Respect your humble Crapper

If ever there was an invention that made life more comfortable it must be that contraption we all use every day and is widely attributed to Yorkshireman Thomas Crapper. In fact it was Sir John Harrington who invented the first flush toilet way back in 1596, he built one for Queen Elizabeth 1 (thronemakers to the Queen?). In 1775 Alexander Cummings patented the water closet in much its present day form but Thomas Crapper was a businessman, flush with success, and he popularised its use and his is the name that stuck.

While many names have been coined for the humble lavatory the equipment itself has changed little over the years. A bowl you sit on, a tank full of water to flush it and a U bend full of water to stop the gases from the sewer coming up the pipework.

Aussies have expressive words like thunderbox and dunny, Englishmen go to the long drop, navy types go to the head and soldiers visit the Khazi. Doing their business is tiring for Americans who head off to the restroom.

We should respect our humble bog. It carries on working day in and day out and generally gives little trouble in spite of having two important mechanisms that can fail. The inlet valve and the flush mechanism and Murphy’s law says that they will fail just at the wrong time.

You know what it’s like, you go to a fancy do at your bosses house and feel the need to find the little boys (or girls) room. You use the tut but then, oh dear, the flush doesn’t work. You lift the top off frantically trying to find out what is wrong while someone comes and tries the door handle. The comfort room becomes a discomfort room.

The inlet valve is the valve that opens to refill the cistern after we have flushed the john. It’s the bit that drives us mad with a loud sssssssshhhhhhhhttt after we have felt the “call of nature” (what sort of a phrase is that?) in the middle of the night. Some toilets still use ball valves whose basic design hasn’t changed for a hundred years. Made from brass with a plastic ball as a float they are simple and reliable but noisy. Modern toilets have plastic float valves which tend to be quieter.

The flush mechanism is the part that releases the water. This is the mechanism that gives us most problems. These days they are operated by levers on the side or push buttons on the top or in the front of the cistern. With the advent of double flush water closets these mechanisms are more complicated than they used to be. If your toilet constantly runs water and the cistern doesn’t fill it is usually the flush mechanism that is causing the problem.

Older loos may have flushing mechanisms that are both primitive and unreliable. A spindly lever pulls a thin chain that lifts a rubber flap to release the water. Levers bend, chains break and the rubber flaps perish to give an ongoing series of problems. People constantly keep them going by lifting the lid and “tinkering”.

Good advice is don’t mess around but fit new parts. Better advice is to install a more reliable model. You could go for a traditional one, as a local man recently said “the best toilets are the local ones, they never go wrong”. True and a good solution if you don’t mind squatting and flushing with a little pan.

These days modern privys come in all shapes, sizes and colours and some can be very expensive. Beware, if you pay a lot for your WC you can be pretty sure your luxury loo will require expensive parts if it goes wrong. A rather elegant toilet recently set the owner back Rp5,000,000 just for a new seat! Unfortunately price does not necessarily relate to quality.

Broken toilet seats are a common problem in Indonesia, people who have spent their lives squatting can’t get used to sitting. They stand on the seat to squat and it breaks. You may have noticed that the convention here appears to be to leave the seat up (have you ever witnessed one of those ridiculous arguments between husbands and wives about not putting the toilet seat down?). Leaving the seat up is a good idea if you don’t want it broken (the seat I mean not the marriage).


Some tips:

  • Buy a good quality toilet but avoid expensive brands and fancy designs, Toto are cost effective, reliable and spare parts are readily available.
  • Consider a squat toilet for the staff toilet.
  • If the flush or fill mechanisms fail replace them with new ones.
  • If the toilet is leaking get it repaired, the leak will use a lot of water and may stain the bowl.
  • If someone starts using silicone to repair your leaking toilet, fire him and find yourself a real plumber.
  • Don’t put toilet blue in your toilet cistern, the chemicals in it damage the rubber seals in your toilet.

With that I must finish, I need to go and see a man about a dog.



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