Bathrooms are a bit of a conundrum in England, as I discovered much to my dismay during the trip in the fall of 2013.
To start with, they aren’t called bathrooms, or toilets. They are called “the loo” and no, I have absolutely no idea why. But the differences don’t stop there, that is just the beginning.
First, they don’t have washcloths. And no, I have no idea what they use instead. Nothing, I suspect. Washcloths must be an American invention.
Thankfully, we were forewarned (thank you Katherine Borges and ISOGG) and brought some washcloths with us, leaving them sprinkled around hotels in England. I expected most hotels would have them but they don’t. I’m sure that’s the final “knife twist” for that pesky little insurrection we called the Revolutionary War. And what’s worse, when you call the front desk to ask for a washcloth, they pretend like they have absolutely NO IDEA what you are talking about. And I know, positively, every American who stays there calls the front desk and asks the same question. I know they are all secretly laughing at us.
They could make a lot of money putting wash clothes in vending machines or offering them as room service.
Most bathrooms are painfully small, which is why they were initially referred to as “water closets.” They, literally, were. You can see one here or here in these rather, ahem, irreverent (but very funny) videos. The first watercloset we experienced, in the Henry the 8th Hotel was literally about 3 feet by 5 feet and the shower was half of that. We heard of another one where you sit on the toilet to shower. Seriously!
By the time we got to the Stirk House, we had been in England for several days, and time after time, I was baffled by how some bathroom apparatus worked. And once I got that one figured out, the next one was different. There was no standardization. Now I know how utterly ridiculous this sounds, being confused by a bathroom, so I’ll just share my morning with you.
Keep in mind, this was the morning after the DNA presentation that went to midnight, which was the day we visited Coventry, which was the morning after the fire alarm had gone off in the middle of the night in Cambridge, probably as a result of the drunken wedding party that kept us awake much of that night. So, um, to say I was a bit tired and grouchy was probably an understatement.
In fact, this was me on the bus the day before. Well, it was raining and the bus was rocking and we didn’t even get invited to the wedding party that kept us all awake.
At the Stirk House, we were in a new wing, so bathrooms were not an afterthought. You know, when many/most houses don’t have central heat, complaining about the size of a bathroom seems kind of, well, trifling.
I was glad to see a normal sized bathroom, but nothing else is normal at all, at least not for us Americans. First, there is a towel warmer. Now that’s a good idea! We used to put towels over the radiator when I was a kid, along with our clothes. I had never seen one in the US, or when I was in Europe in 1970. This is the second one I had encountered in England. I think it has to do with that no central heat thing. It’s doggone cold when you’re buck nekked…
However, trying to figure out how the towel warmer worked was a challenge. It seems that every electrical outlet in England also has a switch installed beside it – or sometimes not beside it…hidden elsewhere. The red “on” light is always burned out, so you can’t tell whether it is off or on, and no, there is no standard position. That is a ridiculous idea. And the switches are always hidden behind a door by the baseboard in the lowest position possible, sometimes no place close to the item they control. And sometimes, there are 2 or 3 switches together that control what?????
Whether the towel warmer works or not is really irrelevant, but other bathroom activities are simply not avoidable. You have to figure out how those items work. Thankfully, the toilet flush was always obvious, well, except for once.
The best kept secret, however, is how to make the shower work. In fact, it seems to be a game. I’m positive they have secret cameras installed to record what happens and we’re all going to see ourselves on YouTube one day.
Early on, I figured out that there were two knobs, one for temperature and one for water flow. Ok, got that. Some places have a button too. Got that too. So far, so good. That’s three things to potentially go wrong. What is wrong with one knob?
My husband, Jim, is a morning person and he loves breakfast. Is there a gene for that? I have absolutely no idea how the two of us managed to connect, because the beginning of my night is just prior to the beginning of his day. So Jim hops right up at the crack of dawn, an ungodly hour. I have no idea what he does at that hour, but whatever it is, he does it daily. He could have an entire second family for all I know, and at 5:30 AM, I would not care. Before noon, however, both the caffeine and the warrior gene, with a pinch of Scotch-Irish clan temper thrown in would have kicked in, and I’d be livid, so don’t get any bright ideas Jim. Besides that, you can’t afford jewelry for two wives.
