Friday, June 19, 2009

British Puzzle Plumbing

You may have heard about Chinese Puzzle Boxes, but on my recent hop across the pond I discovered British Puzzle Plumbing. Using the facilities was truly an education experience and certainly exercised my problem solving skills.

While travelling through England and Scotland I saw more designs for toilets, sinks and showers than I've ever seen before. Some of them were an engineering challenge. The toilets were usually squat and square, but how to flush them varied quite a bit. You had the traditional lever which was pretty rare, but you also had toilets with no tank that flushed by pushing a big button in the wall. There were dual button flushes that controlled the amount of water that went through. Press 1 button for number 1 and both buttons for number 2. But the really interesting thing was that many of the toilets had to be primed. You'd flush and, like a car trying to turn over, the toilet would sputter and stop. Press again and it might sputter again or it might flush, but I rarely got one to flush on the first attempt. Three was usually the magic number. But when they did flush, whoa baby. Some had the water hit the bowl with such force that a geyser came up out of the bowl. I'm just glad I wasn't still sitting on it when that happened.

The sinks were interesting as well. I've attached a picture of one of my favorites. The sink was beautiful, and the faucet as well. But in order to make water actually run you had to turn the band that looked more like decoration than function. I waved my hands under that one for a while before figuring out that it wasn't automated. Another that comes to mind was a lever that moved up and down. It showed you how to get hot and cold but what it didn't show you was how to get water. In order to make water flow you had to pull part of it out at an angle then turn for desired temperature. This one took me a while to figure out because I'd had a beer with dinner. So if you're going to the UK, scope out the facilities and how they work BEFORE you start to drink.

Then there were the showers. Oh the showers. They were by far the most interesting of all. There was one in particular that I needed a helpline for. One of the most interesting things was that the tubs were raised higher inside than the floor outside. A bit of a challenge for a short person or anybody unsteady on their feet. Stepping in to the tub wasn't so bad, but when it came to stepping out, from a wet tub with wet feet, onto a floor several inches lower than you think it should be, you'd better hang on to something. I almost ended up on my backside several times. I'm only 5'2" tall and there was at least one bathtub that gave me a cramp in my thigh getting out of. I can't imagine a kid trying to get into those babies alone.

And now for my favorite shower story. While travelling I was sharing a room with my parents. Mainly to save money but I also didn't see a real need for my own room. In this case I was really glad to have them. I'd gone to the room after dinner before them, and was taking my shower at night because of an early departure, 3 people, and one bathroom. I hiked my leg up to my shoulder and tumbled into the tub. I turned the hot and cold water on and water began pouring from the faucet into the tub. So far so good. But how to make the water go from the faucet to the shower head. Either of them. There was a detachable shower head and another installed in the ceiling. For the life of me I couldn't figure out how to get the water from one place to another. I'd given up hope, slid my butt onto the tub floor and resigned myself to a bath instead of a shower. Not my favorite thing. Then to my utter salvation my parents entered the room. I yelled out to them my frustration with the plumbing and they found the instructions for the shower. Yes, it had instructions. Were they in the bathroom? No, they were by the coffee pot. Good place for them don't you think? It turns out that the device on the shower wall with the play and pause button was not a radio after all. It was the shower control. The shower was in no way connected to the controls for the tub. No wonder I couldn't figure it out. So at last I had my shower. While sharing this story with a fellow traveller the next day the shower situation got even better. Her control kept beeping because the battery was nearly dead. So what would happen if you were in this electronically controlled, super advanced, technological marvel of a shower and it's battery died? Would you just be left soapy? Probably.

Then we had a room that had no tub at all. It had a shower stall. Oh glory. I was so excited to see that. Until I tried to use it. The shower stall doors only opened a little way and this is exactly where the water sprayed when the shower was on. So in order to get the temperature where you wanted it you either had to stand in spray that was too hot and /or too cold, or let water spray onto the bathroom floor. Then the doors didn't close completely so there was water on the floor anyway. So I wasn't quite as impressed after using it.

I had a great time on my trip to the UK, but the plumbing was an adventure I hadn't expected.

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