The King’s Privy

People often have romantic notions about the kings and queens of yore.  We think about turreted castles and fluttering pennants and knights in shining armor, but not about the uglier, nitty gritty details of what life was really like in those days — before modern dentistry, and the invention of air conditioning, and countless other developments that contribute every day to making our lives much better than they have ever been before.

mann-wrathIndoor plumbing obviously is one of those developments.  Which raises the question:  how did kings deal with that essential aspect of the human existence?

Historians note that England’s King Henry VIII — he of the six wives — actually had a courtier called the Groom of the Stool to take care of that element of the King’s daily routine.   The GOTS apparently was a high-ranking (if not coveted) position that involves taking careful notes about the monarch’s bowel movements and maintaining the “Stool Room.”  The Stool Room was a private privy where the King used a padded chair “covered in sheepskin, black velvet, and ribbons” positioned above a pewter chamber pot to take care of business.

Other members of the Court had their own private rooms with their own chamber pots, but the masses weren’t quite so lucky.  The article linked above indicates that servants working at the King’s palace tended to answer the call of nature in whatever happened to be nearby.  Fireplaces and the stone walls of the castle were popular targets, giving the castle a distinct aroma by the end of a long day.  And visitors and the staff also used a huge, open-air facility called the “Great House of Easement” that had 28 seats and no stalls or interior walls.  The facility and its tank were cleaned by a group of boys called the Gong Scourers who were appointed by the King.

Still entertaining romantic notions those days of olde?

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Professional Grade

Airport bathrooms have got to be among the most brutal to clean. So what, exactly, does the custodial staff at a major American airport use to get disgusting bathrooms spic and span? According to this cart, it’s a mop, a bucket of soapy water, lots of paper towels, and a cleaner called Bab-O.

Bab-O? I’ve never heard of it. But if these guys use it it must be good.

Down To The Studs

IMG_0754When we bought our house we knew the upstairs bathroom was a do-it-yourself job and that we would have to fix it some day.  Today, that day came.  The bathroom is being stripped down to the studs, exposing the brickwork of our middle-of-the-house chimney, and then completely rebuilt from the two-by-fours up.

Because we live in a two-bathroom house, this means that, for the next two weeks, we’ll be exclusively using the shower and toilet in the downstairs bathroom.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  Not unless you’re a guy in his late 50s who typically makes at least one trip to the bathroom every night.  Until the upstairs bathroom is back on line, I’m going to have to be very careful about my fluid intake.

Unflattering Sign

IMG_0428Recently I was on the Otterbein University campus and had reason to visit the facilities, where I was struck by this sign posted on the mirror.  It made me wonder:  What kind of kids are going to Otterbein these days that they would come into the bathroom needing to wash off scum?  I’m all in favor of rhyming, but it’s not exactly the kind of message that makes you want to sit on, or otherwise touch, any surfaces on the Otterbein campus.

Tile Dysfunction

We’re strongly considering undertaking some remodeling of our upstairs bathroom.  It’s a perfectly serviceable bathroom, but it’s clearly aging — and, it’s embarrassing to admit it, but we all know that aging often is associated with tile dysfunction.

IMG_7570In this case, the regrettable case of tile dysfunction stems in part from the choice of tile made by a previous owner.  They are large tiles, beige-colored, with some ambiguous designs etched onto them.  They look vaguely like the kind of tile you’d see in a Roman bath scene in Ben Hur.  You half expect to find toga-clad Senators in there, arguing vigorously about Cicero’s most recent speech at the Forum.

In short, the tile selection might work just fine in a steam room in pre-eruption Pompeii, but it looks curiously out of place in a bathroom in a 100-year-old brick structure in German Village in Columbus, Ohio.

And then there’s the installation of the tile, which we suspect was a do-it-yourself job.  There’s nothing wrong with do-it-yourself work — hey, we’ve all seen the Lowe’s commercials featuring husband-and-wife teams happily discovering the rich rewards of putting in a beautiful new kitchen floor themselves — but sometimes DIYers cut corners in ways that professionals wouldn’t.  If you’re the proud homeowner who surveys the fruits of your labors and feels flush with the sense of accomplishment from retiling your bathroom yourself, you might overlook the signs that your work was an amateur effort.  If you’re a later owner unfettered by personal pride in the job, however, you see those little signs.

