How do I flush thee?...? Let me count the ways

2013-08-22 00:00

A WATER cut during the recent Proudly Primary conference at Cordwalles Prep School in Wembley had staff scurrying around with buckets of water from the swimming pool to flush the toilets.

Since there were more than 1 000 delegates at the conference, this emergency sanitation exercise required an awful lot of scooping, scurrying, pouring, flushing and yet more scooping, scurrying, pouring and flushing.

However, at least the staff knew what was required to make the toilets work, which is more than we could say sometimes on our recent holiday in Greece. Going to the toilet was often a voyage of discovery, as we counted no fewer than eight different forms of flush technology.

Our encounters with creative plumbing started right from our first day, when my daughter emerged from a cubicle in the toilets at the Acropolis looking startled: “Mum,” she said in an embarrassed whisper, “how do you flush the loo?” Recollections from a previous visit came suddenly flooding back in a rush: Greece has some of the most idiosyncratic flush technology I have encountered. Apparent sanitation deregulation has led to a wide and fascinating range of flush mechanisms.

In our month-long travels on the mainland and islands, we came across two forms of floor-based flushers, several wall-mounted systems, yet more attached to the cistern, plus several exceptions to the seemingly non-existent rules. We learnt to look first on the floor for a metal lever, or a ball that had to be depressed, the ball was often red, so easy to see. If there seemed to be nothing on the floor, we next scanned the wall for a lever or button that had to be depressed, pulled or turned. Still no luck? Then we looked for the cistern, which could be mounted on the wall above the bowl or was hanging from the ceiling. On this there could be a button to push, a string to pull or a lever to depress, depending … on what, only the gods know. If there was no cistern in sight, start again at the beginning.

The most idiosyncratic flusher we encountered, thankfully seldom, outdid all those already mentioned. This sophisticated system is based on sensors that perceive when a patron makes a deposit in the pan … and then give the hapless user about 20 seconds to vacate the seat before flushing automatically. I wonder how many nice ladies from Brighton or Vladivostok have exited the cubicle thinking that the toilet is haunted?

However, the award for creative toilet technology was won easily by the public toilets in an Athens hotel, where the lights were operated automatically by infrared sensors. As you walked into the dark cubicle, they came on. However, the sensors don’t encourage wasting time on your toilet routine — no lingering on the loo with a good book, for example — as the lights went out again if you sat still for too long. If you are caught out in this way, you have to wave your hands around to make them come back on again.

Infrared sensor technology seems to be way of the future, as we also encountered taps and paper-towel dispensers operated thus. We also came across what have to be the most beautiful public amenities I have seen, which led my children to decide I was definitely a Weird Mother. And this because all I did was keep them waiting while I took photos of the toilets.

When you go to Athens, go to the top of the famous Lykavittos Hill, which does indeed have stunning views of the city and a delightful chapel, but more importantly, it has the most glorious toilets. They are decorated in dramatic black and gold, with images of glamorous twenties’ starlets and finished with beaded light fittings, elegant perfume bottles and languorous orchids. Absolutely gorgeous, especially since the infrared taps didn’t fox us and we even managed to master the toilet flusher.

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