In praise of the humble bar of soap


When did we fall out of love with the humble bar of soap? Growing up in the 70s I have no memory of liquid soap or shower gel (or showers for that matter, which were generally viewed with suspicion in 1970s Britain). I look at my bathroom now and it is awash with plastic bottles, most of which won’t end up being recycled (despite putting them into the recycling bin). It is an environmental disaster staring us in the face, but is somehow still acceptable. Our children and grandchildren will probably look back on this era with horror and wonder how we could be so blasé.
I have always loved soap, yet have somehow been brainwashed into buying shower gel as it seems more sophisticated. But there is something special about a bar of soap wrapped in old-fashioned paper ( the Italians and French seem to excel in the art of creating beautiful bars of soap). I spent many years buying these lovely soaps as gifts, but the recipients usually smiled politely and put them into a drawer next to the bar I bought them last year. Most people just don’t seem to get soap, but there is something so honest and nostalgic about it. My maternal grandmother used to buy Shield, a sensible and practical soap with a clean and germ- free scent about it. When I smell this soap it instantly brings back happy memories of my grandmother and her lovely welcoming home, where there would be no ‘stuff and nonsense’ but a delicious home cooked meal and plenty of love. My paternal grandmother always used Camay which I am sure she regarded as a cut above ordinary household soap- no home cooking there but Mr Kipling French Fancies which were considered quite an extravagance. My husband always uses Imperial Leather and that soft spicy smell will always remind me of him. My mother has fond memories of Pears soap which reminds her of days as a very young girl, before a more practical soap was introduced ( glycerine soap was considered wasteful as it dissolves too fast). Shower gel just doesn’t seem to create memories or traditions (but perhaps this is because I am from the soap era).
Anyhow, I have decided to re-introduce soap into the house. I want to do something- however small- to reduce the use of plastic and I am excited about trying a variety of everyday and exotic soaps and experimenting with soap dishes. Perhaps soap is really undervalued or I am just a little crazy?


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