I travel with work and have stayed at a wide range of bed and breakfast establishments around the United Kingdom. I have discovered there is a hateful device to be found in many of the guest houses and small hotels of the land: the electric shower. Generally, these are based on a common design principle, usually requiring three main controls: a cord hanging from the ceiling, a power setting switch and a temperature knob. In my experience, most electric showers appear to have these controls implemented as follows:
The pull cord, which controls the supply of electricity to the water heater, is hidden (e.g. behind the bathroom door). Its presence and state (switched off) aren’t discovered until the showeree is ensconced in the bath or cubicle and has been drenched by a sudden jet of ice cold water.
The power setting switch usually has ‘high’ and ‘low’ settings. More sophisticated examples, with more settings, simply offer finer degrees of the same thing. The ‘high’ setting alternates the water temperature – at random intervals from ten to fifty-five seconds – between scalding, instantly skin peeling heat and whatever setting is selected on the temperature dial. The ‘low’ setting alternates the water temperature – at random intervals from twenty to ninety-five seconds – between blood thickeningly freezing cold and whatever setting is selected on the temperature dial.
Clearly, the temperature knob plays a crucial role in the overall showering experience. Most examples have a setting scale of one to ten; they never have actual temperature settings. Settings one to five are normally coloured blue and six to ten coloured red; the implied effects on water temperature couldn’t be made more obvious. But it’s all a lie, of course. Numbers one to three are all just above freezing. Numbers four to ten are all just below boiling. The region between three and four results in a temperature fluctuation between fifteen and eighty-five degrees Celsius, the rate of which would be predictable, were it not for the randomising effects of the power setting switch. Within this region, there exists the mystical and rarely discovered “safe zone”, in which a bearable temperature can be maintained for anything up to a minute, though rarely longer. The safe zone can never be found directly, but has to be discovered by selecting a nearby hot or cold setting and enduring it until the safe zone, if it chooses, anoints the blistered, or frost-bitten, would be clean person, with water at just the right temperature.
It’s amazing how adept one can become at washing, quite thoroughly, using only a hand basin.