Saturday, 30 July 2011

No, I Do Not Want the 98p Stamp

Not Built in the 19th Century
So I owe you one more post on religion in England. This is not that post. While Bath Abbey is a fantastic building, and on most days, has actual services that people, many of them Christains, attend, it is also one of the major tourist attractions here in Bath. There is also, The Jane Austin Museum, The Roman Baths, The Museum of Costume, Victoria Park, the Post Office Museum, and a half-ton truck of other bits and pieces to see in Bath. (If anyone wants to go to the American Museum or the Museum of Bath at Work with me, I'm totally up for it).

It's tourist season. This means several things for me. First, I should know better than moving to places that are tourist attractions. Second, no matter how much I may now look Englishy, my accent gives me away as someone who must be looking for my tour bus. Third, I am reminded that I know bus routes and times in BANES and the surrounding area off by heart. Fourth, that locals will lie to tourists for the fun of it. And most importantly that I cannot possibly want anything other than a 98p stamp.

Throughout most of the year, I can order cider without being told it isn't apple juice, ask for the very last bus stop in the outermost zone without being told that surely I mean to go on to the next town, and purchase signed-for postage (registered mail) at the post office. But between May and the middle of August, I become by accent alone, incapable of navigating my life in Bath. And while I am grateful to the English and longstayers among Bathonians for their kindnesses to my countrymen, there are days when I need a pint of cider (hard cider) to overcome my frustration at having to repeat those fine words. No really, I live here. I need to know that those documents reached there.

If by some chance, you were in the tour group above, I feel I must tell you that your tour guide was misinformed. The Abbey wasn't built in the 19th century and Lucifer is on the left, not the right.

And as it is Sunday and the End of the Month, you should trot on over to visit Laura and link up to the Post of the Month Club. Go on, click the link.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Sometimes I Remember to Stop and Look

Sometimes I remember to stop and look

The housemate will probably kill me if I manage to get, and leave, bread dough on another surface in the house. It is rather following me. How  did it get on the shower head, the light switch, the window key? I know precisely how I managed to get it on the keyboard, the refrigerator door, and the aloe plant. I mentioned that I accidentally threw the first (and successful) batch of sourdough starter into the washing-up bowl. The second batch went rancid or was rancid or got rancified. I switched to rye flour and managed a perfect loaf of sourdough rye. I ate the whole loaf in a day. Today I managed to make my third rye brick. 

I have very little short term memory. I can't remember where I went right with those two good loaves. Tomorrow morning I will try rye starter with white flour. I'll try to manage to pick up milk and maybe some actual food at the store. It seems likely that I'll forget to top up. Mostly, it is time to go to sleep. I remember the sweet exhaustion after a day of chopping wood. Can kneading bread emulate that, I wonder.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Purple Clouds, Grey Sky

In this part of England, as the earth turns further from the sun and toward autumn, the sunsets take on a purple hue. I have never been terribly good at summer. Even in those halcyon days when summer meant no school and plenty of time to get in forty hours of work a week, I always found the loose ends of my life fraying. It may well be the reason why, for so long, I have chosen academia as the backdrop of my existence--that need for a narrative--beginning, rising action, crisis, falling action, denouement--a lack of knowlege, gain of knowledge, proof of knowledge, rest. It's the resting that I'm no good at, the moments of taking stalk and planning a new year leave me wondering how to continue, what path to take, where to go next. I find my life without students rather exhausting. August is closing in. Next august will mark the end of my current visa. I do not know what else it will mark the close of. I am uncomfortable living a life without a formal narrative arch.

Like so many of the people around me, I am trying to learn gratitude--not joy, or optimism, or certainty, but gratitude. It's easy enough to count my blessings. It's easy enough to count my grief. Gratefulness is harder to come by.

