Arthur’s Day: Traditionally a time for handwringing about where we are as a nation. Commentators will ask: What can we do to change our preoccupation with alcohol? That battle is long lost. Let’s just assume that we are a nation of borderline functioning alcoholics and shur-what-harm-is-an-oul-drink? Let’s also assume the government will always lack the stones to do anything about alcohol sponsorship.

The best way to deal with our drinking is to give people something else pleasurable to do. I’ve a suggestion from abroad. In fact, not just a suggestion from abroad, it’s a suggestion from the past. Baths. Last week I spent four glorious hours in the palatial surroundings Széchenyi baths in Budapest.

I know that there is nothing as annoying as hearing someone come back from holidays and telling everyone we should copy what they do in other countries. We are all susceptible to post-holiday Ireland-bashing. We don’t mean to but as soon as we arrive home, a drunken racist wants to fight us and fraudulently claim insurance compensation, while fly-tipping at an inadequately signposted and over-priced tourist attraction.  But hear me out: baths. For many of us, a bath meant enforced scrubbing on a Saturday night, being warned not to leave the cylinder empty and ending up sitting in a sad two inch-deep puddle. This is different. Amidst neo baroque palatial surroundings in Széchenyi , hundreds of people of all ages while away the time. We used to have public baths and Turkish baths in this country but now we have pools and water parks which are mainly for children to scream in. Our beaches are wonderful when the weather is nice but usually they are the preserve of glowingly healthy surfers doing interviews with Nationwide about how ‘all the top guys from the states are coming to Ireland to catch waves’.

Yes there are saunas and steam room and swimming pools in the some gyms but that’s in a gym. It’s like saying you can have that biscuit but first youll have to fight me for it. Repeatedly.

No – there is no widespread system of low-cost public baths, where the discerning layabout can contemplate for hours. In Széchenyi bath, ould lads, who in Ireland would be biting the filter off a Rothmans while glaring balefully out the door of a sibin before contemplating the futility of the next pint, are instead smiling at each other  over a chess board. They are calm. You never see anyone start a fight in a bath.

There are other benefits.  The image of the perfect body is projected at us 24-7. If you want to see human beings, go to a Budapest bath. There are buffed up males and Special K women but they in the minority. Everyone else is a mixture of lopsidedness, asymmetry, liver spots, cellulite, bingo wings, odd-looking moles, magnificent bellies and a menagerie of hairy backs. You could save yourself a lot of angst by going there and realising that human beings are lumpy and EVERYONE gets old eventually.

Yes baths will cost money to heat but solve that problem the normal way – by getting the alcohol industry to sponsor them. Trust me, you don’t drink as much in a bath.

As for Arthur’s Day – dont mind that shower.

First published on September 23rd

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