Uncle Kenneth’s bathtub

Uncle Kenneth’s bathtub

My Uncle Kenneth, father of cousin Jackie, with whom I spent a lot of time when I was growing up, was the oldest of my grandparents’ children. His aspirations were lofty and his first wife was Alice Katherine Dundas, daughter of John Charles Dundas, M.P for Richmond, Magistrate, Lord Lieutenant Orkney and Shetland. Charles Dundas’s wife was Margaret Matilda Talbot, one of eleven children. Joining the Zetland Dundas Family was a step into politics and required a proper introduction before nuptials could be agreed. 

Uncle Kenneth was duly invited to the family pile, a grand house and estate in Norfolk, for a weekend’s shooting. On arrival he was slightly surprised to be shown to the top of the house where the rooms were normally assigned to servants. Still, the view was magnificent and his room, comfortable enough. The first evening was a black-tie formal dinner to meet the other guests and weigh up who was who. A pleasant crowd of the middle class group who formed the backbone of British parliamentary stock – and, since they were all men, their wives. Not too much brandy and a reasonably early night to be fit for the next day’s shoot.

Uncle Keneth had been a soldier in the Indian Army. He was a tall, handsome man, a good shot and he desported himself agreeably during the sport. During the lunch break he told jokes bawdy enough for the male gathering – ladies didn’t shoot in those days – but not so crude that they were still guffawing when they returned to base. His civility was noted and approved. His slightly roving eye was also observed but ascribed to youth and fresh air rather than lechery.

After the spirited massacre Kenneth returned weary, cold, muddy and in need of a bath. Upon reaching his room he saw that one was thoughtfully provided for him in the form of a six foot long tin receptacle with plenty of hot water. He was left to soak away the sweat and splash of the shoot. After drying himself he observed that his boots were hideously dirty. The bath water was still tepid and he perceived an opportunity to show kindness by cleaning off his own footwear. My uncle Kenneth was thoughtful about everyone, especially servants.

Having cleaned his boots the bathwater looked positively disgusting, with lumps of mud floating in what was by then nothing more than a pool of dirt. He thought that he should not leave the maid to clear this offensive brew away – but there was no sink or escape outlet into which he could pour it. He surmised that the only thing to do was to tip the water out of the window onto the garden, which was all he could see, immediately below.

It was now late afternoon, almost twilight. Uncle Kenneth’s future parents-in-law were taking their leisurely evening perambulation in the garden, admiring their tranquil and beautiful estate. Returning from their walk they had a clear view of the back of their impressive home, including the top floor window where their future son-in-law was staying. 

They were startled, then, to witness the sash window of Kenneth’s room being opened and the metal bath edged slowly out. The muddy water in it rendered the container unstable and when the liquid contents swirled to the far end of the tub, away from Uncle Kenneth, it wrenched the receptacle out of his hands and sent it flying, water and all.

Unfortunately – and not visible to Kenneth at the great height of his room – it was not the garden below but a much-loved conservatory of precious glass construction. The metal tub crashed through the roof of this carefully crafted building, destroying it completely. The aspiring parents-in-law were understandably dismayed to see their daughter’s future husband apparently fling his bath out of the window with such destructive consequences.

Only in Britain could the matter never be mentioned by any of the parties to it.

My uncle was accepted and married Kathleen Dundas.

20 March 2023