So Jim got out of bed, took a shower, then left for breakfast without waking me up. While that may sound like he did me a favor, and it would be most days, it wasn’t THAT day. He was SUPPOSED to wake me up, because we had to be on the bus by 8 AM. I woke up, mortified to see what time it was, and hurried into the shower, only to discover I could not make it work, no matter what I did. I turned dials, looked for hidden buttons, all to no avail. How tough can this be, after all???
I waited for Jim, who I knew would be back shortly since he didn’t wake me up. I thought maybe he had done something really nice, like went to get me breakfast….but no….he had forgotten entirely about me and was having a leisurely full English breakfast in the restaurant with the family. My family.
Finally, as the minutes ticked by, I couldn’t wait any longer, so I put on dirty clothes and hurried to the restaurant to find him, complete with bedhead, and asked him how to make the shower work.
Jim, irritated at being interrupted, at first claimed he didn’t know but I KNEW he knew since he HAD showered.
So I asked him again to no avail. Then I told him in my best “irritated wife” voice that he did SO know – because he HAD showered. Suddenly, the room went silent.
He finally turned around and actually looked at me, surveyed the situation, looked me up and down, seeing my bedhead cowlick….and then the man first chuckled a bit and then began to outright laugh. Yes he did!
Had he lost his mind? Does he not recall that in addition to it being the middle of my personal night and me without coffee, that I have the “Warrior Gene?” Albeit the female version, which is supposed to be the Happiness Gene, but when a woman’s not happy, it reverts immediately to warrior status. You know that old saying…if Mama ain’t happy…ain’t nobody happy. We invented the Warrior Gene.
And Jim supposedly carries the “avoidance of errors” gene….you know….the one that keeps you from making the same mistake twice. I have proof. See below – that’s his result on his Family Tree DNA page. “More likely to avoid errors.” So much for genetics.
You’d think after leaving his wife in a lurch just 2 days before that he’d been none too eager to do that again. But then again, genetics is not determinism….and obviously there is some other genetic factor or conditioning or SOMETHING else at play here, because Jim did NOT avoid the error of his ways. My quilt sisters would call this testosterone poisoning which I guess is genetic because it is connected to the Y chromosome…but I digress.
By now, my cousins eating breakfast with Jim are no longer able to stifle their laughter. It seemed to be contagious. Finally someone asked if I pulled the chain.
I asked, “What chain?” I figured they were pulling MY chain. I could barely speak civilly at this point.
Some toilets in Europe flush by a chain, but what doesn’t have anything to do with the shower.
“The chain over the toilet.”
“The one with the red light over the toilet….”
“Isn’t that for handicap assistance or an emergency?”
“No, pull the chain over the toilet, then turn the water knobs.”
“You’re not a morning person are you.”
What popped into my mind at just that moment did not come out of my mouth, blessedly.
Oh, and by the way, this gem of information did NOT come from Jim, who obviously HAD figured this out to take a shower, but from a cousin who took sympathy on me. Or maybe he took sympathy on Jim, but thankfully, he took pity on one of us.
I figured this was actually a plot to make me set the fire alarm off or some such thing. I knew they were all sitting over there just waiting…and stone cold sober in the morning too. That kind of practical joke would be much funnier half in the bag around midnight.
However, out of sheer and utter desperation, I cringed and pulled the chain in the ceiling, waiting for the inevitable alarm. Instead, the shower finally worked…. well, after I switched the water box to “on” too, and twisted the knob.
So, yes, I did get my shower. I did make it to the bus in time. I did not get any breakfast, nor did Jim bring me any. I reminded Jim of that all morning. My cousins snickered and guffawed all morning. Indeed, it was the beginning of a wonderful day….someone had to provide entertainment and it was obviously my turn.
So, in England, when in doubt, pull the cord over the toilet to take a shower. Yep, makes perfect sense to me.
Now I know why we revolted!!! Bloody Hell!
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