a girl, al­ways got to bathe in clean wa­ter. Then it was the turn of the boys, my brother and I, in the same wa­ter, of course.

I sup­pose my par­ents bathed later, and I am sure they had great fun, but by then the chil­dren were safely tucked up in bed. Up­stairs, there were two bed­rooms, one for mum and dad and one for our sis­ter. My brother and I slept in the at­tic. It seemed the higher up you went in the house, the colder it got. I re­mem­ber we shared a potty that lived un­der the bed we shared. In win­ter, we would dis­cover a layer of ice on the urine we'd shed dur­ing the night, and it was quite a feat, and quite fun, melt­ing the ice with nice warm pee in the morn­ing. Car­ry­ing the potty down two flights of stairs and out across the yard was al­ways the first morn­ing chal­lenge, come rain, hail or snow! It was my early duty, as far back as I can re­mem­ber, to make the fire in the kitchen us­ing “pa­per sticks”, news­pa­pers rolled into sticks, and small bits of coal to get the place warm. On Satur­days I had to empty the Fri­day-night bath­wa­ter, pan by pan, un­til the tub was light enough to be dragged out­side and emp­tied. I hated the job.

“Don't throw the baby out with the bath­wa­ter” is an id­iomatic ex­pres­sion used to sug­gest an avoid­able er­ror in which some­thing good is elim­i­nated when try­ing to get rid of some­thing bad, or in other words, re­ject­ing the es­sen­tial along with the inessen­tial. A dif­fer­ent ex­pla­na­tion might sug­gest that this catch­phrase has to do with dis­card­ing the es­sen­tial while re­tain­ing the su­per­flu­ous. In other words, the id­iom is ap­pli­ca­ble not only when throw­ing out the baby with the bath­wa­ter, but also when some­one might throw out the baby and keep the bath­wa­ter.

The id­iom de­rives from a Ger­man proverb, “das Kind mit dem Bade auss­chüt­ten” that first ap­peared in 1512 in “Nar­renbeschwörung” (Ap­peal to Fools) by Thomas Murner. In 1849, the Scot­tish philoso­pher, Thomas Car­lyle, adapted the con­cept when urg­ing his read­ers to join in the strug­gle to end slav­ery while also en­cour­ag­ing them to be mind­ful of the need to avoid harm­ing the slaves them­selves in the process. “And if true, it is im­por­tant for us, in ref­er­ence to this Ne­gro Ques­tion. The Ger­mans say, ‘you must empty-out the bathing-tub, but not the baby along with it.' Fling-out your dirty wa­ter with all zeal, and set it ca­reen­ing down the ken­nels; but try if you can keep the lit­tle child!”

Some claim the phrase orig­i­nates from a time when the whole household shared the same bath wa­ter. The head of household would bathe first, fol­lowed by the men, then the Lady and the women, then the chil­dren, fol­lowed lastly by the baby. The wa­ter would be so black from dirt that a baby could be ac­ci­den­tally "tossed out with the bath­wa­ter". In our fam­ily, it was the other way round, and I can­not imag­ine fa­ther be­ing tossed out with the bath­wa­ter any­way.

Time and again our politi­cians prove them­selves to be dumb, vin­dic­tive and self­ish, with lit­tle or no re­spect or con­sid­er­a­tion for the good of the coun­try or its peo­ple when they “toss out the baby with the bath­wa­ter” ev­ery time there is a change in gov­ern­ment. Okay, the Ju­falli Im­mu­nity saga was a bit of a mess, but his WS­cience Project that promised to pro­vide a re­search and treat­ment “hos­pi­tal” for Saint Lu­cia is still on the ta­ble af­ter be­ing ap­proved by the An­thony ad­min­is­tra­tion. The money is there, ac­cord­ing to Ernest Hi­laire, or so I am told; all that is lack­ing is a let­ter from the gov­ern­ment via the Min­istry of Health to set the ball rolling. Dear Min­is­ters, just get off your high horses, and act for the best of the coun­try. Don't let your past crit­i­cism of a man now gone ruin a per­fectly good project. Saint Lu­cia can ill af­ford yet an­other set of lead­ers who dis­card their ba­bies with the bath­wa­ter!

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