Saturday, November 08, 2008

merry olde england

I'm writing my first real blog post in months from the Sanctuary House Hotel in Westminster, London. M. and I are on a little trip around England (and ending up in Paris) with the intention of seeing friends in various parts of the country and (for me) relaxing a bit before the ski season gets into full swing.

M. spent her early childhood (age 1 to 3) in the tiny village of Great Chishill, not far from Cambridge. She and her family have maintained their friendships there over the years and often returned to visit, so we were able to stay for our first few nights with M.'s friend Sophie, who lives in a modern townhouse half a mile away from the 500(!)-year-old house where she grew up — and where her parents still live — under a thatched roof.

Sophie's house is only a year old, and England is decidedly a first-world country, so I was really surprised to see how many, er, modern conveniences it was lacking. It began with the bathroom sink, which has separate taps (not just separate knobs) for hot and cold. This means that hand-washing requires either (a) filling the sink with the right mix of hot and cold water and then washing, (b) using exclusively ice-cold or boiling-hot water, or (c) rapidly alternating between the two. As I reflected that I hadn't seen a sink like that in an American house with plumbing less than fifty years old, I decided that option C worked best.

Another plumbing-related surprise was that the house had no shower, only a bathtub. As much as I enjoy a relaxing bath now and then, I can't imagine getting ready for work every morning by trying to wash up as quickly as possible in a bath instead of a shower. According to Sophie, it costs much more to put in a shower in her part of England because a pump has to be installed to compensate for the inadequate water pressure.

Yet another annoyance (well, it would be to me, anyway) was that the house had a washing machine but no dryer. But I began to realize that this one was part of an overall energy-consciousness that's not to be found in American homes, where efficiency is only beginning to be embraced by both builders and consumers. Dryers use a LOT of electricity, so it's both cheaper and more environmentally friendly to dry your clothes on a rack. (In England, I imagine outdoor clotheslines are only an option for a few weeks out of the year.)

There were other energy innovations, too. I soon found out that all electrical outlets in England have an on-off switch next to them; that way you can easily eliminate your electrical appliances' "phantom power" draw without having to unplug and re-plug them all the time. Likewise, Sophie's hot water heater was of the instantaneous (a.k.a. "tankless") variety, meaning it has to be turned on before you take a bath, but it saves lots of energy. Overall, of course, the house was quite a bit smaller than most American living spaces, too, meaning that it requires less energy to heat, clean and maintain.

That's all for now — time to go see some more sights in London and go to another show. (We've already been to concerts here by Al Green and the Cold War Kids.) Next post: London and points beyond, possibly with some photos