Send me your photos of manhole covers! Yes, go out and take one right now, and then send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. I don't care if you think the manhole cover outside your house is boring. Send it soon (let's say within a week) and I might even feature it here.
This makes three posts in a row inspired by events across the pond. Unless someone can tell me about a Young Plumber of the Year competition here in the U.S., that's just how it's going to be.
Here's the news: Last month, 23-year-old Aimee Patterson won the title of BBC Young Plumber of the Year. For the show, Patterson and other competitors had to fix a clogged toilet, solder a complicated mess of pipes, and make a fountain.
My first reaction to this news was, Ooh! A plumbing competition! and my second was, I bet some people think this contest was rigged.
Sure enough. "Not to be sexist here but I knew from the get go that they would make the girl win," wrote one "Dannypipe" on a U.K Plumbers' forum. Other forum participants agreed: She wasn't as good as that one guy, she answered questions wrong, and she burned a hole in a wall (this last one seems to have some merit).
Patterson on the curiously clean and spacious set.
I haven't watched the whole show, and even if I had, I'm not sure I would be able to accurately gauge the contestants' abilities. Maybe the result was fixed. It was, after all, reality TV. Maybe the BBC (which makes shows, not plumbing businesses) thought women would enjoy seeing a woman win a trade competition. Female plumbers are still pretty rare, and maybe it's good for people to see women excelling in career paths that are still mostly represented by men.
Or maybe she won, fair and square.
Or maybe these sorts of debates seem a little... oh, I don't know... dated.
The Earth-Closet (photo by User Musphot on Wikimedia Commons)
n 1869, right around the time when the water-closet was the newest and greatest fad in personal elimination (and wreaking havoc on sewer systems that weren't designed for it), an English priest named Henry Moule patented the Earth-Closet. Several similar inventions came out around the same time, but Moule got the patent. Moule’s toilet looked a lot like a water-closet, except that instead of a tank of water, it had a tank of dirt. After you'd done your business, you'd pull a chain to dispense a helping of this dirt over the waste. According to a paper by Mr. Moule called “Earth versus Water for the Removal and Utilization of Excrementitious Matter,” the choice between Earth-Closet and water-closet was a no-brainer: “The health of towns promoted by the entire removal of the sewage nuisance, instead of the present mere palliation; and the pollution of our streams and rivers prevented, the evil being no longer shifted from one quarter to another.”
For whatever reason, the Earth-Closet didn’t catch on. Maybe Londoners didn't want to rethink their expensive new water-based sewer system, or maybe they anticipated problems figuring out where to put the dirt and waste after they used the Earth-Closet (Moule's manuals are curiously non-specific about this). But here's what I like to think about: If the Earth-Closet had won the 19th-century Beta/VHS battle, what would the world of sewage be like now? We'd have the ingredients for composting toilets inside our houses, but we'd have to dump the contents somewhere to allow them to actually compost. Would we suffer dirt shortages? Instead of raw sewage pouring into rivers, would we have piles of excreta in landfills? (Oh, wait, we actually do have that.) How would apartment-dwellers use the Earth-Closet?
Oh, amazing. There's not much to add, really, except my favorite part of this site. In the Profile section: "Our vision: If customers had a choice, they would choose Thames Water."
Happy new year!