On Saturday, a year after I completed my PhD, I walked across the stage in that final symbol of a hard earned achievement. I'm sure that I was not the only graduate to find that walk tinted by grief. My mother wasn't there to see me any more than she had been there when I finished high school, or college, or my master's degree. This is no blessing. It is also an odd sort of grief that pops its head into the life I've grown used to over the sixteen years since her death.

It is a tradition in my family that at moments of great achievement we wear my mother's pearls. Early on Saturday morning, I toyed with the idea of leaving them in the jewelry box. I don't miss my mother anymore. It's difficult to miss someone who has been gone so long. I never knew her as an adult. And this fall, I will have lived more of my life without her than I lived with her. There was part of me that thought that  I don't want to spend the rest of my life knowing she is missing. I don't want every achievement to be overlaid with her absence. I put her pearls on anyway and wrapped my grandmother's bracelet around my wrist, even though I credit neither of them with my survival of the PhD--and it was a question of survival. I miss them. I loved them, but I did this thing on my own. Part of me deeply resents the fact that the only choice I had was to do this thing on my own.

And this is what I mean about gratefulness. Friends joined me for graduation. They took seats in the front row despite being made uncomfortable by the focus that put on them. They smiled for and clapped the entirety of a graduating class in anticipation of the final two of us to cross the stage. Though they knew that that walk would be a lonely one for me, they chose to be present so that I wouldn't feel so far from the life I imagined rather than the one I have now. And when I left the tent, before I could find my friends, it was another friend who gathered me in her arms and let me cry that sixteen-year-old unchangeable loss. And this is what I mean about gratitude. Nothing can change my mother's death and nothing, most certainly not me, can change my father's absence from the handful of joyous days in my life. I am trying to learn gratitude for the multitude who have attempted to mitigate that grief and who have reminded me, even at its hardest, that I am allowed my joy.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Nearly Perfect Cafe Days


The humidity yesterday weighed just heavily enough to slow the clocks.To stop what the papers say from mattering and the evening news from its stilted importance. It slowed pace of joy and grief. Folks hovered over their lunches without much thought towards the hour's passing and the brief respite of a single ray of sunshine.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Religion in England and America Part 3: Like Folks Were Up There Dying

Manver's Street Baptist Church

I promised Gram that I'd say a prayer for her at St. Patrick's. Steph and I had caught a New Year's Day flight to Dublin. Her pristine sense of direction failed on account of the curving streets and my organizational skills had flown out of me during the terrible year. Two things: Never use churches as landmarks in Dublin and always travel with someone who will think walking in circles for hours is hilarious. We stayed up and out well into the night because I had managed to book us into the world's worst hostel and got up early because there is only so much time you can spend on top of blankets worrying about previous tenants. Steph tried to get me to talk, something I had forgotten how to do. I tried to make sure her hands didn't freeze, something they do easily. And between us, we made a nearly perfect weekend.

And when we made the necessary trip to St. Patrick's, we separated and made our necessary pilgrimages alone. I pulled my lighter from my pocket and lit a candle before sinking to my knees in front of the Virgin Mary. I hadn't prayed in years, tried to take up a conversation with God in such a way that I might expect to be heard. I envy the high churches their saints, their priests, their numerous beings who might intervene. I grew up in low church protestantism, my conversations were, by necessity of doctrine, with God.

My path out of first organized religion, then Christianity, and finally into Agnosticism was so typical that it hardly bears the telling. First there was the great event that made me cling to the Church and its teaching. Second I began to question the church's reaction to that crisis. And then I wondered at the Church's teachings. I stopped participating in the parts of services I didn't believe in.I remember too well the moment I realized that I could sit through an entire service without standing or speaking or sitting.  I kept God and rejected the church before asking the question: What kind of God...?Certainly not the one I was raised to believe in. God and I talked a lot in the intervening years, until I found I was simply talking to myself.

