Emptying my pockets today, I found a note I’d written last month when I was mad from the worst shower experience of my life: “England is a temple to charm, danger, history, austerity, and beauty. It’s also a monument to inefficiency and complete ass-backwards engineering.”
I have a major love affair with the UK. London is so quickly becoming a second home to me in fact, that I feel like I can talk freely about the few things there that confound me.
Let’s talk about something sexy today. This is my exposé on English plumbing.
“Low rainfall and high population density means the south east of England actually has less water per head than The Republic of Sudan.”
Understandably, water conservation here has been a serious issue for decades, but even so, the best word to describe the unnecessarily complicated design of faucets, showers, and toilets in England is… mystifying.
This is the 21st century. We’ve cloned mice with human ears and landed robots on the surface of Mars to probe for water, yet sinks in England still have 2 separate faucets: one for hot and one for cold.
I guess no heretic ever dared to ask, “But, Your Eminency, what if the people want… WARM water?”
Rebels foolish enough to seek warm water in England have 2 choices:
1. You can try the Guantanamo Bay torture technique by spastically lunging your soapy hands back and forth between the scalding hot tap and the ice cold tap. (When performed correctly, you’ll be numb enough from the cold water not to feel the blisters forming on your wrists from the boiling water.)
2. You can employ the time-honored “basin method” in which you plug the drain with a stopper and fill the sink to the desired temperature… and that’d be perfect if my name was Charlotte Bronte and it was 1846 and I had 20 minutes to wash my hands. Then afterwards, maybe I could make a plum pie, cough up blood from my tuberculosis for a while, and maybe do my laundry in the stream.
Message to the civic engineers: When the time comes for the powdered wigs and a formal debate on improvements to current sink designs, let me offer some straight up advice: Blend that shit. BLEND. THAT. SHIT! It’ll change your life.
Note: Sinks in Europe are also used as public baths. Do not be surprised to see a fat 70-year-old Italian man in the bathroom at Charles De Gaulle Airport wearing a tank top, shaving his mole-covered armpits with a Bic razor while you’re waiting to take a piss. I saw that last week and it made me so fucking homesick/regular-sick, I can’t even tell you.
Toilets in England have 2 different, unlabeled flushing buttons on them.
One is for Full Flush, which releases like 6 ounces of undirected splashing water, which you’ll have to do a few times for any success. Not so much a “flush”, but more of a “coax”. The other is for Half Flush I guess, so if you want to you can have 3 ounces of slow moving water gently cascade off your shit. SO gross and annoying.
To England’s credit though, toilets in Belgium actually are worse. They have what my friend calls the “trophy toilet” which is basically a bowl with a shelf in it that your shit lands on before it’s flushed away, so you can maybe fish out any diamonds or wedding bands you accidentally swallowed the day before. Nasty.
Note: Every public bathroom in England has a string hanging from the ceiling that you can barely see in the dark. You have to pull this string. If it’s white, then you just turned on the bathroom light and you’re cool to hang out for a while. If it’s red, then it’s a handicap emergency cord, and you just called the Manchester Fire Department and you’re standing there in strobe lights while everyone in the mall starts locking up registers and going fucking nuts.
Good luck. Good fucking luck trying to figure these out. Every single one is unique, but they are all equally unnecessarily complicated and perplexing. On/off switches, knobs, LED lights, levers, and controls. Some have buttons that you have to physically hold in while you shower. The control panel in our shower yesterday looked like my old ColecoVision.
Here are just a couple examples from my dressing rooms:
Not only does this one have a Phased Shutdown (???) and printed instructions on it, but check out the knobs. One is labeled Flow and gives you 3 choices: 4, 3, 2, COLD. The other knob is for Temperature and is labeled 1-10
And check out this one that has 2 concentric knobs with cryptic numbers and moon cycles and shit. I felt like Laura Croft in Tomb Raider, about to unlock some ancient vault or something. Stared at it for a LONG time before making a move, which by the way, did nothing because there were 2 hidden switches I hadn’t hit first. Hey England, it’s a shower. You shouldn’t need a decoder ring and a pilot’s license. One knob is all it takes, what’s with this quasi-modern ergonomic shit. I don’t want to solve the Enigma… I just. Want. Water.