18 September 2015

ObserVation: The Elizabethan bath & shower

his story was triggered by a picture from Coline’s blog voyageoftheeye which she kindly allowed me to reproduce here. The bath and shower reminded me of a similar one I was confronted with in a hotel in Kent on one of our rare holidays in England. 

I won’t say where it is; only that the hotel is of Elizabethan 'descent' with the typical 'crazy house' interior design, giving you the feeling of being tipsy even before finding the house bar and ordering your first drink of the day.
The people were pleasant, the evening meal ok. 

The room, well ... 
I had mentioned on the phone, when confirming the booking, that we both had back problems and needed good mattresses (you can only try). 
No problem, they said, they had just the right room for us. 
Well ... I’m not sure if they understood me correctly but it turned out to be the so called 'honeymoon suite'!

 [Ed: here the ‘bed’]

The mattress was ok, for the rest of the room I refuse to give a comment. 

Not so for the bathroom, we were informed that the rooms were all newly renovated. Yes, we could confirm that with the smell of paint everywhere. Nobody seems to bother to remove the old paint beforehand anymore, although when I think about it, it’s probably the paint that’s holding it all together. The bathroom was no exception; the small window would only open with brute force and would not close completely again. This was due to not only the fresh paint but the countless other coats the window frame had to endure over the last century.

The next morning Mrs.A wanted a shower, which meant I was to go on ahead and go through the motions and report back on the traps, temperature settings and timings ...

Sorry, but I must backtrack here a moment. 

[Ed: here she goes again! I'm off for a cuppa.]

Do that...

Showering in hotels and B&B in England has always been adventurous. I can still hear, from way back, the curses (in German) issuing from the B&B bathroom when Mrs.A was confronted for the first time with separate hot and cold taps.
I dared not go in and ask what was wrong until she had calmed down somewhat. She was totally dumbfounded at what she called the ‘primitive’ British plumbing system. She remarked that this can only be a one-off experience and that the next B&B (we were doing a tour of Devon) could only be better. I didn’t have the heart to disillusion her at the time, it would come quick enough without me getting in the crossfire.
Well it did not better and after two further days of scolding, freezing and swearing (at this point in a German even I didn't understand), I was given an ultimatum. Either come up with a solution or we would start for home immediately. I was getting that ‘look’ which meant she was deadly serious.
I must say that up to that point I had no problem with constantly twiddling taps while washing. I think it comes with the British passport or it’s in my Anglo-Saxon-Celtic genes. Mrs.A being of Germanic decent was having none of it. 

As we were walking around the local town window shopping Mrs.A came to a sudden halt, almost pulling me of balance. We were in front of a hardware store.
She pointed though the window and said “What is that!?”.
In the window was something I had never seen before. After a while it clicked and I explained. 

She looked at me and I nodded. 
Without another word we went in and bought it.
That evening I knew our holiday was saved. She was more than just happy, she realised she could also wash her long hair over the bath with this ‘portable’ hand shower.
Over the next couple of decades this was one of the first things to be packed before heading for the UK.

 [Ed: are we now back to the main reason for this post?]


 [Ed: then off to the ye olde shower and a good wish upon you!]

Taking a shower is somewhat like cracking a safe. 

One expert look at the object taking in model, age, condition etc. gives you the modus operandi in how you will go about opening the safe or in the case of a shower, operate it successfully without having to seek out the local hospital for burn treatment.
With a safe, it’s slowly to the left while listening, then to the right etc.
For a shower it’s turn on the hot,
wait 5 seconds,
quickly grab the cold,
give it a half a turn,
observe while waiting for up to 15 seconds,
if still scolding then

add a bit of swearing and a
further quarter clockwise turn on the cold,
20 seconds of tolerable temperature ...
... followed by 15 seconds of rumbling,
splattering, coughing from the pipes due to air pockets,
then a sudden drop to sub-zero conditions for any further combinations of hot and cold tap settings.

At this point you press the reset button.
In other words turn everything off and start again.

Eventually you have the knack and can start to shower. 

That is until someone upstairs has the same idea and you’re off once again twiddling taps and swearing at the top of your voice in any language you are comfortable with.
You get my gist?

I entered the bathroom.
It had a bath, as the name on the door suggested and as a second thought as with most British hotels of let’s say “the older generation”, a half-hearted attempt at a shower. 

The Heath Robinson contraption before me was no exception, and by the look of it I would be adding a new combination sequence to my UK Shower Knowledgebase.