When I was young and still believed, I did not so much converse with God as write long letters to him in my head. So began on that kneeler in Dublin. Dear God and excuse me entity for talking to you when I don't believe in you, but I made this promise to my grandmother. Her soul, it could use a little help. You know just in case I'm wrong and she's right. I wonder if perhaps you'd bring her some comfort even if the request came from a giant hypocrite who thinks this is a pretty amazing piece of art standing in front of me. Um, the end.

I didn't leave my religion is a giant kerfuffle. And your faith, your belief, your ability to comfort with the promise of a prayer, I envy.  As I hold hymns and the psalms as sacred, so too I hold hard physical work and grief. So too I hold I love yous and goodbyes and echoing silences. As for the profane, I believe that is sacred too. But there are two things that I still cannot endure: the belief that one cannot have faith and spirituality without God or religion, and the certainty that one's own beliefs entitle them to mock the other.

And so you would think that I should be entirely comfortable living in a country where most folks hold their religion or lack of religion close to their chests. I'm not, and I'll tell you why just as soon as I get through the week.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Religion in England and America Part 2: At the Calling of Your Hearts

Among my dinner party tricks here in England is the ability to produce dry humor with an American accent. If I'm having a particularly good night, I follow it up with a bit of irony.  My world is getting awfully small, feel free to invite me along as your spare female.

For lunch gatherings, I produce shocking information about the States and its Americans. Much like London isn't England, New York isn't America. American's do not, on the whole, sing the National Anthem at the beginning of the school day. (They do say the Pledge of Allegiance unless their families object on religious or other grounds).  There are Pro-Choice Christians in America. Most American's don't really care whether or not their brethren are practicing the right kind of Christianity or any Christianity at all. And many many many Americans don't practice and do not know much about Christianity.

The thing about New York and London is just obnoxious no matter where you come from. The rest are things that many of the English find rather perplexing.

It's hard to imagine preforming the same party trick in the States. Maybe I've just kept the wrong the company in the States. More probably, I don't know the English as well as I know the Americans. Much like it is impossible to identify the characteristics of your own culture, it is very difficult to even intrinsically know the characteristics of another culture. As frustrated as I am by the assumptions the English bring to the cultural dinner table, I bring cultural assumptions of my own. Maybe you're an Australian reading this in Beijing. Maybe you're an Indian reading this in Georgia. Maybe you're an American reading this in England. Probably you'll disagree with my evaluation.

Right now I'm eating couscous with sultanas. And I, if you were an Englishwoman sitting next to me, can tell for certain that you'd have trouble wrapping your head around how it is that I react so strongly to the British Government's financial support of religious schools. Why it is that I am taken aback by the portrayal of Rector's wives on television and in the media. That I cannot fathom how it is that anyone in England could claim that it is not a Christian country.  And mostly my sheer disbelief that when faced with the question of someone else's choices of spirituality and belief being office gossip--except of course when my own prejudices rise to the top. 

It all sounds rather negative doesn't it? It isn't really. Here's the thing, there are many meanings of the question, 'are you a Christain.' I'll keep it to the English and the Americans. It becomes too difficult if I also include the rest of Britain or Canada.
  1. Are you the same kind of Christian as I am?(Can I make certain assumptions about you). Asked in the UK and States.
  2. Are you a cultural Christain or one who practice the traditions of rather than believes in the teachings of the church? (No one has ever asked me this question. I wish they had).
  3. Are you one of those Christians? (Either the anything goes kind or the other kind depending on who is asking).
  4. Are you a Christian? (Meaning can I judge you in both the US and the UK).
  5. Are you a Christain? (Can I make basic assumptions about who you are and what you believe based on your practice of a religion?)
  6. Oh are you trying to get your children into the school? (Because why else would a seemingly normal Britain attend church?)
I wonder if we can say we understand each other now? Can we safely say that every experience of organized religion and opinions of it that I have had in England have been heavily influenced by my experiences of the same in the US. Can we agree that, on Monday, I'll be talking about me and my experience of religion in the UK and not about all Americans? Can we agree that neither of these cultures have either practiced or exported the beliefs they hold dear particularly well? Oh good, phew.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Religion in England and America Part 1: Ma'am, I am tonight.


