A Thomas Crapper Original

I’m not sure if the power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely, as Louisa May Alcott once opined, but I know some of the simplest things make me happy. Like the hand painted picture of three little pink piggys trying to nose their way out the barn door that I have hanging in my kitchen. Matching towels and pretty commodes. It may just be my way of making up for the chamber pots and outdoor privies suffered in my youth in the unplumbed south. This was originally posted exactly 10 years ago. I still like it. Hope you do too.


Over the years while traveling, I taught my daughters the cardinal traveler’s rule, “you go” when you have the chance.” I was reminded of that rule often during our recent road trip. In fact, that rule led me to a discovery of sorts that now makes me almost want to re-do my bathroom at home.

We were in Seattle and had decided to walk from our hotel to the waterfront and downtown, taking public transportation as and when needed. They have a great public transport system and even offer free bus rides to everyone within a designated area of old downtown, and a transfer pass can get you in and out within a certain period for $1.50 or $1.75, depending on whether it’s “peak rush hour” or not. Our onfoot foray was to turn into a daylong adventure, and I was often reminded of my traveler’s rule.

Since we’d read drastically conflicting reviews on the underground tour of Seattle, we were resting our tootsies sitting on a bench in Pioneer Square and trying to decide if the underground tour of Seattle was worth the ticket price of $12 for seniors. Anyone who knows me also knows my seriously weird, some might say “warped,” sense of history. The more ridiculous or seedier it is the better I like it, and my head is full of useless facts about various things. I was very curious to learn more about the seedier side of the old underground city destroyed by the fire in 1889 that gave Pioneer Square the reputation that eventually gave rise to the expression “skid row.”

We more or less had decided to give it a go and learned that there would be no sitting down for this tour. Turns out we’d be on our feet for a full hour and a half or more–depending on the verbosity of our actor guide–so we decided we weren’t quite up to it after walking all those blocks already. Since we were already inside and nobody seemed to be kicking us out, we opted to have a look around first in the attached Rogue’s Museum and antique shop instead.

Soon I noticed the sign that pointed to “Women’s” and automatically turned to go in since all I’d seen so far were signs in every storefront saying “wash rooms are for customers only.”

The “facilities” were so pretty that I just had to take a picture to remember. Even the wash basin and the matching backsplash were pretty.

Back outside in the museum, one of the first exhibits I saw was either “the” or “an” original toilet designed by Thomas Crapper. While propriety or a certain sense of decorum prevented me from photographing the interior of the toilet above, this one was fair game.

Aren’t they pretty? I found you can order one for your own bathroom from the U.K. at a ballpoint figure of $1,000 American dollars. Guess I’ll be keeping our old crapper toilet instead. By the way, in doing all the research about Thomas Crapper, I found out that he really wasn’t the “inventor” of the modern flush toilet after all. I just may flush out this story more fully in a future post, but for now I hope you like the pretty toilets.

Hamish the highland bull

This is Hamish the Highland Bull we met last fall. He lives in this field in a village called Callander in Killmahog, Scotland. Nearby is a 250-year-old mill with original water wheel. Because meals are served all day, lots of travel coaches loaded with visitors stop here; consequently Hamish is probably one of the most photographed bulls in the world . . . and that’s no bull! (Sorry, ‘couldn’t help myself!  🙂 ) If you’ve got euros burning a hole in your pocket, the Trossachs Wollenmill is adjacent. You can easily drop a few hundred euros in five minutes or less; it’s so easy to get carried away by all that wool.

For the Romantic among you, according to the United Kingdom Travel Blog, Hamish is supposed to have a wife named Heather and a daughter called Honey. You can read more here directly from the site if you’d like. I don’t remember seeing Heather or Honey myself but then I didn’t look for them. They may have been there. The only purpose of this photograph–besides the fact I love to take pictures of animals–is to have an excuse to show it to you and at the same time introduce you to a contemporary poet who inspires me with his simple and direct approach to writing poetry. Anyone who’s ever lived near cows–and probably those who haven’t as well–will appreciate the picture Billy paints here. I may get around to writing a poem myself some day.

by Billy Collins

There were a few dozen who occupied the field
across the road from where we lived,
stepping all day from tuft to tuft,
their big heads down in the soft grass,
though I would sometimes pass a window
and look out to see the field suddenly empty
as if they had taken wing, flown off to another country.

Then later, I would open the blue front door,
and again the field would be full of their munching
or they would be lying down
on the black-and-white maps of their sides,
facing in all directions, waiting for rain.
How mysterious, how patient and dumbfounded
they appear in the long quiet of the afternoon.

But every once in a while, one of them
would let out a sound so phenomenal
that I would put down the paper
or the knife I was cutting an apple with
and walk across the road to the stone wall
to see which one of them was being torched
or pierced through the side with a long spear.

Yes, it sounded like pain until I could see
the noisy one, anchored there on all fours,
her neck outstretched, her bellowing head
laboring upward as she gave voice
to the rising, full-bodied cry
that began in the darkness of her belly
and echoed up through her bowed ribs into her gaping mouth.

