In Praise of Soap

The Bowery Hotel Bathroom with CO Bigelow Lavender Soap

I bought a bar of soap yesterday, a fairly mundane activity, you’d think, and not one that could prompt a tale, or even be worth registering other than to check that I’d been charged the right amount for it.  It is noteworthy, to me at least, because it is the first one I’ve bought in years.  To which your understandable reaction may be, maybe she doesn’t like soap.  But you’d be wrong, I do like soap.

It’s a sort of an old fashioned thing these days, it seems, if the ‘bath’ aisle in the supermarket is anything to go by.  Other people must buy shower gel and bubble bath given the sheer quantity of it on display in its bright primary coloured plastic bottles.  The tiny enclave of bars of soap was hard to spot, close to the ground and, by comparison, all a bit monochrome.

It was sometime in the 1980s, wasn’t it when we advanced from soap on a rope to gels smelling of exotic fruit we’d never eat or jungle aromatics with made-up names, and when jojoba became the indispensable ingredient?

Somehow I missed out on the switchover.  I think it might have something to do with growing up in an area with extremely soft water.  I can’t abide that slimy feeling when you can’t wash soap off properly. I particularly dislike foaming bubble bath; it reminds me too much of washing up liquid, and I hate not being able to get rid of the suds.

So why haven’t I bought any for so long?  Well, mainly because I collected loads of it from my days of business travel.  15 years ago, or more, the soap provided in hotel rooms was always a mean little bar of palmolive or something similar, but then there was a sea change, a recognition of a marketing opportunity that had hitherto gone unexploited.

Decent quality hotels started stocking decent quality grooming products in decent sizes.  It was my introduction to new brands like Bliss, C O Bigelow and Malin + Goetz, so it only seemed right to give them all a proper testing, as well as being simply too tempting for the person who doesn’t like to see waste.

I didn’t always take the soap away with me; there was a time when the pile of it in my bathroom gave the potential impression of a sort of obsession.  I thought I’d collected more soap than a person could ever hope to use.  But I was wrong.  It took me about three years to use it all up.

It was a marker in time when my gold airline frequent flyer cards expired; but this purchase of soap feels as significant in its own way too as the last vestige of a previous life have literally been washed away.

Leave a comment


  1. Soap is also the best present. Since you can no longer pillage from hotels, it’s time to encourage your friends and family to buy it for your birthday. That way, you get the really fancy French stuff that you would never otherwise purchase for yourself 🙂

  2. Rowena,

    Can’t abide soap. Use Aloe Vera unguents for my sensitive skin. Spouse has dozen of these huge bricks rocking around the house she’s forever trying to give to me. Weigh a ton, drop ’em on yer foot you’d have to call the ambo.

    On the subject of Jojoba, don’t mock. That stuff is the real deal. During my years as a masseur, Jojoba oil was my oil of choice. It’s terribly expensive, but absorbs perfectly. My regular clients would get Jojoba with Neroli. That made ’em feel rich, I assure you:)


    • Each to their own I say, Brendan! Harvested some of my own aloe vera out of the flower bed at a resort hotel once. but that’s another tale…..
      A block of soap big enough to break a foot! How exciting. The bars I use tend to be a bit smaller than that I think.
      You’ve never mentioned being a masseur before….. I’m a big fan of massages, although once had a disastrous one in a well known place in London that culminated in a trip to A&E when I had a huge allergic reaction to the oil they used……


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