Here is a secret: Very occasionally you can find me sat in the back of Bath Abbey, hymns marked with bits of paper, prayer book in hand. Very occasionally is probably an exaggeration. It has happened once in the last two years. Though four times in the past few years, I have bypassed the queues of tourists, sat down, and slipped slowly off the pew onto the dull green kneelers. It is one way to survive the funerals that are too far away to attend. The last time I sat in the Abbey it was to ask my grandmother if she understood, now that she was gone, why it is that I don't go to church. I assume omniscience of the dead. Gram knows now whether or not she needed to worry for all those years about the state of my soul. I do not believe in God. I do not believe in heaven  or hell. I do not believe in an afterlife, except for when it keeps grief at bay.

Shortly before I agreed to take my first flat here in Bath, I met with my soon to be housemate to try to figure out if we were a good match. She smiled. I smiled. We determined that we had nothing in common and would rarely be in the flat at the same time.  She needed a flatmate. I needed a flat, and we were both rather desperate. As I stood up to leave, she turned to me and mentioned that all of her friends had suggested she ask me if I was that kind of American. These days I'd likely turn around and ask what kind of American exactly was that kind of American. I knew exactly what she meant, and I wasn't yet wise enough to mind. No, I'm not that kind of American. I'm not that kind immigrant. I'm not that kind of Christian.

It's the difficulty of defining terms in the middle of a conversation. Or rather, it is the difficulty of defining terms while taking into account the underlying cultural assumptions about those terms. I am undoubtedly a US citizen, an American by cultural upbringing and by birth. I have friends whose children who undoubtedly US citizens, but they are English by cultural upbringing, and many of them are undoubtedly British citizens as well. I'll leave the immigrant question for another day.

I'd like to tell you that it was in the early part of this decade that, in America, the term Christianity became synonymous with a specific type of Christianity--one that is full of condemnation, vilification of the other, and a propensity for being a single issue and single party voter. The future flatmate was asking me if I was that kind of American. A question I never hear here, perhaps because I move in the wrong circles, is "What kind of Christian are you?" We don't ask that question in America either. Instead we ask, "Are you looking for a church?" or "Would you like to come to Church?" or "Are you a Christian?"

It was a relief to me, on moving to England, not to be asked any of those questions. It was a relief not to be approached by street preachers or to find comic books about revelation pushed into my hands by people I passed on the street. It was a relief not to be constantly reminded, as was the case in 2005, that references to my upbringing would cause people to assume a lot of inaccurate things about me.

This Easter three things happened in quick succession that made me awfully squidgy. A fellow blogger mentioned, somewhat uncomfortably, that her love of Easter was based in her Christian faith. I was accosted by a local missionary who was having a decidedly bad day. And, when asked what my father did for a living, I answered on the condition that I not be judged.

But to unravel those things, I think we all have to be on the same footing. I'll try to get us there in the next post.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Photos, Churchs, and Other Things

It would seem that blogger is having some difficulty. Not for today then a discussion of religion in England. Instead a photo for you. Before I remain remiss, I do want to thank Lizzie's Steve for agreeing that roughage and a better exit strategy keep English toilets from clogging. I do like it when people agree with me. You can see Lizzie's full explanation in the comments on this post.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Fabulous Things About England #34: Electric Kettles

When I was just about to become a teenager, my mother complained rather endlessly about the lip imprints on the full length mirrors in the living room. They clearly belonged to my sister as I mostly remembered to wipe mine off with my sleeve. Mom never would have been able to tell that the smudges had been lip marks, right?

I kiss shiny objects much less frequently than I once did. I do have the occasional run in with the rings of royalty.  Otherwise the kettle is the only inanimate object of my desire, and the housemate suggests that kissing it is insanitary.

