27 February 2007

Plumbing: Very Good to Have

I must admit to enjoying our soft and convenient way of life. I like canned and frozen foods, microwave ovens, central heat, and definitely cars. The local water district decided to test just how appreciative I was. I got out of bed this morning, only to discover we had no water. Ack! What's a modern girl to do?

Or not do. Here's a list:

Couldn't take a shower.
Couldn't run the dishwasher.
Couldn't wash my hands after making sausage patties (made do with Clorox Wipes).
Couldn't run the clothes washer.
Couldn't, er, flush, meaning I couldn't do other things, either.

And worst of all . . . Couldn't make coffee!!!

So let's talk plumbing. Lots of civilizations in the past have had excellent plumbing systems, some, like Ancient Crete or Rome, rivaling what we have today. We don't often think of these things because Britain (after the Romans left) and America had, well, pathetic or no plumbing.

When I put together the words "ancient" and "water," I think Roman aquaduct. Bowdoin College has a good online article, ARCHAEOLOGY 291: The Roman Aqueducts and Water Systems. Of course, there's always a price to be paid.

Here's a terrific site that tells all about plumbing through the ages, ThePlumber.com. Did you know ancient Crete boasted ". . . the world's earliest "flushing" water closet." Or Egypt where "Excavators of the mortuary temple of King Suhura at Abusir discovered niches in the walls and remnants of stone basins. These were furnished with metal fittings for use as lavatories." Want an armrest on your toilet? "China has flushed Britain's claims to have invented the water closet down the pan with the discovery of a 2,000-year-old toilet complete with running water, a stone seat and a comfortable armrest."

Interested in Americana? Here's the history of outhouses, where you can find out the actual function of a two-holer, and why there's a moon cut into the door. How about outhouse folklore? "The outhouse was movable and Grandpa always located it so that the door was directly behind an oak tree to which he would affix a panel of boards, so that you could use the outhouse with the door open, the advantage should be obvious." Outhouses of the American West has pictures, trivia, lore, and even jokes--a great site to check out.

Ah, here's a prize. How about a biblography champberpots and other interesting facilities

Now, I'll tell a story on my own family. I grew up on a farm outside Homedale, Idaho. My great-grandmother lived about twenty miles away, in Parma. She was getting up in years, and her mother, who was nearly 100, lived with her. One year, for Mother's Day, My dad and grandfather decided to install bathroom facilities in the pantry, a fairly good-sized room off the kitchen. So when they showed up with a tub, toilet and sink, my great-grandmother (an immaculate housekeeper) chased them out of her driveway with a broom because she was so appalled to think that anyone would do "their business" in her house. How disgusting!

A week later, Dad and Grandpa built a little building near the house and installed the facilities, then connected it to the main house with a roofed walkway. And everyone lived Happily Ever After.

The point of this story is that we shouldn't force our values onto our characters who live in another time and another place. I think the story about my great-grandmother is funny, but she sure didn't, and neither did her mother.

But back to the broken water main. When basic services are interrupted, I'm always grateful to live now, even though I've always thought I would fit in better had I been born at least 150 years ago. Honestly, I truly appreciate our precious running water, and the same goes for the drain pipes that take the waste away.

Of course, we probably won't get too much into, er, bathroom habits in our stories, but still, it's part of your character's world, and who knows when the opportunity for a little bathroom humor might arise. I say, if it's good enough for Will Shakespeare . . .

Despite the complexity and supreme cleverness of his manipulation of language, Shakespeare was a popular entertainer in his own time. It's a matter of great curiosity, therefore, that perhaps the greatest author of bathroom humor has today been appropriated by the cultural elite.
Jacquie Rogers
2006 PEARL Award Winner, Best Short Story
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Michelle Styles said...

Ah plumbing.

It is such an emotive topic.

The Romans of course were excellent engineers and some of their water systems are still running today. It is a salatory lesson in far mankind can fall/regress.

However, some people think because there was no running water that various people were unclean or did not bathe.

The Vikings, for example were renown for their cleanliness. Several Anglo Saxon commentators complain that the Vikings are getting the girls on account of their personal bathing habits.

There is archelogical evidence that the medieval plumbing systems were far more sophisticated than widely assumed. For example the plan of a monastery in Canterbury dating from 1165 shows an extraordinary network of pipes, aqueducts, cisterns and reserviors. Water is gravity fed all over the monastery.

A similair systems was used at Sir William cecil's house Thoebalds during the Elizabethan period.

In fact many of the so-called secret tunnels found in medieval building s were sewers.

Soap (which did not exist in Roman times) was invented in the 5th century (could be 4th). Large scale commerical production of soap happened in England during the 8th century. It is one of the things that led the industrial revolution.

While there may not have been running water, people did use a jug and basin to wash.

I could on and on as it is a really interesting topic.
And there are so many aspects to it...

Anonymous said...

The romans did have running water in a sense, thats what the aqueducts were for (combined with gravity they perform a excellent supply of water and the romans wanted to protect these since a attack on the aqua ducts would prove to be deadly). Maybe not in the sense of a flushing loo or a shower, but they had a regular supply.

The romans were one of the cleanest civilizations from our history and were well know for there baths and temples.

Of course the professional of a plumber was not around, and they would not know how to fit a combi boiler but they did what they could with what they had, in fact for us to build some of the buildings they have would be incredibly difficult due to money constraints.

nice post

Jonathan (London plumber)

Tess said...

Great post! Thanks for all those links :-) And I love your family story - both the incident itself and the solution.