While most of Barbie’s girlfriends have fallen by the wayside, loyal Ken has remained. As Barbie‘s biographer, Billy Boy, put it, ‘Ken did not divulge any of the secrets that the near-pubescent girl might care to discover.’ Ken has nought but a discreet bump as proof of his manhood. Poor Ken, poor Barbie! Only the Hong Kong adult novelty doll Gay Bob, who had a blond crewcut and a jewelled earring, was alarmingly ‘genitally correct.‘
Together Barbie and Ken were the perfect couple and the perfect consumers. Unlike the baby doll which teaches little girls the joys of motherhood, the teenage doll tells of the joys of being Mr and Mrs Average and how a Ferrari and a swimming pool are the way to happiness.
Equal opportunities have taken a long time to appear in Toytown.
Barbie might be an air hostess but not a pilot, an ice skater but not a rock climber. Like her businesswoman‘s outfit, Barbie‘s doctor costume is permitted only if she is prepared to exchange. Cinderella-like. her workaday clothes for a glittering evening dress. Doctor Ken must similarly abandon the Trauma Room and accompany her in white tux and black tie.
Today Barbie is an institution. There is an active worldwide fan club, a Barbie Hall of Fame and an annual international Barbie convention. Andy Warhol painted her portrait. The avant garde photographer Andrew Weiner used a love triangle between Barbie, Ken and the He-Man ofthe Universe (another Mattel toy) as symbolic of humanity‘s stultified existence.
A year ago the magazine The Truth was threatened with legal action when Mattel objected to the photo comic strip ‘The Yappies‘ (Young Archetypal Personality Parodies), which starred Barbie and Ken as Jocasta and Jasper Yappy.
Barbie backing singers appeared in the John Lydon/PiL ‘Disappointed‘ video. In a profile of the socialite Ivana Trump, the American satirical magazine Spy had Mrs Trump’s head on Barbie‘s body. An advertisement for an American newspaper used a photograph of beautiful but empty-headed Barbie and Ken under the headline, ‘These people have everything it takes to be an award-winning TV news team.‘
The future looks shaky for Barbie, who has had a lot to contend with recently. Last year manufacturing capacity was down, and factories in Taiwan and the Philippines closed amid angry worker demonstrations.
Meanwhile Sindy, Barbie‘s arch rival, has had a radical makeover and now looks so like Barbie that Mattel have served an injunction on Sindy‘s makers. With the £30 million UK market set to increase by £04 million by the year 2000, let the battle of the bimbos commence.
Mike Wilson got steaming to record the sad decline of the Turkish bath.
If the apotheosis ofThatcherite decadence is the selling of personalised car number plates for thousands of pounds. what price the simple pleasures in life such as a relaxing couple of hours in a steam room. known generally as a Turkish (though occasionally referred to as a Russian) Bath?
After all. the Turkish Bath must be a Radox advert writ large. In the hands ofa large leisure company, it could become a monster performer ofthe self-pampering industry.
Yet. the truth is that the Turkish Bath could soon become a thing of the past — usurped by the sauna with its less comforting, but cheaper-to-produce dry heat. With less than half a dozen public Turkish Baths still operating in central Scotland. it seems like it is merely a question ofwaiting until the ancient steam-producing boilers cannot be repaired any longer.
Ifever such a demise came to pass. with it would go a rich social and architectural heritage. While few people would dispute that the functional aspects of a steam room — as a form of relaxation and cleansing — are its principal attractions, the fact that many customers have been regulars for nearly 40 years says much for the Turkish Bath as arena for the social discourse of the chattering classes.
‘With seating capacity for about twelve people. the steam room is a great place for a blether about politics. horses or whatever you like.‘ says the supervisor at the Govanhill Turkish Baths in Glasgow‘s Calder Street. ‘We get
people of all ages. and all shapes and sizes, coming along and personally I am surprised there aren‘t more of these baths around since they are probably a healthier way ofgetting clean than saunas, as well as more relaxing.‘
In Edinburgh‘s Portobello Turkish Baths, still reminiscent ofits Edwardian origins despite the efforts ofgenerations of painters and decorators to coat it in matt emulsion, Willie Russell (what he doesn‘t know about Turkish Baths isn‘t worth knowing) talks fondly of the rooms, their history and his friends who might visit the baths three or four times a week, to have a chat over a cup of tea. read the newspapers and unwind.