Most every home in the UK has an electric kettle. They often turn up along side the washing machine, refrigerator and oven in unfurnished rentals.  You can get them in the States, but given that American's drink far fewer hot drinks, mostly wouldn't consider drinking powdered coffee, and haven't learned tea as part of first responder (first aid) courses, electric kettles are rarely seen in the US. They are different than the hotpots that you young things (ahem) might remember from your first dorm room. They boil water in at most a couple of minutes. And I do now drink a lot of freeze-dried coffee.

Hard water is rather a problem in and around Bath. The easiest way to avoid needing to descale your kettle is to only fill it with filtered water (insert discussion of water filtration jugs, bottled water, etc). It also helps if you only ever fill the kettle with as much water as you need. The more times you reboil water, the more limescale that is going to be left behind (and it is a waste of energy as well). Failure to descale your kettle can result in the early demise of your kettle (they're not cheap), hard chewy bits in your tea (they're not bad for you), and your kettle having to use more energy to boil water (have you read your electrics bill lately). We tend to boil water for cooking in the kettle as well, since boiling the kettle is cheaper than heating it on the stove.

I am head (and only) descaler at my house. This means that my housemate religiously uses the filter jug to fill the kettle and I do not. You can use the heavey duty descalers we talked about earlier this week, but honestly, I always worry about having gotten it all out. Now I descale the kettle with vinegar. Here's how it goes.

Not nearly as gross as it looks. It is really hard to photograph lime scale.

1. Empty Kettle, pop out filter.
2. Fill Kettle half full and boil.
3. Put Kettle into sink. Add vinegar to full line on kettle.
4. Go to bed.
5. Wake up. Rinse out kettle. Use toothbrush (not an old one that's been in your mouth, please) to brush away any remaining scale.
6. Fill kettle to full with water. Boil.
7. Rinse out your kettle.
8. Make a cup of tea.

Most manufacturers encourage descaling at least once a month. A kettle, they say, should last for five years when treated kindly. Ours is on year 8. It is a good thing I like it so much. If you're off to buy a kettle, go for the kind you do not have to unplug before you pour. It makes life so much easier when they simply lift off the base.

I'm hoping there is a run on electric kettles in America after this.

See you Monday.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I'm on the List. Are You?

When my mother was 17 she became one of the early kidney transplants in the US. At 19, she lost her mother and received her mother's kidney on the same day. She lived well past doctors' expectations of six months and into her early forties. She had two babies. Those babies now both have terminal degrees. One of those babies has a son.

Today, in the UK, 88% of renal transplants are functioning. There are many more people still on organ waiting lists. Some of them are 17. I'm on the organ donor register here and in the US. It is transplant week here in the UK. I wonder if you might click over and consider becoming a donor in the UK , in the US,. or in your country.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bathrooms, Showers, Toilets and Ewww Part 4: The Mixer Tap

The above is a mixer tap.

The above is NOT a mixer tap.

I bet you didn't know that a lack of mixer taps are proof of everything from how backwards the English are to the idiocy of the UK's failure to join the Euro to the lack of technologial savey of the countries young people, to what huge (insert series of expletives here) the English are. It's not true. I'll explain at the bottom, with citations. 

Behold: a mixer tap combines hot and cold water, shoots it out one tap, and creates warm water. Can't you just feel the controversy brewing? Aren't you just dying to know why it matters? I thought not.

Any gathering of immigrants to the UK usually results in discussions of things we don't understand about the UK. While having a moan is typically English, the purpose of these discussions is rarely just moaning. It does happen that one person will ask a question, in the form of a complaint, and another person will say, "I just found out why that is." Here is an example:

Me: I still can't get past the lack of mixer taps. Why, if you're fitting a new bathroom at the department store, would you then fail to install mixer taps.
My Friend: Mixer taps have an interesting history here. They're hard to fit into old style plumbing systems. Department Store was refitting not replumbing. There was also a period after they were introduced when there were concerns about hygiene given the way mixer taps in the UK originally worked. {Note: Hygiene is often cited for skipping over new bathroom introductions. Remember the idea of bathing was once horrifying}.

