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The littlest room

December 7, 2013

The husband has been busy these past few weeks, creating a new bathroom on Freya, which is now almost finished. It has taps, and switches, tiles and trim; a working toilet, hot and cold running water, and absolutely no hand pumps. It’s heaven.

It replaces our old bathroom, a rickety three-sided structure made of chipboard that wobbled precariously every time we shut the door, and has borne an uncanny resemblance to a public toilet stall ever since we raised the roof of the boat, revealing six inches of air space above the walls. When we first bought the boat, from a seven-foot Dutchman called Jacques, the bathroom door function was fulfilled by a green tie dye sarong, and the hot water for the hip bath was fed by a piece of hosepipe from the kitchen sink. The hip bath had the exact dimensions to fool you into thinking it might be quite comfortable for a quick soak, but in actual fact proved more useful as a place to store dirty crockery until it was time to do the washing up.

It was helpfully positioned opposite the dining table, so that you could continue your dinner conversation without interruption whilst one of your guests went to pee.

Amazingly, given all the above, we decided changing the bathroom wasn’t a priority when we first moved in, so five years later it still stood (precariously), and we worked around its foibles, always being ready with the radio turned up to maximum when someone needed to venture in.

However, the worst thing about our old bathroom was the handpumps. Imagine you’ve just had a lovely relaxing bath (we had to imagine, so so should you), have just got all clean and dry and are about to settle down by the fire when you remember the water won’t drain out by itself. Boats are funny old things, spending their entire lives half-submerged in water, so that anything below about knee height is under the water line. A plug and gravity won’t do the trick here, and will more likely turn the entire boat into a (admittedly, fairly luxurious) bath itself. Instead, we have an intricate system of pumps and pulleys, and interesting things like ‘skin fittings’, which are not as exciting as they sound, but rather just another component of a gurgling, rattling, rusting system that I try not to think too hard about.

On Freya, if you want to get water in or out of the boat you must use a pump, and in the bathroom these were all operated by hand. A full bath constituted 250 energetic strokes. A decent sized jobby, about 45. My arm muscles (and subsequent prowess in more than one drunken arm-wrestling competition) have strengthened enormously over the past few years, due in no small part to this energy-intensive system.

The toilet system in particular baffled friends and family, to the point where they stopped coming to visit, or at least didn’t eat or drink anything when they stayed. A bi-annual event would be Ben stripping the bog to its barest components, donning an industrial bin bag over his arm, and going for a rummage in the toilet bowl, muttering “Who’s put a sodding tampon down here this time?” I remember fondly the time this happened on his birthday.

The new bathroom has no such pumps. To complete your ablutions now all is required is the touch of two buttons. Two buttons! Electricity is involved, a marvellous invention that means it is now possible to walk away upon closing the toilet lid, instead of having to pump endlessly, swirling sights no civilised person was ever meant to see, down the toilet bowl. It’s a modern marvel.

Friends we haven’t seen for years are now slowly renewing their friendships, having heard a rumour it is now possible to visit without worrying what they ate the night before. It is also the only room in the boat with a proper electric light, instead of the mix of LED strips, fairy lights, desk lamps and candles that illuminate the rest of the boat. I can’t get Ben out of it.

We still don’t have a functioning door, but the position of the bathroom means that you now have to shout to continue the conversation. We should probably get out of that habit.

So this is my public thanks to Ben for creating such a lovely bathroom. It may be the littlest room, but it’s made a big difference to our lives. Although I will no longer reign supreme as an arm wrestling champion, I think the sacrifice is worth it. Now if you’ll excuse me…

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