Protruding from behind the two taps was a vertical chrome pipe that supported a so-called shower head, which looked like it was a modified long street light casing (minus illumination). I cautiously climbed into the bath (no rubber foot mat or hand rail in sight) and could just about stretch up and get hold of the shower head.
I thought it would be adjustable as the angle was all wrong, but no such luck. I was now committed. Getting in and out of a bath is a problem with my legs and back the way they are. 

There was a mini shower curtain that just about covered the first quarter length of the bath.
My strategy for the day was to slowly try the hot and if needed bring up the cold. I hoped the cold would respond quickly and have enough pressure to hold out against, at this point in time, an unknown factor of hot.

So I turned on the hot, as usual cold at first, then a steep heat gradient with scolding imminent, I grabbed the cold and turned it for what it was worth. The shower head was as mentioned, a modified something, the angle was way too far from the horizontal (30 degrees plus) so that the spray was heading towards the other end of the bath making the shower curtain totally useless.
Not only that, but the spray was being evenly distributed into the room. About a third landed in the bath, a third directly onto the floor, the rest against the wall then running down between wall and bath onto the floor joining the rest.
Unfortunately the third that landed in the bath went quite literary 'over my head'. Mind you I was still getting wet; the shower head was directly over me and had another feature in that it was dripping profusely. I had to decide either to move in the direction of the water spray (at the other end of the bath) and away from the controls (not a good idea), or try and wash in a dribble that was slowly burning my head (again not a good idea).
I took another option; I turned off the water, stepped out of the bath making sure not to slip on the river now flowing under the door into the bedroom.
I dried myself off, making sure not to slip on the river flowing …
Opened the bathroom door, making sure not to slip on the river …
I glanced over at Mrs.A sitting on the bed.
She was staring wide eyed at the river moving in her direction and asked “und?
To which I replied, somewhat dryly now that I was finally dried off “don’t bother!

I didn’t mention the river to the proprietor at breakfast. The maid would probably do that later or, if mopping up every morning was part of her routine, probably not.

 [Ed: here endeth the lesson in attempting to use ye olde Elizabethan shower.]

14 September 2015

Windows: Tales from the Basement II

ur catacombs were dark and dingy, not spooky as such, more like an old wine cellar. Instead of wine bottles there were large drums of chemicals among them the drums of alcohol ...

 [Ed: Dear reader, please note that this is a continuation from the previous post. Start there if you haven’t already done so.]

... They were not easy to budge even when half full and so one could not just pick them up to tip the contents into the canisters. There was a siphon hand pump with a pipe that was inserted into the small opening on the top of the drum and another pipe that was inserted in the canister. It was an old contraption and one had to work it like mad before it would kick in and deliver. 
Well this time it had finally given up the ghost, not a drop came out.
We wondered what to do, we had no intention of going back up stairs and say the pump was broken, even if it wasn't our fault. We looked around; maybe there was a spare one somewhere. There was nothing, apart from a couple of meters of clear plastic piping. My colleague mentioned we could try siphoning it out like petrol from a car tank. I was a little taken back with the example he gave and didn't dwell on what he got up to in his spare time but in principal he was right, we could try it. 

As he suggested it I let him go first. I removed the defect pump and my colleague inserted the pipe. He sucked on the other end until the alcohol appeared, then stopped and placed the end in the canister. The alcohol made a retreat back into the drum. After a few attempts he got the timing right and we had our first canister filled. Now it was my turn, I followed his example, the only difference was that the end I put to my lips was now coated in alcohol and numbed them somewhat. 
I decided I wanted to outdo my colleague in getting it right first time. I sucked like mad and the next moment my mouth was filled with burning fire! I stared to choke but managed to get the pipe into the next canister. As I continued my spluttering my colleague started to laugh his head off. After the initial shock, I joined in between bouts of coughing. 
Now it was a competition! 
He tried a little too hard to out do me and it was soon his turn to splutter and mine to laugh. We still had quite a few canisters to fill and so we took it in turns. The only problem was between giggling and sucking our coordination and ability to quickly react when the alcohol appeared was steadily getting worse with each mouthful. After a while I couldn’t care less if I got a wee dram of the hard stuff or not.
Well, I have little recollection of how we got back upstairs and I was told later that we turned up rolling about and babbling incoherently between bouts of giggling. The next thing I recollect was waking up a few hours later in one of the hospitals overnight rooms with a splitting headache. On returning to the lab I recalled what I could to everyone’s amusement except for the boss, who just shook his head in disbelief. The next time I went to the catacombs I found a brand new pump and therefore had no real incentive to experiment again.