Then I knew that she was only announcing
the large, unadulterated cowness of herself,
pouring out the ancient apologia of her kind
to all the green fields and the gray clouds,
to the limestone hills and the inlet of the blue bay,
while she regarded my head and shoulders
above the wall with one wild, shocking eye.


second class train from goa to cochin makes you loco

India has some of the lowest train fares in the world, and that’s good. It’s also good that India makes travel affordable to all classes of its people. In the U.S., if you’re poor you’re basically out of luck if Grandma lives on the other side of the country–you probably won’t see her very often.

When we boarded the train in Madgaon Station for Kochi (old Cochin), I was still suffering the effects of the Shingles that almost caused us to cancel our travel two weeks before arriving in Delhi; I had been successful at cutting back from three to two, then finally one pain pill a day until I could pitch them altogether. If only I hadn’t fallen into that drainage ditch in Goa! As it happens, once I boarded the train I didn’t have to move much for the next 16 to 17 hours. Good thing, too. There wasn’t much room to move about as you’ll see. So I just popped another Ibuprofen to my pill regimen and went limping onward.

In the station we saw numerous children begging from locals and tourists. We wondered if their parents knew their children were out begging early in the morning rather than being on their way to, or in, school. After several  conversations with others regarding them, we learned that it’s not at all uncommon that whole families live in public areas like train station platforms. Not only do they know their children are out begging, they probably sent them. Even though an education is provided by the government free to all children, begging has become a way of life for many of them. Without understanding the need for formal education, there’s little hope these children will be able to break the cycle. We saw this throughout much of our journey. The sleeping figures huddled along the platform here (below) are all women who could be anybody–passengers, workers or beggars.

Trains accommodate commuters as well as tourists. These are probably some of our fellow passengers waiting patiently on the platform waiting area. They may be on their way to work in the next town or village, or they may be off on holiday or a pilgrimage to an ancient temple further south.

The five of us–Raj and his wife Vasanthi, Hubby and myself, and our friend ML–left the Casa de Goa before daybreak with breakfast sandwiches of egg omelets the kitchen staff had wrapped in paper napkins. We wouldn’t get to our hotel in Kochi until very late, around 10:30 that evening, and we’d be fed on the train. I was looking forward to “lovely views of the sea and mountains” as our train traveled through picturesque Western Ghats.

Ah, I’m glad I enjoyed my imagined train journey so much . . . because I would soon learn that some train journeys can be fun, but some may possibly make you loco, especially if you’re already half-crippled. We were fed twice or thrice, can’t remember since all the meals looked and tasted the same (think airline food steerage class). Here’s Hubby looking very cozy as he tries to catch a few z’s. Was it just me in my half-dead state, or did that berth resemble a coffin from that angle? Using the other berth as a seat, ML and I sat opposite him reading. Raj and Vasanthi are sitting together–just outside our cubicle–in Raj’s side-berth just south of the couple across from us. The toilets are located at the end of each car–two, one western style and one Indian style–at each. There’s little ventilation in there, and we learned the hard way that they can get very stinky at times.

Now it’s my turn to lie down. That’s my feet wrapped in a light cotton blanket (bottom left)  provided by rail service. The dark blue curtain just beyond my toes is drawn for privacy from the two side berths across from us occupied by a previously boarded older couple. The striped bedding at the bottom of the lighter blue curtain peeking through the slit gives a glimpse of the walking aisle–which everyone in the the car must walk down to get to the toilets at either end. Every now and then I’d get that feeling you get when someone’s looking at you. When I’d glance up, I would see the lighter blue curtain pulled aside a tiny bit and caught the woman staring at me. Immediately she’d whip the curtain closed. Since ML and I were the only Americans in our car, we had to behave. The impression we made would no doubt color how this couple and anyone else on the train would view all Americans.

Looking out the windows at what we were sure had to be amazing views of the sea and mountains didn’t help after all. Not only was our window covered with bars, the dust covering was much too thick to see through. Because she’s an experienced traveler, ML had brought along several mystery novels, and cross-word puzzle books. When we tired of reading the books and kindle we’d brought, she’d tear out pages from her puzzle books to share. Seventeen hours (supposed to be 15, but there were several delays) in so small a space is a long-g-g-g-g-g time!

In our early morning wanderings at the train station back at Madgaon Station, I took this picture because ML and I were so amused by the sign’s mysterious wording. We wondered who  these loco pilots and guards were. What did loco pilots and guards look like? The men through the glass door looked sane enough.

Now, as I look back, the experience behind me, I wonder if I might have the explanation we were looking for all along. Maybe those loco pilots and guards were railway personnel–engineers and security?–who’ve simply traveled one time too many on their own second class sleeper trains.

It was almost midnight (as near as I remember) when we finally arrived at our hotel in Kochi. Sometime during the long hours on the train, Raj and Vasanthi got together with Hubby and talked. It turned out they’d all agreed it might be a good idea to cancel the three similar train journeys we’d already booked for the rest of our visit in favor of air travel when possible as this was not the best of train journeys for both the Americans and the Indians. I was so relieved I picked up the ‘phone in our room as soon as we checked in, and dialed all-night room service. I ordered a huge fudge cake smothered in chocolate syrup and whipped cream with a maraschino cherry on top which was delivered in 10 minutes. In spite of lingering shingles pain plus the added burden of a humongous leg injury, I indulged in my favorite chocolate medical remedy and went to bed. Life was still good.

I hope I haven’t bored you with our less than colorful train journey. I promise, due to my protective Indian family, there won’t be any more trains on this journey.