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It is reputed that the Icelandic word for 'bicycle' is the same as their word for "waterfall", domesticating the smooth and powerful movernent of the latter. Not to be outdone, English-speakers have done the same with "geyser", harnessing an impressive work of nature for use in the bath-room.


Domesticated, yes, but always with a slight and lingering uncertainty. Of course, geysers aren't what they were. I remember once visiting an old schoolfriend in his tiny flat in Wembley and being deeply impressed what took up one wall of the bathroom: cold water poured in from an ordinary tap and disappeared into complex coils of tubing whence it emerged steaming (and, you felt, some days later) through a large brass tap at the bottom. Now that was clearly a device with character, and one that might well explode if it felt so inclined.

Our first Bulex[1] seemed far less daunting, but took to clearing its throat in a worrying way before thumping into life. The replacement (on the feeble grounds of can't get the parts any more, mijnheer) is essentially the same design, but prinked out with all manner of safety devices. Why, it will even turn itself off and refuse to relight if it thinks the cowl is blocked and there's too much carbon monoxide in the room. I suppose this is all for the best.


Leaving aside the occasional murderous misuse in old-fashioned thrillers, the geyser doesn't seem to rate many references. The original illustrations for Diary of a Nobody suggest a small geyser in the Pooter's bathroom (April 29), and when Mr Bissell is inspecting Maria Cottage in Cheerfulness breaks in he is "pleased to see … a geyser of the same type as that at No. 27 [Condiment Rd., E48], so he knew it would not blow him up, or if it did, exactly when and how." Best fictional geyser I've come across, though, is the apparatus in the castle in Enchanted April:

Having a bath at San Salvatore was … a real adventure if one had a hot one in the bathroom, and it took a lot of time. It involved the attendance of the entire staff – Domenico and the boy Guiseppe coaxing the patent stove to burn, restraining it when it threatened to burn too fiercely, using the bellow when it threatened to go out, relighting it when it did go out; Francesca anxiously hovering over the tap regulating its trickle, because if it were turned on too full the water instantly ran cold, and if not full enough the stove blew up inside and mysteriously flooded the house; and Costanza and Angela running up and down bringing pails of hot water from the kitchen to eke out what the tap did.

This [patent stove] had been put in lately, and was at once the pride and the terror of the servants. It was very patent. Nobody quite understood it. There were long printed instructions as to its right treatment hanging on the wall, in which the word pericoloso recurred …

And of course, it does blow up – but no-one is hurt, and the plot is happily advanced by this minor domestic incident.

[1] Bulex is in Belgium what Ascot used to be in the UK, the maker's name everyone uses no matter who actually made the water-heater in question.

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