See, perfectly reasonable. Replumbing a building is much more difficult and expensive than simply putting in new taps and new basins. And honestly, I was glad to see that they had fitted watersaving toilets. If you're desperate, you can see the current in-pipes in the picture above.

Me to my friend: I hate scalding my hands while trying to wash them.
Woman next to us: Fill the sink with hot and cold water. Use that.

So actually not really a problem. It feels like a waste of water, but I've experimented and discovered that I use more water when I wash my hands under running water. {She washed her hands with scalding water}.

Do not, I mean it, fail to recognize the signs around sinks that warn of very hot water. They're not kidding. You will, trolling through comments on such stories, see that folks claim a lack of mixer taps are the reason for so many scaldings in the UK. It's important to remember that hot water can be turned on without cold water thus resulting in hot water, even in a mixer tap.

The issue of mixer taps, which are largely used throughout the continent, comes up now and again in the news. It is rare, even from UK sources, to see any sort of in-depth research into the topic. And usually the reason given is that non-mixer taps are traditional. It's lazy journalism. It's hard to see indoor plumbing as traditional. Most certainly the reasons are tied to money, old plumbing rules, habit, and ancient plumbing. Remember that my kitchen drain was attached to a Victorian down pipe.  

Sine those news stories are inevitably fluff, they tend to carry with them pages and pages of comments. Go on and read them. You'll discover as I did that mixer taps are proof of the alleged failings of the mostly the English but sometimes the UK as well. A few points of view are linked below.

Other Places Mentioning Mixer Taps
BBC All 2gether Now Project
The Guardian's Nicolas Blincoe 
The Offensive to Everyone, WSJ via Warwick University Blogs
And for good measure a message board with some useful if not entirely correct information

Other Parts of the Bathrooms, Showers, Toilets and Ewww series
Why English Toilets Don't Clog
How to Descale Your Shower Head
Electric Showers and Yet No Electricity.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Some Clean Up and A Small Jig

Ooo, Flowers, Tourists, and Sun!

Sooo, I've gotten a handful of questions in great repition. I thought I'd answer them here. I know that you were just dying to see that I'm covered in flour and the flowers in Bath.

Yum, Flour.

Q: What happened with your bread.
A: I spent most of last week covered in flour. No really, the photo about doesn't do the flour coverage justice. My first attempt at sourdough starter went from one cup flour, one cup water to sponge in 36 hours. As for the bread, the first loaf burned on the outside and suffered extreme doughyness on the inside. It was inedible. The second loaf came up lovely, if a bit heavy.

Second Attempt at Sourdough Loaf.

I know you're just dying to comment. And then I killed the starter by washing the bowl. That's right: I picked up the starter bowl and tossed it into the dishwater. I don't think there is any way to save starter from detergents. The second attempt at starter is currently becoming a sponge. At least, I hope it is becoming a sponge. If not, I'll have to go buy bread tomorrow. That would defeat the whole point. I suspect that I'm going to be going through a lot of flour in the coming weeks.

Q: Did you really have an outhouse?
A: Yes, two in fact. I was terrible at having an outhouse. Wait, I was terrible at my first outhouse. Saving a bit of dosh by living without running water in a dry cabin in Alaska seemed like a good idea. Besides I really really wanted to prove that I could do it. The week we moved in breakup (the great melt that happens in June in Alaska) occurred, and it became clear that the outhouse hole hadn't been dug properly, I'd moved into a bog, and that my landlord was creepy. I spent most of the ensuing seven months using a honey bucket (five gallon bucket in the house) and 'flushing' that down the outhouse. My second outhouse experience was pretty fabulous (Thanks, Jennifer). Of course the local mama moose really liked the extra foliage that grows around outhouses, and she often wasn't going to let me near it. Luckily it was Alaska and I had already become a dab hand at squatting in the woods. Phew.

