Wednesday, 7 March 2012


Recently I've been following a friend's saga on Facebook dealing with the difficulties she's been having with the remodeling of her bathroom. Reading about her dealings with contractors and plumbers made me remember some of the experiences I've had here with plumbers and the like so I thought it might make a good topic for my next blog because it, again, points out some of the differences between life here and life in the US. As I told her, to me, plumbing and electricity are so very different here it's like we're on a different planet!

I'm definitely NOT
a Handy Woman!
I probably don't have to say it but I will: I know very little about how plumbing and electricity work. When I lived on my own I could sort of fix a toilet and understood how it worked. I installed and hooked up a DVD player to my cable box and TV all by myself and I knew how to use a plug and screw in a light bulb. Over here, I cannot do ANY of these things. I just don't get how they all work! Well, I can plug in a plug into a socket and I now know how to change a light bulb but both are VERY different, as I'll show you. 

So, yes, I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to DIY or home repairs or household maintenance. Most of what I'm going to say might make some men sneer or snicker but hey, we all have our areas of expertise don't we? For example, Sparky, do YOU know how to make a cheesecake or get blood stains out of clothes? Oh, and that last wasn't a threat just in case you're wondering. I'm not getting all "I'm woman hear me roar..." but I digress. I just want to make sure you all understand that any explanations are from my own understanding and might not have anything to do with the truth or how things actually work--just how I think they do! 

A boiler somewhat like ours
Once, oh, it must have been about a year or more ago we had an issue with our boiler leaking.  The best way I can explain the boiler is that it's the main way the water is heated and this is also how we heat the house. I'm not sure if hot water circulates to the radiators or not but it's somehow all tied in together. There are no such things, that I know of, as a hot water heater like we have in the US. All I know is that if your boiler goes you lose your heat and hot water. We were lucky, though, because even though the boiler was leaking we still had both hot water and heat.

Robert called a couple of people who knew people to come look at it and the quickest guy he could get to come out was a pretty rough guy from Glasgow who never smiled. Now, Glasgow gets a bad rep. for being rough and full of drunks and gangsters and the Glaswegian accent is notorious for being more incomprehensible than most. For those of you who haven't seen this, it's time for a wee video break:

I used to send this to friends and family back home not only because it's funny but because I would say, "See what I'm up against?" Glasgow is supposed to be more "working class" than Edinburgh but it's a really lovely city and I like it. It's sort of like the bad rep. New Jersey gets--not everyone who is from there was an extra on The Sopranos (I've heard, I think..Right?).

Still, this plumber guy could have been a stereotype and so right off the bat he made me feel a bit uneasy. He wasn't scary or anything and his helper was as happy and smiley and friendly as he was grouchy. He poked around a while upstairs with the boiler and then came downstairs and asked me the million dollar question: "Do you have an electric shower?" I said, "Do I have a WHAT?" Now earlier he had been telling me something about the boiler and I had been doing my usual, "nod and smile" routine giving it an "mmhmm" every now and then but mostly I had no idea what he was saying. So when he asked me if we had an electric shower I thought I had heard him wrong. He repeated it, "Do you have an electric shower?" giving me an exasperated look. I told him I had no idea what kind of shower we had but I couldn't imagine we had an electric one. He went back upstairs and then came down again and told me with a bit of an eye roll that we did have an electric shower. I told him that where I come from electricity and water DON'T mix but I don't think he found that amusing. He fixed our boiler but I'm sure he thought I was dumber than a box of rocks!

To this day I still don't understand what an electric shower is or why you have it or even where the electricity comes in. The only thing I know is that it has something to do with heating the water to the shower and works kind of like a mixer valve to mix the hot and cold water. Some of them also help to maintain the pressure of the water and make it more of a power shower but ours is definitely not that! 
An Electric Shower--not quite
like the one we have but similar
The inside of the electric shower

There you have it and if you can figure it out you're better than I am. But it's not just the showers (which are an afterthought in any bathroom really because most people prefer baths). To me, the whole plumbing set up is more complicated than it needs to be, or they just do things much differently.
Bathroom Plumbing, UK

Bathroom Plumbing US
I don't know which one looks easier or better but they do look different. To me it looks like you have a lot more pipes and paraphernalia in the UK bathroom. Like I said, showers are kind of an add-on thing even in new houses. I think showers are becoming more popular and accepted here but most people prefer taking a bath not a shower. 

Not only is the plumbing different but so is the electricity. Don't ask me about AC or DC or which is which. All I know is that the plugs are very different and there's a switch on the outlet where you can actually turn something off or on, when it's plugged in or switched on.

The switches on the outlet turn the plug
on and off. The one on the right is on

This shows the different sorts of prongs
going into the socket

One other thing that I thought was odd is that the plugs also have fuses in them. Once our TV kept going off for no reason and Robert said that the plug needed a new fuse. I said, "What? The plug needs a fuse??" I had never heard of such a thing. Like I said, it feel like I'm not only in a different country but a different planet!

Now let's talk light bulbs. When we were first furnishing the house we did some of our shopping at Ikea. I had chosen two lamps for the living room and a small desk lamp for the desk. I thought nothing of the fact that they required screw-in light bulbs--after all, that's what a light bulb does right? OH'd have thought I'd asked for Aladdin's Magic Lamp the way Robbie carried on. Apparently screw-in light bulbs are a rarity here and Robbie thought we'd have to go to Ikea every time we needed a light bulb (which I've found is not the case, they do have them elsewhere). The problem for him was that Ikea was a whole 30-40 miles away (they have a different idea of distance here). So he's never let me forget the mistake I made in choosing these lamps. So what kind of light bulbs do they have? Well,  they have prongs on the end and you sort of push them in and maybe sort of twist. I have a hard time getting them to go in right and usually have to ask Robert.

A typical UK light bulb

The EU has banned all incandescent light bulbs
in a ridiculous move to save energy so now
pretty much all you can buy are the energy
saving fluorescent bulbs. They are, of course, much
more expensive and much dimmer. I hate them.
As I said earlier, I may not have been Mrs. Handywoman but I could at least change a light bulb. Here, I'm not so sure. It kind of throws you off and you feel a bit incompetent. Things you used to take for granted and understand, if not well, at least enough to get by are now completely unknown and topsy-turvey to me. 

So, those are just some of the things I'm trying to get used to and deal with. I must say, it was easier, to me, when I could just plug in a 2-pronged plug and didn't have to flip a switch, screw in a light bulb and not have to worry about electricity in my shower! But maybe that's just me...