Architecturally, because most of the Turkish Baths in Glasgow and Edinburgh were built around the turn of the century. there is a profusion of marble, wood and brass. For David Low, supervisor at Portobello (which is now Edinburgh‘s sole remaining old~style Turkish Baths following the closure of Warrender Pool‘s steam room when dry rot was discovered) the ambience generated by his grand, if fading, baths, with its magnificent cupola and tarrazzo ﬂooring. is close to being priceless.
Without a hint ofsarcasm he opines that ‘Prince Charles and I would probably get on well together, because I get a lot of personal
STEAM ROOM Edinburgh
I Portobello Bellfield Street. Portobello, 667 7211 ext 233. Men: Mon. Wed. Fri 9am—9pm; Sat
3 three Russian Steam Bath cubicles — which date back to the 19205— are in the process of being dismantled and in their place a large Turkish Bath will be installed. In addition. there are hot
another old building. dating from the beginning ofthe century. Using the baths is pretty straightforward since it is simply a question of moving from one room to another and back again,
9am—3.45pm. Women: Tue and Thurs 9am—9pm; Sun 9am—11.40am. £2.40 plus £2 deposit for linen. Closed 25 and 26 December and 1.2 and 3 January.
I Shottloston 82, Elvan Street. Shettleston. 778 1346.1fyou are quick. you might be able to sample the delights ofa Russian Steam Bath. where you can control the steam yourself. However. the
and cooling rooms. Men: Tue. Wed. Fri 9am—9pm; Sat 9am—1pm. Women:
Mon and Thurs 9am—7pm.
£2 plus 35p for two towels. I Pollocksham Ashtree Road. Pollockshaws, 632 2200. Men: Mon,Tue, Thurs 9am—7. 15pm; Sat 9am—l 1 . 15am. Women: Wed and Fri
9am—7. 15pm. £2 plus 35p for two towels (£1 deposit).
l Govanhlll 99Caldcr Street. just off Victoria Road. 423 0233. Again.
enjoying steam. hot and cooling rooms when appropriate. Men: Mon. Wed, Fri 9am—7pm; Sat 8.30am—1 lam. Women: Tue 1.30pm—7pm; Thurs 9am-7pm. £2(£1) plus 35p for two towels (£1 deposit).
I Whltalnch 130 Medwyn Street. Whiteinch. 959 2465. Men: Mon. Tue. Fri 9am—7.30pm; Sat 9am—11.15. Women: Wed 1.30pm—7.3()pm ; Thurs 9am—7.30pm. £2 plus 35p for towels (£1 deposit).
enjoyment out ofold buildings. The rooms have Latin names, for example the Laconicum for the lower part of the hot room and the Suditorium for the cool room. and l have often felt like taking some Nitromors to the brickwork which was painted over. However, the place still has a nice atmosphere. and obviously part of the reason for that is the good stewardship we have here.‘
When necessary, it‘s a stewardship which employs a ‘jangling key diplomacy‘ to dissuade those who visit the baths for ulterior sexual motives. with the consequence that straight customers should have no reason to feel apprehensive about using the baths. While the practices of many private saunas might be responsible for certain preconceptions about Turkish Baths, as well as many legitimate saunas, an undeniably Calvinistic self-modesty dominates the atmosphere.
To some extent. the Calvinism might come as a disappointment. especially for those who have enjoyed a Turkish Bath in Turkey, where, for the local population. a visit to the nearby steam room and probably an extensive range of therapeutic cleaning services is very often part of the daily routine.
In Scotland. while there might be a demand for qualified masseurs and physiotherapists, as yet it is a market that still has to develop. As a substitute for a masseur. Portobello has an ‘areotone'. which is so turbulent it makes your common-or-garden jacuzzi look like a fart in a swimming pool. Once thought to be capable ofcuring all manner of ailments. such as mental depression and lumbago. the aerotone is now simply considered as a great way to sooth aching muscles, and therein lies the essence of the Turkish Bath: it might help those with sinus problems, it might even realistically claim to be a form of holistic medicine, but its remedial properties should not be exaggerated. Ifyou want to undo the gluttony ofChristmas. then work out rather than sweat out. However, as a way to unwind. the Turkish Bath has few rivals, and because of that should be preserved at all costs.
The List 22 December 1989~ 1 1 January 1900 79