[Ed: You could have gone blind!]

No, this was ethanol not methanol. I hardly drink at all, odd pint at the pub after lunch and a couple on Friday nights. This went straight to me head without passing Go. It was just before lunch which hadn’t helped any.
Ok, where were we ...

[Ed: Other basement, direction was left to the bits and pieces dept.]


[Ed: No left.]

?, I checked the preparation area first.
The gloom was still somewhat eerie and so I had to carefully manoeuvre myself around the work benches. Breaking the silence was the irregular sound of taps dripping into fixing tanks.

I heard and saw nobody.
I moved on to the storage rooms and exhibit cases. There were rows and rows of glass jars with diverse content. Some were not recognisable in the dark yellow colour of the formalin due to age. There were other jars, from more recent times, where unfortunately the contents were recognisable. 

I moved on at a quicker pace. Time was passing and I still had not found her.
As these rooms had no doors, I moved forward, first listening for any tale tells signs before peering around the corner.
No sign of her, I backtracked to the stairs and realised that she could have slipped by me the alternative she was in among the silent residents.
I had to make sure.
Opposite the stairs the padlocked exit for access to the incinerator and the parking area for the house hearse. Every now and then the furnace was fired up. I won’t go into why. For the staff in ‘the know’, one had either to remember to close windows early enough, or go on a self-inflicted errand to some other part of the clinic and make sure you took your time getting back.
On the right side of the basement came the cold storage rooms humming to themselves and their occupants, then the dissecting area. This was one large room with large double doors with glass windows. 

I couldn't imagine that she would be in the cold storage area, just too cold and you would catch your death in there.

[Ed: Was that a pun?]

A what?

[Ed: Ok forget it.]

That left the dissecting area.

Before entering the corridor, I checked the work plan for that morning hanging on the wall next to the list of occupants. It showed that one or two dissecting tables could still be in use. This depended on the number of students delaying the pathological demonstrations due to tummy problems.
I peered down the corridor passed the cold storage area letting my eyes get again accustomed to the gloom.
I hesitated once again.

[Ed: Why?]

I could have sworn I saw light shining out though the windows of the dissection room.

There were two possibilities when I took a look through the windows. I would see one or two similar shapes on the tables covered by white sheets and the lights still on because someone had forgot to turn them off or
one or two similar shapes on the tables covered by white sheets and her doing ...
Yes doing what!
Not sure I wanted to know ...

[Ed: I imagine you where letting your imagination run away with you, ok it was a mortuary but it’s wasn't in Innsmouth.]

True, still I think I was at this point now conscious of where I was and what I was doing down there.

I cautiously approached the doors, stopped and listened making sure not to enter the light coming though the windows. I heard nothing unusual, only the constant hum of the cooling system and the air conditioning with its irritating intermittent coughing. 

Ok, now how to proceed ... 
I decided on a slow moving long stare through the windows. If she happened to see me, I would change direction and go in and ask something instead of finishing the bypass. If she didn't see me I could take note of what she was doing, add a return run then retreat and report.
So I moved, turned my head and looked through the windows, it was weird, everything seemed to slow down. Either adrenaline was kicking in or I was trying very hard to take in everything I saw and remember it all for later.
There where two tables occupied, ‘she’ was sitting on a high stool between them. She could not see me as she was turned slightly away from the doors and looking down to the uncovered occupant on the second table. As I had thought, the pathologists where not finished and one could see that the exposed body was ‘open’ for viewing. And that was what she was doing, staring at the body. I couldn’t see her face (frankly I was glad I couldn’t) but the lack of head motion and my observation of her in the Lab told me all I wanted to know. 

I finally reached the other side of the doors, stopped and started to breathe again. I reflected on what I had seen. What gave me a shudder was that she had a half eaten sandwich in her hand which rested on her lap and the open lunchbox was standing on the end of the dissection table! 
Now what? 
I had to go back the way I came as this was the end of the corridor. I turned around and repeated the flyby. I chanced one last glimpse through the windows. The same scene, I don’t think anything had changed; although I thought it was possible that the sandwich had had another bite taken out of it. This time on passing the doors I just kept going until I was up and out into blinding daylight. 
I found a seat bench and dropped into it. I checked my watch, only 20 minutes! I had only been down there 20 minutes, it had seemed like hours!
Ok, I had a tale of some kind, not an ‘It’ à la S. King, but still something to tell and that was now a problem.  