Q: I grew up with an outhouse and their were various creepy crawlies I couldn't stand. How did you cope?
A: I would not have coped at all any place that has snakes, spiders bigger than the palm of hand, or wasn't frozen 9 or so months a year. I do often miss my outhouse and its large expanse of wilderness. I hate cleaning the toilet, and I hate having to wait my turn. The English don't like it when you use their gardens as 'the necessary.'

Q: Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier to replace your shower head rather than descaling it? 
A: It might be easier except that I don't have a car. It's a twenty-minute bus ride followed by a twenty-minute walk to the nearest place that sells shower heads. I'd have to do this approximately once a month. It's actually less time consuming to descale the shower head and more environmentally friendly. I broke our last shower head when I dropped it from a great height. The cheapest new one was 9 quid. At the time that would have been 18 dollars. Even the heavy duty chemical descaler costs about 1.50 per descale. Vinegar is of course much cheaper than that.  It is a job I hate, and if I could convince people that I live in a dry cabin and need to shower at their houses, I would.

Q: What's the weather like there right now?
A: It's unseasonably warm or cold. It's probably raining and windy or muggy with no precipitation or it's blowing a gale. I suggest putting on a pair of trousers, a short-sleeve t-shirt, a long sleeved t-shirt, and a jacket. Put a skirt in your handbag (or if you prefer carrier bag). Subtract clothing as necessary. Add clothing as necessary. I'm not being sarcastic. I really do this. I works rather well. 

Q: Do you celebrate July 4 there?
A: I do. Some of the English celebrate with me. They bring me gifts, usually flowers. They call it the day they finally got rid of those obnoxious Puritans. Some people find it very offensive that I continue to celebrate. Most people just want an invite to the bbq.

Tomorrow is mixer tap day. Warm water out of a tap. Who knew? I'm still debating whether or not to approach that whole religion thing. I'm trying to be brave.

Thanks so much to The Jason Show and Finger Rolls and Folding Chairs for kindly linking to me. These are both blogs I enjoy, and I hope you'll go visit them. Someone else has linked me, or shared me, or shouted about me, but I haven't been able to figure out who. Let me know if it was you, please, and I'll link you up.

PS: I'm not sure comments are working for everyone. Will you please e-mail me if you're having problems, 

Monday, 4 July 2011

Bathrooms, Showers, Toilets and Ewww Part 3: Why the English Flush Better

Clearly, I have nothing but your best interests at heart. I've spent the whole of the weekend trying to find out why UK toilets clog less frequently than US toilets. I'm exhausted from all of the effort. Someone should really bring me dinner and a drink.

Former residents of Chez American in Bath had much better tastes in toilets than in baths, don't you think? Not only is the toilet suite white, but the toilet has not blocked in the almost five years I have lived here. This may be why I know absolutely nothing about UK plumbing. Few midnight plumbing problems leads to lack of knowledge. In fact, I think that you should go clog you toilet immediately in order to give your children an education in plumbing.

Inside of an English Toilet

While it is easy to find diagrams of how US toilets work, it's not so easy to find the same for UK toilets. It's as though people don't find they need them. I can tell you that the basic theory is the same, but something is different. Maybe I should become a plumber?

In the interest of pretending to know what I'm talking about, I offer you the following list of reasons why maybe, just possibly, probably UK toilets don't clog as frequently as those in the US. (Oh my, it is rather unpatriotic of me on this America's birthday or as the English refer to it the day they got rid of that obnoxious colony).

5. US toilet paper is thicker and breaks down more slowly than UK toilet paper. If you live in the US buy a cheap one-ply brand.

4. The English eat more fiber thus causing fewer clogs. (Yes, I made that up.)

3. The English descale their toilets.

2. English toilets are rarely on the ground floor. Never underestimate gravity.

1. The UK exit is larger.

See: Larger exit.

