En Suite

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This English bathroom had no mildew, so it’s not the climate…

[2009]   Earlier this summer my wife and I spent three days in London. We stayed in a nice family-run bed-and-breakfast in Bloomsbury. One of those converted 19th century homes that are now typical of central London.

Typical too was the conversion. Today’s tourist demands an en suite bathroom and squeezing these into the restricted floor plans of Victorian houses takes a lot of ingenuity and funky plumbing. This is something the English excel at. Squeezing a quart into a pint pot as they used to say until everything went metric. (Squeezing two litres into a half-litre pot doesn’t have the same ring to it.) Our bathroom was indeed en suite and was 1.23 m wide. Not too bad, until you consider that the bath took 65 cm of this. That left 58 cm of available floor, just enough for the toilet, but not enough to install a washbasin. No problem, this item was in our room, opposite the bed and between the two sash windows, and next to the dresser with the electric kettle and the tea bags.

“It’s fun. You know you’re in England,” says my American partner, who finds Britain perfectly adorable as long as she doesn’t have to live there.

The Brits are proud of their bathrooms. I have a postcard I picked up in Oxford not so long ago. It shows a classic facility with all the charming details that travellers to Britain know and love. These include the cold tap and the very cold tap, the industrial-strength toilet paper, the ancient bath, the many pipes and the mildewy window sill.

In our rapidly changing world there are nonetheless those places, on gentle islands, where things change but slowly, or not at all.