Shower Power

Pamella Laird

© Copyright 2022 by Pamella Laird

Photo by Caique Nascimento on Pexels.
Photo by Caique Nascimento on Pexels.

On a tour of England, Wales and Scotland, we two travellers from Down Under sampled more than twenty bathrooms and their accoutrements. These stretched from no shower at all, to one closely related to a fire hose.

A shower each night assumed the prominence of Ben Nevis as in three months, we covered four thousand miles in temperatures averaging 29 degrees centigrade. Accordingly, our tiny rental car, began to resemble an electric frying pan— a glance out the window at the dried, cracked lawns and fields explained why.

Not so long ago there were no showers in Britain, so there was a bit of time to make up and the natives went for it in any way they could. The Tourist Board recommends the installation of a shower for guests in B&B’s. Nowadays there is a wide range of options, spa pools and/or Jacuzzis plus your everyday sprinkle over the bath or freestanding shower. A bidet, a not unwelcome accoutrement, is often included in the bathroom furniture—such is the power of advertising.

However, most hosts didn’t get too excited and were content to meet the demand of the Tourist Board and in whatever way they could and make the necessary alterations.

In a small town near the Lake District, a 250-year-old gatehouse charmed us with its two-foot-thick walls and corkscrew stairs. The ancient four-storied house with its hummocky plastered walls was the second oldest building in the village. Gate Houses of this vintage do not condescend to the shower fraternity. God forbid! This is England. If you travel by rocket or its equal from the New World, in this country you apply the brakes, lie back and float off in a claw-footed ginormous bath.

Throughout our travels, most of the hostesses showed off the bathroom with the pride of a new mother cradling her first-born. Some washrooms rivalled a Versace standard in opulence, from heated towel rails to hairdryers, available in rainbow colours. From the beginning it was clear this was going to be a tour in ‘Bathroom-one-up-man-ship’.

Early tours of the wash area usually indicated a heart-sinking view of yet another combination of switches for the hot/cold water panel. We came to realise that having mastered any one particular ‘dashboard’, we would never see it again. Therein lay the trap for naive tourists… ‘Coming to Grips with the Shower Controls’ became the challenge of the day.

Every shower had its own welcoming or twisted personality. The rose of a few were at ceiling height and, that meant a hair-wash intended or not. Often in the bath, some showerheads were so close to the wall, a traveller would stand, one foot on the end of the bath, leaning into the trickle running down the vinyl wallpaper.

Many hoses had the flexibility of the Vicar of Bray, but with the nozzle jammed in the knitting needle position. It was impossible to tell if the water was boiling or icy cold until too late. By then, the naked victim had turned either into a poached egg or a pillar of salt.

Hysteria overcame me in an Irish B and B in York. Bit by bit, all the components fell off into the drain outlet. A closer inspection of the rubber hose still in my hand caused further despair as it dribbled an inch-high apology. Wave the white flannel; battle over. On occasions such as this, it’s important to have a husband with a sense of the ridiculous, as he crouches behind the shower curtain, reassembling the bits and pieces in more or less the right order.

In Cambridge, the shower appeared closely related to the anaconda subsection of the reptile species. A timely warning from our landlady about water pressure was not taken seriously. (Take note: these warnings are not given lightly.) The man of the moment was as unprepared as a sunbather under the ozone hole for its vicious attack. The writhing hose wrenched itself from his hand and thrashed venomously about the shower box. It took weeks for the high-pressure marks to fade from his unforgiving flesh.

Beware the trap in Oxford. Too late we discovered the vital controls were outside the bathroom door. We joined two American guests at breakfast in a hilarious discussion regarding bare arms groping in the dim landing light.

In Pitlochry, the accommodation and the view were superb. The B and B hosts had installed a shower-box in a recently upgraded bathroom. Everything appeared perfect until the step-in and closing of the door. The box was so narrow, it was impossible to raise both arms to wash one’s hair and also caused severe limitations to one’s ablutions.

Scotland was not alone in its peculiarities. At beautiful, leafy Cenarth in South Wales, we endured a shower-box ventilated by two six-inch holes in an outside wall. Two four-inch blocks of wood regulated these nipple-level blasts. Bristol took the soft option–no ventilation at all. After an appropriate interval one emerged like a phantom from the resultant fog.

In Essex, near Flatford Mill of Constable fame, we stayed at a manor house whose boat shed (still standing) was painted by Constable. At this delightful old home, a special lesson was required to demonstrate the workings of the drawbridge-entry to the conveniences. When lowered over the landing, this gave access to bathroom, shower and toilet. Now here was the ultimate in style!

There were maverick shower-boxes where the water flowed freely but mainly out of bounds, usually discovered too late. Visions of the kitchen wall downstairs running like a rock-face, left one guilt-ridden and eager to depart.

The shower that puzzled us most was knotted in the middle of its rubber hose. It lay with depressing limpness along the bottom of the bath and when unknotted functioned only moderately well as a rinse-off after a bubble bath of sinful proportions.

Occasionally we stepped into a perfect shower. Sensible height, foolproof controls, pressure perfect and bliss on bliss, hot towels within arms reach. We loved those thoughtful hosts; and added their names and addresses to our ‘recommended’ list for friends likely to follow our own trail of British Tourism delights.

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