A year of wiping arse near the Thames

So it’s been exactly one year and one day since we moved to London. Exactly one year ago (one day after we moved here), I wrote about why Brits talk so much about the weather.

The last one week has been among my most depressing in London. Between Tuesday and Friday, the only times I stepped out of home was to the store round the corner, for grocery shopping. The wife didn’t step out of home at all. The daughter accompanied me on one trip to the store. Between Tuesday evening and Saturday morning, there was a layer (or few) of snow on the ground, thanks to the Beast From The East.

This wasn’t the first time in life that I’d seen snow fall – that had occurred in early December when we were similarly snowed in one Sunday, and had run out of supplies.

This apart, another source of depression was the latitude – between early November and late January, it would get dark insanely early here – around 4pm or so. It would be especially cruel on weekends when we’d be home, to see it getting dark so early. I would take walks in the middle of work (I was working for a company then) to make sure I at least got to see some sun (or white clouds!).

Weather apart, one big insight about London after a year of living here is that it’s a massive sprawl. For example, I live in a 2-storey house, with a backyard at least 100 feet long. And this is typical of all the houses in my area. Roads curve around and have plenty of cul de sacs, giving most residential neighbourhood a suburban feel. Check out the satellite picture of my area here: 
Until I moved here last year, I had assumed that London is an “urban” and dense city, given what I’d seen in 2005 (when I’d stayed in South Kensington) and the fact that the city has great public transport and congestion charges. As it turns out, the neighbourhoods are really suburban and low density. Residential areas are really residential, and you need to go to your area’s “high street” if you need to shop.

In the suburbs, most people have cars, which they use fairly regularly – though not for commuting into the city. The area I live in, Ealing, for example, has brilliant public transport connections, but is fundamentally built for life with cars. We currently live in a 1880s house, but are soon moving to a more “urban” apartment in a building that used to be a pub.

London being a sprawl means that it takes a long time to get anywhere, unless you’re commuting directly in or out of town. Most tube connections are radial, which means that if you need to visit someone in another neighbourhood it can take a long time indeed. As a consequence, I’ve hardly met my friends here – with the one I’ve met most often it’s been at an average frequency of once in 2 months.

The other thing that’s intrigued me about London is the pubs – those in the middle of town are all mostly horribly crowded, while those in the suburbs are really nice and friendly. There’s this one place close to home where I go for my football matches, and where we once went for a Sunday roast (yes, pubs here offer baby high chairs!).

Other pubs in the area look inviting as well, and make me wonder why I don’t have “area friends” to go to them with!

Finally, coming to the title of this post, when we were house-hunting this time last year, one of the things I looked for was a house with a bidet or health faucet. We were told by the agents that such fixtures weren’t normal for rental housing in the UK. After we’d moved in, we asked our landlords if we could install a health faucet. Once again we got the same reply, and that we were free to install them as long as we took them away when we moved out.

So as it has happened, we haven’t really “washed arse in the Thames“!


Loos in America

Ok I’ve spent quite a few (>1) blog posts after coming here on input so let me write one on output. In fact for a long time I’ve intended to write a post on loos in India but have never got the time. Hopefully I’ll sit down to write it some day. Today, you’ll have to make do with American shyte.

The last time I found facilities in a loo for washing the arse (or thoLyin the thika) was at the Dubai airport on my way here where there was a health faucet. As has been well documented Islamic cultures place a lot of emphasis of keeping the arse clean and hence the ubiquity of this contraption in all Islamic countries (and of late in India also). As has also been well documented, western cultures prefer to keep the loos clean and hence use paper to wipe the arse after the process.

In my serviced apartment I’ve been doing one of the usual Indian things – I’ve kept a drinking glass in the bathroom and use it as a mug. Yeah its volume is quite low but that’s the best I can manage. Thankfully the taps aren’t too far away so I can manage. My biggest fear, however, is that I’ll drop this glass in the bathroom and might injure my feet. Office, however, offers no such luxuries so I’ve to make do with paper. When in Amreeka, do your ass like the Amreekans do.

My apartment and my office have two contrasting flushing systems, both of which seem superior to the system we have in India (the flush in my apartment in Bangalore is especially inefficient, especially when I download large volumes). At home, water starts swirling around in the WC as soon as I pull the trigger, slowly and steadily. Soon the pace picks up and the water level starts going down, pulling the crap along with it. And in a few seconds the pot is clean, and new water comes in so the level of water in the pot is restored. Actually I’ve noticed that the normal level of water in the pot in my apartment is much higher than it normally is in western loos. I think it’s similar to a football defence playing with a high offside line!

Office is a new building so has even more sophisticated loo. First of all the flush is automated – as soon as you get up and start buttoning up your pants the thing goes, though there’s a  button which you can push in case the automatic thing fails. This is the first time ever that I’ve seen automatic flush in a pottystation. I’d earlier seen it only in urinals.

So the flush operates with a vacuum mechanism, much like the flushes on flights. So some pump gets into operation and sucks in all the shit and the paper and everything else in one smooth motion. And then there is a water jet to clean up any remnants, and that gets sucked in too. Finally, there is some fresh water ready to take shit.

The best thing I’ve found about my office loo, however, is the seat paper. So in this special compartment in the potty station you get paper that’s shaped in the plan of the commode (plan as in top view; I hope you can picturize). So when you go in, you pull out one such paper and put it on to the seat, and then take your seat and do your business. And once business is done, send this paper also packing into the WC!

Excellent idea, I think, because the biggest crib that people have about commodes is that they have to rest bare arse on the same space that hosted some other bare arse and this may not be healthy. Providing this facility allows you to take insurance about that, and you need not put your ass-to-risk*. I hope this starts getting implemented soon enough in India also, especially in public facilities.

Some links:

1. Vikram Doctor’s excellent take on toilets
2. One earlier time when I had blogged about toilets at work
3. An earlier post of mine, on washing your arse in the Thames
4. A post on loos and sacred threads. One of those one-liner posts I stopped posting after I started tweeting. This post would become significant later in my life in a most unusual manner