[Ed: Problem? Oh I see! Half the girls probably wouldn’t believe you and the other half wouldn’t be able to keep it to themselves even if they did.]

Yes, that’s about it. What ever happened I would probably had been asked some rather awkward questions and the consequences for our creepy one I could only speculate. I saw no tinkering with the body, just a passive rather intense morbid interest in dead bodies at an unusual time of the day.

 [Ed: Interesting, you of course took the easy way out.]

What do you think, of course I did! 

I reported back what the girls wanted to hear. It went something like this ...
I followed her out to the clinic garden and observed a tête-à-tête with a young man, the usual sitting close together, starry eyed and holding of hands. The girls ummed and ahed all in the right places and to end my story I added the close call detection and a hurried retreat. 
I was praised for my effort got a few hugs and lipstick smears on my cheek (the best bit of the day) and that was that.

Footnote: Our creepy colleague “disappeared” a few weeks later without as much as a by your leave. I checked the mortuary one more time just in case. No trace, apart from an abandoned lunchbox under one of the dissecting tables. We heard a few months later she had enrolled to study medicine.  

[Ed: Maybe she took an extra course in hypnosis; she had the predisposition for it.]

Wouldn’t have put it past her with those eyes of hers, will never know.  

[Ed: So what did you learn from the experience?]

A new definition for a working lunch!  

[Ed: That with the lunch box, you’re kidding aren’t you?]

What do you think...

06 September 2015

Windows: Tales from the Basement I

usie Jay commented again to one of my posts. This time about the twins that use to pick me up from home every morning and cycled with me to primary school.
You will have to click on the link to read what happened or to jog your memory (Windows: Double vision or first contact of the girl kind). 
Susie said they were rather creepy. Yes they were. Ok, they weren’t as creepy as these two from the Shining, but I must admit there is an uncanny resemblance when I think about it.. 
I haven’t had that many creepy things happen to me over the years or self-inflicted for that matter, like sleeping in a graveyard (Windows: Graveyards I). Writing it up decades later I also find it all a bit weirdish. Thinking about it, this creepiness got me thinking about another creepiness.

 [Ed: Stop press: There will be something for Graveyard II on the 31st. of October.]

This story happened at the time I was in Pathology. If any of you got through my Preamble then you will know I spend some time working in a Path Lab. 

[Ed: Dear reader, please note that this post has nothing to do with 
a) Stockings, 
b) Dressing and 
c) Anything Abigalish, aside from her sitting in the back row eating popcorn] 

The Lab staff consisted of two older women, who kept usually to themselves and in my age group six girls plus yours truly. Come lunch time the girls and I would either go to the cafeteria or if the weather permitted sit outside together with our sandwiches. 

That is, all except our new comer. We thought at first she was just shy in socialising. Working together she was quiet, not very talkative and would stare a lot. I thought it was just day dreaming but she would fix her eyes on an object, never a person as they usually moved about, and would just stare. I could swear her eyes would widen slightly when she did this. Unlike Wednesday she would add an almost undetectable turning up of the corners of the mouth, halfway between a smirk and a smile. All in all a little unnerving. 

Come lunch time she would excuse herself just before we would leave and head for the toilets. It couldn't have been to refresh her makeup as she wore none on top of her ghostlike complexion. Not like my colleagues, some of them came to work looking like they had either just come from clubbing or were going directly after work. We didn't see her again until the break was over. On returning to the Lab she was already there. 

This went on for weeks and speculation was rampant where she spent her lunch breaks. One day the girls couldn't stand it any longer and decided to follow her. That is I was unanimously chosen to do the dirty work. There was a certain amount of pleading, but in the end I gave in as I was also intrigued to what she was getting up to. So the next day just before the break under the pretence about having to look something up I went off to the in-house library. From there I had a good view of the stairs and the exit. I watched as the girls left chatting among themselves followed a few moments later by she who stared.

She was still in her white lab coat plus lunchbox and making for the exit. I had to decide when to follow her, leave too early possible detection, leave too late possibility of losing her. I was just about to move, when at the last moment instead of leaving the building she turned and went down the stairs into the basement. I was a little taken back by this turn of events, as the girls had speculated that she was meeting a boyfriend somewhere close by and didn't want us to know about it. Well of course this could still be the case, but in the basement!

I was a little hesitant to continue with this. Outside, if she saw me I could always find an excuse to be going in the same direction, but in the basement my excuse would have to be a good one. I was in no hurry now, there was no way I would miss her as the stairs she just used was the only way back out of... and then I realised the other reason I held back. The place was not only a dead end but most things down there where dead as well! 

