Friday, 19 February 2010

On the subject of toilets...

People often ask - how do you go to the loo on a boat?  Well, on our old boat we had a chemical toilet to start with, but the slide handle broke and so it was rendered useless and sent to toilet heaven, and our neighbour Polly sold her boat and gave us her old bucket loo, which is not as hideous as it sounds.  It's quite similar to a chemical loo, but instead of having to change a cassette holding all the waste, you just simply take the toilet seat off and put a lid on it then empty the bucket. 

We have a sewage waste point up at the top of the mooring where our washing machine is.  It can be quite smelly when emptying, especially if not enough 'blue' has been used.  Blue is a disinfectant that you add to the cassette or bucket to hide the smell and cover up the waste.  With a cassette toilet, there's usually a slide handle that you open when you want to go to the loo, the waste goes down into the cassette and then you close it afterwards.  Most cassette loos have a flush as well which many first time users spend hours flushing and hence the cassette fills up fast and you have to change it more often.  Sometimes the flush is built into the toilet and has a 'pink' flush chemical, much the same as the blue really, sometimes the flush is attached to the water system and flushes water from your tank down. 

Our new boat has a chemical toilet, it is ridiculously small - capacity and seat wise.  Now I thought at first it was my widening hips and ever moving body parts that would make for an uncomfortable seat but Jam experiences it too.  As a man it's even more hideous because you risk weeing all over yourself if you sit down to go.  When you flush the toilet it spurts water all over the back of the wall for some reason, and the waste never seems to go down properly and you have the dilemma of wondering how to shut the slide handle without trapping everything in it or having to push it all down with your hands.  Not a pretty picture I'm painting but we are talking toilets here!  We use wooden kebab sticks by the way for that last part, but are still working on a better solution.

Weeing in a bucket, instead of into the cassette is also done by many, to save the number of times you have to change the toilet.  We are lucky to have such a hidden mooring and can send the men (and some women who don't mind the fresh air) out to water the garden and help deter the animals that like to mark their territory and eat our veggies.  I often have a moral dilemma about weeing in a bucket and tipping it into the canal, most people do it and yet it just feels wrong...

On my birthday for breakfast I went to a cafe in Islington, Jam was away working so I thought I'd be all grown up and treat myself.  In the cafe toilet was a fantastic but broken beach hut toilet seat behind the bin and I enquired at the counter as to where they got it from, explaining my possible solution for changing the chemical toilet seat for a more comfortable one and I'd not seen one like that before.  They were very lovely, friendly people and at the end of the meal they asked if I wanted to have that one.  I was strangely delighted and walked out of there carrying a toilet seat, and a silly grin.  I thought I could at least experiment with it and just see if it would work.  Jam thought otherwise and wasn't impressed, but I have managed to rescue it from another bin and make it a humorous part of the mooring garden.  It was too big to use on our toilet and you can't actually take the seat off, it seems to be all fitted, so we are making do - there's no ventilation in the bathroom so sitting down for a long time is not really recommended anyway.  When the layout was done on the boat, the bathroom was unfortunately not put in the right place, next to the window and without electricity sockets, so Jam is intent on buying a small bath and making the bathroom bigger to allow for ventilation.  The sink in the bathroom at the moment is the size of a finger bowl, it's really no use for anything, but hey at least we have the shower working now and Jam finished the tiling and it works fine.  No complaints here and I was talking about toilets anyway - see how easily I'm distracted already!

Now all these toilets have been chemical toilets.  Whenever my god-daughter comes to visit she always wants to go to the loo, just to see the blue, not to do anything else - sweet, the inquisitive mind of a four year old - but why is it blue Aunty Orla? -  I'm personally much more inclined to want composting toilets.  We are considering making a compost toilet outside for when we have parties and during the summer when it's not so cold.  Getting a compost toilet onto a boat is quite hard because most need a flu that goes straight up and trying to cut through thick steel boats could pose a bit of a problem.  They are also very expensive in comparison but the number of times you have to change them is amazing, something like once every six months, most of them having a separate section for solids and when you do change it you have a wonderful compost for the garden.  They also smell lovely - can that be possible?  I've used compost toilets at festivals that have been wonderful to smell - all that eucalyptus chopped up bark disguises the nasties so well.

I'm still investigating this, there must be a more natural and cheaper solution to the toilet than the chemical way.  I'm sure if someone could come up with one we'd all be fitting them instead of having to waste so much water and using bleaches etc to clean them.

I thought pictures might be a step too far for this post...

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