This week I want to talk dirty – I want to use a very rude word indeed.
Here’s the historical background. There are references to it as far back as Ancient Egypt, and the Romans certainly had a version, using animal fat and ashes.
The process of manufacture was really industrialised near the end of the 18th Century.
James Keir of West Bromwich, member of the Lunar Society, could well have been the man to put the stuff on the map, opening a factory for its production in Tipton in the 1780s.
At about the same time a certain Mr Pears was conducting similar experiments in London.
Do you know what it is, yet ? Of course you do. It’s soap. There, I’ve said the word. Wash my mouth out.
Have you noticed that, in our relentless process of gentrification, the word has dropped out of the English language?
Soap is far too crude a term for our modern merchandisers; far more oblique strategies have been found to avoid using it.
You don’t wash with soap today, do you? You deploy a replenishing body bar, or a citrus and ginger body wash. In the bath, what you’re using is a soak, or a foaming bath crème. (Note the pretentious spelling here.)
In the shower it will be gel, or perhaps a nourishing and energising body oil. And what you apply to your face is a facial cleanser, or a scrub, and the likelihood is that it’s enriched with jojoba and sweet almonds.
The truth is, that the more we are tempted to eat our toiletries, the less they sound like they are cleaning us.
Your delicate hands now reject soap, and demand an aloe vera hand wash instead, or a hand repair cream. And what I have in my eyes, as I blunder helplessly about the bathroom, looking for a towel, is a strawberry body rub with something called ylang ylang in it.
And I’m wondering – in the same moment of blind panic – if the wool is being pulled over my eyes as well.
* Dr Chris Upton is smelling of roses at Newman University Birmingham