The basement was divided into two main areas each with a preparation and storage area. On the left side of the building, smelling of formaldehyde and alcohol, was the preparation and storage of, let's say 'bits and pieces' of people who left the clinic a little lighter than when they came in. On the right of the building an area for storage and the dissection of people who left the clinic feet first and still had, up to that point, their 'bits and pieces' on board. Here not the most present of smells, rather sweet and sickly, causing a continuous underlying feeling of nausea. Although I had in the past assisted with a number of autopsies, I could never get use to the smell. I was plagued by sudden recurrences of it for years afterwards; the smell wasn't really there, only a vivid recall from memory to nose. 

I slowly descended the stairs. I must say upfront that the building was old, very old. Ok, not so old that we had gas lighting, but old enough that the air conditioning was in no condition to condition the air, hence a cocktail of working smells started to impose on me about half way down. 
It was not as bad as one hot mid-summer Monday morning when I arrived at work to find most of the staff outside and a little way off from the building. Me thought perhaps a spontaneous fire drill. As I got closer 'that' smell drifted towards me in the still air, the smell that was usually banned to the basement. It turned out that we had had fresh ‘deliveries’ on Friday evening and some time that night the air conditioning and the refrigerators had made a pact and decided they wanted a quiet weekend and had switched themselves off including any alarms they could find. 
Well, the rest of the morning was uneventful, apart from watching gas-masked technicians reluctantly entering the basement and me doing my best not to be volunteered to go in and help open all the windows one could find. 

I reach the basement, stopped and listened. Nothing, except the chronic gasping of the air conditioning and the sound of cockroaches scuttling away into the gloom.

[Ed: cockroaches!]

Yep! … No sorry! That was another basement in another building and another story (but same campus). I’ll just imagine the sound of cockroaches scuttling away into the gloom, Ok?

Now what was I going to do. Usually the main corridors left and right were well lit. But the lights were not on, only the emergency lighting and that only half heartily.
Here I was only a few meters from my daily workspace in a badly lit basement, staying as far as possible undetected in following a weird staring girl with a creepy lunch location and to boot, believe it or not, outnumbered by dead bodies!
It was no wonder I was slowly getting the willies. 

Ok, now which way to go.. 

[Ed: I was thinking, why hadn’t she put the lights on when she came down?] 

A good question, yes why hadn’t she? 
Didn’t want to draw attention to herself? But why? 
I left the question in the stale air. 
First look around, speculate later.

[Ed: sorry to keep butting in, why didn’t you put on the lights?]

For the simple reason the whole corridor would be flooded in light including any rooms where the doors were open or had windows. She would then realise that someone was coming and possibly be doing something different when I looked. 
I just wanted to observe what she was doing without detection and report back. 
Nothing more, nothing less. 
Not that I thought she was doing something she shouldn’t, formalin sniffing or the like. Maybe it was totally harmless, like re-labelling specimens out of boredom and just forgot to put the light on. 

I turned left towards the ‘bits and pieces’ area.
The complete back of the building had small longish windows at the top of the basement walls. These looked out onto vertical shafts up to the ground floor. As I hadn’t put the lights on, this allowed a certain amount of day light to supplement the emergency lighting and stop me being totally blind and walking into or falling over things lying around.

[Ed: What could have been lying around down there?]

Possibly an utterly stoned Lab technician.

[Ed: A what!? Ok out with it.]

Well, it was the time I was working in Histology. We have to use absolute alcohol to wash out the specimens from the water-based fixative formaldehyde so as to be able to embed them in paraffin wax and then make very thin slices to look at under the microscope. 
In the Lab we had a number of 20 litre canisters with abs. alcohol. Anything larger would have been difficult to store in the Lab. When the canisters were empty, which was about every month, two of us were ‘picked’ to go and fill them up again from the large drums stored three floors down in the basement. One day it was my turn. So with a colleague, a trolley and about 10 canisters we set off for the ‘catacombs’ as we called them. 

Ah, just did a word count, I think it’s time for a break..

[Ed: Now? it was just getting interesting!]

Yes, but as usual I realise that this little anecdote in the catacombs is going to take longer than I thought. And the creepy girl is still not found. Anyway you know what will happen.

[Ed: Of course I do, but they don’t!]

Dead silence..

[Ed: Hey! hello, anybody there? Now where has she disappeared too..]

To be cont…