So now we’re into the bathroom remodeling zone — and if we’re going to treat that unfortunate case of tile dysfunction, shouldn’t we also do something with that vanity, and the bulky medicine cabinet with the annoying mirrored sections that you have to press in to open?  And who’d have thought there were so many different kinds of non-Roman tile to consider?

If I find myself talking about grouting for more than four hours, I’ll be sure to call my doctor.

The Curious “Courtesy Flush” Concept

Recently I was in the bathroom of a coffee shop — give me a break, I’m a 58-year-old guy whose bladder capacity for coffee apparently has shrunk to thimble size — when I noticed a sign above the toilet paper roll that stated, in pertinent part:  “If you must go #2, please courtesy flush — DO NOT OVERLOAD TOILET, IT WILL BACK UP!!”

There’s a lot to digest in that one, somewhat menacing sentence.

IMG_7558_2First, apparently “#1” and “#2” references have moved from childhood to the adult world.  I haven’t heard someone use “#1” and “#2” to describe bodily functions since our sons were little boys, and I wouldn’t expect to see them used in a sign in an adult establishment.  But is there really universal understanding of these slang terms in the United States — much less the world?  In France, for example, do parents speak to children of “nombre un” et “nombre deux”?  What would a coffee-loving foreign visitor to our shores make of the sign’s likely baffling statement about “going #2”?

Second, the sign tacitly assumes that there is some element of choice involved in “going #2” in a public bathroom, as if people decide to do so on a whim, or to enjoy a comfortable seat and a rewarding view, rather that in response to an imminent biological imperative.  Retail businesses should understand that no rational person would want to plop down on their public toilet seat unless there is no immediately available private alternative.  In short, people who unfortunately have to “go #2” in a coffee shop bathroom inevitably “must go #2″ this instant — and having avoided disaster no sign is going to discourage them from doing so.

And finally, there is the curious concept of the “courtesy flush,” which is a phrase I’d not heard before.  The context suggests that flushing should proceed in stages, with a dainty-sounding initial “courtesy flush” to be followed by the ultimate, keep-your-fingers-crossed-and-hope-to-avoid-a-clog final flush.  The concept seemingly presupposes an element of bodily control beyond the capability of all but trained ninja warriors, who probably wouldn’t understand the “#2” reference in the first place.  Or perhaps the “courtesy flush” notion asks the user to initially disregard the adage that “no job is finished until the paperwork is done”?

The No-Bathroom Flight

I learned something interesting yesterday — a functioning bathroom apparently is not an essential requirement for a domestic airline flight.

IMG_6237It happened on my flight from Columbus to New York, on one of those regional jets that has only one rear bathroom.  In the boarding area, the gate agent advised us via a loudspeaker announcement that the only bathroom on the plane was “inoperative” — and sure enough, when we boarded there was a sign on the lavatory door to that effect.

(“Inoperative” seems like a vaguely Nixonian way of saying that the crapper isn’t working, doesn’t it?  Makes you wonder what happened, and whether a miscreant tampered with the smoke detector despite those pre-flight warnings.)

Here’s another interesting bit of information.  When you announce on the public address system at an airport gate that the only bathroom on a plane isn’t working and that people might want to consider that fact, you’re likely to cause a stampede to the nearest comfort facilities.  Obviously, no one wants to be caught in extremis on a bathroomless flight, but there is also the power of suggestion at work.  You might not feel like you need to go at this instant but . . . now that you mention it, and when you know that you’re going to have no options for at least two hours, you’re sure as heck going to try.  In fact, I think some people in the neighboring gate areas trotted off to the restrooms — just in case.

Fortunately, the flight passed without incident, and the passengers made it through without any apparent problem.  I thought of the no-bathroom flight that night, however, when bad weather at LaGuardia caused my flight out to sit on the tarmac for two hours, turning a short flight into a drawn-out exercise that would have been a kidney-busting disaster without a bathroom.  Thank goodness the lavatory on that flight was “operative”!