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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Occasional Showers

As the holiday season commences and we all set off for hotels, guest houses and B&Bs, I thought this set of helpful hints, taken from 'Steady Past Your Granny's,' might be useful:

I like to think that I am something of a connoisseur of the gentle act of showering.  My wife says that given the amount of time that I spend in there, this announcement should surprise no-one, but I like to plan my day, bathed in the tender caress of warm refreshing water, in the absence of any better options.  Whilst I can pretty well guarantee this will happen at home (the warm water I mean, not the better options), the whole plan tends to fall apart whenever I stay overnight somewhere else.  If you’ve ever trusted what remains of your mortal coil to the often less than tender ministrations of a hotel or guesthouse shower, you’ll know what I mean.

Showers in hotels and guest-houses are the hotelier’s revenge on the world.  Once you accept this simple fact, you can get on with trying to make the best of, what is all too often, a diabolical situation.  For the uninitiated, here are some simple rules.

1.         Ignore the Instructions

You might as well.  The instructions, if they exist at all, invariably do not relate to the shower that is there now.  They are more likely to form a sort of nostalgic tribute, to the shower that used to be there but which has long since gone to that Great Plumber’s Skip in the Sky.  That is why the diagram shows that you must adjust two dials to achieve the optimum shower, coupled with dark warnings of what may happen if you do not do this, when you can only find one dial, which won’t move, and a mysterious lever.  Speaking of dials…

2.         Don’t touch the temperature dial

As previously noted, better establishments will have a well-worn notice describing the supposed functions of the piece of plumbing to which you are about to entrust your important little places.  This is a work of fiction but it will give you something to read while you are waiting for the ambulance to come and tend to your first-degree burns.  Lesser establishments will eschew the reading material, knowing that real men (and women) don’t read instructions and will instead present you with a Heath-Robinson collection of pipes, plungers and taps and leave you to work it out for yourself.  In either case, I urge you – do not touch the temperature dial.  This applies no matter what apparently ridiculous rating it appears to be set at.  From past and painful experience, whatever the setting of the temperature dial, it is probably correct, unless the previous occupant was a sadist, or, possibly worse still, a masochist.

3.         Don’t wait until morning to find out how it works

True of so many things but particularly showers.  I remember one infamous occasion when I was staying in a B&B in Dublin.  I should have been forewarned when I found that my sleeping accommodation consisted of a camp bed in what was clearly someone’s Study.  The ‘usual facilities’ had been shoe-horned into what had previously been a broom cupboard, situated across the hall from my makeshift bedroom.  The following morning, crawling unsteadily from my temporary dormitory after a night spent sampling Guinness, red wine and Chinese cuisine, in that order, I stumbled into the shower expecting an invigorating blast of (hopefully) warm water.  It didn’t happen.  I found that, with all dials turned to maximum and expecting at any minute a Scottish Engineer to appear from the basement screaming “If I gi’e her any more Cap’n, she’ll blow”,  I was the less than pleased recipient of a dribble of marginally warm, brown liquid (perhaps it was Guinness?).  All attempts to improve upon this state of affairs failed and I was forced to revolve my hung over corporation under this pathetic stream, resembling, for all intents and purposes, a vision by Salvador Dali of the closing sequence of Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which rather shows my age.

4.         Know Your Shower Type

Not that this will make a blind bit of difference to the quality of your experience, but at least you will be able to bore others with your expertise and complain, with some authority, to the management.

Showers tend to fall into three different types, or, to put it another way, people tend to fall in three different types of shower.  Firstly, there is the type that works by diverting the flow of water from the bath taps to a shower head.  This can range from the relatively cheap but effective system of a rubber hose forced hopefully, and usually very temporarily, over the taps themselves, to the marginally more sophisticated version where the raising or depressing of a plunger of some sort diverts the water up to a shower head.  The theory is that you should be able to run the water from the taps until you have established an adequate rate of flow and temperature and then, with a simple press of the plunger, divert this to the shower.  In reality, either the depression of the plunger will force a stream of ice-cold, or sometimes, unaccountably, scalding-hot water at your unprepared torso or there will be a disturbing sound in the plumbing, reminiscent of a flatulent hippopotamus easing its way out of a fetid swamp, and the hoped for water will vanish from sight. 

