Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Day 81 - How to build a bathing machine


Part of the plot of Jane Austen's Persuasion takes place in Lyme, a seaside resort "animated with bathing machines and company".

I was reading that part on the bus and the notion of bathing machines made me chuckle. I remembered I had read about these contraptions a few years ago, but couldn't really remember what they looked like so I imagined them as huge machines that brush people into the sea and then fish them out and hang them somewhere to dry. That made me chuckle again and it made the person next to me give me the stink eye.

Naturally, I came home and googled it and according to The Jane Austen Society of Australia (yes, you read that right) a bathing machine was some sort of van/cart that ladies used at the beach in order to hide their "nudity".  Flashing an ankle was totally faux pas because if Sir Big Estate saw you, you might have run the risk of not being married by the age of 22. Gasp!

So women would enter the cart on the beach while wearing their street clothes and emerge on the other side of the cart in their swimsuits (which basically had as much fabric as we use for a wedding dress today). This allowed them to avoid being seen and if the cart blocking the view wasn't enough, they would roll down a tent to the surface of the water, thus forming a bubble of ladyness and propriety. 

bathing machine in great britain, 19 century
Mermaids at Brighton, engraving by William Heath (1829) via Wikipedia
Of course only the rich could afford a bathing machine so I imagine the teenage girls with bonnets and corsets crying on their sweet sixteen: "But Papa, I shall never speak to you again unless you provide me with a two-door bathing machine. I shall faint if you don't hire the services of the most qualified dipper."  Dippers were attendants that helped the (often reluctant) ladies get into the water, dipped them into the waves or pushed their heads under water. And the more royalty and nobility heads you pushed under water, the higher your ranking as a master dipper. Imagine the headhunting process for that job.

Our version of a bathing machine is a little bit different. It's me as flat as a pancake on the inflatable raft while Trevor is pushing it around and talking about the difference between European beaches and American beaches, so basically about being able to drink beer on the beach all day long or not.


Mickey: Trevor, how can I draw a picture of us and the raft?

Trevor: Do a bird's eye view.

Mickey: How do I do that?

Trevor: Just draw a circle and a few squiggly lines for my hair.


Clearly that did not work so this is what I've got.

how to eat at the beach stick figures

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