Try not to judge me too harshly. I know that you don't dust the back of your toilet either! 

Citations I would have used, if I knew what I was talking about.

Water Wise

Wednesday is the day that we'll talk about mixer taps. Don't know what a mixer tap is? That's because you live in a country that has them AND uses them. Friday I'm all about descaling the kettle, that or we're going to have to buy a new one. Next Monday is probably, maybe if I'm brave on the topic of religion. hmmmm.

Previous in the Series:
How to Descale Your Shower Head
Electric Showers and Yet No Electricity.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Bathrooms, Showers, Toilets and Ewww Part 2: How to Descale Your Shower Head

One of the first places I lived in Bath was a shared house. We all had separate agreements with the landlord, but we shared a kitchen, a bathroom, a toilet, and a washing machine. The kettle was covered in limescale. In fact, it was virtually impossible to boil. Moreover the silver of the shower head had turned completely white. There is very little water pressure on most of this island. That shower literally dripped while spraying water out its sides. I asked one of my flatmates about both the kettle and the shower, he shrugged and told me it was a function of rentals in Britain. And we had a man who needed an attitude adjustment. In fact, it was a function of poor housekeeping. I can hear you laughing. I know you've seen all the dust in my photos.

So in today's installment of  Bathrooms, Showers, Toilets and Ewwww, I bring you: How to Descale Your Shower Head.

Step 1: Boil your kettle and make yourself a cup of tea. Then refill your kettle to the top most fill line. Reboil. And follow the directions on your descaler of choice. (Descalers can be bought at the local hardware store, scalers, and most grocery stores). I know that you'd never assume that all chemicals work the same way, aren't dangerous, or that I know everything.

Make cup of tea, boil kettle, go to step two

Step 2: Put boiled water into giant bucket. Make sure giant bucket is clear of other cleaners. Bleach and everything don't mix, and I like you and your lungs. Detol and most everything don't mix, and I like your soft skin. (The boil portion of this step may be completely unnecessary depending on the product you're using. The not mixing chemicals portion of this step is absolutely necessary.)

Step 2: Put water into bucket that has no other chemical residue in it.

Step 3: Open bathroom window. Place bucket into your bathtub. Make sure you are wearing any protective equipment called for by your descaler box. Add descaler. It is very important that you do not put your bucket on your bathroom floor. There is always some chance of overspill from the chemical reaction you may be creating. Add descaler. Did I mention that you should follow the directions on your descaler? I mean that.

The white bumps are limescale. It also builds up inside the grey bits.

Step 4: Remove shower head from shower head pipe (or hose for you Americans). Put it gently into your mixture. Get out of the bathroom until enough time has elapsed. Most descaler makes one heck of a smell and makes the lungs a wee bit ouchy. I'm really not kidding about the whole follow directions on the bottle thing.

Note: My model is not wearing gloves. Do not follow her example.

Step 5: Poor bucket down the drain and rinse everything with cold water before reattaching to the shower. I always run the shower for a few minutes after descaling. If scale is still present it helps to brush with an old toothbrush (clearly marked as descaling toothbrush) after you've rinsed away the descaler.

Shiny. Note: I did not put hose into the descaler

Step Six: Consider something friendlier. Vinegar and water will descale your shower head just as well as more caustic store bought mixtures. Your shower head will have to soak much longer (I do ours overnight). You will probably have to use some elbow grease. But if you keep up with your descaling (once a month at least), it isn't so bad.

Iota mentioned that toilets rarely back up in the UK. This is true. I do not own a toilet plunger. I'll let you know why that is on Monday. If you click the Facebook Like button on the right-hand sidebar, you'll be able to see more of Bath's flower boxes.

You can read Part 1 of this series here: Fabulous Things About England #33: Baths

The first batch of sourdough failed miserably. The second is gooood.
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