The second category of shower is the electric shower.  This has been a boon to landladies everywhere who, in an effort to meet the growing demand for ‘en-suite’ facilities in properties that were never designed to provide them, have forced shower cubicles into the most unlikely places.  My broom cupboard experience in Dublin was an example of being at the mercy of an electric shower.  You might think that the mixture of water and electricity is not necessarily a happy one, and you would be right but not for the obvious reasons.  Electrocution is the least of your worries, and might even be seen as a happy release after 30 minutes or so wrestling with an unrelenting plastic box that has suddenly decided to stop delivering water at all.  Electric showers work by diverting the normal water supply through a heating element.  This presupposes that the normal water supply is delivered at sufficient pressure to provide an adequate shower.  I suspect that these things are usually fitted and tested in the middle of the afternoon when nobody else is in the property and a fine, strong current of well-heated water is confidently delivered.  Unfortunately, as the majority of hotels and guest-houses have set times for breakfast, the likelihood is that most of the residents will be trying to perform their ablutions at the same time, thus reducing the available water supply to a dismal trickle.  Under these circumstances, the electric shower is not the place to be.  It can be guaranteed, in the same way that toast will always fall butter, or low-fat, cholesterol-free, dairy-type spread, side down, that the water will disappear totally at exactly the point that you have shampoo dripping into both eyes and soap congealing in areas where you would rather it was not.  It is precisely at this point that you realise that the controls were never designed to be operated by someone whose hands are covered in lather but that this is unimportant anyway as it is impossible to read the shower instructions whilst a selection of herbal extracts, essential oils and anti-bacterial detergents etch their way remorselessly across your eyeballs.

On the subject of items that were never designed to be operated by someone covered in soap, what lunatic first decided that it was a good idea to provide shampoo in sachets with tear-open slits?  A glance around any fast-food establishment should confirm that opening sachets designed in this way is beyond the ability of most people even when they are dry and reasonably rational.  Attempting the same manoeuvre when wet through, half-awake and fighting off the apparently amorous overtures of a shower curtain that has become irresistibly attracted to your damp body, should really feature as one of Dante’s circles of hell.

Finally we come to the last category, the Power Shower.  This is my personal favourite.  Here you are no longer at the mercy of the vagaries of the domestic water pressure.  The hot and cold water supply is mixed to your desired temperature and then pumped through the shower head.  What could go wrong?  Well, unfortunately, a number of things.  This system relies on there being an adequate supply of both hot and cold water, which is by no means guaranteed in many establishments, and sudden fluctuations of either can be character testing.  Secondly, these types of shower are invariably supplied with the sort of shower head that has delusions of grandeur.  A form of dial system on the shower head usually gives you the option of a fine spray, concentrated jet or a pulsating blast for the really courageous.  I’m sure that these devices work really well when they are first fitted and that early users can probably amuse themselves by staging their own personal version of the Dancing Waters but, from experience, the early promise does not last and the shower head becomes jammed on some entirely inappropriate setting.  The fun of the massage jet, as envisaged by the manufacturer, tends to be completely lost on the poor unfortunate who is running from one end of the bath to the other in a vain attempt to be in the right place at the right time for the next spasm of H2O.

I could go on, and I usually do, about:
  • shower curtains busily cultivating their own strain of antibiotics,
  • remarkably inadequate sections of transparent plastic designed to replace shower curtains that neither protect one’s modesty nor the bathroom from the water being sprayed in all directions,
  • and about shower head holders that either barely hold the shower head at all, thus leaving the user in a constant state of suspense, or which hold the shower head firmly but point it in entirely the wrong direction, so that the full benefit of the shower can only be gained by someone spread-eagled against the bathroom wall.

But I won’t.  Oh, I don’t know though… 

4.         Evacuate the Area

Whether you have been supplied with a shower curtain, shower screen or, luxury of luxuries, an all-encompassing shower cubicle, you should resign yourself to the fact that, no matter how careful you are, your bathroom will be doused with water in every possible nook and cranny within 30 seconds of commencing your shower. 

Given this simple fact, it still perplexes me that a well-known chain of holiday resorts insists on placing the entire stock of toilet rolls issued for your stay, including the one on the toilet roll holder itself, at one end of the bath and in direct line of fire of the shower head.  Clearly soggy toilet paper is this year’s ‘must have’ for the discerning holidaymaker. 

I suppose the only saving grace of these frequently ill-advised en-suite facilities is that at least we are spared the ridiculous situation of hotel or guest-house occupants diving in and out of their bedrooms like characters in a Brian Rix farce, every time that the sound of a bathroom door opening or closing is heard.  Which, of course, is a quintessentially British tradition now lost for future generations (thank heavens!)

Right, hand me my floral shower cap and that sachet of Mango and Jojoba (which, according to Billy Connolly, is the month after September) Lotion.  I’m going in and I may be some time.

There's a lot more of this sort of thing in my first 'nostalgedy' book, Steady Past Your Granny's