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Australia

There's nothing like a bathroom renovation to make you appreciate what you had

In the house I heroically call home, and after two more tumbling tiles narrowly missed the leg of a foreign student fresh from Sri Lanka, the bathroom is getting a long overdue renovation. After accumulating quotes, our scrupulously thrifty landlord has taken the plunge. And as the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its temporarily off limits due to renovation.

The disruption has me thinking about just how much I value that poky room with the three cacti the Chilean girl left on the ledge, the clover mass (or is it shamrock?) engulfing the louvre slats, and the water-lover’s take-no-prisoners shower head, surely designed by a Pisces.

Bathrooms are privy to all manner of human emotion and ritual and quirk. They witness our startled dismay at some heinous hairline devolution.

Bathrooms are privy to all manner of human emotion and ritual and quirk. They witness our startled dismay at some heinous hairline devolution.Credit:Getty Images

Bathrooms are underrated. They’re dependable, unobtrusive places of respite and renewal. God knows what it’s like to try and live without one. Nobody should have to.

Plenty do, though. Fifteen years ago a homeless guy knocked on my door unashamedly requesting food. I made him an omelette and let him take a shower. No doubt the omelette hit the spot, but the shower made him look like a different person.

Bathrooms are privy to all manner of human emotion and ritual and quirk. They witness our startled dismay at some heinous hairline devolution. Or our appreciative glance at some part of ourselves yet to let us down. They see us dutifully scrubbing, or unleashing our singing voice. They see our self-reproach. If your bathroom could speak, it would probably say something sensibly encouraging.

The bathroom in my family’s first house had a light-blue fibreglass shower. When a friend of mine said it felt weird underfoot, I thought, “What the hell?” When he remarked on it again at school on Monday, I resolved not to speak to him for the rest of our lives. (Colin, if this finds you, I forgive you.) That bathroom had the house’s only toilet in it, too. Somehow, in a family of five, it was never an issue.

The same bathroom also saw me at my absolute dumbest. At 14, I used nail scissors to snip the first dubious signs of a moustache – I remember thinking that this was probably how it was done. At 15, alone in the house, in front of that mirror, I failed at trying on a condom, repeatedly rolling the article backwards. Around the same time, I also failed a subject called craft.

Later on, we had two bathrooms. The one upstairs had a bamboo-framed mirror lifting off a hook, ideal in conjunction with the main mirror for admiring one’s bouffant mullet at more angles than Pythagoras could’ve devised. The one downstairs had a door that scraped along the floor, leaving sawdust, and shut with a sound like a tomb being sealed for all eternity. Daddy-long-legs dozed, snapping from slumber at the twitch of a shower head the size of a frisbee. Standing under that thing was like standing under Niagara Falls.

Some bathrooms leave no trace in your memory. Others leave their eccentric mark. I’m picturing a sliver of a room in a bungalow in Japan, where I once taught English. A gas cylinder in the corner made huffing, puffing noises, like a dragon resentfully restraining its temper. Any night now, I’d think, I am going up in smoke. In a Bondi house the year after, or maybe the year before, the only way to the bathroom was through one of the bedrooms. What could possibly go wrong?

Popular – and unpopular – culture has had its share of famous bathroom moments. In Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close appears in a bathroom mirror with a knife the length of a loofah. Music videos in the early ’80s were regularly shot with a bathroom-tile background. Did anybody ever find out why? Indie rock legends Jane’s Addiction once wrote a song about standing in the shower, thinking: “And the water is piping hot; the water is piping hot.” In a Chekhov short story with a name I’ve forgotten, a bride-to-be spends much time making much of acquiring the latest thing: running water in her bathroom. Can you imagine being so vain and frivolous? I’m willing to bet the spoilt brat never dodged a tile in her life.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale August 25.

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