Heat Therapy

It’s late November; we’re approaching the end of the second London Lockdown and the temperature has dropped. My husband works out of our spare room which is basically a home office, and as an alternative to the living room sofa I often find myself ‘operating from bed’, with the duvet and heat from my laptop keeping me warm. The other day, noticing that my feet and hands were still cold I recalled one of my ideas for a new blogpost concerning the representation of hot water bottles.

The first photograph I remember taking on this theme was ten years ago in early December 2010. I saw a young woman standing on the platform of a London Underground station holding a leopard faux-fur covered hot water bottle. It was keeping her warm and cosy. To me the burnished gold of the poster behind her contributes to a sense that she was holding something precious, echoes of Duccio or a Byzantine Madonna and Child:

Although I do own a traditional hot water bottle my go-to form of instant heat therapy is a microwavable heat pad. I use this regularly alternating laying it across my back for managing lower back pain to heating up my belly. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic I’ve used it so much that it started to disintegrate, shedding little beads despite my effort to stitch it up and repair it. So I went on a mission and niche artist’s date* to high-end pharmacy John Bell & Croyden in London’s Wigmore Street to find a replacement. They had run out but had regular hot water bottles. The James Dean bottle caught my eye – to me there was something a bit surreal about having this retro icon – the Rebel Without A Cause – emblazoned on a homely piece of kit:

I have since ordered a new heatpack online and despite only arriving recently I’ve already made lots of use of it. During this second London lockdown I’ve been keeping up my exercise on Hampstead Heath, avoiding crowded paths and sticking to the grass which has become increasingly wet and muddy. I need more than a cup of tea to heat me up on my return!

Below, self portrait with my new heat pad, November 2020:

Given the heavy usage and ubiquity of the heat pad in my lifestyle I like the importance given exclusively to hot water bottles is this window display, the solid bronze-coloured frame surrounded by marble. Photographed in the Portuguese city of Porto, 2018:

Since the onset of Coronavirus in addition to trying to keep up with solo artist’s dates, my husband and I have regular film night dates at home. Last night we were in the mood for something feel good rather than heavy and watched Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic Some Like it Hot. I didn’t realise that the hot water bottle was a key part of the mise-en-scène. Set during the US Prohibition which forbade the manufacturing and sale of alcohol, the hot water bottle is used as a cocktail shaker throughout the film. Here’s a shot off my TV monitor; a reclining Marilyn Monroe needs a drink – on the right Jack Lemmon holds the bottom-heavy hot water bottle filled with bootlegged liquor:

  • The Artist’s Date is a creative tool devised by Julia Cameron and is a once-weekly, fun solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date is playful rather than worthy.

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